Tampa Bay is the Mike Tyson of the NFL--a punishing brawler that
can be beaten. And Sunday's performance against the 49ers showed
that the Bucs are at the stage where they can be beaten badly.
But you'd better watch yourself when you go up against them,
especially if you're a young contender like the Cowboys, because
if you get too cocky you can still get your head knocked off.
Carolina beat Tampa Bay on three blocked kicks. It was a freak
win, but don't forget that the Panthers rushed for 171 yards, an
embarrassing number for the Bucs' defense. For most of three
quarters against Indianapolis on Oct. 6, Tampa Bay attacked with
a fury. Then the Bucs stood back and admired their work and the
Colts pulled out a remarkable overtime victory. Another fluke?
Well, maybe, but the loss to San Francisco on Sunday was no fluke.
The Niners competed with more intensity in all phases--they
looked like they were playing at a different speed. The 49ers
exposed the Bucs' offensive line, holding Tampa Bay to 68 yards
rushing, and they pounded Tampa Bay's defense for 212 yards on
the ground. Tight end Jed Weaver was handling defensive ends by
himself, most noticeably Simeon Rice, who had turned into a run
stopper of sorts last year but whose game has regressed to the
pure sack mode.
When the curtain came down, what you were left with was a
banged-up, very tired defending Super Bowl champ. Rice had a bad
back, strong safety John Lynch was trying to gut it out with a
painful stinger in his neck, and left corner Brian Kelly tried to
come back from a pectoral muscle tear but had to leave the game.
The offense was wideout-deprived, with Keyshawn Johnson hobbled
by a bad leg and Joe Jurevicius already out with a torn knee
ligament. Quarterback Brad Johnson didn't have enough weapons.
--Who knows how many of the injured will be ready for the rampaging
Cowboys, who have become media darlings in winning five straight
but still need that victory over an elite opponent to convince
the world that they're for real. If the Bucs' secondary is still
ailing and Dallas gets its long ball working, then the Cowboys
have a shot. I don't think they'll pound Tampa Bay as Carolina
and San Francisco did. The Bucs are a wounded animal and the
intensity level will be way up for this one, no matter who's
hurt. Tampa Bay is the pick.
--Here come the upsets. Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna has quietly
been operating at an extremely high level for almost a month, and
I like Cincinnati to surprise Seattle. The Rams will beat
Pittsburgh if they can get the pass rush blocked--I say they'll
do it. I guess that's it for upsets.
--I'm tempted to go with the Broncos over Baltimore, but I just
can't see Danny Kanell pulling it off. The Ravens are the pick.
The Vikings will remain unbeaten with a victory over the Giants,
who are bound to bust out some day. I just don't think it will be
this week. The Patriots will pull out another one, this time
against the Browns. The Saints seem to have finally put it
together, and the Panthers are reeling after their big loss to
the Titans. New Orleans is a tempting choice. I can't resist. The
Saints are the pick. Philadelphia has both its corners back, and
that'll make the difference against the Jets. I'll take the
Eagles. Finally, in the Monday nighter at San Diego, I'll go with
the Dolphins over the Chargers.
Last week: 5-5
Season Record: 34-31
Dr. Z's Inside Football, every week during the season at
COLOR PHOTO: CHRIS LIVINGSTON/ICON SMI Rice and the battered Tampa Bay defense will rise to the occasion against the high-powered Cowboys.