The oddsmakers' two AFC preseason favorites to reach the Super
Bowl are in trouble. We can forget about the Raiders, but there's
still some hope left for the Dolphins, provided they fix things
in a hurry.
Sunday's loss to the Colts left some nagging questions: Why did
Ricky Williams carry the ball only twice in the second half? Is
Brian Griese really the answer at quarterback? Or would it be
better to have an escape artist like Jay Fiedler, who might not
deliver as pretty a ball as Griese does but also won't get sacked
five times, as Griese did against Indianapolis?
Also, why didn't Miami give rookie left tackle Wade Smith any
help with defensive end Dwight Freeney, a speed rusher who comes
around the corner quicker than a heartbeat? Freeney set up the
Colts' first score with a sack that caused a fumble, and he shut
down the Dolphins' final chance for a win with another sack and
fumble deep in Indy territory.
There's one more concern, and it's a big one: A Miami defense
that usually can be counted on to keep things under control, a
unit loaded with Pro Bowl players, gave up scoring drives of 65,
72, 74 and 91 yards to the Colts.
O.K., Indianapolis has one of the most talented offenses in the
league. But this weekend Miami faces another daunting opponent,
Tennessee, which has scored 30 or more points in each of its last
five games and averaged 411 yards in its last four. It's a
toss-up whether Peyton Manning, who gave the Dolphins such a hard
time last week, or the Titans' Steve McNair is the AFC's best
quarterback. Manning does it with his arm and his brain; McNair
adds the dimension of his running. Plus, Tennessee is coming into
the game rested after a bye week.
Miami's at a crossroads. If the Dolphins can spring an upset,
they'll be 6-3 and back on track with a wild-card edge on the
Titans. A loss and they'll be just another scrambling 5-4 team,
chasing the Patriots in the AFC East race and none too certain as
a wild card. Historically, Miami has an edge, having beaten
Tennessee five straight times, but that's the only edge I can
give the Dolphins. The Titans win it.
It seems as if the Jets play the Raiders on the West Coast every
year. Over the past four seasons New York has traveled to Oakland
six times, losing five, including a pair of playoff games. But in
all the years of this great rivalry, going back to Heidi and Ben
Davidson and Joe Namath, the Jets never have been favored in
Raiderland. Now they are. At 2-6 New York is in trouble, but 2-6
Oakland is in worse shape. The Jets are the pick in a wild one.
It's an odd-numbered game for Tampa Bay (4-4), which means it's
the Bucs' week to win. They lose the even-numbered games, though
there was nothing odder than their overtime loss to the Panthers
in Week 2, when Carolina blocked three kicks. Tampa Bay's defense
remains banged up, but I just can't see this team losing if it's
sufficiently aroused. The Bucs are the pick.
The Texans are coming off one of their typical shocking
victories, while the Bengals are coming off a nasty loss to the
Cardinals. Naturally I favor the angry team, which is Cincinnati.
Dallas-Washington was one of those games that was an
embarrassment to both organizations, and from it comes a Cowboys
victory over Buffalo, as a measure of atonement, and a Redskins
loss to the Seahawks, just to show that the Dallas game was no
fluke. The Packers keep it going against the Eagles in the Monday
nighter, and in an intriguing Sunday-night game, matching the
Super Bowl winners of 2000 and '01, the Rams and their
high-powered offense will prevail on their home turf against the
still formidable Ravens' defense.
Last week: 4-5
Season record: 45-38
COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO Williams needs more work for the Dolphins to be successful.
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