You fight to make the playoffs, and after you've made the
playoffs, you fight to get home field advantage--that's the way
it's supposed to work. In reality, once a postseason berth has
been clinched, there's a noticeable letdown. It seems almost too
much to ask a team to play at the same intensity level once the
first goal has been reached (until the playoffs start, of
This Monday night we'll see for ourselves when the Eagles play
the Dolphins. Philadelphia clinched a playoff spot with its
victory on Sunday over Dallas. Now people are projecting the
Eagles will meet St. Louis in the NFC Championship Game and
generally conceding a Super Bowl spot to whichever team has home
field advantage. It's all pie in the sky. Philly will face a
desperate opponent in Miami, which is in decent shape for a wild
card but can forget about the AFC East title. A Blizzard Bowl
loss to the Patriots on Sunday took care of that.
You don't have to be a genius to figure out what the Dolphins
will try to do. Practically everybody has run well against the
Eagles this year; in the six games preceding the matchup with
Dallas, five backs rushed for more than 100 yards against them.
The Cowboys wanted to get a piece of the action, too, and at the
half they had 105 yards on the ground and the score was tied.
Then Quincy Carter threw an interception that set up a
Philadelphia touchdown. Dallas had to play catch-up, but the wide
receivers decided to take the rest of the day off, and the game
Miami offensive coordinator Norv Turner has been known to come up
with the unexpected, but I don't think he'll get cute against
Philly. The Eagles are sturdy along the front four, but their
linebackers are undersized, and I think they'll get a heavy dose
of Ricky Williams, running behind 255-pound Rob Konrad, who is
quietly establishing himself as one of the league's better
blocking fullbacks. The game's in Miami, and unless they turn the
ball over a few times, the Dolphins will earn the victory with
their ground game.
The Cowboys are in the same boat as the Dolphins--front-runners
for a wild-card spot, unless they get careless. For two months
everyone loved Dallas, and now people are feeling sorry for the
Cowboys. Have they run into some bad luck, or is this their
inevitable collapse? Or maybe they have too many pass catchers
who want to star downfield and not enough who can do the grubby
work of the possession receiver. That job has been left to the
second tight end, rookie Jason Witten, but he needs help.
Dallas plays at Washington this Sunday; it's a revenge game of
sorts for the Redskins. In the first meeting the Cowboys knocked
around quarterback Patrick Ramsey and generally roughed up the
Washington offense. I don't think Dallas will cut back on its
blitz package this time; it will continually test the Skins'
offensive line. I'll give the victory to the Cowboys.
St. Louis-Seattle could have generated some excitement, but the
Seahawks got blown out on Sunday against the Vikings. Now a team
that has won only once on the road all year takes its shaky
defense to the Eddie Dome to face a Rams squad that has won its
six home games by an average of 19.2 points. St. Louis wins a
high-scoring affair. When they visit Chicago, the Vikings could
still be celebrating their big win over Seattle or looking ahead
to the following week's game against the Chiefs. The Bears have
indicated that they might get rookie quarterback Rex Grossman,
their first-round draft pick, on the field. Everybody was
wondering when we'd get a look at him, and this might be the
right time, going against a defense that doesn't really terrify
anyone. Chicago has been a spoiler this season, and an upset
would seem logical, but I just have a feeling that Minnesota is
back on track. The Vikings are the pick.
Finally, here are a pair of quickies involving AFC North teams:
The Bengals return home after a three-game road trip to beat the
49ers, and the Ravens will knock off the Raiders on the West
Last week: 5-4 Season record: 74-53
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID BERGMAN MAKING A RUN FOR IT Williams is likely to get a lot of work against the Eagles' suspect rushing defense.
Dr. Z's Inside Football, every week at si.com/football.