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Dr. Z's Forecast

by Paul Zimmerman

Posted: Wed January 7, 1998


AFC: Broncos 27, Steelers 24

The Broncos came out hot against the Steelers in their Dec. 7 meeting, jumping to a 21-7 lead only to get blown away by Kordell Stewart, who accounted for five touchdowns and 352 total yards, and wideout Yancey Thigpen, who also had a career day. Denver was worried about Jerome Bettis's strongside runs, so they lined up Ray Crockett, their best cornerback, on that side, which left Darrien Gordon covering Thigpen on the weak side. It was no contest. Thigpen caught three touchdown passes against Gordon, including the 69-yarder that turned the game around. It was a stop-and-go. Gordon stopped, Thigpen went. The Broncos won't get caught that way again.

Denver defensive ends Neil Smith and Alfred Williams both played with torn triceps muscles that afternoon, and Stewart didn't face much of a rush. Now Smith and Williams are healthy. They made life miserable for Elvis Grbac in Denver's win on Sunday over the Chiefs, collecting four sacks between them, and the Broncos won't be bashful about going to its blitz package, as New England did with great success against Pittsburgh. They'll defy Stewart to go to his hot reads quickly, and to keep him from breaking off a long run, they'll "spy" him with their quickest linebacker, John Mobley.

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NFC: Packers 24, 49ers 20

Defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur was the Packers' hero when Green Bay upset the Niners in the playoffs two years ago, deviling Steve Young with an exotic blitz package behind three down linemen, jamming Jerry Rice at the line and keeping San Francisco from breaking any big plays. Now the three-man set has become a standard part of the Green Bay operation, although the Packers didn't use it much against the Buccaneers on Sunday. They didn't have to. They threw an occasional blitz at Trent Dilfer, but they felt their cornerbacks could handle the Tampa Bay wideouts, and the rest of the defense could focus on the run.

Both Green Bay corners, Doug Evans and Tyrone Williams, are playing terrific football, which should make for an interesting matchup because 49ers wideouts Terrell Owens and J.J. Stokes, as well as their tight end Brent Jones, keep bailing Young out with tough catches. The 49ers' passing attack put the Vikings away early, and then the Niners turned to their power running game, which has become their style.

The Packers won on Sunday when the Bucs tired a bit from chasing Brett Favre, and then Dorsey Levens, Green Bay's 230-pound hammer, smacked it to them. He won't be smacking the Niners' rush defense, and if Favre starts erratically, the Pack will find itself in trouble. But I like how Green Bay is playing defense, and I think Shurmur will figure out ways to put maximum pressure on the Niners' pass protection, the weakest part of their team.

Issue date: January 12, 1998



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