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Dr. Z's Forecast

By Paul Zimmerman

Posted: Wed October 21, 1998

Sports Illustrated
  Dolphins Defense
The Dolphins, who have allowed a league-low 70 points, seem content playing it close to the vest.    (Bill Frakes)
The silliest question you can ask someone on a 6-0 team is, Can you go undefeated? But it's asked over and over.

Aside from the statistical improbability of a perfect season (since the 16-game season was instituted in 1978, no team has won them all), the question puts the player in a no-win situation. If he says yes, then it becomes bulletin-board material for the next opponent. A no answer means he's expecting a loss. But half the feature stories I read about the Broncos these days raise the question anyway.

The Vikings? People don't seem to pursue the angle in their case, maybe because no one figured they'd be anywhere near 6-0.

Perfect records have tumbled in strange ways this season. San Francisco's loss came at the hands of Buffalo on Oct. 4, amid a blizzard of penalty flags. The Bills extended the same courtesy to the Jaguars on Sunday, thanks to some nasty, swirling winds and nifty quarterback Doug Flutie, who was supposed to be too small to play with the big boys. At least there's one problem the Broncos and the Vikings don't have to worry about: Neither of them has to face Buffalo.

So when will the hammer fall on them? I say Minnesota feels it this Sunday against Detroit. The Lions aren't much on the road, and the Vikings dispatched them rather easily at the Metrodome last month. But in the Silverdome, Detroit can be hell on wheels, particularly on offense. No one knows this better than Minnesota, which has lost three of its last four there, giving up 41, 44 and 38 points in the process. Last year the Vikings were coming off six straight wins, and the Lions had lost their previous three, but the final score was 38-15, Lions. Detroit's the pick—in a shoot-out, naturally.

Denver escapes with a win over Jacksonville. Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin took serious steps in the off-season to firm up his running attack, but at the end of the Buffalo game, injuries had left him trying to punish the Bills with a fourth-string running back, Chris Howard, and a fullback, Daimon Shelton, who hadn't carried the ball this year. One part of the Jacksonville lineup always seems to be banged up. Last year it was the defensive line, and Denver, taking note of the fact, ran for 310 yards in a wild-card playoff win. The Broncos won't run wild again, but with a bye week to get ready, Mike Shanahan will have something cooked up. One historical note: The Broncos started 6-0 last year, and their first blemish came in Game 7, at Oakland.

Kansas City over Pittsburgh in the Monday-nighter. The Steelers can win in Arrowhead, but not without Jerome Bettis, who sat out Sunday's victory over the Ravens with a sprained left knee.

I've been accused of a rather loony prejudice against the Saints, simply because I haven't picked them to win a game since the days of Doug Atkins and Danny Abramowicz. O.K., here it comes. New Orleans to upset Tampa Bay, my preseason Super Bowl choice from the NFC. With wideout Bert Emanuel back in the lineup on Sunday after badly spraining his ankle in the season opener, the Bucs were supposed to light it up against Carolina, but they struggled as usual—and at home, no less. As for the Saints, Billy Joe Tolliver can work a game better than any of the four other quarterbacks they've had in the past two years, and the Bucs won't subject him to the same merciless pressure that the Falcons did.

Miami sure is a tough team to handicap. When the Dolphins had the Jaguars on the ropes two weeks ago, and Dan Marino was putting up his first 300-yard passing day of the season, I said, now Jimmy Johnson loosens the reins and lets Danny air it out. Yeah, right, to the tune of 114 yards against the Rams. It was back to the old-fashioned values that made America great: defense, tough running in the fourth quarter, avoiding mistakes. Will that be good enough against New England? I say no. Patriots to take this one in Miami.

Quickie picks: I expect a pair of losses from clubs I root for, each of which came up with stirring upsets on Sunday. I'm talking about Chicago and Buffalo. Generally, I shy away from teams coming off lopsided wins, but I think the Oilers, at home, will have too much firepower for the Bears. The Panthers are playing their best ball of the season, under quarterback Steve Beuerlein, and I see an emotional victory number 1 against a Bills team that's on the rise.

Issue date: October 26, 1998

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