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Dr. Z's Forecast

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Posted: Tuesday September 04, 2001 1:29 PM
By Paul Zimmerman

Sports Illustrated History has been made in Week 1, and usually it has come in the form of an upset. I'm not talking about any old upset, but one that signals the dawn of an emerging nation. Four years ago the Buccaneers, coming off 14 consecutive losing seasons, upset the mighty 49ers in a brutal, low-scoring affair. Some people called it a fluke, but that game proved to be the coming of age of a defense that would be feared throughout the league. A game on the opening Sunday of last season marked the turning point of two franchises: The Eagles, who hadn't had a winning record for three years, flew to Dallas and upset -- make that humiliated -- the Cowboys, 41-14. That result marked the beginning of a new era in Philadelphia and the beginning of the end in Dallas.

The trick is to see these things coming and correctly handicap them ahead of time. There could be a landmark game this Sunday, one that people will point to for years and say, "That one. That's the one that turned it around for. ..." Uh ... well, I'd really like to find one for you, but it ain't easy.

San Diego, maybe? I get a feeling that things are stirring out there, and I like the Chargers over the Redskins. But, hey, that wouldn't even be an upset. San Diego, 1-15 last year, is a slight favorite, which shows what people think of Washington.

Can I find an upset on the board? Sure, take the Steelers over the Jaguars, who like last year have been hit hard with injuries. Tackle Tony Boselli's right knee is unstable, wideout Keenan McCardell is out after hernia surgery, and cornerback Fernando Bryant is expected to miss at least the first two games with a separated right shoulder. The latest casualty is premier pass rusher Tony Brackens, who last Thursday sprained his right knee against Dallas when linemen Mark Stepnoski and Flozell Adams sandwiched him in one of those terrible, illegal, prop-him-up, cut-him-down blocks. The scab officiating crew dropped no flag. If the varsity refs are still out on Sunday, you can expect more of the same.

Two other games jump out at me, strictly from a competitive standpoint. The Rams, with eight new starters to bolster a defense that went south last year, visit the Eagles in a game the Philly staff has been preparing for all off-season. The St. Louis defense might not be great, but it'll be good enough, so I'll take the Rams in a fairly high scorer. On Monday night the defending NFC champion Giants visit Denver. New starters Kenny Holmes at end and Cornelius Griffin at tackle make New York's defense even better than last year's, but the Giants will be facing an attack that's fully cranked with three quality backs taking turns pounding away. Which one gets the start? If Terrell Davis is completely healthy, he'll be the guy. Coach Mike Shanahan says he'll make the announcement before the game, which makes sense, because if he announces it afterward, it'll destroy the element of surprise. The Broncos win in a squeaker.

I get a feeling that Peyton Manning's right knee is a bit worse than the Colts are letting on. The Jets are the pick against Indy, with a lot of credit to rookie coach Herman Edwards for keeping his guys' legs fresh. The Packers have won nine straight regular-season games at home against the Lions, and this week Green Bay will make it 10 straight. New Orleans at Buffalo is an interesting matchup: The Bills usually win this kind of slugfest, but I don't think their offensive line, with guard Jerry Ostroski out, can handle the Saints' front four. I'll go with New Orleans.

The biggest blowout will be turned in by Tampa Bay, which could get a couple of defensive scores against the Cowboys. Oakland never has an easy time in Kansas City, no matter how the game looks on paper; I'll take the Raiders, but an upset wouldn't surprise me. Finally there's the Sunday-nighter: The Titans beat Miami in a low scorer.

Issue date: September 10, 2001

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