Unless he changes his number to 50-something and takes the field as a linebacker—and lord knows, he's big enough—Ryan Leaf will not be facing Peyton Manning at the RCA Dome on Sunday. Leaf will be facing the Indianapolis defense, Manning will be facing the San Diego defense. Hope that clears it up, but I'll bet you that each of these showcase rookie quarterbacks will hear the following at least 100 times this week: "How does it feel to be facing Ryan?...to be facing Peyton?"
Together, they represent close to $74 million in contract packages. They're not ready to run NFL offenses. Someday, but not yet. They play anyway. That's show biz. They threw for a combined seven interceptions last week, which gives them 19 in eight games total.
When they were drafted first and second, this matchup seemed fascinating. Now it looks like a survival contest, and it will be interesting to see how the fans in Indy will react. Manning has kept his composure and remained a gentleman while his team has slid to 0-4. The fans have generally been gentle, though I heard some scattered boos after his interception set up the Saints' overtime score on Sunday.
Leaf is a different story. His team is a respectable 2-2, and he followed two pretty decent outings with two bummers. After the first bad outing he lost it and started taking on photographers and writers and other honorable types. Partly in response to that, the hometown fans are already down on him. Near the end of Sunday's loss to the Giants, a commercial featuring Leaf with kids from the Make-a-Wish Foundation appeared on the JumboTron in the Chargers' stadium. The fans booed loudly. Maybe he's better off playing on the road, and that's where the Chargers will be the next two weekends.
Both of these teams have puzzled me. Indianapolis has been hammered by the run in two straight games, and San Diego can bring it with Natrone Means. But the Colts have a hammer of their own, Marshall Faulk, who's having a heroic season in a losing cause. My pick? San Diego, on sounder defense.
The Dolphins over the Jets in New York. A formula pick. Running and defense to beat a team capable of putting up huge numbers.
I've been as wrong about the unbeaten Saints as I've ever been about a team, and I watched them display a sturdy defense and a big league front four against the Colts. I'd dearly love to make it up to Mike Ditka and the boys by picking them to upset the Patriots in the Superdome, but I just don't feel it'll happen. I've got to go with the Patriots, coming off a bye, against a team coming off a slugfest.
Norv Turner knows how to beat the Cowboys in Washington. His Redskins have done it three straight years, but lie's never had this kind of a team before—big gainers, big screwups. Poor old Z picks them week after week, and they keep getting blown out. I'm embarrassed to pick them yet again, but I know they're going to break out of it one of these Sundays, and I just feel this is it. Skins in a squeaker over the Cowboys, and I'm sure some of you must think that I've got a stake in the action.
Bears over the Lions in Chicago. The NFL's most impressive first-half team will finally collect both pieces of the pie.
Packers to beat the Vikings on Monday night. The Green Bay pass-to-run overload will be even more outlandish because hidden in Minnesota's gaudy 4-0 start is the fact that its pass defense has gone south.