Packers- 49ers at Lambeau doesn't take on the epic proportions it did when the schedule came out and we thought we might be looking at a couple of unbeatens, but the game is big for this time of the year, plenty big. The Niners have three years and four losses worth of resentment stored up. Green Bay knocked San Francisco out of each of the last three postseasons and added a regular-season defeat last year for good measure. Only one of the four games was close. No one has had as good a read on Steve Young's playbook as the Packers' brain trust: defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur, backed up by the head man, Mike Holmgren, who worked for San Francisco. The Niners have had to live with all this since the '95 season, and frankly, they're sick of it.
What are the Packers sick of? They're sick of questions that start, "What's wrong with...?" Back-to-back losses early this month unleashed that plague. Can't run the ball, can't stop the deep threat, quarterback's on a downer, you know the drill. The rather breezy 28-10 win over Baltimore quieted the yapping for a while, but there were a couple of jarring notes.
The Ravens defied the Pack to run the ball by occasionally using a 4-2-5 defense on base downs, lifting a linebacker for a defensive back. Didn't matter. The Pack had as much trouble running against this defense, which is designed to stop the pass, as it has had against any alignment this year.
Baltimore got its touchdown on a 46-yard pass to wideout Jermaine Lewis. That makes five touchdown passes of more than 40 yards that Green Bay has allowed in the last three games. Do you think the Niners might be taking the Packers' corners deep? Are you as impressed with San Francisco's trio of wideouts—Jerry Rice, Terrell Owens and J.J. Stokes—as I am?
The Niners have had cornerback problems of their own, but the Rams' attack that San Francisco faced on Sunday was the kind of thing that gets defenses healthy. Right corner Marquez Pope, returning from a back injury, gave up only one completion and had an interception. Darnell Walker, switching to the left side, had two pickoffs. I think the 49ers will do O.K. against the Packers' wideouts. The pick: San Francisco in an upset.
In Atlanta, Dan Reeves loved the way 44-year-old Steve DeBerg threw in preseason practice. So he brought him out of retirement and made him his third-stringer, then his second-stringer, then the oldest starter in NFL history on Sunday, subbing for the injured Chris Chandler. The trouble is that you don't face a serious rush in practice, and DeBerg certainly did against the Jets, who exposed him for what he is—an extremely nice chap who should be coaching. If Chandler can't go this weekend, I pick the Rams. If not, I go with the Falcons.
The Jets beat a wounded team. Their value, as they say on Wall Street, is inflated. On Sunday, in K.C., it deflates. Chiefs by a touchdown.
The scenario was much the same in Miami, where the Patriots, with a crippled offense but a lot of heart, took the Dolphins into overtime and lost when the real Dan Marino replaced that impersonator who has been handing the ball off all season. Now Miami travels to Buffalo, where the nastiest winds in the NFL blow, and a little will-o'-the-wisp named Doug Flutie defies all the elements with his quick feet and even quicker brain. Bills in a squeaker.
The quarterback duel everyone is waiting for takes place in Seattle. Donald Hollas ( Raiders) versus John Friesz ( Seahawks). I'll go with Seattle and the Frieszers, although the Oakland defense has been surprisingly stingy. If Warren Moon is back from his cracked rib, there's even more reason to like the Seahawks. If Jeff George miraculously returns from his pulled groin, and the chances are slim, uh, I guess I still like Seattle.
There will come a cloudy afternoon when the unbeaten Broncos will be upset. I just feel it. But not in Cincinnati. The Bengals loaded up against the run in Oakland with an old-fashioned 4-3. And they held the Raiders to 251 yards on the ground. Now they entertain Terrell Davis. Good luck. I like Denver to put up more adding-machine numbers.