It's a rematch of last season's AFC Championship Game, and we were told not to be surprised if it previewed this season's as well. Jets versus Broncos, showdown at Mile High Stadium, and folks at CBS were licking their chops and counting the rating points.
Well, the teams are a combined 0-6, as we all know, and in New York the fans shrug and say what a shame that Bill Par-cells lost his quarterback, and maybe we can salvage something—anything—from the season. Denver fans are still looking through the history books to see if any team won a Super Bowl after an 0-3 start (no), or even won a divisional playoff game (again, no).
The running game was the springboard to the Broncos' back-to-back Super Bowl titles, topped off by John Elway's long-range arm. Now Denver has neither. Where has the ground game gone? I have a sneaky feeling that it's gone the way of the chop block from behind, a legal clip before it was outlawed this season.
The Broncos were masters of that move. It slowed down the pursuit, made defensive linemen hesitate just a little, worrying about their knees. Now that it's illegal, I don't see the Denver line opening those big holes for Terrell Davis anymore. Brian Griese is a careful young quarterback who doesn't pose a serious downfield threat to defenses, which can now cheat backs up to stop the run and close fast on the short passes. For three weeks in a row, facing quick, aggressive units in Miami, Kansas City and Tampa Bay, the Broncos' offense got nailed.
The Jets? The defense was supposed to carry the load until replacement quarterback Rick Mirer got acclimated, but it was done in by a pair of little guys the past two weeks—first the Bills' Doug Flutie and then the Redskins' 179-pound wideout, Albert Connell. Parcells, the master psychologist, has a psychological dilemma: Should I holler this week, lighten up, toughen up, throw up or what?
These two teams have tremendous pride, and the emotional burners will be turned way up, so that angle's a wash. I'm picking the Jets in an upset. I hear the tee-hees out there—that's three weeks out of four that he's picked them—but in my heart I just know they're going to break out of it one of these weeks. I don't want to be lined up on the other side when they do.
Minnesota will beat Tampa Bay in the Metrodome. No question the Vikings are off-kilter, especially offensively. Compare last season's numbers through three games with this year's: 98 points scored to 54, and 15 catches for 221 yards and three scores by wideout Randy Moss to nine catches for 123 yards and one touchdown.
But the Bucs' offense lacks dimension. It's either Mike Alstott with the heavy hammer, or Warrick Dunn with the twinkly toes, running the ball or catching passes as he did so artfully against Denver. The defense is great, but turnovers will do in Tampa Bay.
Coming off that rain-drenched loss against Tennessee, the Jaguars will nail the Steelers, who are coming off a sloppy, five-interception fiasco against the Seahawks, at Three Rivers. Tennessee will drop its first game, in San Francisco. There's something about the West Coast that bugs the Titans. They haven't won there since 1993 (when they were the Houston Oilers).
The Bills have dropped five straight in Miami, and on Monday night the Dolphins will make it six. With starting corners Deion Sanders and Kevin Smith returning to duty, the Cowboys will get revenge for last season's playoff loss to the Cardinals. Asked last week if Sanders's health and mobility would be tested, Dallas free safety George Teague said, "I think somebody will make that mistake."