How do you handicap emotion? You don't. You guess. Most of the time you're surprised.
At no time this year has emotion run higher than it did two weeks ago when the Ravens invaded Cleveland, which was stoked to the eyeballs, looking to avenge Art Modell's defection. It ran so high that even Baltimore coach Brian Billick got caught up in it, predicting that it would be very hard for the Ravens to get a fair shake from a league that wanted his guys to lose. Then the Browns got murdered 41-9. A week later, they hung a 16-15 loss on the Steelers.
The Cowboys were in the pits after Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith went down in the Monday night loss to the Vikings. Deion Sanders was hobbling on a strained groin and sore hamstring, and the rest of the secondary was in tough shape. Here came the Packers, losers of two straight, desperate to right a sinking ship. So the Cowboys went out and played one of the most courageous games in their fabled history—yes, even more stirring than all those wins when Dallas had the great Doomsday Defense and Aikman and Smith were operating at full throttle—because this time they were going in shorthanded. Did you happen to catch their first drive? Pure passion. They sustained it, too, whether it was Chris Warren running the ball or Robert Chancey, a 250-pound Bears castoff.
Or how about the Broncos, down to their third quarterback, holding off the Seahawks until finally getting beaten in the closing moments by a returning star—wideout Joey Galloway—who ended his holdout at just the right time?
What happens a week later? Is the emotional supply tapped out, or is there enough left to carry over for another Sunday?
I think the Cowboys will keep it going against the Cardinals, a team they'd beaten in 16 of 17 regular-season games before being humiliated by them in the playoffs last year. Last week Arizona brought down the Lions with a running game that emerged from nowhere. Now Detroit, which still holds a slim lead in the NFC Central, will travel to Green Bay to find out what kind of mood the Pack is in after its depressing loss. A nasty mood, I feel. Green Bay has taken seven straight at home from Detroit, and I look for the Packers to make it eight in a row by putting together a big running game.
The Dolphins were humiliated in Buffalo. Tough weather conditions, hostile crowd, fierce pressure on young quarterback Damon Huard. Now Miami has the Patriots at home in the latest AFC East Crucial Game of the Week. New England will blitz the house against Huard, just as it has always done against Dan Marino. But the Patriots will be surprised by a Miami defense that struggled against the Bills but will take charge of this game. I see a win for Miami in a game dictated by turnovers.
The Chiefs, whose defense is the turnover king of the NFL, forced six of them against the Bucs but couldn't put enough offense together to get the win. Seattle has Galloway back, but I didn't like the way its offensive line got manhandled by the Denver rush. Expect more turnovers for the K.C. defense and a win for the Chiefs over the Seahawks at Arrowhead.
The Broncos, who have hung tough, will beat the Raiders at Mile High on Monday night. The Titans will add to the woes of the Steelers, who have yet to beat a team with a winning record. The Bears, who still can't decide who their quarterback is despite the career game that Jim Miller gave them on Sunday, will squeeze one out in San Diego against a Chargers defense that's finally showing signs of cracking, with 126 points allowed in its last four games.