It's time to get serious about this St. Louis phenomenon and ask the question: Can anyone stop the Rams? Surely some eager defensive coordinator is thirsting for a chance to make his reputation against this monster that has devoured defenses as if they were hors d'oeuvres, someone well versed in the legend of the Man Who Shot Jesse James, or Wild Bill Hickok, or Johnny Ringo.
What will it take? First, a hostile environment. Two of the Rams' three losses last year came in noisy venues—at Tennessee and Detroit. It might take a coach who can come up with a new scheme. Bill Belichick comes to mind, but the Rams and the Patriots don't meet.
Tampa Bay, which did as good a job as anyone at slowing down the express train in the NFC Championship Game last season, hosts the Rams in mid-December. New Orleans, which leads the league in defense, appears on their schedule twice, but not until late November. This Sunday there's Kansas City, and the game's at Arrowhead.
At one time you would have said that an upset loomed large. The Chiefs used to force a lot of turnovers and were able to generate a disruptive pass rush, especially in front of their 78,000-plus wild-eyed fans. No doubt a few handicappers will go out on a limb here and predict an upset, just to say that they were aboard when it happened. I can't go along.
Too many teams have lit up the Chiefs the way the Raiders did on their final drive on Sunday. Arrowhead is no longer a house of horrors for visiting teams. K.C.'s home record is 2-2. So I'll save my upset special for later this fall and cast a not-very-courageous vote for St. Louis.
The Jets against the Dolphins on Monday night is a more intriguing matchup. New York visited Foxboro last week and cooled off a hot team, the Patriots, by using the old noodle on both sides of the ball. The Jets protected their ailing quarterback, Vinny Testaverde, with a conservative game plan, relying on the running of Curtis Martin and short, controlled passing. On defense, Al Groh showed that all his years working with Belichick paid off, because he had unblocked blitzers and rushers coming at poor Drew Bledsoe from so many angles that it was a wonder the guy survived. Turnovers will decide Jets-Dolphins. New York is my pick.
Tennessee at Baltimore will be a war, but I can't see the Ravens' vanishing offense putting a serious dent in the Titans' D. A vote for Tennessee. The Redskins, who are winning with—surprise!—defense, will keep it going in Jacksonville, and while I'm voting for that side of the ball, I'll throw in one for the Saints, whose D is on a roll, to beat the Falcons in Atlanta. The Cowboys, even with all their woes, will handle the Cardinals, who can match Dallas problem for problem.
Unless you count the Titans as an upset (and I don't), I can find only one underdog that I like, the Niners over the Panthers. Elsewhere, this is one of those weeks in which the dogs don't seem too attractive, so I'll stick with the chalk and cast hard-eyed votes for Philly over Chicago, Minnesota over Buffalo and Indy over New England.