After last weekend the NFL's reigning monarchies are suddenly trembling. It appears that Tennessee, which had a stranglehold on the AFC, may now have to learn what life is like without running back Eddie George. St. Louis, after the greatest half season of offense ever, will find out how great it is without quarterback Kurt Warner. Washington, Minnesota and Oakland are eager to seize power. The rumbling of cannon fire can be heard outside the city walls.
The Titans will get a severe test from the Redskins on Monday night. Unless George makes a miraculous recovery from his sprained right knee, Tennessee will have to mount an attack with a lot more than the 101 passing yards that Steve McNair put up against Baltimore on Sunday. It would help if McNair could count on his wideouts. Carl Pickens and Yancey Thigpen, the high-priced imports, have been mere shadow figures, either sidelined by injury or playing hurt; Derrick Mason is more valuable as a return man; and Chris Sanders is good for one long catch about every two weeks.
Tennessee won with defense against the Ravens, but the Redskins are a different animal. Brad Johnson looked confident throwing both short and long in Sunday's victory over a Jacksonville team that played with fury, but couldn't match Washington's firepower. You never know what you're going to get against the Skins—Johnson throwing darts or the heavy hammer of Stephen Davis running behind two tight ends and a fullback. I'll make this one a hedge pick: Tennessee to win if George plays, Washington to take it if he doesn't.
Tampa Bay gets a second shot at the Vikings, this time at home, and you know something? The Bucs are almost out of second chances. Tampa Bay is the Earnie Shavers of the NFL. For a few rounds he threw sweeping left hooks and thundering rights that could destroy people, but opponents who could weather the early storm eventually outlasted him. Stand firm under the barrage of sacks (as Minnesota's Daunte Culpepper and Detroit's Charlie Batch did), climb off the canvas after the monster hits, run the ball late and you can tame the Bucs. The problem is Tampa Bay's offense, which is no better than last year's despite the fancy off-season pickups and might even be worse because quarterback Shaun King seems to be regressing. Logic says Minnesota, which won the first meeting 30-23, but old habits die hard. The pick is Tampa Bay.
When he was running the Jets' defense, Bill Belichick had Bills quarterback Doug Flutie's number, and I'm sure the strategy was shared with fellow New York assistant Al Groh, who is now the Jets' head guy. Nevertheless, the game is in windy Buffalo, and I like the way Flutie ran the show in Minnesota, so I'll go with the Bills over the Jets. New Orleans, behind the heavy hoofbeats of Ricky Williams and his thundering herd, will beat the Cardinals in Tempe. The Giants will make it 2 for 2 over the Eagles, but this one won't be the picnic it was in Philly.
Dallas is coming off a huge win; Jacksonville is rebounding from a loss that many people feel ended its season. Not so fast. I like the Jaguars on pure emotion. The Steelers have gone through a weird stretch of facing teams with quarterback woes, and now they meet another one, in Baltimore. But Pittsburgh is pulling the second switch at that position itself, so I'll go with the Ravens. Cincinnati will beat the Couch-less Browns, and Kansas City will get its running game going and beat Seattle, which has allowed the last two backs it has faced, Edgerrin James and Tyrone Wheatley, to put up huge numbers.