The chickens came home to roost for the NFL elite last weekend. Fears became realities. The "but" in the "yes, but" carried the day.
Yes, the Rams and the Colts have offenses that are beautiful to behold, but their defenses are suspect. So Carolina pressured quarterback Trent Green all night and upset St. Louis, whose defense couldn't bail out a subpar showing from a banged-up offense. Chicago took charge against Indianapolis from the opening bell, putting up halftime numbers of 44 plays to the Colts' 16 and 273 yards to 69 in taking a 20-0 lead.
How about the Jets, who were tied for the AFC East lead? How about all those heart-stopping fourth-quarter comebacks? Yes, they've been thrilling, but you can't keep playing as poorly as they have at the start of games. The Broncos practically ran the Jets out of their own park in the early going, and this time New York couldn't recover.
We could go on, but let's try to project all this to Week 11, which will be dedicated to cleaning up the wreckage. A trip to the Meadowlands to play the Giants could be a nasty assignment for the Rams. Natural turf, chance of ugly weather (or at least the usual late-autumn winds), an opponent that's not flashy but solid. If I'd had the courage, I would have picked Kansas City to upset St. Louis three weeks ago, but now the Rams' secret is out. With Marshall Faulk on the shelf, Green spraying his passes and the line getting shoved around, St. Louis is not the showpiece team it was. The Giants are the pick in a no-longer-shocking upset.
There comes a time in every Jets game when a lightbulb seems to go on and the offense whizzes down the field, biting off yardage in big chunks and ringing up points like a pinball machine. It'll happen against the Colts in Indy, too, but I'll take the Colts on big-play potential.
The Broncos host the Raiders on Monday night, and will somebody please tell Denver coach Mike Shanahan that it's not healthy to bear a grudge for so long? He especially dislikes the Raiders, who fired him in 1989 and who he feels still owe him money. But beating them six straight times, just to prove a point? I'll give your Broncos this one, Mike, but that's enough already.
Chicago visits Buffalo, which seems like an easy game to handicap, but there's a snapper. Both teams are quarterbacked by guys the fans like better than the coaches do. Doug Flutie replaced an injured Rob Johnson, and about all the Bills have done is win. Jim Miller got the call over Cade McNown in Chicago last week, and the offense finally looked like what it was intended to be. Is that attack good enough to dent a superior defense like Buffalo's? I don't think so. I favor the Bills, but I'll repeat my favorite line of the weekend, from CBS analyst Mark May: "The Bears are a team now that just eludes confidence."
The AFC Central games look like first-touchdown-wins-it affairs. These teams play as if they're afraid the IRS is going to impose a TD Tax. I think one touchdown will be scored in the Baltimore-Tennessee game, and the team that gets it will be the Titans.
There will be no such problems for the Saints, who scored touchdowns on their first four possessions against the 49ers. Can they stay on a roll, or will the Panthers, who showed great resilience in St. Louis, be too much? I see a letdown. New Orleans is the pick.
Kansas City at San Francisco is an intriguing matchup. If the Chiefs still fancy themselves gunslingers, they'll find 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia only too willing to get into a shootout. But when facing that generous Niners defense, how can you keep from putting the ball up? I'll take the Chiefs.