Bucs at Eagles. The concept seemed terrific for Tampa Bay: Line up in a big-back set with 237-pound Jameel Cook blocking for 248-pound Mike Alstott, or pair Alstott with speedy Warrick Dunn for a running attack with some flash. Except that it hasn't happened.
The Bucs usually come out throwing because they like to get wideout Keyshawn Johnson involved early, and if things are working out O.K. and their defense is playing with passion and they get a lead, they come back with Alstott as a kind of afterthought. If he gets his yards, that's what people remember.
Tampa Bay, however, ranks near the bottom of the league in rushing and will be playing in Philadelphia, where it gets cold and windy this time of year. So if the Buccaneers truly commit themselves to running the ball against a defense with a banged-up line that has struggled recently against the rush, then I give them a shot. I don't believe they'll go this route, though. I think that Tampa Bay will take to the air early, and that the Eagles will shut that down. Then the Bucs will come back with the run, but by then they'll be behind. Philadelphia wins it, and watch the turnovers. They'll be big.
Jets at Raiders. Same message: Run the ball. When New York beat Oakland on Sunday, the message didn't get through. Curtis Martin, the NFL's leading rusher going into the game, carried seven times in the first half, even though the Raiders had been shaky against the run and were minus their best defensive lineman, Darrell Russell. Then again, it's hard for offensive coordinators to be considered brilliant if they just bang away.
What won it for the Jets last week? Young legs. Their defense overwhelmed an old and tired Oakland team and put more heat on Rich Gannon (right) than he could handle. I see the same thing happening on Saturday, unless New York decides to go flashy with multiple-wideout packages and tries to set up Vinny Testaverde for a big day. The Jets are my pick.
49ers at Packers. A lot of good San Francisco teams have frozen on the tundra. Green Bay has won seven of the past eight matchups between the two teams, including the last four at home. But maybe this is the right time for the Niners to end the skid. Jeff Garcia is coming off a four-touchdown performance. The Packers no doubt will be pestered by the distraction of the gimme sack that Brett Favre handed the Giants' Michael Strahan on Sunday.
San Francisco is a well-coached team with a defense that's good enough to gain the upper hand if Favre experiences the early wildness that has occasionally plagued him. I'm trying to build a case for the Niners, but I'm afraid I'm forced to march in familiar lockstep—the losing streak, the cold weather and Favre's mastery of it. The Packers get the nod.
Ravens at Dolphins. Whose defense will do the most damage? Do you like Baltimore's against Jay Fiedler or Miami's working on Elvis Grbac? Can one of these gentlemen surprise us with a career game?
I don't think either team will run very much. I see about five interceptions. The question is, Which side will get more of them? The Dolphins' biggest concern is the torn muscle in the right shoulder of Zach Thomas, their far-ranging middle linebacker. Call this an if pick—if Thomas can go, I'll take Miami. If he sits, I like the Ravens.