The traps were neatly set, and Miami and New England, the two unbeatens of the AFC East, fell into them. They were looking ahead to their matchup this Sunday. They were both on the road and favored slightly, over Kansas City and San Diego, respectively, two teams that had given everybody trouble. And down they went.
If you want to be generous, you can say that the Dolphins and the Patriots didn't give it their best effort because of the look-ahead factor, but that would be unfair to the Chiefs and the Chargers, who both played terrific games. And after looking almost invincible for the first three weeks, Miami and New England showed some cracks.
The Dolphins hadn't trailed in their first three games, but when they had to play catch-up against K.C., the interceptions came in bunches. The Patriots, for the second straight week, got hammered by the run. When Miami beat New England 30-10 early last season, the Dolphins ran for 209 yards. When Miami lost to New England in Foxboro in December, the Dolphins never got their ground game going. Clearly a heavy rushing attack by Miami would seem to be called for this week, but let's look at this a little more closely.
Both running backs who killed the Patriots this year, the Chiefs' Priest Holmes and the Chargers' LaDainian Tomlinson, are nifty cutback runners, and San Diego had great success faking reverses and pitchouts and then coming back on counters. The Dolphins' Ricky Williams is a power runner, and the trick-'em style hasn't been Miami's trademark. But you never know—if K.C. and San Diego can do it to New England....
?Prediction: The Patriots load up to stop the run. The Dolphins stick to a safe passing game but occasionally take their shots with quarterback Jay Fiedler and test the corners with Chris Chambers. The effectiveness of New England's attack depends on whether injured wideout Troy Brown (sore right knee) returns. It's a tough game to call, but I'll offer a shaky pick and go with Miami.
? San Francisco has lost six straight to St. Louis, only one of them by fewer than 10 points. The Rams are tottering on the brink of oblivion with quarterback Kurt Warner out and two suspect tackles to protect backup Jamie Martin. Overconfidence for the Niners? Not likely. It's a chance m^ to get even. San Francisco wins big.
?Carolina, which outplayed the Packers at Lambeau Field, is an old-fashioned team with a swarming defense and a precise, trap-block running game, and the Panthers get the nod over Arizona. Kansas City keeps its high-powered offense going at the Meadowlands against the reeling Jets, and New Orleans bounces back against Pittsburgh. Tennessee, with an unsettled pass defense, seems just right for the wiles of the Redskins' Steve Spurrier. What wiles? There ain't any. The Titans are the pick.
? Denver will cool off the red-hot Chargers. I like Philly over Jacksonville, but it'll be closer than it looks. In the Monday-nighter I'll take Chicago over Green Bay, whose defense got shoved around by Carolina.
?I'm still looking for an upset, and I just found three. Oakland suffers a slight letdown, and that's all that Drew Bledsoe and the Bills need. Buffalo squeaks one out. The Giants, who promise that they will never again throw a sideline pass to run out the clock at the end of the half, rise up and hang one on Dallas. And Atlanta, which is better than people think-better than Tampa Bay thinks—upsets the Buccaneers.