EVERY GAME NFC
East teams play against each other will be a big one. Nobody knows yet who's
really good. No one's a mortal lock to win the division, or strictly a long
shot. And as much as we hate to fall into that trap of calling a mid-September
contest a "crucial," how else would you describe the twin pairings of
Washington- Dallas and Giants-Philly this weekend? Look at it this way. The
Cowboys dropped both games to Washington last year, but if they had gained a
split--and they very easily could have taken the first game, a 14--13
loss--then they, not the Redskins, would have been in the playoffs.
an odd series. In 14 of the last 15 years the team that won the first contest
has taken the second one. This year I think the Giants will have Philly's
number. Last week the Eagles got an early scare in Houston and then coasted.
The Giants had a momentous game against Indy, whipping the Colts in most
categories in which he-men are measured: running game, run defense, quarterback
pressure and so forth. But Peyton Manning was a magician, getting off his
passes at the very last moment, just before he felt the horns of the beast, to
lead Indy to a most impressive victory.
enjoyed one of the utmost luxuries in NFL football against the Texans: being
able to substitute an entire front four at times. Fresh legs can stand firm
against a big league running game. They can keep the pass rush going. Philly
might be a lot better than we suspect, but I just like the emotion and muscle
New York showed against the Colts. The Giants are my pick in an upset.
The second half
of the NFC East set matches a pair of quarterbacks with something to prove.
Washington's Mark Brunell had a miserable exhibition season. Drew Bledsoe of
Dallas seemed to tire last week as the loss to the Jaguars wore on. I'm not
really comfortable with this pick, but I'll stick with the Cowboys, only
because the game's in Dallas.
Jets at home over New England. The Jets haven't beat the Patriots for the last
three years. But there's a new spirit catching on in New York, and, guaranteed,
when those victory-starved Jets fans see their offense take the field on
Sunday, the roars will be deafening. The Patriots were downplaying the holdout
by wideout Deion Branch. The Buffalo game was a chance to make a statement.
See, we're just fine without him. Then the entire banged-up wideout corps
caught four passes for 51 yards, and Branch was traded.
In other games
that figure to be close, the Saints will win on the Packers' home turf for the
first time in 35 years. Carolina gave up the second-most rushing yards in
franchise history (252) to Atlanta, but I can't see a Vikings victory. Brad
Johnson's no Michael Vick. Panthers to win it. Wait a minute, I've found
another upset: San Francisco, with an offense that's coming back to life, will
beat St. Louis in a shootout. And in the Monday-nighter, well, Jacksonville's
one of the few teams that's always matched up well physically with Pittsburgh,
and if Big Ben isn't back yet.... Aah, the hell with it. With or without him,
the Steelers will get their upset on the road.
Last week: 5--3
(not including late Monday game)