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Dr. Z's Forecast: Defense Decides Two Big Games
COULD SOMEBODY tell me what's happening at quarterback? Chicago's Rex Grossman, the brightest young star of September, had a very nasty go of it against Minnesota on Sunday, barely surviving a two-interception day. Carson Palmer and Ben Roethlisberger had five picks between them in Cincy's victory at Pittsburgh. Peyton Manning was 5 for 13 in the first half of Indy's win over Jacksonville. Tom Brady spent the game against Denver dreaming of the ghosts of Patriots receivers past. And against his old team, the Rams, Kurt Warner looked like a guy who won't survive the season in Arizona.
Meanwhile on Sunday, passers with murky futures suddenly looked terrific. Mark Brunell completed an NFL-record 22 straight passes for the Redskins. Jake Plummer had a fine night against the Pats. Brett Favre had 340 yards and no picks in Green Bay's first win.
Which brings us to a week in which the most interesting action is nondivision. The Seahawks, who undressed the Giants, visit the Bears in a battle of unbeatens. I'll tell you why I like Seattle in an upset . The Giants' rush didn't get within sniffing distance of Matt Hasselbeck. And Seattle's defense is a lot better than people think, so what better time to prove itself than in a matchup against Chicago's mighty D?
Two more showpiece defenses meet when San Diego visits Baltimore. The Chargers, with their flashy pass rush, are coming off a bye. The Ravens, who play with great pride, go after the inexperienced Philip Rivers. I was leaning toward the home team, but when San Diego opened as a 2�-point favorite, this became a formula game. I'm going with the Chargers.
I thought New England would roll over Denver on Sunday, setting up a classic battle in Cincinnati. It didn't happen. The Patriots' running game couldn't crack the Broncos' defense, and it was depressing to watch Brady struggle. Will the Bengals be fired up for this one, or coming down from the emotional Pittsburgh game? Cincy's the pick.
The Vikings are a good club, but I just don't like a dome team going into the northern winds, so I'll take Buffalo . I don't like that the Jaguars are coming off two big AFC battles. The letdown has to come sometime, but I'll take Jacksonville over Washington anyway. I always pick the Monday-nighter, even one that appears to be as lopsided as Green Bay at Philadelphia. Careful, this one might fool you—but not me. The Eagles win it with their relentless pass rush. Here's an intriguing game to end on: Cleveland at Oakland, which matches second-year passers Charlie Frye and Andrew Walter. Which team has the better offensive line and running game? Neither. The better defense? Maybe the Raiders. In December the teams that are hopelessly out of it always say, "We're playing for pride." That's what's at stake here on Oct. 1. I'll go with the Browns.
Dr. Z writes for the Web every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at SI.com/nfl