LIKE NAPOLEON'S old legions, rallying to join their emperor after his escape from Elba, Bill Parcells's former players took one look at their coach's sad, downbeat press conference following the Cowboys' loss to the Giants on Oct. 23 and began phoning Dallas headquarters. "What can we do to help?" That's how worried they were.
Tony Romo, Parcells's handpicked successor to Drew Bledsoe, had seen his first action in the second half against the Giants and had been overmatched by their defense, which intercepted him three times on that terrible Monday night. Parcells had to wonder whether the kid ever would make it. Two weeks later the rampaging Giants, winners of five straight, had built a two-game lead on the Cowboys in the NFC East. The situation looked grim indeed for Dallas.
Then the Cowboys made a complete turnaround. They won their next three, and Romo became a poster boy for the NFL Baby Bomber quarterbacking set. Meanwhile, the Giants, smacked hard by injuries and the regression of third-year quarterback Eli Manning, lost three in a row and dropped a game behind Dallas in the NFC East.
Manning's game has fallen apart. He never was a high-percentage passer, but now there is the persistent fear of the weirdly erratic throw, the rogue pass that comes from nowhere and stops the offense cold. So desperate is the concern that critics have gone back to draft day 2004, questioning the wisdom of the deal that brought Manning to New York in the first place.
The best that can be said for the Giants is that they have played with passion at times this season and looked as if they could beat anybody. The worst is that the inordinate number of injuries has thinned their ranks and caused their defense to tire from being on the field too long. That was apparent last week when New York blew a big lead against Tennessee—that and a string of illogical, self-destructive plays, including some weird throws by the quarterback.
The Giants will have emotion and the home crowd going for them when they play the Cowboys on Sunday. Dallas will have the advantage of settled personnel and a QB who doesn't show a penchant for critical mistakes. I think the Giants will come out fired up, and that will last until fatigue sets in. The win goes to Dallas.
Revenge will be working for the Bengals on Thursday night against the mighty Ravens, who roughed them up plenty last time. I'll buy that. Cincy's the pick. I like the Jaguars in general, but not on the road, where they're 1--4. I'll take the Dolphins, who have won their last two at home. Give me Carolina, which still has something to play for, over Philadelphia in the Monday-nighter. I like Denver, even with rookie QB Jay Cutler, over Seattle and its erratic defense. And in Green Bay, I just don't think the Packers have enough offensive weapons to overcome the defensive high jinks the Jets will come up with. Jets are the pick.
Last week 5--2 Season 46--44
Dr. Z writes for the Web every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at SI.com/nfl.