DR. Z'S FORECAST

September 14, 1997

Everyone in the NFC East is 1-1. The Vikings meet the Buccaneers
for the undisputed lead in the NFC Central. The 49ers, just
barely clinging to life and down to their third quarterback, are
tied for the lead in the NFC West, which doesn't really have a
team capable of leading anything. Things are getting weird,
folks, and it isn't even autumn yet.

Don't the Cowboys know it. Their meltdown in the Arizona heat
got 'em on Sunday night, and they're lucky they have an extra
day to get ready for the Eagles. If I were Barry Switzer, I'd
call off practice and just pack the players in ice until the
Monday-night kickoff. The Cardinals tried to give away the game
with those four fumbles, but Dallas wouldn't take it. Arizona
finally got busy and started putting together drives. Then the
heat kicked in, and the Cowboys' sideline looked like Cramp
Central, and at the end it was the Cardinals, 25-22, in
overtime. Now Dallas hosts the resurgent Eagles, coming off a
10-9 upset of the Packers. What I want to know is how long it
takes a team to get its legs back.

I say two weeks. I say the Eagles beat the Cowboys in Dallas,
even though they're coming off a nasty, bruising game
themselves, a game they should have lost, except that Green
Bay's rookie kicker, Ryan Longwell, pushed his 28-yard field
goal at the end. There are some things I just can't get out of
my mind, like the three times Philly gave up only field goals
when the Packers had driven deep, and the 19-play touchdown
drive the Eagles put together against a defense that was ranked
No. 1 in the league last year. Then there was the way the
Cowboys kept screwing up when they got close against the
Cardinals.

The hook is the Philly quarterback situation. Ty Detmer is off
to a rocky start, and Rodney Peete waits for the call. But the
defense matches up well with Dallas, and who knows what kind of
shape the Cowboys will be in after their disaster in the desert?

Green Bay to beat undefeated Miami at Lambeau. I didn't like
what I saw of the Dolphins in their overtime win over Tennessee.
There was a minicrisis when Dan Marino passed for only 105 yards
in the opener, but everyone was smiling again when he threw for
324 against the Oilers. Almost all the action, though, was on
passes to the inside, crossing patterns, slants, relatively easy
throws. I think Green Bay's defensive coordinator, Fritz
Shurmur, will pinch off the middle and make Marino go to more
difficult stuff. Miami's ground game? Forget it. The Dolphins
haven't run on anybody, and they won't run on the Pack.

I'd feel more secure about this pick if Brett Favre could shake
his alarming tendency to start slowly (against the Eagles, he
didn't complete a pass until the second quarter), if his No. 2
wideout, Antonio Freeman, didn't drop so many balls and if
cornerback Tyrone Williams hadn't been devoured by Philly's
Irving Fryar (eight catches, 125 yards). That said, Green Bay
simply has too many weapons.

Unbeaten Tampa Bay to upset unbeaten Minnesota in the Metrodome.
I've picked two upsets in a row for the Bucs. You think I'm
going to abandon them now, when they need me most? Their defense
swarms, and Barry Sanders was the latest to feel its bite (10
carries, 20 yards). Now Tampa Bay faces a different problem,
Cris Carter, who keeps pulling miracles out of the sky, the
latest being a 21-yarder on fourth-and-eight on the closing
drive that beat the Bears. But Tampa Bay won't put up the
soft-cushion pass defense that Chicago did. And if you don't
like Bucs quarterback Trent Dilfer against a hungry Vikings
defense that cherishes turnovers, bear in mind that he's thrown
no interceptions this year, and that includes the preseason.

New England fans can't wait for Bill Parcells to come back so
they can show him how nicely they're doing without him.
Parcells' Jets looked like his first Super Bowl-winning Giants
team in the slaughter of the Seahawks two weeks ago. No, I'm not
talking about the Neil O'Donnell fireworks. I'm referring to the
way he loaded the perimeters with two, sometimes three tight
ends to get an overmatch and spring his runner, Adrian Murrell.

On the Joe Morris Giants, tight end Mark Bavaro blocked down and
one of the guards came around. On last year's Patriots, Keith
Byars cracked back. Parcells loves to get those angles on the
outside, and that's what he wanted to do on Sunday against the
Bills, who in Week 1 abandoned their running lanes and got
burned badly by the Vikings.

Except that Buffalo played it straight-up this time and held
firm at the point, and when the Jets went to Phase 2, their
multiple wideout set, they were overrun by the Bills' pass rush
to the tune of eight sacks. Poof went the game. Poof number 2
for the Jets comes this Sunday night in Foxboro. New England's
pass rush is simply too quick for New York's blockers. O.K., you
say, who have the Patriots played--the Chargers and the Colts?
Yeah, but they played those teams with one eye to Sept. 14.

The Bills are on a roll, so they take the Chiefs apart in K.C.,
right? Uh-uh. Look for Kansas City to beat Buffalo for a reason
I've never favored before but which seems a bit more meaningful
this time. The noise, the crowd--that sea of red at Arrowhead
seems to make the Bills goofy. Even in their four Super Bowl
seasons they saved their worst games for Arrowhead: two trips,
two big losses.

The 49ers will stay on top in the NFC West with a win over the
Saints. The offense is a mess, but San Francisco can still play
defense, and now New Orleans will test it with Heath Shuler and
his 28.1 passer rating. A far-out prediction: San Francisco's
defense will score more points than its offense, but it'll be
close.

--PAUL ZIMMERMAN

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO Carter will get tight coverage from the Bucs. [Cris Carter in game]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)