The first question is: If the Patriots made Jets backup
quarterback Glenn Foley look like Joe Montana, what's going to
happen when they face Brett Favre in the Monday-nighter? Score
one for Green Bay.
The second question is: If the Packers are truly a much
different team away from Lambeau Field (1-2 on the road, and the
victory over the winless Bears could have easily gone the other
way), what's going to happen when they visit Foxboro, where
they've played three times without winning? Give the Patriots a
check mark here.
More questions: What does it mean that this is a Super Bowl
rematch? Do the Pats long for revenge? Or is there a belief in
the Packers' hearts that they've got this team's number? And how
about the fact that Green Bay has had a bye week to heal its
wounded--well, some of them--while New England was struggling
through an emotional loss?
There are a lot of angles to this one, folks, and I'll admit
that I'm having a terrible time handicapping it. First of all, I
think New England will bring the heat against a banged-up
offensive line. The Patriots brought plenty against Neil
O'Donnell on Sunday and forced him into a safety on a grounding
penalty in the end zone, which made Bill Parcells so mad that he
opened the second half with Foley, whose last win was in the
Carquest Bowl at the end of the 1993 season, when he was
quarterbacking Boston College.
Sitting on a lead, the Pats figured they'd lay back and give the
kid a bunch of sophisticated zone coverages, which is not their
style, and he carved them up. Ergo, I think they'll play a lot
of man-to-man against Favre and devise an exotic blitz scheme
and see if the blockers can pick it up.
Remember how the Patriots built their 14-10 lead over Green Bay
in the second quarter of the Super Bowl? They talked run all
week, then abandoned it early and went with a lot of play-action
passing. But things are different now, with massive defensive
tackle Gilbert Brown bedeviled by a bad knee. Four NFC Central
runners have gone over 100 yards against the Pack; one of them,
Chicago's Raymont Harris, did it twice. And this is a team that
used to pride itself on shutting down the run.
I think the Patriots will give their talented tailback, Curtis
Martin, a chance to hang another skin on the wall. I think that
the crowd will be loud and crazy and that Drew Bledsoe, finally
freed from having to address all those Parcells questions during
the week, will put together a commendable evening. Call it a win
for New England.
I didn't think the Buccaneers would lose to Green Bay. I
certainly didn't think Detroit would beat them in Tampa. And I
don't think the Bucs will lose to the Vikings. One might gather
that I have a rooting interest in this team, and, well, I'll
admit it, I'm kind of pulling for them. I have been underrating
Minnesota all year. But still fresh in my mind are the 217
rushing yards the Bucs ran up in Green Bay, and I think they'll
get some big numbers for Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott against a
defense that's basically keyed to the pass rush.
Look for the Eagles to beat the Cowboys in Philadelphia. They
should have done it in Dallas, except that the mechanics fell
apart on an extra-point-length field goal attempt. Ray Rhodes
won't let his players forget it. This is their make-or-break
game of the season. Scratch that. I hate it when the media start
writing off a season at the midpoint. But it is big, and the
Cowboys, who regained some semblance of order against
Jacksonville, have lost their last three on the road.
Philly will mount the kind of pass rush that troubled the
Redskins a few weeks ago, and I particularly favor the matchup
of speed rusher Mike Mamula, who seems to save his biggest games
for the Cowboys, against Mark Tuinei's backup at left tackle,
George Hegamin, who had a rough time with the Jaguars' Tony
Sorry, but at this writing I don't know whether Cardinal coach
Vince Tobin feels that Jake (the Snake) Plummer is ready for
full-time action against the Oilers. I'm guessing that he does,
though it wouldn't surprise me if he played it safe with Kent
Graham, if his ankle is O.K., or Stoney Case. This could be the
start of an interesting career. The team seemed to come to life
under Plummer last week, and when you're 1-6, you play the young
gun. Plummer puts a couple of scores on the board, and Arizona
gets win number 2.
Seattle over Oakland in the Kingdome. The Raiders played their
Super Bowl against the Broncos, and it's time for a letdown. The
Seahawks looked lost in their coverage schemes early in the
season, but things have settled down, and the defense has
allowed only one touchdown in the last two games.
Finally, there's an upset that I'd love to pick, but do I have
the courage? What the hell, why not? Atlanta to beat Carolina on
the road. The Falcons hung in against the 49ers. They do some of
the little things that go unnoticed, such as on punt coverage,
where they've allowed only 46 return yards this season. Chuck
Smith, their sackmaster, is an intriguing player who can almost
single-handedly disrupt an offense. The only question is: Who's
going to be their quarterback in the fourth quarter? If Chris
Chandler goes down again, then all bets are off.