Redskins coach Norv Turner knows how to beat the Cowboys. He's
4-3 against them, and that includes seasons when Dallas was
Super Bowl caliber and Washington was young and struggling. I
don't think he'll come out on top this Sunday.
The Cowboys got into the red zone four times last weekend, and
the result was three touchdowns, so that headache has been cured
for at least one week. O.K., you say, it was against the
Cardinals, big deal, but it looks as if Dallas is getting things
together just in the nick of time.
The strongest argument for the Redskins is that they beat the
Cowboys in Washington last month without three key people,
tailback Terry Allen and wideout Michael Westbrook (both out
most of the game) and strong side guard Bob Dahl. Don't
underplay the significance of Dahl, a serious drive-blocker who
firms up the line and usually saves his biggest games for
Dallas. Now they're all back. For Turner, who has gone into too
many Dallas games shorthanded, it'll be a pleasure to set up a
game plan this week.
I watched Washington's 30-7 win over Detroit on tape, after I
knew the score. I figured I would be looking at a blowout, but
what I saw was a quarterback who was jarringly out of sync at
times. Gus Frerotte started out 4 of 15. He wasn't timed up with
his receivers. He didn't perform well under pressure. What kept
Washington in the game was the fact that the Lions'
quarterbacking was worse, plus the Skins' much-maligned defense
did a good job of swarming Barry Sanders. Also, cornerbacks Cris
Dishman and Darrell Green had a terrific afternoon. Punter Matt
Turk kept bailing the Redskins out when they were backed up, and
punt returner Brian Mitchell kept giving them field position.
When Frerotte settled down, it was all over.
The matchup of Washington's offensive line versus Dallas's front
seven favors the Skins. But I think the Cowboys' secondary is
going to get a couple of interceptions if Frerotte begins like
he did against the Lions, and if Dallas puts something on the
board early, which it usually does, and forces the Skins out of
their running game, then it's a Cowboys victory. That's what I
The NFC East is bunching up. The Giants have the toughest
schedule, Washington's is next and Dallas, with four of its
final six at home, has it the easiest. You Cowboy haters who
were hoping that this is the year Dallas finally takes the pipe,
well, you might have to wait awhile.
Philly travels to Baltimore to face a team that turned the ball
over seven times in the Pittsburgh slaughter. So why am I
picking Baltimore? Because the surest formula when handicapping
Ray Rhodes's team is to bet against it when it's playing an AFC
squad on the road. Seems that I've mentioned that before, but
honest, folks, the Eagles just don't take these games seriously.
In the preseason, Carolina at San Francisco looked like a
biggie, after the way the Panthers won at the Niners' place late
last year en route to the NFC West title. Now this game looks
like a 49ers blowout. Here's a statistic for you: The Broncos'
Darrien Gordon got 10 more yards on two punt returns on Sunday
than the Panthers did in total offense. Tight end Shannon Sharpe
drifted through Carolina's zone as if he were invisible. The
only thing that can derail the Niners is if they remember how
easy their victory came in September (34-21) instead of how
nasty that loss was last December.
New England travels to Tampa Bay, each coming off a 31-10
victory, and my friends in the Bureau of Weird Stats inform me
that the last time two teams coming off 31-10 wins met was in
1922, Oorang Indians versus Minneapolis Marines--no, no, relax,
just having a little fun here. The point is that we have two
teams that got themselves back on track: the Patriots getting
some life out of a listless defense, the Bucs showing some of
their early-season precision on offense. Whom do I think will
win? The pick is Tampa Bay, which put a wall around Trent Dilfer
and held the NFL's top sacking team, Atlanta, sackless.
I'll take Miami over Buffalo in the Monday-nighter. There are
two keys: home field, plus the Dan Marino-versus-Todd Collins
Denver has lost four of its last five in Kansas City. The Chiefs
are unbeaten in Arrowhead this year. Naturally I'm picking the
Broncos. It's going to take Rich Gannon awhile to get his
fundamentals back, to figure out where his receivers are and
why. Plus, the offensive line is banged up. Here's another
offbeat statistic: The Broncos have nine defensive and special
teams touchdowns this season, as many as they had in the
previous six years combined. I can see them adding to the total
Finally, here's my upset special: The Bears over the Jets, for
no other reason than that they showed great courage giving the
Vikings a run for it after being down 21-10. In three visits to
Soldier Field, the Jets have won once, back in 1974. I covered
that game. What do I remember? It turned on three straight
personal fouls against Chicago, and afterward, Bears coach Abe
Gibron was apoplectic as he devoured the biggest knockwurst
sandwich I've ever seen. Sweet memories. --PAUL ZIMMERMAN