DR. Z'S FORECAST

December 01, 1997

The question is, how will Green Bay and Dallas rebound from
their titanic Struggle on the Tundra? The Packers' resounding
victory hid the fact that they're hurting in some areas,
particularly along the defensive line, where Reggie White has a
bad back and Gilbert Brown has a sprained ankle. Now they're
facing a three-game road trip, starting with the Vikings on
Monday night.

Since Mike Holmgren became coach in 1992, the Packers have twice
gone on three-game road trips. In 1994 they lost all three. Last
year they dropped two. Some folks believe that this is the
league's way of offsetting Green Bay's cold-weather home field
advantage. Others say it's just the luck of the draw. Whatever,
the Packers need to be concerned because they're still in a
serious division race and not on cruise control, like the 49ers.

Dorsey Levens set the club rushing record with his 190-yard
performance, and he certainly was the hammer that pounded the
Cowboys into submission, but allow me, please, one small note of
caution. Might it not be a good idea to give Levens, who carried
the ball 33 times against Dallas, a play off every now and then?
(The guy who was brought in to be his backup this year, Aaron
Hayden, wasn't even active on Sunday.) No, you say? Green Bay is
doing just fine without my help. Well, O.K., but don't say I
didn't warn you.

The Vikings are trouble. They've beaten the Pack five straight
times in the Metrodome. They're coming off a weird loss to the
Jets in which their pass rush was inconsistent and Cris Carter
was a forgotten part of their offense until the fourth quarter.
But Minnesota still could have won, or at least taken the game
into overtime, if not for a strange call on the two-point
conversion attempt at the end of regulation, a counter by Robert
Smith. Translation: The Vikings will be furious, and they'll be
up for this one, while the Pack might be on a semidowner after
that Dallas extravaganza.

In the first meeting this season Brett Favre shredded
Minnesota's zone in the first half, then the Vikings made a
serious run after intermission as the Green Bay guns fell
silent. This time I like the Vikings on pure emotion.

The Cowboys' problems are deeper. They were a whipped, tired,
thoroughly beaten team throughout that brutal fourth quarter on
Sunday when Levens punished them for 91 yards, and now they must
pull themselves together and get ready for Tennessee's Eddie
George to attack them.

Is there any doubt that the Oilers will run the ball?
Quarterback Steve McNair is bothered by an injured collarbone
and sternum. Tennessee's wideouts don't match up well with the
Dallas cornerbacks. Anyone drawing up a game plan against those
exhausted defenders who trudged off the field in Green Bay has
to start by seeing how they'll hold up against more of what the
Packers gave them. Oh, sure, coaches get cute sometimes and get
away from what they do best just to fool people, but Jeff Fisher
doesn't operate that way. Still, I like the Cowboys in this one.
They're a proud team, and now they're a wounded animal.

Ties have thrown the NFC East into a fine mess. Three teams have
a tie on their records, and when was the last time that happened
in the same division? The Cowboys are still very much in it,
despite their 6-6 record, and so, oddly enough, is 5-6-1
Philadelphia. Oh, no, I'm not writing the Eagles off, not when
they've got Cincinnati, Atlanta and a home game against the
Giants still on their schedule. They seem to have found a
savior, second-year quarterback Bobby Hoying, who was absolutely
brilliant on Sunday in the upset of the Steelers and has begun
his career by throwing 83 passes without an interception. Yes,
the Eagles are my pick against the Bengals.

And the Giants are my pick over Tampa Bay. Why? Because Trent
Dilfer has never faced those winds in the Meadowlands. That's a
new experience. O.K., you say, the Bucs can fall back on a
running game, but still very vivid in my mind is the way the
Giants shut down Terry Allen in their Sunday-night tie against
the Redskins. Until Warrick Dunn is effective again (he's been
held under 40 yards in five of the last six games), I can't see
the Bucs winning on the ground.

Look for the Chiefs to beat the Niners in K.C. Once you clinch a
division title, as San Francisco has, you just don't play with
the same intensity, even though your coach hammers you
relentlessly with the message, "We're playing for home field for
the postseason." Witness the Niners' seven-point win over San
Diego, a team with a hopeless situation at quarterback. (Two of
the 49ers' three scores came off turnovers.) Playing Kansas City
in Arrowhead will be a different matter.

The Jets succumbed to the Buffalo pass rush when the teams met
in Week 2 in New Jersey, but I don't think that'll happen this
time. On Sunday, New York kept two tight ends in a lot of the
time for maximum protection against the Vikings' pass rush and
got the job done. I like the Jets over the Bills in Buffalo,
where New York has won two out of the last five when Buffalo was
big time and the Jets were the pits.

Finally, look for Miami to beat the Raiders in Oakland. There
were many weird statistics from the Dolphins' loss to the
Patriots. Miami gained 406 yards but gave back 160 on two
interception returns, both for touchdowns. I have a hunch that
Jimmy Johnson will open things up this time against one of the
league's creakiest secondaries.

--PAUL ZIMMERMAN

COLOR PHOTO: PATRICK MURPHY-RACEY The Oilers will test the Cowboys' defense with George. [Eddie George 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)