Dr. Z's Forecast

September 06, 1998

Somewhere out there is a team that's good and knows it's good,
even though no one else does. It has been downgraded by the
forecasting geniuses, including yours truly, and is licking its
chops, waiting for the bell. You'll see.

That team will come through with a season-opening upset, and at
the end of the year, when it's in the playoffs, the club will
look back on that first game as the one that defined its season.
And the football world will say, "How come we didn't see that
coming?"

The Buccaneers had a game like that last year, stunning the 49ers
in their opener. And the low-rated Giants beat the favored Eagles
on their way to the NFC East title. Oh, yes, the upsets in Week 1
are out there, just waiting to happen. The trick is to find them.

So let's begin our first round of forecasts with the surprises.

The Oilers over the Bengals in Cincinnati. The Bengals seem to
have gotten their act together with Neil O'Donnell running the
offense, but Tennessee might be one of the sleepers of '98. I
like the Oilers' pounding style against a zone-blitz defense that
still has to show that it knows what it's doing.

Look for the Bucs, another road team, to upset the Vikings, who
are dazzling people with all their firepower. Tampa Bay is coming
off a blah preseason, and Trent Dilfer has struggled, but that
just makes me like the Bucs even more. They're loading up for the
real thing instead of trying to impress a new owner--as the
Vikings were. Besides, Tampa Bay seems to play well at the
Metrodome.

I'm leaning toward a third upset, but my heart isn't in it: the
Bills over the Chargers. The Chargers averaged 32.3 points a game
in the preseason, and this will be a coming-out party for
quarterback Ryan Leaf, and the crowd will be loud--well, as loud
as Southern Californians can get. Still, I like the Bills, who
don't thrill you in any department but have a blue-collar
soundness. Call this an emotional pick, which means the brain is
on a 30-minute lunch break.

Arizona to upset Dallas is a most enticing proposition, with the
Cowboys going through their usual off-field histrionics. And you
have to figure Jake Plummer will work his magic against a Dallas
defense that can't find a pass rush. But the flip side is that
Arizona doesn't have much of an offensive line, and the Cardinals
haven't won in Dallas since 1989. So I'll stick with the Cowboys.

Seahawks over the Eagles in Philly. It's not that I'm so wild
about the Seahawks, a team some people consider an emerging
nation. It's just that the Eagles--with their fine right
cornerback, Bobby Taylor, out, and their keynote runner, Charlie
Garner, nursing a sprained ankle--will have an even tougher time
than people realize. I think Seattle will put a lot of points on
the board.

Who says the Patriots can't win in Denver? I remember it like it
was yesterday, Pats 20-17, in 1968, behind the magic arm of Mike
Taliaferro and the great hands of Jim Whalen and the ferocious
pass rush of Larry Eisenhauer and Earthquake Hunt and Houston
Antwine. I'm getting excited just thinking about the Monday-night
opener. You still like Denver? O.K., I think the Broncos will win
too, but it won't be a picnic this time, because their great
offensive line, which was the platform of their Super Bowl
success, is in disarray. And when aroused, Pete Carroll's defense
can put on a spirited show. Bet you even up that Terrell Davis
doesn't get his hundred yards.

Finally, here's my blowout of the week: Jaguars over the Bears in
Chicago. Nothing I saw in the preseason caused me to come off my
pick of Jacksonville as the Super Bowl champ or the Bears as
dismal. Curtis Enis, Chicago's top draft pick, showed power and a
real burst in the preseason finale against the Jets, but guess
who the Jaguars will be loading up to stop?

--Paul Zimmerman

Check out Dr. Z's exclusive NFL power ratings and the players to
watch every Thursday at www.cnnsi.com/football.

COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER HOMECOMING Ricky Watters returns to Philly to face his old team.

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)