Dr. Z's Forecast

September 27, 1998

What's happening to the NFL's young quarterbacks? Ryan Leaf came
down to earth in rain-swept Arrowhead Stadium. Peyton Manning
keeps finding open receivers in enemy uniforms. Kordell Stewart
is more slush than Slash, and it's hard to fathom that we were
calling Jake Plummer and Bobby Hoying franchise quarterbacks at
the close of last season.

These are talented players, and if they don't get killed in the
meantime, they should eventually sort things out and become
functional leaders. But right now they're overwhelmed. Manning
should be learning the game at the knee of an elder statesman
with plenty of combat ribbons, but money talks, and a big bonus
translates into instant action, whether he's ready or not.

Leaf appeared pretty solid for a couple of games, and, yes, I
was fooled into thinking that his Chargers had a chance of
upsetting the Chiefs. But then in bad weather he got a look at a
big league defense, and, clunk, down he came. Stewart is the
same guy everyone loved last year, but he's stuck in a Steelers
offense that has only one receiver who seems able to get open,
Charles Johnson. So Stewart dinks and dunks and misfires a lot,
and the guy who's getting all the heat is first-year offensive
coordinator Ray Sherman. Yes, the same Ray Sherman who was
mentioned so prominently a short time ago as a hot head-coaching
prospect.

Plummer was exciting and freewheeling as a Cardinals rookie last
season, putting up big numbers (388 passing yards against the
Giants, for instance), not always sure of what he was doing, but
at least doing it with dash and bravado. Don't throttle him
down, we all said. The nuances will come later. What came was
Marc Trestman, the new offensive coordinator, who left coaching
for investment banking six years ago, then returned three years
later with an outlook as daring as that of the guy who approves
your homeowner's loan. He has turned Jake the Snake into a
dinker, a guy who looks like he showed up at the wrong wedding.

Hoying? Don't ask. The Eagles are in such disarray that he has
become just another piece of flotsam caught in the current.

Enough moaning, and let's do some handicapping. The Lions'
Charlie Batch, the latest rookie to get caught in the cross
fire, will get his second test on Monday night against resurgent
Tampa Bay. I say resurgent because the Bucs finally put a good
half together, running the Bears out of that pirate ship of a
stadium. Yes, I like the Bucs in Detroit. Batch is a scrambler,
but the Tampa Bay defense is built on speed.

If the Raiders were playing at home, I'd take them over the
Cowboys. On the road, no. Denver backup Bubby Brister beat them
on Sunday. Oakland's Jeff George threw his usual quota of
strange interceptions. I sense a letdown, coming off the loss to
the Broncos. Everything points to a Dallas win.

If I were Denver coach Mike Shanahan, I'd rest John Elway on the
road against the Redskins. I don't think the Broncos can beat
Washington with Brister, but if you've got to sacrifice one game
to make sure Elway's wheel has mended, this nonconference outing
is the one. With Elway in action, I favor Denver; without him,
the Redskins will break out of their slump. They have to win one
eventually, don't they?

Can the Saints, a team that some people--make that one
person--picked to go 1-15, climb to 3-0 with a win over the
Colts? No. Indianapolis is a freaky team that played great
defense against the Patriots, then took the day off against the
Jets. Now the Colts will work themselves into a frenzy trying to
keep New Orleans from further embarrassing your faithful
narrator. Here's a shaky vote for Indianapolis.

It's tempting to go with the Seahawks' pass-rush scheme to topple
the Steelers' struggling offense. If the game were in Seattle,
I'd do it, but I don't see the Steelers losing this one in Three
Rivers.

The Bengals over the Ravens in Baltimore. Just noticed that we
need an upset, and here it is. Cincinnati played aggressive
defense against Green Bay; it's just that the Bengals' offense
faced an even better one.

Wonder what would happen if St. Louis coach Dick Vermeil cut out
practice entirely? Silly thought for the end of a column, but I
do like the Rams over the Cardinals at home.

--Paul Zimmerman

Send your pro football questions for Peter King's Mailbag and
read more from Paul Zimmerman at www.cnnsi.com.

COLOR PHOTO: PATRICK MURPHY-RACEY Ouch! Leaf fell hard against K.C., completing 1 of 15 passes, with two interceptions and three fumbles. [Ryan Leaf falling down and fumbling football]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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Eagle (-2)
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