It was one of the most glorious rivalries in the NFL: 49ers
versus Rams made the pulses quicken. Frankie Albert, Y.A.
Tittle, Norm Van Brocklin, Bob Waterfield lighting it up in the
California sunshine; John Brodie versus the Fearsome Foursome;
and then it was Bill Walsh matching wits with defensive
mastermind Fritz Shurmur.

The rivalry died when the Rams moved from L.A. to St. Louis, but
it had long suffered from the steady hammering the Niners
inflicted on their rivals. San Francisco has won an
NFL-record-for-a-series 17 straight games against the Rams, and
most of them haven't even been close. Only three times in that
span have the Rams been within 15 points at the end.

St. Louis coach Dick Vermeil is well versed in football history,
and you can bet he'll use the streak, and any other motivational
tools he can find, to get his troops ready for Sunday's battle.
If ever the Rams have a chance of beating San Francisco, it is
now. They're the unbeaten darlings (3-0) of the NFL, written off
when they lost quarterback Trent Green in the preseason but
lighting it up under Arena League refugee Kurt Warner. And the
3-1 Niners have been struggling--winning, yes, but far from

If Steve Young, coming off a concussion, gets medical clearance,
he'll play--behind a line that has had trouble protecting him.
If not, young Jeff Garcia, who held up well in last week's win
over the Titans, will be the man. The Rams' defense held
Baltimore, Atlanta and Cincinnati in check, but St. Louis hasn't
faced an attack like San Francisco's, which on Sunday got better
with the return of tight end Greg Clark. With Clark sidelined
the first three games with cracked ribs, the Niners didn't get a
catch from a tight end.

This Sunday's game is in St. Louis and will be the biggest one
the Trans World Dome has hosted. Maybe I'm getting caught up in
the emotion of the thing, but I see the Rams in a minor upset.

Jacksonville is another 3-1 team that's struggling. Yeah, the
Jaguars beat up the Steelers and their stuttering offense, but
did you take a look at Mark Brunell's numbers? Ten completions
in 25 attempts for 85 yards, with no pass play longer than 15
yards. Coach Tom Coughlin has been getting on his quarterback,
but it's worth noting that Coughlin has been calling all this
dink and dunk.

On Monday night Coughlin faces the guy he once worked for, Bill
Parcells, whose Jets got off the schneid against Denver. I say
the Jaguars will open it up against New York. I say their
defense will come up big--just as it did against the
Steelers--against a Jets attack that will try to pound the ball.
Jacksonville's the pick, but it won't be an easy win for the

In another assistant-versus-mentor meeting, the Giants' Jim
Fassel goes against the Cardinals' Vince Tobin. Look for Fassel
to go to 5-0 against his old boss. The Giants get the edge
because their defensive line can handle Arizona's blockers.

Rested after a bye week, the Packers will beat the Bucs, who got
a solid performance from the much-maligned Trent Dilfer in
Sunday's near-comeback against the Vikings. The Bills will hang
another defeat on the wobbling Steelers, the Raiders will add to
the Broncos' miseries, the Chiefs (helped by the Arrowhead noise
factor) will hand the Patriots their first loss, and the
Dolphins, with their nifty set of cornerbacks, will control the
Colts' Peyton Manning-to-Marvin Harrison attack.

--Paul Zimmerman

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COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO Rams wideout Az-Zahir Hakim burned the Bengals for four scores.