Even though the Rams keep blowing people out week after week,
they still haven't convinced everyone that they're for real. The
Oct. 10 game against the 49ers was going to be their big
show-and-tell, but even after a 42-20 St. Louis win you still
heard, "Who have they beaten?" After all, it was just the poor
old Niners, who can't stop anybody. It's as if the Rams are a
mirage, and all you'd have to do to make their 6-0 record
disappear would be to slap yourself hard, and they'd be back to
something like 1-5, quarterback Kurt Warner would still be an
Iowa Barnstormer, and Tony Banks would still be running the
offense.

But here we are with the NFL's last unbeaten team gearing up for
the 5-1 Titans in, dare we say, the biggest game of the season so
far. I've even heard it called a preview of Super Bowl XXXIV,
which is ridiculous because it's too early to tell which team
will successfully negotiate the tangled web of AFC contenders.

In the NFC it's more clear-cut. No team has come close to the
Rams, but we'll learn a lot more about them after they travel to
Tennessee. It's the toughest game left on St. Louis's schedule.
The Titans are coached by Jeff Fisher, one of Buddy Ryan's old
defensive backs on the Bears. Fisher witnessed firsthand the
birth of the 46 defense. He was on the field when its wild
blitzes unhinged all sorts of fancy offenses. Now, coming off a
bye, he has had two weeks to cook up something to control an
offense that initially showcased Warner's long-range gun but in
the past two weeks has gone to the ground game behind Marshall
Faulk.

Do I see Fisher blitzing the Rams like crazy? No, that's not the
Titans' style, and Warner's release is too quick. He gets to his
hot reads too rapidly. I see something more cerebral, such as a
three-man line at times and a rapidly changing spectrum of
coverage schemes. I see quarterback Neil O'Donnell and running
back Eddie George putting points on the board for Tennessee, but
I see the Rams with big numbers as well. The pick: St. Louis in a
shootout.

I'll give you a very simple formula for handicapping
Seattle-Green Bay, which marks Mike Holmgren's return to Lambeau
Field. The game means more to the Packers, who have a chance to
beat their old coach, than it does to the Seahawks. Let's go with
the Pack on emotion.

For two years I've favored Detroit against division foes at home,
so I'll give the Lions a slight edge over the Buccaneers. The
odds are pretty good that the Giants will run for more yards than
they pass for against the Eagles. At least the numbers will be
close. So will the game, which I give to the Giants. Now that Dan
Marino is out, Jimmy Johnson is working especially hard to keep
the running game going. Because the Jets hurt Oakland on the
ground, I'll take the Dolphins over the Raiders, even with Marino
out.

Here's a major upset that could turn into a major embarrassment,
but I like it only on a hunch: the Browns over the Saints. Do you
believe in Minnesota's rebirth under Jeff George? Me neither, but
I do believe the Vikings' offense is more functional and the
receivers are happier than they were with Randall Cunningham at
the helm. While the temptation is great to pick the Broncos, who
nearly beat the Patriots, I just don't see them outscoring
Minnesota.

In the next world I'm going to replay the Cowboys-Redskins game,
this time with the officials correctly calling the illegal block
in the back that sprung Deion on his punt return for a touchdown.
Dallas probably would have won anyway, but that noncall sure left
a bad taste. Just to remind people that I don't forget things
like that, I'm picking the Colts over the Cowboys. That'll show
'em.

--Paul Zimmerman

COLOR PHOTO: PATRICK MURPHY-RACEY George must have a big day for the Titans to stay on top.
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)