Dr. Z's Forecast

October 22, 2000

It's time to get serious about this St. Louis phenomenon and ask
the question: Can anyone stop the Rams? Surely some eager
defensive coordinator is thirsting for a chance to make his
reputation against this monster that has devoured defenses as if
they were hors d'oeuvres, someone well versed in the legend of
the Man Who Shot Jesse James, or Wild Bill Hickok, or Johnny
Ringo.

What will it take? First, a hostile environment. Two of the Rams'
three losses last year came in noisy venues--at Tennessee and
Detroit. It might take a coach who can come up with a new scheme.
Bill Belichick comes to mind, but the Rams and the Patriots don't
meet.

Tampa Bay, which did as good a job as anyone at slowing down the
express train in the NFC Championship Game last season, hosts the
Rams in mid-December. New Orleans, which leads the league in
defense, appears on their schedule twice, but not until late
November. This Sunday there's Kansas City, and the game's at
Arrowhead.

At one time you would have said that an upset loomed large. The
Chiefs used to force a lot of turnovers and were able to generate
a disruptive pass rush, especially in front of their 78,000-plus
wild-eyed fans. No doubt a few handicappers will go out on a limb
here and predict an upset, just to say that they were aboard when
it happened. I can't go along.

Too many teams have lit up the Chiefs the way the Raiders did on
their final drive on Sunday. Arrowhead is no longer a house of
horrors for visiting teams. K.C.'s home record is 2-2. So I'll
save my upset special for later this fall and cast a
not-very-courageous vote for St. Louis.

The Jets against the Dolphins on Monday night is a more
intriguing matchup. New York visited Foxboro last week and cooled
off a hot team, the Patriots, by using the old noodle on both
sides of the ball. The Jets protected their ailing quarterback,
Vinny Testaverde, with a conservative game plan, relying on the
running of Curtis Martin and short, controlled passing. On
defense, Al Groh showed that all his years working with Belichick
paid off, because he had unblocked blitzers and rushers coming at
poor Drew Bledsoe from so many angles that it was a wonder the
guy survived. Turnovers will decide Jets-Dolphins. New York is my
pick.

Tennessee at Baltimore will be a war, but I can't see the
Ravens' vanishing offense putting a serious dent in the Titans'
D. A vote for Tennessee. The Redskins, who are winning
with--surprise!--defense, will keep it going in Jacksonville,
and while I'm voting for that side of the ball, I'll throw in
one for the Saints, whose D is on a roll, to beat the Falcons in
Atlanta. The Cowboys, even with all their woes, will handle the
Cardinals, who can match Dallas problem for problem.

Unless you count the Titans as an upset (and I don't), I can find
only one underdog that I like, the Niners over the Panthers.
Elsewhere, this is one of those weeks in which the dogs don't
seem too attractive, so I'll stick with the chalk and cast
hard-eyed votes for Philly over Chicago, Minnesota over Buffalo
and Indy over New England.

--Paul Zimmerman

COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER Martin, who carried the load against the Pats, will be tested by Miami.

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)