After last weekend the NFL's reigning monarchies are suddenly
trembling. It appears that Tennessee, which had a stranglehold on
the AFC, may now have to learn what life is like without running
back Eddie George. St. Louis, after the greatest half season of
offense ever, will find out how great it is without quarterback
Kurt Warner. Washington, Minnesota and Oakland are eager to seize
power. The rumbling of cannon fire can be heard outside the city

The Titans will get a severe test from the Redskins on Monday
night. Unless George makes a miraculous recovery from his
sprained right knee, Tennessee will have to mount an attack with
a lot more than the 101 passing yards that Steve McNair put up
against Baltimore on Sunday. It would help if McNair could count
on his wideouts. Carl Pickens and Yancey Thigpen, the high-priced
imports, have been mere shadow figures, either sidelined by
injury or playing hurt; Derrick Mason is more valuable as a
return man; and Chris Sanders is good for one long catch about
every two weeks.

Tennessee won with defense against the Ravens, but the Redskins
are a different animal. Brad Johnson looked confident throwing
both short and long in Sunday's victory over a Jacksonville team
that played with fury, but couldn't match Washington's firepower.
You never know what you're going to get against the Skins--Johnson
throwing darts or the heavy hammer of Stephen Davis running
behind two tight ends and a fullback. I'll make this one a hedge
pick: Tennessee to win if George plays, Washington to take it if
he doesn't.

Tampa Bay gets a second shot at the Vikings, this time at home,
and you know something? The Bucs are almost out of second
chances. Tampa Bay is the Earnie Shavers of the NFL. For a few
rounds he threw sweeping left hooks and thundering rights that
could destroy people, but opponents who could weather the early
storm eventually outlasted him. Stand firm under the barrage of
sacks (as Minnesota's Daunte Culpepper and Detroit's Charlie
Batch did), climb off the canvas after the monster hits, run the
ball late and you can tame the Bucs. The problem is Tampa Bay's
offense, which is no better than last year's despite the fancy
off-season pickups and might even be worse because quarterback
Shaun King seems to be regressing. Logic says Minnesota, which
won the first meeting 30-23, but old habits die hard. The pick is
Tampa Bay.

When he was running the Jets' defense, Bill Belichick had Bills
quarterback Doug Flutie's number, and I'm sure the strategy was
shared with fellow New York assistant Al Groh, who is now the
Jets' head guy. Nevertheless, the game is in windy Buffalo, and I
like the way Flutie ran the show in Minnesota, so I'll go with
the Bills over the Jets. New Orleans, behind the heavy hoofbeats
of Ricky Williams and his thundering herd, will beat the
Cardinals in Tempe. The Giants will make it 2 for 2 over the
Eagles, but this one won't be the picnic it was in Philly.

Dallas is coming off a huge win; Jacksonville is rebounding from
a loss that many people feel ended its season. Not so fast. I
like the Jaguars on pure emotion. The Steelers have gone through
a weird stretch of facing teams with quarterback woes, and now
they meet another one, in Baltimore. But Pittsburgh is pulling
the second switch at that position itself, so I'll go with the
Ravens. Cincinnati will beat the Couch-less Browns, and Kansas
City will get its running game going and beat Seattle, which has
allowed the last two backs it has faced, Edgerrin James and
Tyrone Wheatley, to put up huge numbers.

--Paul Zimmerman

COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER Johnson and the Skins will give the Titans defense all it can handle.