Just as western Pennsylvania is the breeding ground of
quarterbacks, the AFC East is fertile territory for producing
playoff teams. In the past five years the division has sent 15 of
its finest into the postseason, which averages out to its
champion, plus two out of the conference's three wild cards.

The division's right on pace again this season, with the three
6-2's, Indy, Miami and the Jets, all figuring on playoff berths
and 4-4 Buffalo not exactly out of the running. There's only one
problem. They all still have to play one another (sometimes
twice), and while they're beating each other's brains out, Kansas
City or Pittsburgh or Baltimore could sneak in as wild cards.

Starting next Sunday, two of the four AFC East playoff hopefuls
will square off for six straight weekends. We'll get tired of
reading about another crucial matchup in the division. This
weekend, though, there's the little matter of disposing of
outsiders, like the NFC Central.

The Colts visit Chicago to face a team they haven't beaten in 17
years, which means exactly zero to Peyton Manning and Edgerrin
James and the boys. I don't see an Indy loss here, but the
Dolphins play at Detroit as an underdog, and if the Lions come up
with as good a game plan against Miami as Green Bay did on
Sunday, things could get interesting.

Dolphins middle linebacker Zach Thomas, who patrols the interior
of the defense, missed the Packers game with a sprained ankle,
and he figures to be out on Sunday as well. Green Bay aimed its
attack at his replacement, special-teamer Larry Izzo, who had
never started an NFL game. The Packers just about eliminated
their wideouts from the formula, at least until they had to play
catch-up, concentrating instead on throwing to the tight ends and
running backs while mixing in counters and misdirections for good
measure--anything that might bedevil a nervous first-time starter.
I'm sure the Lions will try more of the same, particularly
because their wideouts are ailing. I like the Dolphins anyway. I
like them on the good old combination of pass rush and turnovers.

The Jets, bouncing back from that tough loss in Buffalo, will
beat Denver at the Meadowlands. The Bills, meanwhile, travel to
Foxboro as an underdog to the 2-6 Patriots. I like the way Doug
Flutie is running the Buffalo attack, but New England coach Bill
Belichick--whose Jets defenses beat the Flutie-run Bills in three
out of their last four meetings--has a read on Doug. In those four
games, Flutie completed 47.4% of his passes, threw for just two
touchdowns and got intercepted five times. A vote for the
Patriots.

If the Packers want to have a chance in the Monday-nighter,
they'll have to switch gears and attack the Vikings cornerbacks,
as Tampa Bay did last week. I see Green Bay getting its points,
but Minnesota putting up more of them.

Oakland will make it two for two over Kansas City. Chalk up a win
for the Eagles, who will turn the blitzers loose on Dallas, just
as they did in the opener. The Saints can't match San Francisco's
firepower, but their defense must be taken seriously. Seriously
enough to get the win? No. I like the 49ers in a Superdome
upset.

--Paul Zimmerman

COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER Fred Beasley and the Niners have the weapons to upset the Saints.
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)