Dr. Z's Forecast

October 13, 2002

The most prestigious and interesting division in the NFL is the
AFC West, where every team has a winning record. Going into last
weekend, the division boasted the league's only two undefeated
teams, Oakland and San Diego, and on Sunday the Chargers were
knocked off by Denver, another AFC West squad. As for 3-2 Kansas
City, well, the Chiefs are the second-highest-scoring team in the
league, behind the Raiders, the NFL's crown jewel right now.
That's not bad for a division that secured only one of the AFC's
12 wild-card spots over the past four years.

Two of the best games on the board this week involve AFC West
teams, and I'm not counting Oakland-St. Louis, which looked so
inviting when the schedule came out but now seems like just
another chapter in the sad saga of the 2002 Rams. The two games
that catch my eye are Miami at Denver and K.C. at San Diego. On
Sunday the Dolphins got their pass rush going and hammered the
Patriots' Tom Brady into one of the worst afternoons in his young
career. Miami played more zone, swarmed to the ball--did
everything it had failed to do in that dismal outing against the
Chiefs the previous week.

But just as impressive was the way Denver took apart San Diego,
smothering its pass rush and getting a big league performance
from Brian Griese, who's been yelled at by the coaches, nearly
benched and even tripped by his dog. Against the Chargers, the
Broncos unveiled the latest in their long line of running backs
in rookie Clinton Portis. Fumbles in the preseason put Portis in
Mike Shanahan's doghouse, but feeling that more zip was needed in
the offense, he gave the kid a start against San Diego. The
result was dazzling: Portis ran for 102 yards and caught a
touchdown pass.

Who is he like? Well, Charlie Garner comes to mind. Portis hits
the creases and makes quick, decisive cuts. He can run with
power, too, and he can catch the ball. In short, he's a complete
package. I think he'll make the difference against the Dolphins,
so I give Denver the win.

--San Diego bounces back to defeat Kansas City. Everyone moves the
ball on the Chiefs, but K.C. usually outscores 'em. I don't think
that will happen this time, even if linebacker Junior Seau
(sprained left ankle) isn't around to keep Priest Holmes under
control.

--The Patriots' ship is springing leaks. Two weeks ago it was the
defense. Last week it was the offensive line that got overrun. I
think New England will get it together, though, and beat Green
Bay.

--Michael Vick got stuffed by the Bucs on Sunday, and his
nonthrowing shoulder is ailing. Now the Falcons face the Giants,
another team that can put a nasty defense on the field. Call it a
win for New York.

--What's the story in Jacksonville? Well, people are healthy, for
one thing. I give the Jaguars the win in Tennessee, even though
they've dropped their last three there. You can never picture
Baltimore's Ray Lewis getting hurt, but he wasn't on the field
(left shoulder injury) on Sunday night when the Browns nearly
pulled out the game. If Lewis plays, I'll take the Ravens in an
upset at Indy. If not, the Colts win it.

--Seattle is a tough place to play, especially with the crowd
stoked for a Monday-nighter, but the 49ers will beat the
Seahawks. Carolina is the pick in a mini upset in Dallas, and New
Orleans wins a shootout in Washington. Tampa Bay's defense, which
is getting ferocious again, leads the Bucs over Cleveland, and
I've saved the best for last. My two upset specials: the Lions
over the Vikings, and--imagine this--the Bengals to make things
even tougher for the Steelers, whose defense has gone
south. --Paul Zimmerman

Check out Dr. Z's Inside Football every week during the season at
cnnsi.com/football.

COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER Portis, who provided a spark against the Chargers, will be the difference against 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)