Dr. Z's Forecast

December 22, 2003

Here are the reasons why the Vikings should upset the Chiefs in
the Metrodome on Saturday:

* In spite of their gaudy 12-2 record, the Chiefs have trouble
playing defense away from home. They were a joke in their last
road game, in Denver. The Broncos' offensive line put Kansas
City's front four on skates. Clinton Portis had a 218-yard day,
and when Jake Plummer wanted to pass, he found huge holes in the
K.C. zone. Minnesota has the capability of doing the same thing.

* The Vikings are desperate. They're tied with Green Bay for the
NFC North lead, and the runner-up could be left out of the
postseason entirely. The Chiefs are fat cats. They clinched the
AFC West last week, and a letdown typically follows after a team
has qualified for the postseason.

Here are the reasons why the Chiefs should hold off the Vikings:

* Desperation hasn't served Minnesota well. The Vikings are
reeling, having lost six of their last eight, including Sunday's
defeat in Chicago.

* Minnesota's defense can be had. If K.C. can put the Vikings in
a catch-up mode early, panic would set in and the self-doubt and
finger-pointing would begin.

My pick? I'll take the Vikings in an upset. I never like a team
the week after it has clinched.

Except for St. Louis. Heading into their home game against the
desperate Bengals, the NFC West champion Rams are in much the
same situation as Kansas City. St. Louis is due for a letdown
after its breathtaking win over the Seahawks, a game that didn't
figure to come down to the final play. Cincinnati got a gift when
the Ravens were upset by the Raiders and dropped into a tie with
Cincy for the AFC North lead. The Bengals will be traveling to
St. Louis with fire in their eyes, so the same upset formula
should hold, right? Uh, afraid not.

Cincinnati's fireworks have come on offense. The defense still
has to prove itself, and the Eddie Dome is not the place to make
a statement. Sure, the Rams will have lost a little of their edge
after having clinched, but they'll also be loose. I'm afraid that
Cincy won't have enough defense to stop them. You never know,
though. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis is a defensive wizard, and his
team is on a mission, and....

Sorry, I have to go with the head, not the heart. The Rams win
it.

Here's the formula again. Denver, which is scrambling, is at
Indianapolis, which on Sunday clinched a playoff spot. The AFC
South title would come with a win over the Broncos. I'd give
Denver a shot if--and you know what's coming--coach Mike Shanahan
had called for a chippie field goal in overtime on Sunday against
the Browns instead of Portis's 38th carry. What a disaster. Now
Portis is hobbled with a sprained knee and ankle, and Denver's
season could be lost, all for those three extra yards. The Colts
win.

Baltimore at Cleveland is no gimme. The injury-wracked Browns
have been playing courageous football, while the Ravens showed
last weekend that they're not upset-proof. What the hell, I'll
take the Browns in an upset. The 6-8 Jets are very serious about
wanting to finish with a .500 record, so I'm going with New York
in an improbable upset over the league's hottest team, the
Patriots. Here's another improbable hometown win: the Bills, and
the wintry northern winds, over the Dolphins.

Finally, Green Bay travels to Oakland on Monday night to meet a
Raiders team that threw a wrench into the Ravens' playoff plans
last weekend. Don't expect a repeat. The Packers will survive a
rough one loaded with penalties and turnovers. --Paul Zimmerman

Last week: 3-3 Season record: 77-56

Dr. Z's Inside Football, every week during the season at
si.com/football.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Vikings wideout Randy Moss will have room to maneuver in KansasCity's secondary.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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Eagle (-2)
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