Dr. Z’s Forecast

December 20, 2004

In the middle of the Seahawks-Vikings game, as defensive backs were chasing receivers all over the TV screen, I heard Fox analyst Cris Collinsworth say, “Two high-scoring offenses, no defense. My type of game.”

A few hours later, with the Jets and the Steelers heading into the fourth quarter of a 3–3 death match, Phil Simms, analyzing the game for CBS, said, “I really like games like this because everything means something.”

Well, you don’t have to ask whose sentiments are closest to my heart. You want to watch a track meet, get a ticket to the Olympics. You want to watch real football, where D-backs actually cover receivers and even tackle them, watch the Jets or Steelers or Ravens. Yes, the Jets are in that class now. They play an intense kind of defense, one that fights for control of the line of scrimmage and locks onto receivers.

And this Sunday the Jets take on the Seahawks, who provide such wonderful entertainment, win or lose. Seattle is hanging on to a one-game lead over the Rams in the NFC West, but if the Seahawks falter, St. Louis will have the hammer on them because of two head-to-head triumphs. The Jets, at 9–4, have the best record among AFC wild-card hopefuls, but it’s a precarious perch with two 8–5 teams and a pair of 7–6 clubs in pursuit.

The stakes are high, but the game’s at the Meadowlands. The Jets are the pick.

In the movie version of Peyton Manning: Gunslinger, the part of the hero would be played by Jimmy Cagney. “I’m looking for the guy who killed my brother.”

Well the Ravens didn’t kill Peyton’s little brother, Eli, they just made Sunday the worst day of his life. Now big brother has a chance to even the score. On paper it’s a classic matchup. Indianapolis is going for all sorts of offensive records; and Baltimore has what some people still remember as a lights-out defense. But if you look at that defense a little more closely, you’ll see some big holes.

Oh, sure, the Ravens can beat up a struggling offense the way they did the Giants, but Kansas City moved the ball at will on them and so did Cincinnati. The Chiefs zeroed in on linebacker Ray Lewis, and left guard Brian Waters swallowed him whole. The Bengals put on a 355-yard aerial show with lots of the action directed at Chris McAlister, who’s billed in Baltimore as a “shut-down corner.”

But the Ravens are still a nasty bunch when aroused, and they’ve got four things going for them against the Colts. They’re serious wild-card contenders. They absolutely don’t want to be a party to Manning’s getting his two TD passes to tie the NFL season record. They’ve got their big offensive guns, running back Jamal Lewis and tight end Todd Heap, back from injury. And the fourth advantage might be the biggest: Indy already has clinched its division title, and there’s a tendency to sag afterward. Sag or no sag, I like the Colts, especially indoors on their artificial turf.

The upset express: I like the Panthers to continue to do what they do best--force turnovers--this time at the expense of the Falcons, another team that has clinched its division. Upset number 2 comes at Lambeau Field. Why do I like the Jaguars in this one? Because of the AFC’s superiority over the NFC this year, in particular the Packers’ poor showing in three games against AFC teams.

Buffalo-Cincinnati might be the best game of the day. The Bills have turned into defensive monsters. Carson Palmer is starting to hit his stride for the Bengals. On a hunch I’ll ride with the defense and pick the Bills in upset number 3. I don’t know why Miami was able to make such a run at Denver on Sunday, but it makes me go the obvious route and select Kansas City to beat the Broncos.

If I had any guts, I’d say that Charlie Weis’s going to Notre Dame has the Patriots so shaken that they’ll suffer the upset of the year on Monday night against Miami. But New England is the NFL team least likely to be rattled by anything. So, with apologies, I’ll pick the Pats to beat the Dolphins--and to those of you sneering at me for even choosing this game, the rules are that I always cover the Monday-nighter. --Paul Zimmerman

Last week: 5–3 Season: 73–46

Dr. Z writes for the Web every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at SI.com/football.

COLOR PHOTO STRONG CASE Though the Jets fell short in Pittsburgh, their defense got physical.

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)