WHERE DO I begin the story of the 2005 Redskins? How about in the preseason forecasts, which--except for a few kind souls who ranked them third in the NFC East--placed Washington squarely in the division cellar. And that, of course, would include the prediction of your faithful narrator.
Then there's the matter of Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs, as in "the game has passed him by," which was the media consensus last season. He had given up a perfectly good third-round draft choice for a quarterback, Mark Brunell, who everybody figured was finished. Gibbs's folly was just about booed out of the starting lineup and finally replaced by Patrick Ramsey when the team was 3-6. Brunell's back with the Redskins this season? Guess it doesn't hurt to have an insurance policy, though he's almost 35. But back onto the field he came after Ramsey went down with a neck injury in the first game. And then back into the starting lineup, from where he has led the Skins to 3-0.
And when I say led, I mean it, because Brunell has been doing some amazing things. Bill Parcells was 77-0 when his team took a lead of 13 or more points into the fourth quarter, but he was 77-1 after the Redskins scored 14 in the final period to beat Parcells's Cowboys 14-13 in Week 2. All Brunell did on the first scoring drive was climb out of a third-and-27 hole with a 25-yard scramble and then a 20-yard completion. He followed that with a TD pass on fourth-and-15.
On Sunday, in the overtime drive that beat the Seahawks, Brunell converted two third-and-10 plays and a third-and-nine. On that third-and-nine he ran for 18 yards like the wild scrambler he was nine years ago, when he led Jacksonville, a second-year expansion team, into the AFC Championship Game.
Brunell has launched a miracle season, but now comes the harsh light of reality: the Broncos in Denver. I think Washington will make it real close, but ... and here comes the bad news ... I think Denver is just a bit too tough at home.
The Patriots' injuries cannot be swept away with a magic broom, as some people expect this team to do. It's a serious situation, and it won't get any better in Atlanta this Sunday. The Falcons are the pick. Why is Buffalo favored over Miami? I mean, it's not December, when the hawk flies over Ralph Wilson Stadium and its icy breath turns enemy quarterbacks into stiffs. Logic says the Dolphins should crush the staggering Bills, which, by my formula, is precisely why I'm picking Buffalo.
The Lions can play defense too well for visiting Baltimore. Give Detroit the win in a low-scorer. Houston gets its first win of the season, over Tennessee. Not once, not twice, but three times did St. Louis beat Seattle last year. Keep trying, I say, and good things will happen--in this case, a high-scoring Seahawks victory over a shaky Rams defense.
Big game coming up for the unbeaten Bengals. The middle of their offensive line is banged up, which isn't good when they have to face the Jaguars' two monster tackles, Marcus Stroud and John Henderson. But the Jags' O-line isn't in such great shape, either, and it was overrun by the Broncos. Here's my upset special: The active, aggressive Bengals win it on the road and stay undefeated.
Hey, there's a good Monday-nighter for a change. Do you believe in the Chargers? Well, I believe in their offense, but not in their defense. I'll take the Steelers, and it sounds weird calling them underdogs, in an upset. --Paul Zimmerman
Last week: 7-3
> Dr.Z writes for the web every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at SI.com/nfl.