I guess you'd have to say that the Chargers are approaching the status of what you could call a public team, a club that gets an unnatural amount of exposure and usually doesn't disappoint either the fans or the bettors.
They were minding their own business at 0-2 when all of a sudden they broke loose for 45 points and 485 yards against the Giants in a Sunday-nighter on national TV. Wow! Here's a team that bears watching. The following week the Chargers did the unthinkable: They scored 41 points against the Patriots in Foxborough. Come on, even though the Pats are a crippled team, no one does that to New England at home.
Then San Diego went national again in a Monday-nighter against the Steelers. O.K., the Chargers lost, but they came back and scored late and made it thrilling. And on Sunday they beat the Raiders handily in Oakland. Now San Diego is the sweetheart choice over the Eagles in Philly.
The Eagles are the opposite of a public team. They're morose, brooding, uncomfortable. No sooner is the McNabb-Owens thing patched up, than the QB comes down with an ugly-sounding ailment called a sports hernia. Then the Philly defense, that proud, beautifully coached outfit, gets undressed in Dallas. Last week they had a bye and could brood on all their troubles.
I'll be interested to see what Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson has set up for LaDainian Tomlinson and for tight end Antonio Gates, whenever he goes wheeling into the secondary. Gates has attained the impossible-to-cover stature much favored by TV analysts. You know the patter: "Can't cover him with a defensive back, can't cover him with a linebacker, can't cover him with anybody." Nonsense, of course, but keynote tight ends seem to get these accolades.
Well, I think the Philly defense is a sleeping monster. Safety Brian Dawkins will take an honest turn trying to stop Gates. The run defense won't shut down Tomlinson, but it will keep his numbers reasonable. And Donovan McNabb, sports hernia and all, will have a big day as the Eagles triumph.
For some reason the Steelers seem to inspire the Bengals' defense, which gave Ben Roethlisberger a very bad time in Cincinnati last year. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis really wants this one, so the intensity level should be way up for Sunday's meeting. Here's the deal: If Roethlisberger (hyperextended left knee) is out, I'll take Cincinnati; if he plays ... what the hell, I'll take Cincy anyway.
Dallas is coming off two terrific division victories. I see a natural letdown. With the game in Seattle, I'll stay with the Seahawks. Giants fans, a nervous group to begin with, are worrying that maybe the Eli Manning they saw in Dallas last weekend was closer to the real one than the QB who had run up a 97.8 rating. Relax, he'll get back on the beam against the Broncos at the Meadowlands, and the Giants will win it.
I get the feeling Tennessee will test the Cardinals' Josh McCown with man coverage. But his arm's too strong, and he's got the good receivers to beat it. Arizona wins. I think Baltimore's defense will do more damage to Chicago's offense than vice versa, though it'll be close. The Ravens are the pick. The Chiefs haven't beaten the Dolphins in Miami in 16 years. They will this time. K.C.'s the pick. Finally, the Monday-nighter: Atlanta, surprise, to beat the Jets.
Last week: 7-1 Season: 34-20
Dr.Z writes for the web every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at SI.com/nfl.