Dr. Z'sForecast: Defense Decides Two Big Games
COULD SOMEBODYtell me what's happening at quarterback? Chicago's Rex Grossman, the brightestyoung star of September, had a very nasty go of it against Minnesota on Sunday,barely surviving a two-interception day. Carson Palmer and Ben Roethlisbergerhad five picks between them in Cincy's victory at Pittsburgh. Peyton Manningwas 5 for 13 in the first half of Indy's win over Jacksonville. Tom Brady spentthe game against Denver dreaming of the ghosts of Patriots receivers past. Andagainst his old team, the Rams, Kurt Warner looked like a guy who won't survivethe season in Arizona.
Meanwhile onSunday, passers with murky futures suddenly looked terrific. Mark Brunellcompleted an NFL-record 22 straight passes for the Redskins. Jake Plummer had afine night against the Pats. Brett Favre had 340 yards and no picks in GreenBay's first win.
Which brings usto a week in which the most interesting action is nondivision. The Seahawks,who undressed the Giants, visit the Bears in a battle of unbeatens. I'll tellyou why I like Seattle in an upset . The Giants' rush didn't get withinsniffing distance of Matt Hasselbeck. And Seattle's defense is a lot betterthan people think, so what better time to prove itself than in a matchupagainst Chicago's mighty D?
Two moreshowpiece defenses meet when San Diego visits Baltimore. The Chargers, withtheir flashy pass rush, are coming off a bye. The Ravens, who play with greatpride, go after the inexperienced Philip Rivers. I was leaning toward the hometeam, but when San Diego opened as a 2½-point favorite, this became a formulagame. I'm going with the Chargers.
I thought NewEngland would roll over Denver on Sunday, setting up a classic battle inCincinnati. It didn't happen. The Patriots' running game couldn't crack theBroncos' defense, and it was depressing to watch Brady struggle. Will theBengals be fired up for this one, or coming down from the emotional Pittsburghgame? Cincy's the pick.
The Vikings area good club, but I just don't like a dome team going into the northern winds,so I'll take Buffalo . I don't like that the Jaguars are coming off two big AFCbattles. The letdown has to come sometime, but I'll take Jacksonville overWashington anyway. I always pick the Monday-nighter, even one that appears tobe as lopsided as Green Bay at Philadelphia. Careful, this one might foolyou—but not me. The Eagles win it with their relentless pass rush. Here's anintriguing game to end on: Cleveland at Oakland, which matches second-yearpassers Charlie Frye and Andrew Walter. Which team has the better offensiveline and running game? Neither. The better defense? Maybe the Raiders. InDecember the teams that are hopelessly out of it always say, "We're playingfor pride." That's what's at stake here on Oct. 1. I'll go with theBrowns.
Dr. Z writes forthe Web every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at SI.com/nfl
Hasselbeck's protection will keep the Bears from mauling him.