By DARRELL FRY and Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 15, 2002
Bucs at Ravens
OF NOTE: Want proof that change comes fast in the NFL? Look at the Ravens. They won the Super Bowl in 2001. Last week they lost to Carolina, which had lost 15 games in a row last season. The much ballyhooed new-look Bucs, with Jon Gruden coaching and Brad Johnson at quarterback, opened with a clunker, losing at home in overtime to the Saints. Now is a marvelous chance to get well in a hurry, as they face one of the league's weaklings. The Ravens are the youngest club in the NFL and looked like it last week.
FRY'S PROMISE: Bucs 21, Ravens 10.
OF NOTE: The marquee matchup of the early games, as both clubs get tests after opening with victories against lightly regarded foes. Miami had a cakewalk against Detroit, but its defense will be tested. Look for the Dolphins to go to wide receiver Chris Chambers. He had seven touchdowns last season, four against Indianapolis. It will take time for Colts coach Tony Dungy to get the defense in shape -- Indy allowed Jacksonville 343 yards and 25 points. It could have a tough time stopping Ricky Williams as it adjusts to the Cover 2.
FRY'S PROMISE: Colts 27, Dolphins 24.
OF NOTE: Kansas City won last Sunday because of Dwayne Rudd's helmet fling: one of the most boneheaded plays in history. Jacksonville's defense faces another elite running back, a week after Edgerrin James ran for 99 yards against it. The key is if the Jags can stop Chiefs running back Priest Holmes, who ripped Cleveland last week. Kansas City looked inept defensively in its opener, letting Cleveland QB Kelly Holcomb throw for 326 yards. It faces a more potent attack this week: Mark Brunell, Jimmy Smith and Fred Taylor.
FRY'S PROMISE: Chiefs 21, Jaguars 20.
OF NOTE: An interesting matchup as Brett Favre plays in the Superdome for the first time since winning the Super Bowl after the 1996 season. The retooled Green Bay offense showed many positives last week in an overtime victory against Atlanta, but the defense has holes. It gave up 180 rushing yards, which bodes well for new Saints feature back Deuce McAllister. Look for Joe Horn and promising rookie Donte' Stallworth to test Green Bay. They could form one of the league's best receiving tandems by the end of the season.
FRY'S PROMISE: Packers 28, Saints 24.
OF NOTE: Can anybody stop the Patriots? They are 10-0 in games that matter since losing to the Rams in November. But the Jets beat them once last season, before Tom Brady took over as quarterback. New England looked dominating in dismantling the Steelers on Monday, better than last year. The no-huddle offense was effective. A key is the health of Jets running back Curtis Martin, who missed the second half of the Buffalo game last week after an ankle injury. He did not practice most of the week but plans to play.
FRY'S PROMISE: Patriots 30, Jets 14.
OF NOTE: Call it the Vick trick. Excitement about new quarterback Michael Vick has led to a sellout for the Falcons' home opener. Chicago's bruising offensive line could manhandle the small Falcons defensive wall. That should allow for extra time for Bears quarterback Jim Miller to try to exploit a depleted secondary; Atlanta's Ray Buchanan is serving a steroid-related suspension. Last week, Atlanta implemented a 3-4 defense and tried to make do with one reserve lineman. The starters fatigued, contributing to a loss in Green Bay.
FRY'S PROMISE: Bears 14, Falcons 12.
OF NOTE: The dud of the day. This one is fit for consumption by only the die-hards. Mercifully, Fox is showing it to only 8 percent of the nation. Mike McMahon remains at quarterback after a 13-of-25 passing performance last week against Miami. Rodney Peete again starts at quarterback for Carolina and might have to win in order to keep Chris Weinke from regaining the spot he had last year.
FRY'S PROMISE: Panthers 16, Lions 9.
OF NOTE: The battle of Ohio pits two teams with big burdens after opening-day losses and gimpy quarterbacks. Cincy's Gus Frerotte is expected to start despite a sprained right thumb. Cleveland's Tim Couch (sore arm) gives way again to Kelly Holcomb. Cincinnati was non-competitive in a 34-6 loss to San Diego. Defense is supposed to be this team's key, but it was almost nonexistent last week. Kansas City gained 470 yards, 200 in the fourth quarter when it scored 23 points to win.
FRY'S PROMISE: Browns 24, Bengals 14.
OF NOTE: Are the Titans back? Their win Sunday against the Eagles was a strong indication they might be. Certainly, they should have enough to hogtie the Cowboys, who lost to the expansion Texans. The Titans slammed the Cowboys the last time they met, 31-0 in 2000. This one won't be that bad, but it won't be close, either. Dallas RB Emmitt Smith rarely has a big game against Tennessee, mustering 181 yards in four previous meetings. Without a big game from him, QB Quincy Carter will be under the gun and Dallas will be toast.
FRY'S PROMISE: Titans 28, Cowboys 13.
OF NOTE: Rams fans probably still are in shock about the team's season-opening loss to the Broncos. The Rams, though, do not seem to be concerned. Maybe that is because they realize they have beaten the Giants five times in a row. The last time, in October, was close, 15-14 in St. Louis. But this one will not be. The Rams, back home in the dome, are determined to squash premature rumors of their demise in a big way. Don't be surprised if St. Louis coach Mike Martz is calling deep routes after the game is out of reach.
FRY'S PROMISE: Rams 34, Giants 10.
OF NOTE: Quarterback Trent Dilfer (knee) is expected to start. That is welcome news for Seattle, which plays noticeably better for him than backup Matt Hasselbeck. Plus, the Cardinals are vulnerable against the pass, which is how the Redskins beat them 31-23 on Sunday. Offense is just what Seattle needs. The Seahawks scored 10 points last week in a rout by the Raiders (the Seahawks had an interception return for a touchdown). It's going to take more than that to bring down the Cardinals, who lead the series 5-1.
FRY'S PROMISE: Seahawks 23, Cards 17.
OF NOTE: Both teams appear headed toward better seasons than they had a year ago. The Vikings probably should have beaten the Bears last week and will try to take it out on the Bills. But with Drew Bledsoe at quarterback, the Bills won't go down easy. In fact, Bledsoe likely will have a field day against the Vikings' traditionally suspect defense. Expect plenty of scoring with Bledsoe and Daunte Culpepper putting on a passing clinic. The Bills have the better running game and thus the better chance to win.
FRY'S PROMISE: Bills 30, Vikings 27.
OF NOTE: This is one of the biggest games of the day. After toppling the Rams last Sunday, the Broncos may be the Super Bowl contender many predicted they would be last season. The key for Denver is defense. It held the Rams to 16 points and running back Marshall Faulk to 19 yards. If it can stage a similar effort today, the 49ers could go down. But the Niners, who have won the past two meetings at home, have a pretty solid defense themselves (held Giants to 43 rushing yards in the opener). Look for a field goal to decide
FRY'S PROMISE: Broncos 20, 49ers 17.
OF NOTE: Even though it came against the Cowboys, the Texans' inaugural win was impressive. This game features two impressive young QBs in Drew Brees and David Carr. Both looked great in their debuts and should play well again today. The Texans' undoing will be the running game. The Chargers pounded the Bengals with running back LaDainian Tomlinson (114 yards) and will do the same against the Texans, who can't afford to fall behind early because the Chargers have won their past five when leading at halftime.
FRY'S PROMISE: Chargers 26, Texans 14.
OF NOTE: Another marquee game. Are the Steelers being exposed or was their Monday Night Football trouncing by the Patriots a fluke? Is running back Jerome Bettis (35 yards against the Patriots) washed up? We will find out tonight. The Raiders defense was gashed regularly against the run, so this is a chance for Bettis to answer his critics. He and the rest of the Steelers are likely to have a tough time. The Raiders, even without coach Jon Gruden and saddled with an aging roster, may still be the team to beat in the AFC.
FRY'S PROMISE: Raiders 22, Steelers 21.