By DARRELL FRY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 29, 2002
Bucs at Bengals
OF NOTE: The Bengals, bless their hearts, not only are losing but are getting hammered, prompting speculation about coach Dick LeBeau's job security. The last thing they need is a Bucs team that's coming off a big win over the Rams. The Bengals played the Bucs tough last season, losing in overtime. This one won't be that close. But it won't be a blowout, either. The Bucs are banged up on the offensive line, which could keep the score down. Still, pray for Bengals QB Akili Smith, who starts today against the Bucs' fierce pass rush.
FRY'S PROMISE: Bucs 21, Bengals 10.
OF NOTE: This game features the league's top rushers: Miami's Ricky Williams and Kansas City's Priest Holmes, who has to have another big game for his team to have any chance. The Fins' run defense is eighth in the league (84 yards a game), but was gashed at times by the Colts' Edgerrin James in Week 2, meaning Holmes may find plenty of running room. Either way, this one should be high-scoring. If Holmes runs wild, opening the passing game, the Fins could get stung, especially with QB Jay Fiedler nicked up.
FRY'S PROMISE: Dolphins 30, Chiefs 29.
OF NOTE: The Bears' magic finally ran out last weekend when they lost to the Saints in the kind of close game they usually win. They're facing a Bills team that's a lot better than its record indicates. The Bills are explosive and QB Drew Bledsoe, who leads the league in passing yards (1,017), will test the Bears secondary. In his past three games against the Bears, he is 72-for-121 for 803 yards, five TDs and two interceptions. He'll pad those numbers today against a solid Bears defense. Frankly, the Bills have too many weapons for the Bears to fend off.
FRY'S PROMISE: Bills 28, Bears 20.
OF NOTE: The Saints have been one of the league's most impressive teams, beating three quality opponents (Bucs, Packers, Bears). If the Packers scored 37 points on the Lions as they did last week, then the Saints might get 40. The Lions will pressure QB Aaron Brooks, but he can be elusive. The Lions cannot fall behind early because rookie Joey Harrington, in his second start, will be forced to pass more and may turn over the ball -- he had four interceptions last week. With help from its special teams, the Lions can at least keep it close. Maybe.
FRY'S PROMISE: Saints 24, Lions 21.
OF NOTE: This game will show us if the Panthers are for real because their three previous opponents were winless. Everything points to an easy Packers win, but the Panthers gave the Pack and QB Brett Favre trouble last season despite losing 28-7. And the Panthers defense is much better than a year ago, meaning Favre could struggle. The Panthers may slump offensively with star WR Muhsin Muhammad out (hamstring). Look for RB Lamar Smith to carry more of the load, which could be good since the Pack's rush defense is 26th in the league.
FRY'S PROMISE: Packers 24, Panthers 17.
OF NOTE: This one could go either way. It's hard to imagine the Jets dropping to 1-3, but this is clearly a struggling team. Plus, RB Curtis Martin is banged up and may not play much. That would put too much pressure on the aging Vinny Testaverde, who usually plays well against the Jags even though his teams have never beaten the Jags in the regular season. That won't change. The Jags are better than you might think. Look for running back Fred Taylor, who is finally healthy, to gash the Jets defense, which ranks 31st against the run.
FRY'S PROMISE: Jaguars 32, Jets 16.
OF NOTE: The Texans are catching the Eagles at the absolute worst time. The Eagles have mashed opponents, winning their past two by a combined 81-20. Meanwhile, the Texans were spanked 23-3 last week by the Colts. The Texans have had trouble protecting QB David Carr, and the Eagles are sack masters. This one could get ugly. After beating Dallas, the Texans are looking more like ... well, an expansion team (six points in the past two games). The Texans hope Eagles coach Andy Reid is a merciful man.
FRY'S PROMISE: Eagles 40, Texans 9.
OF NOTE: This is their 100th meeting. The Steelers need this one bad, but the Browns are going to be up for a tenacious fight. The Steelers have won eight of their past nine home games against the Browns, usually with their ferocious defense. But that Steelers defense isn't so ferocious anymore, ranking 30th in the league. The Browns are weak against the run, meaning Jerome "The Bus" Bettis could run free. He's averaging 4.2 yards. A big game from him is all the Steelers would need for their first win.
FRY'S PROMISE: Steelers 20, Browns 17.
OF NOTE: The Cowboys probably would rather walk across hot coals than face the Rams right now. Sooner or later the frustrated Rams will unload on somebody, and that somebody could be the Cowboys, who were blasted 44-13 last week by the Eagles. The Rams defense isn't as bad as it might seem and will prove it by bottling up the Cowboys offense, which won't be hard to do. RB Marshall Faulk (neck sprain) is expected to start, but the Rams should finally get one in the win column with or without him.
FRY'S PROMISE: Rams 31, Cowboys 14.
OF NOTE: You almost can flip a coin on this one. Neither team is looking good. The Giants, though, have been finding ways to win and likely will do the same today. After all, they've won the past four meetings, including last year's 17-10 game at Arizona. The Cards have been getting solid running from Thomas Jones to set up QB Jake Plummer, but that probably won't work this time. The Giants are seventh in the league in stopping the run. Giants QB Kerry Collins should eat up the Cards, whose defense is 28th in the league against the pass.
FRY'S PROMISE: Giants 19, Cardinals 16.
OF NOTE: The Titans apparently haven't fixed the problems that wrecked their season a year ago. RB Eddie George is still recovering from injuries and may not be as effective as usual. The Raiders have been dominant, outscoring opponents 61-34. The Titans have won six of the past seven meetings and may have a chance today with Raiders star CB Charles Woodson out with a fractured right shoulder. The Titans' biggest problem, though, will be trying to slow a Raiders offense that leads the league in total yardage (443.5).
FRY'S PROMISE: Raiders 27, Titans 16.
OF NOTE: Two undefeated teams going head to head. The Pats barely got past the Chiefs last weekend, and the Chargers held off the Cardinals. The Pats, riding a 12-game win streak dating to last season, have owned the Chargers, winning the past 10 meetings. The Chargers need their highly-rated defense to slow the Pats, the league's highest-scoring team (38 points per game). Even if RB LaDainian Tomlinson rips through the Pats the way Chiefs RB Priest Holmes did (180 yards), the Chargers still might come up short.
FRY'S PROMISE: Patriots 17, Chargers 13.
OF NOTE: The Vikings are in turmoil. What else is new, right? Embattled star Randy Moss is scheduled to play, but who knows how effective he'll be with his latest arrest hanging over his head. The good news for the Vikes is the Seahawks pass defense is suspect, meaning QB Daunte Culpepper could have a big day. Then again, so could Seahawks QB Trent Dilfer, who has thrown for 1,814 against the Vikes, Dilfer's most against any opponent. The bottom line is the Vikes will be distracted and the Seahawks will be boosted by the home crowd.
FRY'S PROMISE: Seahawks 16, Vikings 14.