By DARRELL FRY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 6, 2002
OF NOTE: The Bucs have swept the past three meetings, but this is perhaps the best Falcons team they have faced in a long time. Atlanta is far more dangerous than its 1-2 record suggests. Its team speed, especially QB Michael Vick, gives defenses fits, even ones as fast as the Bucs. Tampa Bay, though, has won three straight since a season-opening loss and appears to be getting its offense in gear -- it scored four touchdowns last weekend. The sellout crowd will help the Falcons stay close until the end when the game will be decided.
FRY'S PROMISE: Bucs 20, Falcons 17.
OF NOTE: This is one of the best matchups of the day and a key early season AFC East clash. Patriots coach Bill Belichick has figured out about every team except the Dolphins, who are 5-1 against his teams. The Pats must keep Fins RB Ricky Williams, who ranks second in the league with 460 yards rushing, from running wild like Kansas City's Priest Holmes (180) and San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson (217) did against them. And the Fins must contain QB Tom Brady, who is averaging 331.5 passing yards.
FRY'S PROMISE: Dolphins 27, Patriots 26.
OF NOTE: The Steelers were lucky to win last weekend and now have unheralded Tommy Maddox at quarterback. Chances are, whatever has been ailing the Steelers won't be fixed by a quarterback change. Their defense is still suspect and now faces a potent Saints offense that's averaging 346 yards and leads the league in red zone scoring efficiency (90 percent). The Saints probably are still a little mad about losing to the Lions last weekend. Look for Steeler fans to call for backup QB Charlie Batch before this one is over.
FRY'S PROMISE: Saints 23, Steelers 13.
OF NOTE: The 'Skins, coming off a much-needed bye week, couldn't have asked for a better remedy for their struggling offense than a banged-up Titans defense that gave up 52 points last weekend. The 'Skins like to throw a lot, and the Titans are one of the league's worst pass defense teams, ranking 29th at 274 yards allowed per game. That should help ease the season debut of QB Danny Wuerffel, who takes over for injured Shane Matthews. 'Skins owner Dan Snyder ought to be a happy man after this one.
FRY'S PROMISE: Redskins 24, Titans 20.
OF NOTE: They may need new scoreboard light bulbs after this one. Both teams can light it up; the Raiders average 37.7 points and the Bills 33. Raiders rookie CB Phillip Buchanon held his own in his debut last weekend, but he will be tested by Bills QB Drew Bledsoe, the league leader in passing yards, and WR Eric Moulds, who leads the league with 33 catches. The Raiders seemingly have the edge, but the Bills can beat any team. That includes the undefeated Raiders, who are due for a letdown after steamrolling everyone so far.
FRY'S PROMISE: Bills 34, Raiders 32.
OF NOTE: Okay, so the Panthers really are good. They proved that in nearly toppling the Packers in Green Bay last weekend. Back at home today, the Panthers should play well -- at least well enough to get past the pesky Cardinals. The Panthers defense should contain a Cardinals offense that is crippled by injuries to key RBs Thomas Jones and Marcel Shipp. That will pit QB Jake Plummer against a Panthers defense that leads the league in sacks (17) and has held each of its four opponents to less than 300 yards. Make that five.
FRY'S PROMISE: Panthers 27, Cardinals 10.
OF NOTE: The Giants are hard to figure. They started decent, but who expected last weekend's loss to the Cardinals? Anyway, the Cowboys are coming off a surprising win over the Rams on the road. Still, nothing seems wrong with the Giants defense, which will decide this game. The Cowboys have struggled offensively and will get no relief from Michael Strahan & Co. Strahan has five sacks in his past three games against America's Team. The Giants have won three of the past four meetings and need this one to stay in the division race.
FRY'S PROMISE: Giants 26, Cowboys 9.
OF NOTE: Colts coach Tony Dungy is a merciful man, which is the only reason this one won't get ugly. The Bungles are starting their third quarterback, Jon Kitna, in as many weeks, but that's not likely to change the outcome today. WR Marvin Harrison and RB Edgerrin James usually have big games against the Bengals (who doesn't?), a trend that will continue today. The Colts, rested after coming off a bye week, have too much offense for the Bengals to defend, and Dungy's improving defense will force Kitna into a lot of mistakes.
FRY'S PROMISE: Colts 29, Bengals 13.
OF NOTE: The Jets have been taking a pounding this season, and there seems to be no relief in sight, especially today. First, the Jets are starting young QB Chad Pennington. Second, the Chiefs are a scoring machine (they scored 30 or more in three of four games) and are coming off a huge win over the Dolphins. And third, Chiefs RB Priest Holmes should run crazy against a defense ranked 31st against the run. The Chiefs defense is pretty pathetic, but since the Jets have scored a total of 13 points their past three games, it shouldn't matter. .
FRY'S PROMISE: Chiefs 32, Jets 21.
OF NOTE: Despite the Broncos' loss last week to the Ravens, this is a juicy matchup. The Chargers have arguably the league's best defense. They've won largely because of league rushing leader RB LaDainian Tomlinson (126.5 yards per game), but today face a Broncos defense that is second against the run (56.5 yards). Take away Tomlinson and there might be too much pressure on young QB Drew Brees. The Chargers are due for a letdown after defeating the Patriots, and the Broncos will be eager to make up for that upset loss to the Ravens.
FRY'S PROMISE: Broncos 22, Chargers 16.
OF NOTE: The Rams traditionally have owned the Niners, winning their past six meetings. But at 0-4, these aren't the Rams we're used to seeing. Especially not with backup QB Jamie Martin replacing injured Kurt Warner. The wacky way this season has started, the Rams could easily stage a shocker, but don't bet on it. The 49ers haven't been sharp -- QB Jeff Garcia has thrown only two touchdowns -- and are anxious to have a breakout game offensively. Expect it to happen today against a Rams team that's minus-7 in turnover ratio.
FRY'S PROMISE: 49ers 27, Rams 24.
OF NOTE: How 'bout those Jags? What a difference a healthy Fred Taylor can make. He is averaging a league-leading 171.3 yards from scrimmage among running backs. Still, the Jags face a team that has gashed every team in its path. The Eagles have scored 30 or more each game. Conversely, the Jags may have trouble against the Eagles defense that once again ranks among the league's best. Playing at home in what's expected to be 90-degree heat should help the Jags, but not quite enough to topple the Eagles.
FRY'S PROMISE: Eagles 28, Jaguars 21.
OF NOTE: If the Ravens play as inspired as they did last week when they beat the Broncos, they'll be in this game. Otherwise, the Browns, who have beaten the Ravens in their past two meetings, will waltz through this one. The key will be the Ravens' defense, which is off to a solid start. The Ravens must keep the Browns outside the red zone where they are deadly. They've scored every time they've gotten inside the 20. Another key is Cleveland's pass defense (six interceptions) against Chris Redman, the Ravens' young QB.
FRY'S PROMISE: Browns 31, Ravens 16.
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