By DARRELL FRY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 20, 2002
OF NOTE: Neither has beaten anyone of consequence, so this will be a test for both. The Bucs have won five straight and want to erase the memory of consecutive playoff losses at the Vet. Standing in their way again is a tenacious Eagles defense that is third in the league. The Eagles average 33 points behind their leading rusher, QB Donovan McNabb (241 yards), but won't come close to that against a defense that has allowed the league's fewest points (56). Chances are, 28 points will be enough against the evolving Bucs offense.
FRY'S PROMISE: Eagles 28, Bucs 24.
OF NOTE: Normally, the Fins would be the solid choice, but they are banged up. QB Ray Lucas is talented, but it's probably expecting too much for him to perform as consistently as starter Jay Fiedler (thumb), especially with WRs Chris Chambers (concussion) and Oronde Gadsden (wrist) ailing. The Bills and QB Drew Bledsoe will force a high-scoring game, which they are better equipped to win. The Fins will pound RB Ricky Williams at the Bills' soft run defense, but unless he gets more than 200 yards, the Fins could lose.
FRY'S PROMISE: Bills 30, Dolphins 23.
OF NOTE: The Panthers have cooled, dropping three straight. Now they are without starter Rodney Peete. Backup Chris Weinke is solid, but the Panthers must re-establish their running game to have a shot today. Conversely, the Falcons get starting QB Michael Vick back, and not a moment too soon. Vick's elusiveness should help him avoid a Panthers pass rush that leads the league in sacks (25), but don't be surprised if Vick gets dumped a lot. Give the Falcons, who have won the past four meetings, the edge because of homefield advantage.
FRY'S PROMISE: Falcons 22, Panthers 21.
OF NOTE: The Jaguars beat the Eagles on Oct. 6 then lost to the slumping Titans last Sunday. Go figure. The Jags have been riding RB Fred Taylor, but face a Ravens defense that is eighth in the league against the run. It's natural to expect the Jags to bounce back from the Titans loss, but the Ravens always play them tough, winning the past four meetings. Expect a close game that's decided in the final minutes. Six of the past seven have been decided by a touchdown or less. This one should follow suit.
FRY'S PROMISE: Ravens 20, Jaguars 17.
OF NOTE: The Bears are the obvious pick except QB Jim Miller (shoulder) may not play. With backup Chris Chandler, the Bears still should fend off the pesky Lions, who are getting their act together under rookie QB Joey Harrington. What's troublesome for the injury-riddled Bears is their defense, which has given up nearly 30 points a game during their three-game slide and has had trouble stopping RB James Stewart in the past five meetings. If the Bears hold the Lions under three touchdowns, their losing streak should end.
FRY'S PROMISE: Bears 19, Lions 14.
OF NOTE: The Broncos probably still are dazed after losing to the Dolphins in the final seconds last Sunday night. The Chiefs' high-powered offense (34.2 points) ought to snap them out of their trance. The Chiefs have won 10 straight against the Broncos at Arrowhead. League rushing leader Priest Holmes could have a hard time against the Broncos league-leading run defense (62 yards allowed per game). That could be the difference, especially with Chiefs QB Trent Green nursing a sore ankle.
FRY'S PROMISE: Broncos 33, Chiefs 31.
OF NOTE: Easily the best game of the day. It's a tossup. The Saints have been impressive but still are susceptible to letdowns. They will try to draw the Niners into an offensive shootout. The Niners offense is starting to come around. It will be tested against a defense that constantly pressures the quarterback and is stingy against the run. If the Saints score 30 or more, which will be difficult against the Niners' eighth-ranked defense, San Francisco probably won't feel like partying on Bourbon Street.
FRY'S PROMISE: 49ers 28, Saints 26.
OF NOTE: The Jets have had a week off to try to get things straightened out, but who knows if it will do any good? The Jets offense under young QB Chad Pennington is getting what it needs to help it gain confidence: a struggling opponent with a weak defense. Everybody has been lighting it up against the equally troubled Vikes (388.2 yards allowed per game). Thing is, the Vikes can also score in bunches, especially against a Jets defense that's giving up 30 points a game. The scoreboard operators will be busy in this one.
FRY'S PROMISE: Jets 29, Vikings 28.
OF NOTE: The Rams are coming off a much-needed win over the previously undefeated Raiders. Sure, third-string QB Marc Bulger and RB Marshall Faulk looked good, but the Rams' troubles haven't all been solved. The key for them is running Faulk (he had 158 yards rushing last week), and he should find plenty of room against a Seahawks defense that has been trampled this season. Still, this will be a struggle for the Rams. The Seahawks have won two of their past three meetings and are feeling pressured to win after a slow start.
FRY'S PROMISE: Seahawks 20, Rams 14.
OF NOTE: The Texans seem to be getting better each week and could upset the Browns. Last week the Bucs hogtied Cleveland's offense, which got only a 50-yard field goal. The Texans defense isn't nearly as good as the Bucs, but it packs some punch and will keep the floundering Browns offense in check. The Texans are averaging 10 points on the road, and that isn't enough to beat the Browns or anybody else. Like last week's loss to the Bills (31-24), the Texans will keep it close until the end but still walk away without the prize.
FRY'S PROMISE: Browns 25, Texans 16.
OF NOTE: The Raiders can't fret about last week's upset to the previously winless Rams. This is a key early-season AFC West game that could figure into who gets homefield advantage in the playoffs. A classic matchup of the Raiders explosive offense against the Chargers tenacious defense. But it's the Raiders defense, ranked No. 2 in the AFC, that could decide this game. It must contain RB LaDainian Tomlinson, who is averaging 4.7 yards per carry, to keep the Chargers out of reach.
FRY'S PROMISE: Raiders 24, Chargers 22.
OF NOTE: The Cowboys have dominated the Cardinals through the years but have had trouble beating their NFC rival on the road, where the Cardinals have won the past three. The Cardinals have a surprisingly good defense, especially against the run (No. 9 in the league). That should again put the Cowboys in passing situations, which is how to beat them. QB Quincy Carter has played better in recent weeks, but is not consistent enough to carry this team. Look for the Cardinals to make it four straight at home.
FRY'S PROMISE: Cards 21, Cowboys 19.
OF NOTE: Steve Spurrier still is trying to get this team to play at a high level, and this is no time for experiments. The Packers are hot and have been virtually unbeatable when they start fast (17 straight wins when leading at halftime). Unless rookie QB Patrick Ramsey drastically improves from last week, the 'Skins likely will have to play catch up against a defense that is tied for the league lead in interceptions (12). The 'Skins have won two of the past three meetings, but the Packers have not lost at Lambeau this season.
FRY'S PROMISE: Packers 32, Redskins 17.
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