By DARRELL FRY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published November 17, 2002
Panthers (3-6) at Bucs (7-2)
OF NOTE: After a bye week, the Bucs are getting some key offensive starters back. It's a good thing because the Panthers' third-ranked defense will be a handful. Like their first meeting this season, a 12-9 Bucs win, this one figures to be low scoring. For the Panthers to have a chance, they must get solid games from QB Rodney Peete and RB Lamar Smith or knock QB Brad Johnson (sore ribs) out of the game. This one will be close, with the Bucs trying to win down the stretch, where the Panthers have been fading lately.
FRY'S PROMISE: Bucs 23, Panthers 13.
OF NOTE: The Vikings are a mess. They've lost three of their past four and QB Daunte Culpepper was benched during last weekend's loss. They're facing the hottest team in the league, and Green Bay has a chance to clinch the weak NFC North today. But in this strangest of NFL seasons, this game could surprise us. The Vikings beat the Packers the last time they met at the Metrodome. But that won't happen this time. The turnover-prone Vikes will make enough mistakes and give up enough yards to ruin any chance of an upset.
FRY'S PROMISE: Packers 33, Vikings 24.
OF NOTE: This is one of the best matchups of the day. Both teams are in a groove and need this win to keep pace in the tight division race. The Saints narrowly won their earlier meeting at home, so the Falcons are out to return the favor at the Georgia Dome. The Saints say they'll let QB Michael Vick get his yards but try to shut down everyone else, namely RB Warrick Dunn, who had 142 yards in that earlier game. The Falcons have won the past two at home but somehow the Saints, masters of fourth-quarter rallies, will win.
FRY'S PROMISE: Saints 27, Falcons 24.
OF NOTE: The Bengals are guaranteeing another victory, but beating the Browns won't be nearly as easy as whipping the Texans. Forget the Browns' record. This is a dangerous team that has lost a lot of close games. Thing is, starting RB Jamel White (shoulder) is out, taking away some of Cleveland's offensive punch. The Bengals are looking much better these days and have the talent to win this one. Plus, they are at home. Go with the Bengals. Hey, they delivered on their first guarantee, so ride them until they prove themselves wrong.
FRY'S PROMISE: Bengals 29, Browns 27.
OF NOTE: After stunning the potent Eagles on the road last weekend, the Colts couldn't possibly flop at home today against the lowly Cowboys, could they? In this wacky season, anything is possible. The Colts, who could have RB Edgerrin James (hamstring/chest) back, have won the past two meetings and for the second straight week face a stiff defense that has allowed just three touchdowns in the past four games. The Colts will be without starting WR Qadry Ismail (knee), meaning WR Marvin Harrison will draw plenty of attention.
FRY'S PROMISE: Colts 20, Cowboys 14.
OF NOTE: They might need extra stat people at this one, because these teams can light it up like the Fourth of July. Everything about this game says it'll be high scoring. Both have explosive offenses and weak defenses. The Bills have to contain RB Priest Holmes, who usually plays his best at home (he's averaging 138 yards at Arrowhead). The Chiefs will be eager to win after narrowly losing to the Niners last weekend, and the Bills could be sluggish after a bye week. In this kind of game, the better defense will make the difference.
FRY'S PROMISE: Bills 38, Chiefs 35.
OF NOTE: Steve Spurrier's guys were smacked around last weekend by the lowly Jaguars. The 'Skins win with offense, but haven't gotten much of it lately, particularly on the road where they've averaged just 10 points in their past three away games. RB Stephen Davis (knee) is iffy and the Giants have a solid defense (third-fewest points allowed), forcing the 'Skins to rely heavily on the pass. The 'Skins need this one to stay in the division race, but chances are, they'll take another one on the chin today.
FRY'S PROMISE: Giants 24, Redskins 17.
OF NOTE: The Eagles probably are seething after being upset by the Colts at home a week ago. Meanwhile, the Cards appear headed for a nose dive after losing three in a row. The Cards have a nasty remaining schedule and need a win to save their season, but there's no way the Eagles will drop two straight. Granted, their offense has been sluggish lately, which could make this a closer game than expected. But QB Donovan McNabb, who has won three of his past four starts against the Cards, won't let this one get away.
FRY'S PROMISE: Eagles 31, Cardinals 9.
OF NOTE: The Jags are hard to figure. Who expected them to handle the Redskins so easily last weekend? The Texans won't be pushovers, though. Yes, Houston is the only team to lose to the Bengals, but it can bite you at any time. The Texans played the surging Titans surprisingly close last weekend, losing 17-10 on the road. Today they are at home, where they play noticeably better. Thing is, the Jags have a strong pass defense, which could bottle up QB David Carr. Still, if the Texans hold RB Fred Taylor under 100 yards, they'll win.
FRY'S PROMISE: Texans 22, Jaguars 20.
OF NOTE: These are perhaps two of hottest teams in the league. After slow starts, both are playing some of their best ball. The Steelers are unbeaten in their past five games, and the Titans have won four straight. Are the Titans contenders? This game will answer that question. The Titans will need a healthy Steve McNair (toe) because they are 7-3 against the Steelers with him at quarterback. Conversely, the Steelers must shut down running back Eddie George because the Titans are 25-2 when he has 27 or more carries.
FRY'S PROMISE: Steelers 19, Titans 14.
OF NOTE: What's wrong with the Chargers? Nothing a win against the Niners won't cure. The Chargers have dropped two in a row and their once stingy defense has looked vulnerable. The Niners didn't play their best game last weekend in beating the Chiefs, but give them the slight edge, especially considering they've won five straight against the Chargers. Still, San Diego can't possibly lose three in a row, right? Look for the Chargers to ride RB LaDainian Tomlinson against a rather average run defense.
FRY'S PROMISE: Chargers 21, 49ers 20.
OF NOTE: Quarterback Jay Fiedler (thumb) is a couple of games from returning, meaning the Fins again are vulnerable. They've lost three straight with backup QB Ray Lucas and easily could get picked off by the Ravens, who have quick-strike potential with new QB Jeff Blake and may get star LB Ray Lewis (shoulder) back. As always for Miami, RB Ricky Williams largely will determine the outcome. If he can get well over 100 yards, the Fins could end their slide. That is, if Lucas doesn't throw the game away (six INTs in three games).
FRY'S PROMISE: Dolphins 28, Ravens 26.
OF NOTE: The Broncos probably will take out their frustrations from Monday night's thumping by the Raiders on the struggling Seahawks. Even without injured tight end Shannon Sharpe (elbow), the Broncos should have little trouble crushing the Seahawks, who have not beaten a team with a winning record. Running back Clinton Portis will have a career day against a Seattle run defense that's last in the league (166.6 yards allowed per game). Denver has won four of the past five meetings. Make that five of the past six after today.
FRY'S PROMISE: Broncos 37, Hawks 14.
OF NOTE: The Jets seemingly are a different team these days. They are responding under QB Chad Pennington, who has not thrown an interception in 82 attempts. The only way the Jets lose is if Pennington suddenly breaks that trend and starts throwing picks. The Lions are solid under rookie QB Joey Harrington but have struggled to score in the second half of games lately. That will hurt them against a Jets squad that is 9-3 on the road under coach Herman Edwards and has beaten San Diego on the road this season.
FRY'S PROMISE: Jets 26, Lions 21.
OF NOTE: Are the Raiders back? After manhandling the Broncos in Denver on Monday night, it would seem so. But this game will tell us for sure. The Patriots barely beat the lowly Bears last weekend, but showed remarkable determination. They will need that today to get past the Raiders, who no doubt will be seeking revenge for that playoff game they lost because of the "tuck rule" in the snow at New England last season. The Raiders have won four of the past five meetings against the Patriots, so go with the trend today.
FRY'S PROMISE: Raiders 30, Patriots 24.