By DARRELL FRY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published November 24, 2002
Packers (8-2) at Bucs (8-2)
OF NOTE: This may be the biggest game of the season so far. The winner has the inside track on homefield advantage in the playoffs. The Bucs have the edge because the Packers have never beaten them at Raymond James Stadium. Then again, with QB Brett Favre, anything is possible. Chances are, the Packers' inconsistent running game will force Favre to have to do too much, which will play into the hands of the Bucs' top-ranked defense. If they can force Favre to throw at least two picks, the Bucs will take this one.
FRY'S PROMISE: Bucs 19, Packers 13.
OF NOTE: How about Herman Edwards? After a 1-4 start, Edwards has coached the Jets to four victories in their past five games, including three straight. And they have been impressive in the process, averaging nearly 30 points the past three weeks. They put up 37 against the Bills in their earlier meeting, a Jets win in overtime, and should light it up again today because the Bills defense is so bad. If the Jets defense can keep Drew Bledsoe and the Bills offense from busting loose, New York will extend its win streak to four.
FRY'S PROMISE: Jets 29, Bills 21.
OF NOTE: Talk about two sorry teams. The Lions looked decent earlier this season but have been blown out the past two games, losing by a combined 71-28. After eight straight losses, the Bears need this one. They're at home, they've won three of the past four meetings and their pass rush (LB Rosevelt Colvin has 8.5 sacks) should pressure rookie QB Joey Harrington into enough mistakes to get the Bears off the hook, regardless of whether Jim Miller or Chris Chandler is at QB. Breathe easy Bears fans. The streak stops here.
FRY'S PROMISE: Bears 20, Lions 10.
OF NOTE: Steve Spurrier's ballclub has been taking its lumps lately and likely will get another huge bop on the head today. The Rams look downright scary. That likely won't change with QB Kurt Warner back. The only thing that could give the 'Skins a chance is the possible absence of RB Marshall Faulk, who is nursing a high ankle sprain. That could keep the score respectable. If Faulk plays, the 'Skins will be in for a long day, even though they've won four of the past five against the Rams.
FRY'S PROMISE: Rams 31, Redskins 17.
OF NOTE: The Fins finally got a win under QB Ray Lucas, but this team will remain vulnerable until starter Jay Fiedler returns. That means Miami could be easy pickings for the Chargers, who are coming off an overtime win against the Niners. After getting blown out by the Jets on Nov. 3, the Chargers may have regained their tenacity. Both teams have excellent run defenses, so don't look for big games from league rushing leader LaDainian Tomlinson or Ricky Williams. But the Chargers will get it done on offense.
FRY'S PROMISE: Chargers 24, Dolphins 20.
OF NOTE: If the Falcons weren't so hot, it would be easy to pick the Panthers in an upset. Carolina, last in the NFC South, isn't as bad as its record might indicate. The Panthers have lost a slew of close games, usually late in the fourth quarter, and are looking better with QB Rodney Peete in the lineup despite his struggles last week against the Bucs. But don't bet against Falcons QB Michael Vick, who has just two interceptions. Still, the Panthers tenacious defense gives them a chance to pull a shocker after seven straight losses.
FRY'S PROMISE: Panthers 22, Falcons 21.
OF NOTE: The Jags seem to be the obvious choice, but remember they haven't played well on the road, losing three of their past four away from Jacksonville. Their last road win was against the expansion Texans. The Jags are alternating RBs Fred Taylor and Stacey Mack. The Cowboys defense has played well lately, giving up five touchdowns in the past five games. Rookie QB Chad Hutchinson has not thrown an interception in 86 career attempts, and turnovers likely will decide this one.
FRY'S PROMISE: Jaguars 22, Cowboys 17.
OF NOTE: After guaranteeing a victory over the Browns last weekend and losing, the Bengals aren't saying much. They're playing better these days, but not well enough to topple a top-notch team such as the Steelers. Sure, the Steelers probably will suffer a little with Kordell Stewart replacing injured Tommy Maddox at QB, but it won't take much to beat the Bengals. Look for the Steelers to run Jerome Bettis, who averages 106.7 yards against the Bengals, and their defense to pressure QB Jon Kitna relentlessly.
FRY'S PROMISE: Steelers 28, Bengals 11.
OF NOTE: Both teams are struggling, but the Vikes are in worse shape. Sure, they surprised the Packers at home last week, but chances are that was a fluke. Minnesota is no good on the road, having lost 14 straight during the regular season. QB Daunte Culpepper is capable of having a four-interception game today, especially against a Patriots pass defense that ranks fourth in the league. If the Pats don't have a lot of turnovers and contain RB Michael Bennett, they should have no trouble putting away the Vikes, who've won the past two meetings.
FRY'S PROMISE: Patriots 33, Vikings 26.
OF NOTE: The Saints still have a good shot at winning the NFC South, despite their upset loss last week, and having homefield advantage in the playoffs. But they must be careful today. RB Deuce McAllister is questionable with a sprained ankle, meaning the Saints offense may lack some of its usual punch. The Browns have beaten the Saints three of the past four meetings and are coming off a win over the Bengals. Cleveland's pass defense could cause QB Aaron Brooks problems if he's not patient. Still, the home crowd ought to boost the Saints.
FRY'S PROMISE: Saints 21, Browns 17.
OF NOTE: The Ravens usually whip the Titans. They've won the past four meetings, including playoffs. But this isn't your typical Ravens team. Plus, the Titans are arguably the hottest team in the league. They've won five straight and should extend it to six today. It won't be easy, though, because the Ravens have played their best at home, winning three of their past four there. Still, it's going to take a lot better team than the Ravens to stop the streaking Titans, especially with QB Steve McNair playing so well lately (96.7 passer rating the past five games).
FRY'S PROMISE: Titans 24, Ravens 16.
OF NOTE: The Raiders appear to be getting their act together again. They've won two straight by a combined 59 points, and their offense remains the most lethal in the league, averaging 401.9 yards. Meanwhile, the Cardinals are going in the tank. They have lost four straight and have been beaten soundly each time. Injuries have hurt them during their current skid. Even with everyone healthy, it would be a stretch to upend the Raiders and QB Rich Gannon, who should notch his eighth 300-yard passing game in his past 10 starts.
FRY'S PROMISE: Raiders 35, Cardinals 12.
OF NOTE: The Chiefs are coming off a gutsy 17-16 victory over the Bills and are clinging to hopes of getting a playoff berth in the stacked AFC. To stay in the hunt, they can't afford a loss today. There is little danger of that happening, considering the Chiefs have won seven of the past 11 against the Seahawks. Plus, Kansas City probably will pound RB Priest Holmes, who has gone over 1,000 yards this season (1,012), against a Seattle run defense that ranks last in the league (170.1 rushing yards allowed per game).
FRY'S PROMISE: Chiefs 36, Seahawks 20.
OF NOTE: This game could be a snoozer, considering neither team has a particularly scary offense. The Texans are playing for pride, while the Giants likely will be more focused because they are in the hunt for the NFC East crown. Expect this one to be a low-scoring defensive struggle. The Texans defense is fourth in the AFC and excels at pass rushing, which could force QB Kerry Collins into mistakes. Still, the Giants have too much riding on this game to let the Texans sneak up on them.
FRY'S PROMISE: Giants 21, Texans 13.
OF NOTE: Tony Dungy's Colts recently have shown the muscle that was lacking earlier this season. They stunned the Eagles and then waxed the Cowboys last week despite having a gimpy Edgerrin James at RB. The Broncos have looked like Super Bowl contenders at times but have been prone to upsets. Though Steve Beuerlein is subbing for injured Denver QB Brian Griese, the Broncos have never lost to the Colts at home, and that probably won't change today. In his first start in two years, Beuerlein will get the job done. Barely.
FRY'S PROMISE: Broncos 23, Colts 21.