By DARRELL FRY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 1, 2002
Bucs (9-2) at Saints (7-4)
OF NOTE: This figured to be a clash of two league heavyweights, but the Saints are on the skids, having lost three of their past four. Still, the Saints are a big-play team and should benefit greatly from the expected return of injured running back Deuce McAllister. In fact, he'll be key. McAllister has to have a big game to take the pressure off quarterback Aaron Brooks. But the Bucs' top-rated defense is tough to run against, and the Saints could be exposed again. Let's just hope there are no postgame confrontations after this one.
FRY'S PROMISE: Bucs 27, Saints 24.
OF NOTE: Okay, so QB Ray Lucas has dropped his Ryan Leaf impersonation and actually played well the past two weeks. With starter Jay Fiedler expected to return next weekend, the Dolphins can ill afford to slip up today in frigid Buffalo. They are coming off a huge win over the Chargers and have regained some confidence. The Bills have cooled lately, but still can trip up the Dolphins with their pass-happy offense, which is third in the league in passing (267.7 yards a game). If the Bills get the Dolphins in a shootout, Miami will be toast.
FRY'S PROMISE: Dolphins 19, Bills 17.
OF NOTE: The Bears finally snapped their eight-game losing streak -- albeit against the hapless Lions, who basically gave the game away in overtime. But frankly, the Bears don't have a chance. The Packers aren't all that, but after dropping two straight, they'll be snarling, especially since they're back home. Look for RB Ahman Green, who's been quiet lately, to bust out, which will open things in the passing game for QB Brett Favre. With their muddled QB situation and injury-depleted lineup, the Bears simply won't be able to keep up.
FRY'S PROMISE: Packers 30, Bears 16.
OF NOTE: With a soft schedule down the stretch, the Bengals should be able to notch another victory or two before season's end. This could be one of them. Granted, it won't be easy. While the Ravens have lost three of their past five, the losses have been against top teams (the Steelers, Falcons and Dolphins). Quarterback Jeff Blake gives them big-play capability and the defense is hanging tough without star linebacker Ray Lewis. Still, the home crowd could give the improving Bengals the slight edge they need to pull off the upset.
FRY'S PROMISE: Bengals 24, Ravens 20.
OF NOTE: Poor Carolina. The Panthers have lost eight straight and were slapped around pretty good Sunday at home by Atlanta in a 41-0 loss. Now they face a Browns team that is coming off a huge win at New Orleans. But the Browns, who trail the Steelers by a game in the AFC North, can easily be beaten, especially going against Carolina's attacking defense. But the Panthers probably just want this season to end. If the Browns get an early lead, the Panthers' confidence probably will fade quickly, giving them little chance to end their losing skid.
FRY'S PROMISE: Browns 22, Panthers 17.
OF NOTE: Just when you think the Jags are at least respectable, they get popped by the lowly Cowboys Sunday. Go figure. Even with their muddled QB situation, the Steelers should have no trouble today. Dallas QB Chad Hutchinson ripped the Jags defense for 301 passing yards, and the Steelers have a more dangerous attack. The Jags must limit the Steelers running game and force Pittsburgh to beat them through the air. Chances are the Steelers won't throw as much as the Cowboys did, but the result will be the same.
FRY'S PROMISE: Steelers 26, Jaguars 14.
OF NOTE: The Cards are in a nose-dive. They've lost five straight, and none of them have been close. They can't stop anyone, and they've given up at least 27 points in their past five games, including 41 Sunday against Oakland. That's key because the Chiefs can score in bunches and likely will put up at least 30 today. The Cards, who have struggled offensively in recent weeks, won't be able to keep up with RB Thomas Jones out for the season. QB Jake Plummer simply can't do it all himself. In fact, his days in the valley of the sun seemed numbered.
FRY'S PROMISE: Chiefs 32, Cardinals 20.
OF NOTE: The Falcons are perhaps the hottest team in the league, riding a seven-game unbeaten streak. But after destroying the Panthers 41-0 Sunday and a crucial date with division rival Tampa Bay next weekend, there's a chance they could be looking past the Vikes. This one has upset written all over it. The Vikes (minus-19 turnover ratio) probably will give the ball away too much to take advantage. Plus, Minnesota has lost five straight to the Falcons and running back Michael Bennett is nursing an ankle injury.
FRY'S PROMISE: Falcons 27, Vikings 20.
OF NOTE: The Titans were streaking until Sunday against the Ravens. Likewise, the Giants are coming off a disappointing loss to the Texans. This is a must-win game for clubs that are clinging to playoff hopes. The Giants have allowed the third-fewest points in the league, which means Titans QB Steve McNair could be in for a long day. RB Eddie George usually has big games against the Giants, a trend that should continue. The Titans also have had success against the Giants, winning the past two meetings. Why mess with tradition?
FRY'S PROMISE: Titans 23, Giants 20.
OF NOTE: This is a battle for the top spot in the stacked AFC West, where Oakland also is 7-4. Both teams are coming off surprising losses and are looking to bounce back in a big way today. San Diego, which started strong, has lost three of its past four games. The Chargers have only lost once at home this season, but the Broncos have won nine of the past 11 meetings. If rookie running back Clinton Portis runs wild on the Chargers like Miami's Ricky Williams did Sunday, the Broncos will come out on top.
FRY'S PROMISE: Broncos 31, Chargers 28.
OF NOTE: Are the Colts really that good? They had a huge win over the Broncos last weekend, but the jury probably is still out on them. Regardless, they have more than enough to dispatch the pesky Texans, even though Houston is coming off an upset of the Giants. Their meeting earlier this season was a 23-3 Colts blowout. The Texans, who have not won two in a row, have gotten better and should give Indy a run for its money, but that's it. Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison and Edgerrin James are just too much for the Texans to handle right now.
FRY'S PROMISE: Colts 28, Texans 16.
OF NOTE: A.J. Feeley, huh? Well, who knew the Eagles would beat the Niners on Monday night with Koy Detmer at QB? Feeley actually looked good against San Francisco and should keep the Eagles offense rolling. Thing is, the Rams probably still are kicking themselves after their narrow loss to the Redskins last weekend. Even with Marshall Faulk questionable, the Rams are dangerous and have won four of the past five meetings, including last season's NFC Championship Game. And the Rams need this one more.
FRY'S PROMISE: Rams 27, Eagles 17.
OF NOTE: What happened to the Niners on Monday? They couldn't beat an Eagles team that was down to its third-string QB. Look for them to take out their frustrations on the Seahawks. Granted, Seattle beat the high-scoring Chiefs last weekend, but the Seahawks still are inconsistent. The Niners rarely give the ball away (league-low nine turnovers), and that is the only way Seattle will have a chance today. Expect a big game from San Francisco RB Garrison Hearst against the league's worst run defense (174.4 yards per game).
FRY'S PROMISE: 49ers 37, Seahawks 21.