By DARRELL FRY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 8, 2002
Falcons (8-3-1) at Bucs (9-3)
OF NOTE: First place in the NFC South is on the line. The Falcons are the hottest team in the league, riding an eight-game unbeaten streak. And quarterback Michael Vick is coming off a record-setting 173-yard rushing game. But the Bucs beat them this season and contained Vick like few teams have since. This game hinges more on the Bucs' ability to score on a defense that is fourth in the league in points allowed (17.6 per game). If the Bucs can get the early lead and force the Falcons to play catch-up, they should take this one.
FRY'S PROMISE: Bucs 21, Falcons 16.
OF NOTE: Both teams are coming off wins and need this one to stay in the race for the AFC East title. Their meetings usually are tight: four of the past six have gone into overtime. The Pats usually play well when they can run the ball, and the Bills are second-to-last in run defense, allowing 142.6 yards per game. Plus, the Pats have won the past four against the Bills. But with the Bills' high-scoring offense, never count them out. And quarterback Drew Bledsoe will be looking to show off in his return to his old stomping grounds.
FRY'S PROMISE: Patriots 37, Bills 31.
OF NOTE: The Panthers seem the obvious choice, especially since they are at home and are coming off a win over the Browns. But let's not get too hasty. As bad as their record is, the Bengals have played well in recent weeks and almost beat the Ravens last weekend. As wacky as this season has been, the Bengals could pull the upset. The Panthers' stout defense is without rookie star Julius Peppers, who was suspended for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. If the Bengals win the turnover battle, the Panthers will be sunk.
FRY'S PROMISE: Bengals 22, Panthers 20.
OF NOTE: The Browns are coming off a critical loss to the Panthers that may ruin their playoff chances. Expect them to play more inspired today -- at least more than the Jags, whose season is pretty much toast. Yes, the Jags nearly bumped off the Steelers last weekend and have won seven of eight clashes with the Browns. And yes, running back Fred Taylor ran wild both times he faced the Browns. But the Jags have little to play for today, which should give the Browns the advantage they need to win.
FRY'S PROMISE: Browns 26, Jaguars 19.
OF NOTE: The Rams' loss last weekend at Philadelphia was a huge blow. Quarterback Kurt Warner is hurt again, and third-string Jamie Martin gets the start. There's trouble here. The Rams' recent rally seems stalled, and it's doubtful Martin is going to change that, even if running back Marshall Faulk is healthy enough to start. Meanwhile, the Chiefs have renewed confidence after waxing the Cardinals 49-0. If running back Priest Holmes can keep the Rams defense honest, K.C. should ride its passing game to victory.
FRY'S PROMISE: Chiefs 30, Rams 17.
OF NOTE: Could the Texans pull the upset? No way. If the Steelers, who are trying to hold off the Ravens and Browns for the division title, lose this game, they should be forced to watch reruns of Bengals games. Quarterback Tommy Maddox might be a tad rusty in his return, but the Steelers should cruise, even though they've only won their past two games by a combined 10 points. Look for the Steelers defense to have its best outing of the season against a Texans offense that mustered only a field goal last weekend against the Colts.
FRY'S PROMISE: Steelers 24, Texans 9.
OF NOTE: Are the Colts for real? This game will help answer that. The Titans showed a lot of grit in fending off the Giants last weekend in overtime and have been on a tear lately, winning six of their past seven. The Colts defense is greatly improved (ranked No. 2) and faces gimpy quarterback Steve McNair and inconsistent running back Eddie George. The Titans pass defense must slow wide receiver Marvin Harrison. Look for McNair and George, who've helped the Titans win four of the past five against the Colts, to come through with big games.
FRY'S PROMISE: Titans 20, Colts 17.
OF NOTE: After playing Thanksgiving Day, the Redskins have had extra time to prepare for this game, which should help. Meanwhile, the Giants probably still are smarting over their overtime loss to the Titans last weekend. The Giants want this one more than the Redskins, whose season is all but finished, as they are still in the playoff hunt. Quarterback Danny Wuerffel doesn't scare the Giants, whose defense, ranked third against the pass at 181.2 yards allowed per game, should foil anything coach Steve Spurrier cooks up.
FRY'S PROMISE: Giants 24, Redskins 17.
OF NOTE: The Niners put up 31 points last weekend against the Seahawks, but there still are questions about their offense. The Cowboys looked solid in turning back the Redskins on Thanksgiving Day and should be rested. Still, the only way the Cowboys get into this game is if wide receiver Terrell Owens taunts them again by showboating at midfield. Otherwise, the Niners will beat up on Jerry Jones' team for the third time in their past four meetings. Dallas needs turnovers to win, and the Niners have a league-low 11.
FRY'S PROMISE: 49ers 27, Cowboys 17.
OF NOTE: The Eagles have beaten three successive NFC West teams. They'll complete the sweep today. Forget about third-string quarterback A.J. Feeley. The Eagles will win the same way they beat the Rams last weekend, with a defense that held the Rams to a field goal. After a spectacular game last weekend, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck will look like well, Matt Hasselbeck today. The Eagles will shut down running back Shaun Alexander, then feast on Hasselbeck, who has been sacked 15 times in six starts.
FRY'S PROMISE: Eagles 22, Seahawks 10.
OF NOTE: After a brief slump, the Saints seem back on track after toppling the hot Bucs last weekend. Running back Deuce McAllister is back from the injured list and should go over 100 yards today against a good Ravens run defense. The Ravens' best hope is to frustrate quarterback Aaron Brooks, who has been shaky in recent weeks. That's possible considering the Ravens lead the AFC with 20 interceptions. At the very least, the Ravens should keep the score close, even though the Saints are one of the league's best on the road.
FRY'S PROMISE: Saints 20, Ravens 14.
OF NOTE: Have the Cards quit on coach Dave McGinnis? They've lost six straight, including 49-0 last weekend to the Chiefs. They've scored just 40 in their past four games. A home game against the Lions is what they need to snap their losing skid. The Lions are a mess, and quarterback Joey Harrington is looking like the rookie that he is. Quarterback Jake Plummer tore up the Lions when they met last season, throwing four touchdowns in a 45-38 win. He and the Cards should play big today, if only to salvage some self-respect.
FRY'S PROMISE: Cardinals 21, Lions 17.
OF NOTE: What has happened to the Broncos? They've lost three of their past four but get tight end Shannon Sharpe and quarterback Brian Griese back. And not a moment too soon. The Broncos, 4-2 on the road this season, need this one to keep pace in the AFC West. Thing is, the Jets are also in a must-win situation after losing Monday night to the Raiders, snapping their five-game win streak. This one should go down to the wire. The Broncos have won five of their past seven meetings and ought to squeak this one out too.
FRY'S PROMISE: Broncos 33, Jets 31.
OF NOTE: This is arguably the biggest game of the weekend. First place in the AFC West hangs in the balance. Count on this one being tight all the way -- seven of their past nine meetings have been decided by a touchdown or less. The Chargers pass defense (259.8 yards allowed a game) will struggle to ground quarterback Rich Gannon, who goes for a record 10th 300-yard passing day. But look for running back LaDainian Tomlinson to go over 100 yards against the Raiders' fourth-ranked run defense. But somehow, the Raiders survive.
FRY'S PROMISE: Raiders 27, Chargers 24.
OF NOTE: Look, the Vikes aren't going to beat anybody until they stop turning the ball over. Quarterback Daunte Culpepper threw three picks last weekend against the Falcons. If he does that today against a Packers team that leads the league in takeaways with 38, the Vikes have no chance. Actually, they already may be sunk. The Packers are next to impossible to beat at the frozen tundra, especially today when it's supposed to be in the mid 20s with snow possible. That's ideal Packers weather, which means heavy doses of running back Ahman Green.
FRY'S PROMISE: Packers 27, Vikings 6.