By DARRELL FRY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 15, 2002
OF NOTE: Don't be surprised if the Bucs take this club lightly and get stung. Then again, the Bucs need to run the table to have a shot at homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. The Bucs defense typically eats rookie quarterbacks like Joey Harrington for breakfast, though the Lions have allowed a league-low 16 sacks. In short, the Lions are totally overmatched, especially with Tampa Bay's offense coming alive lately behind a red-hot Brad Johnson. Count on the Lions' losing streak being extended to six.
FRY'S PROMISE: Bucs 27, Lions 10.
OF NOTE: The Falcons are coming off a crucial loss to division rival Tampa Bay and can't afford to let this one slip away. QB Michael Vick was contained by the Bucs but expect him to rebound in a big way today. The Seahawks are the worst team in the league at stopping the run, meaning Vick should run wild. Plus, the Falcons get speedy running back Warrick Dunn back from the injured list today. The Seahawks put up a good fight in losing last weekend to the Eagles, but this one doesn't figure to be close.
FRY'S PROMISE: Falcons 33, Seahawks 20.
OF NOTE: The Jets continue to play with a tremendous sense of urgency. They have won five of their past six, outscored opponents 50-6 in the fourth quarter of those games and have allowed more than 14 points only once (in a 26-20 loss to Raiders). They are 10-4 on the road under coach Herman Edwards. If RB Curtis Martin gashes the Bears defense the way Miami's Ricky Williams did Monday night (216 yards), the Jets should cruise. The Bears' only hope is that LB Rosevelt Colvin (10.5 sacks) can rattle young QB Chad Pennington.
FRY'S PROMISE: Jets 16, Bears 13.
OF NOTE: This is one of the two biggest games of the weekend. Both teams need a win to stay atop their divisions. The Raiders are arguably the hottest team in the league, winners of five straight. But for some reason they always have trouble against the Fins, who've won the past four regular-season meetings. If QB Rich Gannon has another 300-yard game, the Fins will be sunk. Conversely, Miami needs another solid game from RB Ricky Williams to allow QB Jay Fielder, 6-1 as the starter, to attack the Raiders secondary.
FRY'S PROMISE: Raiders 28, Dolphins 24.
OF NOTE: The Texans are coming off perhaps their biggest win, 24-6 over the Steelers. Thing is, the Texans have not won back-to-back games. Despite their losing record, the Ravens will play inspired because they have faint playoff hopes. They can win the AFC North with three wins and one more Pittsburgh loss. QB Jeff Blake has had his struggles, but has four TDs and two INTs in his past two games. The Texans usually play well at home and should make a game out of this, but ultimately they'll come up short, perhaps thanks to costly turnovers.
FRY'S PROMISE: Ravens 25, Texans 20.
OF NOTE: Both teams are vying for the playoffs. The Chargers need this one. They've lost two of their past three and four of their past six. The key, as always, is RB LaDainian Tomlinson. He should have a big game against a Bills defense that has been getting trampled by the run, ranking 31st in the league (138.7 yards allowed per game). The Bills likely will have to draw the Chargers into a shootout to win. QB Drew Bledsoe typically has decent games against the Chargers and will need a good one today.
FRY'S PROMISE: Chargers 31, Bills 27.
OF NOTE: Steelers in a rout, right? After they were stunned last weekend by the Texans, who knows how they'll play today. Quarterback Tommy Maddox remains the starter despite three turnovers that led to touchdowns against the Texans. Meanwhile, the Panthers are coming off a win over the Bengals in which their offense put up 52 points. That could mean trouble for the Steelers, who might have to turn to Kordell Stewart if Maddox struggles again. If the Steelers can score more than three touchdowns, they'll win.
FRY'S PROMISE: Steelers 24, Panthers 17.
OF NOTE: The Saints are trying to keep pace in the NFC South, while the Vikings' season has long been over. The Saints have won two straight, but they do not seem as formidable as before, except when they play the Bucs. The real question is QB Aaron Brooks, who is nursing an injured throwing shoulder and might not play. Even with backup QB Jake Delhomme at the controls, the Saints should get past the Vikes, who probably don't have much life left. Look for RB Deuce McAllister to carry the Saints if Brooks is not 100 percent.
FRY'S PROMISE: Saints 23, Vikings 19.
OF NOTE: How do the Eagles do it? Despite QB Donovan McNabb being out, they continue to soar under third-stringer A.J. Feeley. Is there any doubt Feeley won't get the job done today? Probably not. 'Skins RB Stephen Davis is unhappy and coach Steve Spurrier has turned the offense over to rookie QB Patrick Ramsey. That's a recipe for a blowout. Their last meeting was a 37-7 Philly smoker. This one will be nearly as lopsided thanks to another dominating performance by the Eagles defense (league-leading 46 sacks).
FRY'S PROMISE: Eagles 27, Redskins 9.
OF NOTE: The Bengals have put up points the past few games, but continue to demonstrate new ways to botch things; five of their past nine losses have been by eight points or fewer. They could have beaten the Panthers last weekend, but blew it thanks to turnovers. They have another solid chance to win today, but don't be surprised if they bungle it at the end. The Jags are coming off a heartbreaking loss to the Browns on the last play of the game and should be champing at the bit for another chance to win. They'll get it this time.
FRY'S PROMISE: Jaguars 28, Bengals 24.
OF NOTE: The Browns were lucky to win last weekend against the Jags on that Hail Mary. They won't be so fortunate against the Colts, who are looking to rebound from a narrow loss to the Titans. But even with QB Peyton Manning and WR Marvin Harrison playing well, Indy could have some trouble trying to throw against a Browns defense that's allowing just 203.1 net passing yards a game. Still, the Colts have won three of the past four meetings and will find a way to pull this one out, even if it means throwing a Hail Mary of their own.
FRY'S PROMISE: Colts 29, Browns 24.
OF NOTE: What's up with the Broncos? These early Super Bowl contenders have lost three straight and four of their past five. Talk about a must-win game. Trouble is, they face a dangerous Chiefs team that has scored 49 points in each of its past two games and is trying to sneak into the playoffs. If the Broncos continue to struggle on offense (they've scored three touchdowns once in their past three games), they'll get left behind by their AFC West rival, the Chiefs, who can score in bunches. Heaven help the Broncos if they lose this one.
FRY'S PROMISE: Broncos 24, Chiefs 20.
OF NOTE: The Cowboys are playing for next season, while the Giants still have the faintest playoff hopes. That could be the only mental edge the Giants need. Regardless, winning won't be easy for the Giants. Dallas QB Chad Hutchinson has won two of his past three starts and has thrown just four INTs in six starts this season. Plus, the Cowboys nearly toppled the 49ers last weekend and seem to be getting better each week. Still, the Giants have won four of the past six and need this one to perhaps keep coach Jim Fassel off the hot seat.
FRY'S PROMISE: Giants 22, Cowboys 17.
OF NOTE: One of two huge games today with playoff implications. The Niners looked shaky last weekend in nearly losing to the Cowboys, and frankly haven't looked imposing in recent weeks. Likewise, the Packers struggled noticeably last weekend against the hapless Vikings. QB Brett Favre has owned the Niners lately, winning four straight in the regular season, and is 33-10 in December. But the Niners won't beat themselves. They have a league-low 12 turnovers and are tied for fifth in turnover ratio (plus-11).
FRY'S PROMISE: Packers 27, 49ers 24.
OF NOTE: The Cardinals' spirits couldn't be higher after they finally ended their six-game losing streak last weekend with a win over the Lions. But the team is still a mess and coach Dave McGinnis is still in danger of losing his job. The Rams aren't in any better shape. Running back Marshall Faulk, nursing injuries, might see limited action. The bright spot is that QB Marc Bulger, who invigorates the team when he is in the huddle, returns from the injured list today. At home, the Rams should get back to their winning ways with little effort.
FRY'S PROMISE: Rams 28, Cardinals 13.
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