By DARRELL FRY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 29, 2002
Bucs (11-4) at Bears (4-11)
OF NOTE: Yes, it's going to be cold. And yes, the Bucs always seem to freeze like a Popsicle when it's 40 degrees or below. And yes, the Bucs, who seemed on the fast track to the Super Bowl in recent weeks, layed an egg Monday night against the Steelers. QB Brad Johnson (back contusion) still will be inactive, but concussion-plagued Chris Chandler will not start for the Bears either. Former CFL player Henry Burris, who replaced Chandler on Dec.22, will make his first NFL start. That guarantees a Bears loss.
FRY'S PROMISE: Bucs 20, Bears 3.
OF NOTE: Talk about a meaningless game. Actually, the Lions are in the running for a high pick in the draft. Only the Bengals have fewer losses. With QB Joey Harrington injured, the Lions should help their draft position without much effort. The Vikings, meanwhile, seem to have found their offensive groove. Too bad this is the last game of their season. The Lions defense is no match for WR Randy Moss and QB Daunte Culpepper, who figure to have huge games today. Let's hope this one doesn't get too ugly.
FRY'S PROMISE: Vikings 34, Lions 20.
OF NOTE: Remember when this game meant something? Not today. The only thing hanging in the balance is the job status of Cowboys coach Dave Campo. Believe it or not, Campo's team isn't that bad. Dallas has lost several close games and has a defense that easily could decide the outcome today. Look for the Cowboys to shut down Washington's running game and force rookie QB Patrick Ramsey to beat them, which he won't. This is one time when nice guys like Campo won't finish last.
FRY'S PROMISE: Cowboys 24, Redskins 23.
OF NOTE: The Texans wrap up what has been a solid first season. Don't be surprised if they contend for the division title sooner rather than later. At this point, they are no match for the Titans, who are arguably the hottest team in the AFC, perhaps in the league. As long as gimpy QB Steve McNair doesn't go down, the Titans, coming off a win over the Jaguars, should cruise. The Texans' stingy defense will keep this one from being a blowout. If QB David Carr can put some points on the board, the Texans could scare the division champions.
FRY'S PROMISE: Titans 30, Texans 14.
OF NOTE: This is a huge game with playoff and division implications for both teams. Both are struggling, especially the Fins, who are coming off a shocking loss at Minnesota. The Pats were pasted by the Jets. New England would seem the choice today if only because the weather plays to its favor. Still, don't underestimate coach Dave Wannstedt's ability to inspire his team. Losing this game, which likely would cost the Fins a playoff berth, would be too embarrassing. Wannstedt won't let it happen.
FRY'S PROMISE: Dolphins 27, Patriots 24.
OF NOTE: The Ravens put up a valiant effort down the stretch, but it was too little, too late. Meanwhile, the Steelers appear to be peaking at the right time. Their Monday night win at Tampa Bay couldn't have been bigger for them. The Ravens defense will keep this one from getting out of hand, but expect an easy Steelers win. QB Tommy Maddox got banged up against the Bucs but should be healthy enough to get the job done today. To protect him, the Steelers likely will pound the Ravens with RB Jerome Bettis.
FRY'S PROMISE: Steelers 26, Ravens 10.
OF NOTE: The Bengals, bless their hearts, actually are coming off a win against the Saints. They could make it two straight today. A lot depends on the availability of RB Corey Dillon, who is nursing a bruised elbow. Without him and in frigid conditions in Buffalo, the Bengals have no chance. If they allow the Bills to score more than 30, they'll be sunk regardless. The Bills could have beaten the Packers on Dec.22 and probably will try to prove it by piling it on the Bengals, who may be powerless to stop them.
FRY'S PROMISE: Bills 31, Bengals 22.
OF NOTE: Who knows what the Browns will do? One minute they look like playoff contenders; the next minute they look awful. The Browns defense is fast enough that QB Michael Vick probably won't find a lot of running room, but RB Warrick Dunn might. He has exploded lately and could pose serious problems for the Browns. The Falcons must start fast and gain the early lead, taking the crowd and the Browns out of the game. If the Browns are in the hunt near the end, they could ruin the Falcons' playoff chances.
FRY'S PROMISE: Falcons 29, Browns 22.
OF NOTE: What's up with the Saints? They lost two straight -- to the Bengals and Vikings -- and now must win today to keep their playoff hopes alive. It won't be easy. The Panthers played them close in their earlier meeting and probably should have won. And the Panthers have won three of their past four. Thing is, the Saints are at home and undoubtedly will be re-energized by their fans. Meanwhile, the Panthers have nothing substantial to play for. The Panthers' highly respected defense should keep it close, at least until halftime.
FRY'S PROMISE: Saints 27, Panthers 14.
OF NOTE: The Colts blew a chance at winning the AFC South with their loss to the Giants. Now they need to win to make sure they have a place in the playoffs. They are playing at home, but that didn't help them Dec.22. The Jags could rally around coach Tom Coughlin, whose job is on the line. The outcome will hinge on the Colts' ability to run the ball, which sets things up for QB Peyton Manning and WR Marvin Harrison. If the Jags shut down Indy's running game like the Giants did (held to 50 yards), the Colts are in trouble.
FRY'S PROMISE: Colts 28, Jaguars 13.
OF NOTE: There's a lot riding on this one for both. The Packers are trying to secure a first-round bye and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, and the Jets are just trying to get in the playoffs. The Packers have been solid if not impressive lately, so they could be due for an upset, especially considering they are playing away from Lambeau Field. Plus, the Jets are soaring after beating the Patriots on the road in a must-win game. This one could go either way, but for some reason the Jets seem the wise choice.
FRY'S PROMISE: Jets 22, Packers 21.
OF NOTE: It's a good thing the Seahawks aren't going to the playoffs because nobody would want to play them. They are easily the best 6-9 team in the league. They've won three of their past five and were within a touchdown of pulling out those two losses. They are catching the Chargers at the perfect time. The Bolts are slumping, dropping six of their past eight. Still, the Chargers will be desperate to snatch one of the last playoff berths as well as finish with their first winning season since 1995.
FRY'S PROMISE: Chargers 30, S'hawks 26.
OF NOTE: The Broncos were manhandled by the Raiders and need to regain their confidence to prevent the Cards from making a disappointing season worse. Having QB Brian Griese would help, but backup Steve Beuerlein is more than capable. As shattered as the Broncos are, they probably aren't in any real danger of losing. The Cards' season is essentially over, meaning they aren't likely to play their best. Their game plan will be to run the ball and hope that RB Marcel Shipp can go over 100 yards, which they would need to do to pull off this upset.
FRY'S PROMISE: Broncos 34, Cardinals 17.