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NFL games

By Compiled by Times staff writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 24, 2000

Bucs at Jets

OF NOTE: The Jets will pose more challenges for the Bucs defense than any offense it has faced this season. Curtis Martin is the best running back the unit has seen in 2000. The Bucs have feasted with 18 sacks, but the Jets have allowed only two. The key is to shut down Martin and not give New York a shot to win with Vinny Testaverde's fourth-quarter passer rating at 148.7. Offensively, the Bucs have averaged 5.1 yards on first down, and they face a defense that is allowing a league-low 3.47 yards on first down. The Tampa Bay offense has to break the New York defense early in the game, and I think it will.

KEY INJURIES: Jets -- none. Bucs -- K Martin Gramatica (rib), CB Dexter Jackson (ankle), WR Keyshawn Johnson (knee) are probable. S David Gibson (foot) is out.

HOOPER'S PICK: Bucs 28, Jets 20

Patriots at Dolphins

OF NOTE: Even the worst NFL teams aren't likely to lose four in a row, and the 0-3 Patriots are not the worst. But they are bad and there is too much for them to overcome in this game. For starters, the Dolphins have won nine of 11 against New England in Miami, and have not lost a September home game in seven years. Throw in the fact that the Pats offensive line is in flux and the Miami defense is allowing a scant 6.3 points a game, and it's easy to envision a Dolphins victory.

KEY INJURIES: Patriots -- S Larry Whigham (knee) is out. LB Matt Chatham (shoulder), G Max Lane (hand), LB Willie McGinest (leg) are questionable. Dolphins -- DT Daryl Gardener (back), CB Ray Hill (ankle) are out. WR Tony Martin (foot), T Richmond Webb (knee-ankle) are questionable.

HOOPER'S PICK: Dolphins 17, Patriots 10

Jaguars at Colts

OF NOTE: If America loves offensive football, the Monday night ratings are sure to keep climbing. This game features three of the league's best receivers, two of the best running backs and two of the best quarterbacks. Indianapolis scored 31 points two weeks ago and lost and the Jaguars scored 36 two weeks ago and lost. The difference is that Jacksonville posted a 13-0 shutout last week while the Colts were off. The Jags D is stronger and that should be the difference, especially if RB Fred Taylor can make a successful debut. But the Jags can't fall behind.

KEY INJURIES: Jaguars -- K Mike Hollis (back), T Leon Searcy (leg) are out. LB Brant Boyer (groin) is doubtful. Colts -- WR Marvin Harrison (shoulder), RB Edgerrin James (hamstring), DT Ellis Johnson (thigh-knee) are probable.

HOOPER'S PICK: Jaguars 44, Colts 42

Rams at Falcons

OF NOTE: The Falcons defense did a remarkable job of limiting Carolina to 10 points last week. Atlanta is supposedly without a pass rush, but it got four sacks last week. The task is more difficult today, and not only because Atlanta is facing the Rams. DT Shane Dronett is out for the season, and that means Rams QB Kurt Warner should have even more time to riddle the secondary. After giving up 94 points in three games, the Rams D will start the game without DE Kevin Carter, but the Falcons can't win an offensive battle with St. Louis.

KEY INJURIES: Rams -- DT D'Marco Farr (knee) is out. RB Trung Canidate (foot) is doubtful. LB Leonard Little (ankle), S Devin Bush (toe) are questionable. Falcons -- WR Tim Dwight (appendicitis) is out. LB Chris Draft (hamstring), WR Jammi German (ankle) are questionable.

HOOPER'S PICK: Rams 33, Falcons 24

Lions at Bears

OF NOTE: Call this the Mud Bowl because these teams are a mess. With Lions CB Terry Fair on the mend, Detroit's secondary is suspect as proven by the big plays the Bucs made last week. But Bears WR Bobby Engram is out for the year and T Blake Brockermeyer is a likely scratch so young Cade McNown will have his struggles. On the flip side, the Lions have scored only one offensive touchdown while the Bears defense is ranked 31st against the rush.

KEY INJURIES: Lions -- G Stockar McDougle (knee), G Tony Semple (ankle) are doubtful. G Kerlin Blaise (knee), LB Stephen Boyd (back), Fair (knee) are questionable. Bears -- LB Ty Hallock (abdominal), C Olin Kreutz (knee) are out. Brockermeyer (infection), S Shawn Wooden (hamstring) is doubtful. LB Rosevelt Colvin (knee) is questionable.

HOOPER'S PICK: Lions 21, Bears 17

49ers at Cowboys

OF NOTE: Two of the league's dynasties meet -- oops, that was last decade. Today's 'Niners-Cowboys clash is a battle for respect. How far have the former dynasties fallen? John Madden and Pat Summerall aren't even doing the game. Despite the mutual woe, Dallas can build on its upset of Washington. San Francisco stayed with St. Louis for a half, but this team is still the league's worst against the pass. That's good news for Troy Aikman, who is whoever starts at QB for the Cowboys.

KEY INJURIES: 49ers -- DT Junior Bryant (neck) is out. DE Chike Okeafor (hamstring) is questionable. Cowboys -- CB Charlie Williams (knee) is out. WR Wane McGarity (ankle), LB Dat Nguyen (knee) are doubtful. QB Troy Aikman (concussion), WR Raghib Ismail (hamstring) are questionable.

HOOPER'S PICK: Cowboys 28, 'Niners 20

Bengals at Ravens

OF NOTE: The Ravens' 19-6 loss to Miami last week proved they can't play in the rain or on a night when Dan Marino has his jersey retired. What it didn't prove was that Baltimore is a legitimate playoff contender. The Ravens defense is ranked 14th overall, but it struggled to come up with big stops against Miami. Offensively, Tony Banks appeared to be reverting to his St. Louis ways. What's Brian Billick to do? Play the Bengals, the perfect elixir. Cincy has quietly played decent defense (ninth against the pass), but Baltimore will find a way.

KEY INJURIES: Bengals -- RB Michael Basnight (wrist), DE Vaughn Booker (head), LB Brian Simmons (knee) are out. C Rich Braham (knee) is doubtful. Ravens -- QB Trent Dilfer (knee) is doubtful. WR Qadry Ismail (knee), TE John Jones (knee) is questionable.

HOOPER'S PICK: Ravens 13, Bengals 3

Eagles at Saints

OF NOTE: I like the Saints because of the basics: running and defense. Don't get me wrong, the Eagles' Duce Staley is more proven than the Saints' Ricky Williams, but the Saints top-ranked defense should be able to take Staley away and then QB Donovan McNabb will be forced to deliver. So far, he just hasn't gotten it done. Since rushing for 301 yards in Week 1, the Eagles have rushed for just 141 yards in two consecutive losses. Philly's defense is ranked fifth, but is better against the pass than the run. That should help Williams find a little daylight.

KEY INJURIES: Eagles -- S Brian Dawkins (appendectomy) is out. WR Torrance Small (hamstring), T Tra Thomas (knee) are questionable. Saints -- S Rob Kelly (fibula) is out. LB Charlie Clemons (calf), LB Donta Jones (groin) are questionable.

HOOPER'S PICK: Saints 17, Eagles 16

Titans at Steelers

OF NOTE: The Titans offense, already struggling with a 26 ranking, took a major blow when WR Kevin Dyson went out for the season with an ACL injury. QB Steve McNair's status was uncertain and while backup QB Neil O'Donnell is available, he's sure to get boo-birds in Pittsburgh. Tennessee's defense may carry the Titans, but in a pick devoid of reasoning, I'm going with the Steelers. The absolute bashing they took after last week's bonehead ending against Cleveland will make them stronger.

KEY INJURIES: Titans -- Dyson (knee-injured reserve), DE Byron Frisch (ankle) are out. QB Steve McNair (chest), WR Yancey Thigpen (hamstring) are questionable. Steelers -- RB Richard Huntley (hamstring) is doubtful. WR Troy Edwards (hamstring), S Lee Flowers (groin) are questionable.

HOOPER'S PICK: Steelers 20, Titans 19

Packers at Cardinals

OF NOTE: The Packers offense should get on track after scoring only 40 points in the first three games. RB Dorsey Levens came back last week and some of the rust should be off this time. It looks good for Green Bay if he can get 100 yards. It looks bad for the Pack if heat becomes a factor. This is only the fourth September afternoon home game for Arizona, and the Cards are 3-0 in the others. A Jake Plummer comeback is possible if it is close in the fourth quarter and the sun has taken its toll.

KEY INJURIES: Packers -- WR Corey Bradford (leg); T Earl Dotson (back); CB Mike McKenzie (knee); LB Brian Williams (knee) are out. CB-S Antuan Edwards (knee) is doubtful. C Frank Winters (ankle) is questionable. Cardinals -- DE Andre Wadsworth (knee) is out. T L.J. Shelton (knee) is questionable.

HOOPER'S PICK: Packers 35, Cardinals 31

Chiefs at Broncos

OF NOTE: This is the week's most intriguing game because you can't be sure how the Broncos will respond without QB Brian Griese and RB Terrell Davis. The Chiefs are likely to stack the front to slow rookie Mike Anderson and force veteran Gus Frerotte to beat them with his arm. Kansas City won at Mile High last season, but is 3-14 in Denver since 1983. I'm betting on Mike Shanahan to get a good effort out of Frerotte.

KEY INJURIES: Chiefs -- G Dave Szott (arm) is out. DE Duane Clemons (hip) is doubtful. RB Donnell Bennett (foot) is questionable. Broncos -- K Jason Elam (back); S Kenoy Kennedy (knee) are out. WR Robert Brooks (hamstring) is doubtful. Davis (ankle); Griese (shoulder); TE Dwayne Carswell (shoulder); DT Trevor Pryce (knee) are questionable.

HOOPER'S PICK: Broncos 21, Chiefs 20

Seahawks at Chargers

OF NOTE: San Diego can't get rid of Ryan Leaf, but they would like to. Last week Leaf was benched in favor of Moses Moreno, but Moreno got hurt and the team turned back to Leaf, who turned it over in another loss. If he could minimize turnovers, the Chargers defense would put San Diego in position to win. I think that all happens today even though Seattle has been playing great behind Ricky Watters. The 'Hawks have won two of their past three in Qualcomm, but are only 7-13 all-time in San Diego. Either way, look for a close game. Five of the past six have been decided by a TD or less.

KEY INJURIES: Seahawks -- WR Derrick Mayes (ankle) is questionable. Chargers -- TE Reggie Davis (knee); S Jason Perry (knee) are out. Moreno (shoulder) is doubtful. WR Jeff Graham (hamstring-back) is questionable.

HOOPER'S PICK: Chargers 17, Seahawks 16

Browns at Raiders

OF NOTE: Cleveland will join Alabama, Texas, Michigan and the University of Miami as teams who could not find success on the West Coast this year. College or pro, it's never easy winning in the Pacific time zone. Oakland, sure to be stinging after the loss to Denver last week, will put some points up even though DE Courtney Brown had three sacks last week. The problem is Cleveland's rush defense is 27th, and that's music to the ears of Tyrone Wheatley and Napoleon Kaufman. The Browns offense is ranked 11th and faces a defense ranked 28th, but the unit won't keep pace.

KEY INJURIES: Browns -- WR JaJuan Dawson (clavicle-injured reserve) is out. P Chris Gardocki (back) is probable. Raiders -- LB Eric Barton (hamstring); TE Jeremy Brigham (shoulder) are questionable.

HOOPER'S PICK: Raiders 35, Browns 24

Redskins at Giants

OF NOTE: Let the free-fall continue. Sure, the Giants have built a 3-0 record against opponents who are a combined 2-6, but they are perfectly suited to win. New York is first in rushing yards and first in stopping the run. That's lethal. They have the balanced attack so Washington can't sell out on the run or the pass, plus they have the defensive studs to put the clamps on Stephen Davis. Once that happens, the Redskins won't be able to go vertical unless Brad Johnson can regain his timing or heal Michael Westbrook.

KEY INJURIES: Redskins -- C Cory Raymer (knee) is out. RB Larry Centers (elbow); TE James Jenkins (neck) are questionable. Giants -- CB Ralph Brown (kidney) is out. TE Pete Mitchell (stomach); CB Andre Weathers (knee) are questionable.

HOOPER'S PICK: Giants 28, Redskins 24

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