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NFL picks

Hooper's record: last week 6-8 (42-30 overall), 4-10 vs. spread (39-29-4).

By ERNEST HOOPER

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 8, 2000


Bucs at Vikings

OF NOTE: Bucs fans need to calm down. Even with a loss to Minnesota, all is not lost. The Bucs, however, have what it takes to get a rare Metrodome win. Tampa Bay hasn't won in Minnesota since 1997, but in subsequent games in 1998 and 1999 the Vikes have bolted to early leads. The Bucs will go with two deep safeties to try to minimize Randy Moss and, on occasion, bring up John Lynch to make sure Robert Smith stays in check. Offensively, Tampa Bay should be able to expose Minnesota's weaknesses as long as QB Shaun King gets the protection he needs. It's a tall task, but the Bucs are ready to make a stand.

KEY INJURIES: Bucs -- WR Karl Williams (knee) is out. LB Jamie Duncan (concussion) is questionable. Vikings -- DE Gabe Northern (hamstring) is questionable.

HOOPER'S PICK: Bucs 24, Vikings 21

Bills at Dolphins

OF NOTE: Both teams play great defense, so you have to weigh Buffalo's edge at quarterback (Rob Johnson over Jay Fiedler) against Miami's advantage at running back (Lamar Smith over Jonathan Linton). Dolfans will try to tell you Miami took the Bengals lightly, but the absence of LB Zach Thomas showed real vulnerability. I think the Bills will score just enough points, while the Miami running game will be shut down. That means Fiedler will have to deliver and I'm not sure he's up the task. Buffalo has won the past three in regular season.

KEY INJURIES: Bills -- LB Corey Moore (ankle), TE Jay Riemersma (knee) are doubtful. Dolphins -- DT Daryl Gardener (back) is out. RB Rob Konrad (knee/ankle) is doubtful. WR Tony Martin (foot), RB Thurman Thomas (groin), Zach Thomas (ankle) are questionable.

HOOPER'S PICK: Bills 19, Dolphins 16

Ravens at Jaguars

OF NOTE: The Jaguars' chances of repeating as AFC Central champions will be all but gone after they lose tonight. With LB Hardy Nickerson nursing an injury and LB Lonnie Marts troubled by a groin, the Jags are not going to have the power to slow the Ravens' emerging running game. Plus, Jacksonville's injury-plagued OL has trouble generating a running game for Fred Taylor. QB Mark Brunell may pass the Jags to victory, but a smart game by Ravens QB Tony Banks seals Jacksonville's fate.

KEY INJURIES: Ravens -- T Jonathan Ogden (ankle) is out. DT Sam Adams (ankle), CB Duane Starks (thigh), T Harry Swayne (ankle) are questionable. Jaguars -- K Mike Hollis (back), T Leon Searcy (leg) are out. Nickerson (hamstring) is doubtful. DT Gary Walker (knee) is questionable.

HOOPER'S PICK: Ravens 24, Jaguars 14

Packers at Lions

OF NOTE: Detroit has won six of seven against Green Bay in the Silverdome. Sure, the Lions aren't the dominant team at home they once were, but the Motor City has been horrible for Brett Favre (17 INTs, 11 TDs). The Lions are likely to enter today's game with a spark after James Stewart posted his first 100-yard rushing game last week. The Packers, on the other hand, are without RB Dorsey Levens. That means backup Ahman Green has to step up or Favre will struggle again. A Lions win and a Bears win will drop Pack to last in NFC Central.

KEY INJURIES: Packers -- WR Corey Bradford (leg), T Earl Dotson (back), DE Vonnie Holliday (hamstring), CB Mike McKenzie (knee) are out. CB-S Antuan Edwards (knee); Levens (ankle) are questionable. Lions -- DT James Jones (knee), S Ron Rice (neck) are questionable.

HOOPER'S PICK: Lions 21, Packers 19

Colts at Patriots

OF NOTE: The Patriots have lost eight consecutive AFC East games, but their last divisional victory was an improbable 31-28 win against the Colts in Foxboro, where Indy has won three times since 1984. The Colts defense is better than expected, but the Pats are coming off their first impressive offensive performance of the season. Plus, Bill Belichick's defenses held Peyton Manning to five TDs and seven INTs during his stint with the Jets. Manning may fare better because New England's personnel isn't as good as the Jets', but this one will be close throughout.

KEY INJURIES: Colts -- RB Abdul-Karim al-Jabbar (knee-injured reserve); WR Chad Plummer (foot) are out. Patriots -- WR Chris Calloway (leg); G Max Lane (hand); CB Antonio Langham (leg) are probable.

HOOPER'S PICK: Colts 21, Patriots 20

Saints at Bears

OF NOTE: QB Cade McNown mended fences with teammates in a players-only meeting before the Packers game, and the little talk seemed to work. More importantly, McNown remained on an even keel after the game. The big question is: Can Chicago out-finesse the league's top-rated defense? I think it can. The Saints offense, which has had only one play of more than 22 yards, could break out today but the Bears have been better on defense since moving rookie Brian Urlacher to the middle.

KEY INJURIES: Saints -- CB Michael Hawthorne (ankle); RB Jerald Moore (neck) are out. DE Joe Johnson (calf) is probable. Bears -- CB Jerry Azumah (side); RB Curtis Enis (shoulder); C Olin Kreutz (knee); S Shawn Wooden (hamstring) are out. WR Marcus Robinson (ankle) is questionable.

HOOPER'S PICK: Bears 21, Saints 17

Steelers at Jets

OF NOTE: Pittsburgh notched its first victory on the road last week but I'm not envisioning a repeat against the Jets, who are coming off a bye week. New York coach Al Groh gave each Jet a green-and-white flashlight and then had them shine the lights at a singular spot in the film room. The sign of unity is a little hokey, but it may remind them that things will get pretty dark if they lose to the lowly Steelers and their 26th-ranked pass defense. Vinny Testaverde may find this game a good one to find consistency. Defensively, the Jets face a passing attack that has no touchdown passes.

KEY INJURIES: Steelers -- T Marvel Smith (knee) is doubtful. QB Kent Graham (hip); DL Jeremy Staat (shoulder) are questionable. Jets -- DT Jason Ferguson (ankle) is doubtful.

HOOPER'S PICK: Jets 20, Steelers 10

Titans at Bengals

OF NOTE: No team is going to go 16-0 this season (no, not even the Rams) and no team is going to go 0-16. But I'm not sure this is where the Clippers, er, Bengals, get their first victory. It helps that they are at home but if Tennessee can replicate its incredible offensive performance of a week ago, Cincy won't have a chance. Behind QB Steve McNair, the Titans had TD drives of 80, 80, 98 and 80 yards and converted 14 of 20 third downs. Contrast that with the Clips, who have failed to score more than 16 points in six consecutive games.

KEY INJURIES: Titans -- T Brad Hopkins (ankle); DE Jevon Kearse (quad); WR Carl Pickens (hamstring); WR Yancey Thigpen (hamstring); TE Frank Wycheck (foot) are questionable. Bengals -- LB Brian Simmons (knee); DE Vaughn Booker (head) are out.

HOOPER'S PICK: Titans 21, Bengals 13

Redskins at Eagles

OF NOTE: The formula for beating Philadelphia is stop Duce Staley and force QB Donovan McNabb to beat you. Staley already is out. Brian Mitchell, 32, will sub for Staley, and will be pumped to get back at his old team. Is that enough? Doubtful. Washington would be a prohibitive favorite with a healthy line, but the 'Skins OL is rife with injuries. Still, Stephen Davis will gain more yards than Mitchell and that should be the difference, even though the Eagles have won nine of the past 10 against Washington at Veterans Stadium.

KEY INJURIES: Redskins -- G Tre Johnson (knee) is out. C-G Jay Leeuwenburg (ankle); G Keith Sims (Achilles') are probable. Eagles -- Staley (foot) is out. DE Mike Mamula (quadricep) is doubtful. S Brian Dawkins (appendectomy) is questionable.

HOOPER'S PICK: Redskins 20, Eagles 19

4 p.m. games

Giants at Falcons

KEY INJURIES: Giants -- LB Mike Barrow (neck); K Brad Daluiso (back) are questionable. WR Amani Toomer (toe) is probable. Falcons -- LB Keith Brooking (foot); LB Jeff Kelly (knee) are out. WR Shawn Jefferson (shoulder); T Ephraim Salaam (knee) are questionable

HOOPER'S PICK: Giants 28, Falcons 21

Raiders at 49ers

OF NOTE: San Francisco's modest two-game streak ends today. Oakland is 5-1 in its past six games after the bye week and simply has more talent than the rookie-laden 'Niners. You have to think the Raiders have done some fine-tuning to the 19th-ranked defense and are ready to handle San Francisco, which gets a lot from RB Charlie Garner and the scrambling of QB Jeff Garcia. Raiders QB Rich Gannon and RB Tyrone Wheatley (eight TDs in past seven games) should flourish vs. league's worst defense.

KEY INJURIES: Raiders -- TE Rickey Dudley (Achilles'); RB Jon Ritchie (appendix); Wheatley (leg) are questionable. 49ers -- S Zack Bronson (neck); DT Junior Bryant (neck); LB Jeff Ulbrich (shoulder) are out. RB Fred Beasley (back); DT Reggie McGrew (ankle) are questionable.

HOOPER'S PICK: Raiders 30, 49ers 21

Browns at Cardinals

OF NOTE: Today we're going to find out just how far the Arizona Cardinals have fallen since shocking the world with a 1998 playoff win against Dallas. The Browns enter the game with a trio of rookie running backs, a second-year QB with a bad knee and a defense ranked 29th against the rush. With the Cardinals shifting RB Michael Pittman into a starting role, Arizona should assert itself even with a bad offensive line. If you can't beat the Browns on your home field, you don't deserve a new stadium. Can you say "L.A. Cardinals?"

KEY INJURIES: Browns -- RB Errict Rhett (foot-injured reserve) is out. CB Lewis Sanders (neck) is doubtful. Cardinals -- DE Andre Wadsworth (knee) is out. LB Zack Walz (knee) is doubtful. LB Rob Fredrickson (hip); LB Ray Thompson (groin) are questionable.

HOOPER'S PICK: Cardinals 20, Browns 14

Broncos at Chargers

OF NOTE: The Broncos, an early disappointment, get a chance to right the ship. San Diego, which has allowed five TDs in two of its past three games, is likely without LB Junior Seau, so it is going to struggle to stop Denver and RB Mike Anderson, who subs again for injured RB Terrell Davis. The Broncos defense has been susceptible, but how much damage can Chargers veteran Jim Harbaugh do? Not a lot when you consider San Diego has not rushed for more than 100 yards in a game this season.

KEY INJURIES: Broncos: Davis (ankle) is out. RB Howard Griffith (knee) is questionable. K Jason Elam back is probable. Chargers: QB Ryan Leaf (wrist) is doubtful. S Michael Dumas (hamstring); Seau (hamstring) are questionable.

HOOPER'S PICK: Broncos 21, Chargers 14

Seahawks at Panthers

OF NOTE: Both teams need to borrow some of those flashlights from the Jets, because they are searching for offense. Former Bucs coach Richard Williams (yeah he's still around) takes over as offensive coordinator for Carolina after the sudden resignation of Bill Musgrave, who couldn't get along with George Seifert. Meanwhile, the Seahawks start Brock Huard instead of Jon Kitna. Rushing edge should decide the game and it goes to Seattle. Panthers RB Tim Biakabutuka has had four fumbles while 'Hawks tandem of Ricky Watters and Shaun Alexander averages a combined 4.97 yards a carry. Panthers rush defense is 28th.

KEY INJURIES: Seahawks -- DT Cortez Kennedy (back) is probable. Panthers -- DE Chuck Smith (knee) is out. DT Jason Peter (neck) is questionable.

HOOPER'S PICK: Seahawks 20, Panthers 19

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