By ERNEST HOOPER
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 30, 2000
TV: Ch. 28
Line: Colts by 2 1/2
OF NOTE: Peyton Manning naysayers continue to dog the quarterback with claims that he's never won a big game. After today, Manning will have one big NFL victory to counter that argument. The key will be a good start, much like the Colts had in their 20-13 Week 15 victory in Miami. Indy certainly can't fall behind early, but battles in this series are always close. The past four meetings have been won by seven points or less, and in three of those games, the winning score came after the two-minute warning. Miami was relieved to see quarterback Jay Fiedler play well last week, and it's likely he may have another good game today if Indy struggles to stop Lamar Smith. But it's time for the triplets -- Manning, Edgerrin James and Marvin Harrison -- to accomplish something more than being on the cover of sports magazines.
KEY INJURIES: Colts -- WR Jerome Pathon (calf) is questionable. LB Cornelius Bennett (hand), LB Dwight Hollier (shoulder), TE Marcus Pollard (foot) are probable. Dolphins -- RB Rob Konrad (back), CB Terrance Shaw (knee), WR Leslie Shepherd (knee) are questionable. WR Oronde Gadsden (hip) is probable.
ERNEST HOOPER'S PREDICTION: Colts 21, Dolphins 17
TV: Ch. 28
Line: Rams by 6 1/2
OF NOTE: To stop the Rams, you have to keep them from getting a lead early. With all the problems they had in the second half of the season, St. Louis will need to validate its confidence early. Plus, its defense is much better when playing with a lead. If New Orleans keeps it close, it will have a shot in the fourth quarter, when quarterback Aaron Brooks has a passer rating of 101.8. The problem for the Saints is their run defense. Defensive coordinator Ron Zook vowed to get things corrected after Marshall Faulk rushed for 220 yards, but it was the second time the Saints had allowed a back to rush for more than 200 yards. Those kind of problems are difficult to correct in a week, and if you don't at least contain Faulk, you don't have a chance. Look for New Orleans to make a valiant comeback attempt late before coming up short. This franchise is 0-4 in playoff games and they won't snap the streak today.
KEY INJURIES: Rams -- WR Tony Horne (toe) is questionable. Saints -- RB Ricky Williams (leg) is out. S Steve Gleason (knee) is doubtful. CB Kevin Mathis (ribs/wrist), WR Keith Poole (concussion), WR Robert Wilson (thumb) are probable.
ERNEST HOOPER'S PREDICTION: Rams 31, Saints 27
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