Rams last to fall

Oct 30, 2001 8:17 AM

            After a couple of weeks in which underdogs dominated the pointspread results in the NFL there was more balance this past weekend as underdogs registered a slight 7-5 edge over favorites heading into Monday night’s game (the Oakland at Philadelphia game closed as a pick ’em). The league’s last unbeaten team, St. Louis, surrendered a 24-6 lead and suffered its first loss at the hands of division rival New Âí­Orleans.

            There still remains one winless team, Detroit. The Lions have dropped their first six games and are off to their worst start in nearly half a century. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from the plight of the Lions.

            Detroit was a 9-7 team in 2000 that missed the playoffs due to tiebreakers. The Lions went through a management change in the off-season and made numerous changes in their offensive and defensive philosophies. The decision to overhaul rather than to just go through a transition is proving costly. With season ending injuries to a pair of their top receivers the prospects look bleak for the rest of 2001.

            There are several intriguing games this weekend including a match-up of a pair of surprising teams, Cleveland and Chicago. The Bears sit atop the NFC Central at 5-1 while Cleveland, at 4-2, could be tied for the AFC Central lead if Tennessee upset Pittsburgh this past Monday night.

            The bitter Raiders vs. Broncos rivalry renews next Monday night while Green Bay seeks to avenge an earlier loss at Tampa Bay when they host the Bucs. In fact, there are three such rematches this weekend. Here’s a preview of this week’s schedule with Cincinnati, Minnesota and St Louis each having Byes.

            Jaguars (NL) at Titans: Jacksonville suffered another close loss in Baltimore last week and have now lost four straight after winning their first two games. Injuries and a lack of depth continue to take their toll. The Titans, off a Monday night game in Pittsburgh, have been a major disappointment thus far, especially on defense. These teams have met 13 times and the straight-up game winner has covered every time. Take TENNESSEE.

            Ravens (NL) at Steelers: Baltimore was fortunate to escape with a come from behind win over Jacksonville last week. The Ravens continue to have problems converting yards into points. The lack of a running game is a major reason since teams can more aggressively defense the pass once the Ravens are in the red zone. Pittsburgh continues to rely on their defense to make the big plays and the offense is centered around RB Jerome Bettis to chew up yardage and the clock. Take UNDER.

            Panthers (+10) at Dolphins (36½): The Panthers suffered their third straight close loss last week and have now lost six in a row following their upset win at Minnesota to open the season. They have virtually no rushing game and QB Chris Weinke has started to make more and more rookie mistakes. Miami’s strength is still their defense and QB Jay Fiedler is becoming more of a true field general each week. The Dolphin defense will be the key to this game. Take MIAMI.

            Cowboys (+11) at Giants (35½): Following a pair of one point losses the Giants were taken apart by the lowly Redskins. Several big plays were the key but that should not be a concern against Dallas. The Cowboys played hard and got a solid win over Arizona last week despite gaining only 225 yards on offense. The running game is their offensive strength and that should be good to grind time off the clock as the Cowboys move the ball between the twenties. Take UNDER.

            Patriots (+3) at Falcons (42½): Both teams have endured key injuries with Patriots QB Drew Bledsoe and Falcon RB Jamal Anderson both sidelines, Anderson for the season. Bledsoe’s replacement Tom Brady has filled in well although he did toss five interceptions in last week’s come from ahead loss at Denver. Taking points with the better defensive team against an average foe is usually the more attractive option. Take NEW ENGLAND.

            Bucs (NL) at Packers: Tampa Bay won the earlier meeting at home 14-10 and last week totally dominated Minnesota, the team which just a week earlier did the same to Green Bay. No team is really as good as it looks when most impressive nor as bad as when dominated. The Packers have had a week to stew over that loss to the Vikes and QB Brett Favre should have more success at home than he did vs. Bucs in Tampa. Tampa has not won in Green Bay in over a decade. Take GREEN BAY.

            Browns (+6) at Chicago (34½): Both teams are surprises, combining for a 9-3 start to the season. Neither team has been strong on offense but both have relied upon fundamentally sound defenses to make the big play. Both teams enjoy a physical style of play and can each be described as ”˜opportunistic.’ Chicago’s rushing game has greatly improved recently behind rookie RB Anthony Thomas. Take CHICAGO.

            Eagles (—7) at Arizona (39½): Philadelphia seeks to avenge their last second 21-20 loss to Arizona a few weeks ago and off a physically draining loss to Oakland. The Eagles have played a tough early season schedule but should have success against a weak Cardinal defense that yielded 440 yards in the first meeting. Arizona seemed lifeless in last week’s loss at Dallas in which QB Jake Plummer made several rookie-like mistakes. Expect the Eagles to come out and play with sustained aggressiveness on offense. Take PHILADELPHIA.

            Lions (+9) at Niners (47): It’s hard to recommend Detroit given its 0-6 start and the season ending losses of WR Herman Moore and Germaine Crowell but it must be noted that QB Charlie Batch is becoming more comfortable with the new west coast style offense. The 49ers are off a loss to Chicago in which they led most of the way only to fall on the first play of overtime. San Francisco’s better-balanced offense including the ability to run the ball should control the pace of this contest. The improved defense should also create problems for the weakened Lions offense. Take UNDER.

            Colts (NL) at Bills: An injury to Colts’ RB Edgerrin James kept this game off the board as the week begins. Indy routed Buffalo 42-26 earlier this season, gaining 555 yards on the rebuilding Buffalo defense. The Colts have extra rest after their Thursday night win at Kansas City while Buffalo is off an emotional loss at San Diego in which QB Rob Johnson played well but their late game tying FG was blocked. Expect another high scoring game with big pass plays being completed by both QBs. Take OVER.

            Kansas City (+7) at San Diego (41): The Chargers appear bound for the playoffs with a 5-2 start while the Chiefs have struggled in coach Dick Vermeil’s first season, winning just one of seven games. Chief QB Trent Green has thrown for much yardage but has struggled inside the 20. The loss of several key receivers has been a major part of the problem. San Diego’s rushing game has declined in recent weeks but QB Doug Flutie has been sharp. Take OVER.

            Seahawks (—2½) at Redskins (37): Washington has played better over the past month and has now won two straight. The Skins are just a game and a half out of first in the NFC East and seem to have developed a better overall attitude since their differences with coach Marty Schottenheimer were aired out. Seattle continues to have a QB controversy with starter Matt Hasselback supported by coach Mike Holmgren while backup Trent Dilfer led the Seahawks to a pair of wins while Hasselback was sidelined. Perhaps Seattle is becoming the midseason version of the Redskins? Take WASHINGTON.

            NY Jets (+6½) at Saints (44): The Jets continue to win ugly with last week’s 13-12 win at Carolina just the latest example. They gained over 350 yards against a weak Panther defense but could not produce a single offensive TD. New Orleans had its best overall half of the season last week when rallying from a 24-6 halftime deficit to hand St Louis its first loss of the season, 34-31. The aggressive Saints’ defense forced eight Rams turnovers and figure to put much pressure on  Jets’ QB Vinny Testaverde. Take NEW ORLEANS.

            Broncos (+6) at Oakland (45½): It seems that every week this season we are treated to yet another history lesson concerning one team’s domination of another. Denver coach Mike Shanahan continues to make beating Oakland a top priority following his dismissal from the Raiders after less than two seasons as head coach. Since Shanahan took over at Denver in 1995, the Broncos have won 11 of 12 meetings with Oakland. Denver has also covered in nine of the 12 games with one push. The early line move was towards Oakland in response to its 5-1 start while Denver has struggled to go 4-3. Take DENVER.