Flops, fizzles continue on NFL Sunday

Oct 1, 2002 8:04 AM

   Surprises continued in the NFL last weekend as some of the league’s most disappointing teams continued to flop while others, some in defeat, improved their credentials as dark horse candidates.

   St. Louis remains the NFL’s biggest disappointment as they’ve dropped their first four games. Now QB Kurt Warner is out with a broken finger.

   Another playoff team from last season, the Jets, has also been a flop. After needing overtime to win their opening game in Buffalo the Jets have looked horrible in losing the next three, while outscored 102-13. Those are Bengal-like numbers!

   Speaking of bunglers, Cincy dropped its fourth straight game to start the season and they’ve now been outscored 119-23.

   And there seems to be a complete meltdown in Minnesota. Despite that horrendous second quarter in Seattle that saw them trail 45-10, the Vikings easily could have cut the deficit to just 14 points midway in the third quarter. But Randy Moss, among others, missed some easy TD chances. Their bye comes at the right time.

   But there have also been some very pleasant surprises as well. Last week’s battle of the unbeatens saw San Diego improve to 4-0 with a solid win over Super Bowl champ New England.

   Carolina, despite their loss in Green Bay, appears to be much improved defensively which almost automatically makes them a contender.

   Oakland has been very impressive early, showing a killer instinct they’ve lacked in recent seasons.

   The Philadelphia Eagles have been very impressive having played just that one bad second half of football in their opening game loss at Tennessee. Philly QB Donovan McNabb may be the best at his position in the league right now.

   With these tidbits in mind, here’s a look at this weekend’s schedule. Detroit, Houston, Minnesota and Seattle have their Byes this week.

   New England (+2½) at Miami (Over/Under 43½): Both suffered their first losses of the season both have just played Kansas City. The Chiefs made both defenses look pretty ordinary and perhaps both coaches will have learned something. Both teams are underrated on offense and we should see an entertaining game. The preference is for the OVER.

   Pittsburgh (+3) at New Orleans (45½): It wasn’t pretty but Pittsburgh finally got their initial win of the season. Backup QB Tommy Maddox led the Steelers after replacing the ineffective Kordel Stewart. New Orleans was unable to overcome a nearly three touchdown deficit in Detroit and can be expected to be sharper this week. The preferred play is on NEW ORLEANS.

   Washington (+5½) at Tennessee (46): Washington needed their Bye last week to work on some significant offensive problems and we might see rookie Patrick Ramsey at QB. Tennessee has some major problems on defense and, as we saw against Oakland, their special teams’ play is far from special. Expect a high scoring game. The play is on the OVER.

   Tampa Bay (—2½) at Atlanta (40½): Tampa continues to show improvement on offense each week as they pick up the intricacies of coach Jon Gruden’s system. The Falcons are also a team that should improve on offense as exciting QB Michael Vick gains experience. The difference in this game might be Tampa’s edge on defense. The preference is for TAMPA BAY.

   Oakland (—3) at Buffalo (50): Age may not yet have caught up with Oakland as the Raiders are off to an impressive 3-0 start. Buffalo has clearly been re-energized behind QB Drew Bledsoe and the team is gaining confidence each week. Oakland does rate the edge with the better defense and ground attack. The preferred play is on OAKLAND.

   Arizona (+4) at Carolina (37): Both teams are showing marked improvement this season. Carolina’s improvement is impressive on defense, containing top quarterbacks, Daunte Culpepper and Brett Favre. Arizona has also held their last two foes to under 300 yards and Carolina’s weakness in the early season has been their offense. The play is on the UNDER.

   New York Giants (+1) at Dallas (36): Both teams have road wins over St. Louis to their credit but that’s not so impressive anymore. The Giants continue to suffer from an ability to move the ball but a failure to complete drives. They should have more success against a Dallas defense that has been vulnerable to the pass. The preference is for the NEW YORK GIANTS.

   Cincinnati (+14) at Indianapolis (43): Cincinnati is arguably the worst team in the NFL. They have no quarterback leadership which has caused RB Corey Dillon problems getting untracked. Indianapolis has yet to display the explosive offense expected of them. But against Cincinnati they can afford to take chances. The preferred play is on the OVER.

   Kansas City at New York Jets (No Line): There’s no line because of the injury to Jets’ QB Vinnie Testaverde. The Jets are not playing with any confidence. Kansas City has just given great offensive efforts against New England and Miami and should have similar success against a Jets’ defense that can’t stop the run. This should be high scoring. The play is on the OVER.

   San Diego at Denver (No Line): Denver played at Baltimore on Monday night while San Diego upset New England to remain unbeaten. The Chargers have gotten great productivity from LaDainian Tomlinson and Drew Brees has been effective. The Broncos might also be unbeaten if they won in Baltimore. Both teams are well coached but the site and experience favor the host. The preference is for DENVER.

   St. Louis (+7) at San Francisco (41): QB Kurt Warner is out for at least a month and RB Marshall Faulk is likely not yet 100 percent healthy. They now face Division rival San Francisco, who have the chance to deliver a potentially fatal punch to the Rams. Six straight losses to the Rams provides sufficient incentive for the 49ers to take out their frustrations. The preferred play is on SAN FRANCISCO.

   Philadelphia (—3) at Jacksonville (41): Philadelphia seems to be the best in the NFL right now with great balance on both sides of the ball. QB Donovan McNabb is quickly becoming the successor to Brett Favre as the NFL’s most exciting QB. Jacksonville is off to a strong start as they’ve been able to remain healthy. The Eagles have played well on the road. The play is on PHILADELPHIA.

   Baltimore at Cleveland (No Line): Baltimore was seeking their first win last Monday when they hosted Denver. Cleveland is just 2-2 but could easily be 4-0. Despite losing their first two games Baltimore’s defense allowed under 300 yards while Cleveland has allowed three of four foes to gain over 350 ypg. The preference is for BALTIMORE.

   Green Bay (+1) at Chicago (45): Chicago’s defensive injuries did factor into their overtime loss at Buffalo last week while Green Bay was fortunate to escape with a win over improved Carolina. Green Bay’s defense has not looked good this season and the Bears have now had two weeks to adjust to their key losses. The play is on CHICAGO.