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FOX: Week 8 NFL rundown


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Week 8 NFL rundown


I need to tell you about a serious medical condition that's sweeping America: bandwagon leg.

Each year, thousands of sportswriters and fans are afflicted with bandwagon leg. It usually strikes in mid-autumn, just after a team off to a hot start loses badly to a division rival.

Initial symptoms include searing pains in the heels, ankles and knees. In more serious outbreaks, the victim suffers whiplash from making a quick about-face on his or her predictions, as well as nausea and acid reflux from having to eat both crow and his own words.

After the Steelers beat the Bengals, the reported cases of bandwagon leg tripled in the United States. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) warns that the affliction could reach epidemic proportions if the Colts lose on November 7.

So please stay off bandwagons. Just say no. Your health is at stake.

Now excuse me while I change ice packs.

Games you will watch

Broncos at Eagles: For 45 minutes each week, the Broncos are among the best teams in football, outscoring opponents 123-63. But everything collapses for the Broncos in the fourth quarter, when opponents have a 68-29 edge.

The Giants came back to win against the Broncos. The Redskins and Patriots almost won on last-minute heroics. The players know that the fourth quarter lapses are an issue. "We have to have that seek-and-destroy mentality," linebacker Al Wilson said after the Giants' loss. "We've got to have some dog about us. When we've got a team down, instead of kicking them, we've got to put them through the dirt." Wilson learned his metaphors at the feet of Mike Singletary.

The Broncos face an Eagles team this week that caught the Chargers napping late in the fourth quarter last Sunday. The Eagles also came from behind to beat the Raiders and Chiefs. But they don't want to make a habit of playing catch-up against AFC West opponents.

Look for the Broncos to try to beat the Eagles the way the Falcons did in the opener: with cutback running, zone blocking on offense and plenty of pressure on Donovan McNabb on defense. The Broncos haven't had a sack in three games, but they can collapse the pocket and force the hobbled McNabb to stumble for cover. And with Andy Reid calling more than 50 passes per game, Broncos' coordinator Larry Coyer will have a chance to use every blitz package in the book … twice.

Chiefs at Chargers: Faced with a short week of practice in the wake of hurricane Wilma, the Chiefs scaled back their playbook against the Dolphins. They decided to do what they do best: run the ball. It worked, as Larry Johnson and Priest Holmes pounded out 183 yards. "Sometimes, we're like blackjack," Johnson said after the game. "You get the ace and the 10 at the same time."

Best of Week 7

The Chiefs may have blackjack, but the Chargers have 21. LaDainian Tomlinson is coming off his worst game as a pro, but the Chargers still came within a blocked kick of beating the Eagles. Tomlinson is struggling behind an offensive line cobbled together from spare parts, but he should break lose against the poor-tackling Chiefs.

The "Larry-Holmes" tandem will try to counterpunch with the help of their veteran offensive line, but the Chargers' run defense had last week off (the Eagles ran the ball just 10 times). Rookie defenders Luis Castillo and Shawne Merriman are getting better every week, solidifying the Chargers' front seven. Look for a home-and-home split between the Chargers and Chiefs this year; the Chargers get the nod this week.

Bills at Patriots: Patriots defenders know that they have a problem. "It's not like it used to be," CB Asante Samuel told the Boston Herald. "Teams don't fear us."

No one fears a grown man named "Asante." But the players whom opponents do fear are all sidelined. Safety/enforcer Rodney Harrison is lost for the year, as is backup Guss Scott. Duane Starks took a beating from the fans two weeks ago when he couldn't cover Rod Smith, but Starks was hoping for deep safety support against the savvy Smith. The problem is that the Patriots have run out of safeties.

Help may be on the way. Tedy Bruschi has been practicing in pads and may emerge this week. But Bruschi will be limited over the next few games; besides, most of the Patriots' problems are in the secondary, not the linebacking corps.

Luckily, the Patriots face a Bills team unequipped to attack the few remaining New England defensive backs. Quarterback Kelly Holcomb's warranty has expired; opponents now know what he can and (mostly) cannot do. The Bills have one true offensive weapon — RB Willis McGahee — and they don't know how to use him. Faced with fourth-and-one at the goal line last week, the Bills' brain trust opted for fullback Daimon Shelton instead of McGahee. Check the Raiders-Bills final score to see how that decision worked out.

But the Patriots' problems may run deeper than the injuries to stars like Harrison and Richard Seymour. "The Patriots have lost their swagger," Boston Herald columnist John Tomase wrote last week. Missing swagger? Who could the culprit be? Read on.

Ravens at Steelers: The Steelers aren't trying to fool anyone. They smash you with Jerome Bettis. They slash you with Willie Parker. Once your defense is softened up, Ben Roethlisberger tosses a play-action touchdown pass to Hines Ward, who gets not-quite-jiggy in the end zone. Then, the defense clamps down. Game over.

The Ravens installed a 46-defense this year, hoping to crowd the line of scrimmage and snuff out hard-running teams like the Steelers. It hasn't really worked. The Bears churned out 143 rushing yards against Ray Lewis and company, and the Ravens didn't even have to respect Chicago's passing game. With Lewis and Ed Reed out this week, the Steelers will stick to their game plan and be firmly in control in time for you to switch over to the local news or Family Guy reruns.

Games you should watch

Jaguars at Rams: The Jaguars are 4-2, thanks in large part to Tommy Maddox, a trio of injured and ineffective Jets quarterbacks and some 50-yard field goals by Josh Scobee. In other words, they look like a .500 team that has caught some breaks: just like last year, when they started the season 5-2 but faded down the stretch.

But wait, it doesn't matter how the Jaguars won three of their games this season, does it? "The Jaguars won. That's the bottom line," Jacksonville Times-Union columnist Mike Freeman said after the Jaguars beat the Steelers. "Style points are for beauty pageants and network television anchors."

Many a sportswriter has looked foolish using the "bottom line" argument: a 4-2 luck-inflated record in October can become a 7-9 washout by season's end. But Freeman has a point: the Jaguars aren't pretty, particularly on offense, but they get the job done in the defensive trenches; and a great defensive line can make up for a lot of other deficiencies.

Still, the Jaguars cannot expect to keep winning by beating up on hard-luck teams and bad quarterbacks, can they?

Well, this week they probably can. Jamie Martin will start his second game for the Rams. Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt are hurt and may not play. The Rams are still adjusting to life under no-longer-interim coach Joe Vitt. And the rest of the schedule looks like it was assembled by a Big-12 athletic director: the Texans and Titans twice, the Niners, Cardinals and Browns. This year's Jaguars are no better than last year's model, but the road is rising to meet them.

"Are they lucky, or are they good?" Freeman asked rhetorically of the Jaguars. "They're both." Freeman may be on to something, and the Jaguars may just have the right mix of lucky and good to make noise in the Wild Card race.

Bears at Lions: Jeff Garcia is this week's Vinny Testaverde.

Like Vinny a few weeks ago, Garcia played just well enough to beat a bad team last Sunday. Some Detroit fans now think he can save the season. Bob Wojnowski of The Detroit News called Garcia "one of the NFL's classic troubleshooters," adding that "maybe we have stumbled across the appropriate Lions quarterback, someone just old enough and confident enough to think he truly can make a difference." Mitch Albom was more skeptical in the Detroit Free Press. "To the winner goes the selective memory," he said of Garcia's rickety victory over the stumbling Browns.

Garcia, like Testaverde, is no season-changer. He's better than Joey Harrington, but he's a dink-and-dunker who goes into slumps and blames teammates and coaches when things go wrong. He can win with good receivers, but injuries have knocked out Detroit's fleet of former No. 1 picks. So this week, Garcia will be throwing to the likes of Scottie Vines, not to be confused with Bobby Strokes, Tommy White Stripes or Franz Ferdinand.

A pea-shooter passer and some new wave receivers won't get it done against the best defense in football. Take the Bears. And cover your eyes when watching NFC North games. They're ugly.

Dolphins at Saints: Many Dolphins think they know the secret to getting Ricky Williams back on track. All he needs are more carries — say, 25 rushes per game.

Let's see ... Williams is currently averaging 0.6 yards per carry. Multiply that by 25 carries and Williams gains 15 yards! The Dolphins have 10 games left; so Williams could end the year with 261 carries (that counts the 11 he already has) for 179 yards if Nick Saban and coordinator Scott Linehan would just feed him the ball. What's wrong with them?

Or maybe they will give it to rookie Ronnie Brown instead. After all, he's averaging 4.8 yards per carry, eight times Williams' output.

Williams should be motivated to face the team that traded him in 2002 — assuming he remembers that far back. But Brown gives the Dolphins the best chance to beat the vagabond Saints.

Oh, and a note to Jim Haslett: please, no more crazy trick plays in bad situations. It's Joe Vitt's job to fill in for Mike Martz, not yours.

Must-Flee TV

Browns at Texans: The Browns netted 56 passing yards last week. The Texans netted six. So these two teams could theoretically combine to throw for 62 yards this week. Grab an umbrella and go to your local high school some rainy Friday night to watch two teams with wishbone offenses slug it out in a downpour. Chances are, you'll see more than 62 combined passing yards. But here's the good news: the Texans only had the ball for 26 minutes and 41 seconds last week, the Browns for 22:43. So maybe the NFL will agree to make this game just 49 minutes and 24 seconds in length. That way, everyone can go home early.


Cardinals at Cowboys: The Cardinals won the first six meetings between these two franchises. But since the Beatles arrived in America, the Cowboys have had a 53-22 edge in the series, with one tie in 1966. Look for win No. 54 of the post-British Invasion Era this week. The Cardinals have no running game, so Bill Parcells will unleash the blitz, treating Josh McCown so badly that the Cardinals' quarterback will think he was just named the Cowboys' receivers coach.

Packers at Bengals: Despite the torn ACL, MCL and meniscus, the high ankle sprain and the turf toe, I'm not really off the Bengals' bandwagon. They will bounce back in style this week. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that the Packers are "due" for a win; injuries to Ahman Green, Robert Ferguson, Javon Walker and Najeh Davenport have left Brett Favre all alone, with no direction home.

Raiders at Titans: With CB Charles Woodson injured, the Raiders have the second worst secondary in the NFL. The Titans have the worst. Get ready for a shootout, and get ready for a trap game: the Raiders are a bad team on the road, coming off a big win, with a trip to Kansas City looming next week. Hello, mild upset!

Vikings at Panthers: Jake Delhomme was back in practice after getting hurt against the Lions, but several other Panthers were hurting over the bye week: DE Julius Peppers, LB Dan Morgan and RB DeShaun Foster. All expect to play this week, but they may be limited. Two straight wins for Mike Tice and the crew of the Minnow? Don't bet on it.

Redskins at Giants: The Redskins enter an important three-game stretch in which they can silence doubters like me. Everything clicked against the Niners, and Joe Gibbs won't let his team suffer a late lapse against Last Minute Manning. If the Redskins emerge from games against the Giants, Eagles and Bucs with a 6-3 record, they'll be in excellent position for a playoff run.

49ers at Bucs: The pitiful Niners arrive on the Gulf Coast just in time to help the Bucs break in Chris Simms at quarterback. Simms is reportedly more confident and more focused than he was last year; of course, we're never notified in advance when a passer is less confident or more scattered. "He's got a swagger about him now," teammate Michael Pittman told the Tampa Tribune. A-ha! That's where the Patriots swagger went!

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Redskins at Giants: The Redskins enter an important three-game stretch in which they can silence doubters like me. Everything clicked against the Niners, and Joe Gibbs won't let his team suffer a late lapse against Last Minute Manning. If the Redskins emerge from games against the Giants, Eagles and Bucs with a 6-3 record, they'll be in excellent position for a playoff run.

6-3, huh? Well, our 7-2 record is going to be perfect then!! :)

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