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LVRJ: Rejuvenated Brunell will lead Skins to win


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A rejuvenated Brunell will lead Redskins to win

Being a nice guy in the NFL counts for something only if the nice guy is a great player. Mark Brunell, a religious man and one-time elite quarterback, is proof of that.

Brunell is one of those players who does charitable work off the field and always makes sure to thank the Lord in postgame interviews. He seems like a good guy.

But his performance on the field last year for the Washington Redskins smelled of garbage, and critics were quick to kick him to the curb. He showed no mobility and his arm was shot.

Washington coach Joe Gibbs surprisingly made Brunell the starter this year and it was obvious to everyone that Gibbs was a senile old-timer who might need to retire himself.

So how does this happen? Brunell is suddenly the top-rated passer in the NFC, the Redskins are 4-2 and nice words are once again being passed around about Brunell.

It starts with defense, and Washington's ranks fourth in the league, allowing 266 yards per game.

When the offense misfired the first month of the season, the defense won games.

It also helps Brunell to have Santana Moss, one of the league's fastest receivers, and a tough running back in Clinton Portis.

Moss averages 19.6 yards on his 38 catches, and Portis has 544 yards on the ground. The offense ranks second in the league at 387 yards per game.

The Redskins are 2 1/2-point road underdogs to the New York Giants on Sunday, and defense will win it for Washington. The Giants rank 31st in defense, allowing 412 yards per game.

Eli Manning has plenty of offensive weapons and New York is 4-0 at home this season, but the Giants were very lucky to beat Denver last week.

The underdog is 10-3 against the spread in this rivalry and the Redskins are starting to roll.

Here are four more selections for Week 8 (home team in CAPS):

COWBOYS (-8 1/2) over Cardinals: Arizona has the league's second-worst rushing offense at 72 yards per game, so the Dallas defense will blitz QB Josh McCown and force mistakes. The Cardinals are 1-22 straight up on the road and their two road losses this season were by 23 and 25 points. Cowboys coach Bill Parcells will try to avoid another close finish.

Eagles (+3 1/2) over BRONCOS: It's all on Donovan McNabb and the passing attack for Philadelphia, which has the league's worst rushing offense. The key could be the ability of the Eagles' defense to take away Denver's ground game and force the hand of QB Jake Plummer. Philadelphia has been a tough road team under Andy Reid, with one recent exception being the blowout at Dallas.

PATRIOTS (-8 1/2) over Bills: New England has won four in a row at home over Buffalo by scores of 29-6, 31-0, 27-17 and 21-11. The Patriots will get running back Corey Dillon involved early and Tom Brady's passing will put the game away.

STEELERS (-10) over Ravens: Injuries to linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed will keep them out of the game for Baltimore. It should be lights out for the Ravens, 0-6 straight up and against the spread in their past six road games. It's hard to watch a humble coaching genius like Brian Billick suffer.

Last week: 2-3 against the spread

Season record: 22-13

Review-Journal sportswriter Matt Youmans can be reached at 387-2907 or myoumans@reviewjournal.com.

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