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NFL GAME DAY: WEEK 9

(Complete edited version not provided for the electronic library. Please see microfilm.)

OF NOTE: Let's see, the Bucs have faced two winless teams this season and lost both times. That's got to be an incentive for the Lions, who actually have come close to winning in their past few games. Problem is, the Lions can't run the ball with starter James Stewart likely out again. That'll make quarterback Charlie Batch vulnerable to the pass rush. The Lions have won 9 of the past 13 against the Bucs, but Tampa Bay always seems to win when it needs to most _ and it must win today to keep pace in the division race.

FRY'S PROMISE: Bucs 19, Lions 14

OF NOTE: These teams usually put on a good show that often goes down to the wire. The Colts have won two straight after a three-game skid. And the offense is clicking again, scoring 30 or more the past two weeks, but running back Edgerrin James (knee) likely will sit out again. Indy's defense is weak, especially against the run. Look for Miami's Lamar Smith to have a big day, which will allow quarterback Jay Fiedler to play mostly mistake-free against a defense that has just four picks.

FRY'S PROMISE: Dolphins 28, Colts 27

OF NOTE: The Bills have played decently recently and quarterback Rob Johnson has hurt defenses with his scrambling ability (an AFC-leading 7.2 yards a carry). They match up well against the Pats, who have lost three of the past four games they have played. In fact, the past three were decided in overtime. The Pats, though, are playing well beyond expectations and have won far bigger games than this one. Plus, they are 4-0 when scoring at least 21 points this season, and the Bills have given up more than that in five of seven games.

FRY'S PROMISE: Patriots 26, Bills 17

OF NOTE: The Rams are coming off a bye and have had two weeks to think about their lone loss. As if that doesn't make them dangerous enough, running back Marshall Faulk appears to be healthy again. None of this is good news for the Panthers, who have lost seven straight. The Panthers usually play the Rams tight, even in St. Louis (where Carolina has won four of the past five). But the Panthers are catching the Rams at the wrong time and can only hope Rams coach Mike Martz is a merciful man.

FRY'S PROMISE: Rams 32, Panthers 10

OF NOTE: Ryan Leaf makes his first start for Dallas, which could be as big an advantage for Atlanta as for Dallas. The Cowboys have been playing better after their dismal start, but star Emmitt Smith isn't expected to play. Falcons quarterback Chris Chandler may sit out, too, leaving the controls to rookie Michael Vick. The Cowboys defense, which is allowing 12.3 points a game the past three weeks, ought to keep the game close enough for Leaf to have a shot at winning it.

FRY'S PROMISE: Cowboys 21, Falcons 14

OF NOTE: The Bears have not only been good lately, but lucky, too, which is an almost unbeatable combination. The question is, how long will it last? That the Packers have won seven straight in Chicago means nothing. This is a new Bears team. The Packers defense ought to control QB Shane Matthews, but rookie running back Anthony Thomas could have another big day. Either way, the Bears will need more magic to pull this one out, but do they have any left?

FRY'S PROMISE: Packers 19, Bears 16

OF NOTE: Both teams are coming off surprising wins. The featured matchup is New York's Curtis Martin (804 yards) versus Kansas City's Priest Holmes (711 yards), the league's top two running backs. This one could go either way, but the Jets probably have a slight edge. They are rolling, winning four of their last five, three of which were road games. Their offense is still a bit shaky. They haven't scored more than 16 points in their last three games. But, with a few turnovers (they lead the league in turnover ratio at plus-15), they'll get by.

FRY'S PROMISE: Jets 17, Chiefs 14

OF NOTE: Both clubs are coming off agonizing losses that should have been wins. Probably will be a low-scoring affair as each team has allowed just nine touchdowns, fewest in the AFC. Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart (career-best 60.7 completion percentage) is playing well, but Browns have excellent secondary (league-high 16 interceptions). Steelers running back Jerome Bettis ran well against Baltimore last week, and figures to do the same today. If it comes down to a field goal, Pittsburgh is in trouble.

FRY'S PROMISE: Browns 14, Steelers 13

OF NOTE: The Jags have lost five straight and badly need a win, especially against a division foe. The Jags have beaten the Bengals five straight at home, but will be hard pressed to win today without a decent running game. The Bengals have one, led by Corey Dillon (184 yards Oct. 28 vs. the Lions), who figures to run wild. The Jags have to keep him under 100 yards to have any shot at winning. Meanwhile, the Bengals need quarterback Jon Kitna (70.6 QB rating) not to lose it. The defense, decent against the pass, will take care of the rest.

FRY'S PROMISE: Bengals 23, Jaguars 19

OF NOTE: Both teams are coming off losses and are scrambling to keep up with Oakland in the NFC West. The Broncos seem like the easy pick. They have won nine of the past 11 against the Chargers. Running back Terrell Davis makes his long-awaited start, which might further boost Denver. Chargers quarterback Doug Flutie, knocked out of last week's game, should start, but he will face a defense that has 12 interceptions. Bet on quarterback Brian Griese and the Broncos winning because, frankly, they need this one more.

FRY'S PROMISE: Broncos 28, Chargers 24

OF NOTE: The Vikings are one of the hardest teams to figure. They could win by two touchdowns or lose by three. They were waxed by the Bucs in their last game and need to bounce back today. Trouble is, they face a tenacious Eagles defense that ranks second in the NFC against the pass, allowing just 185.4 yards a game, and second in points allowed (98). The Eagles are clinging to first place in the NFC East and can ill afford to lose at home. Minnesota typically plays well after bye weeks, but not this time.

FRY'S PROMISE: Eagles 21, Vikings 20

OF NOTE: After dropping last week's game to the Jets, the Saints need to pull the upset to keep from falling too far behind the Niners and Rams in the NFC West. That it's a road game actually favors the Saints, who are better away from New Orleans. Saints running back Ricky Williams needs to get rolling again, but the Niners are strong against the run, ninth in the league at 96.7 yards allowed a game. If quarterback Aaron Brooks shows the consistency he did earlier this season, the Saints have a chance. More likely, the Niners will keep marching on.

FRY'S PROMISE: 49ers 26, Saints 20

OF NOTE: Who would have figured the Giants would be .500 at this point? Well, welcome to the NFL. If New York fools around like it did last week against Dallas, it could get taken down. The Giants have league sack leader Michael Strahan, but Cards quarterback Jake Plummer isn't easy to catch. In fact, he's played remarkably well lately, completing 61.6 percent of his passes in the past five games. The Cards, who have lost six of the past eight to New York, probably have to get some help from their defense and special teams to stay with the Giants.

FRY'S PROMISE: Cardinals 27, Giants 24

OF NOTE: The Raiders just may be the league's best team. Seattle is typically a team Oakland handles, although the Seahawks won the last time they played in Seattle. Look for quarterback Rich Gannon, who has 11 touchdowns in his past five games against Seattle, to have another big game. The Seahawks defense is vulnerable to the pass and Gannon's elusiveness will make him hard to sack. The Raiders, who have outscored foes 40-10 in the first quarter, will start fast and never look back.

FRY'S PROMISE: Raiders 31, Seahawks 20

OF NOTE: The Titans still haven't emerged from their early-season funk. The offense remains suspect, especially against top shelf defenses like Baltimore, which held the Titans to seven points in their earlier meeting this season. The Ravens still haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 41 regular-season games and that's liable to continue today. The Titans' only hope is that their home-field magic returns. They haven't lost at home since opening day against Miami. The Ravens, who have won three of the past four against the Titans, are due for an upset.

FRY'S PROMISE: Titans 13, Ravens 10

FRY'S RECORD: LAST WEEK 8-6 OVERALL (68-45 SEASON), 4-10 VS. SPREAD (48-58-7 SEASON)

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