November 2, 1997 in Sports

The Matchups

Terry Bannon Chicago Tribune
 

Redskins at Bears

Line: Redskins by 3.

Last meeting: Redskins won 10-3 in Washington on Sept. 8, 1996.

Key stats: It’s Bears’ No. 10 rushing offense vs. Redskins’ No. 30 rushing defense.

Worth watching: Bears’ Raymont Harris, averaging 4.3 yards per carry with seven TDs, continues his drive for a Pro Bowl berth. Washington running back Terry Allen, averaging 3.5 yards per carry, will try to play after missing last week with a sprained knee.

Outlook: A healthy Bears offense delivered the first victory of the season last week at Miami. The Redskins’ soft run defense should be even weaker with the loss of Pro Bowl linebacker Ken Harvey to a shoulder injury. A big game from Allen could save the Redskins. Washington has lost two in a row and three of four.

Ravens at Jets

Line: Jets by 5.

Last meeting: Ravens (then the Browns) beat Jets 27-7 in Cleveland on Oct. 2, 1994.

Key stats: Game features two of AFC’s worst defenses: Jets are 24th, Ravens 28th.

Worth watching: Is Ravens’ Bam Morris ready to be a consistent contributor, or was last week’s 176-yard rushing day a fluke? Jets’ QB Neil O’Donnell has Glenn Foley breathing down his neck.

Outlook: This one could become a shootout. Ravens’ quarterback Vinny Testaverde will take aim at weak Jets secondary. But Jets may be able to control the ball with Adrian Murrell’s running.

Dolphins at Bills

Line: Bills by 2.

Last meeting: Dolphins won 16-14 in Miami on Dec. 16, 1996.

Key stat: Bills’ turnover differential of minus-15 is better only than Saints’ minus-19.

Worth watching: Alex Van Pelt gets start at quarterback after guiding Bills into OT last week vs. Broncos. Dolphins’ Dan Marino looks to bounce back after 18-for-39 showing vs. Bears.

Outlook: Van Pelt can’t do it alone, but he won’t have to. Bills’ rookie Antowain Smith is averaging 5.4 yards per carry. Bruce Smith, NFL leader with 10 sacks, may feast on Dolphins’ slumping offensive line. Dolphins’ best hope is a big running game because Buffalo goes without linebacker Chris Spielman, out for the season with a neck injury.

Patriots at Vikings

Line: Pick ‘em.

Last meeting: Patriots won 26-20 in Foxboro on Nov. 13, 1994.

Key stats: Vikings’ offense is fourth in the NFL; Patriots’ defense is sixth.

Worth watching: Leroy Hoard steps in at running back for injured Viking Robert Smith. Patriots need bounce-back game from Curtis Martin, who has been held under 100 yards five straight games.

Outlook: Vikings, with five straight wins and growing confidence, are surging. They must compensate for the loss of Smith and his 97 rushing yards per game, but quarterback Brad Johnson is capable of that. Struggling Patriots have lost three out of four and have sacked the quarterback only six times in last four.

Raiders at Panthers

Line: Panthers by 3.

Last meeting: This is the first meeting.

Key stats: It’s Oakland’s No. 5 offense vs. Carolina’s No. 6 defense.

Worth watching: Raiders’ Napoleon Kaufman, averaging 5.7 yards per carry, has rushed for 100 yards in five of last six games. Panthers Tshimanga Biakabutuka played like a No. 1 draft choice in 104-yard, two-TD effort vs. Falcons last week.

Outlook: With Kerry Collins healthier and defense improving, Panthers have won two straight (New Orleans, Atlanta). Raiders will run up some points, but the NFL’s worst defense will give them back.

Rams at Falcons

Line: Falcons by 3.

Last meeting: Rams won 34-27 in Atlanta on Dec. 15, 1996.

Key stats: St. Louis is 27th in the NFL in offense; Atlanta is 28th.

Worth watching: In a game with little offense, watch the pass rushers: Falcons’ Chuck Smith leads the NFL with nine sacks; Rams’ Leslie O’Neal has eight.

Outlook: Oft-injured Falcons quarterback Chris Chandler returns to lineup. A big day from Rams’ inconsistent quarterback Tony Banks could change the game.

Chargers at Bengals

Line: Pick ‘em.

Last meeting: Chargers won 27-14 in San Diego on Sept. 8, 1996.

Key stat: Chargers have beaten the Bengals three straight.

Worth watching: San Diego running back Gary Brown, who had 169 yards last week vs. Indianapolis, tries to do it again against Bengals. Cincy QB Jeff Blake may exploit weak San Diego pass defense.

Outlook: Bengals’ offense showed signs of life in two-point loss to Giants last week, but their defense hasn’t held anyone under 20 points all season.

Bucs at Colts

Line: Bucs by 4-1/2.

Last meeting: Bucs won 24-10 in Tampa on Sept. 11, 1994.

Key stat: Bucs have not scored 20 points in any of their last four games.

Worth watching: The defenses. Chidi Ahanotu leads Bucs with seven sacks. Ends Dan Footman and Tony Bennett share Colts’ lead with only three, but Bennett is out for the season with a knee injury.

Outlook: Can anyone here score? In the last two weeks, Bucs have averaged 7.5 points, Colts 12.5. Bucs have lost three straight. Colts have outside shot at first win, but must go with Paul Justin instead of injured Jim Harbaugh, out with a broken hand a result of his “scuffle” with NBC’s Jim Kelly, the ex-Bills quarterback. If Justin runs into a sportscaster Saturday night, the Colts have a serious problem.

Cowboys at 49ers

Line: 49ers by 6-1/2.

Last meeting: Cowboys won 20-17 in San Francisco on Nov. 10, 1996.

Key stat: All seven of the 49ers’ victories have come against soft NFC West opposition.

Worth watching: Emmitt Smith averaged a modest 4.0 yards per carry for Dallas. San Francisco QB Steve Young leads NFL in passing and has incredible 13-3 touchdown-interception ratio.

Outlook: In August this looked like a big game, a preview of the NFC championship match. But the disappearance of the Dallas running game has changed all that. Confident 49ers are riding high, leading the league in total defense. They’re allowing a miserly 65.4 yards per game rushing.

Jaguars at Oilers

Line: Jaguars by 2.

Last meeting: Jaguars won 23-17 in Houston on Dec. 8, 1996.

Key stats: Oilers have won three straight; Jaguars have lost two straight.

Worth watching: Oilers’ Eddie George has five 100-yard rushing games. Jaguars receivers Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell could have big day vs. soft Tennessee secondary.

Outlook: Oilers offense is rolling with 33 points per game during three-game winning streak. Quarterback Steve McNair has thrown 69 passes without an interception. Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell is questionable with knuckle injury. He’d be replaced by Rob Johnson, who guided Jaguars to season-opening victory over Baltimore.

Eagles at Cardinals

Line: Eagles by 4.

Last meeting: Eagles won 13-10 in OT in Philadelphia on Oct. 19, 1997.

Key stat: Eagles have won three of the last four.

Worth watching: Cardinals quarterback Jake Plummer tries to improve on his first start (four interceptions). Eagles’ Ricky Watters averaging 4.0 yards per carry.

Outlook: Cardinals were playing tough at home until last week’s 41-14 blowout loss to Tennessee. Eagles barely handled Cardinals two weeks ago in Philadelphia, but have no doubt learned a few lessons. Plus, they know about Plummer, who got extensive playing time in that game.

Lions at Packers

Line: Packers by 10.

Last meeting: Lions won 26-15 in Pontiac on Sept. 28, 1997.

Key stat: Home team has won nine of last 10.

Worth watching: Lions’ Herman Moore leads NFL with 57 catches for 804 yards, and has four scoring receptions. Green Bay’s Dorsey Levens, who has a career-high 696 rushing yards, averaging a healthy 4.7 yards per carry.

Outlook: Packers have won three straight since losing to Lions, and figure to get their revenge at Lambeau Field. Packers reminded all concerned that they are still Super Bowl champs with easy 28-10 victory at New England. Can Packers’ Brett Favre and Lions’ Barry Sanders match big games? Sanders needs 122 yards to pass Tony Dorsett (12,739) for third on the all-time rushing list.

Steelers at Chiefs (Monday night)

Line: Chiefs by 3.

Last meeting: Steelers won 17-7 in Kansas City on Oct. 7, 1996.

Key stats: Steelers have won last five vs. Chiefs.

Worth watching: Pittsburgh’s Yancey Thigpen has 40 receptions, 17 in the last two games. Andre Rison giving Chiefs the same kind of season he gave the Packers a year ago (43 catches, five TDs).

Outlook: Under Bill Cowher, the Steelers find a way to win ones like this - pivotal midseason games against other playoff contenders. In this one they can give the ball to Jerome Bettis to set up Kordell Stewart’s passing. Chiefs lack the difference-making running back.


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