Brace yourself for another big weekend in the NFL, football fans. It’s only the fifth week of the season, but the outcome of this weekend’s matches will be crucial in determining which teams will playing into the second week of January.
It will also be a very important weekend for the NFL’s large crop of new head coaches. Other than Butch Davis — whose Browns are a surprising 3-1 — no team with a new coach has met much success. Of the eight teams that began the season with new head coaches, none has a winning percentage better than .500. That statistic includes Cincinnati’s Dick LeBeau and Arizona’s Dave McGinnis, who took the helm in mid-stream last year and at 2-2 and 1-2 are leading the pack.
The New York Jets’ Herman Edwards leads the rest at 2-2 as well but suffered losses at home to Indianapolis and San Francisco. He will face the division leading Dolphins this week at the Meadowlands. From there things get downright depressing. Kansas City hired Dick Vermeil to work his magic on the other side of Missouri. So far his wizardry has led to a 1-3 start, the only win coming over the lowly Redskins.
Which brings us to Marty Schottenheimer, whose ‘Skins are off to one of the worst starts in NFL history at 0-4. Things aren’t any better in Buffalo, where Gregg Williams and the Bills also boast a goose egg in the wins column, and in Detroit, where Marty Mornhinweg and the quarterbackless Lions have looked downright pathetic in their 0-4 start. By the end of the season, at least two of eight will be gone; the six survivors will be those that can best regroup after the slow start.
Games to Watch
Tampa Bay at Tennessee: The Tennessee Titans (0-3) come crawling home to Adelphia Coliseum, licking their wounds after a 26-7 beating at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens. They’ll face a 2-1 Buccaneer squad that hopes to live up to its billing as a popular Super Bowl pick. The two teams are actually very similar; both boast excellent defenses, but have offensive question marks despite a powerful running game. Mike Alstott will pound the ball up the middle for the Bucs, while Eddie George and the Titans will try to get something going in a season that has been a disappointment thus far.
The Verdict: The hungry Titans prove they won’t be counted out yet, and tire out the Buccaneers defense with heavy doses of Eddie George. Titans grind out a W, 10-7.
Baltimore at Green Bay: Baltimore (3-1) is thinking Super Bowl repeat, coming off impressive wins over Denver and Tennessee. Green Bay (3-1) aims to show the nation that Brett Favre and the Pack are back after a disappointing loss in Tampa. The Packers will test star running back Ahman Green against the strength of the Ravens: Ray Lewis and the run defense. Baltimore, meanwhile, will continue to showcase the passing talents of Elvis Grbac against a surprisingly good Green Bay defensive unit.
The Verdict: Though the game takes place on the not-yet-frozen tundra at Lambeau, the Ravens will continue to show that they’re even better than last year. Grbac throws 3 touchdown passes and the Ravens win, 24-17.
Other league action
Arizona at Chicago: Eli-grad and Bears’ head Coach Dick Jauron ’73 throws the playbook at the Cards; Bears 28, Cardinals 17.
Cleveland at Cincinnati: The battle for Ohio. Butch Davis continues to work his magic, this time over the Bungles. Browns 21, Bengals 10.
Detroit at Minnesota: Neither team is doing well, but the Vikings have Culpepper, Moss and Carter. The Lions have — well — not much. Vikings 34, Lions 13.
New Orleans at Carolina: It’s in Carolina, but the Saints aren’t the Saints of old. Saints 20, Panthers 17.
N.Y. Giants at St. Louis: The Giants may have gone to the Super Bowl, but the Rams will look like the NFC champions. Rams 41, Giants 14.
Pittsburgh at Kansas City: Pittsburgh will be longing for Heinz Field; they’ll be playing ketchup at Arrowhead. Chiefs 23, Steelers 10.
San Francisco at Atlanta: Jeff Garcia will show young Michael Vick how to pass, CFL-style. 49ers 28, Falcons 7.
San Diego at New England: Boston fans will get a chance to see Flutie work his magic again. He won’t need a Hail Mary this time. Chargers 24, Patriots 20.
Denver at Seattle: Sorry Trent Dilfer, the Seahawks don’t have Ray Lewis and the Baltimore defense to win the game for you. Broncos 27, Seahawks 9.
Miami at N.Y. Jets: Fiedler and Smith avenge last years Monday Night Miracle. Dolphins 17, Jets 14.
Oakland at Indianapolis: Gannon’s Raiders have a defense, Manning’s Colts do not. Raiders 30, Colts 28.