Can Cowboys do it again?

Posted: Sunday, December 02, 2001

The low point of Washington's season came Oct. 15, when they fell to 0-5 by losing 9-7 in Dallas in prime time.

The Redskins haven't lost since and Marty Schottenheimer's job is safe from the quick-on-the-trigger Dan ''The Fan'' Snyder. Even more shocking, as the Cowboys come to town Sunday, the Redskins find themselves on the heels of the Eagles in the NFC East after winning 13-3 in Philadelphia last week.

So the Skins will be favored for the first time this season, even though Dallas has beaten them eight straight times. The Cowboys, after all, are just 2-8.

''We don't want to be favored,'' says linebacker LaVar Arrington, whose interception return for a TD against Carolina turned around the season. ''We're the underdogs, that's what we are. Always the underdogs.''

They shouldn't be.

St. Louis (8-2) at Atlanta (6-4)

The Falcons have been quietly inserting themselves into the playoff race because Chris Chandler has stayed relatively healthy, RB Maurice Smith has done well replacing Jamal Anderson, and Keith Brooking has become a force at linebacker.

But the Rams come in a little less cocky and a little more dangerous after losing at home Monday night to Tampa. Mike Martz says he'll run a little more after Marshall Faulk carried just 12 times for 55 yards against the Bucs.

New England (6-5) at New York Jets (7-3)

It would be nice if the Patriots could concentrate on the good things Tom Brady has done at quarterback: He's 6-3 since taking over after the Jets' Mo Lewis knocked out Drew Bledsoe in Week 2. But in addition to the simmering QB controversy -- Bledsoe's healthy now -- there's the saga of Terry Glenn, who was supposed to play this week, but was suspended instead for missing practice.

The Jets consider this game critical. They're tied with Miami, but have beaten the Dolphins twice and hold the tiebreaker in the AFC East. A win here would put them 2 1/2 games and two head-to-head wins ahead of the Patriots.

Minnesota (4-6) at Pittsburgh (8-2)

Dennis Green and Bill Cowher are the longest-tenured coaches (10 years) with the same team. But their roles are reversed this season from the past few -- Cowher and the Steelers are heading for the playoffs, Green and the Vikings aren't.

The Steelers are winning the same way they have in the past, with defense and Bettis. But just as the Steelers seemed ready to give up on Kordell Stewart, he's returned to the form he last demonstrated in 1997, when he passed for 3,020 yards and ran for 476. He passed for 254 yards and two TDs and had a 48-yard touchdown run last week in Tennessee.

Denver (6-5) at Miami (7-3)

A big game for the playoff hopes of these two, particularly the Broncos, who will have had 11 days to recover from almost blowing a 23-point fourth-quarter lead in Dallas. Terrell Davis may be healthy enough to share the running back spot with Mike Anderson.

Jay Fiedler and rookie Chris Chambers led a comeback in Buffalo for Miami, which has to stay ahead of the Jets if it is to win the AFC East -- New York's two wins over the Dolphins give it the tiebreaker.

Indianapolis (4-6) at Baltimore (7-4)

The former Baltimore Colts are more concerned with trying to win a game and healing the wounds opened by Jim Mora's postgame tirade than returning to their old home. And Baltimore fans are satisfied enough with last season's NFL title to have forgotten their former franchise.

The immediate concern for both teams is injuries. The Ravens lost Terry Allen and Jason Brookins at running back, so Moe Williams, who has made a career as a special-teamer and third-down guy, is about all they have left.

Detroit (0-10) at Chicago (8-2)

Green Bay (7-3) at Jacksonville (3-7) (Monday night)

Role reversal? The Bears knocked the Lions out of the playoffs in the final game last season, so the Lions would love to get their first win here. Charlie Batch is back at quarterback over Mike McMahon, who nearly rallied the Lions against the Packers on Thanksgiving, their seventh straight defeat by less than a touchdown.

That narrow escape in Detroit left the Packers in good shape. They've beaten the Bears once and get them again at Lambeau next week, so they can have the ultimate tiebreaker in the NFC Central.

Tennessee (4-6) at Cleveland (6-4)

The Browns are legitimate -- their 150 points allowed is fourth best in the league behind Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Chicago. And they get back top rookie Gerard Warren from a team-imposed one-game suspension this week, firming up the middle against Eddie George.

George is one reason for the Titans' decline as leg injuries have limited him to 2.8 yards a carry.

Arizona (4-6) at Oakland (8-2)

Nobody ever notices the Cardinals, but they have won two straight -- albeit over winless Detroit and fading San Diego. This game is an entirely different matter for Jake Plummer, David Boston and the rest of their friends.

The Raiders can be run on. Tiki Barber had 124 yards in 19 carries last week and Shaun Alexander got 266 against them. But Michael Pittman and Thomas Jones aren't Tiki and Shaun.

Buffalo (1-9) at San Francisco (8-2)

Sandwich game for San Francisco, which was in Indianapolis last week and is at St. Louis next week.

But the Niners are saying the right things:

''It'd be great to into the Rams game with similar records and battle for first place,'' says quarterback Jeff Garcia, one of the main reasons (with Terrell Owens and Garrison Hearst) that San Francisco is where it is. ''But first things first. Buffalo is the next round.''

Tampa Bay (5-5) at Cincinnati (4-6)

The Bucs haven't won two in a row this season. If they want to make the playoffs they have to start now against a team that has lost three straight and four of five.

The Bengals used all three quarterbacks last week and were shut out in Cleveland. Jon Kitna starts again, but Scott Mitchell has been demoted to third string behind Akili Smith.

Carolina (1-10) at New Orleans (5-5)

The Saints might be more disappointing than the Panthers, who went into the season with no experience at all at quarterback.

New Orleans' problem has been the defense that carried it to the NFC West title and the playoffs last season. It ranks 21st in yards allowed and is giving up almost 22 points a game compared to 19 last season.

San Diego (5-6) at Seattle (5-5)

Doug Flutie came out of his slump last week, but the Chargers didn't, losing to Arizona for their fourth straight loss.

The Seahawks' record seems to reflect the team. If they were going to contend, they shouldn't have fallen on their faces in Kansas City last week.

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