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Is It Parity?
Or Is It Only October?

Here in the Northeast, the air is crisp, and the coffee is hot. The foliage is turning, the moon is bright and full. This is definitely my favorite time of year.

As for the NFL, there's been lots of tricks and treats, and it's only the first week of Octoberfest. Well, October. The picture is becoming a little clearer, but history tells us that there remain a few significant surprises (you know, more tricks and more treats) in store. Some 4-0 or 3-1 team is destined to collapse and some 1-3 team will somehow make a playoff run. Strange that of all the teams that have had bye weeks already, two (Oakland and Tampa Bay) are winless and none are undefeated. That makes all the "parity" people happy.

For the most part, it looks like the good teams are really good, the bad teams are really bad, and everyone else is simply mediocre. Is that what they wanted? Six 13-3 teams, six 3-13 and twenty 8-8? There don't seem to be a lot of important compeitive games this week. Mostly a lot of really good teams against really bad ones. But when a lot of teams are 1-2, 2-1 or 2-2, looks can be deceiving.

Let's see how I've been deceived:

Sunday, Oct. 8
Buffalo (2-2) at Chicago (4-0), 1 p.m.
Both teams are coming off emotional wins. Buffalo held off a decent Minnesota team, while Chicago blew out a Shawn Alexander-less Seattle squad in a highly hyped matchup. Is it the hard-fought emotional win, or the blow out that drains a team more? Not sure we'll know from this week, because, while Buffalo has had a much tougher overall schedule, it doesn't appear these teams are in the same league. Make that conference.
Prediction: Bears, 31-14.

Cleveland (1-3) at Carolina (2-2), 1 p.m.
Cleveland had a nice comeback over Oakland, but, really, it was Oakland. Carolina survived New Orleans, who has been impressive (so far). John Fox can't be happy with Carolina's efforts. Romeo Crennel realizes patience is a virtue, and he'll be happy with development this year, since he clearly doesn't have the horses. He doesn't have the players either. And this is Cleveland's second straight game on the road and Carolina's second straight at home.
Prediction: Panthers, 28-7.

Detroit (0-4) at Minnesota (2-2), 1 p.m.
With its loss to Green Bay, Detriot is one of the favorites to finish 0-16. Minnesota can't be happy with the loss at Buffalo. Detroit is going to come out with all cylinders (one) firing. I can't even imagine what's going on in that front office. But who can argue that the M&M Brothers (Matt Millen and Mike Martz) don't belong together. Minnesota needs to win to keep pace with currently unstoppable Chicago. Shouldn't be too much of a problem.
Prediction: Vikings, 35-16.

Miami (1-3) at New England (3-1), 1 p.m.
Please see separately posted game preview.
Prediction: I said, see the separate preview.

St. Louis (3-1) at Green Bay (1-3), 1 p.m.
Who's afraid of Lambeau Field? Probably not surprisingly resilient St. Louis, who took care of disappointing (again) Arizona before beating up on Detroit. More resembling the Greatest Show on Turf since they lost the Super Bowl to the Team of the Decade. Green Bay more resembles Detroit. Wasn't it funny how all the Brett Favre lovers jumped back on his bandwagon after his "superior" performance against the said Lions only to get destroyed by Philadelphia the following Monday? Ya, I thought so too.
Prediction: Rams, 34-14..

Tampa Bay (0-3) at New Orleans (3-1), 1 p.m.
Will coming off a bye help Tampa Bay at all? Probably not. Chris Simms, who says he's hoping for a December comeback, is not a great quarterback, but it's unlikely Tampa will be better off without him. After losing to Carolina, New Orleans is returning to the scene of their monumentally emotional homecoming. Those fans will help the team and the city ride that wave for a while. Let's start calling Williams "Carnell" until he does something. How's that?
Prediction: Saints, 27-13.

Tennessee (0-4) at Indianapolis (4-0), 1 p.m.
Indy squeaked by the N.Y. Jets after laughing at New England for allowing New York to score 17 late points after building a 24-0 lead. Not that you'd ever hear an Indy fan admit any such thing. Must have been the refs fault. Anyway, Tennessee has no chance to do anything comparable to what New York did. Indy just wants to get through this mid-season preseason game with no injuries.
Prediction: Colts, 56-6.

Washington (2-2) at N.Y. Giants (1-2), 1 p.m.
Tom Coughlin must be beside himself. A loss to Indy in Week 1, a lucky comeback against Philly in Week 2, an embarrassing loss to Seattle in Week 3, and then the bye. I bet it was a tough week in New Jersey. Washington has back-to-back wins after holding off Jacksonville at home. But can Joe Gibbs' system breed any kind of consistency in that team -- especially against quality opponents? New York needs this win to keep pace in a highly competitive division.
Prediction: Giants, 24-20.

Kansas City (1-2) at Arizona (1-3), 4:05 p.m.
Damon Huard. Remember him? He's playing pretty well, but, you know, San Francisco. Can't figure out Arizona at all. Both of these teams should be better than average, but Kansas City is underperforming with Herman Edwards and Arizona has been underperforming for years, even moreso with Dennis Green at the helm. You keep waiting for Arizona's offense to explode -- they have all the pieces -- but they don't. Kanas City's defense should secure this one.
Prediction: Chiefs, 27-24.

N.Y. Jets (2-2) at Jacksonville (2-2), 4:05 p.m.
I think we'll learn a lot about both these teams today. If Eric Mangini can rein in his enthusiasm and stop making some real boneheaded decisions, New York looks like a pretty solid team less than one season after "losing" Herm Edwards. Jacksonville has struggled in their last two after two fantastic performances to open the season. New York has a slew of moderate injuries, the most important of which is Laveranues Coles, who is questionable with a calf. Jacksonville has a couple significant losses on the D line with Marcus Stroud (ankle) and Marcellus Wiley (groin) both out. Jacksonville will miss them, and it could be the difference.
Prediction: Jaguars, 21-20.

Oakland (0-3) at San Francisco (1-3), 4:05 p.m.
With Detroit, Oakland has a great chance to go winless. This would be their best chance with only maybe two more for the rest of the season. Maybe they'll have some energy following their bye. They're going to need it, especially with their extensive injury list. They're also fortunate that San Fran took an unmerciful beating last week, while Frisco has to hope coming home to friendly confines gives them a lift. Since the stadium will be empty, Oakland bars will be filled with the remaining handful of San Fran fans who are blacked out from the game on their TVs. Ya, that really is the most interesting thing I have to say about this game.
Prediction: 49ers, 23-10.

Dallas (2-1) at Philadelphia (3-1), 4:15 p.m.
No, I'm not going to mention him. Meanwhile, Philly has a few key injuries (RB Brian Westbrook, WR Donte Stallworth) that should make Dallas' job easier. Dallas is missing only Andre Gurode, who should press charges against that animal in Tennessee, but I'm sure the union talked him out of it. Gurode is the Dallas center, and Drew Bledsoe, we all know, can't handle a major changes like that. Watch the snap exchanges this week. Philly doesn't seem to miss the nameless one, and this is their chance to prove it, especially without Westbrook to rely on.
Prediction: Eagles, 28-24.

Pittsburgh (1-2) at San Diego (2-1), 8:15 p.m.
Pittsburgh is desperate for a win. Their bye week last week probably helps them settle down a little. San Diego has beaten no one of quality, and they have been less than impressive against lesser teams. The good news for both teams is that the leaders of their respective divisions are also playing each other Monday night, so a loss doesn't hurt as bad if their division-mate loses too. But a loss coupled with a division rival's win spells bad news. Of course, a win and, etc., etc., puts them back in it. This is a big game for Ben Roethlisberger. He should be back in game shape, and he has a lot to prove (so they say). This is all about establishing the run and stopping the run. If you remember the Patriots-Broncos game a couple weeks ago, it should play out like that.
Prediction: Chargers, 23-20.

Monday, Oct. 9
Baltimore (4-0) at Denver (2-1), 8:30 p.m.
Baltimore's win over San Diego last week shows they could actually be for real -- or just that Marty Schottenheimer blew it. Denver is coming off a bye after doing a solid job against New England, after which Jake Plummer earned a reprieve until just now. TE Todd Heap and DE Terrell Suggs are both questionable for Baltimore. Heap has been playing great and Steve McNair will miss his security blanket. Denver will probably miss DE Courtney Brown, but the rest of that defense can probably sustain without him. Home field could have an impact.
Prediction: Broncos, 27-17.

Open Date: Atlanta, Cincinnati, Houston, Seattle

Week 3: 8 - 6.
Week 4: 8 - 6.
That's consistency. Consistent mediocrity. This must be what Ben Roethlisberger feels like. But dumber.
Season: 35 - 25.
Hey, I was 32-28 after four weeks last year. Of course, that was terribly, horribly terrible. It's the parity, right?