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SPORTS WEEKEND

WEEK 4 PRIMER / T.J. SIMERS : It's a Battle for Florida

September 19, 1997|T.J. SIMERS

One of the biggest games in franchise history for the Buccaneers, who are trying to sell luxury boxes and club seats in a new stadium to open next September. It's also a battle for Florida bragging rights, with Jacksonville, also undefeated, making its pitch for respect on Monday night TV.

Dan Marino versus Trent Dilfer, with Dilfer looking like the star so far. Of course he can hand it off to Warrick Dunn or Mike Alstott, whereas Marino gets no such sure-fire help from Karim Abdul-Jabbar. Jabbar is averaging 2.7 yards a carry, and the Tampa Bay defense ranks third in the league at stopping the run. That puts the game back on Marino's arm, and with a national spotlight focused on Tampa Bay, Marino probably will be fighting for his job, since Coach Jimmy Johnson is just waiting for an opportunity to switch to Craig Erickson.

Edge to Marino, who is backed against the wall.

ON TV

* Oakland (1-2) at New York Jets (1-2), 10 a.m., Channel 4: The Raiders have to be one of the year's biggest disappointments-- something Jet receiver Keyshawn Johnson can relate to.

* Minnesota(2-1) at Green Bay (2-1), 10 a.m., Channel 11: The Vikings flopped in their NFC first-place showdown with Tampa Bay but now get a chance for redemption in Green Bay. Forget it.

* Cincinnati (1-1) at Denver (3-0), 1 p.m., Channel 4: A tough task for the Broncos, who will probably be without safety Steve Atwater. Quarterback Jeff Blake has the arm to go pass for pass with John Elway, but what's his answer for Denver running back Terrell Davis?

* Kansas City at Carolina, 10 a.m

Line: Carolina by 54 1/2

* Chicago at New England, 10 a.m.

Line: New England by 13

* Detroit at New Orleans, 10 a.m.

Line: Detroit by 5 1/2

* Baltimore at Tennessee, 10 a.m.

Line: Tennessee by 3 1/2

* Atlanta at San Francisco, 1 p.m.

Line: San Francisco by 14 1/2

* Indianapolis at Buffalo, 1 p.m.

Line: Buffalo by 6 1/2

* San Diego at Seattle, 1 p.m.

Line: Seattle by 5 1/2

* N.Y. Giants at at St. Louis, 1 p.m.

Line: St. Louis by 2 1/2

Five Things To Look For

1. Twenty-eight teams changing the colors and the look of their uniforms next year. The Denver Broncos and Tampa Bay Buccaneers changed their uniforms this year and, ugly or not, stand a combined 6-0.

2. The eruption of Mt. Ditka. Coach Mike Ditka stuck with Heath Shuler at quarterback this week, then benched rookie running back Troy Davis to start Mario Bates, and in doing so, made it clear he's not pleased with second-guessers.

"This is my decision," Ditka snapped. "I'm the coach. The last time I looked I still was the coach.It's my decision to make these calls."

3. Things getting worse in Chicago. Besides benching quarterback Erik Kramer, the Bears have had to sit down No. 1 draft pick Walt Harris, their best cornerback a year ago. Harris has been torched for four touchdowns in three games, and the New England Patriots, this week's opponent, may be getting Terry Glenn back. He has been out because of an ankle injury. James Burton replaces Harris. The Bears would have a much better chance if it were Richard Burton.

4. Minnesota's performance against Green Bay. After falling at home to Tampa Bay, Minnesota quarterback Brad Johnson made this ridiculous announcement: "Overall, this is probably the best thing for us, to play at Green Bay. Sometimes, when you face something like this, the best thing for you is to play probably the best team in the league." We'll see.

5. The Bengals going nowhere on the ground in Denver. Cincinnati is two games away from setting an NFL record: most consecutive games without a 100-yard rusher. They haven't had one since Harold Green on Dec. 20, 1992--67 games ago.

AROUND THE NFC

EAST

The Emmitt Smith "He has lost a step" watch has begun. Smith, who scored 115 touchdowns in his first eight seasons, has not scored this year, and has gone five consecutive games without a touchdown. "I'm not worried about that," Dallas Coach Barry Switzer said. "I assure you he will score a touchdown before the season is over." Considering the Cowboys' play, that's a bold statement. . . . The Arizona Cardinals, who could have been 3-0 if they could only hold onto the ball, have fumbled 11 times, losing the ball seven times. "I've mentioned it to our team," said Coach Vince Tobin. Yup, and not everybody can be an NFL head coach.

What happens when you play for Philadelphia Coach Ray Rhodes and you make a mistake? You lose your job. Cornerback Tim Watson, covering Anthony Miller Monday night when Miller hauled in a touchdown pass in the final minute of the game, was released Tuesday afternoon. What happened? Couldn't Rhodes find holder Tom Hutton to cut?

He said it: The Giants continue to struggle under Coach Jim Fassel, who announced this week, "Playing for the New York Giants is not like getting appointed to the Supreme Court. It's not a lifetime appointment, and changes can be made."

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