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SPORTS WEEKEND | WEEK 10 PRIMER : Around the NFC /
WEST

Falcons Might Be Running Into Trouble

November 06, 1998

Who ranks third in rushing in the NFL, behind Terrell Davis and Barry Sanders? Wrong. Jamal Anderson. Plays for the Falcons. Fifth-year player from Utah. Averages 4.6 yards a carry. Has had five 100-yard games in last six outings. For Atlanta. Falcons are 11-2 under Coach Dan Reeves when Anderson runs 20 or more times; 2-9 when he doesn't. So why not hand the ball to the guy 20 times every game? "Jamal Anderson is a complete football player," Reeves said. "He is running better than he ever has. . . ." Let's see: This week's opponent, New England, ranks No. 2 against the run.

After losing to Green Bay, things get really tough for the 49ers. How are they expected to maintain interest playing five of their remaining eight games at home against opponents with a combined record of 12-28.

When it comes to thrashing the stiffs in the NFC West, San Francisco Coach Steve Mariucci, a.k.a. Wonder Boy, is 11-0, but 9-6 against the rest of the league. Five of the 49ers' remaining games are against NFC West foes-- paving the way for home-field advantage in the playoffs. That's nice. That will allow 49er fans to see Green Bay beat up on their heroes in person.

CENTRAL / Losing Doesn't Rate Highly With Fans

Consider the options in Chicago: Watching the Bears or raking leaves? Leaves win. TV ratings have plummeted more than 40% since 1994, when the team last advanced to the playoffs--60% from the Mike Ditka-Buddy Ryan days in the '80s.

The Bears averaged a 29.4 rating and 59 share in 1994; this year they are averaging a 16.9 rating and 35 share (one rating point is worth 31,000 homes and a share is the percentage of sets tuned into the game).

On the radio side, WMAQ-AM 670, the Bears' flagship station, is losing a reported $1 million a year because of sagging advertiser interest. And just when you thought ratings couldn't drop any lower, the Rams turn up as the Bears' next opponent.

How far has Scott Mitchell fallen? Off the face of the earth. Rookie Charlie Batch threw three interceptions, lost a fumble and that was only in the first half last week as the Lions continue to founder at 2-6. It makes no sense, unless you take into consideration Coach Bobby Ross' penchant for stubbornness.

"We'll stay the way we are," Ross said. "I've said that all along and I'm not going to get into all that again. Everything we have there is locked in."

EAST / America's Team Is the Team to Beat

The Cowboys have replaced the star on their helmets with a target. "I'm not trying to set ourselves up to be knocked off," said Coach Chan Gailey in establishing his team as the one to beat in the NFC East. "I'm not coming out and talking about it. But if you're 4-0 [in the division] and have beaten everybody else, I guess you are the favorites. That's a fact." The Cowboys are the only team in the division with a winning record and scored 31 or more points against each division opponent.

A victory over the Giants this week will probably end New York's season with seven more to play. The Giants have already lost to the Cowboys and have games with Green Bay, San Francisco and Denver ahead.

"We're treating this as a playoff game," Giant Coach Jim Fassel said. "We're treating this as a must win. You can call it whatever you want to call it. Our backs are as far against the wall as they're going to get. We're either going to come out swinging, or we're going to be eliminated."

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