NFL WEEK 4

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Chicago (0-3) at New England (3-0)

Time: 1 p.m.

Line: Patriots by 12 1/2

Vs. spread: Bears 1-2; Patriots 2-1

Last week: Bears lost to Lions, 32-7; Patriots beat Jets, 27-24, in OT.

Worth watching: Talk about a tough spot: Rick Mirer gets first start at QB for Bears against Drew Bledsoe. Mirer was the second pick of the '93 draft behind Bledsoe, who leads the NFL in passing and has thrown an NFL-best 10 touchdown passes.

Outlook: Patriots have league's leading rusher in Curtis Martin (395 yards, 4.5 per carry), who had 199 yards on 40 carries in win over Jets. With their emotional game with New York behind them, look for the Patriots to get back to fundamentals and beat out the Bears in nearly every category.

Notable: It's New England's No. 1 offense vs. Bears' No. 25 defense.

Injuries:

BEARS: Out: WR Curtis Conway (collarbone); G Todd Perry (hamstring); S Marty Carter (elbow); RB Rashaan Salaam (ankle); C-G Chris Villarrial (leg). Questionable: T James Williams (ankle).

PATRIOTS: Out: DE Willie McGinest (knee). Questionable: WR Terry Glenn (ankle). Probable: RB David Meggett (groin).

Minnesota (2-1) at Green Bay (2-1)

Time: 1 p.m.

Line: Packers by 12

Vs. spread: Vikings 2-1; Packers 0-3

Last week: Vikings lost to Buccaneers, 28-14; Packers beat Dolphins, 23-18.

Worth watching: Vikings running back Robert Smith leads NFC with 308 yards rushing and is averaging 7.9 yards per carry. Green Bay's Dorsey Levens had a breakout game last week, gaining 121 yards in victory over Dolphins.

Outlook: Vikings will have a chance if they can exploit Packers injuries on defense. Defensive tackle Gilbert Brown (leg) and safety LeRoy Butler (arm) are questionable. Otherwise, Packers get 18th straight Lambeau Field victory.

Notable: Game features two of the NFL's top offenses: Vikings third, Packers fifth.

Injuries:

VIKINGS: Out: G David Dixon (knee). Doubtful: RB Leroy Hoard (hamstring). Questionable: T Todd Steussie (ankle). Probable: P Mitch Berger (hip); CB Leonard Wheeler (foot).

PACKERS: Doubtful: C Frank Winters (foot). Questionable: DT Gilbert Brown (knee); S LeRoy Butler (arm); T Earl Dotson (toe); LB Seth Joyner (knee). Probable: TE Tyrone Davis (hamstring).

Miami (2-1) at Tampa Bay (3-0)

Time: 8 p.m.

Line: Buccaneers by 3 1/2

Vs. spread: Dolphins 1-1; Buccaneers 3-0

Last week: Buccaneers beat Vikings, 28-14; Dolphins lost to Packers, 23-18.

Worth watching: Tampa Bay rookie Warrick Dunn (5.6 yards per carry) could have big day. With running game dead last in the NFL, Miami needs big game from Dan Marino, who has thrown only one TD pass.

Outlook: Consecutive road victories at Detroit and Minnesota have made the Bucs the NFC's only unbeaten team. This is an emotional battle-of-Florida game, but Bucs are at home.

Notable: Tampa Bay is second in the league in rushing offense and third in rushing defense, always a winning formula.

Injuries:

DOLPHINS: Out: RB Stanley Pritchett (knee). Questionable: S George Teague (ankle). Probable: RB Dewayne Dotson (knee); S Corey Harris (shoulder); WR Qadry Ismail (hamstring); P John Kidd (quadriceps).

BUCCANEERS: Out: DE Eric Curry (knee); LB Rufus Porter (shoulder). Questionable: DT Warren Sapp (ankle). Probable: CB Anthony Parker (hamstring).

Detroit (2-1) at New Orleans (0-3)

Time: 1 p.m.

Line: Lions by 6

Vs. spread: Lions 2-1; Saints 0-3

Last week: Lions beat Bears, 32-7; Saints lost to 49ers, 33-7.

Worth watching: Lions QB Scott Mitchell leads NFC with six TD passes and WR Herman Moore has six TD receptions in last seven games. The Lions' Barry Sanders' rushing average in last four road games is 134 yards. Sanders' average vs. the Saints is 48.5 yards.

Outlook: Mike Ditka is sticking with his hand-picked QB Heath Shuler, who has a subterranean passer rating of 24.1 (zero TDs, eight INTs). Unless Shuler figures it out today, Lions should romp.

Notable: Ditka's Saints are 26th in offense, 27th in rushing and 22nd in passing. One matchup worth watching will be Detroit receiver Moore battling Saints cornerback Eric Allen.

Injuries:

LIONS: Out: RB Terry Battle (knee); G Chris Harrison (knee); S Ron Rice (ankle). Doubtful: LB Ben Hanks (knee). Questionable: TE Eric Stocz (leg).

SAINTS: Out: TE Irv Smith (knee). Questionable: T Clarence Jones (knee). Probable: S Je'Rod Cherry (ankle); LB Ernest Dixon (knee).

Oakland (1-2) at N.Y.Jets (1-2)

Time: 1 p.m.

Line: Jets by 1 1/2

Vs. spread: Raiders 1-2; Jets 2-1

Last week: Raiders beat Falcons, 36-31; Jets lost to Patriots, 27-24, in OT.

Worth watching: After two close, painful losses, the Raiders managed to pull out a victory in Atlanta last week, and they look for more success against a team trying to recover from an emotionally draining defeat last Sunday night in New England. At least kickoff returner Desmond Howard probably won't burn Jets coach Bill Parcells again -- Parcells has kicker Jeff Hall, who owns an NFL-best 11 touchbacks on 19 kickoffs.

Outlook: Parcells has done a great job making the Jets competitive quickly. QB Jeff George gives the Raiders a chance to be a factor in the playoff race.

Notable: The Raiders are 5-1 at Giants Stadium.

Injuries:

RAIDERS: Doubtful: CB Terry McDaniel (knee). Questionable: WR Olanda Truitt (hamstring).

JETS: Questionable: DE Hugh Douglas (groin); C Casey Wiegman (shoulder). Probable: DT Ronnie Dixon (ankle).

Cincinnati (1-1) at Denver (3-0)

Time: 4 p.m.

Line: Broncos by 11 1/2

Vs. spread: Bengals 0-2; Broncos 3-0

Last week: Broncos beat Rams, 35-14; Bengals were off.

Worth watching: Despite that sore arm in August, John Elway is the NFL's No. 2 passer and has thrown six TD passes with only one interception. Carl Pickens leads Bengals with 16 catches, two for TDs.

Outlook: Elway-to-Rod Smith is shaping up as the NFL's hottest combination. Denver seeks its third 4-0 start in club history and will get it if running back Terrell Davis can reach his fourth consecutive 100-yard rushing game. Bengals' only hope is an early lead and a big game from running back Ki-Jana Carter.

Notable: The Bengals had five sacks against Elway in one game last season, but Broncos have won last six vs. Bengals.

Injuries:

BENGALS: Probable: T Willie Anderson (groin); WR David Dunn (hand); DE Dan Wilkinson (toe).

TEAM: BRONCOS: Questionable: S Steve Atwater (shoulder). Probable: TE Dwayne Carswell (foot); TE Shannon Sharpe (ankle).

N.Y. Giants (1-2) at St. Louis (1-2)

Time: 4 p.m.

Line: Rams by 2 1/2

Vs. spread: Giants 1-2; Rams 1-2

Last week: Giants lost to Ravens, 24-23; Rams lost to Broncos, 35-14.

Worth watching: All of the other NFC East teams have byes this week. The Giants carry the flag alone and are fuming over their late collapse vs. Ravens last week. Will be interesting to see if Lawrence Phillips (4.1 yards per carry, four touchdowns) can carry the Rams.

Outlook: St. Louis has injury problems in the offensive line and again goes without wide receiver Isaac Bruce. Rams aren't good enough to overcome that, even against the Giants.

Notable: A matchup of two weak offenses: Rams are 20th, Giants 22nd. Rams have 11 take-aways, second-best to San Francisco's 14.

Injuries:

GIANTS: Out: RB Rodney Hampton (knee); WR Ike Hilliard (neck); LB Pete Monty (knee); C Brian Williams (eye). Questionable: DE Cedric Jones (ankle).

RAMS: Out: WR Isaac Bruce (hamstring). Doubtful: C Mike Gruttadauria (ankle). Questionable: RB Jerald Moore (elbow); G Zach Wiegert (thigh); S Toby Wright (hamstring). Probable: RB Lawrence Phillips (toe).

Kansas City (2-1) at Carolina (2-1)

Time: 1 p.m.

Line: Panthers by 5 1/2

Vs. spread: Chiefs 2-1; Panthers 1-1

Last week: Chiefs beat Bills, 22-16; Panthers beat Chargers, 26-7.

Worth watching: Carolina QB Kerry Collins starts his second game after recovering from a broken jaw. Newcomer Andre Rison leads Chiefs with 15 catches for a 17.1-yard average and a game-winning touchdown.

Outlook: Carolina hasn't played a tough schedule, but its defense has been impressive. Chiefs must shut down tight end Wesley Walls (eight TD catches in last nine games, three this season).

Notable: Carolina's defense is second in the NFL, allowing just 261.3 yards per game. The Chiefs' average yards per rush is 5.3, second in the AFC.

Injuries:

CHIEFS: Questionable: CB Darren Anderson (hamstring); WR Lake Dawson (knee); G Dave Szott (shoulder); LB Derrick Thomas (arm).

PANTHERS: Out: WR Muhsin Muhammad (wrist). Probable: T Matthew Campbell (ankle); RB Anthony Johnson (toe); DT Greg Kragen (ankle); LB Lamar Lathon (knee).

Atlanta (0-3) at San Francisco (2-1)

Time: 4 p.m.

Line: 49ers by 15

Vs. spread: Falcons 0-2; 49ers 2-1

Last week: Falcons lost to Raiders, 36-31; 49ers beat Saints, 33-7.

Worth watching: San Francisco QB Steve Young is coming off 18-for-21 showing, but that was vs. Saints. As long as he stays concussion-free, 49ers can handle most teams, certainly this one. Falcons coach Dan Reeves is one win away from 150 for his career.

Outlook: Falcons trying to come back after heartbreaking loss to Raiders, but with no running game to keep San Francisco offense off the field, what chance do they have? How about none.

Notable: San Francisco is 27th in offense, but first in defense.

Injuries:

FALCONS: Out: DE Anthony Pleasant (knee). Doubtful: WR Michael Haynes (rib). Questionable: CB Juran Bolden (neck); CB Michael Booker (hamstring); QB Chris Chandler (sternum); LB Ruffin Hamilton (hamstring). Probable: CB Ronnie Bradford abdomen); WR Bert Emanuel (ankle); G Gene Williams (ankle).

49ERS: Out: T Harris Barton (knee); CB Marquez Pope (foot); WR Jerry Rice (knee). Questionable: CB Rod Woodson (leg). Probable: QB Jeff Brohm (finger); LB Kevin Greene (toe).

Indianapolis (0-3) at Buffalo (1-2)

Time: 4 p.m.

Line: Bills by 6 1/2

Vs. spread: Colts 0-3; Bills 1-2

Last week: Colts lost to Seahawks, 31-3; Bills lost to Chiefs, 22-16.

Worth watching: Bills defensive end Bruce Smith has 3 1/2 sacks and could feast on porous Colts line, which has allowed a league-high 18 sacks. Buffalo has registered 13 sacks, second only to New England's 16 in the AFC.

Outlook: Indianapolis still is looking for its first touchdown on offense. QB Jim Harbaugh leads the league with 65.5 percent completion rate, but too many of them are short dump-offs just so he can survive. Last season, the Colts started 4-0; this season, they are in danger of starting 0-4.

Notable: Colts are last in the NFL in total offense. Bills coach Marv Levy's record vs. the AFC East is 56-28.

Injuries:

COLTS: Doubtful: S Derwin Gray (knee); T Derek West (groin). Questionable: WR Sean Dawkins (stomach); RB Roosevelt Potts (knee).

BILLS: Out: C Dusty Zeigler (knee). Doubtful: LB Sam Rogers (hamstring). Questionable: CB Jeff Burris (hamstring); S Henry Jones (toe); LB Gabe Northern (ribs); WR Steve Tasker (hamstring).

San Diego (1-2) at Seattle (1-2)

Time: 4 p.m.

Line: Seahawks by 5 1/2

Vs. spread: Chargers 1-2; Seahawks 1-2

Last week: Chargers lost to Panthers, 26-7; Seahawks beat Colts, 31-3.

Worth watching: Seattle LB Chad Brown, one of the prize catches of free agency, finally has started proving his worth. He had his fourth three-sack game last week in victory over Colts.

Outlook: The Seahawks may finally be hitting their stride. Brown is leading improving defense, and Warren Moon is filling in well at QB in place of injured John Friesz.

Notable: Seahawks defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy is set to become the first player in franchise history to start 100 consecutive games. Chargers have won five of the last six in this rivalry.

Injuries:

CHARGERS: Out: WR Latario Rachal (arm). Questionable: RB Terrell Fletcher (ankle); G Troy Sienkiewicz (thigh).

SEAHAWKS: Out: QB John Friesz (thumb); DE Martin Harrison (knee); WR James McKnight (knee). Questionable: WR Brian Blades (knee); S C.J. Richardson (hamstring). Probable: G Derrick Graham (knee).

Pub Date: 9/21/97

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