Rating Cowboys favorites no mistake, just mystique


All the Dallas Cowboys have left is their mystique.

They'll find out how much that's worth Sunday when they face the Jacksonville Jaguars at Texas Stadium.

The Cowboys are 3-3 and haven't scored a rushing touchdown. The Jaguars are 5-1 and have James Stewart, who rushed for five touchdowns last Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Yet the Cowboys are favored by 4 1/2 points.


Because they're the Cowboys and the Jaguars are making their first trip to Dallas.

"I grew up wanting to play in that stadium," Stewart said. "I'm pretty sure I'm going to be awe-struck. Then you have to settle down and go out and play your game."

Things are so bad for the Cowboys that they're talking about how Jacksonville rebounded from a 3-5 start to make the playoffs last year.

"They were a very good football team, but they were 3-5 before they made the playoffs last year," Dallas coach Barry Switzer said. "I think if we keep working hard and keep playing with the effort we have, good things could happen."

This is the beginning of a brutal stretch for the Cowboys. They have road games coming up at Philadelphia, San Francisco and Green Bay sandwiched around home games with Arizona and Washington, then play host to Tennessee on Thanksgiving Day.

After back-to-back losses to the New York Giants and Washington, they need a win Sunday just to remain a serious contender.

The Cowboys' problems are obvious. Their offensive line has declined and Emmitt Smith is no longer the runner he once was. The result is that they're wasting a defense ranked No. 2 in the league.

But they still have their mystique, the star on their helmets and the hole in the roof.

They have to hope it's enough against a young Jacksonville team that may not realize it's playing the old Dallas Cowboys, not the Dallas Cowboys of old.

Best of the rest

Patriots at Jets: If the first game was any barometer, Tuna Bowls may live up to the hype. The Patriots' Drew Bledsoe now admits he was so fired up last month for the first meeting with former coach Bill Parcells that he went out trying to win 40-0 and almost blew the game before escaping with an overtime win.

Bledsoe got a 15-yard penalty for pushing Jets safety Victor Green and called him a "little punk." Green said that he once said to Bledsoe after the quarterback fell, "Get up, you little wimp."

Meanwhile, Patriots cornerback Jimmy Hitchcock has called Jets wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson a selfish player, prompting Johnson to reply, "If I was him, I'd be quiet. I'd hate for him to get embarrassed out there."

Tuna Bowls are starting to resemble the WWF.

Giants at Lions: Barry Sanders, who rushed for 215 yards last Sunday against Tampa Bay, meets a Giants defense that has been energized by the emergence of Danny Kanell at quarterback. With Kanell, the defensive players think they have more of a chance to win than they did with Dave Brown, so they've stepped up their play.

The Giants, trying to win four straight for the first time since 1994, haven't lost since their dreadful 13-3 defeat at St. Louis.

This is a pivotal game for both 4-3 teams. The Lions have been on a win-one, lose-one pace all year and must break that pattern to become a contender.

Worth a look

Dolphins at Ravens: At first glance, this looks like a shootout between Dan Marino and Vinny Testaverde. Marino will attack the league's worst passing defense with the No. 3 passing offense, while Testaverde will attack the 17th passing defense with the No. 2 passing offense.

Yet don't be surprised if the rushing games become a key factor. The Ravens are talking about running more after rushing just 18 times against Pittsburgh. Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson isn't happy that his rushing offense is the worst in the league, and he's going to notice the way the Steelers' Jerome Bettis ran against the Ravens' defense. Johnson may decide to give Karim Abdul-Jabbar a good workout.

Redskins at Oilers: The Oilers will draw more fans in Memphis this week because Washington, which used to be the team of the south, is in town. After drawing 17,071 last week for the Bengals, the Oilers have sold 20,000 tickets and hope to get more than 25,000 for the game.

That means the extra fans probably will be rooting for the Redskins, but the Oilers may be adjusting to being a homeless team after routing Cincinnati, 30-7, last Sunday. And they've got Eddie George to run against a Redskins defense that is ranked 29th against the rush.

By contrast, the Redskins will be missing their best runner, Terry Allen, and could be due for a letdown after the big win over Dallas.

Cardinals at Eagles: These teams are better than their 1-5 and 2-4 records indicate, and they're both desperate for a victory before the season slips away.

Eagles coach Ray Rhodes is switching from Ty Detmer to Rodney Peete at quarterback in hopes of creating a spark after the disappointing performance in Jacksonville last Sunday.

Arizona finally cracked against the Giants last Sunday after a pair of disheartening one-point losses. The Cardinals cut kicker Kevin Butler this week and replaced him with journeyman Joe Nedney.

Filling out the schedule

Broncos at Raiders: This used to be quite a rivalry dating to the AFL days, but now it's just another game on Denver's schedule. The Broncos have won four straight in the series and will attack the league's 29th-rated defense with John Elway and Terrell Davis. A victory would move the Broncos to 7-0, so they've got to worry that for the second straight year, they'll peak too soon. But this year, they have December road games against Pittsburgh and San Francisco that should keep their interest.

Bills at Colts: Since the Colts were coming off two 9-7 playoff seasons, they got a Monday night home appearance. Big mistake. They're 0-6 and ABC isn't happy about this game. Al Michaels joked last week that the Colts would be led by Johnny Unitas and Gino Marchetti and then added, "Don't we wish?"

Actually, it could be a good game because Buffalo rallied from a 26-0 deficit to beat the Colts, 37-35, last month. And the Bills are hurting at quarterback. Todd Collins has a sprained shoulder, so they'll go with Alex Van Pelt if Collins can't play.

Steelers at Bengals: After finishing 7-2 under Bruce Coslet in 1996, the Bengals are 1-5 but face a Pittsburgh team that has had problems lately with division road games and lost in DTC Cincinnati last year. If Bengals quarterback Jeff Blake starts poorly, the fans will be screaming for Boomer Esiason, but the former Maryland star is being supportive of Blake and reminding fans that at the age of 36, he's no longer the answer.

49ers at Falcons: Who knows how good the 49ers are? Their first three wins came against St. Louis, New Orleans and Atlanta, and now they're in the process of repeating that schedule, beating the Rams last Sunday and playing at New Orleans next week. The 49ers have won six of the last seven meetings with the Falcons and should have little trouble repeating their 34-7 rout earlier this season.

Panthers at Saints: Both teams made quarterback changes this week. Carolina's Dom Capers ended his one-week benching of Kerry Collins and will bring the troubled young quarterback back Sunday.

Saints coach Mike Ditka finally gave up on Heath Shuler last Sunday and will go with Danny Wuerffel. Since the Saints have won two games and have probably blown a chance to draft Peyton Manning, they have to hope that Wuerffel has a future.

Seahawks at Rams: Warren Moon, only a month away from turning 41, is trying to get to the playoffs one more time after losing out to Brad Johnson in Minnesota. The Seahawks, coming off a bye, play the Rams and Raiders back-to-back before going to Denver. In St. Louis, Dick Vermeil is finding what a huge rebuilding job he has ahead of him, and that Tony Banks has a long way to go to show he can play quarterback in the NFL.

Vito Stellino's power rankings

1. Denver: Rested and ready after the bye week.

2. Green Bay: Mike Holmgren gave the Packers the bye week off.

3. San Francisco: 49ers get another cakewalk game.

4. New England: It's time for Tuna Bowl II.

5. Pittsburgh: Kordell Stewart made a fast recovery.

6. Minnesota: Vikings keep pulling out close games.

7. Jacksonville: Young team makes its first trip to Big D.

8. Tampa Bay: Bucs have to regroup during bye week.

9. Kansas City: Battle of Missouri next week in St. Louis.

10. Dallas: A crumbling dynasty.

11. Miami: Dan Marino can't wait to throw against the Ravens.

12. Washington: Redskins are warming up for the Ravens.

13. Philadelphia: Is Rodney Peete any better than Ty Detmer?

14. New York Jets: Keyshawn Johnson is talking trash this week.

15. New York Giants: Even defense is better with Danny Kanell at QB.

16. Detroit: Barry Sanders isn't slowing down.

17. Buffalo: Will Bills rebound at Indianapolis?

18. Ravens: Is secondary ready for Marino?

19. Carolina: Last year seems like a long time ago.

20. Arizona: Kevin Butler took the fall this week.

21. Oakland: So did Larry Brown.

22. San Diego: Chargers won't need 10 days to prepare for Colts.

23. St. Louis: Tony Banks is struggling to find form.

24. Seattle: John Friesz has lost the QB job.

25. Cincinnati: The fans want Boomer Esiason to step in.

26. Tennessee: Maybe the Oilers don't need fans.

27. New Orleans: Now it's Danny Wuerffel's turn.

28. Indianapolis: Not ready for "Monday Night Football."

29. Atlanta: Fodder for the 49ers this week.

30. Chicago: Bears need to work on the two-point conversion.

Pub Date: 10/17/97

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