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IT'S THE BATTLE OF UNBEATENS -- TIMES TWO

Two games matching undefeated teams make this an interesting weekend in the NFL, but that's only half the story.

The impressive Miami Dolphins (2-0) play at St. Louis (2-0) in an interconference match of undefeated teams. The other battle of unbeatens is a total surprise -- Cincinnati (2-0) at San Diego (2-0). The Bengals and Chargers won only five games combined last season.

Those games and the visit of Super Bowl champion Baltimore (1-1) to Denver (2-0) top the schedule. But on the flip side there are two games on the schedule -- Kansas City (0-2) at Washington (0-2) and Pittsburgh (0-1) at the Bills (0-2) -- matching teams from the NFL's endangered list.

Parity appears to be dead in the NFL. Nearly a third, 10 of 31, of the NFL's teams are headed for deep trouble due to a lack of talent, especially at quarterback, injuries and turmoil in the locker room.

For, example, the Washington Redskins have not scored a touchdown yet. They've fired their quarterback, Jeff George, and seem rife with dissension.

The Detroit Lions (0-2) also are working on their second quarterback with disastrous results.

Minnesota is 0-2 and apparently coach Dennis Green is losing some control. Also, the Vikings haven't had to face the Buccaneers and Packers yet.

The Seattle Seahawks (1-1) have not produced a touchdown yet.

Both of the Chiefs' losses have been at Arrowhead where they are supposedly tough.

New England (0-2) has lost quarterback Drew Bledsoe for an indefinite period from a team that already was hurting.

Buffalo is last in the league in defense and has offensive problems starting with quarterback Rob Johnson, who has been ineffective.

The Arizona Cardinals (0-1) are pathetic on defense.

Dallas (0-2) is at rock bottom with no proven quarterback, no run defense and a pass defense that Doug Flutie carved up last week.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, also looking for their first touchdown, are shaky at quarterback and face the prospect of future division games against Baltimore and Tennessee (two each).

It's not a pretty picture.

Here's a quick look at this weekend's games:

Game of the Day

Ravens (1-1) at Broncos (2-0)

TV: Ch. 4, 4:15 p.m.

The line: Broncos favored by 4 1/2

The scoop: Broncos look unbeatable with Brian Griese, believe it or not, performing as effectively as Peyton Manning of the Colts. Denver WR Rod Smith is on pace for a 184-catch season! Something seems wrong with the Ravens besides the obvious lack of a running game (29th in the league).

Outlook: Even with Terrell Davis out of the Denver lineup, beating the Broncos at home appears to be too much for a Ravens team that simply can't score. Denver 20-10.

Top Attractions

Dolphins (2-0) at Rams (2-0)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Rams by 5 1/2

The scoop: Miami already owns victories over two AFC divisional winners. The strength of the speedy Dolphins' defense is at cornerback where Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain and rookie Jamar Fletcher go up against the Rams' fleet of receivers.

Outlook: Dolphins defense pulls out 27-24 win.

Saints (1-0) at Giants (1-1)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Giants by 3

The scoop: Saints' offense may be rusty after two-weeks layoff, but biggest problem will be cracking Giants defense. WR Joe Jurevicius emerging as Giants' go-to receiver. QB Kerry Collins, a former Penn Stater like Jurevicius, played especially well at home at the end of the 2000 season.

Outlook: Giants get an emotional lift in first home game and defense handles Saints, 28-13.

Buccaneers (1-0) at Vikings (0-2)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Buccaneers by 2

The scoop: Bucs were unimpressive in beating Dallas and the Vikings have been upset twice.

Outlook: Home team has won last six games in the series between the teams. Vikings are really up against it and respond as home underdog with 21-17 win.
Bengals (2-0) at Chargers (2-0)

Kickoff: 4:15 p.m.

The line: Chargers by 6

The scoop: All Doug Flutie (32-14 as an NFL starter) does is win. Flutie is directing an attack that is averaging 37:17 in time of possession. Chargers are fourth in the league in defense but Bengals RB Corey Dillon and WRs Darnay Scott and Peter Warrick will be a good test.

Outlook: It's a shame one of these Cinderellas has to lose. Flutie squeaks one out in slugfest, 13-10.

Best of the Rest

49ers (1-1) at Jets (1-1)

TV: Monday, Ch. 7, 9 p.m.

The line: Jets by 3

The scoop: Niners QB Jeff Garcia threw for seven TDs with just one interception and a 99.6 passing rating against AFC last year. Jets are looking for fifth straight Monday Night Football victory, most recent was last year's comeback from a 23-point deficit against Miami.

Outlook: Niners receivers redeem themselves after bad day in loss to the Rams last Sunday. San Francisco, 31-21.

Packers (2-0) at Panthers (1-1)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Packers by 3 1/2

The scoop: Packers QB Brett Favre is back on top of his game, RB Ahman Green leads the NFL in rushing and the defense has dominated weak Detroit and Washington offenses.

Outlook: Packers avenge embarrassing 31-14 Monday Night Football loss in Charlotte last season, 27-10.
Seahawks (1-1) at Raiders (1-1)

Kickoff: 4:15 p.m.

The line: Raiders by 10 1/2

The scoop: Seattle QB Matt Hasselbeck has worst passer rating (46.6) in the AFC, which is really something when you look at who he had to beat out for the honor. Trent Dilfer is waiting in the wings. Home opener for Raiders, who have won nine of last 10 in Oakland.

Outlook: You can't beat the Raiders if you can't score. Oakland, 31-10.

Browns (1-1) at Jaguars (2-0)

Kickoff: 4:15 p.m.

The line: Jaguars by 9

The scoop: The Browns have never beaten the Jaguars and were 48-0 victims in last visit to Jacksonville. Under Butch Davis, though, this is not a demoralized Cleveland team, but one that is actually improving week to week. Stacey Mack starts for injured Fred Taylor at RB for the Jags.

Outlook: Browns make it close. Jacksonville, 17-14.

Falcons (1-1) at Cardinals (0-1)

TV: Ch. 29, 4 p.m.

The line: Falcons by 3

The scoop: Fox Network must love this one. Bird Bowl is only NFC game in late afternoon time slot and goes up nationally against Baltimore-Denver on CBS. Will anybody be watching? Cards were hopelessly outclassed at home by Denver last week.

Outlook: Falcons, 28-23.

Steelers (0-1) at Bills (0-2)

TV: Ch. 4, 1 p.m.

The line: Steelers by 3

The scoop: Bills offense is struggling, defense is giving up big plays by the ton and the new coaching staff is already feeling the heat. Things will only get worse. Steelers, who have not played a home game yet, are looking for their first touchdown.

Outlook: Not counting the Bills' 1992 playoff win at Three Rivers, the home team has won the last 12 games in this series dating to Chuck Knox's debut as Buffalo coach in 1978. That streak ends today, 24-9.

Cowboys (0-2) at Eagles (1-1)

TV: ESPN, 8:30 p.m.

The line: Eagles by 14

The scoop: The way Philadelphia handled Seattle on the road was convincing. Even if RB Duce Staley (shoulder) is held out, Eagles should be too much for 'Boys to handle.

Outlook: Eagles, 24-3.

Colts (2-0) at Patriots (1-1)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Colts by 12

The scoop: Tom Brady, who didn't even win a regular starting job at Michigan, will open at QB in place of Drew Bledsoe. It would have been interesting to see what defensive scheme Bill Belichick of the Pats came up with in dealing with Manning & Co., but now it makes no difference.

Outlook: Colts not quite as overpowering as they looked against Bills. Indy, 31-7.

Dog of the Day

Chiefs (0-2) at Redskins (0-2)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Chiefs by 3

The scoop: Has any team in NFL history unraveled faster than the Redskins? Well-traveled Tony Banks gets the start at QB for the departed Jeff George. KC quarterback Trent Green returns to face his old team while Marty Schottenheimer will be coaching against Chiefs team he directed for 10 seasons.

Outlook: Chiefs and Steelers are winless road teams who are favored this week, which tells you something about the opposition. Redskins pull together for an ugly 16-13 win.
e-mail: mnorthrop@buffnews.com

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