No Question About It: Bills-Cowboys Big for Both Teams

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Week 4 and the questions:

1. When was the last time there were eight undefeated teams after the first three weeks of the season?

2. What’s the biggest--not necessarily the best--but the biggest game of the weekend?

3. Why will Robert Irsay become a charter member of the Indianapolis Colts’ new “Ring of Honor” Monday night?

4. Are the Denver Broncos for real?

5. What’s the best chance for an upset this week?

And the answers:

1. Never. Including the bye era, which began in 1990.

2. The Dallas Cowboys against the Buffalo Bills. Both teams aspire for great things but are coming off losses, and instead of getting better, their problems are increasing. The Bills will be without quarterback Jim Kelly, and can the Cowboys afford to open the season 1-3?


3. There are two answers: 1) Robert Irsay will be honored for all the great things he has contributed to professional football; 2) Robert Irsay has been seriously ill, and his family wishes to pay tribute while it still can.

4. The Broncos have beaten three teams with a combined record of 0-9, and they have done it with defense and a running game. Today they take on the Kansas City Chiefs, the team they will have to defeat to win the AFC West title, and to do so they will probably have to turn the game over to John Elway. Nothing has changed; as Elway goes, so go the Broncos, and at age 36, today we find out what he has left.

5. Minnesota over Green Bay. The Packers have been comfortable at home and are coming off back-to-back big games and moving indoors onto artificial turf. Of course, if they are as good as everybody thinks they are, they shrug all that off and steamroller the Vikings, who aren’t that good.



San Francisco (2-0) at Carolina (2-0), 10 a.m., Channel 11: The 49ers have the No. 1 defense--No. 2 against the run and No. 1 against the pass--and Carolina has Steve Beuerlein at quarterback in place of Kerry Collins (knee). John Kasay, who has 10 field goals, goes for a record of 14 in a three-game span. It’s not good when your most exciting player is a kicker.

--Say what? Carolina is giving up an NFL-high 5.5 yards per carry. Big deal; the 49ers have no running game.

--Player to watch: Carolina rookie running back Tim Biakabutuka’s father will be at Ericsson Stadium to see his son play for the first time ever.


--Finally: San Francisco is 1-1 against expansion Carolina, 73-23 against the rest of the league since 1990. So much for expansion inflating one’s stats.


San Diego (2-1) at Oakland (1-2), 1 p.m., Channel 4: The Chargers scored a total of 19 points against the Raiders in two games a year ago and still managed to win one. The Raiders are averaging 10.1 points per game this season. No-Doz, please, for those who show up.

--Say what? The Raiders’ great concern every week is protecting quarterback Jeff Hostetler. Relax, as a team, the punchless Chargers have two sacks.

--Player to watch: Stan Humphries. The Charger running game is a shambles, and Humphries, who passed for 305 yards against the Raiders last year, is third in the AFC with 110 passing attempts. Besides, what does a team do when it falls behind? Pass, pass, pass.

--Finally: Cornerback Dwayne Harper had three interceptions in the last meeting with the Raiders; whom do the Chargers put on Tim Brown now that Harper is doubtful because of a hamstring injury?


Dallas (1-2) at Buffalo (2-1), 1 p.m., Channel 11: The Cowboys are still two games away from the return of wide receiver Michael Irvin and once again will not have the services of tight end Jay Novacek. Buffalo quarterback Jim Kelly is off to the worst start of his 11-year career, and that’s the good news. The bad news is he can’t play because of a hamstring injury, forcing Todd Collins into the game. The best defense wins.


--Say what? Since 1991, Dallas is 16-5 against AFC opponents. Does that include Super Bowl victories?

--Player to watch: Running back Emmitt Smith, who once went 731 touches without a fumble, has fumbled once in each game this season. Just how long can Barry Switzer tolerate this?

--Finally: Dallas defensive end Charles Haley tried carrying the Cowboys on his back; now he has been advised to rest his ailing back for three weeks.


Philadelphia (2-1) at Atlanta (0-2), 5 p.m., TNT: The Falcons have the 24th-ranked defense, which suggests they better make Ricky Watters fumble. Watters is third in the NFC in total yards from scrimmage. The best thing going for the Falcons--they are 8-2 in the last 10 home games.

--Say what? Wide receiver Chris T. Jones has broken onto the scene for the Eagles with his first 100-yard game and now ranks second in the NFL with 266 yards.

--Player to watch: Jeff George. The Atlanta quarterback has thrown 14 touchdowns with four interceptions at home over the last two seasons.


--Finally: The Falcons have won 15 in a row when limiting opponents to 20 points or fewer. Fat chance here.


New York Giants (0-3) at New York Jets (0-3): The Giants have lost 14 of their last 19; the Jets 21 of 24. It’s a classic, baby.

--Say what? The Giants went 23 possessions without scoring before last week; on 14 of those possessions, they ran three plays and punted.

--Player to watch: Neil O’Donnell. The Jet quarterback passed for more than 300 yards in back-to-back games for the first time in his career the last two weeks. And lost.

--Finally: Somebody has to win. A tie would be “a tragedy,” said Coach Dan Reeves.

Arizona (0-3) at New Orleans (0-3): The Cardinals will start their 13th quarterback--Kent Graham--since moving to Arizona in 1988. The Saints will stay with Jim Everett. Who’s in bigger trouble?

--Say what? The Cardinals rank last in the league in points scored per game and last in rushing.


--Player to watch: Wide receiver Michael Haynes, who has 10 games with at least two touchdown catches for the Saints, has one fumble in eight years.

--Finally: New Orleans’ defense has given up only one passing touchdown and now gets to pick on Graham, who will be making his fifth NFL start.

Seattle (0-3) at Tampa Bay (0-3): The two 1976 expansion teams remain doormats. The Seahawks are 140-171 since joining the league, the Buccaneers 94-216-1.

--Say what? Seahawk defensive end Michael Sinclair, who had 5 1/2 sacks a year ago, has seven in the last two games.

--Player to watch: Running back Reggie Brooks. Brooks takes over for Jerry Ellison, who was filling in for unsigned Errict Rhett. Rhett’s longest run was 27 yards in 616 carries; Brooks went for 31 and 56 against the Broncos.

--Finally: The Seahawks return to Tampa Bay for first time since 1976 when they earned the franchise’s first victory, 13-10. Tampa Bay is still looking for its first franchise victory, or so it seems.


Jacksonville (1-2) at New England (1-2): The Patriots have the fourth-best defense in the league and little to show for it. The Jaguars have the fourth-best passing attack, but couldn’t score a touchdown against Oakland.

--Say what? The Jaguars appear confused in alternating between running backs James Stewart and Natrone Means. What’s to confuse? Stewart has produced 15 first downs running and receiving.

--Player to watch: New England quarterback Drew Bledsoe became the youngest and most inconsistent player to reach the 11,000-yard mark in NFL history.

--Finally: The Patriot defense has six interceptions in the last two games and Jacksonville quarterback Mark Brunell is averaging two interceptions per game.


Washington (2-1) at St. Louis (1-1): Gus Frerotte and Steve Walsh have combined to throw one touchdown pass this season--off a faked field-goal attempt. The good ones take a little longer to warm up.

--Say what? A newspaper poll had fans voting 57.4% in favor of unsigned Mark Rypien at quarterback for the Rams. Rookie Tony Banks was second at 32.1% and Walsh third at 10.5%. The burning questions we now miss in L.A.


--Player to watch: Washington running back Terry Allen has 13 100-yard rushing games, including a pair this season. The Rams’ rushing defense is third in the NFC.

--Finally: The Redskins lose wide receiver Michael Westbrook because of a knee injury; Westbrook probably loses a chance for a $375,000 performance bonus for the second consecutive season if he doesn’t catch 41 passes. A year ago he finished with 34.


Chicago (1-2) at Detroit (1-2): Both offenses have been missing in action. Chicago ranks 14th, Detroit 16th, and each starting quarterback has had five passes intercepted.

--Say what? Since Wayne Fontes became coach of the Lions, 29 players have gone to the Pro Bowl. In five previous years, the Lions had three Pro Bowl players.

--Player to watch: Rookie Bobby Engram starts in place of Michael Timpson at wide receiver for Chicago and becomes part of offense that can’t score.

--Finally: The Bears cut Kevin Butler, then Carlos Huerta and will now go with Jeff Jaeger, the former Raider kicker. And everybody knows that Butler could have done it all along.



Green Bay (3-0) at Minnesota (3-0): The Packers have the No. 1 offense and No. 2 defense and it would appear the Vikings have no good reason to show up.

--Say what? Minnesota ranks 27th on defense but has forced 10 turnovers resulting in 31 points.

--Player to watch: Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre is 0-4 in the last four games in Minnesota and has been knocked out of the last two.

--Finally: In the last 10 games, Favre has thrown 31 touchdown passes with four interceptions in leading the Packers to a 9-1 mark.

Denver (3-0) at Kansas City (3-0): The Chiefs have dominated the AFC West with 11 consecutive victories, but Denver went to the Super Bowl in three of its previous four 3-0 starts.

--Say what? Denver is the No. 1 rushing team, averaging 4.9 yards per run; in the 36-year history of the franchise, the team has never averaged better than 4.5.


--Player to watch: Dale Carter. The Chiefs had Carter playing defense and offense last week, and in Deion Sanders fashion he caught three passes for 61 yards, including a touchdown grab.

--Finally: The Chiefs are 5-11 under Coach Marty Schottenheimer against the Broncos, and remember what Elway did to Schottenheimer’s Browns in the playoffs?