Pressure, weather favor Patriots Dolphins can't handle pass rush or the cold

On the line

December 26, 1997|By Gerald Strine | Gerald Strine,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

I've watched the Miami Dolphins play quite a few times this season and am more confused than ever before about what's going on.

Why won't Jimmy Johnson let Dan Marino play like Dan Marino? I've been a great admirer of both the coach and the quarterback over the years. But why do these Dolphins run so frequently on first down?

It can't be Marino's idea. I might understand Johnson's obsession with attempting to establish a running game if Miami had a strong, talented running back or an offensive line that blocks well for the run. The Dolphins have neither.

Then again, Marino's receivers aren't special either. But Marino's arm is still the best thing Johnson has going on offense. So why did he break up what was once a pretty good pass-blocking line to the point where the veteran quarterback is under the most severe pass-rush pressure of his career?

Sunday, in Foxboro, temperatures in the teens and snow flurries are forecast, hardly ideal conditions for Marino or New England quarterback Drew Bledsoe to throw the ball. Bledsoe has better receivers and, if Curtis Martin can return from a separated shoulder, a solid runner to accept his handoffs.

I lost Monday night, picking the Dolphins as a 2 1/2 -point favorite. Now they're a 5-point 'dog.

New England rarely wins when I risk mythical money on them. But this is the playoffs. You must go with something. So make it a mythical $100 on the Pats.

They've performed admirably the past five weeks. And the cold temperatures should provide Johnson with another opportunity to test his beloved running game.

Vikings at Giants (-4): It's tough giving points with New York. The Giants' offense is so limited, what with young Danny Kanell throwing to a common corps of receivers. The Giants have covered the point spread only twice in six opportunities as the favorite.

Incredibly, Jim Fassel's club posted a 10-5-1 record (9-6-1 against the spread) and captured the NFC East while being an underdog in 10 games!

Minnesota has much more firepower on offense. The trouble is that backup quarterback Randall Cunningham's passing is erratic. If, as the forecast suggests, it's going to be cold at the Meadowlands tomorrow, the conditions would favor the Giants and their defense.

Take New York and give 4 for a mythical $100.

Jaguars at Broncos (-7 1/2 ): The Jaguars eliminated Denver from the playoffs last year, upsetting the Broncos at Mile High Stadium as a much bigger 'dog than they are this time around.

I like the Jags, especially the offense, but they're no longer taking anyone by surprise and I still believe Denver is the best team in the AFC despite having lost three of its past six.

There's nothing wrong with the Denver offense that couldn't be corrected if John Elway's established receivers would quit dropping his passes. Look for the Broncos' defense to turn in a spirited effort at home while Terrell Davis runs effectively on Jacksonville's front seven.

Take Denver for a mythical $100 -- even though the number is a trifle high.

Lions at Buccaneers (-2 1/2 ): The Lions defeated the Bucs, 27-9, as 5 1/2 -point underdogs at Tampa Bay on Oct. 12 after the Bucs had upset the Lions, 24-17, as 4 1/2 -point 'dogs at Detroit on Sept. 7.

It's time for the favorite to win one in this series and Tampa will be helped considerably by the injury to Detroit All-Pro wide receiver Herman Moore, who is operating at about 50 percent.

If the Lions' Barry Sanders breaks loose as he did the last visit to Tampa, this game could be over quickly because the Buccaneers' offense doesn't scare anyone. I'll place my trust in Tony Dungy's defense, taking Tampa for a mythical $100 and giving 2 1/2 .

The numbers

Last week's record: 4-1. Net for week: plus $125.

Season record: 49-45-5. Net for season: plus $805.

Pub Date: 12/26/97

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