Hot favourites all catch sudden cold

American football
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The Independent Online
While the pundits in America prophesised a variety of Super Bowl winners before the season started, there was virtual unanimity as to who would win the three divisions in the National Football Conference. Dallas, Green Bay and San Francisco, it was felt, were all but certainties to retain their titles.

Despite Dallas's faltering start, little occurred in the early skirmishing to revise those predictions, but Sunday's remarkable set of results saw all three beaten, and provided further evidence that we may be in for a compellingly combustible campaign.

Perhaps the biggest surprise came in Minnesota, where the Vikings beat the Packers 30-21. In storming to a 3-0 start the Pack had crushed all opponents with sufficent elan to suggest that the Vikings could only be added to the list of hapless victims.

True, the unfancied and unfashionable Vikes were also unbeaten, but their victories were less convincing and most of the news surrounding the team had focused on the scandal involving their head coach, Dennis Green, and a woman who claimed he had paid her to have an abortion.

That may change after a thrilling encounter in which the Vikings trailed 17-14 in the fourth quarter. The game-breaking touchdown came from Robert Smith's 37-yard run, but just as important was the pressure Minnesota exerted on Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre, who was sacked seven times.

The 49ers might have been expected to take full advantage of a Pack set- back, but after two comfortable home wins the 49ers visited Carolina, only to find they had left their art in San Francisco. They succumbed 23-7 to a team that has only been in the league 13 months, but is now the clear leader of the NFC West. Carolina even managed without their starting quarterback, Steve Beuerlein replacing the injured Kerry Collins. Beuerlein produced a near-flawless first half, orchestrating scoring drives on the first three possessions, against what has been regarded as the game's best defense.

The Cowboys, too, were unable to beat a back-up play-caller when they travelled to Buffalo. The obscure Todd Collins guided the Bills into the lead in the first quarter, and then watched as his team's defense humiliated the Dallas superstars. Troy Aikman was intercepted three times, while Emmitt Smith held to 25 yards as the Super Bowl champions were beaten 10-7. Given the lynch-mob mentality of sports followers in Texas, this lastest defeat - the third in four games - is bound to heighten the vilification of Barry Switzer, the Cowboys' head coach.

Switzer received the gridiron equivalent of the chairman's vote of confidence last week, with owner Jerry Jones declaring him "more vital today than he was when he got here three years ago. I think of Barry Switzer coaching the Cowboys 10 years from now". We shall see...

NFL STANDINGS

AMERICAN FOOTBALL CONFERENCE

Eastern Division

W L T PF PA

Indianapolis 3 0 0 66 44

Miami 3 0 0 98 47

Buffalo 3 1 0 56 61

New England 2 2 0 79 66

New York Jets 0 4 0 46 101

Central Division

Houston 2 1 0 82 60

Pittsburgh 2 1 0 64 47

Baltimore 1 2 0 49 74

Cincinnati 1 2 0 60 68

Jacksonville 1 3 0 79 88

Western Division

Kansas City 4 0 0 91 53

Denver 3 1 0 102 66

San Diego 3 1 0 106 97

Oakland 1 3 0 68 81

Seattle 1 3 0 61 107

NATIONAL FOOTBALL CONFERENCE

Eastern Division

W L T PF PA

Philadelphia 3 1 0 87 88

Washington 3 1 0 72 40

Arizona 1 3 0 51 103

Dallas 1 3 0 64 57

New York Giants 1 3 0 43 87

Central Division

Minnesota 4 0 0 90 65

Green Bay 3 1 0 136 56

Detroit 2 2 0 86 63

Chicago 1 3 0 55 71

Tampa Bay 0 4 0 45 99

Western Division

Carolina 3 0 0 74 33

San Francisco 2 1 0 68 34

St Louis 1 2 0 36 67

Atlanta 0 3 0 41 85

New Orleans 0 4 0 60 107

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