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Halloween weekend treats: big division clashes

The NFL's lone unbeaten team this year will not wear its familiar horseshoe-and-stripes outfit this Halloween weekend (they're off). But 28 other teams will sport some of America's most popular costumes -- NFL uniforms, as the league begins the turn to November.

(Oct. 25, 2005) -- The NFL's lone unbeaten team this year will not wear its familiar horseshoe-and-stripes outfit this Halloween weekend (they're off). But 28 other teams will sport some of America's most popular costumes -- NFL uniforms, as the league begins the turn to November.

The horseshoe-wearing Indianapolis Colts, the NFL's only undefeated team at 7-0, can enjoy that status for at least another two weeks due to their bye this weekend. They will prepare for their big meeting with New England in Week 9 as the 36th team in the NFL's 86-year history to attain a 7-0 record. But, the Colts say, they have a long way to go.

"It's a good start, but that's all it is," Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning said. "It doesn't guarantee anything. I'm just glad we've taken care of business these first seven weeks."

There will be a lot "TCBing," or at least attempts at it, this week, highlighted by key division battles.

And if it's anything like last week there should be a lot of tricks 'n treats:

STORYLINE: Experience vs. Youthful Exuberance.

In other words, it's 35-year-old Redskins QB Mark Brunell against 24-year-old Giants QB Eli Manning. Both teams proved last week that either approach to quarterbacking can work wonders.

Brunell directed the Redskins' biggest point outburst in 14 years with a 52-17 victory against San Francisco (56 points against Atlanta on Nov. 10, 1991). Manning engineered two touchdown drives in the final 4:11 to wipe out a 13-point deficit in topping Denver 24-23.

Both teams, along with Philadelphia, are tied for first in the NFC East. The Giants will have to contend with a balanced attack. Only Washington and Seattle have offenses with top-10 NFL rankings in overall, rush and pass offense. The Redskins will have to tightly protect the ball because the Giants have picked up on their head coach Tom Coughlin's mantra of forcing turnovers by tallying the NFL's second-most takeaways (19 to Cincinnati's 23), off which they have scored the third-most points (57; Cincinnati, 77; Indianapolis, 63).

A key could be Redskins WR Santana Moss, with four 100-yard receiving games in the past five weeks. This is a "home" game for him, having spent 2001-04 with the Giants Stadium co-tenant New York Jets.

STORYLINE: Watch it, Chiefs -- LaDainian was under 50.

Or, don't make Superman mad. The Chargers' LaDainian Tomlinson -- who many call the best RB in the NFL -- was held to a career-low 7 rushing yards last week by Philadelphia. But the record shows that LaDainian comes back big time after an "off" game.

Since his 2001 rookie year, Tomlinson has rushed for under 50 yards 10 times. In five of the 10 games after his sub-50 performance, Tomlinson has rushed for 100 yards -- twice totaling 200 yards. In the other five, he has averaged 82.4 yards.

"Tomlinson does things that are impossible for anyone to do," Chiefs head coach Dick Vermeil said. "You say, 'How did he do that?' I think he's playing better right now than I've ever seen him play."

The Chiefs have their own powerful rush package in tandem Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson, who, combined, tie Tomlinson for the second-most NFL rushing touchdowns (10; Shaun Alexander, 12).

STORYLINE: An ol' time NFC Central/North defensive battle?

Could be. This is one of only two games this week (see Baltimore-Pittsburgh below) that features teams ranked in the top 10 in the NFL in defense.

It's No. 3 Chicago against No. 9 Detroit. Brings back memories of linebackers Bill George vs. Joe Schmidt, or Mike Singletary vs. Chris Spielman. Now it's Brian Urlacher vs. Boss Bailey.

The teams are tied atop the division (Chicago beat Detroit 38-6 in Week 2) and come off victories that indicate their quarterbacking situation is in steady hands.

Rookie Kyle Orton has taken the Bears to back-to-back victories row while suffering only one interception in his past three games. Seven-year vet Jeff Garcia made his Lions debut Oct. 23 after a preseason broken leg and completed 22 of 34 for 210 yards with no interceptions or sacks while even running for a TD in a 13-10 victory against Cleveland. "He's our QB," head coach Steve Mariucci said.

Tidbit: With a victory, the 86-year-old Bears would become the first NFL club with 650 regular-season victories.

STORYLINE: One leads their division, the other is tied for the lead. Yet they've got "problems"?

All of a sudden, the Eagles -- tied for first in the NFC East -- "can't rush the ball," people say. And it's true they are a quixotic team on offense. Philadelphia leads the NFL in passing offense with almost 300 yards per game (299.7), yet sits last in rushing (57.5).

Not good, of course, says their quarterback Donovan McNabb, but we are winning, and isn't that the important thing? "We have to run the ball more," McNabb said, "but when you get into a rhythm, you have to stay with what's working."

And what was working last week for the Eagles in their victory against San Diego was the passing game. McNabb set a club record for completions, 35, out of 54 attempts.

Denver -- leading the AFC West -- is just about the opposite of the Eagles on offense, ranking No. 2 in the league in rushing and 25th in passing. But ... they are allowing late-game comebacks. On Oct. 23, it was the third such game in a row, and it cost them (see Redskins-Giants above). "We've got to finish people," Broncos S John Lynch said. "That has to be done when you have leads. We flirted with it the last couple of weeks and it caught up to us."

The game-turners could be two of the league's top 10 receivers, Philly's Terrell Owens (tied with Torry Holt for first with 44 catches) and Denver's Rod Smith (seventh, tie, 37).

BALTIMORE RAVENS (2-4) at PITTSBURGH STEELERS (4-2) (Monday night, ABC, 9 p.m. ET) STORYLINE: "Mr. Nighttime" vs. Steel 100-yard Curtain.

It's a primetime game, Pittsburgh, so watch out for Jamal Lewis.

The Ravens running back has averaged 116.0 yards in the club's past seven primetime games, with Lewis breaking the 100-yard mark in five of those outings. One was against division-rival Pittsburgh (114 yards on Dec. 28, 2003).

The thing is that the Steelers, seventh in the league against the run, have not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 18 games. "You just have to control the line of scrimmage against Lewis," Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. "You can't give him that cutback lane. He can run away from you if he gets a little bit of a crack."

The Steelers RBs -- Jerome Bettis and fleet Willie Parker -- and passing combo of QB Ben Roethlisberger and WR Hines Ward will go against one of the league's three teams (Chicago and Tampa Bay) with top-10 overall, rush and pass defensive rankings.

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