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Undefeated Seahawks, Bears face off in Week 4

(Sept. 26, 2006) -- It's a great storyline week in the NFL. Then again, when isn't it?

Two undefeated teams clash on Sunday night ... Favre goes against McNabb on Monday night ... the top two defenses meet ... Brady faces Palmer ... and Peyton Manning visits old friends.

As most teams reach the quarter mark of their season this week, NFL scenarios keep on bubbling. As does the unpredictability. Just look at last year at this time. Six teams were above .600 (2-1 Atlanta, Dallas, Kansas City, Miami, Philadelphia and St. Louis) and all missed the playoffs. Two clubs were below .500 (1-2 Carolina and Chicago) and made the playoffs.

"We've got a long way to go," says New York Jets quarterback Chad Pennington, speaking, in reality, for every NFL player and coach. "Each week, we find out a little more about ourselves."

Like this week.

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (2-0) at BALTIMORE RAVENS (3-0)

Storyline: The top two "Ds" go at it.

All you need to know about these two -- Chargers No. 1 in NFL defense, Ravens No. 2 -- can be found in the league's "touchdowns allowed" column. In five games (San Diego had a bye last week), the two teams have surrendered a total of three TDs.

"We play with the attitude that we will be a dominating defense," says Chargers CB Quentin Jammer. "It's all about attitude." Of course, the Ravens, with the likes of LB Ray Lewis and S Ed Reed, don't lack in that department. They lead the league in takeaways/giveaways with a plus-10 margin.

The Ravens will test first-year San Diego starter Philip Rivers. They lead the NFL in interceptions with seven, spread among six players -- the most on any team in the league.

The key to breaking the defensive grip of these teams could come from the muscle and speed of two of the best tight ends in the business -- San Diego's Antonio Gates (6-4, 260) and Baltimore's Todd Heap (6-5, 252).

LT's TDs: Chargers RB LaDainian Tomlinson has scored a touchdown in 24 of his past 30 games.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (2-1) at CINCINNATI BENGALS (3-0)

Storyline: Brady vs. Palmer.

The starting quarterbacks in this one -- New England's Tom Brady and Cincinnati's Carson Palmer -- are similar in a lot of ways. California-bred ... big-school-trained (Brady, Michigan; Palmer, USC) ... and almost identical in key stats after their first 32 (Palmer) starts: Brady -- 21-11 record, 49 TD, 84.8 passer rating; Palmer -- 20-12, 56 TD, 90.4.

Of course, there is one big difference, one that Palmer wants to emulate. Brady has won three Super Bowls.

The matchup could hinge on the wide-receiving corps. Brady has lost his two key men -- Deion Branch (Seattle) and David Givens (Tennessee). He is now working in newcomers Reche Caldwell and Doug Gabriel to go along with 14-year Patriot Troy Brown. (In Week 3, New England started the game with a three-tight-end alignment.)

Palmer, meanwhile, is in his third year of working with WRs Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Kelly Washington, and second with Chris Henry. In the last meeting of the teams (a 35-28 New England win in 2004), Houshmandzadeh led the game's receivers with 12 catches for 145 yards. "We go how far Carson takes us," says Washington. "He's a great leader and a great quarterback."

Pat stat: New England, coming off a Week 3 loss to Denver, has not lost back-to-back games since Dec.16-22, 2002.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (3-0) at NEW YORK JETS (2-1)

Storyline: Colts visit familiar territory.

Indianapolis kicked off the season at the Meadowlands on Sept. 10 and now returns to face a former division foe. In the Colts' Peyton Manning era (from 1998), Indy compiled a 5-3 record against the Jets in division play. The last time the teams met at the Meadowlands, it was all Jets. In a 2002 wild-card encounter, New York dominated, 41-0 (Chad Pennington, three TD passes) -- the last time the Colts were shut out in any game, regular or postseason.

Manning and the Colts' offense -- ranked fifth in the league -- will confront a rambunctious defense in the bulldog mold of the new Jets head coach Eric Mangini. The Jets forced three turnovers -- two on forced fumbles by S Kerry Rhodes -- and had three sacks against Buffalo in their Week 3 win.

They confront one of the NFL's most-feared offenses. "Not too many teams can keep pace with those guys, the way they throw the ball around," says Jets TE Chris Baker.

Colt jolters: When Mangini was the New England Patriots' DB coach/defensive coordinator from 2000-05, they had a 7-2 record against the Colts.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (3-0) at CHICAGO BEARS (3-0)
(Sunday, NBC, 8:15 ET)

Storyline: More Mo?

Definitely, now that Seattle's 2005 NFL MVP RB Shaun Alexander will miss several weeks with a broken left foot. That puts his backup, Maurice "Mo" Morris, at the forefront as the undefeated Seahawks take on the unbeaten Bears and their Brian Urlacher-led ferocious defense.

You can't just decide to throw the ball all game when your top back goes down, so Morris ("I have a lot of confidence in Mo Morris," says Seattle head coach Mike Holmgren) will have to shoulder a big load. But as they started to do last week against the Giants, the Seahawks just may use more of their four-WR set that their Sept. 11 acquisition of Deion Branch affords them.

Meanwhile, the Seahawks' defense, led by Urlacher-MLB equivalent Lofa Tatupu, must contend with resurgent QB Rex Grossman -- finally recovered from missing most of the past three seasons to injury. Grossman has taken the Bears to their first 3-0 start since 1991 while throwing for 829 yards. "We really believe in him," says Chicago C Olin Kreutz. "We think he's that good."

No road woes: Seattle QB Matt Hasselbeck has the NFL's third-best road passer rating (102.7) over the past two seasons (Carson Palmer, 109.4; Peyton Manning, 105.9).

GREEN BAY PACKERS (1-2) at PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (2-1)(Monday, ESPN, 8:30 ET)

Storyline: No. 4 vs. No. 5.

In other words, two of the NFL's best-known quarterbacks -- Brett Favre (Packers' No. 4) and Donovan McNabb (Eagles' No. 5) -- back at it again. They have faced each other three out of the four times the teams have met over the past four seasons, with the Eagles winning all four. Last season, Roderick Hood intercepted a Favre pass in the end zone with 38 seconds left to seal a 19-14 Philly win.

The Pack comes off its first victory of the season (over Detroit) in large part because their gameplan dictated a seven-man protection scheme (with two tight ends back) to afford Favre more time than he's been getting. Result: a retro 25 for 36, 340-yard, three-TD Favre day.

Like Favre, McNabb used a lot of short passes last week in the Eagles' win over San Francisco, completing 12 of his first 16 throws for an eventual 296-yard, two-TD day. The Packers' defense -- No. 11 in the league against the rush -- will have to key on RB Brian Westbrook, coming off a 117-yard, three-TD day.

Philly vs. the North: The Eagles are 7-0 vs. NFC North teams since realignment in 2002.

NFL FACTOID

FIRST L.A. GAME: Sixty years ago this Friday (Sept. 29, 1946), the NFL played its first regular-season game in Los Angeles when the Los Angeles Rams lost to the Philadelphia Eagles, 25-14.

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