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Week 8 preview: Colts, Bears aim for 7-0

NEW YORK (Oct. 24, 2006) -- Tony's approaching Curly.

And what Tony Dungy's Indianapolis Colts can accomplish this week has been done only once before in the 87-year history of the NFL -- start a season at 7-0 in consecutive years.

Head coach Curly Lambeau's Green Bay Packers performed the feat three years in a row from 1929-31, finishing with the best record in the NFL all three seasons.

Dungy would like to repeat that end-of-season result, but knows his Colts have a long way to go. "It's hard to win games in the NFL," he says as Indy prepares to play at Denver. "You don't want to take it for granted."

Consecutive seasons of at least 7-0 starts:

Team Year Consecutive winsto start season
Green Bay Packers 1929 10-0
Green Bay Packers 1930 8-0
Green Bay Packers 1931 9-0
Indianapolis Colts 2005 13-0
Indianapolis Colts 2006 6-0

The Colts aren't the only team looking to extend a spotless record in Week 8. The Chicago Bears return to action after a bye when they host San Francisco and look to reach 7-0 for the first time in 21 years, matching their 1985 Super Bowl XX championship season when they started 12-0.

So as Halloween approaches, NFL fans should get ready for tricks, treats, and more hair-raising, last-play finishes:

ATLANTA FALCONS (4-2) at CINCINNATI BENGALS (4-2)
Storyline: "If he gets in the open field, it's going to be a long day."

So says Cincinnati DE Justin Smith about Atlanta QB Michael Vick. But Smith and his mates have a plan to defense "Mr. Unpredictable" -- take care in rushing him.

Smith and DE cohort Robert Geathers each have six sacks apiece, ranking them in the top 10 in the NFL in the category. Their plan to contain Vick, a top-20 rusher with the highest average (8.6) who threw a career-high four TDs last week? "You have to be careful the way you rush," says Smith. "You can't do those sweeping rushes. You've got to stay in front of your blocker. With Vick, you run past him and he's gone."

Meanwhile, Vick and Cincy QB Carson Palmer can utilize strong running games in top-10 rushers Warrick Dunn of Atlanta -- the fleet-type back -- and bulldozer Rudi Johnson of Cincinnati.

NFC nemesis: Cincinnati has won nine of its past 10 games against NFC opponents.

ST. LOUIS RAMS (4-2) at SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (4-2)
Storyline: Bolts to test Rams' new offense?

Could be. San Diego has the league's top defense. It will go against a St. Louis offense that is more conservative than in the old "Greatest Show" days -- one that utilizes the running game more.

That said, Rams WR Torry Holt leads the league in TD catches (7). And St. Louis QB Marc Bulger -- who has never had a game in his career in which he completed less than 50 percent of his passes -- has been checking off to RB Steven Jackson, whose 25 catches make him the team's third leading receiver. Of course, when it comes to double-threats, the Chargers' LaDainian Tomlinson may be one the scariest. Tomlinson -- he and Jackson rank in the top 10 in NFL scrimmage yards -- caught and threw a TD pass last week.

Which will prevail?: SD has not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 17 home games, STL is 17-2 vs. the AFC since 1998.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (6-0) at DENVER BRONCOS (5-1)
Storyline: One loss between 'em!

And two wins by the Colts the Broncos surely remember. Those came in successive Wild Card games in 2003 and 2004 (the last time they played) in Indianapolis. But now they meet in Denver, where the Broncos have won their past 13.

It will be the usual high-powered Colts offense (No. 3 in the NFL) against the Broncos' No. 4 defense that has surrendered a league-low 7.3 points per game, allowed two TDs, and held five consecutive opponents to single digits.

"To beat a team like the Colts, you have to be consistent," says Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan. "That's offense, defense and special teams. On defense, we have to play at another level because we're playing a quarterback (Peyton Manning) who is very consistent."

The key to the game could be Denver RB Tatum Bell, fresh off his third 100-yard effort of the year, going against Indy's 31st-ranked NFL rush defense.

DALLAS COWBOYS (3-3) at CAROLINA PANTHERS (4-3) (Sunday, NBC, 8:15 P.M. ET) Storyline: Pick your scenario.

Keyshawn meets his old team ... T.O. matches up with Smith ... top 10 rushers go at it.

Panthers WR Keyshawn Johnson faces the club he led in catches (71) last season and receiving yards (981) the year before. But that's only part of Sunday night's receiving fireworks. Two of the best after-the catch wideouts in the NFL will go at it -- Dallas' Terrell Owens and Carolina's Steve Smith. Owens is tied for second in the league in TD catches (5), Smith is second in receptions (39).

But the receiver Carolina CB Chris Gamble thinks can be most destructive is the Cowboys' Terry Glenn. "He doesn't get the credit he deserves," says Gamble. "His talent should place him in the big-name receiver category."

As if all these guys aren't hard enough to stop, two of the top 10 rushers in the league will be pounding it -- Dallas' Julius Jones (No. 6, 524 yards) and Carolina's DeShaun Foster (No. 10, 490).

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (5-1) at MINNESOTA VIKINGS (4-2) (Monday, ESPN, 8:30 P.M. ET) Storyline: Clash of top 10s in rush offense and defense.

And those rush offenses are led by not-yet-household names. But there is new Vikings RB Chester Taylor -- after backing up Jamal Lewis for four years in Baltimore -- second in NFL rushing (590) after coming off a mammoth Week 7 game (169 yards), including the longest run in Minnesota history (95 yards). "He's a special kind of back, in that he doesn't hit the hole and then keep running into the hole," says Seattle DE Bryce Fisher. "He hits it to see if you're in there, and if you're not in there, then he'll keep going. If you're in there, then he'll look to somewhere else to go."

A rookie leads the Pats' rushing game in conjunction with veteran Corey Dillon. First-round draft choice Laurence Maroney tops New England and all NFL rookies in rushing with 361 yards. "Boy, he's fast," says Patriots FB Heath Evans. "He has great feel. You look at film of some of the stuff he does and you say, 'How did you do that?'" These fellows and their mates go against top-10 rushing defenses, which kept their Week 7 opponents to under 100 total rush yards. If New England DE Richard Seymour (elbow) is limited, he will be spelled by Jarvis Green -- a sub who leads the Pats in sacks with 4.5.

And get ready, Metrodome: New England has won five in a row on the road, outscoring opponents 156-64.

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