NEW YORK (Oct. 31, 2006) -- Two 8-0 teams?
Win this week as the NFL reaches the midpoint of its season and the Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts can match a milestone reached only three times in NFL history and not since 1990.
Remember the Portsmouth Spartans (forerunner of the Detroit Lions)? They and the Green Bay Packers were the first to go 8-0 in a season:
|1931||Green Bay Packers and Portsmouth Spartans|
|1934||Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions|
|1990||New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers|
|2006||Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts (both 7-0)|
The Colts last week tied the 1929-31 Packers as the only teams to win at least their first seven games in consecutive seasons. Green Bay started 10-0, 8-0 and 9-0 in those years.
"It's incredible," says Colts linebacker Gary Brackett. "Sometimes, people take it for granted that you're supposed to win. But 7-0 in two consecutive seasons is really something."
As the NFL reaches midseason, teams are starting to look down the road to the playoffs. "It's not over," says wide receiver Donald Driver of the 3-4 Packers, who have won their last two. "We're still in the hunt." And that hunt continues this week:
CINCINNATI BENGALS (4-3) at BALTIMORE RAVENS (5-2)
Storyline: Jamal and Chad are licking their chops.
RB Jamal Lewis of the Ravens and WR Chad Johnson of the Bengals have excelled against each other's team. Lewis has rushed for 100 yards in eight of his nine games against division-rival Cincinnati. Johnson has 772 receiving yards and six touchdowns in his last eight outings against Baltimore.
The thing is for Johnson, he and QB Carson Palmer will be confronting that Ray Lewis -Bart Scott -Ed Reed defense that leads the league in interceptions (15) and ties Chicago for total takeaways (22).
Division-champ Cincinnati swept Baltimore last year, racking up 42 points against the NFL's fifth-rated '05 defense in their second game. They face a Ravens team fresh off a four-INT, two-sack win over New Orleans in which head coach Brian Billick opened up the passing game, including play-action fakes out of running formations.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (4-3) at ST. LOUIS RAMS (4-3)
Storyline: The Battle of Missouri!
Show me? These two -- who have not played since 2002 -- are evenly matched in a lot of ways. They are both 4-3. Their quarterbacks rank No. 2 (St. Louis' Marc Bulger, 101.3) and No. 3 (Kansas City's Damon Huard, 100.4) in NFL passer rating, joining Indianapolis' Peyton Manning (108.0) as the only QBs with 100.0 ratings. And they each have NFL top-10 running backs -- KC's Larry Johnson and STL's Steven Jackson.
The battle of the day may come between Johnson and Rams MLB Will Witherspoon. Johnson comes off a monster day in KC's defeat of Seattle: 155 yards rushing on a team-record 39 carries with four overall TDs. He will be tracked by Witherspoon, an offseason UFA from Carolina who St. Louis defensive coordinator Jim Haslett believes ranks with Brian Urlacher at the position. Witherspoon leads the Rams in tackles (58), with 12 last week against San Diego.
Matchup: Huard is 4-2 as the Chiefs' starter. He faces a Rams team that is 44-15 at home since 1999.
DALLAS COWBOYS (4-3) at WASHINGTON REDSKINS (2-5) Storyline: Throw out the records -- it's 'Boys-'Skins!
With this division rivalry, you never know what's in store. The Cowboys swept the series in 2003-04, the Redskins took it last year. Then Dallas won this year's first game on Sept. 17, 27-10.
Fresh-from-a-bye Washington will face an excited Cowboys team, a Tony Romo-quarterbacked Cowboys team. After not throwing a regular-season pass from 2003-05 and relieving this year in Week 7, Romo made his first NFL start last Sunday night and rallied Dallas from a 14-point first-quarter deficit, completing 24 of 36 attempts overall for 270 yards and one TD.
Sunday will be the first time this season that Redskins starting CBs Shawn Springs and Carlos Rogers start a game together, due to injuries. Springs respects Romo. "To me, he's close to Jake Plummer or Drew Brees, one of those guys who is athletic enough to move out of the pocket, but still throw like a Matt Hasselbeck," says Springs.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (7-0) at NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (6-1) (Sunday, NBC, 8:15 P.M. ET)
Storyline: Peyton vs. Tom!
Is there anything else to say? Of course -- like new Colt Adam Vinatieri facing the club his kicks won two Super Bowls for -- but the hottest spotlight will be on QBs Peyton Manning of Indianapolis and Tom Brady of New England.
And do they ever seem primed! Both come off sterling Week 8 performances, each throwing for 300-plus yards, totaling seven TDs (Brady, four; Manning, three) with only one INT (Brady). Since Brady became a starter on Sept. 30, 2001 -- ironically in a home win over Indianapolis -- he (with 64) and Manning (59) rank Nos. 1 and 2 in the NFL in victories.
There's a lot of deja vu here. These clubs were once division rivals, but new divisions for each didn't stop them. In 2003 and 2004, they still played each other twice, with the Patriots winning both the regular-season and playoff games (the '03 AFC Championship and '04 Divisional Playoff).
They even met last year (Sunday will be the clubs' fifth consecutive game in New England), with the Colts breaking a six-game Pats series win streak (40-21). Manning threw for 321 yards and three TDs, Brady for 265 and three TDs.
"We'll play one of the best teams in the league this week," says Brady. "We'll have to play the best we've played all year."
Evenly matched?: In two key areas, they are. Colts are plus-7, Pats plus-6 in turnover margin; and the Pats tie Dallas for the league's best red-zone TD percentage (64.3) with the Colts fourth with a 63.3 mark.
OAKLAND RAIDERS (2-5) at SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (4-3) (Monday, ESPN, 8:30 P.M. ET)
Storyline: Hey, you look familiar!
These guys used to meet twice a season as members of the old AFC West. Since then, they have played only in the first year of realignment (2002) in a 31-17 Raiders victory. Monday night, each will have considerable motivation to win -- over and above that "everybody's watching," as Seahawks LB Lofa Tatupu says.
The Seahawks, tied for the NFC West lead with St. Louis, don't want to lose any ground to the Rams, who they face in Week 10. The Raiders have won their last two and definitely want to keep that up. "We're continuing to go in the right direction," says Oakland RB Zack Crockett. "We've got no room to go but up."
There will be two matchups to watch. Seahawks QB Seneca Wallace, subbing for Hasselbeck (knee) threw three TDs last week in his first NFL start. He will confront the NFL's No. 1 pass defense.
And then there will be the heavyweight matchup of Walter Jones and Derrick Burgess. LT Jones -- called "the best player in the league at any position" by former NFL O-lineman and FOX analyst Brian Baldinger -- will go against the league's 2005 sack leader, DE Burgess (16.0), who had 2.5 sacks last week against Pittsburgh.