by Scott Benson

Short week, tall task.

Of all times to host the Indianapolis Colts – on a short week after a Monday night game.

The Patriots and Colts will meet again on Sunday night, the ninth game between the teams in the last six seasons. And though the Patriots hold a decided edge in these matchups (6-2, as you know, even though they’re currently on a one-game bender), there’s little doubt that the Patriots have always seen the Colts as their greatest challenge.

So here they are again, once more undefeated, fresh from a drubbing of the Broncos that the Pats can only fantasize about. Just the kind of team you want to have one fewer day to prepare for.

An added twist – the game comes nearly a year to the day after the Colts’ cathartic 40-21 trashing of a depleted Pats team that got better after, but never good enough to force a rematch.

So this is it, I guess.

More importantly, Sunday night’s game looms large in the playoff picture – a Pats loss to Indy, along with their earlier loss to Denver, could put them in a not-inconsiderable hole when it comes a first round bye. A Pats win, on the other hand, would put them in the conference lead at the halfway point, with a second-half schedule that includes – along with 7-0 Chicago – Detroit (1-6), Miami (1-6), Houston (2-5) and Tennessee (2-5).

After nine games, there’s really nothing new that can be said about this now-storied rivalry, but you think that’ll stop us? Don’t be ridiculous.

It’s never too late to introduce a new feature here at the Roundtable. So this week, we award our first three Roundtable game balls to the player we think earned special honors in Monday night’s dismissal of the Vikings. Panelists….your nominations?

Greg: How about Tully Banta-Cain. Two sacks and in the backfield all night. Actually a brilliant move by the coaching staff to utilize his speed against the Vikings massive, but lumbering, tackles. And he came through in spades.

Bruce: Laurence Maroney. Brady might be the obvious choice, but the rookie running back showed some chutzpah with his kick returns, especially nearly running one back in answer to the Vikings punt return for a TD.

Scott: I’m giving mine to Reche Caldwell. When I first laid eyes on him, I could not have imagined that a matter of weeks later, he would be taking short swing passes and pushing through defenders for critical first downs, much like the man who previously wore his number. He’s already better than I ever thought he’d be.

Let’s get it on the table — Pats and Colts, Sunday night. This game is too big to be left at the end of the column. Who’s left standing when it’s over?

Bruce: Well…I’m tempted to pick the Colts just to keep my streak alive. I just don’t see how the Colts are going to stop the Patriot offense, and I think that the Patriots D can hold off Peyton Manning and company at least a couple times. I think the Patriots are going to try and run the ball down the throats of the Colts, and try to keep Peyton’s crew off the field as much as possible. Of course, the Patriots could come with five wide as well. I’m saying Patriots, 28-24.

Scott: As we learned last year, brilliant game plans, ice water veins and history will only carry you so far, especially if you don’t have the horses to matchup with the Ponys. Their record since suggests that the Pats may have dealt with those deficiencies, but I suppose we won’t know for sure until game time. I’m certain of one thing – we fans had better be ready to go through a sixty-minute meat grinder on Sunday night, as these two great rivals will most certainly exchange heavy punches all night long. I expect both teams will move the ball with great skill and efficiency, and it will come down to a handful of plays, as most great games do. I’m going to bet that those plays will made by the emerging Patriots defense, and the Pats will leave the field on Sunday night as the mid-way leaders of the AFC. Pats 31-28.

Greg: 34-27 Patriots. Tough game to call. Patriots defense is playing great, but I have to admit the Colts offense is looking pretty awesome. As usual pre-January. Last year left a bad feeling in my stomach. But the Pats are clearly better on defense than last year. The Colts defense is worse. That’ll more than make up the difference and the Pats win.

Adam Vinatieri returns to New England this week for the first time since his Patriots career came to a quite-possibly bitter end. What are your thoughts as the Super Bowl hero comes home?

Scott: I think I’m tired of it already. His kicks in the Snow Bowl and then Super Bowl 36 are not only the greatest Patriots moments, but they’re among the entire league’s greatest moments. But news flash….sometimes players change teams. It’s the 21st Century, after all. I’d be surprised if most people aren’t at least partially at ease with it. Naturally, the media steps in to ruin everything. Their contrived, trumped-up hysteria – like Wednesday’s ridiculous Belichick press conference – doesn’t add anything to this story; it only takes away. It just leaves everybody pissed off (how could you not be, when one mediot after another gleefully hopes for a home team loss by a field goal?) and choosing up sides. Bloodsuckers. I’ll be glad when newspapers finally die and we can watch the f**king game in peace.

Greg: I don’t have any. I just want to watch the game. He’s gone, I appreciate what he did. But I don’t have any thoughts on his return.

Bruce: Loved the guy while he was here. He’s not here anymore. He comes on the field to kick, I hope he misses. Couldn’t be any simpler.

The Colts had an off-season not too dissimilar to the Patriots’ – most notably the departure of all-pro runner Edgerrin James, who was thought to be a major part of Indy’s league-leading offense. Are the Colts as good without James as they were with him?

Greg: No, they’re not. Still good and Joseph Addai is playing well. But he still isn’t as good as James was in the Colts offense (and interestingly, James isn’t as good as he was in the Colts offense either).

Bruce: It’s curious that the personnel losses that the Colts suffered this offseason weren’t talked about nearly as much as the Patriots’ losses. James was a huge part of the team, but the offense does seem to be doing just fine without him. I would say they’re a notch below in the running game, but Reggie Wayne has stepped and shown why the Colts paid him like a number one receiver. I think the offense is as good as it ever has been.

Scott: I never liked the guy anyway, so I’ll say ‘as good’. By the time he got to Phoenix, wasn’t he already acting like the self-centered dink he’d always been in Indy? Skipping mini-camps and bitching about his contract, his carries, or whatever? You can have his 1,500 yards – he’s just another sap(p) from ‘The U’. Besides, I’m convinced that no matter who comes and goes in that offense, the quarterback will make it happen anyway. Just like with the Patriots, there had to be an adjustment period after the loss of a central cog, which may have accounted for some of their early struggles. As far as I’m concerned, that Indy offense I watched last Sunday was as good as it’s ever been.

Crazy Bill Polian will be in town this weekend. Is he more likely to: a) complain to the league about the condition of the Patriots field; b) complain to the league about the Patriots game tactics; c) complain to the league about the Patriots injury list tactics; d) complain to Ron Borges about Bill Belichick’s arrogance; e) attack a Patriots employee in a blind rage; f) drink so heavily that he stumbles around the press box making an ass of himself until he passes out in a pool of his own bile, or; g) do all of the above?

Bruce: The obvious answer is g. Of course I think there’s a “h” as well…Polian is likely to make excuses for the Colts getting carved up by the Broncos running game by stating that the stats are misleading because they really stopped the Bronco’s number one back and all the rushing yards were piled up by the backup, which doesn’t count. What? He’s already said that? My bad.

Scott: Oh, its all the above. And that’s just before halftime. Later, after he gets fully juiced, he may kill a parking lot attendant. The NFL will place the matter under review, and may even require Polian to apologize to a representative of the family of his victim.

Greg: Punch me in for G as well. He really is a nut case, huh? And his reputation is overblown. His veterans-only approach to expansion proved stupid in Carolina and only gave them one good year. And his offense-centric approach, to the detriment of defense, has killed his teams every year in Indianapolis come playoff time. Can you say overrated?

We’ve got a half-season of proselytizing and prognostocating under our belt. Pick Your Most Embarrasing Moment.

Scott: The aforementioned Caldwell. I pretty much buried him after an underwhelming pre-season, claiming “it’s hard to imagine that the player we’ve been watching will become much more than an inconsistent second-team receiver, doing very little to mitigate the absence of the former starters”. Well, simply not true. He may never ‘replace’ Givens and Branch, but if his recent play is any indication, he could nonetheless become an important part of this team before it’s over. It’s stupid to define these guys before they’ve had the chance to do it themselves.

Greg: Have you seen my predictions record? ‘Nuff said.

Bruce: Buying into the Dolphin hype and proclaming that Miami would be “right there” with the Patriot in terms of the W-L record to this point. By “right there” I obviously meant that they would have the inverse record of the Patriots.

Let’s head back to the Obscenely Huge Board of Predictions, where Bruce Allen is still Pickin’ and Grinnin’ to lead all contenders by more games than I’d like to admit. All right Tall Man, try your hand at these: Tennessee (2-5) at Jacksonville (4-3), Cleveland (2-5) at San Diego (5-2), Kansas City (4-3) at St. Louis (4-3), Denver (5-2) at Pittsburgh (2-5), and Cincinnati (4-3) at Baltimore (5-2).

Bruce (4-2 last week, 33-14 overall): Jacksonville, San Diego, Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Baltimore.

Greg (2-4 last week, 23-24 overall): Jacksonville, better than Tennessee and at home. I like the way David Garrard manages a game, though they may go back to Leftwich. San Diego easily is better than Cleveland. KC trips up St. Louis and Pittsburgh rebounds at home to hand Denver their third loss. Baltimore takes out Cincinnati to claim a commanding lead in the AFC North.

Scott (2-4 last week, 27-20 overall): I’ve decided that I am going to start playing for the draft pick, and as my first order of business, I’d like to announce the hiring of ML Carr as Interim Head Coach. ML has informed me that he would like to pick Jacksonville at home over the Titans, San Diego at home over Romeo and the Browns, St Louis at home over the Chiefs, Denver on the road over the Steelers, and the Ravens beat the Bengals in Baltimore.

I hate to spoil a good time, but it’s a requirement: please tell the court of the atrocities committed by your Mediot of the Week.

Greg: I heard Mike Adams make a pathetic attempt to talk Patriots and football Tuesday night while driving in my car. He is clearly way over his head on that topic. At one point he ripped into Minnesota, somewhat dismissing the Patriots dismantling of them, as a horrible team. Among his claims “They almost lost to Buffalo for crying out loud!!!!” Yeah Mike, if you consider that 17-12 score they came up on the short end of against Buffalo as “almost” losing.

Scott: They all ought to get a Silkwood shower for their misbehavior this week. Or maybe it’s us that needs the shower. Their intent couldn’t have been any more transparent. When they told us months ago to mark this date on our calendars, they weren’t talking about a game between two great teams; the preening sociopaths were licking their chops at the scent of fresh red meat. Hey boys, if this is the stuff that sells papers, why are all of your employers going in the tank?

Bruce: Well, certain members of the esteemed press corps seemed to sink to new lows this week when attempting to grill Bill Belichick about Adam Vinatieri. What’s the guy supposed to say? They ask incredibly dumb questions and then have the temerity to say “you seem mad…what did we do” to him. Then they scuffle over the AV conference call and say stuff along the lines of “We know you’re only going to say nice things, BUT weren’t you really mad that the Patriots only paid you 20% higher than the next highest paid kicker in the NFL your last two years here?” I was waiting for the “Did you ever see Belichick kick puppies while you were here?” line of questioning next.