By Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Staff
Apologies for being provincial, but its Colts week here in New England and that means the NFL’s (current) best rivalry is about to be renewed and therefore must be discussed. These two teams play every year, usually at this time of the season for TV ratings purposes, and that’s not even including the three playoff games since 2003. And every year, it’s a doozy.
After getting pounded three straight times by Indy, including two regular season losses in Foxboro and a brutal defeat at the old RCA Dome in the 2006 AFC Championship Game, the Pats came from 20-13 down to drop the Colts in Indy during the 16-0 regular season march in 2007. Last season, with Matt Cassel filling in for the injured Tom Brady, they were one Jabar Gaffney drop and one horrendous late hit call on ex-tight end David Thomas from winning a game that probably cost them a playoff berth that ultimately ended 18-15 in favor of the Colts.
So here we go again, Sunday Night Football with the Pats traveling to Indy for the fourth consecutive meeting. The Brady against Peyton Manning matchup is set after a one-year hiatus, but there are several difference from the norm beyond that. Names that have proven huge on both sides throughout the rivalry -Bruschi, Vrabel, Harrison for the Pats, Jackson, Sanders, Harrison for the Colts – are gone. Tony Dungy is now a TV guy. Both teams have made more news with their defenses so far this season with the second overall in points allowed (14.4PPG) and the Colts first (13.5 PPG).
But there are still a mess of similarities. Brady and Manning are each in at least near top form. Randy Moss and Wes Welker continue to be bright lights on the Pats offense while Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark are still among the best at their positions for the Colts. Dwight Freeney (9.5 sacks, at least one sack in nine straight games) and Robert Mathis (6.5 sacks) still patrol the Indy D while Ty Warren and Vince Wilfork are having excellent seasons for the Pats. Oh and I just heard both teams are 83-21 in the regular season since the start of 2003. Sort of eerie, no?
Having been able to experience each of these teams’ last several games from the perspective of a fan, I can honestly say that there is no other date on the regular season calendar that invokes the kind of anticipation these meetings do. I have no idea who will on Sunday night – each team has a lot going for it and a lot going against it. But I do know that it will be a great game, complete with heart pounds and sweaty palms and plenty of sitting at the edge of the seat.
This Week’s Five Best Teams
1. New Orleans: The third tight, comeback, down to the final minutes win in a row for the Saints last week against Carolina. Sooner or later the bubble will burst down there – the Patriots didn’t start playing tight games like this during the 16-0 regular season until much later in the year – but for now, these guys keep on showing that they are fit to take their opponents’ bets shots and still get right back up off the mat.
2. Indianapolis: It seems like every year (except for 2008) the Colts are unbeaten into November and this year is no different as they continue to find ways to win despite a rash of injuries on defense and some very tough tests against very game opponents the past two weeks. Also, props to coach Jim Caldwell, the first coach since 1931 to start his first season 8-0.
3. Pittsburgh/New England: Big wins for both teams this past week (though the Steelers winning big on the road against Denver is a bit more impressive). I remain steadfast in my belief that these two teams are careening toward an AFC Championship Game meeting with the winner going on to win the Super Bowl and thus being coronated as the team of the decade.
4. Minnesota: Can’t imagine what pain all the Favre-suckers must have gone through without their hero to cheer on during his bye week. Sure am looking forward to another week of worship after the Vikings roll the Lions this weekend.
5. Cincinnati: The Bengals win the award for most surprising team to see the light of this list so far this season. They just keep winning, having dispatched division rival Baltimore for the second time last week, and doing it with defense, which allowed the Ravens just 215 total yards and is second against the run (83.9YPG) and fifth in points allowed (16.9 PPG).
This Week’s Five Worst Teams
1. Cleveland: A bye hardly absolves the Browns of top dog status on this list. Sh*t -canning that lying, sniveling, incompetent, duplicitous jerk-off Eric Mangini might do the trick, though. And if you believe what I’ve been reading recently, Cleveland fans may just get their wish.
2. Detroit: The Lions turned a 17-0, first quarter lead into a 32-20 loss to Seattle in about 17 seconds flat. Afterward, new coach Jim Schwartz was quoted as basically saying he had no idea why it happened or why his team is having such a tough time. I have an idea, Jim. It’s because they’re the Lions.
3. Kansas City: Thought about putting the Chiefs slightly higher (lower) here until I realized that cutting the despicable Larry Johnson not only makes them better immediately (even though they still have all of the same scrubs on defense who aren’t named Mike Vrabel) but was the smartest move Scott Pioli and Todd Haley have made all year.
4. Washington/Oakland: It seemed to make sense to link these two miserable outfits seeing as how one of the owners is doing his damndest to be just like the other.
5. St. Louis: Which leaves the Rams, narrowly edging out the Bucs because their one win isn’t as recent as Tampa’s. Still, from the looks of it, it would appear to be a safe bet that of all these teams, with some luck in the draft, these guys will have the least challenging time turning things around in the coming years. I see one piece after another lauding the work of first-year coach Steve Spagnuolo and how much he’s done to earn and keep the respect of his team under trying circumstances which is far more than can be said for any other coach of a team on this list.
Michael Turner, Falcons: After a handful of substandard games that led some to wonder whether last year’s 376 carries in his first season as a full-time back was too much. Turner has exploded for 317 yards and threeTDs on 38 rushes in his last two games, putting any such theories to rest.
The Cardinals: One week, they or someone associated with them isn’t trendy and the next week, vice versa. They reside on the positive end this week thanks to their 41-21 thrashing of the Bears at Soldier Field, making them a stunning 4-0 away from their home spaceship/stadium.
Chad Henne’s Helmet Face: The Dolphins quarterback’s head gear is so tight, it squishes his face and brow to extreme levels. Among other things, the Chad Henne Helmet Face makes him look like the Grinch, the Ultimate Warrior, a Vulcan, Sharon Osbourne without Botox, Mugatu, the Geico Gekko or just a basic, garden-variety alien that may be the master of all that’s intense and evil.
DeAngelo Hall, Redskins: This guy could be the most self-deluded player in the league. He sucks but thinks he’s awesome which is likely a reason why he picked a fight with the entire Falcons sideline last week, prompting even Atlanta coach Mike Smith to take a shot at him. I wonder if his coaches will show him film of the play in that game on which he waved at Turner then gave up and didn’t even give chase when the final result was still in doubt while his teammates sprinted by. Oh yeah, Turner scored on the play, giving Atlanta the win.
The Wildcat: 40 total yards on 31 plays in Miami’s last three games. Um, it’s over, guys.
The Bears D: Remember when it was good? Seriously, this group is so bad right now that it’s difficult to conjure up any good memories. Excluding their game two weeks ago against the hapless Browns, the Bears have been beaten 86-31 in two of their last three and allowed the last ranked running team in the league in the Cardinals (65YPG ) 182 yards on the ground, not to mention their supposed star tackle Tommie Harris got himself tossed from the game against Arizona after punching someone in the face.
Today’s date is November 12. Thanksgiving isn’t for another two weeks. And tonight, the Thursday Night NFL slate starts and will continue for the remainder if the regular season. I know that the games are all aired on the league’s house network. And the decision was made to show games on Thursday nights for the final eight weeks of the year primarily to take advantage of the average person’s insatiable appetite for the sport. But it’s really just ridiculous. It’s too much. And I think it’s ultimately going to diminish the popularity of the sport on TV.
Now that we have three days of the week on which we can watch football, with a fourth (Saturday) coming up by Week 14, who’s to say a fifth or even sixth won’t be added before long? There are major college football games on TV on Tuesdays and Wednesdays now so how long before the NFL co-opts those days too? Does it even matter to anyone in the league office that there are now so many other chances for folks to watch the product that they may not be as inclined to watch on Sunday, which has only been the league’s signature day since the Stone Age? I don’t really know.
Look, I will watch my favorite team play at any time on any day. And if I’m home on a Thursday or Saturday or Wednesday and there’s a game on, I’ll probably at least spend some time with it. But that’s not the point. The point is, like with so many other aspects of our culture, how much is enough? That seems to be a question that the NFL doesn’t seem inclined to or interested in answering.