Unbeaten Colts face favorite patsy in Texans
AP Football Writer
For the first time since 1990 and the third time overall, the NFL has two 10-0 teams, the Colts and Saints. Even juicier, Indianapolis has won 19 in a row, two short of the league mark set by New England early last season.
And even better – at least for the Colts – is their opponent on Sunday, the Houston Texans. To say Indy has owned Houston since the Texans were born in 2002 is like saying Peyton Manning ain’t a bad quarterback.
The Colts are 14-1 against the Texans, and their victory earlier this month, 20-17, was typical: Manning and his mates made the big plays and Houston didn’t, including Kris Brown missing a 42-yard field goal as time expired.
Can Indy sweep Houston within a three-week span?
“It’s different. I don’t remember the last time we played a team this close to back to back,” Manning said. “They had a bye, so they’ll be fresh. We’re coming off two tough, emotional games, so it will be a challenge.”
Maybe more of a challenge for the Texans, no? Like, say, climbing Everest?
“It’s going to be a big test for us,” star receiver Andre Johnson said. “We played them close the last few times we’ve played them and hopefully Sunday we can get over the hump and get a win.”
Also Sunday – in an abbreviated schedule thanks to three Thanksgiving Day matchups – it’s Miami at Buffalo, Carolina at the New York Jets, Seattle at St. Louis, Tampa Bay at Atlanta, Cleveland at Cincinnati, Washington at Philadelphia, Chicago at Minnesota, Arizona at Tennessee, Kansas City at San Diego, Jacksonville at San Francisco, and Pittsburgh at Baltimore.
On Monday night, New England is at New Orleans in the Patriots’ latest opportunity to spoil an unbeaten season.
The weekend began on Thanksgiving Day with Green Bay embarrassing Detroit 34-12, Dallas topping Oakland 24-7 and Denver beating the Giants the 26-6.
New England (7-3) at New Orleans (10-0)
Although the Saints have a game remaining with the Cowboys, also at home, this might be the best opportunity for someone to spoil their run at a perfect regular season. Who better to meet that challenge than the only team with a 16-0 mark, the Patriots, who did it in 2007?
“I remember the kind of confidence we had taking the field as an undefeated team and knowing that if we played a good game it was going to be almost impossible for teams to beat us,” Tom Brady said. “If you don’t play well you do get beat, as evidenced by what happened in the Super Bowl that year.”
The Patriots almost ended Indianapolis’ spotless record two weeks ago in a high-scoring game. Look for another shootout here, particularly with the Saints averaging 36.9 points a game and on course to score 590 this season, one more than the ’07 Pats did.
Arizona (7-3) at Tennessee (4-6)
Two of the hottest teams, one chasing a division title and the other, perhaps, chasing history.
The Cardinals are 5-0 on the road, have won three in a row overall, and are beginning to have that special look they captured in last January’s playoffs. But Kurt Warner sustained a mild concussion in the win at St. Louis, and the drop-off to Matt Leinart is huge.
San Diego in 1992 had the worst start to a season for a team that still made the playoffs, going from 0-4 to 11-5. The way Tennessee has turned it around since an 0-6 start, who knows?
Chicago (4-6) at Minnesota (9-1)
This matchup must have looked real enticing when the schedule began. Brett Favre, Adrian Peterson, Jared Allen and the Vikings have held up their part and appear headed for a romp in the NFC North. Minnesota has scored 100 more points than Chicago, and it has 16 takeaways, or just two fewer than the number of interceptions Jay Cutler has thrown for the Bears.
Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield (foot) had a five-week absence but has to be ultra-eager to get back on the field to face Cutler.
Cleveland (1-9) at Cincinnati (7-3)
In their last meeting, the Bengals needed an overtime field goal to survive what was their worst performance of the year – until last week, when they fell apart late at Oakland. If Cincinnati is for real, which it seemed to be after sweeping the Steelers and Ravens, it should easily subdue a Browns squad that, despite losing at Detroit on a final, untimed play, did find an offense.
Cedric Benson might be back from his hip injury, in which case the Bengals’ running game could be enough. Still, Carson Palmer figures to have a strong outing against Cleveland’s lowest-rated D.
Kansas City (3-7) at San Diego (7-3)
The Scott Pioli-Todd Haley program is taking root nicely in Kansas City, and last week’s stunner against Pittsburgh eventually might be looked upon as a turning point. To keep things going against the revved-up Chargers will be quite a challenge, though.
San Diego has won five in a row, beginning with a 37-7 romp at Kansas City. The offense has been bolstered by a return to form from LaDainian Tomlinson, and a rugged defense that is getting after quarterbacks and starting to pile up sacks, particularly from its linebackers.
Pittsburgh (6-4) at Baltimore (5-5)
Usually a meeting at the top of the AFC North, both teams are thinking about staying viable in the wild-card chase right now. The banged-up Steelers have dropped two in a row, can’t hold leads without star safety Troy Polamalu, and have concerns at quarterback after Ben Roethlisberger sustained a concussion last Sunday and backup Charlie Batch broke his wrist.
Baltimore is one of the bigger flops through 10 games as the offense has stagnated. The Ravens have outscored opponents 151-83 in second halves this season, but have not scored an offensive touchdown in the first half since Oct. 4.
Washington (3-7) at Philadelphia (6-4)
With so many regulars winding up on injured reserve, it’s a wonder the Redskins can move the ball at all. They are down to third-string RB Rock Cartwright, and their offensive line has been decimated. But the D has been dynamic at times, at least keeping Washington competitive.
Philly is plus-8 in turnover margin to minus-5 for Washington, and the Eagles’ defense will be aggressive from the outset against an undermanned offense. Sackmasters Trent Cole and Juqua Parker could have big days.
Miami (5-5) at Buffalo (3-7)
The Dolphins are 4-1 on the road in the division since Bill Parcells began running the show and Tony Sparano became coach. Ricky Williams’ revival has sparked an efficient running game, and LB Jason Taylor has 19 1/2 career sacks against the Bills, his most against any opponent.
Guess who woke up for the Bills after the coaching switch from the fired Dick Jauron to Perry Fewell? Yep, Terrell Owens, who had nine catches for 197 yards, including a 98-yard touchdown that was a personal best, in a loss at Jacksonville. He is 14 receptions shy of becoming the sixth NFL player to reach 1,000 catches.
Jacksonville (6-4) at San Francisco (4-6)
The 49ers hope Michael Crabtree is headed for T.O.-type stats, if not numbers of T.O.-type shenanigans. Considering what the former 49er did to the Jags last week, maybe the rookie can do something memorable Sunday.
Jacksonville has done enough the past three Sundays to win, and badly needs to continue that pace with future matchups against Houston, Miami, Indianapolis and New England.
Tampa Bay (1-9) at Atlanta (5-5)
The Falcons never have had two straight winning seasons, and they suddenly look capable of keeping such an ignominious mark going. They’ve lost four of five to help put the Saints in position for a division clincher with six games remaining. That 11-5 mark of 2008 probably is unmatchable this year, and if the 28th-ranked defense doesn’t improve, so is a wild-card playoff berth.
Tampa Bay rookie coach Raheem Morris already has fired both his coordinators. Must be some kind of record.
Carolina (4-6) at N.Y. Jets (4-6)
Carolina started 0-3, began to climb back toward the top, and now needs a lengthy winning string. To start it, the Panthers must rely on the strong running back tandem of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart to take the heat off turnover-prone QB Jake Delhomme.
New York started 3-0, fell apart, and now needs a lengthy winning string to reach respectability, if not the postseason. The Jets have a solid runner in Thomas Jones to take the heat off turnover-prone QB Mark Sanchez.
Seattle (3-7) at St. Louis (1-9)
The Seahawks have been awful on the road, outscored 161-73. The Rams have been outscored 165-69 at home and are without starting QB Marc Bulger (broken leg). But they do have Steven Jackson, who leads the NFC in rushing.