You may have heard that next Sunday the 8-0 New England Patriots will travel to Indianapolis to play the 7-0 Colts. This is the latest in a season that two undefeated NFL teams have ever met. Is this the most anticipated regular season game in league history? With the proliferation of 24 hour sports talk radio, cable/satellite television and the internet it will certainly be the most hyped up regular season game ever. Maybe I'm forgetting something obvious, but the only remotely similar game that comes to mind is the Monday Night Football game in 1985 when Dan Marino's Miami Dolphins--with the 1972 Dolphins watching from the sidelines--knocked off the unbeaten Chicago Bears in 1985, preserving the '72 team's place in history as the NFL's only perfect team. Normally I wait to run the "Two Minute Drill" until after the Monday Night Football game but several things about this week's action already caught my eye:
1) While the Patriots pursue perfection of the technical craft of football, it seems like everybody is a critic. First there was that ridiculous nonsense about the Patriots "spying" to obtain publicly available information. Looking near the bottom of the standings, where I see the 1-7 New York Jets, the one thing that is very clear is that Eric Mangini should have spent more time coaching his team and less time worrying about how Bill Belichick is coaching his (speaking of former Belichick assistants, how about that theory that the Patriots would fall off after Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel left? Have you heard much about that one lately?). Now, ESPN's John Clayton suggests that Belichick and the Patriots are taking out their frustrations by running up the score. What is New England supposed to do? Stop playing and just hand the ball over to the other team? Clayton is right about one thing: "Belichick has assembled perhaps the most dominating team in NFL history, and he's intent on destroying all opponents in his path."
2) The Colts are not only 7-0 this season but they are 12-0 dating back to last year. They are the defending Super Bowl champions, they have beaten New England three straight times--and they are underdogs at home against the Patriots. You don't suppose the word "disrespect" might be mentioned a time or two behind closed doors in Indianapolis this week? Of course, they are way too classy to say such a thing publicly. Also, they are too smart to do so. They know that New England was pounding them up and down the field in the first half of last year's AFC Championship Game. However, the Patriots wore down in the second half and possessed neither enough reserves on defense to withstand the sustained pressure of the Colts' offense nor enough playmaking wide receivers to keep scoring points--and they still came within perhaps one first down of winning. Now the Patriots have completely upgraded their receiving corps and added Adalius Thomas to their defense. New England is going to beat Indianapolis by at least 14 points.
3) How 'bout them Lions? Everyone acted like Jon Kitna had lost his mind when he said that Detroit would win 10 games this year. Well, Detroit has already won both of this year's meetings with the Chicago Bears, last year's NFC champions, and they have a 5-2 record.
4) Earlier in this season, I was critical of Browns Coach Romeo Crennel because his team looked disorganized and unprepared. It is possible that I spoke too soon about that. One does not want to get too excited about back to back wins against the NFL's two perfectly imperfect teams--the winless Dolphins and Rams--but this is the first time that Cleveland has won two games in a row since October 2003. The Browns still commit too many foolish penalties and the defense is raggedy at times but the offense looks like the best that the Browns have had since the days of the Kardiac Kids, when Brian Sipe won an MVP while throwing to the likes of Ozzie Newsome, Reggie Rucker, Greg Pruitt and Dave Logan and handing off to Mike Pruitt. Strong armed quarterback Derek Anderson is playing very well, ranking sixth in the NFL in passer rating and second behind Brady with 17 touchdown passes. Running back Jamal Lewis is dinged up but already has had a 200 yard game this year. Kellen Winslow's knee is not completely healthy--and may never be--and he is still a beast; he ranks eighth in the league in yards per catch (17.2), which is remarkable for a tight end. Randy Moss can already book his trip to the Pro Bowl but Braylon Edwards has to be given serious consideration at the other wide receiver spot in the AFC. He is tied for second in the league with nine touchdown receptions, ranks third in total receiving yards (669) and is fifth in yards per catch (18.1).
5) The Bengals have to be considered one of the most disappointing teams. Pittsburgh's 24-13 victory on Sunday in Paul Brown Stadium is the seventh straight by the Steelers in Cincinnati; at this rate, they might as well rename the stadium after the Rooney family because the Steelers treat it like their home field. The Bengals talked big about playing a physical game and then watched the Steelers roll up 390 yards, including 160 rushing yards on 33 attempts. What we are finding out is that the Bengals are much better at talking big than playing big. Speaking of which, how are you doing, Chad Johnson? Yes, he is a talented receiver and it is impressive that he set a record by leading a conference in receiving yards for four straight seasons but I don't understand the media's love affair with him. Albert Einstein figured out many of the laws of the universe by conducting thought experiments, so let's try one concerning the self proclaimed "Ocho Cinco": imagine if a receiver--call him Owen Terrell--did the exact same things that "Ocho Cinco" has done for the 2-5 Bengals this year: chewing out his quarterback on the sideline on national TV, pledging to celebrate after every touchdown no matter how much he gets fined and in one of his celebrations donning a jacket proclaiming that he will eventually be inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. How do you suppose the media would react to that? Throw in the fact that the receiver's team is sinking in the standings and has never won even one playoff game during his career. Would the media respond that these antics are cute, harmless and not a distraction? At least one local beat writer insists that Johnson is not the problem and that the defense should be blamed for the Bengals' disastrous season. Granted, Johnson is not the whole problem--but is he even part of the solution? When Coach Marvin Lewis bellows in the locker room that there is too much selfishness on the team, who do you suppose he is talking about? Yet the same guys who kiss Johnson's hindquarters every week on national TV will tell you that they are waiting for either #81 to blow up in Dallas or New England. Guess what? That's not going to happen--and look how great the former teams of each #81 are doing now that they got rid of the alleged "cancers" in their midst; you can find them about the same place in the standings that you find the Jets.
Stat of the Week: Derek Anderson is the first Browns quarterback to throw at least three TD passes in consecutive games since Brian Sipe did it in 1983.