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News » Cheat Sheet: Pats, Colts in a different struggle

Cheat Sheet: Pats, Colts in a different struggle

Cheat Sheet: Pats, Colts in a different struggle
The Patriots and Colts have been the dominant powers of the AFC for the greater part of the past decade. Having met eight times since realignment took Indianapolis out of the AFC East in 2002, with six of those contests being decided by 10 points or less, the two franchises have had some unforgettable clashes.

Multiple AFC Championship Games. Several Brady-Manning shootouts. The Adam Vinatieri subplot that now simmers from beneath every kickoff. One could make the argument that Patriots-Colts, despite not featuring division foes, has been the defining NFL rivalry of the past 10 years.

And yet, for all the history, all the classic moments, and all the heated "Would you rather have Brady or Manning" sports bar debates, this weekend's Patriots-Colts matchup seems to be flying under the radar like any other midseason game between two mediocre to above-average AFC teams.

And that's too bad.

Sunday's Colts-Patriots game is the type of event sports purists dream about. In the sweet science, this would be two old heavyweights -- one on his last legs, the other one banged up and weary -- leaving everything they've got in the ring for what may very well be the last time the two combatants square off with something meaningful still at stake.

Whereas in the past, a regular season Colts-Patriots matchup served as a postseason preview, this year's clash has a hint of desperation. This one really matters. Not for home-field advantage or a more favorable seeding, but for survival. For one more breath of hope.

These aren't Tom Brady's high-flying Patriots and these certainly aren't the Peyton Manning Colts of yesteryear. Both teams are mere shells of what we're used to seeing in their annual November clashes. And that's exactly what makes this weekend's matchup so darn appealing.

This is the theater of sport at its finest. The Colts, winners of six straight AFC South division titles, come into Sunday's game a bumbling 3-4 mess. Having been outplayed, outsmarted, and outworked in Monday night's embarrassing 31-21 loss in Tennessee, Indianapolis has been all but eliminated from AFC South Division title contention. Earning a wild card berth -- something a Colts fan would have shuddered over back in August -- will now be a struggle in the uber-crowded AFC. And yet, some would consider the Colts fortunate to even be where they're at right now. Two of their three victories -- an ugly Week 2 win in Minnesota and a Week 5 miracle comeback in Houston -- came as the result of colossal fourth-quarter collapses by opponents.

NFL Week 9

Week 9 action

    Packers at Titans -- Game preview
    Cardinals at Rams -- Game preview
    Lions at Bears -- Game preview
    Buccaneers at Chiefs -- Game preview
    Jets at Bills -- Game preview
    Jaguars at Bengals -- Game preview
    Ravens at Browns -- Game preview
    Texans at Vikings -- Game preview
    Dolphins at Broncos -- Game preview
    Cowboys at Giants -- Game preview
    Eagles at Seahawks -- Game preview
    Falcons at Raiders -- Game preview
    Patriots at Colts -- Game preview
    Steelers at Redskins -- Game preview


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  • Schrager: Week 9 Cheat Sheet

  • Hasenmayer: NFL power rankings


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  • Fantasy: Waiver wire picks

  • Online OT: Complete NFL coverage


  • Most injury-ravaged teams

  • Week 8: What we learned

These aren't the Colts we're used to seeing, and this isn't the Peyton Manning to whom we've grown accustomed. Perhaps it's the knee, perhaps it's the lack of an experienced offensive line. Whatever the reason, Manning is not his usual self this season. Currently not in the top five in any major statistical passing category, the former league and Super Bowl MVP's back is against the wall in a regular-season game for the first time since his third or fourth season in the league. Manning's a competitor. He can salvage what could quickly turn into a lost 2008 season by turning in an all-time performance on Sunday. The mere prospect of seeing such a statement game from the hobbling gladiator makes this mandatory viewing for any true football fan.

At 5-2 and tied for first place in the AFC East, New England's playoff prospects seem to be in a bit better shape than Indianapolis'. But there are critics looming with every win. Beat the Rams? Great, you beat the 2-5 Rams. Took care of Denver? A high school offense could score 41 points on Denver. Went into San Francisco and won? Who hasn't? The record on paper is one thing. The respect is another. Whereas the former seems to be in good standing, the latter just isn't there.

For the Colts, it's about survival. For the Patriots, it's about respect. For fans of the NFL, it's about seeing two old foes grasping to maintain the legacy and mystique of a rivalry that's defined the past decade of our country's most beloved sport. Drama, rich history, and for the first time in what feels like forever, an uncertain future -- are all in there.

These two squads have had some classic bouts over the past few years.

Sunday night's, though perhaps not as glamorous or as hyped up by the media, may very well be the best one yet.

The Week 9 Cheat Sheet

New York Jets at Buffalo Bills, 1 p.m. EST

Did you see how the media reacted to Jets fans booing Brett Favre on Sunday? Widespread panic. No surprise there. Before leading the Jets to victory late in the fourth quarter, Favre threw a horrible interception that nearly cost his team the game. No surprise there, either. The Pick: Buffalo 23, New York 16

Detroit at Chicago, 1 p.m.

Following last Sunday's 25-17 loss to Washington, eight-year Lions center Dominic Raiola told reporters, "I'm out of things to say. It's hard to even go anywhere without feeling embarrassed." Raiola's been with the Lions for eight years, and he's just now starting to feel embarrassed? The Pick: Chicago 34, Detroit 16

Jacksonville at Cincinnati, 1 p.m.

It may be time the Bengals consider going to Carson Palmer's little brother, third-stringer Jordan Palmer. Jacksonville hasn't been very consistent this season, but the Jaguars won't need to be in this one. Just showing up should be more than enough to ensure a victory. The Pick: Jacksonville 31, Cincinnati 20

Baltimore at Cleveland, 1 p.m.

Derek Anderson, discarded from the Ravens and picked off the scrap heap by the Browns two years ago, tends to play well against his old mates in Cleveland. Look for that to continue on Sunday, with the Browns avenging September's disappointing loss in Baltimore. The Pick: Cleveland 21, Baltimore 18

Tampa Bay at Kansas City, 1 p.m.

Don't laugh, the Chiefs showed some fight and potential last Sunday in New York. Unfortunately, fight and potential don't win NFL games. Defense does. Tampa has one; K.C. simply does not. The Pick: Tampa Bay 24, Kansas City 14

Houston at Minnesota, 1 p.m.

Talk about Larry Fitzgerald, Randy Moss, and Brandon Marshall all you want. But there's been no better receiver in the NFL this season than Houston's Andre Johnson. His numbers in October? Try 41 catches, 593 yards, 2 touchdowns. For a 16-game season, those are solid numbers. For four games? Well, those are some of the most absurd statistics you'll ever see. The Pick: Houston 34, Minnesota 26

Arizona at St. Louis, 1 p.m.

In his past two games vs. the Rams, Larry Fitzgerald has 20 catches for 307 yards (153.5 per game) with three TDs. Of course, that was before Jim Haslett ran the show in St. Louis. Look for the Rams to spoil Kurt Warner's second road start in St. Louis since he left in '05, pulling within a game of the Cardinals in the NFC West standings on Sunday. The Pick: St. Louis 31, Arizona 27

Green Bay at Tennessee, 1 p.m.

How about my boy Alex Marvez? Though I had the over/under at Week 12, he broke out the first '08 Titans/'72 Dolphins column I've seen this year on Monday. No surprise, but Don Shula, Jim Kiick, and Manny Fernandez are not at all concerned or worried. I love those guys. The Pick: Tennessee 20, Green Bay 16

Miami at Denver, 4:15 p.m.

In his last five games, Chad Pennington has completed 75 percent of his passes for 1,347 yards with five touchdowns and just two interceptions. He won't have any trouble padding those stats against the joke that is the Denver defense on Sunday. Here's your upset special. The Pick: Miami 31, Denver 26

Dallas at New York Giants, 4:15 p.m.

The New York rushing attack is No. 1 in the league, the defense is coming off a five-sack and four-interception performance in Pittsburgh, and the crowd will be as loud as it's been all year. Big Blue in a close one. The Pick: New York Giants 25, Dallas 17

Atlanta at Oakland, 4:15 p.m.

The DeAngelo Hall Bowl! Look for Matt Ryan to pick on the former Falcon throughout Sunday's game, hitting Roddy White all over the field. Though there's a good chance you haven't seen them in action yet, the Ryan-Turner-White combo is as lethal a 1-2-3 you'll find in the entire league this season. The Pick: Atlanta 28, Oakland 16

Philadelphia at Seattle, 4:15 p.m.

Seneca Wallace looked calm, competent and confident in the pocket last weekend. Of course, he wasn't going up against the Philadelphia pass rush. Though it's never easy to win at Qwest Field, look for the Eagles to escape another West Coast road trip with a victory. The Pick: Philadelphia 27, Seattle 23

New England at Indianapolis, 8:15 p.m.

The season may very well be on the line here for the Colts. I don't see Peyton Manning letting his team down in that situation, especially at home. Look for a heroic performance by Manning and a solid evening out of Indy's inconsistent defense. The Pick: Indianapolis 34, New England 20

Pittsburgh at Washington, Monday night

The last time the Steelers played in Washington, Chip Lohmiller hit a game-winning field goal as time expired for the Redskins. That was 20 years ago. Quite a bit has changed since then, but I see a similar finish on Sunday. Only, it's Jeff Reed and the Steelers coming out on top in the final seconds. The Pick: Pittsburgh 30, Washington 27

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: October 29, 2008

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