Tampa Bay at Detroit in matchup of two improved teams Print
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Thursday, 18 October 2007 06:19
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 The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Detroit Lions combined to win seven games last season. Assuming they don't tie when they meet in Detroit, they'll surpass that total on Sunday.
That's the nature of the NFL. Except for the Patriots and Colts, what goes up usually comes down and vice versa.
The vice versa part is the Bucs (4-2) and the Lions (3-2).
``I try not to compare this team to last year. It's not fair to these guys,'' says Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden, who has combined the old (Jeff Garcia, Derrick Brooks, Ronde Barber) with the new (rookie safety Tanard Jackson) to get his team to where it is. But it's mostly old: Garcia's favorite receivers are 35-year-old Joey Galloway and 31-year-old Ike Hilliard.
``We've got a whole new football team, honestly,'' Gruden says. ``We've got a long way to go. But we do have enough grit, enough stuff inside our building to rise up, and I know we'll be there every Sunday and compete.''
Injuries have cost the Bucs running back Carnell ``Cadillac'' Williams and left tackle Luke Petitgout for the season. Tampa traded for Michael Bennett on Tuesday and he'll back up Earnest Graham at running back.
Gruden's Bucs are a lot more consistent than the Lions, who were awful in their two losses, both to NFC East teams.
They allowed 56 points to the Eagles and were beaten 34-3 in Washington. But they also can be explosive, as they were in a 34-point fourth quarter against the Bears. And their receiving corps - Roy Williams, Mike Furrey, Shaun McDonald and rookie Calvin Johnson - is potentially as good as any in the NFL.
Nonetheless, the Lions seem better than any Detroit team since 2001, the year Matt Millen took over as president. Entering the season, they were 24-72 in the last six seasons.
But the consistency is still absent.
``We haven't leapfrogged to another level because you can't play good one week and get throttled the next,'' says the senior Lion, kicker Jason Hanson. ``But we have put ourselves in a position where we're playing for something, so that should be an incentive. Getting throttled two times should tell us: `You thought you were good? Take another look.' We're still a team that is scratching and clawing.''
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In other games Sunday, Atlanta is at New Orleans; Tennessee at Houston; Arizona at Washington; New England at Miami; Baltimore at Buffalo; San Francisco at the New York Giants; Kansas City at Oakland; the New York Jets at Cincinnati; St. Louis at Seattle; Minnesota at Dallas; Chicago at Philadelphia; and Pittsburgh at Denver.
Indianapolis is at Jacksonville on Monday night.
San Diego, Green Bay, Carolina and Cleveland are off.
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Indianapolis (5-0) at Jacksonville (4-1) (Monday night)
The toughest game yet for the Colts, who lost 44-17 in Jacksonville last season, allowing a staggering 375 yards on the ground.
The Jaguars have been low-profile this season, in part because most of their games are low-scoring. ``Sneak up on everybody and bite them,'' linebacker Mike Peterson says. ``Like a snake. Everybody hates that snake that sneaks up and bites you.''
Indianapolis should have back Marvin Harrison, Joseph Addai and Bob Sanders, all of whom missed their pre-bye win over Tampa Bay. The Colts, who lost three of their division road games en route to the Super Bowl last season, have avenged the other two losses, to Tennessee and Houston.

New England (6-0) at Miami (0-6)
The Patriots haven't scored fewer than 34 points, haven't won by less than 17, and are coming off the 48-27 win at Dallas in the biggest game this season. But Bill Belichick won't let his players forget they lost in Miami 21-0 last season to a team that finished 6-10.
``Nobody has given us more trouble than the Dolphins,'' he says.
Still, this Miami team has little. QB Cleo Lemon is in for Trent Green, who could retire because of a concussion, and coach Cam Cameron is still looking for his first NFL win. The Dolphins traded veteran receiver Chris Chambers to San Diego this week, a deal that will give more playing time to Ted Ginn Jr., the first-round pick.
``We're looking to change some things,'' general manager Randy Mueller says. No kidding.

Pittsburgh (4-1) at Denver (2-3)
NBC was looking for more when it got this Sunday matchup of traditional powers. Instead, it got a Denver team that easily could be 0-5 and is allowing almost 188 yards rushing per game, worst in the NFL. That's doesn't work against the Steelers, who are averaging 167 yards on the ground, second best.
Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh's rookie coach, already is violating one of the first rules in the coaches' handbook, suggesting his team might belong with New England and Indianapolis at the top of the NFL.
``If we're as good as maybe we think we are, we'll run across some of those teams at some point,'' he says. ``In the short term, we need to focus on being prepared to play the Denver Broncos.''

Minnesota (2-3) at Dallas (5-1)
The Vikings haven't shown much offense other than rookie Adrian Peterson, who beat Chicago almost by himself last week, rushing for 224 yards and returning a kickoff 53 yards to set up the winning field goal.
This will be an interesting test for Peterson against a Dallas defense that even in its 48-27 loss to New England allowed the Patriots just 75 yards rushing. It's also a test for the Cowboys and Tony Romo to see how they bounce back from their first defeat against a pretty good Minnesota defense.

Chicago (2-4) at Philadelphia (2-3)
This could be a survival game for two teams that entered the season favored to win their divisions. The Bears trail Green Bay by three games in the NFC North and the Eagles are last in an NFC East, where the three other teams all are playing pretty well.
Depressing stat for the Eagles: Philly scored 56 points and had eight TDs against Detroit, but has only 44 points and just two touchdowns in the other four games. Depressing stat for the Bears: Chicago's only real ``offense'' is Devin Hester, who had his third return TD of the season on a punt against the Vikings, and also scored for the first time on offense on an 81-yard pass from Brian Griese.

San Francisco (2-3) at New York Giants (4-2)
The Giants started 0-2 and have won four straight, while the 49ers won their first two, lost three straight and took a week off to recover from numerous injuries. Their most important injured player, quarterback Alex Smith, could be back after missing most of the last two games with a separated shoulder.
Smith faces a New York defense that's made a 180-degree turn. In its first 10 quarters, the defense allowed 13 touchdowns and had just three sacks. In the last 14, it's given up just two TDs and has 18 sacks as it's learned new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's schemes.

Tennessee (3-2) at Houston (3-3)
The two bottom teams in the AFC South, which might be the NFL's best division.
The question here is Vince Young's strained left quadriceps. Coach Jeff Fisher doesn't know if Young will be ready to play in his hometown (and the Titans' former home), so Kerry Collins is in the wings. The Texans got Ahman Green back last week, but their running game stalled against Jacksonville in a 37-17 loss in which they trailed by just seven points entering the final quarter.

Arizona (3-3) at Washington (3-2)
The curse of the Cardinals struck again last week when Kurt Warner tore a ligament in his left elbow a week after Matt Leinart was lost for the season with a broken collarbone. Warner may be back soon, but Tim Rattay, signed last week, is the QB this week, with Tim Hasselbeck, signed this week, backing him up.
The Redskins have injuries on the offensive line and lost in Green Bay because Santana Moss had one of the worst games of his career. His fumble was returned for the Packers' winning TD and he also dropped two passes before pulling himself from the game with what he said was a cramping hamstring.

Baltimore (4-2) at Buffalo (1-4)
The Bills had a week off to recover from their last-second loss to Dallas. J.P. Losman, who missed two games with a knee injury, says he's healthy, but rookie Trent Edwards will start again at quarterback.
It will be Kyle Boller at QB for the Ravens as they depend on their defense and let Steve McNair rest his groin injury one more week. Willis McGahee, unhappy in Buffalo, returns as the Ravens' main running back.

Kansas City (3-3) at Oakland (2-3)
The Chiefs are tied for first and the Raiders tied for last in the AFC West, where everyone has three losses. Both teams are relatively pleasant surprises, although San Diego, off this week, remains the best team on paper.
The Chiefs have won three of four and have a good rookie receiver, Dwayne Bowe, taking some of the pressure off tight end Tony Gonzalez. The Raiders have equaled last season's win total and feel better about themselves. ``We're close to being a good team,'' says Robert Gallery, a bust at tackle who is playing better at guard.

St. Louis (0-6) at Seattle (3-3)
The Rams hope to get Marc Bulger back at quarterback after two games out with broken ribs. But the offensive line remains a patchwork operation and RB Steven Jackson may be out again with a groin injury.
Running back has been a problem for the Seahawks, too. Shaun Alexander, who had 28 TDs two years ago when he was the league's MVP, has just two this year and is averaging just 3.6 yards a carry.

New York Jets (1-5) at Cincinnati (1-4)
Two teams with reasonable playoff hopes at the start of the season, but very little hope now.
Cincinnati's problem is a defense that has allowed more than 31 points a game, a figure that Carson Palmer, Chad Johnson and the offense can't overcome. The Jets' problem is offense. Chad Pennington seems on the verge of being replaced at quarterback every week and Thomas Jones, who was supposed to spark the running game, hasn't scored yet.

Atlanta (1-5) at New Orleans (1-4)
Joey Harrington looked as shellshocked as he used to in Detroit at the end of Atlanta's 31-10 loss to the Giants on Monday night. He was operating behind an offensive line that included two tackles that had never started. So now it's Byron Leftwich's turn. Good luck.
The Saints finally got their first win in Seattle. Drew Brees and Reggie Bush finally played well and a defense that allowed yards but not many points chipped in.
 

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