|GAME OF THE WEEK: Colts, Pats meet in NFL's game of year|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 01 November 2007 09:45|
They all work.
Except, of course, for those competing in the league's bitterest rivalry, New England-Indianapolis.
``These are the games you like to play in because if nobody's talking about your game, you're probably not playing well,'' Super Bowl MVP Peyton Manning said. ``I've never really liked the term playoff atmosphere because it either is or isn't the playoffs.''
In this case, it's not; Sunday's game is simply a precursor to what everyone expects to see again in January: the rematch.
While players contend this is merely another November game, and an important one that could determine playoff ramifications, everyone else is building it up, with good reason.
-It's the latest two unbeaten teams have ever met in the NFL. Indy is 7-0, New England 8-0.
-There's the classic coaching story line of the white hats vs. the evil empire perception: Squeaky clean Tony Dungy, author of a No. 1 best-selling book and seemingly everyone's favorite coach, again meets Bill Belichick of spygate infamy and who has now been accused of running up the score on opponents.
-There's the headline attraction between the league's two marquee quarterbacks, Peyton Manning, the single-season record-holder for touchdown passes, against three-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady, on pace to shatter Manning's record.
-There's the expected shootout between two of the NFL's most proficient offenses.
-And there could also be an answer to that season-long debate of which team is better, the defending champion Colts who are off to the third-best start of any Super Bowl winner or New England, which many believe could go 16-0.
Add the possibility of a victory eventually earning home-field advantage in the playoffs and the game has more drama than anything this side of the Super Bowl.
Players and coaches aren't exactly buying it. The two teams have won four of the last six Super Bowls and they know the difference between a postseason game and a regular-season game.
``It's an important game and the Colts are an outstanding team,'' Belichick said. ``But as Tony said, and I agree with what he said, nobody is going to crown anyone this week and it doesn't clinch anything.''
That's true in the NFL world even though the hype certainly has a playoff feel to it.
The media contingent hanging out in Indianapolis nearly doubled this week, and the Colts uncharacteristically closed all but the first few minutes of practice to local reporters. Team officials also paraded the top players to a podium, a custom usually reserved for the playoffs.
But Brady and Manning declined requests for conference calls, a rarity in Manning's case.
All of the actions lead to one conclusion.
``Yes, this is a little more than a regular-season game because both teams have good records,'' Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney said.
The matchups look familiar.
New England and Indianapolis have met seven times since splitting up as division rivals in 2002. The Pats won the first four, the Colts the last three. Each has won one conference championship game against the other, and while some names have changed, the key ones - Brady and Manning - are still around.
``Peyton can make all the plays and he has made them throughout the course of the year. He's a hard guy to defend,'' Belichick said. ``He's been pretty good for quite a while and he's killed us a number of times.''
New England doesn't have to look beyond last season's AFC title game for evidence.
Manning threw for 349 yards and rallied the Colts from a 21-6 halftime deficit, completing the greatest comeback in conference championship game history with a masterful drive ending with Joseph Addai's 3-yard TD run with 1 minute left for a 38-34 victory.
It was Belichick's second playoff loss with New England, and it stung.
``It hurt for a while,'' linebacker Mike Vrabel said. ``It hurt to see those guys win a championship. But once you start working out in the offseason, you've got to let it go.''
Now the Pats look like a different team.
They traded for Randy Moss and Wes Welker, signed free agents Donte' Stallworth and Adalius Thomas, and the results have been sensational.
New England already has scored a league-high 331 in eight games and is one of three teams ranked in the top five both offensively and defensively. Pittsburgh and Indy are the others.
``They're beating teams and they've beaten them badly,'' Manning said. ``They've done a great job exploiting other team's mistakes.''
Indianapolis also has a different look.
While the high-scoring offense is chugging along smoothly, they're winning with a ground game and a vastly improved defense that is ranked No. 1 against the pass and No. 4 overall. It could be just the combination needed to beat the Patriots.
But this Week 9 game has turned the rivalry into more than a November matchup. Everyone outside the locker rooms views Sunday's showdown as a playoff preview and why not?
``It's a huge challenge because the Colts are the best team in football,'' Belichick said. ``They're the champs, they don't turn the ball over, they don't give up big plays. They can run it, they throw it, they can have a possession passing game if they want. It's a very error-free team that forces opponents to play an almost absolutely perfect game.''