The Indianapolis Colts get no breaks in the midseason portion of their schedule.
This week it's a trip to Pittsburgh following a loss at Tennessee and a home win over New England that gave the Colts a half-decent shot at their seventh straight playoff berth. It's almost sure to be a wild-card spot if they do get it.
That's because at 4-4 they trail the unbeaten Titans by four games in the AFC South, meaning their run of five straight division titles is all but over.
``It was a win we needed,'' said safety Bob Sanders, who made his return after missing five games with ankle and knee injuries and helped stiffen what has been a porous defense.
hat Indy will have to do if it wants to get Peyton Manning into the rhythm he had against the Patriots.
The question for Pittsburgh is the health of Ben Roethlisberger, whose throwing shoulder is slightly separated after batterings in losses to two NFC East teams. He was sacked eight times by the Eagles and five by the Giants.
But Byron Leftwich stepped in efficiently in the second half of Monday night's 23-6 win in Washington, going 7-of-10 for 129 yards and a touchdown.
``We all know Ben's the guy,'' Leftwich said. ``Ben's the quarterback of this football team, and I know I was going to be there in case something happened.''
The Steelers are unlikely to say if Ben is the guy until late in the week or beyond; perhaps it will be one of those ``gametime decisions.'' But the 28-year-old Leftwich, the seventh overall pick of the 2003 draft, gives Pittsburgh something few teams have - Dallas, please note - an experienced backup quarterback (46 starts) who isn't in his dotage.
Leftwich, signed by the Steelers after Charlie Batch was injured, says he still doesn't know Pittsburgh's offense. His teammates don't care.
``We didn't think twice about him coming in and doing the job,'' wide receiver Nate Washington said. ``We never skipped a beat.''
In other games Sunday, Seattle is at Miami; St. Louis at the New York Jets; Tennessee at Chicago; Baltimore at Houston; Jacksonville at Detroit; Green Bay at Minnesota; New Orleans at Atlanta; Buffalo at New England; Carolina at Oakland; Kansas City at San Diego; and the New York Giants at Philadelphia.
San Francisco is at Arizona on Monday night.
Cincinnati, Dallas, Washington, and Tampa Bay are off in the last set of byes.
New York Giants (7-1) at Philadelphia (5-3)
Washington's loss to the Steelers and the Giants' win over Dallas last week probably left the Eagles as the second best team in the NFC East and the most likely challenger to New York. A win here by the Giants, who face a tough final eight games, would be a big step toward a division championship and potential home-field advantage in the playoffs.
But while the Giants are good on the road - they won in Pittsburgh two weeks ago - this should be one of their biggest challenges.
The Eagles have Brian Westbrook back to spur the defense and are tough at home, especially at night. Jim Johnson's defenses, which are mirrored by New York coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, a Johnson protege, could cause a lot of trouble for Eli Manning, who threw an interception and lost two fumbles against the Cowboys.

icago (5-3)
The Bears lead Packers and Vikings by a game in the AFC North after overcoming a 10-point halftime deficit against winless Detroit behind Rex Grossman, who is likely to spell Kyle Orton (sprained ankle). Chicago also will be without oft-injured safety Mike Brown, who hurt a calf last week.
The Titans, who have held seven of their eight opponents to 17 points or less, remained unbeaten with an overtime victory over Green Bay. ``We realize each and every week from here on out, we're going to get each team's best shot,'' linebacker David Thornton says. ``Clearly, the Packers gave us a big punch. We felt it, but we survived it, and we realize the Bears are going to do the same thing.''

Green Bay (4-4) at Minnesota (4-4)
A win by the Packers would give them a two-game lead over the Vikings in what figures to be a three-team race in the NFC North. That's because they beat Minnesota the opening week.
The Vikings have now won three of four. But DE Jared Allen, who has seven sacks, is a question mark with a shoulder injury. Minnesota is 4-2 since 37-year-old Gus Frerotte replaced Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback.

Buffalo (5-3) at New England (5-3)
These two are tied with the Jets for first in the AFC East, with surprising Miami just a game behind.
of four and are without a bunch of injured players: S Donte Whitner is out with a separated shoulder, joining DE Aaron Schobel and WR Josh Reed on the sidelines. And QB Trent Edwards is not playing as well as he was before sustaining a concussion in Arizona. He's thrown four interceptions in losses to the Dolphins and Jets.
Bill Belichick had a rare bad game in the 18-15 loss in Indy, calling a timeout that negated a fourth-and-1 conversion inside the Colts 10, and left the Pats without a timeout for most of the fourth quarter.

Seattle (2-6) at Miami (4-4)
Miami may have benefited as much from the Brett Favre trade as the Jets. That's because New York let Chad Pennington go and he signed with Miami, giving the Dolphins the best quarterback they've had since Dan Marino retired nine years ago. That's one reason a team that was 1-15 last season can think of winning the AFC East.
Matt Hasselbeck isn't quite ready to return from a disk problem in his back and the Seahawks now also are without DE Patrick Kerney. Mike Holmgren's final year with the Seahawks is turning into a total loss.

St. Louis (2-6) at New York Jets (5-3)
the NFL in interceptions with 12, including one last week in Buffalo that made their win closer than it should have been.
The Jim Haslett novelty may have worn off for the Rams. They won their first two games after he replaced Scott Linehan as coach, but have lost the last two, demonstrating again their lack of talent.

San Francisco (2-6) at Arizona (5-3) (Monday night)
The Cardinals, three games up on the other three NFC West teams, won the opener in San Francisco and are 3-0 at home, where they have been able to fill the stadium with their own fans rather than the opposition's. Kurt Warner is looking like the Kurt Warner of his St. Louis heyday and the Cardinals are getting help from rookie Tim Hightower, a fifth-round pick who has replaced Edgerrin James as the starting running back.
This will be San Francisco's second game under Mike Singletary, who lost his first to Seattle but made a splash by calling out tight end Vernon Davis and dropping his pants to motivate his players.

New Orleans (4-4) at Atlanta (5-3)
The Falcons are the most pleasant surprise of the first half, led by rookie QB Matt Ryan, free agent RB Michael Turner and DE/LB John Abraham, who led a defense that held Oakland (OK, it was only the Raiders) to 77 yards of offense last week.
it this week when defensive end Charles Grant went on injured reserve with a triceps injury. One of his stats is one of the reason the Saints are just a .500 team: He led them with just three sacks when he went on IR.

Carolina (6-2) at Oakland (2-6)
The Panthers have quietly been putting themselves in position for a first-round playoff bye and maybe more. They play the Giants in the Meadowlands and New York's tough schedule could cost it enough games to give the Panthers home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs.
Speaking of the Giants ...
Gibril Wilson, who started at safety for New York for four years, got $16 million guaranteed to sign with the Raiders. Now he's not sure that money trumps winning. ``We come out there and we're damn near the laughingstock of the league, and it's ridiculous,'' he said after the 24-0 loss to Atlanta last week. ``I've never been in a situation where it's been like this.''

Baltimore (5-3) at Houston (3-5)
The makeup of the game postponed by Hurricane Ike in September.
nally strong defense and trails Pittsburgh by just a game in the AFC North.
Sage Rosenfels will be at quarterback for Matt Schaub, out with a knee injury for the Texans. Although Rosenfels almost singlehandedly lost a game to the Colts earlier this year, the other NFL team in Texas would love to have a backup QB as good.

Kansas City (1-7) at San Diego (3-5)
The Chiefs are the best one-win team in the NFL, which means they are better than the Bengals and winless Detroit. At least they are young and (supposedly) building.
The Chargers are the NFL's biggest underachievers. During their bye, Norv Turner fired defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell and replaced him with Ron Rivera to avoid being fired himself.

Jacksonville (3-5) at Detroit (0-8)
Daunte Culpepper might start for the Lions at quarterback after a day or two of practice because Dan Orlovsky has an injured thumb on his throwing hand.
After being beaten in Cincinnati, the Jaguars are trying to avoid becoming the first team in NFL history to lose consecutive games to winless teams this late in the season.

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