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Colts, you're fired! Pats, you're hired!

Pigskin Pick 'Em

Posted: Friday, November 02, 2007

Honors and achievements:

* A 12-game winning streak.

* The most rushing touchdowns (12) in the NFL.

* The No. 1 passing defense in the league.

* Allowing a second-best 14.6 points a game.

* Defending Super Bowl champions.

If the Indianapolis Colts were applying for a job, they'd become the leading candidate the very second their resume popped through the mail slot.

But it's a different story if the New England Patriots are in the running.

For all their dominance and equally impressive resiliency over the last couple of years, Indy, off to its third consecutive 7-0 start, was recently rewarded, or docked, depending on how you look at it, six points entering their epic showdown with the Patriots (8-0) on Sunday afternoon.

Making it more even more astonishing, though, is the Colts are playing at home, where they've won 13 in a row, including last season's playoffs during which they stunned New England, 38-34, in the AFC Championship game.

"The point spread is there to get the betting right, it's not something we worry about," Colts' coach Tony Dungy said. "New England is a different challenge for us because they've got a lot of guys who can make plays. So far, so good, but it's going to be tougher against these guys."

Sure, he's right on one count spreads are for bettors, not for the players. That is, unless you happen to be the Cincinnati Reds with Pete Rose barreling around the base paths.

Dungy, however, was wrong when he said the Patriots have a lot of guys who can make plays.

You're probably wondering, how, sitting at 8-0 for the first time in franchise history, scoring 41.4 points per game, winning by an average of 25 1/2 points, I could possibly say he was incorrect in that regard.

Well, New England doesn't have "a lot" of playmakers.

Their entire team is comprised of them.

Sure, Indianapolis has Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne, who is quickly becoming one of the game's most dominant receivers while Marvin Harrison is sidelined with an injury. And OK, they have running back Joseph Addai, who, in only his second season, not only plays like it, but handles himself like a veteran. Mix in tight end Dallas Clark, Manning's apparent go-to-guy, leading the team with six touchdowns, and Indy's offense is as potent as ever.

And fine, the Colts' run defense has improved, too, vaulting from 32nd last season to 13th this year.

"They've won a lot of games through the years, they won a championship last year and nobody's beat them in a long time," Patriots' coach Bill Belichick said. "So there's nobody doing it better than they are."

Umm ... Coach ... Your team is.

We all know about Tom Brady, who, last week, in a 52-7 mauling of Washington, added to his already extraordinary 2007 resume with a pair of rushing touchdowns and three more through the air for a total of 30 passing touchdowns this season.

In leading the league's top offense, which is averaging 29 1/2 points over the last nine meetings with the Colts, Brady's most impressive stat comes from what he's not doing turning the ball over, having thrown only two interceptions this season.

But a quarterback can't succeed by himself.

Everybody knows all about Randy Moss, too, and his 11 touchdown grabs, halfway to the NFL record set by Jerry Rice in 1987.

Most fans have also heard of a couple guys by the names of Wes Welker and Donte' Stallworth, who have scored six and three times, respectively, and running back Laurence Maroney, who's making a valiant comeback after missing three games with an injury.

The defensive side of the ball is just as stacked.

Featuring perhaps the most feared linebacking corps in the league led by Mike Vrabel, who had three sacks last week and now has 7 1/2 on the year, the Patriots are allowing 268.5 yards and 15.9 points a game, most occurring late when the backups are getting their time.

Strengthened by the return of defensive end Richard Seymour, set to make his first start since last season's embarrassing title-game setback, the defensive line, comprised of Vince Wilfork, Jarvis Green and Ty Warren, who recovered two fumbles against the Redskins last week, saying, "It was like I was out there Easter egg hunting or picking up a golden egg," are limiting opponents to just 87 rushing yards a game and are sure to rattle Manning a few times.

The NFL's top two teams have even more in common, though.

While Indianapolis is off to another sensational start, they've been consistently overshadowed by New England's near-perfect performances week in and week out.

The Patriots, on the other hand, may not be underappreciated, but they're also getting overlooked in New England due to the success of the Local Nine, who just captured their second World Series title in the last four years, a stretch nearly mirroring that of the Pats.

But with the Red Sox officially off the radar until February, its the Patriots' time to shine as they make a strong run toward their fourth championship in the last seven years.

And there's another topic that will start making headlines soon enough.

A 16-0 season? Perhaps.

More importantly, though, the winner of this battle will have the inside track to home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

And, as the Colts proved last season with their jaw-dropping victory over the Patriots, their third in a row over New England after losing six straight in the Manning-Brady era, home field can make all the difference.

Consider this a preview of January's AFC Championship game.

Now, that's something you can bet on.

PATRIOTS, 48-31

Carolina (plus 4) at Tennessee

Panthers are 4-0 on the road. PANTHERS, 24-17.

Cincinnati (minus 1) at Buffalo

Bills should be on a four-game winning streak. Cincy shouldn't be 2-5. BENGALS, 38-24.

Denver (plus 3) at Detroit

Jon Kitna picks up where Brett Favre left off. LIONS, 28-24.

Green Bay (plus 2) at Kansas City

Nobody seems to think Green Bay is for real. Except maybe the Packers. And me. PACKERS, 27-20.

Jacksonville (plus 3 1/2) at New Orleans

Jags are amidst the NFL's only three-game road trip this season. Reggie Bush and Drew Brees make them wish they weren't. SAINTS, 31-24.

San Diego (minus 7) at Minnesota

LT versus the future LT. The current version wins out. CHARGERS, 28-24.

San Francisco (plus 3) at Atlanta

49ers are the only team the Falcons would be favored against. Even then they shouldn't be. 49ERS, 17-10.

Washington (minus 3 1/2) at New York Jets

Chad Pennington is finally benched. Kellen Clemens is next. REDSKINS, 31-17.

Arizona (plus 3 1/2) at Tampa Bay

Bucs' defense has nine interceptions in three games against Kurt Warner. His sore elbow doesn't help things. BUCCANEERS, 24-17.

Seattle (plus 1 1/2) at Cleveland

Cleveland QB Derek Anderson has thrown more TDs than Manning, Tony Romo, Ben Roethlisberger, Carson Palmer ... Well, everyone but Brady. BROWNS, 38-35.

Houston (plus 3) at Oakland

When is JaMarcus Russell going to play? TEXANS, 41-28.

Dallas (minus 3) at Philadelphia

Donovan McNabb gets his revenge on Terrell Owens. EAGLES, 27-24.

Monday

Baltimore (plus 9 1/2) at Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh is 11-0 at home on Monday nights since 1992. Not much changes. STEELERS, 21-14.

LAST WEEK: 8-4 (spread); 9-4 (straight up)

SEASON: 66-40-9 (spread); 74-42 (straight up)

Comments and criticisms may be sent to Clarion sports reporter Matthew Carroll at matthew.carroll@peninsulaclarion.com.



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