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Inside the NFL | THIS WEEK'S MATCHUPS

Seahawks Going for a Runaway

November 11, 2005|Steve Springer | Times Staff Writer

With teams starting the second half of the NFL season this weekend, most division leaders are clinging precariously to their perches, knowing one key injury, one bad pass or one lost fumble could negate their first-half accomplishments.

"Nobody remembers halftime scores," Carolina Panther Coach John Fox said. "Same way with this season."

Only the Indianapolis Colts, 8-0 and leading by three-games in the AFC South, can take some comfort from their position at the midway point.

The Seattle Seahawks (6-2) can also take control of their division with a three-game lead if they can shake off their closest pursuers, the St. Louis Rams (4-4) this weekend in Seattle.

Two things to look for in this game: a lot of points and a lot of Shaun Alexander.

The Seahawk running back leads the league in rushing with 949 yards, and in rushing touchdowns with 14. He is averaging 5.4 yards a carry and has five 100-yard games.

"Right now, he's playing like the best back in the NFL," Arizona Cardinal Coach Dennis Green said. "I don't think it's just the yardage. He also can catch the ball and does a decent job of pass protection."

The Seahawks and Rams have the top two offenses in the league, Seattle averaging 387.3 yards, St. Louis 369.6.

Seattle is a seven-point favorite in the game to be shown Sunday at 1:15 p.m. on Channel 11, but what ought to scare the Seahawks is that the Rams will have three offensive stars returning from injuries: quarterback Marc Bulger and receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce.

"We're getting a lot of the key pieces back this week," guard Claude Terrell said. "Any time you get Marc, Isaac and Torry back, that's an all-star roster in itself."

Elsewhere:

Denver (6-2), minus 3, at Oakland (3-5) Sunday, 1 p.m., Channel 2 -- Can the Raiders shake off the morale-crushing image of Kansas City's Larry Johnson diving over their defensive line to beat them on the last play of their game Sunday? They'd better if they hope to stay in playoff contention.

Washington (5-3), minus 1 1/2 , at Tampa Bay (5-3), Sunday, 1:15 p.m. -- Redskin quarterback Mark Brunell hasn't been spectacular, but he has only three interceptions, the fewest of any NFC starter, and none on third down. It should be an interesting matchup because the Buccaneer defense ranks first in third-down efficiency.

Houston (1-7), plus 18, at Indianapolis (8-0), Sunday, 10 a.m. -- The 1972 Miami Dolphins, the only unbeaten team in NFL history, toast themselves every year when the last team falls from the ranks of the unbeaten. With the Colts facing the hapless Texans, the champagne figures to remain on ice for at least another week.

Kansas City (5-3), plus 2 1/2 , at Buffalo (3-5), Sunday, 10 a.m. -- Chief running back Priest Holmes is out for the season because of a concussion, but Johnson has proved his equal. They have six touchdowns each, the most of any rushing tandem in the league. Kansas City kicker Lawrence Tynes has a hot foot. He has made 13 field goals in a row and at least one in 11 consecutive games.

San Francisco (2-6), plus 13, at Chicago (5-3), Sunday, 10 a.m. -- Chicago's leading rusher, Thomas Jones, is questionable because of a rib injury that forced him out of last week's game against the New Orleans Saints in the first half. No matter. Teammates Cedric Benson and Adrian Peterson combined for 137 yards on the ground. They figure to do at least as well against a 49er defense surrendering 416.9 yards a game.

Arizona (2-6), plus 4, at Detroit (3-5), Sunday, 10 a.m. -- Think where the Cardinals would be without kicker Neil Rackers (26 for 26 on field goals). As it is, Arizona appears headed nowhere, even with the return of Kurt Warner to the role of starting quarterback. Detroit Coach Steve Mariucci has never lost to the Cardinals (6-0), going back to his days as 49er coach.

Baltimore (2-6), plus 6 1/2 , at Jacksonville (5-3), Sunday, 10 a.m. -- The Ravens don't have a record to match the Jaguars, but they do have a six-game winning streak against Jacksonville. And they will have their opening-day quarterback, Kyle Boller, back after sitting out seven games because of a hyperextended toe.

New England (4-4), minus 3, at Miami (3-5), Sunday, 10 a.m. -- The coaches, New England's Bill Belichick and Miami's Nick Saban, know each other well. Saban was Belichick's defensive coordinator when Belichick was the head man in Cleveland. The Patriots have won four of their last five against the Dolphins, but that was before injuries devastated New England's defense.

Minnesota (3-5), plus 9 1/2 , at New York Giants (6-2), Sunday, 10 a.m., Channel 11 -- If the Giants win, it will be their third 7-2 start since 1990. Both previous 7-2 teams went on to the Super Bowl. Brad Johnson, Minnesota's starting quarterback in place of injured Daunte Culpepper, made his 100th start last week. He is 59-41 in a starting role.

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