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THIS WEEK'S MATCHUPS

Colts Aren't the Types to Uncork a Tradition

October 14, 2005|Mike Terry | Times Staff Writer

The Indianapolis Colts are all that's left between the 1972 Dolphins, the only NFL team to go through a season unbeaten and untied, and another case of champagne.

The Miami players from that 1972 team always toast their achievement as soon as the last undefeated NFL team goes down. They expect to keep on toasting for a long time. It took 52 seasons for Miami to accomplish the feat. Going by that timetable, the next undefeated NFL season will take place in 2024.

Indianapolis (5-0), which plays host to the St. Louis Rams (2-3) Monday night on Channel 7, isn't thinking that far ahead. This is the fifth time the Colts' franchise has been 5-0 (last time was in 2003). But they haven't gone 6-0 since 1958, when they were still in Baltimore and Johnny Unitas was quarterback.

That Colt team went on to defeat the New York Giants for the NFL title in the league's first sudden-death overtime championship game. The current Colt team, led by Peyton Manning, is expected to contend for the Super Bowl if it can ever get past New England.

One doesn't know how distracted the Rams will be this week without Coach Mike Martz, out indefinitely with a bacterial infection of a heart valve. But they bring an offense that can score as often as Indianapolis can. St. Louis is averaging 25.6 points a game, the Colts 21.2. And the Rams have won four of the last five meetings between the teams, the last in 2001 (42-17).

All that pales, however, when you consider the defenses. St. Louis has given up 148 points this season, second most in the league. The Colts are much more stingy, giving up just 29, fewest in the league.

Which explains why Indianapolis is a 13 1/2 -point favorite. Which means the 1972 Dolphins figure to wait at least one more week before popping the corks.

Elsewhere:

Cleveland (2-2) plus 5 1/2 at Baltimore (1-3), Sunday, 10 a.m. -- The Browns have won only three of their last 10 meetings against their AFC North foes, but the Ravens are averaging a league worst 11.8 points a game.

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New York Giants (3-1) plus 3 1/2 at Dallas (3-2), Sunday, 10 a.m., Channel 11 -- New York had last week off and still leads the NFL in scoring average (34 points). Quarterback Eli Manning has a touchdown pass in five consecutive games and has not thrown for an interception in his last 110 attempts.

Cowboy Coach Bill Parcells needs one win to pass Minnesota's Bud Grant (168) for 10th on the all-time list.

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Minnesota (1-3) plus 3 at Chicago (1-3), Sunday, 10 a.m. -- A battle between NFC North also-rans. Defensive end and former USC standout Kenechi Udeze is out for the season after arthroscopic surgery on his left knee.

Carolina (3-2) plus 1 at Detroit, Sunday, 10 a.m. -- Carolina ranks first in touchdown percentage (12 of 15, 80%) when it is 20 yards or fewer from the end zone. Detroit quarterback Joey Harrington is gunning for his fourth consecutive home win.

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Washington (3-1) plus 6 at Kansas City, Sunday, 10 a.m. -- This may be the last chance for the Chiefs, coming off an open week, to show they have an improved defense after giving up a combined 67 points in losses to Denver and Philadelphia in their last two games.

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Atlanta (3-2) minus 5 1/2 vs. New Orleans (2-3), in San Antonio, Sunday, 10 a.m. -- Falcon quarterback Michael Vick says his sprained right knee will not prevent him from playing this week. Vick should watch out for Saint defensive end Darren Howard, who has 14 sacks in 17 games in October.

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Jacksonville (3-2) plus 3 at Pittsburgh (3-1), Sunday, 10 a.m., Channel 2 -- If quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who hurt his left knee in Monday's game against San Diego, can play this week, Jacksonville must defend a balanced offense. If not, the Jaguars will load up against the run, especially since they rank 29th in rushing defense.

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Miami (2-2) plus 5 1/2 at Tampa Bay (4-1), Sunday, 10 a.m. -- Ricky Williams' four-game suspension is over, and the running back will play in his first regular-season contest since 2003. Unfortunately for Williams and Miami, the Bucs have the league's second-best defense against the run (61.6 yards) and the toughest defense to score on (allowing 11.8 points).

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Cincinnati (4-1) minus 3 at Tennessee (2-3), Sunday, 10 a.m. -- Tennessee's Steve McNair is 8-3 against Cincinnati and has thrown 20 touchdown passes against three intercepted passes.

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New York Jets (2-3) plus 3 at Buffalo (2-3), Sunday, 1:15 p.m. -- Running back Willis McGahee had a career day against New York (132 yards and a touchdown) last November. With Jet Vinny Testaverde still not ready for a day-long pounding while trying to pass 40 times, the punishment falls to Curtis Martin. When Martin rushes 20 or more times, the Jets are 43-16.

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New England (3-2) plus 3 at Denver (4-1), Sunday, 1:15 p.m. -- The Broncos, winners of four in a row, get their chance to run over a decimated Patriot squad that now ranks 24th in rushing defense. New England has been in a win-one, lose-one syndrome all season, and the Pats won last week in Atlanta. Still, the defending champs are 22-1 against teams over .500 since 2003. Denver quarterback Jake Plummer makes his first career start against New England.

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San Diego (2-3) minus 2 at Oakland (1-3), Sunday, 1:15 p.m., Channel 2 -- San Diego's Marty Schottenheimer has more regular-season wins over the Raiders (22) than any other head coach in league history. Running back LaDainian Tomlinson needs one touchdown to equal the NFL record for scores in consecutive games (18).

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Houston (0-4) plus 9 1/2 at Seattle (3-2), Sunday, 5:30 p.m., ESPN -- The Texans are the only winless team in the league and are not expected to end the drought in Seattle.

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