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Inside the NFL | THIS WEEK'S MATCHUPS

This Time, Broncos Aim to Stay Hot

October 21, 2005|Jerry Crowe | Times Staff Writer

You might think that expectations in Denver would be mile-high after the Broncos' fast start, which includes a 28-20 victory last Sunday over the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.

The Broncos have won five consecutive games and are 5-1 going into Sunday's game against the New York Giants (3-2) at East Rutherford, N.J.

But fans seem to be taking a wait-and-see approach with the Broncos, who are two-point underdogs. They're waiting for a midseason swoon because they have seen it before. The Broncos were 5-1 last year too, and 5-1 the year before that.

Those teams finished 10-6 and 10-6, "Indy and out, Indy and out," as a Denver reporter wrote this week, referring to the way those seasons ended, with the wild-card Broncos losing to the Indianapolis Colts in the first round of the playoffs.

But these Broncos say they're different from those Broncos.

"I don't know how to put a finger on it, but we're closing games that maybe we were losing in the past," defensive end Trevor Pryce said after Sunday's game. "The biggest difference is, we're learning how to finish."

The Giants, averaging 29.8 points a game, are the NFL's highest-scoring team, with quarterback Eli Manning starting to come into his own. But they scored a season-low 13 points last Sunday in a three-point loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

They forced four turnovers but coughed up five of their own.

"The defense created turnover after turnover, but we were too inept to capitalize," running back Tiki Barber said. "The offense is out of sync."

Elsewhere:

Kansas City (3-2) plus 1 1/2 at Miami (2-3), tonight, 4 -- Hurricane Wilma prompted the move from Sunday, the third time since the end of the 2003 season that the Dolphins have rescheduled a home game because of an approaching hurricane.

Indianapolis (6-0) at Houston (0-5) plus 16, Sunday, 10 a.m. -- On the bright side: Houstonians have the World Series and the National League champion Astros to take their minds off the winless Texans. On the not-so-bright side: Peyton Manning has completed nearly 70% of his passes and thrown for 14 touchdowns against the Texans, who in their brief history are 0-6 against the Colts.

New Orleans (2-4) plus 3 at St. Louis (2-4), Sunday, 10 a.m. -- Jamie Martin, whose career with the Rams dates to their Anaheim days, fills in for the injured Marc Bulger as the Rams try to end a three-game losing streak. The vagabond Saints lead the league with 19 turnovers, but they have won three in a row at St. Louis.

Detroit (2-3) plus 3 at Cleveland (2-3), Sunday, 10 a.m. -- With Steve Mariucci pondering whether to bench Joey Harrington in favor of Jeff Garcia, Lion guard Damien Woody offered this advice: : "There needs to be a change, because something is clearly not right."

San Francisco (1-4) plus 12 1/2 at Washington (3-2), Sunday, 10 a.m. -- The 49ers rank last in the NFL in total defense. They've given up 32 points a game, more than double what they have scored. So reporters probably scratched their heads this week when linebacker Derek Smith said, "For this defense to become special, we need to eliminate little mistakes here and there. Until that happens, I think we'll just be a good defense."

Pittsburgh (3-2) plus 1 at Cincinnati (5-1), Sunday, 10 a.m. -- Ben Roethlisberger hopes to restore order for the Steelers, whose 23-17 overtime loss to Jacksonville last Sunday could be blamed, according to Tommy Maddox, on wind, booing fans or his Steeler teammates. But not Maddox, who had three passes intercepted, the last of which was returned for the winning touchdown.

San Diego (3-3) plus 4 at Philadelphia (3-2), Sunday, 10 a.m., Channel 2 -- A surprisingly one-sided 33-10 loss to Dallas two weeks ago showed that the Eagles are not without their problems, but since Coach Andy Reid arrived in 1999 the defending NFC champions are 6-0 after bye weeks. Since 2000, they're 17-3 after losses, the league's best record in that span.

Green Bay (1-4) at Minnesota (1-4) plus 2, Sunday, 10 a.m. -- This season has hardly been a pleasure cruise for the disappointing Vikings, the league's most controversial team even after the departure of Randy Moss.

Dallas (4-2) plus 3 at Seattle (4-2), Sunday, 1 p.m., Channel 11 -- Shaun Alexander, who ran for 141 yards and four touchdowns last Sunday in the Seahawks' 42-10 victory over Houston, is only three touchdowns from reaching 15 for the fifth consecutive season. No other player has done it four seasons in a row.

Baltimore (2-3) plus 1 at Chicago (2-3), Sunday, 1:15 p.m. -- The NFL's fourth-ranked rushing defense will be a challenge for Baltimore's Jamal Lewis, who has been limited to fewer than three yards a carry this season.

Tennessee (2-4) plus 3 1/2 at Arizona (1-4), Sunday, 1:15 p.m. -- Who will start at quarterback for last-place Arizona, Kurt Warner of Josh McCown? They aren't saying. "We basically take the position ... the more we know, the better for us, and the less Tennessee knows, the better for us," Coach Dennis Green said.

Buffalo (3-3) plus 3 at Oakland (1-4), Sunday, 1:15 p.m., Channel 2 -- A victory would put Buffalo alone atop the AFC East (ahead of idle New England) for the first time in 10 years. For the Raiders, Moss is doubtful because of numerous injuries.

N.Y. Jets (2-4) plus 7 at Atlanta (4-2), Monday, 6 p.m. -- Vinny Testaverde will take snaps from Pete Kendall, ending injured Jet center Kevin Mawae's consecutive games streak at 177, third-longest among active players.

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