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The Nickel Package

September 23, 2007

Times staff writer Sam Farmer breaks down five areas worth watching in today's NFL matchups:

Beast in the East

Two weeks into the season, the New England Patriots already have a two-game lead in the AFC East. That's nothing new. Since 2000, the Patriots are the NFL's only team with fewer than 10 losses within its division. Best record vs. own division, since 2000:

*--* New England Patriots 30-9 769 Pittsburgh Steelers 29-12 707 Indianapolis Colts 27-12 692 Philadelphia Eagles 27-12 692 Green Bay Packers 26-12 684 *--*

Well-received

It's often said that Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre hasn't had a go-to receiver in compiling his 417 touchdown passes -- second only to Dan Marino's record 420. But Favre threw 57 of those touchdowns to Antonio Freeman, which certainly puts that theory to the test. Most touchdown passes with favorite TD target:

Touchdown passes

Top target

Dan Marino 420 …Mark Clayton 79

Brett Favre 417…Antonio Freeman 57

Fran Tarkenton 342…John Gilliam 25

John Elway 300…Shannon Sharpe 41

Warren Moon 290…Drew Hill 43

* Also high on Favre's list of touchdown targets are Sterling Sharpe (41), Donald Driver (35) and Robert Brooks (32).

Bleak streak

When Pittsburgh plays host to San Francisco today, the matchup will feature two 2-0 teams that haven't been 3-0 for many years. Barring a tie, either the Steelers or 49ers will be off to their best start in a long while. Most consecutive seasons without a 3-0 start -- active (with season of last 3-0 start listed):

Arizona Cardinals…32 (1974)

Detroit Lions…26 (1980)

Pittsburgh Steelers…14 (1992)

Buffalo Bills…14 (1992)

Cleveland Browns…13 (1993)

San Francisco 49ers…8 (1998)

Source of all charts: Stats LLC

Five locks

* Baltimore over Arizona: Ravens defense should be able to at least slow Arizona's suddenly effective running game.

* New England over Buffalo: Using Spygate as motivation, the Patriots could ride it all the way to another ring.

* New York Jets over Miami: Both teams are winless, but the Dolphins have lost eight of nine at the Meadowlands.

* Denver over Jacksonville: The Broncos have rolled up a league-best 455.5 yards a game; the Jaguars can't protect Garrard.

* Carolina over Atlanta: Falcons are simply a bad team, and Jake Delhomme looks like the quarterback who helped direct the Panthers to the Super Bowl.

* Last week: 2-3. Season: 6-4

Standing by their man

Whereas some NFL teams are quick to switch coaches when things get bumpy, the Pittsburgh Steelers have had only three since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. So even if first-year Coach Mike Tomlin (at right) weren't 2-0, he could still feel pretty good about his job security. Head coaches (since 1970;

rankings exclude expansion teams).

* Fewest: 3, Steelers

* Most: 14, Jets, Chargers, Cardinals,

Saints, Colts.

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