Take shelter in our very own Colts- and Pats-free zone

With the so-called Game of the Century finally upon us, I've come to the line on this blog, checked out the defense and decided the following: I'm calling an audible. I will not be party to this Colts-Patriots showdown hoedown.

At least not in this blog. I mean it.

Well, I mean, I'm going to try my best. Because, you know, it is the first matchup between two teams of 7-0 or better in the history of the National Football League. And they aren't just fluke, flash-in-the pan 7-0 teams, either. The two teams only represent four of the last six Super Bowl winners, who just happen to be a combined 131-33 since 2003, including playoffs.

Darn it. There I go again about the Colts and the Patriots.

Alright, from now on, I swear: I will not be party to this Colts-Patriots total eclipse of the football sun. At least for the next few paragraphs! That's it. A line in the sand! And I'm not crossing it.

Sort of.

On one hand, I'm thrilled that the game is finally here, because I won't have to read any more e-mail from The Readership like this one, sent to the inbox last week from a Redskins fan at the University of Virginia:

The sports media is blitzing the fans with the much-anticipated Week 9 matchup between New England and Indianapolis, but they seem to forget about Week 8 entirely. First let's note: Of the seven opponents New England has faced up to this point, only one team, the Dallas Cowboys, has a winning record currently. The combined record of all NE opponents thus far -- Jets (1-6), Chargers (3-3), Bills (2-4), Bengals (2-4), Browns (3-3), Cowboys (6-1), Dolphins (0-7) -- totals 17-28, or a 37.78 win percentage. This equates to New England only blowing out teams who are not winning games anyway. Remember, The Washington Redskins currently have the No. 5 overall defense with the No. 8 passing defense. The No. 8 passing defense is misleading, however, since Detroit, Green Bay and Arizona had the No. 1 passing offense for the week each team faced the Redskins. Each of these teams left the meeting with a lower position in the passing offense hierarchy. Might I mention those three matchups were in successive weeks? Such faith has been placed in the "high scoring" pattern New England has set, but the "dismantling of league leading passing offenses" pattern seems to be overlooked. I expect this to be a much bigger game for New England than the media does.

-Alan Mulroney

Ahem. Next?

Dear Rich,

I am a regular reader of your work, and minus a few shameless (mostly humorous) book plugs I love your column. (Author's note: Shameless book plug? As in the book officially hit a shelf in a bookstore near you on Tuesday? You mean that sort of shameless plug?) You usually hit the nail right on the head. I am absolutely flabbergasted as to how you can overlook the Redskins-Patriots game this weekend. Currently the Redskins have the best defense in the conference, and have shut down pass-happy teams (See: Roy Williams, Donald Driver, Larry Fitzgerald). In addition to this, I am also shocked, as you are such a fan of history that you would choose to omit the Patriots' 1-6 record against the Redskins, or their 0-3 record against Joe Gibbs. If this wasn't enough, the last time the Patriots seemed unstoppable, they were on an amazing 22-game win streak, I'm pretty sure they snapped that streak and lost to a disappointing Steve Spurrier squad. I realize that Tom Brady & Co. are the best team in years, statistically, but they have yet to face a quality defense. History tends to repeat itself Rich, and the record, well it is what it is.

Sincerely, the one guy who knows the Skins will win,

Ken Green
Washington, D.C.

Ken, as always in these parts, you get points for dropping an "it is what it is," but as for the rest of your proclamation ... well, it is what it is.

Get Rich, Quick

Care to add your voice to the discussion? Or cozy up to a guy with the ultimate in Total Access? Or simply register your vote in his latest contest? That's why they invented e-mail. Fire away at getrichquick@nfl.com.

Now then.

On the other hand, I'm a little concerned that the Mother of All NFL Battles has finally arrived because of e-mails such as this one received in the getrichquick@nfl.com inbox:

You latest blog (10/24) was kinda boring. All we hear about is Pats/Colts or Brady/Manning.

Neil Fulton

Ah, yes. In some parts of The Readership (which your humble narrator takes as a representative snapshot of the NFL fan base as a whole), it appears that Colts and Patriots fatigue has already set in. So, then, all of you already weary of Brady v. Manning and Harrison v. Moss and Dungy v. Belichick will absolutely adore the press release that NFL Network fired out to the media mire midway through the day Tuesday with the blaring headline of:

WALL-TO-WALL PATRIOTS-COLTS COVERAGE

ON NFL NETWORK THIS WEEK

Record 36.5 Hours of Programming Devoted to Battle of Unbeatens

And as if that wasn't enough of a solid warning of sensory overload, there was one last headline before the body of the press release:

End of Daylight Saving Gives Fans Extra Coverage Hour

Yep. Not only will we give you a full and complete accounting of what might happen in the Patriots-Colts battle of the ages, but we at NFL Network are also providing a public service by reminding all of you that we "fall back" at 2 a.m. this Sunday. Before that, of course, it's all hands on the daylight-saving deck. Yours truly. Fran Charles. Derrin Horton. Jamie Dukes. Rod Woodson. Marshall Faulk. Steve Mariucci. Deion Sanders. Jim Mora. Brian Baldinger. Sterling Sharpe. Adam Schefter. Schefter's parents. I mean, who do you think is going to be up at 2 a.m. on NFL Network to remind us to set our clocks back an hour?

In other words, we at NFL Network are more than ready for football in Indianapolis on Sunday, when home-field advantage for the AFC Championship Game supposedly is on the line. And, of course, home-field advantage for that game is crucial, since the AFC Championship Game will determine the eventual Super Bowl champion, because no one in the NFC can actually win in Arizona in February, right?

Do you think the league will allow the NFC Pro Bowl team to form up and try to give the Colts and Patriots a battle? I didn't think so, but I would enjoy that.

Dave
South Carolina

Be careful, Dave. You don't want to enrage the suddenly resurgent Cheesehead Nation, or the large multi-national fan base of America's Team. While we're on the subject, the Cowboys fan/foreign engineer who cursed me out last week for pointing out his team's deficiencies against the Patriots and signed his virulent e-missive with the abbreviation "Ing." may not be from Spain after all. Your humble narrator used Wikipedia to try to decipher "Ing." and, trusting its definition of the abbreviation, jumped to the conclusion that my foul-mouthed amigo was from the Iberian Peninsula. But, thankfully, this blog goes international, and many compadres in The Readership reside in Mexico.

Hey Rich!

I just read your blog, and like every other time it is a great piece of art, keep up the good work. This e-mail is simply to improve the Wikipedia interpretation of the abbreviation "Ing."

As I saw in the offensive mail sent to you, I realized it could be a person from Mexico. Down here, people love to use descriptions of their jobs, e.g. "Ing.", "Arq." (architect) or the most popular one, "Lic." (licenciado), which stands for something like graduate for the career you once had. Anyway, I think you should take this into consideration, because there is a huge fan base here for the 'Boys (I'm not part of it; I love my Bucs).

So, there you have it, a new cultural learning for today. Keep up the great work; please say hi to Deion and Steve, love you guys on GameDay.

Juan Manuel Bedoya
Mexico City, Mexico

Gracias, Juan Manuel Bedoya! Great name! Did you try to avenge your father's death by killing Count Rugen in The Princess Bride? In all seriousness, thanks to you and the legion of Mexican football fanatics who wrote in to me this past week. Oye como va! I know, the literal translation of that is not applicable whatsoever here, but that's about the extent of my Spanish.

At any rate, can you see I'm doing my darnedest to try to avoid talking about something I'm going to be spending the lion's share of 36.5 hours (thanks Daylight Standard Time!) talking about on television this week? Therefore, I'm dedicating the rest of this blog to the other considerably important games on the rest of the Week 9 docket that will barely see the light of hype day this week.

Cowboys at Eagles
Oh yeah. Terrell Owens is going back to Philadelphia on Sunday night. That normally would register an 8.0 on the media Richter scale, but not this week. And, boy, does this Eagles team need a win. If Philadelphia beats the Cowboys, it would return to .500 and sit two games out of first place, with half its schedule still remaining. Remember: Last year, the Eagles looked dead in the water, still won the NFC East and even won a playoff game, so standing at 4-4 with eight games left -- while not optimum -- is fine nonetheless. However, should the Eagles lose, they not only would fall to 3-5 overall but to a catastrophic 0-3 in the division and 2-5 in conference. The Eagles must win this game, while the Cowboys, you know, sort of need this one too. The Giants are chilling on their bye week after their soggy victory in London, becoming only the fifth team in NFL history to win six straight after losing their first two. If Dallas stumbles, it would find itself in a tie with the surging G-Men heading into the Week 10 trip to Giants Stadium. The Cowboys no doubt would like to have some cushion before that game, and sticking a dagger in the Eagles in front of their faithful and the national NBC television audience would be a good way to do that. If not, the Cowboys could fall out of first place in the overall NFC picture, because the Pack is back.

Green Bay at Kansas City
What an incredible Monday night victory for the Packers in Denver -- a walk-off, 82-yard Brett Favre-to-Greg Jennings strike, the second-longest overtime ender in the history of the NFL. In recent years, the words "Favre" and "history" appeared in the same sentence because many naysayers thought ol' No. 4 should hang 'em up. But, this year, Favre has been making history almost every week, once again providing another sense of destiny to the Green Bay Packers. "I feel like I've been on some better teams, but it's hard to doubt this team," Favre said after the Monday night win made the Packers 6-1 for the first time in five years. I know we keep treating the NFC as an afterthought, but should the Packers keep on keeping on and somehow make it to Arizona, they might represent the conference's best shot at knocking an AFC giant from the beanstalk. How serious would the Packers' mojo be if Favre got them to another Super Bowl with a chance to ride off into the sunset, a la Bettis or Elway, the man whose all-time record for wins Favre broke earlier this year? Of course, there's lots more football to be played between now and then for the Packers, starting in a place where Favre has never won -- Arrowhead Stadium. In fact, the Chiefs are the only team Favre has never beaten, period. And these Chiefs seem to take this particular old-time sports cliché seriously: there are no pictures in the standings. The Chiefs may win ugly, but by this point in the NFL season -- you guessed it -- you are what you are. And the Chiefs are coming off their bye-week, rested and healthy at 4-3, atop the AFC West by way of their head-to-head win over the equally 4-3 Chargers. With the way San Diego is now playing, the Chiefs need to win every home game they can -- and this game kicks off a crucial stretch of four home games in their next five, with the only road game being at Indianapolis. I know that it has been a frequent struggle for the Chiefs to even get to this point, but, in a way, the season for Kansas City starts this week with the Packers.

Baltimore at Pittsburgh
If you haven't noticed, the AFC North has gotten pretty competitive in the last few weeks. The Browns just won back-to-back games for the first time in four years and, yes, sport the sixth-ranked offense in the NFL. Wide receiver Braylon Edwards is flat-out balling, second only to Randy Moss in touchdowns with 9. So, if the Ravens slip up in this game, they could possibly find themselves in third place in this suddenly hopping party for which the Bengals have apparently lost their invite. Or maybe they got uninvited by the Steelers, who won their sixth straight in Cincinnati on Sunday, thanks to yet another man-handling offensive performance in which, yes, Ben Roethlisberger attempted fewer than 30 passes. That now makes the Steelers 34-5 in the Big Ben era under those circumstances. This will be a typical smash-mouth affair, and coming on the heels of Ray Lewis calling out Coach Brian Billick for his play-calling, this one will be quite interesting to watch Monday night. And there's lots riding on it, too. If the Steelers win, they'd be two up on the Ravens (and possibly the Browns, who haven't won three straight in six years and host the Seahawks) and can get fat with games against the Browns, Jets, Dolphins and Bengals again before visiting New England in Week 14, which would be the next Game of the Century, certainly if the Patriots are still undefeated by then. Should the Steelers lose, we could have a three-way tie atop the AFC North by week's end. Fun stuff.

Jacksonville at New Orleans
Yeah, I'm including this game in this mix. With the fork that the entire free football world stuck in them after Week 4 still apparently stuck in their back, the Saints enter Week 9 with a chance not only to get back to .500 but to grab a piece of the NFC South lead with a home win over Jacksonville this Sunday. Who'd have thought that was possible? Not your humble narrator, that's for sure. But here we are with that possibility quite distinct. And, despite their Monday night spanking by the Colts, the Jaguars responded with a mighty road performance in Tampa Bay with a first-time starter at quarterback. Many observers thought the Jaguars would be up the proverbial creek with FAMU's finest, Quinn Gray, starting in Tampa Bay, but it forced Jacksonville to get back to its basics -- running the football. Jacksonville ran the ball a season-high 44 times, while Gray threw no picks in his mere 16 attempts. In the meantime, Jeff Garcia, of all people, was the quarterback who threw interceptions Sunday -- his first picks of the season -- as the Jacksonville defense returned to its stout self. And now it appears they'll add run stuffer extraordinaire Grady Jackson -- Atlanta's mysterious castoff -- to the mix in time for game time in New Orleans.

I will have my eyes peeled, because yeah, that's right, this game is important too.

Although it's not going to get 36.5 hours of airtime on NFL Network this week. Even with the extra hour. Enjoy Week 9, everybody. All of it.

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