NFL outlook: Indy was big winner on NFL's version of 'Separation Sunday'
If the NFL took its cues from the NCAA, this week’s slate of games would have been dubbed “Separation Sunday.”
Sunday’s schedule featured some of the league’s best playing the league’s best, giving several teams a boost in their run toward the playoffs.
Indianapolis was the biggest winner Sunday, solidifying its spot as the AFC’s top team. The Colts’ 34-31 victory over Denver not only kept them undefeated but also showed their inconsistent offense can still decimate stout defenses.
Denver had allowed only two touchdowns on the season coming into the game but allowed three to Reggie Wayne. The victory gave the Colts their second consecutive 7-0 record and, like the undefeated Chicago Bears in the NFC, gave them a nice cushion over the other teams in their conference.
The AFC, as a whole, also used Sunday’s games to set itself apart from the other conference, with three of its top teams knocking off three teams atop divisions in the NFC. Kansas City edged beat-up but division-leading Seattle, and LaDanian Tomlinson practically outplayed the St. Louis Rams single-handedly, totaling 240 yards and three touchdowns.
The Baltimore Ravens became the first team this season to travel to New Orleans and leave a winner. The Superdome has been a tough place for visitors this year. Every team that comes into town is the enemy of the feel-good story of the year: the angelic Saints and their faithful, rebuilding city.
The Ravens didn’t seem to mind playing the role of devils, sending the Saints into a tie in the NFC South with the surging Atlanta Falcons, who did what other front-running NFC teams couldn’t do: beat a contender from the AFC.
Atlanta topped Cincinnati 29-27 in large part because QB Michael Vick kept in touch with the forward pass. In the past two games he has thrown seven touchdowns. In his previous 10 games, he managed only six.
Instant replayThe game of the week lived up to the hype, and AFN Sports will show the Colts’ victory over the Broncos at 2 p.m. Wednesday Central Europe Time. The second half of the game features most of the action, with five touchdowns and five lead changes between the teams.
Also on Wednesday, AFN Sports has the Chiefs’ victory over the remains of the Seahawks at 3:30 p.m. CET.
Even without Matt Hasselbeck or Shaun Alexander Seattle played surprisingly well, but not well enough to overcome Kansas City’s two 100-yard receivers (Tony Gonzalez and Eddie Kennison) and a four-touchdown performance by Larry Johnson.
On Thursday, see the aforementioned Mike Vick aerial attack sneak by the Bengals at 2 p.m. CET.
Pitiful PittsburghThe Pittsburgh Steelers’ Super Bowl hangover has grown into all-out alcohol poisoning.
Pittsburgh lost 20-13 to Oakland on Sunday in a game in which the Raiders didn’t score an offensive touchdown. QB Ben Roethlisberger managed only one touchdown pass to his team but had two of the four interceptions off him returned for scores, including a 100-yard return in the fourth quarter.
This is the second week in a row that has happened. Philadelphia allowed no offensive touchdowns but had two interceptions returned for scores in a 23-21 loss to Tampa Bay last week. The Steelers’ collapse seemed even worse, dropping them to 2-5, the same record as those lowly Raiders.
Only twice in the past 20 years has a team followed a Super Bowl victory with a last-place finish (the Broncos in 1999 and the New York Giants in 1987) but the Steelers could certainly make a run at that exclusive group.
Six of their last nine games come against teams challenging for the playoffs, including Denver next week and New Orleans the following Sunday.
And if the defending champs can lose to the Raiders, they can’t assume they’ll take their two upcoming games against Cleveland, which beat Oakland 24-21 at the start of this month.
Looking aheadThose undefeated Colts and Bears will grab all the headlines again next week, and not just because of their spotless records.
Indianapolis visits New England next Sunday night in what has become an annual torture test for Peyton Manning. This will be the sixth game between the teams in the last four years, including the playoffs, and the fifth time in a row the Colts have traveled to New England.
The Colts are 1-5 in those games.
It’s also kicker Adam Vinatieri’s return to Foxboro after leaving the Patriots via free agency last year. If the game comes down to a last-second field goal, the New England faithful might be confused about who to root for.
The Bears will host a struggling Miami Dolphins team that they should dominate.
But the last time the Bears were undefeated this late in the season was 1985, when they lost their only game of the year to a Miami team intent on preserving the unmatched legacy of the perfect 1972 Dolphins.
This year’s Dolphins have been one of the league’s biggest disappointments, but Joey Harrington has found ways to frustrate the Bears before.