NFL WEEK 9
Midway through the NFL season, only two teams remain with unblemished records: the Colts (7-0) and Saints (7-0). They have completed the feat with some prolific passers (QBs Peyton Manning and Drew Brees) and some better-than-you-think defenses. Whether the Saints or Colts can match the 2007 Patriots' undefeated regular season remains to be seen. Each will have a different road, but both would have to beat the — you guessed it — Patriots en route to a potential perfect season.
Why they can: Their schedule. Of their nine remaining games, the Saints face the winless Bucs twice, the Panthers twice and the Rams and Redskins once. One of their toughest games, against the Patriots, is at home, where they have outscored opponents by an average of 15.3 points. They do have a road test against the Falcons, an NFC South rival. QB Drew Brees is one of the league's best passers — and leaders — and he has been helped by a balanced attack (the NFL's fourth-best rushing offense at 153.3 yards per game)
Why they can't: Their defense. This team hasn't blown everyone away, having to overcome a 21-point deficit to beat the Dolphins and having to hold on to defeat the Falcons. In their past three games, the Saints have given up an average of 29.3 points after allowing just 17 combined in the previous two.
Why they can: QB Peyton Manning. There's a reason Manning is a three-time NFL MVP, and most people rarely bet against him. Manning is on pace for arguably one of his better seasons and hasn't had to outscore everyone, thanks to a defense that is ranked No. 1 in the NFL in points allowed (13 per game).
Why they can't: Their schedule. Unlike the Saints, the Colts face a gantlet of tough opponents, starting with the much-improved Texans today. They then host the Patriots before taking on the Ravens on the road. With matchups against the Broncos and Jets, it's very likely the Colts will slip up before the season is over. And that stout defense has suffered several blows, including the loss of S Bob Sanders for the season.
He said it
"I beat Joey (Porter)? Wow. How can I be the dirtiest player on the field — a little, old wideout with no speed? I don't know whether to be happy or mad about it."
Steelers WR Hines Ward, right, who was named the NFL's dirtiest player in a Sports Illustrated poll of 296 players
Chargers (4-3) at Giants (5-3): QB Philip Rivers will take advantage of a struggling Giants defense, which has given up 112 points and 1,172 yards in a three-game losing streak.
Colts QB Peyton Manning is close to a few more milestones. With 19 passing yards against the Texans today, the three-time MVP will become the first player in NFL history with 40,000 passing yards in one decade. And if he throws four touchdowns, he will be the first with 300 in one decade.
Number of the week
6.92 Yards per carry for Titans RB Chris Johnson, the highest through Week 8 since 1970 by more than a yard (Jamal Lewis, 5.89 in 2003).
Quote of the week
"I'm not a T.O. (Terrell Owens) or I'm not trying to be a T.O. I don't know why people are trying to put me in that category because I'm happy."
Cowboys WR Roy Williams, left, on how he won't complain he's not getting the ball, despite 14 catches for 249 yards.
Pass on the run
Franco Harris. Jerome Bettis. The Steelers have not only been known for their "Steel Curtain" defenses but a bruising running game as well. This season, however, they've been more pass-happy. Thanks to a strong passing attack, the Steelers are averaging just 26.4 rushing attempts, the second fewest in team history (in 1991, they had 24.6). "We're not the Steelers of the '70s," QB Ben Roethlisberger said.
For the Jaguars, things keep getting worse. They're heading for their fourth blackout of the season, in which they've lost four games and 17,000 season-ticket holders. According to ESPN.com, the Jaguars are playing to a league-low 68.3 percent capacity. "I have a great love for this franchise, and it drives me crazy to see it trashed like this," former Jaguars Pro Bowl OL Tony Boselli said. "Unfortunately, in this world, perception is reality. It's not fair for everyone to jump on the bandwagon and throw Jacksonville under the bus. It's worked here before — and it will work again. But yeah, we need to sell more tickets."
Did you know?
Bears QB Jay Cutler, right, suffers from Type 1 diabetes and has to inject himself five times a day with insulin, the Chicago Tribune reported. Cutler talked about his affliction in a Webisode that will be released this month (National Diabetes Month). "The worst thing imaginable is to get really low and pass out in the middle of a play or in the huddle or something," Cutler said on the video. "I think that would scare a lot of people — not only myself but fans and the public in general. We try to avoid it as much as possible, but it's still a reality."
Rookie on a roll
Colts first-year coach Jim Caldwell has started his rookie season 7-0, which is the second-best start to a season by a rookie head coach since 1930. But if Caldwell's Colts win today, he can match Potsy Clark (1931 Portsmouth Spartans) for the best start in the past 80 years.
Times wires, the Associated Press, ESPN.com, SI.com, the Chicago Tribune and the NFL contributed to this report
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]