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Critical division games the norm

If you think for one minute that this was some kind of scheduling coincidence, think again. Clearly the NFL wanted to open the 2004 season with a series of critical divisional games, like the one last weekend between the Broncos and Chiefs.

And today, the Colts are in Tennessee in a highly meaningful AFC South game. At stake is a strong upper hand on a division race that promises to be juicy.

Technically, the loser has to pick up two games behind the winner, while still having to contend with the Jaguars and Texans.

"I think it's the thing that the league wanted to establish with these four-team divisions (in 2002)," Colts coach Tony Dungy said. "You're going to play with high stakes and with the division at stake every time you go up against Jacksonville or Tennessee or Houston."

But since 2002, it has really been a two-team race and that rivalry has blossomed into something the NFL wants showcased early in the season.

"The last couple of years, either Indy or ourselves has been the team to beat in the division," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. "When you have that type of situation over a period of years, the natural byproduct or spinoff of that is a rivalry. It's become a good one. It's become one that I think both teams perceive. I'm not so sure it's perceived around the league, but certainly that's the case for us. It's always a challenge for us to line up and play against them."

ANOTHER TITANIC CLASH: Just to add to the flavor, Week 2 will finish with a dramatic Monday night game that pits two of the best young quarterbacks, Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb and Minnesota's Daunte Culpepper, throwing to two of the top receivers in the league, Terrell Owens and Randy Moss.

The teams appear evenly matched, but you have to like Moss' streak of Monday night performances. He has 41 catches for 872 yards (21.2 yard average) and 10 touchdowns in eight games.

Moss, who had two TDs in the opener, has been showing more maturity this season and even abandoned, at least for now, his threat not to speak to the media. Moss, who only had four catches for 24 yards last weekend, said the win over the Cowboys was more important.

"Not getting the ball is frustrating for me only when we're punting the ball," Moss said. "When we're putting up points, why be frustrated? In this game, there's not just one guy, especially on this team."

CHIEF CONCERN: Explain to the confused why, after playing defense like a flag football team in 2003, the Chiefs failed to address glaring needs on that side of the ball in the offseason? (Silence) That's what I thought.

They claimed that new defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham was as meaningful an addition as a first-round draft pick. Really? In a 34-24 loss to Denver in Week 1, the Broncos punted once and rushed for 202 yards. Kansas City's rush defense is ranked 28th overall in the league.

"I sure didn't expect 200 yards rushing when you have a whole summer and a whole camp to prepare for a game," defensive tackle Ryan Sims told the Kansas City Star. "That's enough time I think. It's very disappointing. It was horrible. We'd have flashes of greatness, and then we'd just resort back to missed assignments, mental errors. We go over things like that every day. A team like Denver will cut you up if you do that. Things will go from bad to worse."

HUMBLE PIE, ANYONE?: After recording four catches for 39 yards in the Browns' opening week win over the Ravens, rookie tight end Kellen Winslow was asked what was the biggest thing he learned from his first game. Winslow, who dropped a pass he admitted could have been a touchdown, wasn't very humble: "That it's not that big a deal. That I can do this."

FLAG DAY: The rivalry between the Steelers and Ravens is taking on a personal tone with players on both teams leveling shots at each other.

"The love is mutual," Steelers linebacker Joey Porter said. "(Ray Lewis) probably hates me, and it's the same around. I'll knock you down, don't lift your hand up because I'm not going to help you, you know what I mean? You're not going to help me, I'm not going to help you. Leave it that way."

SOME TAMPA LOVE: Former Bucs safety John Lynch, now with the Broncos, hasn't forgotten his NFL roots in Tampa. Lynch and wife Lindawill host a charity breakfast at 8 a.m. on Oct. 4, the day after the Bucs host the Broncos.

The breakfast, hosted by the John Lynch Foundation at the Wyndham Harbour Island, will honor Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks and Monsignor Laurence Higgins for their community contributions.

Individual tickets cost $50, with proceeds going to the endowment of the Lynch Family Legacy Scholarships. For more information call (813) 431-8553.

Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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