I have this idea in the back of my mind that coach Bill Belichick
has Peyton Manning's number. Maybe it's because the two times
Belichick's Patriots met Manning's Colts during the 2001 season,
New England won by lopsided margins. But let's be fair--those
weren't triumphs of a defensive mastermind over a star
quarterback, they were victories of a soon-to-be Super Bowl
champion over a team in turmoil that would finish 6-10.
Belichick has coached against Manning eight times, four games
each with the Pats and as the assistant head coach of the Jets.
The record stands at 4-4. In those eight games Manning has thrown
11 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions. Not terrific numbers,
but they include his first two years in the league, when he was
learning the game--with Belichick's help, of course.
The Patriots and the Colts followed similar paths to victories on
the road last weekend. New England and Indy each had to put
together late drives to overcome fourth-quarter deficits of seven
and 11 points, respectively. It was one of those blood-and-guts
Sundays when almost every game was hard fought. Seven teams
rallied in the fourth quarter to win. Tennessee was down 21-0 in
Atlanta and won. And the Rams had to score late to force overtime
in their win over the lowly Cardinals.
The Patriots have been the NFL's miracle team, squeezing out
seven straight victories with a roster ripped by injuries. But
how about the Colts? Their offense has been ravaged, too. Makoa
Freitas, a rookie sixth-round draft choice, is starting for left
tackle Tarik Glenn (strained left-knee ligament), and wideout
Marvin Harrison is laboring on a very sore hamstring. Two other
wide receivers, Troy Walters (hamstring) and Brandon Stokley
(concussion), missed Sunday's game, as did tight end Marcus
Pollard (sprained knee).
I don't know how many of the wounded Colts will suit up in Indy
against the Patriots. The Colts got by Buffalo last week on
teeth-gritting performances by Manning and running back Edgerrin
James, but they'll need more weapons against New England. I get
the feeling that this will be the game in which the personnel
drain catches up with them. The Patriots are my upset pick.
Here's the good news for the Panthers and their premier runner,
Stephen Davis. The Eagles have given up 100 yards or more to an
enemy running back in three straight games. Here's the bad news.
Philly has won all three. The teams meet in Carolina. The
following Sunday, Dallas visits the Eagles in an NFC East
showdown. I think Carolina is a look-ahead game for Philly. I'll
take the Panthers.
Green Bay ran for 243 yards against the 49ers on Sunday, the most
rushing yardage San Francisco had given up since 1978. The Ravens
will give the Niners a heavy dose of Jamal Lewis on Sunday. The
Tim Rattay legend took a hit against the Pack, and things won't
get any easier for him in Baltimore. The Ravens are the pick. I
give the Giants an edge over the Bills in a squeaker at the
Meadowlands. The Rams can't put an Olympic 400-meter relay team
on the field, as they once could, but they still have too much
speed for the Vikings. St. Louis will win a high scorer.
What do we make of Cincinnati? Is this truly the Cinderella of
2003? What the hell, I'll stick with the hot team, even in as
scary a place as Pittsburgh. The Bengals win in an upset. The
Broncos are reeling, while Oakland seems to be firming up. But
Denver's desperate at this point. The Broncos win a tight one on
What a menu for Monday night, the 4-7 Jets against the Billy
Volek-led Titans. Chad Pennington & Co. could put enough points
on the board to win this one, but I suspect that Volek, probably
subbing for the injured Steve McNair (strained calf), is better
than people think. The Titans will win it. --Paul Zimmerman
Last week: 8-3 Season record: 64-46
Dr. Z's Inside Football, every week during the season at
COLOR PHOTO: RICK STEWART/GETTY IMAGES Manning will have his hands full with the Pats.