At the midway point of the 2007 season, there appears to be little doubt as to which teams reside at the top of the NFL. The Patriots and Colts are the only undefeated teams remaining, and they'll square off on Sunday for regular-season bragging rights at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis.
For the most part, these two teams have been the cream of the NFL crop for the better part of five years now. Between them, they're responsible for four Super Bowl titles and in all but one (2001 Patriots), the winner had to go through the other en route to its title.
The secret to each team's success is no real mystery: They possess the two best quarterbacks in the league and arguably the two best coaches as well. Any team that boasts that kind of combination will always be considered a contender, and these are the two best the heavyweight division has to offer.
In one corner stands the challenger, the New England Patriots, and their take-no-prisoners offense. Led by Tom Brady, the Patriots have run roughshod over everyone, scoring at least 34 points in every game. Brady is set to rewrite the passing record books and has been using Randy Moss, Donte' Stallworth and Wes Welker as if he's playing some high-tech video game.
In the other corner stands the defending champion Indianapolis Colts. As usual, the champs are led by Peyton Manning and his high-powered attack that includes receivers Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison, along with tight end Dallas Clark. The Colts have become even more proficient with second-year back Joseph Addai giving the team a consistent ground threat.
In some ways, the teams have almost reversed roles. The Patriots are the ones piling up the first-round knockouts while the Colts have been content to let the judges decide the outcome at game's end. But regardless of the paths taken, no one has been able to solve either team's methods thus far in 2007.
In Indianapolis, the method has surprisingly involved patient offense mixed with an athletic and timely defense that has done a better job of complementing Manning's game than many Colts units in the recent past.
Both offenses figure to move the ball and put up points. It will be a question of two very important factors that almost always come into play in the modern-day NFL -- red-zone play and turnovers. The team that can score and prevent touchdowns when backed against the shadow of their end zone, and the one that can make a big play or two on defense, will win.
The question then will be how much of an impact the outcome will have on the remainder of the season. Many have speculated the game will determine which team will capture the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs and thus secure home-field advantage for any potential rematch. Last year, the game's venue was of the utmost importance as Indy's boisterous home crowd was a major factor in the Colts' miracle comeback.
Of much less importance for the teams is the ability to continue talk of going undefeated. While the Colts still have a tough test at San Diego on the horizon, a win over Indy could be the biggest hurdle remaining for the Pats in their quest for an undefeated season. Let's get ready to rumble.
Running Up The Score?