As Chiefs sit pretty, others stand at ready

Titans, Patriots, Colts can think Super Bowl if 9-0 Kansas City falters

NFL Week 10 in review

November 11, 2003|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

There is no question the AFC is the better conference in the NFL this year and little doubt the Kansas City Chiefs are the best team in the conference.

But should the Chiefs stumble, there is a cluster of teams waiting to steal Kansas City's AFC reservation in the Super Bowl, including the Tennessee Titans, New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts.

With seven weeks left, the unbeaten Chiefs have a two-game lead on the field for the No. 1 seed in the conference. It's unlikely, but not impossible, they could lose twice and surrender the top spot.

It's more likely, although not necessarily probable, that Kansas City could lose in the playoffs as a No. 1 seed, a dreary circumstance that befell them twice in the Marty Schottenheimer era.

That being said, there is a viable list of next-in-lines looking for an opening in the AFC. Here's how we see the potential shakedown.

In the driver's seat: Kansas City (9-0).

The Chiefs are flirting with perfection, although there's a lot of the season left. They have two winning teams (Denver, Minnesota) left on the schedule among four road games. And while Oakland doesn't scare anyone these days, the Raiders-Chiefs matchup historically is an anything-goes game.

The next three teams the Chiefs face (Cincinnati, Oakland, San Diego) are a combined 8-19. That looks like 12-0 going into Denver to play the Broncos in Week 14. That, incidentally, is Kansas City's final AFC game of the regular season.

Poised for a takeover: Tennessee (7-2), New England (7-2).

The Titans have an even better finishing schedule than the Chiefs. A home date against the Colts in Week 14 is their only game left against a winning team. Their next three foes (Jacksonville, Atlanta, New York Jets) are 7-20.

Better yet, the Titans are showing the kind of team balance that hints at Super Bowls. They are ninth in the league in total offense, fifth in passing offense and first in run defense. They're also second in the NFL in turnover ratio, behind the Chiefs.

The Patriots have shown great resiliency in overcoming a spate of early injuries. As long as they have Bill Belichick creating defensive mayhem and can give quarterback Tom Brady time in the pocket, they are a tough team to beat, especially in the big game.

New England's schedule is not easy, though, starting with Sunday night's game against the Dallas Cowboys. The Patriots travel to Indianapolis in a big Week 13 game and come home to play Miami the next week.

Armed and potentially dangerous: Indianapolis (7-2), Ravens (5-4).

Their dismal playoff track record precludes the Colts from moving into the higher tier. That and their feeble run defense (they've allowed five 100-yard rushers already).

Indianapolis has three tough games left, home against the Patriots and Broncos, and on the road at Tennessee. After losing to Jacksonville this week, the Colts aren't locks against anyone, though.

The Ravens have a formidable defense, the league's best running back in Jamal Lewis and vulnerability at quarterback. Losing quarterback Kyle Boller suggests the offense will become even more conservative than it was in the Super Bowl season. Whether it's Chris Redman or Anthony Wright at quarterback, the offense will fall on Lewis' sore shoulders.

Their schedule is favorable, nevertheless. Miami and Seattle in the next two weeks are the only winning teams the Ravens have left.

Only in their dreams: Miami (5-4) and Denver (5-4).

The Dolphins have lost three of their past four and have the toughest finishing schedule of any contender. They've got four winning teams left, including three in a row with Dallas, New England and Philadelphia.

Brian Griese seemingly has dismissed himself as their quarterback of the future, so Jay Fiedler will get the call when his sprained left knee heals. Offensive line problems have undermined Ricky Williams' running game, too. The Dolphins once again are a mess.

The Broncos are waiting for quarterback Jake Plummer to return to rescue their playoff hopes. Injuries have ripped apart their defense, and the odds of surviving a remaining schedule that includes Kansas City, Indianapolis and Green Bay are not good.

Best and worst

Highlights and lowlights from Week 10:

Best tackle: Chris Crocker, Browns. Avoiding a blocker, Crocker tripped up the Chiefs' Dante Hall and kept Hall out of the NFL record book for touchdown returns in one season.

Worst tackle attempt: DE DeLawrence Grant, Raiders. Instead of bringing down Santana Moss, Grant spun him around and actually threw the Jets receiver forward into open territory and toward a 65-yard touchdown.

Best hardship win: Panthers. Playing without workhorse RB Stephen Davis, they outlasted the Bucs, 27-24, for the second time this season.

Biggest wasted performance: Ravens. They held the Rams to 121 yards but lost because of seven turnovers.

Best comeback: QB Doug Flutie, Chargers. Making his first start in two years, the Manchester, Md., native threw for two TDs and ran for two in an upset of the Vikings.

Biggest comedown: WR Torry Holt, Rams. In his past two games, Holt had 18 catches for 374 yards and two touchdowns. Against the Ravens, he had three catches for 38 yards.

Biggest injury: WR Marvin Harrison, Colts. Suffering a strained hamstring, Harrison missed the second half, during which the Colts scored only three points and lost to the Jaguars.

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