- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 19, 2004

With Tennessee having lost running back Eddie George and defensive end Jevon Kearse to free agency during the offseason, Indianapolis figured to pull ahead for sure in the AFC South’s glamour rivalry after winning the division last year because of its 33-7 and 29-27 head-to-head triumphs. However, former backup Chris Brown is an improvement on the aging George, and the Titans’ defense didn’t miss Kearse in last week’s 17-7 victory at Miami.

The Colts do have the advantage of two extra days of rest and preparation after being edged 27-24 at New England in their opener. However, today’s game is in Nashville, where the Titans are 33-10 and were 7-1 last season.

“Losing twice to Indianapolis prevented us from having home field [in the playoffs],” Tennessee end Kevin Carter said. “That can’t happen again. Whichever team wins has a foothold to get ahead of the other. That’s why we’re gunning for this game so badly.”

As usual, the Colts rely on the incomparable trio of quarterback Peyton Manning, receiver Marvin Harrison and running back Edgerrin James. The Titans counter with Manning’s co-MVP of last season, quarterback Steve McNair, and a usually stifling run defense.

Vikings-Eagles — They’re not division rivals, but NFC favorite Philadelphia and dark horse Minnesota will have the sparks flying tomorrow night. The prime factors will be electric receivers Terrell Owens, who had three touchdown catches last week in his Eagles debut, and Randy Moss, who caught two of Daunte Culpepper’s five scoring passes for the Vikings.

After three straight conference championship game defeats, the Eagles figured to get over the top by adding Owens and Kearse, especially with quarterback Donovan McNabb red-hot in his last 11 starts. However, the defense wasn’t sharp in the opening victory over the New York Giants.

That also was true of the Vikings, whose defense was shredded by Vinny Testaverde for 355 yards and who didn’t sack the ancient Dallas quarterback.

Owens was nothing special on Mondays until putting up three monster games (27 catches, 405 yards, five touchdowns) the past two years. Moss, who has 41 catches for 852 yards and 10 touchdowns in eight Monday games, will be a major challenge for young Eagles Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown, who have replaced departed Pro Bowl corners Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor. Sheppard and Brown each give up five inches to the 6-foot-3 Moss.

“He’s a great receiver, but we think we’re pretty good, too,” Sheppard said. “I’m sure they’ll come after us.”

Panthers-Chiefs — The matchup between Kansas City’s potent offense and Carolina’s ferocious defense — the key to last year’s NFC title — should be something to see. The reverse could be more like watching a car wreck.

The Chiefs’ defense, 30th last year even as the team won the AFC West, is 30th again after surrendering 202 rushing yards in an opening 34-24 loss to division rival Denver — a performance tackle Ryan Sims deemed “horrible.”

The Panthers aren’t feeling much better about their offense, which lost top receiver Steve Smith to a broken left leg and star running back Stephen Davis to a sprained knee in a 24-14 loss to Green Bay. Rookie Keary Colbert replaces Smith while DeShaun Foster steps in for Davis, who struggled to find holes against the Packers behind a revamped line.

So quarterback Jake Delhomme is minus his major weapons heading into his first start in Arrowhead Stadium, where the Chiefs have won a team-record 13 straight home regular-season games by an average of 19 points. Manning was the only one of the last 17 quarterbacks in their first or second year as starters to win their Arrowhead debuts.

“It can be a rough place for a young guy,” said Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer, who’s 0-3 at Arrowhead. “It’s really loud, so it’s hard to audible, and the Chiefs feed off that energy. The key is not getting behind. If you do, it’s going to be a long day.”

Today’s loser will be 0-2 and quite possibly in for an unexpectedly long season.

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