- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 2, 2003

It started with coach Don Shula leaving Baltimore for Miami in 1970. It strengthened with semi-annual showdowns when one or the other won 14 of the first 17 AFC East titles. The Dolphins-Colts rivalry is no longer a division struggle, but today’s game in Miami is still huge because Indianapolis (6-1) leads Tennessee by just a half-game in the South while Miami (5-2) trails New England by the same margin in the East.

The big story for the Dolphins is coach Dave Wannstedt’s decision to name Brian Griese as his starting quarterback ahead of the ailing Jay Fiedler. The move was supported by a man who knows a little something about playing quarterback in south Florida.

“Brian gives them a little bit of a spark in the passing game which they have lacked,” said HBO’s Dan Marino, whom Fiedler replaced when Marino retired in 2000 after 17 record-setting seasons. “Jay gets out of the pocket and makes some plays, but he doesn’t make those key throws when you need to win. Brian can.”

So Fiedler will sit despite his 33-15 record, third-best among active quarterbacks. If Griese, who threw three touchdown passes in Monday’s 27-10 victory over San Diego, plays well again today, Wannstedt hinted that he will remain the starter. Fiedler had three touchdowns and five interceptions in a five-game stretch that ended with his knee injury in the overtime loss to the Patriots on Oct.19.

There’s no quarterback controversy in Indianapolis. Peyton Manning leads the NFL with 15 touchdowns and the AFC with a 105.5 rating. Manning’s 3-1 touchdown-interception ratio is twice as good as his previous 1.4-1 average and he has been sacked only four times.

“Peyton’s in a zone,” Colts tight end Marcus Pollard said.

Conversely, the Colts’ 26th-ranked run defense is a tempting target for Ricky Williams, even if the Dolphins running back is having a down year.

Vikings-Packers — Brett Favre has won a Super Bowl, two NFC titles, three MVP awards and four division crowns as Green Bay’s quarterback, but he has been frustrated in the Metrodome, where he’s 2-9. And Favre, who’ll make a quarterback-record 198th straight start today (including playoffs) despite a hairline fracture in his right thumb, has never needed a victory there so badly. Green Bay (3-4) has lost two straight and trails Minnesota (6-1) by three games in the NFC North. A second loss this year to the Vikings — who have already equaled last year’s victory total — would effectively end the division race.

The Vikings believe they’ve won three of the past five meetings because they’ve averaged 192 rushing yards and 5.4 a carry in those games. Green Bay averaged 77.4 rushing yards for a 3.9. average.

“They’re more finesse,” Vikings defensive tackle Chris Hovan said after Minnesota’s 30-25 season-opening victory in Green Bay. “We’re more physical. We get after it. We love to hit.”

Said Packers offensive tackle Mark Tauscher: “We definitely need to get that answered. If we’re going to get outrun by 115 yards, we’re in trouble.”

The Packers, 29th in sack percentage, also will be in trouble if they can’t prevent the NFL’s top rated passer, Daunte Culpepper, from getting the ball to Randy Moss. The wide receiver leads the league in receiving yards and touchdowns despite getting just two catches for 4yards in the second half of last week’s 29-17 upset loss to the New York Giants.

Moss has 58 catches for 1,126 yards and 10 touchdowns in 11 games against Green Bay. And Favre has to be careful against a Vikings defense that leads the NFC with 17 interceptions.

Saints-Bucs — New Orleans swept Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay last year, but the games that matter are the teams’ three combined losses to NFC South leader Carolina (two by the Saints) by just nine points. The Buccaneers (4-3) need to stay within range of the Panthers (6-1). Another division loss for the Saints (3-5) likely will doom their playoff hopes.

“Last year means nothing,” said Bucs quarterback Brad Johnson, who was sacked seven times by the Saints last year but has gone down just five times all season. “We’re two games behind Carolina with a chance to play them next week. This is the time of year when you can start to separate yourself. If you don’t win, you kind of put yourself in a bind.”

The Bucs have been in a victory-loss pattern all year, so if form holds in the wake of last week’s 16-0 shutout of Dallas.

“I don’t know if I agree [that the Saints have the Bucs’ number],” New Orleans coach Jim Haslett said. “Two years ago, they beat us pretty bad [48-21].”

Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks made the Bucs’ fearsome defense look bad last year with four touchdowns and just one interception. His 83.1 rating was twice that of other passers against Tampa Bay. The Saints also had good timing, meeting the Bucs in coach Jon Gruden’s debut and when they were coming off an emotional victory over the Packers.

The Bucs have been amazingly up-and-down, and the Saints have been swamped by injuries (27 starts lost on defense alone) and a lack of takeaways (just seven, compared to 14 at this point in 2002). Those injuries have nullified strong seasons by Brooks, receiver Joe Horn and halfback Deuce McAllister, who has a team-record five straight 100-yard games.

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