- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 3, 2007

The Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots still chase each other, even though they no longer are in the same division. They have won four straight division titles each, and at least one of them has reached the postseason every year since 1993.

The Colts finally passed the Patriots with their comeback victory in the AFC Championship game at home in January. However, the Patriots are intent on making the Super Bowl champs’ stay on top short-lived.

This offseason New England added once-dominant receiver Randy Moss, Pro Bowl linebacker Adalius Thomas and possible starters Donte Stallworth, Kyle Brady and Tory James while losing only Corey Dillon and Daniel Graham. Top draft choice Brandon Meriweather could start right away, depending on the health of veteran safety Rodney Harrison.

Meanwhile, Indianapolis added no one of consequence to replace cornerbacks Nick Harper and Jason David, weakside linebacker Cato June and No. 2 running back Dominic Rhodes.

Considering the AFC has won six of the past seven Super Bowls, the Patriots have to be favored to hoist the Lombardi Trophy again February in Arizona.

Coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots did add “bad character” players in Moss and Meriweather, but Dillon likewise was seen as a bad teammate with Cincinnati and Harrison as a dirty player for San Diego. Each helped New England win at least one Super Bowl.

The winning atmosphere in a locker room ruled by Tom Brady, Tedy Bruschi and others with multiple rings has smoothed the rough edges of less than perfect citizens.

“Randy [has] been very enthusiastic about becoming a member of the New England Patriots, and the New England Patriots are very enthusiastic about having him as a member of this team,” Belichick told reporters after making the trade with Oakland last weekend. “I’m glad that he wants to be here. Had it been the opposite of that, that might have been different. He wants to win, can produce and help our team.”

With a 2006 receiving corps led by the underwhelming Reche Caldwell and 35-year-old Troy Brown — the only New England wideouts to catch more than 25 balls — giving up a fourth-rounder for Moss, who has 676 catches, 10,700 yards and 101 touchdowns at age 30, was beyond a no-brainer despite his pouts and rants during nine seasons in Minnesota and Oakland.

“Randy’s a hard guy to defend,” Belichick said. “He attacks all three levels of the field — short, intermediate, deep — and can run after the catch. Anytime a player puts multiple pressure points on a defense, it’s stress.”

Meanwhile, the Colts are hoping young corners Marlin Jackson, Kelvin Hayden and/or Tim Jennings are worthy starters and that second-year man Freddy Keiaho or fourth-rounder Clint Session can replace June. The Colts’ chances of repeating seem to lessen with every move New England makes.

All Colts general manager Bill Polian would say is a mantra-like, “We only worry about ourselves.”

Time to start worrying.

The division matters — While Indianapolis and New England worry about Super Bowls, Cleveland and San Francisco also made big strides last weekend. The Browns added two essential pieces in left tackle Joe Thomas and quarterback Brady Quinn, both possible franchise players. The 49ers, after choosing quarterback Alex Smith in 2005 and playmakers Vernon Davis and Manny Lawson last year, drafted tackle Joe Staley and run-stopper Patrick Willis on Saturday. Acquiring veteran receiver Darrell Jackson for a fourth-rounder was another plus.

The Browns, 10-22 (1-11 in the AFC North) in coach Romeo Crennel’s first two seasons, have an uphill battle against division rivals Baltimore, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, all playoff teams in 2005 or 2006. However, watch out for the 49ers, 11-21 under coach Mike Nolan. San Francisco is 5-7 in the NFC West, which also includes fellow losers St. Louis and Arizona, and swept division champ Seattle in 2006.

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