With apologies to Dallas Cowboys wideout Terrell Owens, the battle between the 8-0 New England Patriots and the 7-0 Indianapolis Colts today at the RCA Dome qualifies as a bona fide, "Get your popcorn ready" showdown.
"Monday Night Football" analyst Ron Jaworski expects plenty of fireworks in what shapes up as a potential shootout between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, two Super Bowl MVP quarterbacks.
It's a midseason meeting between fierce rivals that seems to have everything: pinpoint passers with dynamic weapons, protected by overlooked offensive lines and backed by overshadowed defenses.
"I don't believe either team is going to play the old ball-control game," Jaworski says. "With Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, it's going to be an ego game. They want to light it up."I expect a high-scoring, throw-ball game. That's why I'm pumped up to watch two of the best quarterbacks in history go at each other with the weapons they have."
WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL: Can the fourth-ranked Colts defense slow the Patriots, who are averaging 41.4 points per game.
"I don't think the Colts will play their two-deep shell," Jaworski says. "(Safety) Bob Sanders is too much of an impact player to do that."
The Colts cornerbacks need to get physical and re-route Brady's receivers, especially Randy Moss, in a bid to derail their timing.
Jaworski saw something in the Colts win against Carolina. When the Panthers used three wideouts (which the Patriots often do), Indianapolis went into their dime package (meaning six defensive backs).
"If you look at the Colts defense, their weakness is their linebackers. In dime, they brought their corners inside basically as linebackers. The dime package gives them a pretty good shot against the Patriots' predominant set."Edge: Patriots<
WHEN THE COLTS HAVE THE BALL: Will Manning attack methodically with running backs Joseph Addai and Kenton Keith in a bid to keep the Pats offense off the field and his defense fresh?
"I don't expect the Colts to play ball control," Jaworski says. "The concern for the Colts is Marvin Harrison's (bruised) knee. The Colts could be in trouble if he can't play. He's their zone stretcher. You have to respect the big play with Marvin.
"Reggie Wayne can be taken out with double coverage if Marvin can't play."
Eleven of Wayne's 44 catches and two of his five touchdowns have come on third down.
Tight end Dallas Clark leads the Colts with six touchdown receptions and poses matchup problems for either safety James Sanders or linebackers Adalius Thomas and Tedy Bruschi.
"Dallas Clark is the key guy for Indy this season," Jaworski says. "He's the motion guy, can split out or play in the slot. Peyton has incredible confidence in Dallas Clark.
"That's why it's so important to have Marvin Harrison play. If they can stretch the defense with Marvin, they can create voids where Dallas and Reggie can operate. If Marvin doesn't play, you have to use (rookie receiver) Anthony Gonzalez and tight ends Bryan Fletcher and Ben Utecht."
Addai's ability as a check-down receiver figures to be tested by blitzes aimed at forcing Manning to throw on the move.Edge: Colts (if Harrison plays).
SPECIAL TEAMS: Colts kicker and ex-Patriot Adam Vinatieri has hit 14 of 15 field goals. Stephen Gostkowski leads the league with 73 points with 10 of 11 field goals.
New England's Ellis Hobbs is fifth in kick returns, averaging 29.2 yards, including a 108-yard touchdown.
"They're both outstanding kickers," Jaworski says. "Vinatieri is going to be a Hall of Famer. But the advantage goes to the Patriots. The Colts have had some difficulty with field position."
COACHING: Bill Belichick and Tony Dungy are polar opposites in personality and coaching style. But they've combined to win four of the past six Super Bowls, including three by Belichick.
"It's hard to pick one; they're both unbelievable coaches," Jaworski says. "I'll go with the guy who won the latest world championship, the guy who has the Vince Lombardi Trophy sitting on his desk."
The Colts have won the last three matchups.Edge: Colts
INTANGIBLES: The Patriots have been galvanized by suspicions raised from their Week 1 video-taping scandal. The defending Super Bowl champion Colts have won 12 in a row yet have been overshadowed.
"They're the world champions," Jaworski says. "Everyone's talking about the Patriots. When the Colts beat Jacksonville, it was like they were saying, 'Hey don't forget about us.' They don't go about things with a lot of bravado. They're just very methodical with a very high efficiency."
Home dome advantage favors the Colts, and they are confident they can rally back from a big deficit having erased a 21-6 halftime edge in the championship game.