For the first time in the 85-year history of the NFL, there are three 12?1 teams in the same season. The Eagles, the Patriots and the Steelers are on five-, six- and 11game winning streaks, respectively, and are a combined 20?0 at home. Their common strength? Versatility. All three can score with the run or the pass, and they all rank among the top five in the league in fewest points allowed. As Bengals coach Marvin Lewis prepared to face the Patriots last week, he took the unusual step this late in the season of watching tape of every New England game of 2004. ?You see how they adjust opponent to opponent, series to series,? Lewis said. ?First game of the year, against the Colts, there?s all this talk about what Corey Dillon will mean to the running game; they come out in three wides, two tights and no Corey, no huddle. Next series they pound Corey at ?em. With a great team like that, you?ve got to be ready for anything.? The Steelers and the Eagles are similarly balanced, though Philly can?t pound the ball as well as the other two elite teams.
MATCHUP OF THE WEEK
Baltimore at Indianapolis. After the 8?5 Ravens put themselves in prime position for a wild-card berth--bam--they have to face a pair of division champions, the Colts and the Steelers, on the road on back-to-back Sundays. Though Baltimore handed Pittsburgh its only defeat, 30?13 in Week 2, the Ravens? chance for at least a split rests on the sprained ankle of Jamal Lewis (above), who missed two of the last four games and rushed only eight times on Sunday. If his carries are limited, so are Baltimore?s playoff hopes.
BY THE NUMBERS
After being released by the Redskins last summer, middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter (left) signed with the Eagles. On Sunday, Trotter had a team-high 10 tackles in Philly?s 17?14 win over Washington. Making matters worse for the Redskins, Trotter counts $1.24 million against the team?s salary cap this year. His cap number for the Eagles: $450,000.
1. Five years ago Mike Holmgren (right) and Mike Shanahan were considered perhaps the two best coaches in the game. But since the start of the 1999 season, they?re a combined seven games over .500 with no playoff wins.
2. Here?s why no young NFL quarterback--even Michael Vick--has a brighter future than Carson Palmer: In his final 11 drives over the last two games, against the Ravens and the Patriots, Palmer led the Bengals to seven touchdowns and two field goals.
3. Thank goodness the NFL tossed New York and Washington as potential sites for the 2009 Super Bowl. I hope cold-weather cities with outdoor stadiums don?t get title-game consideration again.