By United Press International
The defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens and the Tennessee Titans staged the NFL's fiercest rivalry during the 2000 season, concluding with the Ravens' 24-10 victory in the divisional playoffs last January at Tennessee.
"When we get together, it's a slugfest," Ravens coach Brian Billick of the AFC Central rivals. "Something unique decided last year's playoff game and that will probably be the case on Sunday."
The Titans (0-2) spent the offseason haunted by kicker Al Del Greco's struggles in that playoff game. After failing to convert two field goals, Del Greco had a potential go-ahead kick blocked and returned 90 yards for a touchdown by Anthony Mitchell in the fourth quarter, giving Baltimore a 17-10 lead.
Lewis, the Ravens' perennial Pro Bowl middle linebacker, sealed Tennessee's fate when he picked off a pass that went off the right hand of George, the Titans' star running back. Lewis returned the interception 50 yards for a touchdown.
The Ravens (2-1) have not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 40 consecutive games, including playoffs, and George fell nine yards shy in the playoff loss. He also caught eight passes for 52 yards and constantly peeled himself off the ground after taking numerous hits from Lewis.
"Eddie George and Ray Lewis had what was really like a heavyweight fight," Billick said. "They went back and forth all game -- two great football players."
The Titans, who finished 13-3 each of the last two years, are already one loss away from matching that total. They opened the season with losses to Miami and Jacksonville.
When the Green Bay Packers (3-0) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-1) meet in an NFC Central battle Sunday, three-time MVP quarterback Brett Favre will again be on the lookout for Bucs Pro Bowl defensive tackle Warren Sapp.
"I love to play against him," said Sapp, who has sacked Favre eight times and hit him numerous other times in the previous meetings. "He's one of those quarterbacks you love to chase for four quarters. It's a great personal challenge."
Favre also has high praise for Sapp.
"It's how great a player he is," Favre said. "It's how quick he is and how on every play, he never, ever quits. His quickness to overcome every running back, every scramble -- you're never out of his reach."
After being hampered by elbow problems and forearm tendinitis last year, Favre appears to be back in MVP form, passing for 804 yards and eight touchdowns with three interceptions.
But the defense has been the key to Green Bay's 3-0 start. The Packers have given up just 13 points, their fewest after three games since they allowed seven in 1962.
The Buccaneers have the more publicized defense with Pro Bowlers Sapp, linebacker Derrick Brooks and safety John Lynch. But it is the Packers who have compiled 15 sacks in three games with less familiar names.
Packers defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, a second-year player from San Diego State, leads the NFL with six sacks.
The Buccaneers will be without running back Warrick Dunn, who will miss at least three weeks with a sprained foot.
General manager John Butler has pumped life into the San Diego Chargers. Butch Davis also is having quite an effect with the Cleveland Browns. On Sunday, the Chargers (3-0) look to remain the AFC's only unbeaten team when they meet the Browns (2-1).
Butler took over a sagging franchise, being named the Chargers' general manager in January after the club finished with an NFL-worst 1-15 mark last season.
In the offseason, Butler made numerous changes, including bringining in free agents Doug Flutie, Marcellus Wiley and Ryan McNeil. But his biggest move may have been trading the top pick in April's draft and selecting running back LaDainian Tomlinson.
So far, the moves have paid immediate dividends as the Chargers have opened with three straight wins for the first time since going 6-0 in 1994 -- the only time they reached the Super Bowl.
In three games, Tomlinson has rushed for 310 yards with five touchdowns. McNeil, who took over one of the starting cornerback spots this season, has been the club's best defensive player and leads the NFL with five interceptions.
Davis left behind one of the top college teams in the country in Miami to become the new coach of the Browns, who went 5-27 in two seasons under Chris Palmer.
Davis' tenure with the Browns started with a three-point loss to Seattle, but Cleveland has rebounded since and posted impressive wins over Detroit and Jacksonville.
The New Orleans Saints (1-1) will be out for revenge when they meet the Minnesota Vikings (1-2) in their home opener.
Last season, the Saints won a playoff a game for the first time in club history, defeating the St. Louis Rams in the wild card round. But the Vikings rolled to a 34-16 victory over them in the divisional playoff.
"I think our players will rise to the challenge of the Vikings," New Orleans coach Jim Haslett said. "It's been so long since we played at home. It's going to be a welcome change to have our fans behind us."
The Washington Redskins (0-3) and Dallas Cowboys (0-3) will probably stay winless for another week. The Redskins visit the defending NFC champion New York Giants (2-1) and the Cowboys play the Oakland Raiders (2-1).
The move failed to inspire the Redskins, who finished 8-8. Snyder convinced disciplinarian Marty Schottenheimer to take over as coach and director of football operations. But that move isn't working too well, either.
Schottenheimer and the Redskins go into Giants Stadium searching for answers. Washington has been horrific in all facets, getting outscored 112-16 in its first three games.
It looks like things will get worse before they get better for the Cowboys, who were supposed to have a bye week. The game was moved from October 21 to October 7 due to possible playoff games for baseball's Oakland Athletics at Network Associates Coliseum.
A bye would have served the Cowboys well. Dallas is coming off a 40-18 loss at Philadelphia.
The Arizona Cardinals (0-2), the other winless team in the NFC East, also are staring at a probable loss Sunday when they visit the Philadelphia Eagles (2-1).
The Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1) play their first regular season game at Heinz Field against a familiar opponent when they battle the AFC Central Division rival Cincinnati Bengals (2-1).
The Denver Broncos (2-1) may be coming off a loss against the defending champion Ravens but they will have no excuse for overlooking the Kansas City Chiefs (1-2). Despite the Broncos' success under coach Mike Shanahan, they have lost their last four meetings with AFC West rival Kansas City.
The Miami Dolphins (2-1) opened the campaign with arguably the NFL's toughest schedule, playing Tennessee, Oakland and St. Louis -- all clubs expected to contend for a Super Bowl berth. On Sunday, they may get a break against the New England Patriots (1-2). The Dolphins have swept New England each of the last two seasons and won 18 of the last 24 meetings.
In other games, the Atlanta Falcons (2-1), who will be without top running Jamal Anderson for the remainder of the season, host the Chicago Bears (1-1); the Seattle Seahawks, who will be without running back Ricky Watters, play the Jacksonville Jaguars (2-1); and the winless Buffalo Bills (0-3) face the New York Jets (1-2).
Carolina Panthers coach George Seifert has enjoyed facing his former team. On Sunday night, the San Francisco 49ers will attempt to beat their old boss for the first time.
In eight seasons in San Francisco from 1989-1996, Seifert guided the 49ers to a 108-35 record (.755) and two Super Bowl titles. Seifert returned to the NFL in 1999 as Panthers' coach and his club has posted four straight wins over San Francisco.
The last team rookie coach Marty Mornhinweg would like to see for the Detroit Lions' home opener Monday night is the St. Louis Rams. At least Mornhinweg had a bye week to prepare for the dynamic offense of the Rams, who steamrolled to a 42-10 rout of the Dolphins last week.
The Indianapolis Colts (2-1) are the only team with a bye this week.