By United Pres International
The Chicago Bears (6-1), who are tied for the NFL's best record after winning five games all of last season, host Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers (5-2) on Sunday in one of 12 division matchups highlighting Week Nine of the NFL.
Favre is 8-1 in nine career starts at Soldier Field, including seven straight wins. Ironically, in the Packers' last loss in 1993, Favre threw for a career-high 402 yards.
Last week, the Bears scored two touchdowns in the last 28 seconds of regulation--the second on a 34-yard "Hail Mary" pass from Shane Matthews to running back James Allen with no time remaining to tie the Cleveland Browns. Safety Mike Brown then played the role of overtime hero for the second straight week, returning an interception 16 yards for a touchdown.
Brown scored on a 33-yard interception return 16 seconds into overtime in a 37-31 win over San Francisco on October 28. In that game, the Bears rallied from a 19-point second-half deficit.
The Browns (4-3) hope to bounce back from the tough loss at Chicago when they host the first-place Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2) on Sunday in a key AFC Central matchup.
Despite winning just five games in their first two seasons, the Browns have managed to go 2-2 against the Steelers.
Pittsburgh is first in the crowded division, one-half game in front of the Baltimore Ravens (5-3) and a game in front of both the Browns and Cincinnati Bengals (4-3).
Last Sunday, the Steelers squandered an opportunity to build on the division lead as Kris Brown missed 4-of-5 field goals in a 13-10 loss to Baltimore.
Jerome Bettis continues to carry the Steelers' offense and is third in the AFC in rushing, gaining 703 yards to go along with three touchdowns. He could pose problems for the Browns, who rank 18th against the run.
The Indianapolis Colts (4-3) probably will be without two-time rushing champion Edgerrin James on Sunday when they meet the Miami Dolphins (5-2) in a battle of AFC East rivals.
James missed his first career game last week due to a hyperextended left knee and is listed as doubtful. Last week, the Colts won without their workhorse running back, posting a 30-14 victory at Buffalo.
Dominic Rhodes--a rookie from Midwest Texas State--likely will start in James' absence. Rhodes played the role of workhorse in Indianapolis' last win at Kansas City, rushing for 100 yards and a touchdown on 34 carries and catching four passes for 45 yards.
Last season, the Dolphins knocked the Colts out of the playoffs in the wild card round at Miami. Lamar Smith stole the show, capping a club playoff-record 209-yard rushing performance with a 17-yard touchdown 11:26 into overtime to lift the Dolphins to a 23-17 victory.
Miami enters this contest in first place in the division, one-half game ahead of the New York Jets (5-3), who will host the Kansas City Chiefs (2-6) on Sunday.
The New Orleans Saints (4-3) probably did not anticipate being in this position as they battle the NFC West rival San Franciso 49ers (5-2) on Sunday.
Expected to be the main challenge to St. Louis in the division, the Saints find themselves third, one game behind the surprising 49ers and two in back of the Rams (6-1), who will host the Carolina Panthers (1-7).
The Rams appear to be back in Super Bowl form while the Panthers are reeling with a seven-game losing streak. To make matters worse, Carolina may have to turn to third-string quarterback Matt Lytle. Rookie starter Chris Weinke is questionable with a sprained right shoulder and backup Dameyune Craig is out for the season with a foot injury.
The Denver Broncos (4-4) will be out for revenge Sunday when they battle the AFC West rival San Diego Chargers (5-3) for the second time this season.
Less than a month ago, Doug Flutie threw a pair of touchdown passes and the Chargers got a big effort from their defense in a 27-10 rout of the Broncos.
The Chargers have split a pair of games since that win and are coming off a disappointing 25-20 loss to Kansas City. Flutie was knocked out of that contest in the second quarter with a concussion and replaced by rookie Drew Brees. Flutie returned to practice this week and is expected to start.
After opening the season with a 3-1 record, the Broncos have lost three of four, including a 38-28 defeat to the Oakland Raiders (6-1) on Monday night.
The Raiders, winners of five straight, visit the Seattle Seahawks (3-4) in the Sunday night game.
McNabb and Culpepper were part of the 1999 draft class that featured five quarterbacks selected in the first round. McNabb was taken second overall while Culpepper was chosen with the 11th pick.
Operating with a limited amount of offensive weapons, McNabb has helped turn around the Eagles franchise, leading them to a playoff win last season and atop the NFC East standings through the first seven games of 2001.
The New York Giants (4-4) already have matched their loss total all of last season but trail the Eagles by just one-half game in the NFC East. The Giants visit the Arizona Cardinals (2-5) on Sunday.
Less than a month after signing a three-year contract, Ryan Leaf will make his first start for the Dallas Cowboys (2-5) on Sunday when they visit the Atlanta Falcons (3-4).
Quarterback Michael Vick, the top overall pick in the 2001 draft, probably would like to duel Leaf on Sunday. But if veteran Chris Chandler is able to recover from sore ribs, he will start for the Falcons.
The Detroit Lions (0-7) -- the lone remaining winless team in the NFL--will host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-4).
In other games, the New England Patriots (4-4) face the Buffalo Bills (1-6) and the Bengals (4-3) meet the Jacksonville Jaguars (2-5), losers of five straight.
The defending Super Bowl champion Ravens will be on Monday Night Football for the first time when they meet the Tennessee Titans (3-4) in perhaps the NFL's fiercest rivalry.
Baltimore posted a 24-10 victory over the Titans in the divisional playoffs at Adelphia Coliseum last January. The Ravens called that game the toughest on their road to winning Super Bowl XXXV.
But the first meeting of the 2001 season turned into a knockout for Ray Lewis and the defense of the Ravens last month at Baltimore. Lewis succeeded in bottling up Eddie George and the Ravens surprisingly rushed for 207 yards in a 26-7 victory.
Baltimore's Shannon Sharpe can become the NFL's all-time leader in receptions for a tight end. In his 12th NFL season, Sharpe has 660 catches and needs three to surpass Ozzie Newsome--the Ravens' vice president of football operations.
The Washington Redskins (3-5) are the only team with a bye this week.