NFL spotlight on Emmitt Smith

Oct. 26, 2002 at 8:55 AM
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DALLAS, Oct. 26 (UPI) -- Four teams will be fighting for sole possession of first place Sunday in Week Eight of the NFL, but the spotlight will be on Emmitt Smith, who needs 93 yards to eclipse Walter Payton and become the NFL's all-time leading rusher.

Sunday, Smith and the Dallas Cowboys (3-4) host the Seattle Seahawks (1-5), who rank 30th in the league against the run.

If Smith is unable to pass Payton's total of 16,726 yards on Sunday, he likely he will break the record on the road. Dallas plays at Detroit and Indianapolis between a bye before hosting Jacksonville on November 24.

The 33-year-old Smith has averaged 63.9 yards in Dallas' first seven games this season but enjoyed his best game of the year last week, rushing for 82 yards on 22 carries in a 9-6 loss at Arizona.

Smith has helped the Cowboys win three Super Bowls, rushed for 1,000 yards an NFL-record 11 times and set the record for rushing touchdowns with 149.

The Cowboys could give Smith more than 22 carries Sunday with Chad Hutchinson making his first start at quarterback after spending the previous four seasons playing baseball in the St. Louis Cardinals' organization.

First place in the NFC West will be on the line Sunday when the Arizona Cardinals (4-2) visit the San Francisco 49ers (4-2). There have been few big games for Arizona, which has just one winning season (9-7 in 1998) since moving to the desert in 1988. Their 4-2 start matches the best since the move.

With plenty of offensive weapons in quarterback Jeff Garcia, the backfield of Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow and star receiver Terrell Owens, the Niners are the clear favorite. However, Arizona has been surprisingly good on defense, allowing just 15.5 points per game.

The Pittsburgh Steelers (3-3) and Baltimore Ravens (3-3) are just .500 teams but will battle for first place in the NFC North on Sunday im Baltimore.

The Steelers will be without bruising back Jerome Bettis, who has a sprained left MCL. But Bettis did not play due to a groin injury when the Steelers posted a 26-21 win in Baltimore last Dec. 16 and was again out of the lineup when Pittsburgh rolled to a 27-10 victory over the Ravens in the divisional playoffs.

Amos Zereoue filled in and had 73 yards on 16 carries in the win at Baltimore and rushed for 64 yards and two touchdowns in the playoff victory.

The Ravens hope to welcome back star inside linebacker Ray Lewis on Sunday. Lewis has missed the last two games with a partially dislocated left shoulder and is listed as questionable.

Despite losing many of their key players due to salary cap cuts, the Ravens have won three of their last four games after an 0-2 start.

The Steelers were expected to dominate the division but opened the season with losses to New England and Oakland. They have bounced back to win three of four since quarterback Tommy Maddox came off the bench and sparked a Sept. 29 victory over Cleveland.

Perhaps the NFL's best rivalry resumes Sunday when the Oakland Raiders (4-2) visit the Kansas City Chiefs (3-4). The AFC West rivals are even after 86 games at 42-42-2, but the Raiders have won the last five meetings, including the past three at Arrowhead Stadium by winning field goals in the final seconds of regulation or in overtime.

This showdown has all the makings of a shootout. The Chiefs lead the NFL in scoring at 34.1 points per game and rank second in yardage at 390.4 yards per game. The Raiders top the league in yardage (433.8) and rank second in scoring (32.6).

Kansas City's Priest Holmes, the NFL's reigning rushing champion, is second in the league with 766 yards, trailing only San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson (785).

The defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots (3-3) hope to snap a three-game losing streak when they host the Denver Broncos (5-2). The teams will meet for the eighth consecutive season - the longest active streak among non-division rivals.

The quarterbacks - Tom Brady of New England and Brian Griese of Denver - also are quite familiar with each other. Brady was a sophomore in 1996 at the University of Michigan when Griese edged him out for the backup role that ultimately led to a starting job on the 1997 national championship team. After Griese graduated, Brady took Michigan to a 20-5 record.

Last Oct. 28, the quarterbacks dueled at Denver and Griese threw for 283 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Broncos to a 31-20 victory. Brady was intercepted four times in the fourth quarter, including one that was returned 39 yards for a touchdown by cornerback Denard Walker.

Cousins Aaron Brooks and Michael Vick face off Sunday when the New Orleans Saints (6-1) host the Atlanta Falcons (3-3) in an NFC South battle. Raised in Newport News, Va., both were regulars at the Hampton Roads Boys and Girls Club, where they started perfecting their quarterback skills. Brooks, 26, went to Virginia and Vick, 22, to Virginia Tech.

The "Cousin QBs" are ranked second (Vick, 93.8) and third (Brooks, 90.8) in NFC passer rating.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-2) trail the Saints by one game in the NFC South and will visit the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. Rob Johnson will fill in at quarterback for Brad Johnson, who is sidelined with a left rib fracture. But the Panthers will have to start third-string rookie Randy Fasani at quarterback against the NFL's top-rated defense.

Carolina backup Chris Weinke is out with a concussion and regular starter Rodney Peete will be sidelined at least two more weeks with a knee injury.

The Buffalo Bills (4-3), who were 3-13 last year, can move closer to first place in the AFC East with a win Sunday over the Detroit Lions (2-4), who have matched their victory total from a year ago.

The Cincinnati Bengals (0-6), the NFL's lone winless team, host the Tennessee Titans (2-4). The Bengals are 0-6 for the second time in the last three seasons. They last dropped their first seven games in 1994 when they went 0-8.

In other games, the Cleveland Browns (3-4) play the New York Jets (2-4); the Chicago Bears (2-4) visit the Minnesota Vikings (1-5); and the Jacksonville Jaguars (3-3) meet the Houston Texans (1-5).

Unable to beat Steve Spurrier as a collegian, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning gets his shot in the professional ranks. Manning faces a Spurrier-coached team for the first time in the NFL on Sunday night when the Colts battle the Washington Redskins.

While at the University of Tennessee, Manning lost all three of his starts against Spurrier's Florida Gators.

The Philadelphia Eagles (4-2) host the New York Giants (3-3) on Monday night in a battle of NFC East rivals. The Giants had won nine straight in the series before dropping both contests to Philadephia last season by a combined four points.

The Green Bay Packers (6-1) and San Diego Chargers (6-1), who are tied with New Orleans for the league's best record, are in a bye week along with the Miami Dolphins (5-2) and St. Louis Rams (2-5).

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