Florida matchups highlight NFL Week 12

Nov. 23, 2002 at 10:56 AM
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TAMPA, Fla., Nov. 23 (UPI) -- Brett Favre and Warren Sapp renew acquintances Sunday while the Philadelphia Eagles begin to adjust to life without Donovan McNabb in Week 12 of the NFL.

Favre and the Green Bay Packers (8-2) visit Sapp and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-2) on Sunday in a battle of two of the league's winningest teams.

The state of Florida will host another matchup of first-place teams when the Miami Dolphins (6-4) meet the San Diego Chargers (7-3) on Sunday afternoon.

Two more first-place teams face off in Week 12. On Sunday night, the Denver Broncos (7-3) meet the Indianapolis Colts (6-4) and on Monday night, the McNabb-less Eagles (7-3) play the San Francisco 49ers (7-3).

The Packers and Bucs may determine home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs since the former division rivals are tied for the best record in the NFL.

The Packers had a chance to clinch the NFC North last week, but Favre was intercepted three times in a 31-21 loss at Minnesota that snapped a seven-game winning streak. Both of Green Bay's losses this season have come in domed stadiums - the Superdome in Week Two against the New Orleans Saints and the Metrodome.

The good news for the Packers is that they get to play outdoors for their remaining six games, but would prefer a colder climate than Tampa Bay, where they have lost their last four visits, three by five points or less.

Tampa Bay is off to the best start in franchise history and has a one-game lead over New Orleans (7-3) in the NFC South. The Buccaneers play at New Orleans next week.

But this Sunday, the focus will be on Favre and the Packers. The Bucs have allowed an NFL-low 11.9 points per game and lead the league with 21 interceptions.

The Packers and Bucs were division rivals for 25 years from 1977-2001. The enduring image of the rivalry is Bucs defensive tackle Sapp chasing Favre and the two relishing the battle. Sapp has sacked Favre eight times, tying for his most against any quarterback.

"I don't miss playing against him (Sapp) twice a year," Favre said. "As long as all those guys - Sapp, John Lynch and Derrick Brooks - are there, they're going to be tough to deal with."

The Saints and Atlanta Falcons (6-3-1), who are unbeaten in their last six games, are behind Tampa Bay in the NFC South and currently occupy the NFC wild card spots.

The Saints host the Cleveland Browns (5-5) and the Falcons visit the Carolina Panthers (3-7), who have a seven-game losing streak. Cleveland is one-half game behind the first-place Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC North.

Norv Turner pushed for the Chargers to switch from Doug Flutie to Drew Brees last season. Marty Schottenheimer is glad he made the move this year.

On Sunday, Turner will be on the other side as offensive coordinator of the Dolphins when the Chargers visit South Florida.

The Dolphins are in first place in the AFC East, one game ahead of the New England Patriots (5-5), Buffalo Bills (5-5) and New York Jets (5-5). San Diego is tied with Denver for first place in the AFC West, one game ahead of the Oakland Raiders (6-4), which plays the Arizona Cardinals (4-6), losers of four straight contests.

Brees threw for a career-high 336 yards and two touchdowns in San Diego's 20-17 overtime win over San Francisco last week. A first-round pick in 2001, Brees has quieted any possible quarterback controversy with his performance this season, throwing for 1,999 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Last year, Turner urged former Chargers coach Mike Riley to switch from Flutie to Brees when the team was mired in a nine-game losing streak, but Riley never made the move.

Schottenheimer made the decision to go with Brees as his starter late in the preseason and has been rewarded for having faith in the youngster.

Before Schottenheimer was hired, Turner left the Chargers to join his friend Dave Wannstedt in Miami as offensive coordinator. Quarterback Jay Fiedler flourished under Turner, leading the Dolphins to a 5-1 record and throwing for 1,289 yards and nine touchdowns with six interceptions.

However, since Fiedler broke his thumb in an Oct. 13 game at Denver, Turner did not have quite the same success with backup Ray Lucas, who lost his first three games as a starter and committed nine turnovers.

Last week, Lucas played a mistake-free game, completing 18-of-26 passes for 221 yards and rushing for a touchdown in a 26-7 win over Baltimore.

Steve Beuerlein makes his first start at quarterback since the 2000 season on Sunday night when the Broncos host the Colts. In his 16th season, Beuerlein is starting in place of Brian Griese, who is expected to be sidelined for one to three weeks with a sprained left MCL. The 37-year-old Beuerlein has not started since the 2000 season finale with Carolina.

Even with the loss of Griese, the Broncos should be in good hands with Beuerlein, who has passed for 22,747 yards in his career, including a career-high 4,436 in 1999 while with Carolina.

Beuerlein came off the bench last Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks after Griese was injured and threw his only two passes for touchdowns in a 31-9 victory. Rookie Clinton Portis added 136 yards rushing on 23 carries.

Indianapolis has recovered from a four-game losing streak to win its last two contests over Philadelphia and Dallas in impressive fashion. The Colts are tied for first place with the Tennessee Titans (6-4) in the AFC South.

Indianapolis' Marvin Harrison has 89 catches for 1,110 yards and eight touchdowns. He is on pace to break Herman Moore's single-season reception mark of 123, set in 1995 with Detroit.

The Titans have won five straight and visit the Baltimore Ravens (4-6).

The Eagles' star quarterback McNabb suffered a fractured right ankle in last Sunday's win over the Arizona Cardinals and will miss six to eight weeks.

Losing McNabb is a devastating blow for the Eagles, who lead the NFC East by one game over the New York Giants (6-4). McNabb took the Eagles to the NFC championship game last season, but likely is done for the remainder of the regular season.

A threat on the ground as well, McNabb accounted for 65 percent of his club's offense. He has thrown for 2,289 yards with 17 touchdowns and six interceptions while adding 460 yards rushing and six TDs.

Now the Eagles turn to Koy Detmer, who has started just six of 51 games in his career that began in 1997 when he was drafted by Philadelphia in the seventh round.

Detmer went 1-4 as a starter in 1998 for a team that went 3-13. His last start came on Dec. 19, 1999, when he filled in for an injured McNabb and completed 10-of-29 passes for 181 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions in a 24-9 victory over New England.

Last December, the Niners posted a 13-3 victory over the Eagles at San Francisco. Pro Bowl receiver Terrell Owens was held in check by Philadelphia's secondary before catching a 32-yard TD in the fourth quarter.

The Giants, who have won three in a row since coach Jim Fassel assumed playcalling duties from offensive coordinator Sean Payton, visit the expansion Houston Texans (2-8).

The surging St. Louis Rams (5-5) get back the ringleader of the "Greatest Show on Turf" when they battle the Washington Redskins (4-6). Despite the success of quarterback Marc Bulger, who has led the Rams to five straight wins, Kurt Warner will return as starter against the Redskins.

The NFL's Most Valuable Player two of the last three years, Warner underwent surgery on Oct. 1 to repair a broken right pinky and was expected to be sidelined eight to 10 weeks. Warner missed five games with the injury, but returned to play one series in last Monday's 21-16 victory over Chicago after Bulger injured his finger.

Rams coach Mike Martz has decided to switch back to Warner even though Bulger flourished while winning his five starts, passing for 1,496 yards and 12 touchdowns with four interceptions.

After this contest, the Rams play at Philadelphia and Kansas City in the next two weeks.

Kordell Stewart will be back as the starting quarterback for the Steelers when they host the Cincinnati Bengals (1-9). Benched after struggling in the first three games, Stewart is returning as the starter after Tommy Maddox suffered a cerebral concussion and spinal concussion in last week's 31-23 loss to the Tennessee Titans.

In Stewart's three starts, the Steelers have averaged just 15.6 points. They averaged 28.8 points in seven games under Maddox. Stewart has completed 62.3 percent (71-of-114) of his passes for 717 yards and five touchdowns with five interceptions.

The defending Super Bowl champion Patriots play the fourth of five games in a 25-day stretch when they host the Minnesota Vikings (3-7). The teams tied with New England for second in the AFC East - Buffalo and the Jets - will meet Sunday in New York.

In other games, the Kansas City Chiefs (5-5) face the Seattle Seahawks (3-7); the Jacksonville Jaguars (5-5) play the Dallas Cowboys (3-7); and the Detroit Lions (3-7) visit the Chicago Bears (2-8), who have matched a franchise record with eight consecutive losses.

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