Unbeaten Chiefs host Browns; Bucs visit Panthers Sunday

Updated: November 9, 2003, 8:27 AM ET

JERSEY CITY, New Jersey -- Dick Vermeil's third year in St. Louis ended in a Super Bowl title for the Rams. Halfway through his third year in Kansas City, this could be a magical season for the Chiefs.

The first NFL team to be unbeaten at the midway point in five years, the Chiefs (8-0) will host the Cleveland Browns (3-5) Sunday in Week 10 of the NFL.

Jon Gruden is finding out about the challenge of coaching a defending Super Bowl champion. His Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-4) visit the first-place Carolina Panthers (6-2) in a meeting of NFC South rivals.

But Gruden has it smooth compared to the other Super Bowl coach from last year - Bill Callahan of the fading Oakland Raiders (2-6).

The Chiefs are the 11th team to start 8-0 since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970. Of the previous 10 teams, eight went on to the Super Bowl with six of them winning.

Coming off its bye week, Kansas City also is the first team to start 8-0 since the Denver Broncos won their first 13 games in 1998 en route to winning Super Bowl XXXIII.

Starting with this game, the Chiefs only play two teams with winning records over their final eight contests of the season.

The Chiefs' revamped defense has been a major reason for their success. They have piled up a league-high 27 takeaways, including a season-high seven two weeks ago in a 38-5 rout of Buffalo.

A blocked extra point by Kris Jenkins is the reason the Panthers have a two-game lead over Tampa Bay.

In the first meeting September 14 at Tampa Bay, the Bucs lined up for what appeared to be the game-winning extra point after Brad Johnson hit Keenan McCardell with a six-yard touchdown with no time left in regulation. It seemed like merely a formality since Martin Gramatica never had missed an extra point in 129 career attempts.

However, Jenkins, who earlier blocked a 38-yard field goal attempt, again collapsed the pocket and knocked down Gramatica's conversion attempt.

The Panthers went on to win, 12-9, when John Kasay kicked his fourth field goal of the game - a 47-yarder - with 3:28 left in overtime.

Along with being soundly outplayed on special teams, the Bucs also self-destructed with 17 penalties for 168 yards in the first meeting. Gruden saw some more self-destruction last week when the Bucs committed six turnovers in a 17-14 loss to New Orleans.

The reeling Raiders have dropped four straight and are off to their worst start since 1964, when they were 1-7-1. On Sunday, they host the New York Jets (2-6). To make matters worse for Callahan, there is dissension in the ranks.

Star cornerback Charles Woodson criticized Callahan in an interview aired on "ESPN's "NFL Countdown" last week, saying his coach "has a very big ego" and is "not listening to the veterans on the team."

After the Raiders' latest loss, an embarrassing 23-13 setback to the Detroit Lions last week, Woodson did not retract his comments.

"It was time to let everyone know what was going on," Woodson said. "I know I said the things I said, but it's the feeling of the whole team. I'm really just the spokesperson. The more you talk to the other guys, the more you understand where I'm coming from."

Callahan is going to have to try to win this weekend with Rick Mirer, who played for the Jets in 1999, at quarterback. Reigning Most Valuable Player Rich Gannon will miss a second straight game with a torn labrum and backup Marques Tuiasosopo is out with a torn knee ligament suffered in the loss at Detroit.

Coaches Dan Reeves of the Atlanta Falcons (1-7), Bill Cowher of the Pittsburgh Steelers (2-6), Marty Schottenheimer of the San Diego Chargers (1-7) and Steve Spurrier of the Washington Redskins (3-5) are also experiencing nightmarish seasons.

Without star quarterback Michael Vick, the Falcons have turned from a playoff team to one that is tied for the worst record in the NFL. After opening the season with a win at Dallas, the Falcons have lost seven straight - the team's longest streak since they started 0-8 in 1996 under June Jones. They will visit the New York Giants (4-4).

Cowher has been a staple for the Steelers, but pressure is starting to mount on the NFL's longest-tenured coach heading into a game against the Arizona Cardinals (3-5).

In his 12th season with the Steelers, Cowher has posted a 111-72-1 record, leading the franchise to a Super Bowl appearance and six division titles. But despite all the success, Cowher has come under fire this season with the Steelers off to their worst start after eight games since going 1-7 in 1988 under Chuck Noll.

It also does not help Cowher's case that the Steelers enter this contest in the midst of a five-game losing streak - their longest slide since dropping six in a row in 1999.

Schottenheimer attempted to shake up the Chargers by starting 41-year-old Doug Flutie at quarterback over Drew Brees for this weekend's contest against the Minnesota Vikings (6-2).

Flutie replaced Brees in the fourth quarter of last week's 20-7 loss to the Chicago Bears and led the Chargers on their only scoring drive, completing 8-of-11 passes for 70 yards.

Flutie started all 16 games in 2001 for San Diego, but that was before Schottenheimer became coach. He set a career high with 3,464 passing yards that season along with 15 touchdowns, but was also intercepted 18 times. After leading the Chargers to a 5-2 record, they lost their last nine games and Flutie lost his job.

After a 3-1 start, the Redskins hope to snap a four-game losing streak when they host the Seattle Seahawks. Spurrier's "Fun 'N' Gun" offense has produced a total of 34 points in the last three games.

The Seahawks (6-2) have won three of their last four games to move into sole possession of first place in the NFC West, one game ahead of the St. Louis Rams. In that four-game span, the Seahawks have scored 91 points.

That's the type of success Redskins owner Daniel Snyder was envisioning when he gave Spurrier a five-year, $25 million contract in January 2002. But after ranking 20th in offense last season, the Redskins are averaging 18.6 points this season.

Coch Dave Wannstedt has a winning record with the Miami Dolphins (5-3), but will also feel the heat if he fails to make the playoffs for the second straight year.

Miami, which trails the idle New England Patriots (7-2) in the AFC East, visit the Tennessee Titans (6-2).

The Indianapolis Colts (7-1), who have a one-game lead over Tennessee in the AFC South, will play the Jacksonville Jaguars (1-7).

With Bill Parcells at the helm, the Dallas Cowboys (6-2) surpassed their win total each of the last three seasons and have a one-game lead over the Philadelphia Eagles (5-3) in the NFC East. Dallas hosts the Buffalo Bills (4-4) in an interconference matchup.

On Monday night, the Eagles visit the Green Bay Packers (4-4), who trail Minnesota in the NFC North.

Marshall Faulk returns on Sunday night when the Rams host the Baltimore Ravens (5-3), who have a two-game lead in the AFC North. Faulk has missed five games with a broken hand and also underwent arthroscopic knee surgery.

In other games, the Houston Texans (3-5) play the Cincinnati Bengals (3-5) and the Chicago Bears (3-5) face the Detroit Lions (2-6).

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index