Colts-Bucs to battle it out

ESPN analyst Joe Theismann answers five key questions concerning Week 5 of the NFL season.

Updated: October 6, 2003, 11:17 AM ET
By Joe Theismann | Special to ESPN.com

What do you expect tonight from the Colts and Bucs?
I expect this to be a hard-hitting game, low-scoring game. These two teams are going to battle it out.

The Colts are coming off a magnificent offensive performance against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday Night Football. Quarterback Peyton Manning threw for six touchdown passes against the Saints -- one more touchdown pass than he had incomplete passes!

The Colts will probably use the same game plan against the Bucs that they used against the Saints. They'll run wide receiver Marvin Harrison in a lot of crossing patterns and slants to keep him away from double coverage from the safeties. They'll also utilize a lot of stop and curl patterns to get a cushion from the Bucs' cornerbacks.

But they aren't playing the Saints, they're playing the best defense in football. Through three games, the Bucs defense is allowing only 7.3 points per game. Their stout defense will probably take away the majority of Manning's audibling opportunities. Taking away Manning's chances to move his team into advantageous positions combined with the Bucs home-field advantage signals a loss for the Colts.

Which team has a better chance of winning its division -- Carolina or Dallas?
Dallas has a better chance of winning its division because they don't have to contend with the Bucs. The NFC East is a tough division, but they'll end up beating each other up, which may allow Dallas to sneak in as the division champion.

But the Panthers have a tougher division with a Saints team that's a year removed from having one of the best offenses in the game and a Falcons team returning Mike Vick. Not to mention having to play the Bucs twice a year. In fact in terms of diversity of styles and talents, this is one of the toughest divisions in the NFL.

How have the Chiefs and Vikings turned themselves into playoff contenders?
The Vikings have done it with Randy Moss, an improved offensive line, excellent special teams and a much-improved defense.

At this time last year, the Vikings looked rudderless. They weren't playing good football, and it was the fault of the previously mentioned components.

This season, Randy Moss has asserted his will and is proving he's the best receiver in football. Their offensive line has improved dramatically while their defense has benefited greatly from the addition of several key veterans. But the biggest improvement may be on Rusty Tillman's special teams unit. They are playing flawless football right now and are partially the reason why this team has improved so much.

For the Chiefs, it's time for people to realize that Dick Vermeil is a great football coach. This is his third year with the Chiefs, and they're looking like a Super Bowl contender just like his Rams and Eagles did in their third year.

But what's great about this team is its ability to beat teams with anyone. If you look up the word "team" in the dictionary, a picture of the Kansas City Chiefs will be right there. Vermeil has done a great job with this team and may be rewarded with another Super Bowl berth.

Which young QB has the more promising future -- Leftwich or Harrington?
It's hard to say this early in their career because so much of a young quarterback's success has to do with what's surrounding him. Right now, Leftwich has a defensive-minded coach who wants him to manage the game, while Harrington is looked upon to lead his team to victories.

For a young quarterback, Leftwich is in the better position because he doesn't have the burden of having to shoulder the offensive load.

Personally, I believe both these guys will evolve into excellent quarterbacks.

Which AFC playoff team from last year has been the bigger disappointment -- Raiders or Steelers?
There isn't a bigger disappointment in the NFL than the Raiders. They're too old to compete and don't have enough speed in a game of speed. They may be the worst team in the NFL right now.

But what's scary is that next year could be worse for this team. They may lose Charlie Garner, Tyrone Wheatley, Rod Woodson, Charles Woodson, Bill Romanowski, Jerry Rice, Tim Brown and Lincoln Kennedy to either free agency or retirement. This team may be in a lot worse trouble.

Joe Theismann

Football analyst
Former college and pro football star Joe Theismann has served as an analyst for ESPN's Sunday Night Football since 1988. He also is frequently heard on ESPN Radio, regularly contributes to ESPN.com and has contributed to the NFL Draft.

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