September 25, 2012INDIANA SPORTS PAGE
With competitive balance at an all-time high, division wins early in the season lay a foundation for future success.
“You know ultimately at the end of the day, coming down the stretch you’re going to have to beat those teams in your division,” says NFL Network analyst and former NFL MVPquarterback KURT WARNER. “To go in and beat them early, gain that confidence, get a lead on them, becomes so important. At the end of the day, you just have to win your division. Anytime you can gain that confidence or that edge over those teams, especially early in the season, it’s huge.”
The highest winning percentage against division opponents in September since 2002:
Week 4 features five divisional games in the AFC – and nine overall – starting with an AFC North matchup as the Cleveland Browns (0-3) travel to face the Baltimore Ravens (2-1) on Thursday night (NFL Network, 8:00 PM ET).
The Ravens have won 12 consecutive games at home, the longest current home win streak in the NFL and hope to extend the mark.
“It’s going to be a huge challenge for us,” says JOHN HARBAUGH, who owns an 18-7 (.720) record against the AFC North since being named the Ravens’ head coach in 2008. “A division game, a big rivalry game, it’s always a very emotional game against the Browns. We’ve played a lot of tough games against these guys. We expect it to be another one of those kind of games.”
In the AFC South, the Houston Texans (3-0) will host the Tennessee Titans (1-2) on Sunday (CBS, 1:00 PM ET).
The Texans are 3-0 for the first time in franchise history and enter Week 4 as the lone undefeated team in the AFC. Houston has been led by a stingy defense that has allowed an AFC-low in points per game (14), yards per game (255.7) and passing yards per game (188) this season.
“It’s a great start,” says Texans head coach GARY KUBIAK. “We finish the first quarter of the season this week. I think they’re very humble. They understand that if they just play good football, they’re going to win games.”
In Week 3, Tennessee became the first team in NFL history to score five touchdowns of at least 60 yards in a game in their 44-41 overtime win over Detroit. The Titans own a 14-6 (.700) record all-time against the Texans.
The AFC East matchup on Sunday (CBS, 1:00 PM ET) will feature the New England Patriots (1-2) against the Buffalo Bills (2-1) at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Patriots, who have the highest winning percentage against division opponents since 2002 (47-13; .783), aim to rebound from consecutive losses in Week 2 and 3.
“I’m sure this will be another real hostile environment for our team as we’ve seen in Buffalo before,” says Patriots head coach BILL BELICHICK. “It will be another big challenge for us going on the road here against a team that’s really playing well. I think that CHAN GAILEY, as usual, does a real good job with this football team. They’re an explosive team, both running the ball and throwing it offensively, they can sack the quarterback, stop the run and play good pass defense as well.”
The teams with the highest winning percentage against division opponents since 2002:
The Denver Broncos (1-2) will host their long-time rivals, the Oakland Raiders (1-2), on Sunday (CBS, 4:05 PM ET).
Raiders rookie head coach DENNIS ALLEN recorded his first career win last week in a 34-31 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Allen, who spent the 2011 season as the Broncos defensive coordinator, leads a Raider team that has won its past four games at Denver.
“It’s a division opponent, it’s a big game,” says Allen. “We’ve got a challenge to face the Denver Broncos and we’re going to come up with a good plan. Our focus is going to be on our team trying to exploit whatever weaknesses Denver has and eliminate the times they’re able to exploit whatever vulnerabilities we have.”
The fifth AFC division contest in Week 4 features the San Diego Chargers (2-1) and the Kansas City Chiefs (1-2) in an AFC West matchup at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday (CBS 1:00 PM ET). San Diego, which suffered its first loss of the season in Week 3, has quickly shifted its focus to Kansas City.
“I’m way deep into thinking about Kansas City already,” says Chargers quarterback PHILIP RIVERS. “And I think that the other guys are also there. In this league there’s no time to dwell on things unless it’s on things that can help you. We have a chance to be 3-1 after the first quarter of the season, which is a heck of a start.”
The Chiefs, who posted their first win of the season last week, overcame a 24-6 deficit to defeat New Orleans 27-24 in overtime. Kansas City was led by running back JAMAAL CHARLES, who rushed for 233 yards and a touchdown (91 yards) and hauled in six receptions for 55 yards. He joined Pro Football Hall of Famer JIM BROWN (November 19, 1961) as the only players in NFL history to record at least 225 rushing yards and 50 receiving yards in the same game.
“We needed to find a way to get a win and we got it,” says Chiefs tackle ERIC WINSTON. “Now we’re playing for first place. That’s how much fun this league is and with the division games, obviously they’re so important. If you win those you’re probably going to make the playoffs. It’s exciting.”