(Ed. Note: This article originally ran October 2. Data have been updated to be current as of October 22, while some new stats and conclusions have been added.)
We don't like to race ahead of ourselves.
It's ugly, really. We get winded easily, we trip over our clown feet and our man boobs bounce up and down.
But sometimes we can't resist making a front-running spectacle of ourselves. Is it too early, for example, to start talking about the Nov. 4 New England-Indy game?
Well, too bad. Because it may go down as the biggest – or at least the most heavily hyped – regular-season game in decades, if not ever, especially if the two teams are undefeated.
If we had emotions, we'd already be excited.
A lot can happen between now and Nov. 4. Just a few weeks ago, for example, the Steelers looked like one of the dominant teams in football. Then they lost to the lowly Cardinals. They stumbled again against a struggling Denver team Sunday night.
So a meeting of unbeatens on Nov. 4 is hardly assured. But both New England and Indy look fairly remarkable nearing the halfway point of the season. The Colts are 6-0 and tonight manhandled a Jacksonville team alleged to be one of the most physical in football. The Patriots are 7-0, destroying their opponents by more than 21 PPG and on pace to field the most explosive offense in the entire history of the NFL (39.9 PPG).
And if New England is 8-0 and Indy is 7-0 when Nov. 4 rolls around, it will surely go down as a game for the ages. Football fans around the country probably circled the date before the season even started, and it's only shaping up as bigger and bigger with each passing week.
Here's why New England-Indy, Version 2007, might be the biggest, most heavily hyped, most widely watched regular-season game ever.
New England-Indy is already the biggest rivalry in North American professional sports. What about Red Sox-Yankees? Well, you look at the ratings of a Sox-Yankees playoff series and a Colts-Patriots regular-season game and you tell us which rivalry captures the public's attention. Colts-Patriots already merits the highest TV ratings of any sporting event other than the Super Bowl and will outdraw the highest-rated Sox-Yankees game by a good 4-to-1 nationwide. We guarantee you that the Patriots-Colts game on Nov. 4, a regular-season game, will outdraw the most-watched game of baseball's World Series by a sizable margin.
Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady is the most compelling and heated individual rivalry in sports today, even if the two players seem to be friends off the field. Go to any football chat board in the nation, and the Manning vs. Brady debate works everybody up into a frothy lather: Two quarterbacks at the height of their powers, the two biggest players in the game, two future Hall of Famers, and leaders of the two dominant football teams this millennium. The NFL hasn't had this type of quarterbacking rivalry since the days of Sid Luckman and Sammy Baugh, but their games were never televised. Dan Marino vs. Joe Montana was the great debate of the 1980s, but the two hardly ever faced each other on the field, just five times. Bart Starr and Jonny Unitas was the great debate of the 1960s. But the two never faced each other in the postseason. Brady and Manning square off for the 10th time in seven years on Nov. 4, and may meet again for an 11th time, and fourth in the postseason, when January rolls around.
The winner will have the inside track on the AFC championship. The winner of the regular-season meeting between Indy and New England earned playoff homefield advantage over the other in 2003, 2004 and 2006. The home team won in the playoffs each time.
The winner will have the inside track on an undefeated season. Assuming both teams enter the Nov. 4 game undefeated, it's reasonable to assume that the winner will have a very realistic shot at an undefeated season. The Patriots will be favored in every game after, in some cases by double-digit margins (they've already been 16-plus point favorites four times this year). And they face their toughest test against Pittsburgh at home. The Colts will also be favored in every game after New England.
The roles are reversed. In past seasons, the Colts were the team with the explosive offensive numbers that laid waste to also-rans. The Patriots were the gritty defensive squad with the deadly efficient quarterback who made every big play needed against tough opponents. This year, it's the Colts who have been playing tough defense and muscling out wins over physical opponents and the Patriots who are rewriting the offensive record books.
Both teams are better than they've ever been. It's quite possible that these two teams, already the NFL's best this decade, are better than any of their past teams. The Colts finally have the defense (which they didn't have last year until their remarkable turnaround int the playoffs). The Patriots finally have weapons all over the field on offense (which they simply have not had in the past).
It will be the first time the two teams meet while undefeated. As if the game wasn't already big enough, Nov. 4 could be the first time the two dominant pro football powers of the 21st century meet as unbeatens.
It should be fun. We're already counting down the minutes, and hoping the two run the table.
Here's the combined record of New England and Indy in each of their meetings since the 2003 regular season, which we define as the official start of the modern rivalry between the two pro football powers.
2003 regular season
New England: 9-2
Combined: 18-4 (.818)
Winner: NE, 38-34
New England: 15-2
Combined: 29-6 (.829)
Winner: NE, 24-14
2004 regular season
Week 1 game, with each team, obviously, 0-0
Winner: NE, 27-24
2004 Played playoffs
New England: 14-2
Combined: 27-6 (.818)
Winner: NE, 20-3
2005 regular season
New England: 4-3
Combined: 11-3 (.786)
Winner: Indy, 40-21
2006 regular season
New England: 6-1
Combined: 13-1 (.929)
Winner: Indy, 27-20
New England: 14-4
Combined: 28-8 (.778)
Winner: Indy, 38-34
2007 regular season?
New England: 8-0?
Winner: red-blooded American football fans