Tuesday October 7th, 2008

Five weeks of the NFL's regular season are in the books and we're down to just two undefeated teams: The 5-0 Titans in the AFC and the 4-0 Giants in the NFC.

Both are on eight-game winning streaks, albeit slightly different versions. Tennessee's eight consecutive regular-season wins dating from Week 15 of last year is the NFL's longest current streak. New York's eight wins in a row includes last season's magical four-game playoff run.

"I don't think any of you guys thought we were going to be 5-0 at the bye week,'' said Tennessee head coach Jeff Fisher to reporters after his team's 13-10 win at Baltimore on Sunday, which sent the Titans into their off week with the franchise's first 5-0 record in its 49-year history. "I did. But you guys didn't.''

Guilty as charged, if I may plea on behalf of the media's collective preseason take on the '08 Titans. We thought Tennessee would be good. But not this good. As always, however, we're more interested at this point in where the Titans are going rather than where they've been. Can they keep their winning ways alive? Will they make any serious run at perfection this season? It's never too early to start speculating.

And how about the defending Super Bowl champion Giants? How long can they keep their winning streak going? Is this all a product of a soft early schedule, or true dominance in the making? New York's 44-6 thrashing of visiting Seattle on Sunday was its largest regular-season margin of victory since a 62-10 rout of Philadelphia in November 1972. And the Giants rolled up 523 yards of offense playing without their best receiver, the suspended Plaxico Burress.

Ironically, after telling us throughout the preseason that they were getting overlooked and disrespected, with the Cowboys and Eagles being favored to finish above them in the NFC East, the Giants are now starting to recoil a bit from the comparisons being made between them and last year's perfect-season Patriots. You just can't please some people.

"You want to win every game, but that's not very realistic,'' said Giants middle linebacker Antonio Pierce, after New York's dismantling of Seattle. "It's only happened twice in the NFL, where teams went to the postseason undefeated. If we can go undefeated in the division, that could be the best undefeated record we could have.''

This year's Titans and Giants do have a few things in common, and we're not just talking about the zero on the right side of their won-loss records, or a history with quarterback Kerry Collins. Both have already played three home games, and join Carolina and Denver as the only 3-0 home teams in the NFL. Both have beaten the 0-5 Bengals, and one other winless team (the 0-4 Texans in the case of Tennessee, the 0-4 Rams in the case of New York).

Neither Tennessee nor New York should be put in the position of apologizing for its schedule thus far, but the fact remains that neither has had it too demanding in the early going. Tennessee's five opponents thus far are a combined 6-17, with none currently sporting a winning record. Only Baltimore had a winning mark (2-1) at the time it faced Fisher's team.

New York's four opponents are currently 5-13, with four of those wins belonging to Washington (4-1). But the Redskins lost to the Giants 16-7 in the NFL's season-opener, meaning New York has yet to beat a winning team. The Rams, Bengals and Seahawks are a combined 1-12, or if you prefer, 1-9 when not playing the Giants.

If either the Titans or Giants should dare to dream of perfection, here's a quick look at how their chances might unfold:

Tennessee: With 11 games remaining in their regular season after this week's bye, the Titans have a schedule that could allow them to stay undefeated for quite some time. Tennessee plays just two games against teams that currently have winning records: Week 10 at Chicago, and home against Pittsburgh in Week 16.

Coming out of their bye, the Titans travel to offensively challenged Kansas City in Week 7, then return home for a pair of tough matchups against teams that have underachieved thus far: perennial AFC South champion Indianapolis in Week 8, and 2007 NFC title-game qualifier Green Bay in Week 9. The injury-depleted Colts and Packers may have things put together by then, but there are no guarantees.

If the Titans do get to 8-0 at the season's midpoint, their second half starts off with challenging games at Chicago in Week 10 and at Jacksonville in Week 11. Things get a bit easier for a while after that -- Jets at home, Lions on the road, Browns at home, Texans on the road -- but Tennessee will have to earn it in Weeks 16-17, drawing Pittsburgh at home and a road trip to Indy in its final two games.

"It feels great to be 5-0,'' said Collins, after leading the Titans to a fourth-quarter comeback against the Ravens. "What we learned today is we can come from behind and win on the road against a good team. I hope we can keep this going, because I think we can have a good year.''

New York: At 4-0, the Giants are already off to their best start since 1990, the season they won their most recent Super Bowl title before last year's unexpected championship run. But most of the hard work is still ahead this season for Tom Coughlin's club.

This week, New York plays Monday night at Cleveland (1-3), and given the state of the Browns' anemic offense, the Giants' stout defense -- which has given up 13 points or fewer in three of four games -- should create even more problems for quarterback Derek Anderson & Co. Then, in Week 7, the 49ers (2-3) will visit Giants Stadium, perhaps the last second-tier opponent New York will see for a while.

Starting in Week 8, the Giants' schedule finally turns daunting with a road game at Pittsburgh, followed by a home game against division-rival Dallas, and another road trip to Pennsylvania to take on the Eagles in a Sunday-nighter. Those last two games begin a seven-week stretch in which New York will play all five of its remaining NFC East games, meaning the Giants will go all the way from Week 1 to Week 9 between showdowns in the NFL's most competitive division.

One particular four-game span looms the largest in terms of the degree of difficulty: In Week 12, just before Thanksgiving, the Giants return to Arizona, scene of their Super Bowl upset of the Patriots, to take on the Cardinals. Arizona's offense can score on anybody, as Buffalo's defense discovered on Sunday. After the Cardinals game, the Giants begin a three-game run through the NFC East, visiting the impressive Redskins for a rematch of the opener in Week 13, playing host to the Eagles in Week 14, and going to Dallas for their final Texas Stadium appearance in Week 15.

If some how, some way, the Giants' record remains unblemished, they won't be able to ease their way to the finish line. Not with Carolina set to visit the Meadowlands in Week 16, and a regular-season finale at Minnesota awaiting. Coughlin will no doubt remind his Giants what the Vikings did to New York and Eli Manning last November, and how not all that long ago the Panthers came to town and ended the Giants season in the first round of the 2005 playoffs.

"We're one of the top five, 10 teams in the league,'' said Pierce, in an understatement that was either meant to be self-deprecating or self-delusional. "Some other guys have better special teams, better name players, better coaches, a lot of things. We're just one of the teams that is lucky to get to 4-0.''

Lucky or not, the Titans and Giants remain perfect so far.

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