Double-digit favorites on the road to win their 15th consecutive regular-season game, the Indianapolis Colts act as if they won't have a more difficult test than the winless St. Louis Rams.
"We have a tough battle on our hands," coach Jim Caldwell said. "That's for sure."
The Rams are overwhelming choices to drop their 17th in a row on Sunday before another blase home crowd -- but likely a healthy, noisy visiting contingent. Yet, the more optimistic Rams players see only opportunity.
"From an individual standpoint, each player in this locker room should be excited," defensive tackle Clifton Ryan said. "This is a resume builder. If we go out there and win, the beginning of the season will be forgotten."
Just another typical week in the NFL, where anything can happen. Or at least everyone's worried that it might.
"I just don't think about a team's record when you play them," Colts quarterback Peyton Manning said. "You study them, you study the Xs and Os, you study the schemes, and you just try to go out there and beat those defenses and schemes.
"Whether they won last week, lost last week, is really kind of irrelevant."
Sounds a lot like Rams rookie coach Steve Spagnuolo, who's done his best all season to separate one unfortunate Sunday from the rest with a franchise that's 5-33 since 2007.
Never mind that the Colts (5-0) have won their last three games by an average of 32-12, plus are coming off their bye week, and are one win shy of a fourth 6-0 start in five years. Or that they've won seven in a row on the road, tying the franchise record. Or that the lowly Rams (0-6) average an NFL-low nine points and are near the bottom on defense, too, while rebuilding and shedding veterans.
On Tuesday, desperate to beef up a razor-thin crop of wide receivers, they traded starting outside linebacker Will Witherspoon for a backup Eagles wide receiver without a reception. Quarterback Marc Bulger's wide receiver options already include two second-year players, one that's been with the team a month, and a fourth who was among the final cuts before the opener and re-signed last week.
This week, Spagnuolo stresses, has nothing to do with the past. It's all in the players' hands and they almost ended the slump last week before falling in overtime at Jacksonville -- although the coach had better not mention that.
Addressing the Colts' average of 326 yards passing, Spagnuolo replied, "They can't take those stats with them."
Bulger joined the Rams at the end of their glory days when they played in two Super Bowls in three years from 1999-2001, and now he's tasting the dregs. He's more realistic than most about facing the Colts.
"It's going to take a perfect game from us," Bulger said. "We know how good they are and we understand the game it's going to take to beat them."
Dwight Freeney has a six-game sack streak for a stingy Indianapolis defense that could be bolstered by the season debut of safety Bob Sanders, the 2007 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Sanders, recovering from knee surgery, has steadily been increasing his activity the last three weeks.
"We fully anticipate, as things continue to go forth this week, that he may be able to do something for us," Caldwell said.
The Rams' health is far from perfect on defense, increasing the likelihood the Colts' streak will live on and keep St. Louis down. Defensive end James Hall (groin) missed practice time this week and two members of the secondary, cornerback Ron Bartell (concussion, groin) and nickel back Justin King (knee), are nursing nagging injuries, not an ideal scenario against a quarterback some have touted as the best ever.
Manning has 12 touchdown passes and only four interceptions, has completed 73.5 percent of his passes and has opened the season with a solid slate of 300-yard passing games. One more and he'll tie Steve Young, Kurt Warner and Rich Gannon for the longest string in NFL history. He needs 17 completions to pass Warren Moon for fourth on the career list.
"The guy's so smart, he manages the whole game," Spagnuolo said. "It's a chess game with him and he gets the last move because he's got the ball."
Manning said it's all about doing your homework, even against a team that seemingly has no shot.
"I don't know where the word letdown comes into play," he said. "Whoever goes out and makes more plays, executes better, and makes fewer mistakes, is usually the team that is going to win any Sunday, no matter who you're playing. "