Sports 101

The NFL's Indianapolis Colts and St. Louis Rams may be different animals, but they are having similar great years. Each has bolted to the top of its division with a 10-2 record and has surprised fans, sportswriters, and perhaps even themselves.

St. Louis came into this season with a league-high 99 losses in the 1990s. Last season it was winless in its division and 4-12 overall. This year the Rams are the first team to clinch a playoff spot and are undefeated in the NFC West division.

Indianapolis has a similar Cinderella story. It finished 3-13 last season, so this year marks an especially impressive one-season turnaround. On Sunday, Indianapolis is at home facing the New England Patriots; St. Louis competes away from home against last-place New Orleans.

Q: Why the sudden turnarounds?

A: There's no easy answer, but it's all about adding the right pieces to the puzzle. Colts president Bill Polian credits his coaches and players. The team's star, Peyton Manning, was one of those right pieces. The quarterback was the team's No. 1 draft pick in 1998 (picked instead of QB Ryan Leaf, who has failed to shine so far for the San Diego Chargers). Since then, he has emerged as the AFC passing leader.

For the Rams, first-year quarterback Kurt Warner is the NFL's biggest surprise this season. He already has set a Rams record for most touchdown passes in a season with 32. Marshall Faulk, ironically a former player for the Colts, is one of the best running backs in the game.

Q: Why is this week crucial for these teams?

A: The Rams will be playing for home-field advantage for the NFC playoffs. They can clinch a first round bye (i.e., they won't have to play in the first week of playoffs) with a win against New Orleans. The Colts can clinch a playoff berth with a win against the Patriots.

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(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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