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BILLS AND COLTS KILL WITH KINDNESS

If last weekend's Jets-Buccaneers showdown was the trash talking game of the year in the NFL, this weekend's Bills-Colts showdown might be the opposite.

Call it the Mutual Admiration Bowl.

"Peyton Manning is a big-timer, man," Bills defensive end Marcellus Wiley said Wednesday of the Colts' quarterback. "He's already great. We know that. He has a great arm. He threw for 440 yards last week. That's pretty scary to see."

"That kind of performance they had Monday night, that would get anybody's attention," defensive end Phil Hansen said of Indianapolis' 43-14 rout of Jacksonville. "I mean, 43 points. That's a lot of points. They are very impressive."

"The Bills," gushed Colts coach Jim Mora, "were the best team in the AFC at the end of last season, in my opinion. And I mean that 100 percent. Other than that fluke play against Tennessee, they probably were going to be in the Super Bowl. . . . And I felt going into the season they were going to be as good as they were last year. I felt they wouldn't slip any."

So it goes when the first big AFC East game of the season is on tap. This isn't a non-conference game devoid of postseason tie-breaker implications, like last Sunday's New York-Tampa affair. The Bills and Colts know this game is too important to allow any headlines to get posted on bulletin boards.

Both teams stand 2-1 entering Sunday's game at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Colts need to win to reaffirm their status as the Beast of the AFC East. The Bills can make another statement that they will be a strong contender in the playoff race.

Both teams want to stay on the heels of the surprising Jets in the AFC East. The loser falls two games behind the 4-0 Jets. The Bills also would drop to 0-2 in the division with a loss.

Is it any wonder the compliments were flying back and forth Wednesday?

Mora was doing his best Lou Holtz, kill-them-with-kindness impersonation on a conference call with Buffalo media.

Asked about the point spread (the Bills are favored by 2), Mora said, "I just noticed that this morning. I was looking in the paper, and I said, I hope to hell they haven't picked us to win this game. I think if you're an oddsmaker, you ought to make Buffalo the favorite.

"We SHOULD be the underdogs," Mora bellowed.

Never mind that everybody in America -- aside perhaps from the people posting messages on twobillsdrive.com -- picked the Colts to win the AFC East this year.

The Colts are young, said Mora. Inexperienced, too.

"We had a great year last year, but we're a young football team," Mora said. "We've got a third-year quarterback, a second-year running back, a young offensive line. We're a very young team, and we're still in the developing stage, believe me."

For a second, it sounded like Ryan Leaf and Jermaine Fazande were his best players, not the incomparable Manning and the marvelous running back, Edgerrin James.

The fact is, Sunday's game should be a compelling matchup of strength vs. strength.

The Colts have the No. 1-ranked offense in the AFC. The Bills have the No. 1 defense in the AFC.

If those two sides play even, the game might come down to the "other" units on the two teams. The Bills' offense ranks 12th in yards gained. The Colts' defense ranks 15th in yards allowed.

The two teams split their series last season. The Colts won big in Indianapolis in the first game of the regular season, 31-14. The Bills won big in Buffalo to conclude the regular season, 31-6.

"They demolished us that last game," Mora said. "People can say the Colts already had clinched the championship and they don't have anything to play for. Baloney! We went into that game wanting to win, prepared, we worked hard, and they killed us."

It should be a real lovefest -- right up until 1 p.m. Sunday.

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