Patriots-Broncos missing a key cast member: Peyton Manning
Still, when Brady leads his undefeated Patriots into Denver on Sunday night, the game will have plenty of significance. And no one should write off the Broncos' chances, even with the untested Osweiler subbing for Peyton Manning.
Osweiler's first NFL start was a victory at Chicago. While Manning mends from a variety of ailments - he'll probably miss another two weeks - the Broncos (8-2) aren't shying away from the challenge against New England (10-0).
''Obviously, what coach Belichick has accomplished in the past decade, 15 years is maybe second to none,'' Osweiler says. ''But at the end of the day, I'm not going against Bill Belichick on Sunday. I'm going against their defense and their football team. This is going to be two football teams going against each other. I'm not big into the one-on-one matchups.''
Brady says he will miss matching up with his long-time rival quarterback. But he'll likely miss not having some key parts on offense, particularly injured Julian Edelman, who is out, and Danny Amendola, who is unlikely to play.
''There's nobody that has more respect for Peyton than me, outside of probably his parents, his brother,'' Brady says. ''If anybody can appreciate what Peyton has accomplished, it's me. He's just been remarkable in every part of his career - he's been a tremendous player.''
So has Brady, of course. He has won five of his last six against Denver, passing for 17 touchdowns and two interceptions. Brady is four TD passes from surpassing Dan Marino for third on the all-time list with 421.
The action began with the traditional Thanksgiving games.
Carolina remained unbeaten and sent Dallas quarterback Tony Romo to the sidelines with another injury. The Panthers (11-0) returned two of Romo's three interceptions for touchdowns as they stretched their NFL-best winning streak to 15 regular-season games with a 33-14 victory over the Dallas (3-8). Romo injured the same left collarbone that cost him all seven games of a losing string for the Cowboys.
The Packers honored Brett Favre by retiring his number, then were stunned by the Bears 17-13. Chicago (5-6) held off Green Bay on fourth-and-goal from the 8 with 22 seconds left. Green Bay (7-4) has lost four of five.
Detroit kept its revival going with a 45-14 rout of Philadelphia. Matthew Stafford tied a career high with five touchdown passes, three to Calvin Johnson, who also tied a personal best. The Lions (4-7) have won three straight.
The Eagles (4-7) are on a three-game losing streak. They have allowed at least 45 points in two straight games in one season for the first time in team history.
Pittsburgh (6-4) at Seattle (5-5)
Two teams to watch as the NFL enters its stretch drive.
The Steelers are 3-0 against the NFC West this season and Ben Roethlisberger is 3-0 in his career against the Seahawks, including a Super Bowl win. He was forced into emergency action when Landry Jones went down two weeks ago against Cleveland and performed impressively on a bum ankle. He has plenty of offensive help in receivers Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant, and running back DeAngelo Hall, subbing well for injured All-Pro Le'Veon Bell.
Rawls rushed for 209 yards vs. the 49ers, the second-best game in franchise history.
The Seahawks have rushed for 100 yards as a team in 21 straight games.
''He's done very well and been consistent,'' Seahawks coach Pete Carroll says of Rawls. ''Whenever he's been given a real good shot, he's come through in a big way.''
Arizona (8-2) at San Francisco (3-7)
Arizona annihilated the 49ers 47-7 in September. The Cardinals are just as good and the 49ers have nose-dived even more.
The Cardinals have won four in a row to take hold of the NFC West, but they haven't won in San Francisco in seven years. Their balanced offense, with a revitalized Chris Johnson running the ball, Carson Palmer connecting with Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown, will severely test the Niners.
Niners LB NaVorro Bowman likes the sight of Arizona. Bowman, who leads the NFC with 97 tackles in a comeback season from knee surgery, has 25 tackles, one sack, one interception, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries in his last three meetings with the Cardinals.
Minnesota (7-3) at Atlanta (6-4)
The Vikings had their five-game winning string snapped at Green Bay, but are in much better shape these days than the Falcons. Atlanta was 5-0, but has struggled since, falling far behind Carolina in the NFC South.
Featured in this one will be two league leaders. Minnesota's Adrian Peterson has rushed for 1,006 yards after missing almost all of 2014 because of his child abuse case. The Falcons' Julio Jones has three straight 100-yard receiving games and six for the season. His 89 receptions almost are on a record pace, and he covered 1,189 yards with those catches.
St. Louis (4-6) at Cincinnati (8-2)
Suddenly, the Bengals are looking behind them at Pittsburgh, a team they seemed to leave in the dust with an 8-0 start.
St. Louis has a big-time pass rush, which it will need to pressure Andy Dalton and stop him from finding the league's most productive tight end. TE Tyler Eifert leads the NFL with 11 TD catches, the most ever by a Bengals tight end.
New York Giants (5-5) at Washington (4-6)
No team is worse at finishing off games than the Giants, who top the mediocre NFC East even though they have blown four games late in the final quarter. Coming off a bye, they'll need to discover a rushing game down the stretch, as well as a stingier pass defense. They are tied for the league lead with a plus-13 turnover margin.
Washington still has four division contests left and probably needs to sweep them to be a factor. Redskins coach Jay Gruden is 0-3 vs. New York's Tom Coughlin.
Tampa Bay (5-5) at Indianapolis (5-5)
Both sides have made impressive turnarounds. Tampa has won two straight and three of the last four with a strong offense led by running back Doug Martin and top overall draft pick Jaimes Winston, who threw five touchdown passes last week. Tampa Bay has forced at least one turnover in 17 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the NFL.
New Orleans (4-6) at Houston (5-5)
New Orleans fired defensive coordinator Rob Ryan during its bye week. The Saints might get some helpful lessons from watching the rapidly developing Texans' D, led by 2014 Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt. He is having another All-Pro caliber season, and has gotten plenty of help from linebackers Brian Cushing and Whitney Mercilus.
Houston is tied atop the weak AFC South after winning three straight and four of five.
Buffalo (5-5) at Kansas City (5-5)
Remember when the Chiefs were 1-5 and in a funk. Now look at them.
KC's defense might be the league's best right now, led by linebackers Justin Houston and Tambi Hali, and the Chiefs lead the AFC with a plus-10 turnover differential. Alex Smith doesn't throw interceptions.
Up-and-down Buffalo needs to cut back on the penalties and unleash its two-pronged rushing attack with LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams. Williams has five TDs, second among rookies to the Rams' Todd Gurley. Buffalo has 12 rushing TDs, second in the league to KC's 14.
Oakland (4-6) at Tennessee (2-8)
Oakland has lost three straight after seemingly having turned around its lagging fortunes; the Raiders haven't had a winning season or made the playoffs since 2002. But QB Derek Carr has thrown for 300 yards or more in three of the past four games and needs one more such game to join Rich Gannon (10 in 2002, when he was NFL MVP) and Carson Palmer (six in 2012) as the only Raiders with six or more in a season.
Miami (4-6) at New York Jets (5-5)
Two teams that had designs on challenging the Patriots in the AFC East, and now are long shots for a wild-card berth. They more likely will struggle to post a winning record this season.
The Jets have lost four of five, with only one of those to an opponent currently with a winning mark, New England. The offense has stagnated, with questionable play calling among the factors, and now top cornerback Darrelle Revis is battling a concussion.
Miami fired coach Joe Philbin after a Week 4 loss to the Jets in London. Dan Campbell is 3-2 as interim.
San Diego (2-8) at Jacksonville (4-6)
A dog of a game, but not the worst on the schedule (read on).
Although the Chargers send a team out onto the field each week, it's a shell of what the roster looked like when the season kicked off. Not the greatest advertisement for a potential move up the Pacific to Los Angeles.
The Jaguars are a mere one game behind in the AFC South, but does anyone truly regard them as a playoff contender? One of the NFL's youngest teams is making progress, though, and wideouts Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson have combined for 14 TD receptions.
Baltimore (3-7) at Cleveland (2-8), Monday night
Too bad the NFL isn't into flexing Monday nighters. This one has virtually no attraction, especially with Baltimore's top two offensive players, QB Joe Flacco and RB Justin Forsett, added to its long list of guys on injured reserve.
Maybe Johnny Manziel fans will be eager to tune in.
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