The Sunday GPS: It doesn't get better than Drew Brees vs. Tampa Brady
GOLD JACKET GAME OF THE WEEK
TAMPA BAY @ NEW ORLEANS, 4:25 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Saints by 3-1/2
The weather: Dome
The story: It’s Brady vs. Brees, two of the best quarterbacks in the history of the game. But it’s more than that. It’s Tom Brady’s first game for someone other than New England and a head coach other than Bill Belichick. The Bucs were 7-9 a year ago with a quarterback who threw 30 interceptions. Brady has 28 the past four years. That will make a difference. Will it make Tampa Bay a Super Bowl contender? We’re about to find out.
Something to consider: Brees is 3-2 vs. Brady, with Brady winning the last two. Brees hasn’t beaten Brady since 2009, and two of his victories were with the then-San Diego Chargers.
THREE OTHERS SUITABLE FOR HALL-OF-FRAMING
MIAMI @ NEW ENGLAND, 1 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Patriots by 6-1/2
The weather: Partly cloudy, high of 76
The story: I don’t care that Bill Belichick is 17-8 in season openers nor that the Patriots are 15-3 vs. Miami at Gillette Stadium. I care that Tom Brady isn’t here, and Cam Newton is. So what do we expect? Got me. Newton is coming off a career-threatening injury that scared off everyone but New England. He says that he and the Patriots are “a match made in heaven” and that the “excitement level is on 1,000,” so stay tuned. All I know is that the last time Miami was here and Brady was the quarterback, New England lost a game it desperately needed.
Something to consider: Newton is 0-8 in his last eight starts, with 9 TD passes, 10 interceptions and no rushing touchdowns.
GREEN BAY @ MINNESOTA, 1 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Vikings by 2-1/2
The weather: Sunny, high of 75 (translucent roof)
The story: The Packers win the NFC North, finish 14-4, are one game away from the Super Bowl and then … what? They go out and spend their first draft pick on a quarterback? I must be missing something. Aaron Rodgers is not fading away. He won 14 games last year, for crying out loud. But he’s not happy (can you blame him?), and no one is sure how he responds. Well, this should give us a clue. The Packers are the team to beat in the NFC North, and Minnesota could be the team to beat them. But that can wait. This is more than an early read on the division; it’s a read on Mr. Rodgers’ neighborhood.
Something to consider: Rodgers’ career passer rating of 107.1 vs. Minnesota is the highest of any quarterback opposing the Vikings.
DALLAS @ L.A. RAMS, 8:20 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Cowboys by 3
The weather: Sunny, high of 85 (translucent roof)
The story: Four years ago the Rams returned to L.A. with Dallas as their first opponent. That was a preseason game. Now, they open glitzy SoFi Stadium with -- surprise -- Dallas as its first opponent. Maybe this one looks like trial run, too, but trust me: It counts … for some, more than others. Dak Prescott is first in line there, anxious to prove he should be paid like an elite quarterback. New coach Mike McCarthy is right behind, anxious to prove he can get more out of an offense stacked with playmakers. And the Rams? They’re just trying to catch Seattle and San Francisco.
Something to consider: Since 2016, Prescott leads all quarterbacks with 21 rushing TDs.
OUR BEST BETS
CLARK JUDGE – Indianapolis (--6-1/2). The Colts have Philip Rivers. The Jags don’t.
RON BORGES – Atlanta (+2-1/2). Those cross-country trips from West to East always put the West Coast teams at a disadvantage. Add to that the Corona-mania and Matt Ryan, and I’ll take the home dog, plus the 3,000 flight-mile edge.
RICK GOSSELIN – Philadelphia (--5-1/2). Fly, Eagles, fly.
FIVE NUMBERS THAT MATTER
1 – With his next catch, Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald passes Jerry Rice for most career catches in Kickoff Weekend games. The two are tied at 92.
3 – The number of catches Julio Jones needs to become the second-fastest receiver to reach 800 career receptions for a career. Antonio Brown did it in 126 games. This will be Jones’ 127.
3 – The number of TD passes that put the Colts’ Philip Rivers at 400 for his career, making him the sixth player in NFL history to reach that figure.
12 – The number of receptions the Saints’ Michael Thomas needs to break Jarvis Landry’s NFL record of 481 catches in five NFL seasons. Thomas is in his fifth year.
84 – The combined age of Brady (43) and Brees (41). Their game Sunday is the first between two starting quarterbacks ages 40 or more.
THE WEEKEND OMG
Tampa Bay is a 3-1/2-point underdog, and, yeah, OK. So what? So it’s the first time in a long time that Tom Brady has been a regular-season underdog. Pro Football Reference says it’s 80 games, dating back to a 2014 contest vs. Green Bay. ESPN Stats and Info says it’s 74, with a 2015 contest vs. Buffalo the last time. Bottom line: It’s been years.
THEY SAID IT
“You wouldn’t see me around here anymore if that happened.” – Arizona WR Larry Fitzgerald on what he’d do if the Cards win the Super Bowl.
“Hey, at this point I’m on borrowed time. I’ve got nothing to lose. So I’m turning it loose, and letting the chips fall where they may.” – New Orleans QB Drew Brees.
“I don’t get butterflies. I give ‘em.” – New England QB Cam Newton.
FIVE GUYS TO WATCH
Cleveland RB Nick Chubb. The last time he faced the Ravens in Baltimore he ran for a season-high 165 yards and scored a career-high three times.
Cincinnati QB Joe Burrow. Because he’s Joe Burrow and because they’re the Bengals.
L.A. Chargers RB Austin Ekeler. With one more touchdown catch he becomes the youngest undrafted running back in the common draft era (since 1967) to catch 15 scores. He will be 25 years, 120 days on Sunday.
Arizona LB Chandler Jones. He has a sack in four of his last five games vs. San Francisco and 96 sacks and 27 forced fumbles overall since 2012, most in the NFL.
Indianapolis QB Philip Rivers. When he last played Jacksonville (January, 2019) he threw for 314 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 154.4.
TEN THINGS YOU MIGHT WANT TO KNOW
1. Drew Brees has 39 TD passes in 18 season openers; Tom Bray has 37 in 17. Both are 1-2 in career TD passes on Kickoff Weekend.
2. With Joe Burrow in the lineup Sunday, that makes 13 consecutive seasons that at least one rookie quarterback started on Kickoff Weekend, the longest NFL streak since at least 1950.
3. When San Francisco meets Arizona, it matches the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year (Kyler Murray of the Cards) vs. the reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year (Nick Bosa). It’s the third time in NFL history that two reigning Rookies of the Year meet on Kickoff Weekend.
4. Detroit running back Adrian Peterson (Detroit?) needs one yard to reach 1,000 for career rushing in season openers. Four others have been there, and they’re all in the Hall of Fame (Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton, Edgerrin James and Jim Brown).
5. Matt Ryan needs 290 passing yards to pass Hall-of-Famer John Elway (51,475) for the ninth most career passing yards in NFL history.
6. With a win Sunday, New England becomes the first original AFL team to reach 500 victories.
7. The Chargers travel 25,387 miles this season, marking the fourth straight year they’ve gone around the world (25,000). They are the only NFL team to do that.
8. Denver’s Drew Lock was 4-1 last season but 3-0 at home, with six TDs and two interceptions.
9. The 49ers last year scored touchdowns on their opening second-half possessions in their first five games. According to the Elias Sports Bureau it was the first time in 40 years they’d done that.
10. With at least 80 yards from scrimmage Sunday, Tennessee’s Derrick Henry becomes the fourth player in Titans’ history to produce 80 or more in 10 consecutive regular-season games. The others are Chris Johnson (12), Eddie George (10) and Billy Cannon (10). Note: Henry’s streak started after Denver – Sunday’s opponent -- held him to 33 scrimmage yards last season. Henry averaged 136.4 yards per game after that.