The Sunday GPS VIII: Can Steelers beat the odds(makers) vs. familiar nemesis?
GOLD JACKET GAME OF THE WEEKEND
PITTSBURGH (6-0) @ BALTIMORE (5-1), 1 p .m. (EDT)
The line: Baltimore by 4
The weather: PM showers, high of 63
The story: Welcome to the best rivalry in the NFL where, yes, there’s a genuine hatred for the opponent. And why not? They’re usually the two battling for first in the AFC North, with the Ravens and Steelers winning eight of the past 10 division titles, including the last four. The Steelers are the league’s only unbeaten team, so they should be favored. But they’re not, and take the hint: Oddsmakers are telling you they believe they’re not the best team in the NFL and may not be the best in their division. All I know is that there’s no game this week I’d rather watch, and while the attention is focused on Ben Roethlisberger vs. Lamar Jackson it may be the running game that determines the outcome. The Ravens rank first in the NFL in rushing; the Steelers rank second vs. the run. The key for Pittsburgh: Get ahead early. The Ravens’ Jackson is 0-5 in his career when trailing at the half.
Something to consider: This is the sixth divisional matchup since 1970 where each team in Week 8 has no more than one loss. In three of the past four, the winner of the game won the division.
THREE OTHERS WORTHY OF HALL OF FRAMING
L.A. RAMS (5-2) @ MIAMI (3-3), 1 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Rams by 3
The weather: Scattered thunderstorms, high of 81
The story: Football is supposed to be a team game, except this game isn’t. This isn’t about the Rams or the Dolphins. It’s all about one guy: Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, The Dolphins’ first-round pick and the fifth overall choice, Tua makes his first NFL start after a brief appearance two weeks ago. And that's good. This, however, may not be: He breaks in vs. Aaron Donald and a Rams’ defense that ranks second in points allowed. At least it’s a glimpse into the future for a promising Dolphins’ team, plus, there’s this: Tua should have the team’s top receiver, DeVante Parker, as a target. He’s expected to play after overcoming a groin injury.
Something to consider: Donald has 11 sacks, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in his last nine road games.
NEW ENGLAND (2-4) @ BUFFALO (5-2), 1 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Bills by 4
The weather: Showers/wind, high of 50
The story: Let’s see, this week Pats’ coach Bill Belichick scoffed at reports his team might launch a mid-season fire sale, Julian Edelman bowed out with a knee injury, Cam Newton admitted he’s in a funk and Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore is out (knee). Oh, yeah, Gilmore also put his home on the market. Bottom line: The sky isn’t falling in Foxboro, but the Patriots are. They’re off to their worst start since 2000, are in the midst of a three-game nosedive and are so bad that safety Devin McCourty admitted they’re no longer the team to beat in the AFC East. Buffalo is. Let’s see. The Patriots own Buffalo, with Tom Brady 31-3 vs. the Bills, but Brady’s not here. Cam is. And therein lies a problem. Look for New England to steal a page from Kansas City’s playbook and try to win this thing on the ground. The Chiefs ran all over a defense that allows 4.6 yards per rush, and expect the Patriots to follow the script. Cam can’t beat opponents with his arm … not now he can’t … but he might with his legs.
Something to consider: Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen has 20 rushing touchdowns in his first 35 career games. Only Newton (23) has more among quarterbacks through their first 35 appearances.
SAN FRANCISCO (4-3) @ SEATTLE (5-1), 4:25 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Seahawks by 3
The weather: Sunny, high of 57
The story: Remember last year’s season finale here? The Seahawks do. That’s because they lost … by 12 inches. Tight end Jacob Hollister was stopped a foot short of the goal line. Had the Seahawks won they – not San Francisco -- would’ve clinched the NFC West and gained a first-round bye. Instead, the 49ers won home-field advantage for the playoffs, the Seahawks were a wild-card entry and the rest you know. The 49ers are in the midst of a brutal six-game stretch that features five playoff teams from 2019, but so far, so good. They won the first two. And Seattle? No quarterback throws more TD passes than Russell Wilson. Of course, no pass defense is less effective, either, with the Seahawks allowing 368.7 yards per week – one reason they picked up pass rusher Carlos Dunlap. He can only help a pass rush that has nine sacks and must … absolutely must … pressure the 49ers’ Jimmy Garoppolo. He’s 5-0 in five road starts vs. the NFC West.
Something to consider: A total of 11 points separated these two the past three games, two of which went to OT, with San Francisco winning two of the three.
OUR BEST BETS
(Picks are made vs. the spread only)
CLARK JUDGE – Green Bay (--6-1/2). Aaron Rodgers vs. Kirk Cousins. Need I say more? (Season record: 4-3).
RON BORGES – Buffalo (--4). It’s dangerous and some would say somewhat insane to pick Buffalo over New England, but it’s snowing in New England in October so I’ll take that as a bad omen for the Pats as Buffalo is the hometown of lousy weather. Cam Newton learns it is unwise to be the man who replaces The Man (Season record: 5-2).
RICK GOSSELIN – Philadelphia (--11). The Cowboys are a mess, and now they’re starting their third quarterback of the season, a rookie from James Madison. (Season record: 3-4).
THE SUNDAY OMG
Since joining the Titans, quarterback Ryan Tannehill has 16 regular-season starts – or the equivalent of one season. In that time he has 37 TD passes, 7 interceptions, a 69.7 completion percentage, 4,188 passing yards and an NFL-best 116.5 rating. His 116.5 passer rating is the best for any quarterback in his first 16 starts with a team, besting Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes at 111.8.
THE SUNDAY OMG II
The Ravens scored a point in every quarter this season, a total of 24 consecutive periods. That’s tied for the longest streak ever to start a season (2000 Rams).
FIVE NUMBERS THAT MATTER
--118 – Point differential for 0-7 N.Y. Jets
1 – Career TD passes that separate Tom Brady (559) and Drew Brees (558).
3-0 – San Francisco on the road; the 49ers are 1-3 at home.
4-0 – Drew Brees in his last four starts vs. Chicago.
2,523 – Consecutive snaps played by Denver Justin Simmons, the longest current streak in the NFL.
THEY SAID IT
“To see (Zimmer) mentioned to be on the hot seat, to me, it’s absolutely crazy. I think he’s one of the best coaches in the league and has been for a long time.” – Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers on Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer.
“The Cowboys may be the worst team in the National Football League.” -- Hall-of-Fame receiver Michael Irvin.
“I would say right now, we’d be crazy to think coming into the game that we’re the team to beat.” – New England safety Devin McCourty on facing Buffalo.
FIVE GUYS TO WATCH
Seattle QB Russell Wilson. With one touchdown pass Sunday he becomes just the third quarterback in league history to reach 250 TD passes in his first nine seasons. The other two? Peyton Manning and Dan Marino. With three TDs Sunday, Wilson will have thrown for 25 or more in seven of his first nine seasons, joining Manning.
Cincinnati QB Joe Burrow. With 300 yards vs. Tennessee, he joins Andrew Luck (2012) as the only rookie quarterbacks to throw for 300 or more yards in six games of their rookie seasons. He’s going to have to earn it. There will be no Joe Mixon for the second straight week, and three of the Bengals’ five starting offensive linemen are out.
Tennessee RB Derrick Henry. He has touchdowns in his last four games. He also has 10 TDs (9 rushing, one receiving) in his last six road starts.
Green Bay WR Davante Adams. He has six TDs in his last seven appearances vs. Minnesota, including Week One this season when he had 14 catches for 156 yards and two scores.
Detroit QB Matthew Stafford. He’s thrown three or more TDs in four of his last five at home.
(Bonus) RB Le’Veon Bell. Just because he’s playing the Jets. Uh-oh.
TEN THINGS YOU MIGHT WANT TO REMEMBER
1. Baltimore scored at least 20 points in every regular-season game since Week 11 in 2018, a streak of 29 consecutive games. By scoring 20 Sunday, the Ravens tie the 2012-14 Denver Broncos for the longest consecutive streak of 20 or more points at 30 straight games.
2. This is just the third year since the league merger in 1970 where at least one team erased a 13-point lead to win in each of the first seven weeks. It also happened in 2015 and 2003.
3. Good news, Steelers’ fans: In the last two seasons and in three of the past five teams that were the last to remain undefeated advanced to the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh is this season’s lone unbeaten team.
4. When Baltimore and Pittsburgh meet Sunday, coaches Mike Tomlin and John Harbaugh will make history. They become the first head coaches in NFL history to face each other 25 times.
5. Chase Claypool and DK Metcalf are two of three receivers tied for the most TD receptions (3) or 20 or more yards, which isn’t surprising. But the third guy is: The Raiders’ Nelson Agholor, who also has eight catches of 15 or more yards.
6. This is the second consecutive season Green Bay started 5-1, the first time that’s happened since the 1965-66 Packers.
7. Green Bay is the only team in NFL history to produce 180 or more points and only two turnovers in its first six games.
8. Pittsburgh has 26 or more points in each of its first six games this season. The Steelers never had more than four straight games with 26 or more.
9. San Francisco’s Jimmy Garoppolo ranks first among all-time 49ers’ quarterbacks (minimum 500 attempts) in completion percentage (69.6) and second in passer rating (98.9, behind only Steve Young at 101.4).
10. Eight of the last 10 Chargers-Broncos games in Denver have been decided by one score.