The Sunday GPS: How do Steelers slow down Titans' Henry-Tannehill express?
GOLD JACKET GAME OF THE WEEKEND
PITTSBURGH (5-0) @ TENNESSEE (5-0), 1 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Titans by 1-1/2
The weather: Cloudy, high of 66
The story: We know the Titans are legit Super Bowl contenders. They were one win from the game a year ago. But what about Pittsburgh? The Steelers are off to their best start since 1978, but they hadn’t beaten anyone of consequence until sand-blasting Cleveland last weekend. But Tennessee isn’t the Browns. Like Pittsburgh, the Titans haven’t lost. Unlike Pittsburgh, they have an MVP candidate in Derrick Henry and the reigning Comeback Player of the Year in Ryan Tannehill. The guy makes his 16th regular-season start with the Titans, and the numbers speak for themselves: 35 TDs, 7 interceptions, a 117.3 rating and a 12-3 record. No wonder the Titans rank second in league offense. Consider this a first-half barometer for the Steelers.
Something to consider: Over the last 12 regular-season games, the Titans’ A.J. Brown has more TDs (9) than any wide receiver.
THREE OTHERS WORTHY OF HALL OF FRAMING
SAN FRANCISCO (3-3) @ NEW ENGLAND (2-3), 4:25 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Patriots by 2-1/2
The weather: Partly cloudy, high of 53
The story: The next six weeks determine what happens to San Francisco, mostly because the next six weeks include five playoff opponents, beginning here. But these are not the Tom Brady Patriots. These are the Cam Newton Patriots, and the quarterback has looked good, bad and ugly through the team’s 2-3 start. He’s also tested positive for COVID. Nevertheless, the Pats are favored because … well, because they never lose back-to-back at home, right? Except they did a year ago when they dropped three of their last four at Gillette, including a playoff stunner to Tennessee. Anything’s possible here, especially with Jimmy Garoppolo back in town and determined to make a statement.
Something to consider: The Patriots lead the NFL with a league-low 12 penalties and didn’t commit one offensive foul in their first three starts.
TAMPA BAY (4-2) @ LAS VEGAS (3-2), 4:05 p.m. (EDT) *
The line: Bucs by 3-1/2
The weather: Closed roof
The story: The Raiders insist they’re playoff worthy, and their beatdown of Kansas City says they may be right. But this gives us a better idea because it’s Tom Brady and the best Bucs’ defense since … well since the 2002 Super Bowl champs, coached by Jon Gruden. You may have heard of him. The Raiders are confident, but they must know something we don’t because their entire offensive line was sent home this week due to COVID protocol … and it’s hard to beat anyone without an offensive line. Beating Patrick Mahomes and Brady in consecutive weeks would give the Raiders credibility, but oddsmakers say it won’t happen. I’m with them.
Something to consider: Brady has eight TDs and no interceptions in five career starts vs. the Raiders.
SEATTLE (5-0) @ARIZONA (4-2), 8:20 p.m. (EDT) *
The line: Seahawks by 3-1/2
The weather: Partly cloudy, high of 87 (retractable roof)
The story: Seattle hasn’t lost, Russell Wilson is the early MVP leader and the Seahawks won nine of their last 10 regular-season road games. So this should be a cinch. Except it won’t. Reason: It never is with these guys. Their last four victories were decided by a total of 21 points, including a one-point defeat of Minnesota. For another, safety Jamal Adams is still missing from the Seattle secondary … which means more big numbers for Kyler Murray and Deandre Hopkins. But there will be more big numbers from Wilson and DK Metcalf, too – enough to satisfy oddsmakers that an upset’s not going to happen.
Something to consider: Seattle is an NFC-best 7-3 following byes under Pete Carroll since he took over the Seahawks in 2010.
*Games moved from previous times.
OUR BEST BETS
(All picks are made vs. the spread only)
CLARK JUDGE – Green Bay (-- 4). After sun poisoning in Florida, the Pack is back. (Season record: 3-3)
RON BORGES – Pittsburgh (+ 1-1/2). Titans lost their left tackle. Against the Steelers, that’s a game changer. (Season record: 4-2)
RICK GOSSELIN – San Francisco (+2-1/2). Jimmy Garoppolo returns to his first NFL home, and he’s bringing a Top-5 defense with him. (Season record: 2-4)
THE SUNDAY OMG
Tennessee’s Derrick Henry has gone 321 consecutive touches (304 carries, 17 receptions) without a fumble.
THE SUNDAY OMG II
When facing the blitz on third-down, the Chargers’ Justin Herbert has a perfect passer rating of 158.3. Patrick Mahomes is the only other qualified passer this season with a rating above 150 on third-down blitzes.
FIVE NUMBERS THAT MATTER
1 – Catches Larry Fitzgerald needs to join Jerry Rice as the only receivers with career 1,400 receptions.
3 – Henry Ruggs’ catches of 40 or more yards, most in the NFL.
68.1 – Percent of games where opponents have been within one score of each other in the fourth quarter.
94.1 – League-wide passer rating, the highest ever through six weeks.
112 – Yards San Francisco tight end George Kittle needs to surpass Hall-of-Famer Mike Ditka (3,436) for the most yards by a tight end through his first 50 games.
THEY SAID IT
“I just haven’t been good.” – New England QB Cam Newton.
“I don’t think anyone has lost any faith in Kirk Cousins.” – Minnesota GM Rick Spielman.
"I think if you're going to put it out there and not put your name on it, I think you're an absolute coward." -- Dallas LB Leighton Vander Esch on unnamed sources reportedly criticizing Cowboys' coaches.
FIVE GUYS TO WATCH
L.A. CHARGERS QB JUSTIN HERBERT. He needs at least three touchdown passes Sunday to tie Deshaun Watson as the only rookie quarterbacks in league history to throw three or more scoring passes in three consecutive games.
SAN FRANCISCO QB JIMMY GAROPPOLO. He has 11 touchdown passes, one interception and a 130.8 rating in his last five road games. He also has four TD passes and no interceptions in two games vs. his former team, New England.
KANSAS CITY TE TRAVIS KELCE. He needs 65 yards receiving to join Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Gates as the only tight ends to produce 7,000 receiving yards in their first eight seasons.
BUFFALO QB JOSH ALLEN. He has nine TDs and no interceptions in his last three road division games.
TENNESSEE RB DERRICK HENRY. He aims for his fourth straight game with two rushing TDs.
TEN THINGS YOU MIGHT WANT TO REMEMBER
1. With their next touchdown connection, Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski tie Steve Young and Jerry Rice for the most TDs (92) by a quarterback-receiver pair. Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison hold the league record at 114.
2. This year’s Steelers are tied with the 1985 New York Giants as the only defenses in league history to have three sacks and an interception in each of their first five games of a season.
3. There have been 19 games this season where teams overcame deficits of 10 or more points to win.
4. Six teams are averaging 30 or more points, with Seattle (33.8) the league leader.
5. The NFC West is more like the NFC Best. Its four teams lead the league in wins (16), points scored (635) and fewest points allowed (431), and it’s the only division where all its members have records of .500 or better.
6. Russell Wilson has been held to no more than one TD pass in each of his last four games vs. Arizona.
7. The Pittsburgh-Tennessee game is the eighth time in league history that two undefeated teams with at least five victories faced each other. Each of the last six winners has gone to either the Super Bowl or the league championship, and three have won.
8. Tennessee’s Derrick Henry is the first player in league history to have touchdown runs of 74 or more yards in each of four consecutive seasons.
9. Green Bay has played in Texas six times since 2010 and won all six. In each of those games, the Packers scored over 30 points.
10. The top five teams in the Turnover Differential have a combined record of 25-2. The bottom five are 8-23-1.