The Sunday GPS: Unbeaten Steelers, Big Ben next litmus test for resurgent Browns
GOLD JACKET GAME OF THE WEEKEND
CLEVELAND (4-1) @ PITTSBURGH (4-0), 1 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Steelers by 3-1/2
The weather: PM showers, high of 62
The story: Finally, a Browns-Steelers game that means something. We’ve been waiting. Pittsburgh is one of the league’s four unbeaten teams, and the Browns are on a four-game tear. They’re also talking this one up. Reason: It’s the first meeting between these two since Myles Garrett was suspended last season for crowning quarterback Mason Rudolph with Rudolph’s helmet. Don’t ask. “This one’s for Myles,” said running back Kareem Hunt. “This one’s for Cleveland. This one’s for a lot of things.” Mostly, this one’s for respect. The Steelers have it; the Browns want it. But they’re going to have to earn it. Quarterback Baker Mayfield is hurt with a chest injury that had him limited in practice this week. He’s listed as “questionable.” Normally, I wouldn’t pay much attention, except Cleveland just added a third quarterback (Kyle Lauletta). That tells me you should pay attention.
Something to consider: Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger is 23-2-1 vs. the Browns and never lost at home to them.
THREE OTHERS WORTHY OF HALL OF FRAMING
CHICAGO (4-1) @ CAROLINA (3-2), 1 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Panthers by 1-1/2
The weather: Mostly sunny, high of 68
The story: Now people tell me Chicago is the worst 4-1 team in years. I don’t know about that. All I know is that Bill Parcells was right when he said you are what your record says you are. And the record says the Bears are a half-game behind unbeaten Green Bay. Nick Foles has put Mitch Trubisky on permanent leave, and the Bears’ defense has put opponents at bay -- ranking fourth in points allowed (20.0 per game). But look at what’s going on in Carolina: Since losing Christian McCaffrey the Panthers are 3-0, Teddy Bridgewater looks more like Teddy Ballgame and Matt Rhule is a Coach-of-the-Year candidate.
Something to consider: In three of the Bears’ four wins they erased deficits of 13 or more points.
GREEN BAY (4-0) @ TAMPA BAY (3-2), 4:25 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Packers by 1
The weather: Isolated thunderstorms, high of 86
The story: Simple: It’s Rodgers vs. Brady. Leave it at that. A-Rod is having a career season and is an early MVP candidate. Brady isn’t, but he seems to have steadied himself since a season-opening loss. Now, if he can just count to four. Rodgers will have Davante Adams back, and that only makes the league’s top scoring team more dangerous. Brady should have Chris Godwin back, too, and that could make this more a track meet than a football game. Seniors, rejoice. No matter who wins, an old guy will rule.
Something to consider: Rodgers hasn’t thrown an interception this season, and the Packers haven’t committed a turnover.
L.A. RAMS (4-1) @ SAN FRANCISCO (2-3), 8:20 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Rams by 3
The weather: Partly cloudy, high of 86
The story: Six weeks into the season, and it’s not too soon to say the 49ers are in deep kimchi. They’re already three games behind division leader Seattle, and they’re a mess on both sides of the ball. So consider this a chance to stop the bleeding. How? I’m not sure. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was benched last week after fizzling in a blowout loss to Miami. Though expected to start, he's battling an ankle injury and a rash of turnovers. The 49ers' just hemorrhaged 43 points to the Dolphins and is beginning to look like an open window. The team hasn’t won once in three home games, while its only victories came vs. two opponents that are a combined 0-10.Put it all together, and you have a team on the verge of calling 911.
Something to consider: The Rams’ Jared Goff has an NFL-best fourth-quarter rating of 155.8.
OUR BEST BETS
(Picks are made vs. the spread only)
CLARK JUDGE – Rams (--3). Forty-Niners look more like 86ers (Season record: 3-2).
RON BORGES – Green Bay (--1). I'll take the quarterback least likely to forget what down it is. In other words, Aaron Rodgers (Season record 4-1).
RICK GOSSELIN – Minnesota (--4). The Vikings went to Seattle and almost beat an unbeaten opponent. Now they’re home and should beat a winless team (Season record: 2-3).
FIVE NUMBERS THAT MATTER
5-0 – Green Bay’s record in October under Matt LaFleur.
7.0 – Raheem Mostert’s yards-per-rush average, tops in the NFL.
19 – Cleveland touchdowns, most in the NFL.
39 – Deshaun Watson scoring passes in October since 2017 in October. Nobody has more.
152 – Green Bay points, the most in franchise history through the first four games.
THE SUNDAY OMG
This one comes via Field Yates of ESPN: The Steelers haven’t used a first-round draft choice on a wide receiver in the past decade. So what? So they drafted Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Emmanuel Sanders, Chase Claypool, Martavis Bryant, Dionte Johnson and James Washington in those 10 years.
THEY SAID IT
“I said this weeks ago: There are certain players you cannot replace. You can’t replace Chandler Jones.” – Arizona GM Steve Keim on the season-ending loss of Jones to a torn biceps.
“Lamar Jackson is probably the most dangerous player in the NFL.” – Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.
"We should adjust expectations, different from optimism." -- Dallas owner Jerry Jones on Dak Prescott season-ending injury.
FIVE GUYS TO WATCH
GREEN BAY QB AARON RODGERS. If he throws three more TDs without an interception he ties Milt Plum for fourth among quarterbacks starting a season without an interception. The NFL record is 20, set by Peyton Manning in 2013. With at least two TD passes and no interceptions A-Rod becomes the first quarterback in league history to throw at least two scoring passes without an interception in each of his team’s first five games.
PITTSBURGH WR CHASE CLAYPOOL. With one touchdown he ties Randy Moss, Martavis Bryant, Willie Gault and Calvin Ridley for most touchdowns by a rookie wide receiver (6) in his first five games.
L.A. RAMS DT AARON DONALD. With a half-sack he becomes the fourth player since 1982 to produce eight sacks in each of his first seven seasons. The others are Hall-of-Famers Reggie White and Derrick Thomas and DeMarcus Ware.
TENNESSEE QB RYAN TANNEHILL. With one touchdown pass, he becomes the Titans’ first quarterback since Warren Moon (1992 when the Titans were the Oilers) to throw for 10 TDs in his first five games.
HOUSTON DE J.J. WATT. With two sacks he reaches 100 for his career, joining 34 others.
TEN THINGS YOU MIGHT WANT TO REMEMBER
1. Seven teams average 30 or more points a game, the most in NFL history through the first five weeks of the season, and three of them are undefeated. They are Green Bay (38.0), Seattle (33.8) and Tennessee (30.5).
2. Each week at least one team has crawled back from a 16-point deficit to win, the first time in NFL history that’s happened.
3. Overall this season more than 70 percent of games (54 of 77) have been within one score in the fourth quarter.
4. Tennessee’s last four red-zone possessions have resulted in touchdowns.
5. Green Bay won its last nine regular-season games, the longest active win streak in the NFC and the Packers’ longest streak since 2010-11.
6. Tennessee’s 122 points are the most in franchise history through the first four games of a season.
7. Cam Newton has never beaten Denver. He's 0-3, including Super Bowl 50.
8. Since 2017 Derrick Henry has 17 touchdowns from the 1-yard line, most in the NFL.
9. New England rushed for over 200 yards in each of its previous two home games. If they eclipse that figure again vs. Denver they tie the 1976 Patriots for three consecutive 200-yard home games.
10. Tennessee leads the league in turnover differential at +8. Seattle and Cleveland are second at +6. The combined record of the three is 13-1. The Browns also lead the league with 12 takeaways.