GOLD JACKET GAME OF THE WEEKEND
BUFFALO (7-2) @ ARIZONA (5-3), 4:05 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Cards by 2-1/2
The weather: Sunny, high of 82 (retractable roof)
The story: The Bills are in the middle of a six-game grind, and so far, so good. They beat defending division champion New England, then buried NFC West leader Seattle. But the Cards beat the Seahawks, too, and in quarterback Kyler Murray they have a younger, faster and more elusive version of Russell Wilson. Remember that track meet a week ago vs. Miami? This could be Act II. The Cardinals produced 30 points and 400 or more yards in each of their last four games, while Buffalo comes off a 44-34 hammering of Seattle. No surprise here: It’s all about the quarterbacks. Murray and the Bills’ Josh Allen are the NFL’s only two quarterbacks this season with at least 15 touchdown passes and five rushing scores each. Murray leads the Cards in rushing yards and rushing TDs. Allen is the Bills’ second-leading rusher, with one more TD run (5) than the rest of the team (4). Plus, each accounted for 24 touchdowns. Figure out how to stop them, and you win. Good luck.
Something to consider: Arizona scored 21 or more points in 11 consecutive games, tied for the longest in franchise history. Only Kansas City (20) and New Orleans (15) have longer active streaks.
THREE OTHERS SUITABLE FOR HALL OF FRAMING
TAMPA BAY (6-3) @ CAROLINA (3-6), 1 p.m.
The line: Bucs by 5-1/2
The weather: AM showers, high of 72
The story: No Christian McCaffrey, no chance … right? Not so fast. The Panthers won all their games this season without Run CMC. Now they’ll have to do it again, and if there’s an issue in this game it’s not with McCaffrey’s replacement, Mike Davis. He’s versatile, productive and proven. Nope, it’s with Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady. He’s coming off one of the worst performances of his career, a 35-point loss that had coach Bruce Arians lobbing grenades in his direction. If that sounds familiar, it should. Arians did that once before this season … in fact, it was following the first loss to ... ta-dah ... New Orleans. Result: Brady responded with a victory against … surprise, surprise … Carolina. This could be déjà vu all over again. One problem: The Bucs' plane, due to arrive in Charlotte at 4 p.m. Saturday, didn't get there until after 11 because mechanical issues with the scheduled flight forced the Bucs to switch planes. One team will be rested for this game, and it won't be Tampa Bay.
Something to consider: In two decades with New England, Brady suffered losses of 20 or more points eight times. He was 7-1 in games that immediately followed, with 19 TDs and three interceptions. He’s 2-0 this season following defeats.
SEATTLE (6-2) @ L.A. RAMS (5-3), 4:25 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Rams by 1-1/2
The weather: Sunny, high of 80 (Covered roof)
The story: The Seahawks made news this week for all the wrong reasons: They put 21 players – or 42 percent of the roster -- on their injury report. OK, so New England did something similar in the past, and the Patriots still won. But the Seahawks have bigger problems, not so much with the injury report as with the depth chart. More specifically, the defensive depth chart. There’s an appalling lack of playmakers, with the Seahawks hemorrhaging so many points last weekend (44) it marked the most vs. a Pete Carroll-coached team since 2009 … or when he was at USC. “I don’t recognize us,” Carroll said afterward. I don’t either. The defense that put Seattle in Super Bowls in 2013-14 could keep it out now. Yeah, I know, Russell Wilson is outscoring opponents by himself (28 TDs passing, one rushing), but he can’t keep doing this. At some point, Seattle must find a pass rush … a secondary … something … to keep games from becoming sprint relays. This doesn’t look like that time.
Something to consider: The Rams’ Aaron Donald has 12 sacks vs. Wilson, the most of any quarterback he’s faced – including eight in the past five games. The Rams won four of them.
BALTIMORE (6-2) @ NEW ENGLAND (3-5), 8:20 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Ravens by 7
The weather: PM rain, high of 53
The story: After last week’s come-from-behind win over the Jets, New England feels pretty good about itself. And it should. Granted, it was the Jets, but a win is a win is a … OK, we get it. It’s on to Baltimore, and a win here would go a long way toward quieting anxious Patriots’ fans. Except … how exactly does that happen? New England can’t stop the run, and the Ravens are the league’s best ground attack. Cam Newton isn’t Lamar Jackson. Not anymore he’s not. I know, the Ravens rank 31st vs. the pass, but the Patriots are the league’s 28th- best pass offense, with three TDs and 11 interceptions. Moreover, the Ravens allow the fewest points per game (17.6), while New England is 28th in points scored (20.8). Now you know why the Pats are a heavy home underdog. New England couldn’t beat these guys a year ago with Tom Brady. So how do they do it now? “It’s a very big challenge,” cautioned Ravens’ coach John Harbaugh, “because they have a great coaching staff.” Notice he didn’t mention “great players.” That’s because there aren’t any. Not anymore.
Something to consider: Baltimore’s Calais Campbell has been ruled out, missing his first game since 2014 and ending his consecutive streak of starts at 98. It’s the second longest current streak for defensive ends. Only Cameron Jordan (137) has more.
OUR BEST BETS
(All picks are made vs. the spread only)
CLARK JUDGE – Cincinnati (+7-1/2). The Bengals are no easy out anymore. Which is another way of saying: I believe in Joe (Season record: 4-5).
RON BORGES – Cleveland (--3-1/2). Nick Chubb is back, and once the Texans get popped by him a few times, they’ll think: “Why am I doing this again?” (Season record: 7-2).
RICK GOSSELIN – New Orleans (--9). The Saints are rolling, and the 49ers are beaten up. (Season record: 4-5).
THE SUNDAY OMG
New England is a seven-point underdog at home. That hasn’t happened since 2001, Tom Brady’s first season as the Patriots’ starter.
THE SUNDAY OMG II
The last Minnesota quarterback to lead a first-half touchdown drive in Chicago was then-rookie Teddy Bridgewater in 2014.
FIVE NUMBERS THAT MATTER
1 – Sacks needed by Myles Garrett to reach 10 for the third straight year.
5 – 300-yard passing games by Joe Burrow, the second-most in league history for a rookie quarterback. Andrew Luck holds the record with six.
6 – Teams that rank in the Top 10 in points scored and points allowed. They are Arizona, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Tampa Bay, Miami and Kansas City.
29 – Games this season where teams overcame 10-point deficits to win.
150 – Dallas plays of 10 or more yards, most in the NFL. Kansas City is second with 145.
THEY SAID IT
“I don’t think I’m even in that stratosphere.” – New England QB Cam Newton on Lamar Jackson.
“I’m not going to apologize for our record over the last 20 years.” – New England coach Bill Belichick in response to questions about a history of poor Patriots’ drafts.
“I feel like I’m the best player on the field.” – Arizona QB Kyler Murray.
“We have a lot of belief in Jimmy.” – San Francisco GM John Lynch on QB Jimmy Garoppolo.
FIVE GUYS TO WATCH
1. Minnesota RB Delvin Cook. He’s the first player since Hall-of-Famer Emmitt Smith (1994) to score rushing touchdowns in each of his first seven games of a season.
2. Houston QB Deshaun Watson. With 275 passing yards and a rating of 105 or better he joins Aaron Rodgers as the only quarterbacks in league history to produce those numbers in six consecutive games. Rodgers had seven in 2011.
3. New Orleans WR Michael Thomas. With four catches, he surpasses Jarvis Landry (481) for the most receptions by a receiver in his first five NFL seasons. Thomas currently has 478.
4. Las Vegas QB Derek Carr. He has eight TD passes and no interceptions in his last eight games vs. Denver.
5. Green Bay RB Aaron Jones. He has 11 touchdowns (8 rushing, 3 catches) in his last six games at home.
TEN THINGS YOU MIGHT WANT TO REMEMBER
1. This is one of two seasons where at least one team overcame a 13-point deficit in each of the first nine weeks. It also happened in 2015.
2. Pittsburgh won its last two games after trailing by 10 or more points in the second half. The Steelers are 3-0 this season when trailing at halftime.
3. Nearly 70 percent of this year’s games have seen opponents separated by no more than one score in the fourth quarter. Seven of the Bears’ eight games fall into that category.
4. The Baltimore Ravens scored 20 or more points in 31 consecutive regular-season games, an NFL record.
5. Seattle is the sixth team in league history to score 25 or more points in its first eight games of a season. The Seahawks, who average 34.3 points per game, have 30 or more in seven of those eight.
6. Arizona’s Christian Kirk has as many touchdown catches in seven games (6) as he had his first two NFL seasons.
7. The Steelers won nine of their last 10 games – and their last 13 at home -- vs. quarterbacks drafted first in the NFL draft. They face No. 1 pick Joe Burrow Sunday.
8. With two TD passes, Seattle’s Russell Wilson becomes the third quarterback in league history to produce four consecutive seasons of 30 or more. Brett Favre and Drew Brees are the others. Wilson leads all quarterbacks this season with 28 touchdown passes.
9. San Francisco linebacker Fred Warner is the only player this season with 65 or more tackles (74), two or more PDs (3) and two or more interceptions (2).
10. The Chargers scored 25 or more points in five consecutive games, one short of the single-season franchise record and two shy of the all-time team record.