The Sunday GPS: Rams-Vikes should help clear NFC picture
GOLD JACKET GAME OF THE WEEK
L.A. RAMS @ MINNESOTA, 1 p.m. (EST)
The line: Vikings by 2-1/2
The weather: Partly cloudy, high of 36 (retractable roof)
The story: Quick, now, a show of hands. How many people two months ago picked Case Keenum vs. Jared Goff as this week's marquee matchup? Yeah? Well, me, neither. But that's where we are as the NFC starts to sort out a mess at the top, with these teams among the conference elites. Keenum is the backup who starts because Sam Bradford got hurt. Simple as that. But now that former starter Teddy Bridgewater is cleared to play, the question is: When does he step in? Easy. He doesn't, not unless Keenum falters and reverts to Case Keenum, 2016. The Vikes are rolling, and it makes no sense to sit him for a guy who hasn't played in over a year. Plus, Keenum isn't the X factor for Minnesota. The defense is, ranked fifth overall, third vs. the run and sixth in fewest points allowed. Bottom line: The Vikings D is good. And this is where we find out just how good. The Rams lead the league in scoring, Todd Gurley leads it in touchdowns and L.A. leads everyone in the NFC West. Plus, Goff is 4-0 on the road, with 10 touchdown passes, no interceptions and a passer rating of 124.4.
Something to consider: The Vikings hold opponents to a third-down conversation rate of 28.7, second best in the NFL.
THREE OTHERS SUITABLE FOR HALL-OF-FRAMING
BALTIMORE @ GREEN BAY, 1 p.m. (EST)
The line: Ravens by 2
The weather: Mostly sunny, high of 31
The story: Basically, this is an elimination game, with the loser free to start scheduling January tee times. Both have been in retreat, with each dropping three of its last four, and when you wonder why I suggest you start at quarterback. The Packers traded an injured Aaron Rodgers for Brett Hundley, and, unfortunately for the Packers, this Brett looks nothing like that Brett. In fact, he's been downright ordinary. The Ravens, of course, still have Super Bowl hero Joe Flacco, but he's been positively pedestrian, too, as Baltimore sorts through linemen, backs and injured receivers. The Ravens have all sorts of issues on offense, where they haven't scored more than 20 points in five of this season's games, while Green Bay hasn't exceeded 17 in three of its last four. Reports have Rodgers starting to throw again, but as Ricky Watters might say ... for whom? For what? If the Packers lose here, they can join him and start throwing in the towel.
Something to consider: Since 2003, the Ravens are an NFL-best 12-3 following a bye, including 7-2 under John Harbaugh.
NEW ENGLAND @ OAKLAND (MEXICO CITY), 4:25 p.m. (EST)
The line: Patriots by 7
The weather: Sunny, high of 72
The story: Oakland owner Mark Davis this week helped break ground on the Raiders' new stadium in Las Vegas, and maybe that's a sign. Raiders' fans can only hope. Davis and the Raiders desperately need to break new ground on this season, shaking off their first-half mistakes and misplays to make a move on front-running Kansas City in the AFC West. Derek Carr has been erratic. Amari Cooper drops too many passes. The offensive line has sprung leaks. And the pass defense is so inept that it doesn't know what an interception looks like (honest, the Raiders have zero through nine games), and opposing quarterbacks operate with a league-high 110.5 rating. That's bad. But this is worse: Tom Brady and the league's No. 1-ranked passing offense is next in line. Yeah, I know, New England is last in team defense, but that's measured in yards, people. Now look at scoring. The Patriots haven't allowed more than 17 points in their last five starts, all victories. With New England starting to separate itself from the pack, this could be a rout waiting to happen.
Something to consider: Since 2000, the Patriots are 45-1 in the regular season when a back rushes for 100 yards.
PHILADELPHIA @ DALLAS, 8:30 p.m. (EST)
The line: Eagles by 4
The weather: Sunny, high of 62 (retractable roof)
The story: Dak Prescott is right. If the Cowboys have any hope of winning the NFC East, they must win this game ... with the emphasis on must. Well, then, good luck, guys. Zeke Elliott finally surrendered to the league office and won't appeal his suspension. Linebacker Sean Lee is out. Kicker Dan Bailey is hurt. And reports have left tackle Tyron Smith unavailable again. Without those guys a week ago they were buried by a struggling Atlanta team desperate for victory. The Eagles aren't desperate. They're 8-1, and they're better than Dallas. Plus, they can rush the quarterback, and I don't care who plays left tackle; the Cowboys absolutely, positively, must give the poor guy help. Otherwise, put down the speed bumps for Brandon Graham. Then, of course, there's this: The Eagles have MVP candidate Carson Wentz and a 21-7 record following byes. Instead of blocking a Roger Goodell contract extension, maybe Jerry Jones should consider blocking an extension of the season. The defending NFC East champs are in deep kimchi.
Something to consider: Dak Prescott, listen up: The Eagles' Graham has four-and-a-half sacks and two forced fumbles in his last five games at Dallas ... and that was with Tyron Smith in the lineup.
OUR BEST BETS
(Picks made vs. the spread)
RON BORGES (Season record: 5-5): JACKSONVILLE (--7-1/2). I like Jacksonville at Cleveland. Then again, I'd like Alabama or Clemson at Cleveland.
RICK GOSSELIN (Season record: 5-5): DETROIT (--3). Matt Stafford has been heating up since Detroit's bye. The Lions now see a path to the playoffs.
CLARK JUDGE (Season record: 3-7): L.A. CHARGERS (-- 4). Yeah, they stink. But they're playing an opponent that's not only floundering but panicking, starting J. Peterman's long lost cousin.
SUNDAY'S HALL OF FAMOUS
ARIZONA WR LARRY FITZGERALD. With 62 yards Sunday, he surpasses Tony Gonzalez for the fifth-most receiving yards in NFL history.
L.A. RAMS' WR ROBERT WOODS. He can become the fifth player in the Super Bowl era with three consecutive weeks with a touchdown catch of 50 yards or more.
JACKSONVILLE RB LEONARD FOURNETTE. In three career road games, he averages 151 scrimmage yards and has four touchdowns.
MIAMI QB JAY CUTLER. He's 4-1 in his career vs. Tampa Bay.
BALTIMORE COACH JOHN HARBAUGH. His next victory will be the 100th of his career, including the playoffs.
NEW ORLEANS RB MARK INGRAM. In his last five home games, he has 497 scrimmage yards and five TDs.
CHARGERS' DE JOEY BOSA. He aims for his sixth straight game with a sack.
DENVER LB VON MILLER. In his last five starts vs. Cincinnati, he has five sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
NEW ENGLAND TE ROB GONKOWSKI. He has five touchdown catches in his last six road games.
TEN THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW
- The Rams have an NFL-best 19 takeaways. They had 18 all last season.
- The Falcons and Raiders have one interception between them, and it belongs to Atlanta.
- Arizona has a sack in 28 consecutive games, the longest current streak in the NFL.
- The Browns committed an NFL-high 23 turnovers, including 21 by their quarterbacks.
- With a win Sunday, the Patriots clinch their 17th season of .500 or better, tying the 1957-73 Browns for the second-longest streak in NFL history. The longest streak is 21 straight seasons of .500 or better, set by the 1965-85 Dallas Cowboys.
- With at least 300 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions Sunday, the Rams' Jared Goff would tie Tom Brady as the only quarterback to accomplish that feat in three consecutive games.
- The Saints have more touchdowns rushing (14) than passing (13).
- Since 2001, the Patriots have the best record (40-17) in games decided by three or fewer points.
- The New Orleans Saints have allowed only eight sacks this season, best in the NFL. Minnesota is second at 10.
- The Saints have held each of their last two opponents to under 200 total yards.