(Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Eagles)
SUNDAY’S HALL-OF-FAME GAME
Dallas @Philadelphia, 8:30 p.m.
The line: Eagles by 3-1/2
The story: Let's make this simple: Whoever wins this game probably wins the NFC East, and, sorry, but I don’t like the Cowboys’ chances when you put Tony Romo in that position. He had a chance to make the playoffs on the last day of the 2008 season … in Philadelphia, no less … and lost. He had a chance to make the playoffs on the last day of the 2011 season … and lost. He had a chance to make them the last day of the 2012 season … and lost. I think you get the idea. Romo and pressure games go together like San Diego and tobogganing. The hope for Dallas is that DeMarco Murray carves up the Eagles as he’s done virtually everyone else. Only one problem: He was a non-factor when these two met two weeks ago, and Philadelphia coasted. So Philadelphia knows what it’s in for. Nevertheless, the Cowboys cannot afford to put this game on Romo’s shoulders because, well, because they know what happens when they do that. So it has to be someone else who picks up the slack. And if that’s a defense that can force Mark Sanchez into mistakes … or bottle up LeSean McCoy … so be it. But good luck holding McCoy down. In his last two starts vs. the Cowboys he’s run for 290 yards and scored once.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: The Eagles have five straight victories following losses dating back to Week 8 of the 2013 season.
THREE OTHERS WORTHY OF HALL-OF-FRAMING
Cincinnati @ Cleveland, 1 p.m.
The line: Browns by 1
The story: This isn’t about this game … although it’s critical to Cincinnati’s playoff chances. Nope, this is about one player, and, Johnny Manziel, come on down. Listening to Marvin Lewis this week, you’d think the Bengals expect three hours of … well, small ball. But they shouldn’t. This is going to be wide open, with Manziel making big plays and big mistakes – and probably more of the latter. But who knows? Even coach Mike Pettine admitted he couldn’t wait to see what this guy has to offer. Cleveland’s move to Johnny Football isn’t so much an admission the Browns are out of the playoff picture as it is that Brian Hoyer is (cue Denny Green) EXACTLY WHO WE THOUGHT HE WAS! When you produce one score in 29 possessions, the bench is your next stop. Change is good, Cleveland fans, and it allows your Browns a chance to measure Manziel for three games, as well as give them a clue into what to expect in 2015. As for Cincinnati? The Bengals suddenly are the team nobody trusts anymore. If Marvin Lewis isn’t concerned about an offense run by … how shall we say this? … a Munchkin, then it’s time to prove it with a defense that was shredded for 543 yards last weekend.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: The Browns won three of the last four, including a 24-3 beatdown last month in Cincinnati.
Houston @ Indianapolis, 1 p.m.
The line: Colts by 6-1/2
The story: Houston never, ever, ever won a game in Indianapolis. So let’s start from there. The Texans have virtually no chance of going to the playoffs, and this game should accomplish two things: 1) End Houston’s playoff hope and 2) end the MVP chatter about J.J. Watt. Look, I admire the guy, too, but there have been only two defensive players in the history of the award to win it. Plus, Watt plays for a team stuck in neutral. That combination will sink his candidacy in a year where he’s s slam dunk to win Defensive Player of the Year. The more logical MVP candidate is the Colts’ Andrew Luck, though everyone gets in line behind Aaron Rodgers, with DeMarco Murray a distant second. This one comes down to whom you believe in more: The Colts offense, with Luck as its conductor, or the Watt-led Houston defense. Give me the team that can clinch the division with a win or tie and that hasn’t lost to an opponent at home.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Luck is 4-1 vs. Houston, with 12 TDs and two interceptions.
Denver @ San Diego, 4:05 p.m.
The line: Broncos by 4
The story: I said a week ago if the Chargers could split one of their last two home games – New England and Denver – they’d be happy. So get happy. I had no illusions about them hanging a second straight loss on Tom Brady because it happens about as often as it snows in Mission Beach. But this is their chance to pull the upset, and they must do it without punter Mike Scifres – one of the best weapons in the game. He’s out, Matt BcBriar is in, and that’s a setback. But Scifres' situation isn't the issue; Peyton Manning's is. If he’s the Peyton Manning the Chargers have seen the last six games, forget it. It’s over. But if it’s the Peyton Manning who floundered the past two weeks they have a shot. Manning says he’s OK, but I swear, something seems wrong with the guy. He hasn’t hit 200 yards in either week, his passes have no velocity and his streak of touchdown games ended at 51 last week. That tells me he’s not (cue Denny again) EXACTLY WHO WE THOUGHT HE WAS! San Diego hung with New England before falling short, and it can hang with these guys. The question is: Can Phillip Rivers do what he could not a week ago and put this offense into forward motion? If not, the Bolts are in a familiar position: Scrambling for a wild-card spot down the stretch. For that matter, so would Denver. With a win or tie the Broncos clinch the division.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Dating back to 2011, Denver has won 11 straight road games within the division.
… AND ONE THAT’S NOT
N.Y. Jets @ Tennessee, 4:05 p.m.
The line: Jets by 2-1/2
The story: Geno Smith says he’s shown “flashes” of Pro Bowl play. Jets’ fans know better. They’ve seen flashes all right. But it’s flashes in the pan … the bed pan. The guy’s been so bad that Jets’ fans already are lining up for Marcus Mariota – and this game will go a long way toward determining if they get what they want … or what the Jets need. Hey, if you’ve seen the Jets you know they could use just about everything, including a running back. Nevertheless, it might be worth seeing what – if anything – Chris Johnson does in his return to Nashville. He said he wants the Titans to see what they’re missing. I think they know. And they don’t care.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Jets’ linebacker Calvin Pace has three sacks in three career games vs. Tennessee and aims for his fourth straight with at least one.
UPSET OF THE WEEK
Clark Judge – San Diego (+4) over Denver. The Chargers are desperate, and they're home. Desperate home teams are dangerous -- even if Ryan Matthews isn't available.
Ron Borges – Oakland (+10) over Kansas City. Derek Carr builds on last week's big win as the Raiders spoil an old rival's season.
Rick Gosselin – Atlanta (+2-1/2) over Pittsburgh. The Falcons have won three of five since the bye to resurrect as a contender in the woeful NFC South. Atlanta can steal a division title.
LOCK OF THE WEEK
Baltimore (+13-1/2) over Jacksonville. The Ravens rarely lose at home, and they will not, cannot and won't lose to lowly Jacksonville. I know, Torrey Smith may not play. I don't care. Steve Smith will. Justin Forsett win. And so will Blake Bortles. Put them together, and you have a rout waiting to happen.
FIVE GUYS WHO COULD MAKE SUNDAY’S WALL OF FAME
1. Kansas City RB Jamaal Charles – In his last three starts vs. Oakland, he has 465 yards from scrimmage and eight TDs.
2. N.Y. Giants QB Eli Manning – He’s won seven of nine starts at home vs. Washington.
3. Denver QB Peyton Manning – Since joining Denver, he’s 5-1 vs. San Diego,w ith 17 TDs and four interceptions.
4. Seattle RB Marshawn Lynch – In four games vs. San Francisco at home, he’s run for 425 yards and scored seven times.
5. Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers. He’s thrown 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in his last four games vs. AFC opponents.
HALL OF NOTES-WORTHY
1. Games average 703.0 yards, which – if sustained – would break the league record (697.0) set last season.
2. Four NFL teams – Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Indianapolis and Denver – each average over 400 yards per start.
3. With five catches vs. Atlanta Sunday, Steelers’ wide receiver Antonio Brown becomes just the fourth player in league history to have consecutive 110-catch seasons.
4. A year ago, the Baltimore Ravens had five rushes of 20 or more yards. They have a franchise-best 20 this year, with Justin Forsett responsible for 14 of them.
5. The Ravens have held four of six opponents at home to 10 or fewer points.
6. Green Bay is 0-5 in Buffalo.
7. New England has not lost to a division opponent at Gillette Stadium in over six years.
8. The Patriots lost the season opener to Miami, but they haven’t been swept by a division opponent since 2000 when it happened vs. Miami and vs. the New York Jets.
9. The Lions have held their last two opponents to a combined 39 yards rushing.
10. Since 2011, San Francisco is 4-0 following back-to-back losses.