(Earl Thomas photo courtesy of the Seattle Seahawks)
(Andy Dalton photo courtesy of the Cincinnati Bengals)
By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
OUR SUNDAY BEST
SEATTLE @ CINCINNATI, 1 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Bengals by 3
The story: This isn’t so much about Seattle as it is the Bengals. We know the Seahawks are good. We know they could win their division. And we know we’ll see them in January. But Cincinnati? We know they’re good. We know they'll win their division. But then what? They fizzle, that's what, with Andy Dalton 0-4 and Marvin Lewis 0-6 in January. The last time the Bengals won a playoff game? Try 1991. So this is a chance to measure just how good they are … or can be … against an opponent with Super Bowl credentials. Yeah, I know, Andy Dalton is red hot, and Russell Wilson is on schedule to be sacked 72 times this season. But is Dalton a quarterback you trust in a big game? We're about to find out. Seattle’s secondary is the league’s best, and Dalton will be under siege. It’s the NFL’s second-ranked offense vs. its second-ranked defense, and fasten your seat belt, Andy. It could be a bumpy ride.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Dalton’s passer rating of 123.0 is the best of any Cincinnati quarterback through the season’s first four games. Moreover, he’s 12-3-1 in his career vs. the NFC, beating Seattle in Seattle.
THREE OTHERS SUITABLE FOR HALL-OF-FRAMING
(Aaron Rodgers photo courtesy of the Green Bay Packers)
ST. LOUIS @ GREEN BAY, 1 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Packers by 9
The story: The Rams stunned undefeated Arizona a week ago, but to slay two giants in eight days? Sorry, but that’s asking too much … especially when that giant is Green Bay … in Lambeau. In case you haven’t heard, quarterback Aaron Rodgers simply does not screw up here. In his past 19 home games (including the playoffs) he’s thrown 48 TD passes and no interceptions for a 125.3 passer rating, and he hasn’t thrown an interception in his last 580 attempts at Lambeau (again, including the playoffs). If there's hope for St. Louis, it's not in the right arm of Nick Foles. It's in the legs of rookie Todd Gurley, who was nothing short of marvelous vs. Arizona, and listen up, Rams' fans: Green Bay not only ranks 21st vs. the run; it allows an average of 4.8 yards per carry. Only San Diego and New England (4.9) are worse.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Green Bay scored in the first quarter of 20 straight regular-season games, the longest active streak in the NFL.
WASHINGTON @ ATLANTA, 1 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Falcons by 7-1/2
The story: This is another litmus test, and, no, I’m not talking about the undefeated Falcons. They’re legit. I’m talking about Washington, which looks good one week and not so good the next. Washington acts as if it's a bonafide player in the NFC East, and you can understand why when you look at the division. There’s more mediocrity there than the U.S. Congress. But the Redskins are up against an undefeated team, with the hottest running back in the game, the most dangerous receiver in the game and Matt Ryan. If the Redskins are serious about making a run at a division title, they can start by making a statement here. Will it happen? Probably not. The Redskins haven’t scored more than 21 in any game this season, and Atlanta hasn’t scored less than 21 in any contest.
Hall of Fame worthy: Since 2013, Pierre Garcon has 205 catches, most in the NFC.
NEW ENGLAND @ DALLAS, 4:25 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Patriots by 9
The story: The Patriots are hot. The Cowboys are not. New England has Tom Brady. Dallas has Brandon Weeden. OK, we get the idea except … except Dallas is home, and that’s an advantage, right? Not so fast. Dallas is better on the road team than it is at home, with a 27-23 record in Dallas since AT&T stadium opened. Granted, they get pass rusher Greg Hardy back from a four-game suspension, and that should help. But the moron made some comment this week about Brady’s wife – provoking Brady into a virtual “no comment.” Trust me, Brady will save his response for Sunday, and my guess? He carves these guys up as a reminder to Hardy … and others … to leave your opponent’s personal business alone – especially when you’re lucky you're not in jail.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Bill Belichick is 11-4 with the Patriots coming off a bye.
MONDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
(Michael Vick photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Steelers)
PITTSBURGH @ SAN DIEGO, 8:30 p.m. (EDT)
The line: San Diego by 3
The story: The last time Michael Vick was in San Diego it didn’t go so well. He stepped in for starter Geno Smith at halftime and did zippety-do-dah in a 31-0 beatdown. That was last year, and it was such “an ass-whipping,” as then-coach Rex Ryan called it, that Ryan apologized afterward. So we have a new year with a new team, and Vick trying to win in San Diego again. The good news is that he has Le’Veon Bell in the backfield and says he feels more comfortable within the system. The bad is that the Steelers trusted Vick, not Bell, on third-and-fourth-and-short last week when feeding Bell should've been the only option. Hopefully, they learned their lesson, and there's no better time or place to find out. They face the NFL’s 29th -ranked run defense, one that allows a league-worst 4.9 yards per rush.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Antonio Gates returns after a four-game suspension, needing one touchdown catch to become the second tight end in NFL history (Tony Gonzalez, with 111, is the other) to have 100 career scoring receptions.
LOCK OF THE WEEK
GREEN BAY over ST. LOUIS. The Rams have a rock-solid defense, but is it good enough to beat Aaron Rodgers in Lambeau? Nope. And its offense isn't good enough to play catch-up, either. Yeah, I know, Todd Gurley looks like a load, but the Packers will stack the box and dare Nick Foles to beat them. And that’s where the train stops, and we get off. Foles vs. Rodgers? Check, please.
Clark Judge. Seattle (+3) over Cincinnati. The Seahawks are 2-0 since Kam Chancellor returned, and Cincinnati is due for a loss. I said this is a litmus test for Cincinnati. Now I say it fails.
Rick Gosselin. Oakland (+5) over Denver. Baltimore discovered the Black Hole of the NFL is one again becoming a tough place to play. The Broncos will find out this week as well.
Ron Borges. Chicago (+9-1/2) over Kansas City. The Bears may not have much bite, but they have enough teeth not to lose by more than 8-1/2 to Alex Smith.
FIVE GUYS ON SUNDAY’S HALL-OF-FAME RADAR
(Matt Ryan photo courtesy of the Atlanta Falcons)
Atlanta QB Matt Ryan. He’s 41-15 at home and 3-0 vs. Washington.
Baltimore QB Joe Flacco. He’s 13-1 vs. Cleveland, including seven straight wins at home, with 18 TDs and 7 interceptions.
Cincinnati RB Jeremy Hill. In his last six home games, he has 519 yards from scrimmage and six rushing TDs.
Green Bay WR Randall Cobb. In his past four home games, he has 27 catches for 403 yards and five TDs.
Denver QB Peyton Manning. He won his last nine vs. Oakland, with 23 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 108.9 passer rating.
HALL OF NOTES-WORTHY
All is not lost for teams with losing records through the first four weeks … although the forecast isn’t exactly sunny and warm. Since the NFL went to the current playoff format in 1990, 25 teams with losing records through the first quarter advanced to the playoffs, including four that made it to conference championship games and one (the (2001 New England Patriots) that won a Super Bowl.
Five teams have gotten off to 4-0 starts, which ties for the most in league history. If New England beats Dallas, the Patriots would become the sixth, setting an NFL record.
Seattle has not allowed a touchdown in its opponent’s last 20 possessions.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, Green Bay has scored 383 points over its last 10 regular-seasonn home games, the most number of points in a 10-game span in club history.
The Bills’ Karlos Williams is only the fourth rookie since 1960 to score touchdowns in each of the first four games of his rookie season.
Lovie Smith’s home record as Tampa Bay’s head coach is 0-10.
Blake Bortles’ road record as a starting quarterback is 0-8.
The Bengals are the league’s only top-10 team in both rushing and passing, while Seattle is one of two top-10 teams (Washington is the other) in both run and pass defense.
Since 2013, Baltimore’s Justin Tucker has made 12 field goals of 50 or more yards, tying him with Dan Carpenter for the most in the league.
Drew Brees set the NFL record for completion percentage in 2009 with a mark of 70.62. Today, nine quarterbacks have better percentages – with Brandon Weeden leading all at 76.3.