(Tom Brady photos courtesy of the New England Patriots)
By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
OUR SUNDAY BEST
New England @ Denver, 8:30 p.m. (EST)
The line: Patriots by 3
The story: This was supposed to be Brady-Manning XVII. Fortunately for Peyton Manning, it’s not. Instead, Brock Osweiler tries to do what no one this season has – beat Brady and the Patriots.
New England is missing offensive pieces, and Denver is missing Manning. But Osweiler last weekend did something Manning could not – avoid turnovers. He made none. Manning had a league-leading 17 interceptions in nine starts, yet the Broncos won seven of them. Their secret? Defense. Nobody plays it better. Well, now they’re up against the league’s third-ranked offense and the game’s best quarterback, and good luck.
Trust me, coach Bill Belichick will have schemes to harass, frustrate and confuse Osweiler. And for all the talk about Denver’s D – and it’s good – New England’s last four opponents scored an average of 14 points per. So what? So it’s New England, not Denver, that allows the fewest points in the NFL (an average of 18.2 a game).
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Brady won five of his last six vs. Denver, with 17 touchdowns, 2 interceptions and a passer rating of 111.1. Brady needs just four touchdown passes to pass Dan Marino for third on the career list.
THREE OTHERS SUITABLE FOR WALL-OF-FRAMING
(Alex Smith photo courtesy of the Kansas City Chiefs)
BUFFALO @ KANSAS CITY, 1 p.m. (EST)
The line: Chiefs by 6-1/2
The story: The Chiefs were supposed to wilt after losing Jamaal Charles and five of their first six starts. But they won their next four, and, suddenly, they’re talking playoffs. One problem: They’re talking playoffs in Buffalo, too.
One of these teams won’t make it, and maybe neither does. So the stakes are high here, with the Chiefs given the advantage because they’re home and because their defense is en fuego. Over the last three games, the Chiefs have eight interceptions and 14 sacks, and defense – or, more specifically, turnovers -- determines the winner here.
Yes, Buffalo’s Tyrod Taylor is capable of making more big plays than Alex Smith, but Smith doesn’t make the mistakes that Taylor can and will. In fact, the guy hasn’t thrown an interception in 253 consecutive attempts, with his last one in Week Four vs. Cincinnati, and the Chiefs have committed only eight all year – good for second in the NFL. Plus, there’s this: Kansas City has a league-best +91-point differential over the last four games.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Kansas City allowed rushing touchdowns in only two games this season.
MINNESOTA @ATLANTA, 1 p.m. (EST)
The line: Falcons by 1-1/2
The story: I’ll be honest: This one I don’t get.
The Falcons are slip-sliding away, losing four of their last five and unraveling everywhere. And Minnesota? OK, so the Vikings got jammed by Green Bay last weekend. But now they can sit atop the NFC North alone with a victory. So there's incentive. There's also a solid defense. And they can run the ball. And their quarterback isn’t making the mistakes Matt Ryan is. Oh, and this just in: The Vikings have Adrian Peterson; the Falcons may not have DeVonta Freeman.
I know, Julio Jones is a load. But Julio Jones can’t win this game. And, OK, Atlanta has the league’s top-ranked run defense. So let’s say the Falcons stop Peterson. Are they going to stop Teddy Bridgewater, too? They couldn’t beat Matt Hasselbeck last week. And they couldn’t beat Blaine Gabbert the week before. So how are they going to beat Bridgewater? Someone? Anyone?
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Julio Jones’ 89 catches are tied for the most in NFL history through the first 10 games.
TAMPA BAY @ INDIANAPOLIS, 1 p.m. (EST)
The line: Colts by 3
The story: There’s a lot of talk about rookie Jameis Winston, and it's easy to connect the dots: Over the past six games he’s thrown nine touchdowns, with only two interceptions and four wins. Now there’s talk about playoffs, and, sorry, but I’m not buying (somebody cue Jim Mora).
The Bucs are .500 for the first time in a long time, and a victory here could mean they finish out of the NFC dungeon for the first time in five years. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. These are, after all, the Bucs. Plus, Indianapolis has a secret weapon, and, nope, it’s not Andrew Luck. It’s the only undefeated backup quarterback out there, and will Matt Hasselbeck, please step forward?
I don’t know what he’s doing, either, but it works. Indy is 3-0 with him; 2-5 with Luck, and there’s a little bit of the Brock Osweiler Effect going on here -- with Hasselbeck not making the mistakes Luck did.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: The Colts' T.Y. Hilton has nine catches of 25 or more yards, good for fifth best in the NFL.
MONDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
(John Harbaugh photo courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens)
BALTIMORE @ CLEVELAND, 8:30 p.m.
The line: Browns by 3
The story: Whether he plays or not, Johnny Manziel is the story. For most people in the NFL a bye is a good thing. But Johnny Football is not most people, and so more off-the-field stupidity has him back to being Johnny Clipboard now and for the forseeable future … and let’s hear it for Mike Pettine. Maybe benching this idiot gets his attention.
In the meantime, this game is meaningful for one reason: It determines who goes into the division dumper. That’s a spot that’s been occupied by Cleveland the last four years and may be again … but don’t forget: Baltimore just lost Joe Flacco and Justin Forsett. So this is … Matt Schaub vs. Josh McCown? Please. I want to see Jon Gruden talk this one up.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: McCown is 2-0 vs. Baltimore, with both wins in overtime.
LOCK OF THE WEEK
(Carson Palmer photo courtesy of the Arizona Cardinals)
ARIZONA over SAN FRANCISCO, 4:05 p.m.
The line: Cards by 10-1/2
The story: The 49ers are a mess, while Arizona not only is the best team in the NFC West; it’s the second-best team in the NFC and a legitimate Super Bowl threat. Translation: This is a mismatch waiting to happen.
The Cards’ Carson Palmer leads the league with 27 touchdown passes, their running game ranks 10th in the league and their defense is third overall. So Arizona has all its bases covered. And San Francisco? Uh, not so much.
I know, Arizona hasn’t won in six games in the Bay Area. It beat these guys by 40 points earlier this year, the largest point-differential in the history of this series. That gives you an idea what San Francisco is up against.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Larry Fitzgerald has nine 100-yard games vs. San Francisco, including a nine-catch performance in Week Two. Fitzgerald has 14 career touchdowns against the 49ers, the most by any receiver vs. San Francisco.
(Home teams capitalized)
Rick Gosselin. Minnesota (+1-1/2) over ATLANTA. The loss to the Packers at home last weekend was just a bump in the path of a wildcard berth for the 7-3 Vikings. The 6-4 Falcons are sliding in the opposite direction with a winless November.
Ron Borges. Minnesota (+1-1/2) over ATLANTA. The Falcons aren’t the Packers playing at the Georgia Dome. The Falcons are the Falcons, which won’t be enough to hold off Adrian Peterson and that Vikings’ defense.
Clark Judge. Minnesota (+1-1/2) over ATLANTA. The Falcons have won one of their last five starts --- and that was against Zach Mettenberger. Their rapid descent continues with another loss here -- especially now that Minnesota can assume first place in the NFC North again with a victory.
HALL-OF-FAME SHOUT OUT
(Will Shields photo courtesy of the Kansas City Chiefs)
Former Kansas City guard and Hall-of-Famer Will Shields will receive his Hall of Fame Ring of Excellence during halftime of the Chiefs-Buffalo game at Arrowhead Stadium. Shields is the sixth member of the Hall of Fame's Class of 2015 to be honored with a Ring of Excellence this year. A 12-time Pro Bowler and seven-time All-Pro, Shields did not miss a game during his 14-year career, starting a team-record 231 straight games (including the playoffs).
FIVE GUYS ON SUNDAY’S HALL-OF-FAME RADAR
(Eli Manning photo courtesy of the New York Giants)
N.Y.Giants QB Eli Manning. He’s won five straight vs. Washington and has nine touchdowns and just one interception in the last three games with the Redskins.
Washington QB Kirk Cousins. In his past four at home he’s 4-0 with nine touchdowns, no interceptions and a 122.6 rating.
Atlanta QB Matt Ryan. He aims for his third straight win over Minnesota with at least three touchdown passes.
San Diego QB Philip Rivers. He’s won four straight vs. Jacksonville, with 10 TDs, 2 interceptions and a 131.2 rating.
Kansas City QB Alex Smith. He’s 3-0 vs. Kansas City, with a passer rating of 99.8.
HALL OF NOTES-WORTHY
Since the current 12-team playoff was adopted in 1990, 12 teams with losing records after 11 games made the playoffs. This includes a streak of three consecutive seasons (2012-14) and seven consecutive years (2004-10) where teams with sub-.500 records after 11 games made the playoffs.
New England can clinch the AFC East with a win Sunday and a loss by the New York Jets or with losses by the Jets and Buffalo Bills. And here’s why that's significant: Four of the five teams that clinched a division after 11 games went on to the Super Bowl.
With 262 yards passing Sunday, Andy Dalton joins Peyton Manning as the only two quarterbacks in NFL history to throw for 3,000 or more yards in each of their first five NFL seasons.
Pittsburgh’s Martavis Bryant has 13 TD catches in his first 15 games. With a score Sunday, he would become the fourth receiver in league history to have 14 TDs in his first 16 contests. Randy Moss holds the record with 17.
Since 2001, New England is an NFL-best 86-22 (.796) in games on or after Thanksgiving. New England is the only team with a winning percentage higher than .700 during that span.
Carson Palmer has 21 victories in his last 25 starts.
Russell Wilson has never lost at home vs. the AFC (he’s 6-0), with 11 touchdown passes and two interceptions.
Arizona is the only team that ranks in the top five in total offense (1) and total defense (3).
In all seven of their losses, Baltimore has had an opportunity to take the lead or tie in the last two minutes of play. All of the Ravens’ games have been decided by eight or fewer points.
Oakland and the New York Jets have allowed the fewest sacks (13) this season, with St. Louis (14) second.
Tyrod Taylor is on schedule to finish as only the second quarterback in Bills’ history with a rating of 100 or better. Hall-of-Famer Jim Kelly is the other.