(Adrian Peterson photos courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings)
By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
OUR SUNDAY BEST
SEATTLE @ MINNESOTA, 1 p.m. (EST)
The line: Even
The story: There are two opponents with winning records left on the Seahawks’ schedule, and this is one of them. The other? Arizona in the season finale, and the Cards may be resting starters by then. So this is a critical step to yet another playoff appearance by the Seahawks, and I’ll tell you what: This is the time of year I love these guys.
Yeah, I know the Legion of Boom looks more like the Legion of Gloom, Marshawn Lynch is sidelined and Jimmy Graham is lost for the season. I get it. But I also get that they have guys who know how to deliver this time of year, with quarterback Russell Wilson at the head of the class. So I trust him.
And Teddy Bridgewater? I don’t know. And I don't because this is unchartered territory. Two weeks ago, he and the Vikings had a chance to make a statement at home vs. Green Bay, and they succeeded. They stunk. But they’re in command of the NFC North and need to put distance between them and the Packers before a season finale at Lambeau.
They have Adrian Peterson. They allow the second fewest points per game (17.6). And they have the home-field advantage. What they don’t have is experience in pivotal December contests with Bridgewater, which means we’re going to learn something about everyone here.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Bridgewater won seven of his last eight homes starts, including four games with a rating of 100 or better.
THREE OTHERS SUITABLE FOR HALL OF FRAMING
N.Y. JETS @ N.Y. GIANTS, 1 p.m. (EST)
The line: Jets by 2
The story: Here’s your lock: Bet on the team that plays at MetLife Stadium. Guaranteed to win. And Tom Coughlin better hope that team is his because stories out of New York say this game could determine what happens to him in 2016.
The Giants are an enigma: Good one week, horrible the next. That’s because nobody is sure which Eli shows up. Good Eli or Bad. Three times this season he’s thrown multiple interceptions; six times he’s thrown none.
But this isn’t just about Eli, his wounded offensive line or a running game that will find it hard to puncture a defense that’s allowed a league-low two rushing TDs all season. Nope, it’s about a team psyche that no one can figure, with Odell Beckham Jr. calling out his teammates last weekend for being flat.
That won’t cut it Sunday, and my guess is we’ll see an inspired performance by these guys A) because they’re coming off a stinker where they were called out; B) because Darrelle Revis is out and C) because it’s desperation time. Of course, it’s desperation time for the Jets, too, and Ryan Fitzpatrick is as inconsistent as Manning. No, he doesn’t have his talent, but he does have weapons and he does have a defense.
Wonder why the Jets are favored? You might want to start there.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: The Jets’ Brandon Marshall has 100 yards or a touchdown in 10 of his last 11 games.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS @ OAKLAND, 4:05 p.m. (EST)
The line: Chiefs by 3
The story: Talk about an intriguing game. There’s a history of bad blood between these teams, and don’t look for that to end now that each is chasing a wildcard … and, no, that is not a misprint. The Raiders are legit and believe they’re playoff worthy.
So this is their chance to prove it.
Kansas City may have lost its best player, but it’s on a five-game roll … and you don’t have to look far for an explanation: Turnovers. They don’t make them, and opponents do. Over their last five starts … all victories … opponents have 14 of them, and the Chiefs have zilch. You heard me. Zippety-do-dah, with the Chiefs’ Alex Smith not throwing an interception in his last 283 attempts.
That will win you a lot of games, and it has the Chiefs winning so many they’re talking playoffs, too. But remember: I said there’s a history here, and there is. Over the last six games in Oakland, the Chiefs are 3-3, alternating wins and losses, and good news, Kansas City fans: They lost there last year.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: The Chiefs’ defense leads the league the past six weeks, allowing an average of 290.4 yards per game.
INDIANAPOLIS @ PITTSBURGH, 8:30 p.m. (EST)
The line: Steelers by 7
The story: Make this a duel between the league’s two top backups – Matt Hasselbeck and Ben … OK, so Roethlisberger starts. But he set an NFL record for a backup coming off the bench three weeks ago. Then he started last weekend and lit up Seattle before bowing out with concussive symptoms.
The Colts are 6-5 and could win their division. The Steelers are 6-5 and could gain a playoff spot. But look at the schedules. It’s a lot harder for Pittsburgh from here on out than it is for the Colts meaning … meaning the Steelers should feel a measure of desperation. And desperate teams at home are dangerous teams.
I know, Hasselbeck is 4-0 and isn’t turning the ball over as Andrew Luck did. That’s one reason coach Chuck Pagano said this week that Luck doesn’t return until he’s “100 percent healthy.” Hasselbeck is a modern-day Earl Morrall, and, at 40, is doing what he can to save Pagano’s job. He’ll find holes in the Pittsburgh secondary, but not as many as Big Ben will find with the Colts. Plus, DeAngelo Williams gives the Steelers a decent rushing attack – with the Steelers tying Tampa Bay for most runs of 20 or more yards (13).
Let’s see, better quarterback; better running game; home-field advantage. You gotta like the Steelers.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Pittsburgh’s offense produces 6.4 yards per play, tying it with Arizona for the top spot in the NFL.
MONDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
DALLAS @ WASHINGTON, 8:30 p.m. (EST)
The line: Redskins by 4-1/2
The story: This is all you need to know: The Redskins are home. So take them. They’re a different team there, and Kirk Cousins is a different quarterback there. They won their last five at FedEx and haven’t won once on the road. And Cousins? Glad you asked. In his last five home starts, he has 10 touchdown passes, no interceptions a 121.2 rating and three rushing scores. Check, please.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Matt Cassel has victories in three of four Monday Night appearances.
LOCK OF THE WEEK
NEW ENGLAND over PHILADELPHIA, 4:25 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Patriots by 9-1/2
The story: I don’t care who lines up at wide receiver for New England. The Patriots have three things the Eagles don't: 1) A quarterback; 2) A defense and 3) A pulse. In fact, they clinch another division title with a victory.
Tom Brady does more with less than anyone out there, and he’ll be challenged here. But the challenge comes from within; not from Philadelphia. The Eagles flat-out stink. Nope, it’s from a depleted Patriots’ roster that’s missing Brady’s best and most reliable targets.
But this is Brady, those are the Eagles, and this just in, people: Brady is 4-0 vs. these guys (including the playoffs), with nine TD passes and one interception.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: With one more victory, Bill Belichick ties Don Shula for the most 11-win seasons (13) in NFL history.
(Home team capitalized)
Rick Gosselin. N.Y. GIANTS (+2) over N.Y. Jets. The Giants were embarrassed by Washington last weekend after coming off a bye. A coach who won two Super Bowls and a quarterback who won two Super Bowls will rebound at home against the crosstown rivals.
Ron Borges. Houston (+3) over BUFFALO. It won't be cold enough in Buffalo to freeze out the Texans' defense.
Clark Judge. N.Y. GIANTS (+2) over N.Y. Jets. There's one quarterback here with two Super Bowl rings, and it's not Ryan Fitzpatrick.
HALL-OF-FAME SHOUT OUT
(Tim Brown photo courtesy of the Oakland Raiders)
Former Oakland receiver Tim Brown, a member of the Hall’s Class of 2015, will receive his Hall of Fame Ring of Excellence Sunday during halftime of the Chiefs-Raiders game in Oakland. Brown is the final member of the Hall’s Class of 2015 to receive his ring this season.
Charles Haley was honored during kickoff weekend and again in Week 8 in Dallas. Bill Polian was recognized in Week 2, Mick Tingelhoff a week later and Jerome Bettis was honored in Week 4 in Pittsburgh. Hall-of-Fame general manager Ron Wolf was recognized three weeks ago, while former Kansas City guard Will Shields was feted last weekend.
FIVE GUYS ON SUNDAY’S WALL OF FAME
(Julio Jones photo courtesy of the Atlanta Falcons)
Atlanta WR Julio Jones. In his last three games vs. Tampa Bay he has 29 catches for 442 yards and three TDs.
Chicago QB Jay Cutler. Not only has he won three of his last four; in his last appearance vs. the 49ers he threw for four touchdowns and no interceptions.
Seattle QB Russell Wilson. He’s 2-0 vs. Minnesota, with five touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 147.9.
Arizona CB Patrick Peterson. In nine games vs. St. Louis, he has six interceptions and three touchdowns (two by punt returns and one by interception).
Carolina QB Cam Newton. In his last two starts vs. New Orleans he has five TDs, no interceptions with 116.7 rating and 116 yards rushing with two more touchdowns.
HALL OF NOTES-WORTHY
(Alex Smith photo courtesy of the Kansas City Chiefs)
The Kansas City Chiefs are one of only three teams in NFL history not to have a turnover in five consecutive games. The others are the 2011 San Francisco 49ers and 2010 New England Patriots. What’s more, Chiefs’ quarterback Alex Smith led the 2011 49ers.
The Baltimore Ravens have blocked a kick or punt in five straight games (two PATs, two field goals and one punt), a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since the 1983 Atlanta Falcons.
Derek Carr needs one more 300-yard game to join Rich Gannon as the only Raiders to throw for 300 or more yards in seven games.
This is the third straight year that Andy Reid and the Chiefs have a winning streak of five games or more.
The Baltimore Ravens won each of their four games this season on the final play.
Arizona not only is 5-1 on the road but scores the most points (195) and touchdowns (24) there.
Since entering the NFL in 2006, Baltimore’s Elvis Dumervil has 31 games with 1.5 or more sacks, tying him with Jared Allen for the most over that time. Dumervil is four sacks shy of 100 for his career.
With a touchdown pass Sunday, Tom Brady surpasses Dan Marino (420) for third-most scoring passes in NFL history. Only Peyton Manning (539) and Brett Favre (508) have more.
With 26 completions without an interception Sunday, Alex Smith passes Bernie Kosar (308) and Bart Starr (294) for the second-longest streak of consecutive pass attempts without a pick. Only Tom Brady (358) is better.
With eight catches Sunday, Larry Fitzgerald becomes the youngest player to reach 1,000 receptions – passing Andre Johnson. Johnson will be 32 years and 97 days on Sunday; Johnson was 33 years, 163 days when he set the mark.
When Adrian Peterson scores two more TDs he joins LaDainian Tomlinson and Emmitt Smith as the only backs to rush for at least 10 scores in each of eight seasons.
There are 21 teams either in or within a game of a playoff spot. Eleven are in the NFC; 10 in the AFC.