(Carson Palmer photo courtesy of the Arizona Cardinals)
(Andy Dalton photo courtesy of the Cincinnati Bengals)
By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
OUR SUNDAY BEST
CINCINNATI @ ARIZONA, 8:30 p.m. (EST)
The line: Cardinals by 5
The story: Let’s hear it for Carson Palmer. Unlike others who face ex-teams or teammates, he’s not afraid to admit that this “is not just another game. There is definitely a lot on this one for me in particular.” That’s because Palmer demanded a trade from Cincinnati in 2011, and the Bengals accommodated him – but only after putting him on hold for months.
Palmer’s emotions aside, this is a contest between two of the league’s best. Arizona will win the NFC West, and Cincinnati will win the AFC North. But the Bengals awakened skeptics with Monday’s 10-6 loss to Houston, a defeat that has critics wondering if what we saw is what we get in January – a month that's been cruel to Cincinnati for far too long.
Palmer and Dalton are two of the league’s highest-rated quarterbacks, with Palmer given the edge here because of the emotions involved. Both have weapons galore, both have running games and both are out to prove a point. For Palmer, it’s personal. For Cincinnati, it’s all about January. Remember, this is a playoff audition for a team that hasn’t won a playoff game since 1991 and is 0-6 under Marvin Lewis.
And good luck with that, guys. It's tough for anyone but the Cards to win here. In fact, under Bruce Arians, Arizona is 16-4 at home and Carson Palmer 11-2 in his last 13 starts there. Then there’s this: Since 2006 there have been 132 accepted penalties on visiting teams for false starts – the most in the league during that span … and, yes, that includes Seattle.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Arizona leads the league with 36 TDs this season, while the Bengals’ defense leads the league with 16 TDs allowed.
THREE OTHERS SUITABLE FOR HALL-OF-FRAMING
(Cam Newton photo courtesy of the Carolina Panthers)
WASHINGTON @ CAROLINA, 1 p.m. (EST)
The line: Panthers by 7
The story: The Panthers haven’t lost. The Redskins have. Five times. Worse, they’re 0-4 on the road, which tells you … uh-huh, which tells you it ain’t happening this weekend. Not here. Not now. It’s not that I don’t trust Kirk Cousins; it’s that I don’t trust him here.
While he just produced his first-ever perfect rating, he’s anything but perfect on the road -- with four TDs, seven interceptions and no victories. Worse, Carolina’s defense holds opposing quarterbacks to a league-worst 69.1 rating and has a league-best 14 interceptions.
I don’t care whether it’s defense, Cam, Greg Olsen or James Stewart; the Panthers simply have too much for Washington to overcome.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: The Panthers haven’t lost in their last 13 regular-season starts.
N.Y. JETS @ HOUSTON, 1 p.m. (EST)
The line: Jets by 2-1/2
The story: Ryan Fitzpatrick says he’s good to go, and just in time. Like Carson Palmer, he gets to suit up vs. the team that let him go.
Fitzpatrick doesn’t share Carson Palmer’s emotions, but he doesn’t share Palmer’s stats, either. He’s a middle-of-the-road quarterback who’s trying to steer the Jets to the playoffs for the first time since 2010. Until this week, I liked their chances. But now? I don't know.
Houston somehow managed to beat Cincinnati with T.J. Yates in charge. And that was in Cincinnati. The Texans can’t run, but there are holes in a Jets’ secondary that suddenly looks more vulnerable than expected. That's the good news for Houston. The bad? Yates is the guy who has to exploit those holes.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: The Texans haven’t allowed a touchdown in 10 consecutive quarters. It’s the second-longest streak in franchise history.
GREEN BAY @ MINNESOTA, 4:25 p.m. (EST)
The line: Vikings by 1
The story: Packers’ fans, wise up. Don’t blame Olivia Munn. She’s not the problem with your quarterback. Your wide receivers are. They can’t separate, forcing Rodgers to hold the ball longer than usual, and what do you know? Now he has a sore shoulder. Then there's the Packers' pass rush. "What pass rush?" you say. Good question. They haven’t had a sack since Oct. 18. Honest. Plus, their run game is AWOL. Put them together and what do you have? The first three-game losing streak since 2008, or when Rodgers took over as quarterback.
Minnesota, meanwhile, is on a five-game tear, thanks to solid defense, Adrian Peterson and a quarterback (Teddy Bridgewater) who won his last seven at home. In essence, the Vikings are what Green Bay is not.
A lock? Not by a long shot. Green Bay is the defending division champ and absolutely, positively must feel a sense of urgency here. Lose, and the Packers fall two-and-a-half games behind the Vikings (tiebreaker advantage) and, suddenly, they have to be worried about making the playoffs, period. Maybe that's why you haven't heard Rodgers telling anyone to R-E-L-A-X this week.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Rodgers won nine of his last 10 vs. Minnesota, with 26 touchdowns, three interceptions and a 123.8 rating.
MONDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
(Tyrod Taylor photo courtesy of the Buffalo Bills)
BUFFALO @ NEW ENGLAND, 8:30 P.M. (EST)
The line: Patriots by 7
The story: Nice of Rex Ryan to concede the division this week to New England. Only he could've done it two months ago. And the same goes for everyone else in the AFC East. As long as Tom Brady quarterbacks New England, everyone else plays for second.
So the Patriots are unbeaten, Brady is a slam-dunk for mid-season MVP and there's talk of a second straight Super Bowl for the Patriots. Slow down, people. There are two months left. Better yet, there are issues in Foxborough – most of them surrounding the loss of Brady’s security blanket, Julian Edelman.
Like most everyone, the Patriots subscribe to the next-man-up” philosophy. But the next man up here is Danny Amendola … or maybe Brandon LaFell … or Aaron Dobson. Whoever it is, it’s not Julian Edelman, and now we get to see how that affects Brady and the opponents who scheme him.
Bottom line: Now, more than ever, Brady must be Tom Terrific, and I like his chances. He won seven of his last eight vs. Buffalo, with 18 touchdowns and three interceptions. What’s more, he’s thrown for at least two touchdown passes in his each of his last nine against the Bills.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: With one more TD catch, Rob Gronkowski moves into sole possession of third place among all-time scores by NFL tight ends.
LOCK OF THE WEEK
(Earl Thomas photo courtesy of the Seattle Seahawks)
SEATTLE over SAN FRANCISCO, 4:25 p.m. (EST)
The line: Seahawks by 12
The story: Seattle simply matches up well against these guys. Always has. Always will.
Nope, the Seahawks aren’t overwhelming. But neither is San Francisco. And Seattle is desperately trying to find something, anything, that can launch it to a late-season run. A win would be nice, and I like their chances A) because they’re home; B) because there’s suddenly a sense of urgency and C) because they own San Francisco.
You can look it up. Not only have they won six of the last seven vs. the 49ers, but check out Russell Wilson. He's 4-0 against them at home, with the Seahawks outscoring San Francisco, 111-40. Then there's this: Blaine Gabbert is 2-11 on the road. Check, please.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Seattle has led or been within a score in the fourth quarters of 79 straight games (including the playoffs). The last time it wasn’t? Try Sept. 18, 2011 vs. Pittsburgh. The Seahawks also have held a lead in an NFL-record 57 consecutive starts.
(home teams capitalized)
Clark Judge. Green Bay (+1) over MINNESOTA. I can't imagine Aaron Rodgers losing four straight. Then again, I couldn't imagine him losing three, either.
Ron Borges. Buffalo (+7) over NEW ENGLAND. Rex Ryan may lose a lot to the Patriots, but usually not by much. New England is wounded offensively in increasing numbers, which seems likely to keep this game close.
Rick Gosselin. HOUSTON (+2-1/2) over N.Y. Jets. If you can beat the Bengals in Cincinnati, you can beat the Jets in Texas. The Texans begin their charge for an AFC South championship.
HALL-OF-FAME SHOUT OUT
(Courtesy of the Miami Dolphins)
Don Shula, the winningest coach in NFL history, will be honored during halftime Sunday of the Miami-Dallas game, with Shula presented his Hall of Fame Ring of Excellence. Shula, who was 347-173-6 in 33 seasons as head coach of the Baltimore Colts and Miami Dolphins, will be joined by two of his former quarterbacks -- Hall-of-Famers Bob Griese and Dan Marino. In 26 years in Miami, Shula's teams only twice finished below .500, 20 times reached the playoffs and once (1972) completed the only perfect season (17-0) during the Super Bowl era.
FIVE GUYS ON SUNDAY'S HALL-OF-FAME RADAR
(Tony Romo photo courtesy of the Dallas Cowboys)
Dallas QB Tony Romo. Not only has he won both his starts vs. Miami; he won his last five vs. AFC opponents, with 11 touchdowns, one interception and a passer rating of 117.5.
New England QB Tom Brady. He’s 24-3 vs. Buffalo, with more TD passes (61) vs. the Bills than anyone.
Chicago LB Lamarr Houston. He aims for his fourth straight game vs. Denver with at least one sack.
San Diego QB Philip Rivers. He’s 8-2 vs. Kansas City at home.
Green Bay LB Clay Matthews. In 11 games vs. Minnesota, including the playoffs, he has nine sacks, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and a touchdown.
HALL OF NOTES-WORTHY
Selected with consecutive picks in the 2011 draft, A.J. Green (4th overall) and Patrick Peterson (5th) are the only two members of that class to be named to the Pro Bowl four straight seasons.
Since the current playoff format was adopted in 1990, 21 teams that had losing records after nine games made the playoffs – including at least one in each of the past four seasons.
Arizona has held opponents to 20 or fewer points in 14 of 20 home games under Bruce Arians and are 14-0 in those games.
Carolina has a streak of 20 straight regular-season games with at least 100 yards rushing. The Panthers are tied with Seattle for the longest current streak.
J.J. Watt has more tackles, sacks and tackles for losses through the first nine games of 2015 than he did through the first nine a year ago.
Quarterbacks have combined for 480 touchdown passes this season, the second-highest total (496 in 2014) through the first 10 weeks of the season.
With a win over Buffalo, unbeaten New England clinches its 13th straight season of 10 or more victories – second best in NFL history. Only the 1983-98 49ers (16) had more.
With eight more catches, Dallas’ Jason Witten joins Tony Gonzalez as the only tight ends with 1,000 or more career receptions.
The Raiders average 29.8 points per game on the road, behind only Arizona (35.2) and New England (32.8).
Andy Dalton needs one road win to surpass Dan Marino (23), Ben Roethlisberger (23) and Matt Ryan (23) for most road victories by a quarterback in his first five seasons of the Super Bowl era. Dalton has 23.