(Carson Palmer photo courtesy of the Arizona Cardinals)
(Richard Sherman photo courtesy of the Seattle Seahawks)
By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
OUR SUNDAY BEST
ARIZONA @ SEATTLE, 8:30 p.m. (EST)
The line: Seahawks by 3
The story: It’s a little early to talk about must wins, but let’s be honest, people: This is a must win for Seattle. Lose, and the Seahawks drop three games behind front-running Arizona in the NFC West.
That doesn’t mean the playoffs are out. It just means a third straight division title is on life support. Both teams are coming off byes, so they’re rested and healthy. And that’s good for Arizona, since a healthy Carson Palmer is playing some of the best football of his career, with a 110.2 passer rating and 20 TD passes.
So, advantage, Arizona? Not so fast. Palmer’s opponent, Russell Wilson, is in his comfort zone -- which means he's home, where he's 28-3, including the playoffs. Once upon a time, he and the Seahawks were unbeatable there, but those times are changing. The woebegone Detroit Lions should’ve gotten them in Seattle this season, and the Carolina Panthers did. Moreover, Arizona hung the only home defeat on the Seahawks in 2013 -- and that was with Palmer throwing four interceptions. So the odds against an upset ... well, let's just say they've been reduced.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Arizona, Seattle and Denver are the only teams in the league to rank in the top 10 in run and pass defenses.
THREE OTHERS SUITABLE FOR HALL-OF-FRAMING
(Jack Del Rio photo courtesy of the Oakland Raiders)
MINNESOTA @ OAKLAND, 4:05 p.m. (EST)
The line: Raiders by 3
The story: People keep telling me that Minnesota is for real. No, no, wait a minute, it’s Oakland. Check that, it’s Oakland AND Minnesota. How about we find out now?
The Vikings are hot, winning six of their last seven, but they played their worst game this season in the Bay Area -- bowing to San Francisco. OK, so that was two months ago, and plenty has changed … including the Raiders. Under first-year coach Jack Del Rio, they’re a legit playoff threat. David Carr is making big plays, Amari Cooper is making big catches and Charles Woodson is making a nuisance of himself to opposing quarterbacks.
Minnesota quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is expected to play after last week's concussion, and here's a suggestion, Teddy: Work the clock with Adrian Peterson. You don't want to get into a game of tennis with these guys. In each of its last three games Oakland has 34 or more points, with Carr sacked just once during that time. You don’t have to be an Einstein to figure out that if you want to beat these guys you squeeze Carr … and Minnesota can. The Vikings’ defense ranks second in third-down percentage, allowing opponents to convert only 29.7 of their attempts.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Carr has 11 touchdown passes, one interception and a 119.3 passer rating over his last three starts.
NEW ENGLAND @ N.Y. GIANTS, 4:25 p.m. (EST)
The line: Patriots by 7
The story: Let’s get this out of the way up top: Even though the Giants were the guys who brought New England’s undefeated season to a close in Super Bowl XLII ... and even though they upset the Patriots again in Super Bowl XLVI ... they are not the same team.
Not even close.
That one pressured Tom Brady into hurried throws with a furious pass rush from its front four. There is nothing furious nor is there anything resembling a pass rush with this year’s front four. Go to the tape, and you'll find the Giants dead last in the NFL with nine sacks. Worse, they just lost their best run stuffer (Johnathan Hankins) for the season. So expect Brady to put up a zillion points.
The question, of course, is: Can the Giants … OK, Eli Manning … match or better him? And the answer is: Probably not. Yeah, I know, Manning is having another good year, and he’s 3-1 vs. New England. But he can’t carry this team. The Giants are one-dimensional, with Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. having standout seasons and everyone else … well, not so much. All I know is if the Giants can't pressure Brady ... and there's no reason to believe they can or will ... they're toast.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Bill Belichick is 2-5 vs. the Giants.
KANSAS CITY @ DENVER, 4:25 p.m. (EST)
The line: Broncos by 6
The story: Peyton Manning will break Brett Favre’s career passing record with his first completion, the game will be stopped and the ball will be passed on to the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Joe Horrigan. Then we find out about the Broncos.
Denver beat these guys earlier this year when Kansas City made a raft of mistakes, and the Broncos scored twice in the last minute. That Chiefs' team had Jamaal Charles. This one does not. But the Broncos’ defense – which ranks among the league leaders in nearly every category -- was exposed last week in Indianapolis by a quarterback with a lacerated spleen, so there is hope for Alex Smith.
Of course, it's not much. Manning is 14-1 vs. Kansas City, with 32 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions, and the Broncos are home where they won their last 11 regular-season starts. That’s the good news. The bad: Manning is hurt again, this time with a sore foot, and receiver Emmanuel Sanders hasn’t practiced this week because of an ankle injury. Coach Gary Kubiak said he's not overly concerned about Manning, which means he plays, but Sanders is another matter. He's listed as questionable.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: After surrendering seven sacks the first two games this season, the Broncos allowed only six since – tying them with Washington for the fewest during the six-game span.
MONDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
(Andy Dalton photo courtesy of the Cincinnati Bengals)
HOUSTON @ CINCINNATI, 8:30 p.m. (EST)
The line: Bengals by 10-1/2
The story: The Bengals have the second highest-rated quarterback in the NFL, and the Texans … well, they’re just renting at the position. For the moment, it’s Brian Hoyer, and, yeah, he’s playing OK ... and, yes, he's done OK in his career vs. Cincinnati, too. But a show of hands of everyone who believes he pulls the upset here. Someone? Anyone?
The Texans don’t have enough offense, don’t have enough defense and they’re on their second kicker. I call that a team effort. Face it, people: They have DeAndre Hopkins, J.J. Watt and ... and ... and that's a problem.
Cincinnati, meanwhile, is one of the most complete teams out there. Andy Dalton's having the best year of his career. A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert and Marvin Jones are responsible for 16 of the team's 28 TDs. And running backs Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard are so reliable the Bengals rank third in rushing attempts with 30.4 per game. Combine that with the league's 12th-ranked defense and an average margin of victory of 10.9 points, and now you know why the Bengals are off to the best start in franchise history.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Cincinnati is 20-3-1 at home during its last 24 regular-season games there. And while the Bengals are 11-20 on Monday nights, they’re 8-4 at home.
LOCK OF THE WEEK
(Matt Stafford photo courtesy of the Detroit Lions)
GREEN BAY over DETROIT (+11-1/2), 1 p.m. (EST)
The story: OK, so the Packers lost their last two, and that’s not good. But look at Detroit. The Lions lost seven of eight, three assistant coaches, a GM and a team president … and there’s still half the season left. Bottom line: They're in more trouble than VW. Their quarterback is under siege, they have no running game, their offensive line has more holes than Bonnie and Clyde, their defense leaks like the S.S. Minnow and their head coach is a pink slip waiting to happen.
By comparison, Green Bay’s concerns are minor. The Packers must straighten out an offense and a quarterback that are out of sync, and starting James Starks isn’t the solution. Protecting Aaron Rodgers is. The more you see of him, the less you see of Green Bay's matador defense … and that’s good for the long haul. But here's what I like most: Green Bay is back in Lambeau, and, "So what?," you say. Well, so the Packers have beaten Detroit 24 consecutive times (including the playoffs) in the state of Wisconsin.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: In Rodgers’ last 20 games at home he’s thrown 52 TD passes and only two interceptions. Moreover, he’s 6-0 there vs. Detroit, with a 114.9 rating.
(Home teams are capitalized)
Clark Judge. WASHINGTON (+1) over New Orleans. Two reasons: 1) Kirk Cousins is home and 2) the New Orleans defense.
Ron Borges. Arizona (+3) over SEATTLE. I not only like Arizona +3 at the Link; I like them to win the game. A Cardinals' win creates some space for them atop the NFC West.
Rick Gosselin. WASHINGTON (+1) over New Orleans. The Saints can't stop anyone, including the Redskins.
HALL-OF-FAME SHOUT OUT
(Ron Wolf photo courtesy of the Green Bay Packers)
The Green Bay Packers this weekend will honor former general manager Ron Wolf during halftime of their game with the Lions. Wolf, the general manager who not only put the Packers back on the map in the 1990s but delivered them Mike Holmgren, Brett Favre, Reggie White and two Super Bowl appearances, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August. He will receive his Hall-of-Fame ring and have his name added to Lambeau's Ring of Honor -- a spot that, in Green Bay, is reserved only for the team's Hall of Famers. Wolf is the 23rd name to join that list.
FIVE GUYS ON SUNDAY’S HALL-OF-FAME RADAR
Baltimore QB Joe Flacco. In his last seven home starts, he’s thrown 10 touchdown passes and one interception – and has 300 or more passing yards in three of his last four starts there.
Detroit WR Calvin Johnson. He has 14 TDs in 14 starts vs. Green Bay and six 100-yard performances.
Washington QB Kirk Cousins. He aims for his fourth straight win at home … and it’s against defense-challenged New Orleans. In his last three home starts, Cousins has five touchdowns passing, no interceptions and two rushing scores.
Seattle CB Richard Sherman. In his last seven games vs. Arizona he has seven interceptions (one of which he returned for a touchdown) and two fumble recoveries.
Arizona DE Calais Campbell. He has 10 sacks in seven career games at CenturyLink Field.
HALL OF NOTES-WORTHY
Every year since 1987 at least one team with a sub .500 record through eight games has reached the playoffs. Over the past seven years, 15 of them made it – with eight, including the 2014 Carolina Panthers, winning at least one playoff game.
Six teams – Atlanta, Carolina, Tennessee, Tampa Bay, the Jets and Oakland – have either matched or exceeded their total of wins for 2014.
Every Baltimore game this season has been decided by eight or fewer points, with the Ravens having an opportunity to tie or take the lead in the last two minutes of six of their eight starts.
The New England Patriots scored in 31 straight quarters, which ties the 1999-2000 St. Louis Rams and 2005 Indianapolis Colts for the longest streak in the NFL.
With a defeat of the Giants, the Patriots would become the fifth team in league history – and the first since the 1983-98 San Francisco 49ers -- to produce 15 straight winning seasons.
With a sack against Cincinnati, Houston's J.J. Watt would have 66 for his first five seasons – putting him second in that category among pass rushers in their first five seasons since sacks became an official statistic in 1982. Only Hall-of-Famer Reggie White, with 81, has more.
Dating back to 2002, Baltimore is 11-2 after a bye, including 6-1 under John Harbaugh.
There have been 68 games decided by seven or fewer points, tied for the most in NFL history through nine weeks.
The Patriots are the fourth defending Super Bowl champion to begin a season 8-0.
Since the start of the 2013, the Eagles have forced more turnovers (79) than any team in the league. The Giants (76) are second.