(Aaron Rodgers photo courtesy of the Green Bay Packers)
(DeMarcus Ware photo courtesy of the Denver Broncos)
By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
OUR SUNDAY BEST
GREEN BAY @ DENVER, 8:30 p.m. (EST)
The line: Packers by 3
The story: Take your pick: The Denver defense or Aaron Rodgers.
Normally, this would be billed as a Rodgers vs. Peyton Manning showdown, but there’s nothing normal about what’s going on with Manning these days. Yeah, I know, the Packers say they don’t see much difference in the guy, but they can’t be serious. He leads the league in interceptions (10) and is dead last in passer rating. But that’s not all. His offensive line isn’t very good, and his running game is non-existent.
So how is Denver undefeated? Well, first of all, the AFC West is down … with the exception of the Broncos. Then there’s the Denver defense. It ranks first overall, first against the pass, third vs. the run, second in takeaways and is tied for second in points allowed (Green Bay is first). What’s more, it may be getting DeMarcus Ware back for this game. The Broncos can shut down guys like Derek Carr and Alex Smith, but what happens when someone like Rodgers rolls into town? That’s why we watch, people.
So this is more a measure of the Broncos than it is Green Bay. We know Green Bay is the best team in the NFC, and we know the Packers may have issues defending the pass. Except Denver can’t pass effectively … not downfield it can’t. So maybe, just maybe, the Broncos will have to win without their defense scoring … and that I’ve got to see.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Under Mike McCarthy, the Packers are 8-1 immediately after a bye – winning their last six – and have won 15 of their last 19 following byes overall.
THREE OTHERS WORTH HALL-OF-FRAMING
(Andy Dalton photo courtesy of the Cincinnati Bengals)
CINCINNATI @ PITTSBURGH, 1 p.m. (EST)
The line: Steelers by 1
The story: Ben Roethlisberger practiced this week and reported no problems with a sprained knee that sidelined him the past month. So he looks like a go for this game. That’s the good news. The bad: Cincinnati not only is a complete team, winning with the pass, the run and solid defense; they’re road warriors, too, winning all three there this season. A fourth straight victory would tie a franchise record for most consecutive road wins within a season, but that’s not all. It would all but wrap up the AFC North. So there’s the challenge, and for Pittsburgh to pull off the victory the Steelers must do what few have this season – get to Andy Dalton. The guy’s been sacked six times all year, including four games where nobody dropped him. Make him uncomfortable in the pocket, force mistakes and get in front of these guys and maybe, just maybe, the Bengals don’t clinch the AFC North by mid-November.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Roethlisberger is 2-4 in his first games back from injury.
N.Y. GIANTS @ NEW ORLEANS, 1 p.m. (EST)
The line: Saints by 3
The story: There’s something strange going on in New Orleans. The Saints seem to have found their mojo again. First they beat Atlanta. Then they beat Indy. Now it’s the Giants, and, yeah, I know, Big Blue leads its division, but so what? The division is a 90-pound weakling. New York can open some distance between it and the rest of the NFC East these next two weeks against the Saints and Bucs, but a show of hands, please: Who believes in these guys? They stunk vs. Philadelphia. They beat Dallas only because Tony Romo was sidelined. And now it’s Drew Brees and a Saints’ team that follows this game with, in order, Tennessee, Washington and Houston. Suddenly, the Saints don’t look like Aints anymore.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Brees has won four of five starts vs. the Giants, with a 109.9 passer rating. With the Saints he’s 2-0 at home against them, with 8 touchdowns and no interceptions.
N.Y. JETS @ OAKLAND, 4:05 p.m. (EST)
The line: Jets by 3
The story: People tell me the Raiders are back, and maybe they’re right. But this is their chance to prove it. The Jets believe they should’ve beaten New England, which is great … except that and $1.25 gets you a copy of the Post. Oakland comes off its most impressive victory in a long time, but San Diego is a mess. The Jets are not. I know, I know, Chris Ivory is limited, and center Nick Mangold might not play. But how does Oakland solve that Jets’ defense? Well, Amari Cooper is a start. The Jets’ Brandon Marshall called him a mixture of Chad Ocho Cinco and A.J. Green. I don’t know about that. But I do know he’s the first rookie receiver to have three 100-yard games in his first six starts since Mike Ditka did it in 1961. The question, of course, is: Will Derek Carr have the time to find him? And what happens if/when Darrelle Revis covers the guy? That’s why we watch.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Ryan Fitzpatrick is 3-0 vs. the Raiders, with 7 TDs and one interception.
MONDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
(Cam Newton photo courtesy of the Carolina Panthers)
INDIANAPOLIS @ CAROLINA, 8:30 p.m. (EST)
The line: Carolina by 7
The story: The Panthers are undefeated. The Colts lost their last two. The Panthers have a running game. The Colts do not. The Panthers’ quarterback is confident. The Colts’ quarterback is not. The Panthers have a hermetically-sealed defense. The Colts do not. The Panthers’ head coach is a Coach-of-the-Year candidate. The Colts’ coach is a pink slip waiting to happen. What part of this don’t you understand?
Hall-of-Fame worthy: In three Monday Night starts, Cam Newton has seven passing touchdowns and two rushing scores.
LOCK OF THE WEEK
(Larry Fitzgerald photo courtesy of the Arizona Cardinals)
ARIZONA OVER CLEVELAND, 1 p.m. (EST)
The line: Cards by 6
The story: So Josh McCown looks as if he quarterbacks the Browns, but let’s be honest, people: Does it make a difference? The Cardinals have the better QB, the better running game and the better defense. They’ve also outscored two of their three road opponents by 25 or more points each this season. Check, please.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: The Cardinals’ 229 points are the second-most in franchise history through the first seven games of the season. They scored 250 in 1948.
Clark Judge. Cincinnati (+1) over Pittsburgh. Roethlisberger is 2-4 in his first games back from injury, and this time he’s facing the best Bengals’ team in years.
Ron Borges. Dallas (+6) over Seattle. Legion of Boom has the boom lowered on it when Greg Hardy smacks their coaches around instead of his own.
Rick Gosselin. Denver (+3) over Green Bay. There is no better defense in the NFL right now than the Broncos. They lead the league in defense, in pass defense and in takeaways. On its home field, this defense will be tough to beat, regardless of the opposing quarterback.
FIVE GUYS ON SUNDAY’S WALL-OF-FAME
(Alex Smith photo courtesy of the Kansas City Chiefs)
Kansas City QB Alex Smith. He’s 4-0 vs. Detroit, with four touchdowns and one interception.
Atlanta QB Matt Ryan. He’s won six of seven home starts vs. Tampa Bay, with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions and a 110.1 passer rating. In his last two at home vs. the Bucs, he has 6 touchdowns, no interceptions and a 152.8 rating.
Baltimore LB Elvis Dumervil. In his last four games vs. San Diego he has five sacks and three forced fumbles.
Chicago QB Jay Cutler. He’s 7-0 at home vs. Minnesota (6-0 with Chicago), with a rating of 100.0.
San Francisco LB Navarro Bowman. In his last two vs. St. Louis, he had 17 tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble.
HALL OF NOTES-WORTHY
Cincinnati QB Andy Dalton needs one more road win to tie Hall-of-Famer Dan Marino, Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan for most road victories (23) by a quarterback in his first five seasons during the Super Bowl era.
Arizona is 20-5 outside the division, including 4-1 this season, under Bruce Arians.
The Green Bay-Denver game marks only the fourth time in NFL history (and the first in primetime) that two 6-0 teams have met.
In the Super Bowl era 32 teams started 7-0, and all 32 made the playoffs.
The Packers not only are tied for the NFC lead in sacks with 23, but they have at least one in 42 straight games – the longest streak in franchise history and the longest current streak in the NFL.
With his next victory, Peyton Manning ties Brett Favre for most career wins (186) by a starting quarterback.
If the Broncos beat Green Bay, Gary Kubiak would become the fourth coach in his first season with a team to go 7-0. The others are Andy Reid (2013), Jim Caldwell (2009) and Ray Malavasi (1978).
Dating back to 2013, the Cardinals have held opponents to 20 or fewer points 24 times and are 22-2 in those contests. In that same span, they scored 30 or more points nine times and are 9-0 in those games.
Baltimore’s six losses have been by a total of 30 points, an average of 5.0 per game, which ties Seattle for the slimmest margin of defeat.
The 49ers are 0-3 on the road and 0-2 vs. the NFC West, not good when you consider where they play this weekend.