(Photo courtesy of New England Patriots)
THIS WEEK’S HALL-OF-FAME GAME
Denver @ New England, 4:25 p.m. (EST)
The line: Broncos by 3
The story: It’s Brady-Manning XVI, and enjoy it while you can. These are two of the best quarterbacks in NFL history, and they won’t be around forever. Brady leads the series 10-5, but Manning beat him in last season’s AFC championship game to advance to his third Super Bowl. OK, so Manning leads the league in passer rating. Over his last four games, Brady has been as good — if not better — with 14 TD passes and no interceptions. So much is written about these two, however, that we forget there are others involved, and, as it was last year, the others for Denver are superior to the others for New England — particularly on defense where the Broncos rank fourth overall and have two of the game’s best edge rushers (DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller). How the Patriots’ tackles handle those two … if they handle them at all … may determine the outcome of this game.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: New England is 26-3 at home over its last 29 regular-season starts, including a defeat of Denver last year in a game where it trailed 24-0 at the half. The Patriots won their last 13 regular-season games at Gillette Stadium.
THREE OTHERS SUITABLE FOR HALL-OF-FRAMING
Arizona @ Dallas, 1 p.m. (EST)
The line: Cowboys by 3-1/2
The story: Look, I don’t know if Tony Romo plays. What I do know is that he has an aching back that Dr. Jerry Jones can’t cure. Fortunately for Jones and the Cowboys, there’s relief for Romo. It’s called DeMarco Murray. With him running over, around and through opponents, Romo can play spectator and hand off the ball to the mid-season MVP. Unfortunately for both of them, Arizona has the league’s No. 3-ranked run defense and hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in 17 consecutive games — which means Murray’s streak of 100-yard starts may end here. Worse, it could put the heat on Romo, and the only heat he needs at this point is a compress on his back. I know Dallas is better than we imagined. But so is Arizona, with defeats of San Francisco, San Diego and Philadelphia.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Since 1966, Romo has the league’s best record in November (24-5) for quarterbacks with 20 or most starts.
Philadelphia @ Houston, 1 p.m. (EST)
The line: Eagles by 2
The story: There are a couple of reasons I agree with the oddsmakers here: 1) The Texans’ quarterback. They don’t have one. And 2) Houston’s record vs. winning teams. It’s 1-3. I know, Ryan Fitzpatrick can get by as long as he has Arian Foster carrying the ball, but maybe he can’t get by here. Philadelphia can put up a lot of points in a hurry — that is, as long as Nick Foles isn’t committing red-zone turnovers (he has seven interceptions in his last four starts) — and if that happens Columbia University has as much chance of winning this weekend as former Harvard quarterback Fitzpatrick.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Philadelphia has allowed only two sacks over its last six games, its best streak since 1982.
Baltimore @ Pittsburgh, 8:30 p.m. (EST)
The line: Ravens by 1-1/2
The story: Just when you’re ready to write off the Steelers they go out and put up 51 points and 639 yards on Indianapolis. That won’t happen here because it never happens between these two. Games almost always are close, and they’re almost always defensive struggles. OK, so the Ravens waxed Pittsburgh earlier this year, but not here … not now. This is a different Steelers club. It can protect quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and Big Ben is shredding opponents — with eight touchdowns and no interceptions over his last two starts. Combine that with the loss of Baltimore’s best defensive back, Jimmy Smith, and I have two words for concerned Ravens’ fans: Uh-oh.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Ten of the last 13 games between these two have been decided by three or fewer points.
… AND ONE THAT’S NOT
Oakland @ Seattle, 4:25 p.m. (EST)
The line: Seahawks by 15
The story: So the Seahawks aren’t themselves. So there’s locker-room unrest. So there are cracks in the Legion of Boom. These are the Oakland Raiders they’re playing, and nothing makes a team look better than having Oakland on the schedule. The last time they won was nearly a year ago, and they’re so used to losing (13 straight and counting) they can’t even keep their head coach. The line is high because Oakland can’t find its way out of the Black Hole, but keep this in mind, people: The Raiders covered in nine of the last 12 games where they were double-digit underdogs.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson is 5-0 at home vs. the AFC, with 11 touchdowns, two interceptions and a 117.6 passer rating. Including the playoffs, he’s 19-2 at home.
UPSET OF THE WEEK
Rick Gosselin — San Diego (+2-1/2) over Miami. Both have top-10 defenses, but I like San Diego’s pass offense better than Miami’s run offense.
Ron Borges — San Diego (+2-1/2) over Miami. I don’t care how far they have to fly to get to south Florida. If you can get Philip Rivers and 2-1/2 points, you better take it … unless they’re going to Denver. Which this week they’re not.
Clark Judge — Arizona (+3-1/2) over Dallas. First of all, I don’t know if Tony Romo plays. Second, I don’t know if DeMarco Murray cracks this run defense. Third, I trust Arizona more than I trust the Cowboys. Put them together, and you have an upset.
LOCK OF THE WEEK
Kansas City (+9-1/2) over the New York Jets. Once upon a time the Jets could rely on their defense to bail out underachieving quarterbacks. Not anymore. Opposing quarterbacks have a 113.5 passer rating against them. Honest. The vultures are circling Gang Green as they circle the drain, and they’ll have plenty to chew on after New York’s eighth consecutive loss.
FIVE GUYS WHO COULD MAKE SUNDAY’S WALL OF FAME
1. Kansas City QB Alex Smith. He’s 4-1 over his last five starts, with eight TD passes, one interception and a 109.7 passer rating. Now he gets to play the Jets.
2. Washington WR DeSean Jackson. Against Minnesota a year ago he had 10 catches for 195 yards and a touchdown. He has 100 or more yards in receptions in three of his last four games.
3. San Francisco QB Colin Kaepernick. He’s won his last three starts vs. St. Louis, with six touchdown passes and no interceptions. When he starts and has a rating of 100 or better the 49ers are 15-1.
4. Denver TE Julius Thomas. He needs one touchdown to become the first tight end in Broncos’ history with 10 TDs in back-to-back seasons.
5. Baltimore QB Joe Flacco. He won five of his last seven vs. Pittsburgh, with nine TD passes and only one interception.
HALL OF NOTES-WORTHY
1. Since 2000, 34 teams that reached the halfway point of the season with a record of .500 or below went on to the playoffs. Of those 34, five advanced to the conference championship game and one (New England, 2001) won a Super Bowl.
2. Brady (129.1) and Manning (127.4) ranked first and second for October among NFL quarterbacks, with each throwing 14 touchdown passes. It was the first time in league history that two quarterbacks threw for 14 or more TDs in one calendar month.
3. Opposing passers the past three weeks have ratings of 103.4 or better vs. San Diego.
4. Washington has nine straight road defeats.
5. The Colts’ Andrew Luck has thrown for at least 300 yards in each of his last six games.
6. With one TD vs. Miami, San Diego’s Antonio Gates can become the first tight end in NFL history to have 10 or more touchdown catches in four seasons.
7. Cincinnati is 12-0-1 in its last 13 regular-season games at home.
8. Carson Palmer has won 11 of his past 13 starts, including all four this season.
9. Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown has at least five catches for 50 or more yards in 24 straight games.
10. Tom Coughlin is 0-6 vs. Indianapolis.