(Photo courtesy of Arizona Cardinals)
THIS WEEK’S HALL-OF-FAME GAME
Arizona @ Seattle, 4:05 p.m. (EST)
The line: Seahawks by 6-1/2
The story: This is the time of year when we start talking about must-wins, so, Seattle, pay attention. There is no way of overstating the obvious: This is a must-win for your Seahawks. With the defending Super Bowl champions three games behind Arizona and six games remaining it doesn’t take an Einstein to figure out what’s at stake for Seattle: Win … or else. I’m not talking NFC West. That’s pretty much gone. I’m talking playoffs. The Seahawks have three more starts on the road, and that’s where they’re vulnerable. Worse, those three games are vs. San Francisco, Philadelphia and Arizona, and look out, below. So they better win their three remaining home games, starting now. I know, I know, Arizona beat these guys here a year ago in spite of four turnovers. But that was then, and this is now, and now … this is payback, baby. Nevertheless, Marshawn Lynch might want to stick around at halftime to hear what coaches have to say. There’s no better finisher anywhere than the Cardinals, who have an NFC-best +57-point differential in the fourth quarter – where, incidentally, they’ve held six of their 10 opponents scoreless. Wonder why Arizona has the league’s best record? Start there.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: The Cards held their last three opponents and four of their last five to under 300 yards in offense. They’re also 3-1 on the road. Only Dallas (4-0) has a better record.
THREE OTHERS SUITABLE FOR HALL-OF-FRAMING
Detroit @ New England, 1 p.m. (EST)
The line: Patriots by 7
The story: The Lions say they’re good enough to go to a Super Bowl. Yeah? Well, then, prove it. You lost to a backup quarterback in Arizona. Now you get to play one of the game’s best ever in a stadium where he almost never loses in a month where he almost never loses. Mission: Impossible? Not quite. But close. New England demonstrated last week it’s in playoff mode with a resounding defeat of Indianapolis, one of those wannabes that was supposed to challenge them and Denver for AFC supremacy. The Patriots ran over, around and through their opponent. They played good defense. And, of course, there was Tom Brady. Detroit, meanwhile, couldn’t score a touchdown against Arizona. OK, so this isn’t the Cardinals’ defense. It isn’t Drew Stanton, either.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: The Patriots have won 72 straight home games when leading at the half. They also scored in the last two minutes in eight of their first 10 starts this season.
Cincinnati @ Houston, 1 p.m. (EST)
The line: Texans by 1-1/2
The story: So maybe these two teams aren’t going anywhere. Still, I find the matchup fascinating because it separates contender from pretender. No, I don’t think Houston challenges the Colts in the AFC South, but I do think the Texans looked a lot better with Ryan Mallett last weekend than they did with the Amish Rifle. And, for that reason alone, that makes them intriguing. Arian Foster is iffy, but, hey, they have Alfred Blue to carve up the league’s 28th-ranked run defense and J.J. Watt to score on both sides of the ball. Having Giovani Bernard is a plus for a Bengals team no one can figure out. One day Andy Dalton produces a career-worst passer rating; the next he puts up career-best numbers. I give up with these guys, but they’ll be in the AFC North hunt to the finish. At some point they must prove they can win an important game … and this one qualifies.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: The Texans have a league-high 23 takeaways, including 11 interceptions by 10 different players.
Miami @ Denver, 4:25 p.m. (EST)
The line: Broncos by 7
The story: Miami thinks it’s playoff worthy and wonders why it doesn’t get more attention. My response: Talk to us after this weekend. If the Dolphins are good, they should be good enough to beat a struggling Broncos team. But they’re not. They have a defense that’s good for 58 minutes, then … not so much. Peyton Manning hasn’t been himself the past three weeks, with two interceptions in each game (two of which they lost), and that’s the good news for Dolphins’ fans. So is this: Tight end Julius Thomas and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders are injured and uncertain to play (Sanders returned to practice Friday). Now the bad: Manning is home where he doesn’t lose unless Rahim Moore jumps the underneath route instead of playing centerfield vs. Jacoby Jones. I don’t care who’s running the ball for Denver; it’s Manning who beats Miami. Ryan Tannehill simply can’t hold serve with the guy – not here and not now.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Demaryius Thomas can tie Calvin Johnson’s NFL record with an eighth straight 100-yaerd game.
… AND ONE THAT’S NOT
Washington @ San Francisco, 4:25 p.m. (EST)
The line: 49ers by 9
The story: The 49ers are on the bus; the Redskins are under it. Both teams have trouble scoring, but only one has a quarterback under fire … from his own coach. Jay Gruden is right: He’s talked too much about one guy. Except that one guy – OK, RG3 – has done nothing to endear himself to his coach, his teammates or what fans he has left. What is it about Washington that nothing ever seems to get resolved – inside the Beltway or without? It’s like Jason Reid of the Washington Post said, quoting a former Redskins’ assistant: “(Redskins’ Park) is like a reverse car wash: You come in clean and you come out dirty.”
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Warning to Griffin: The 49ers lead the NFL with 16 interceptions, including five vs. the Giants last week.
UPSET OF THE WEEK
Clark Judge — St. Louis (+4-1/2) over San Diego. I just don’t see how the Chargers’ offensive line can keep pass rushers off Philip Rivers. And if Rivers is hurt, which he might be, that’s not good.
Ron Borges. Arizona (+6-1/2) over Seattle. Cardinals’ Legion of Doom puts it to Seattle’s Legion of Boom.
Rick Gosselin — N.Y. Giants (+3-1/2) over Dallas. The Giants have lost five in a row, and this is too good a coach, too good a quarterback, too good a team to continue this slide.
LOCK OF THE WEEK
Philadelphia (-11) over Tennessee. The Mark Sanchez haters were out again last week after the Eagles got torched, but someone tell them he wasn’t the problem. A leaky defense was. It won’t be Sunday when Sanchez & Co. exploit holes in the Tennessee defense, and Zack Mettenberger proves an easier puzzle to solve than Aaron Rodgers. The Titans simply don’t have the manpower to match up with these guys. I say it’s over after three quarters … if not sooner. It’s not just the opponent that will keep Tennessee down; it’s the location. Philadelphia won its last nine regular-season games at home.
FIVE GUYS WHO COULD MAKE SUNDAY’S WALL OF FAME
1. Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers. He’s won eight of his last nine vs., Minnesota, with 24 touchdowns and only three interceptions. In 13 starts vs. the Vikings, he has 30 touchdowns and four interceptions.
2. New England QB Tom Brady. In his last game vs. the Lions he completed 21 of 27 for four touchdowns, with no interceptions and a perfect 158.3 rating.
3. Philadelphia RB Darren Sproles. He has four TDs (two rushing, two receiving) in three games vs. Tennessee.
4. Dallas QB Tony Romo. He won his last three vs. the Giants and seven of his last eight starts overall.
5. New Orleans QB Drew Brees. He won nine of his last 10 starts on Monday Night Football, with 29 TDs, five interceptions and a 118.6 passer rating. He aims for his third straight game vs. Baltimore with three or more touchdown passes.
HALL OF NOTES-WORTHY
1. Drew Brees has never beaten the Baltimore Ravens. Ever. He’s 0-3 vs. the Ravens.
2. Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Gates each need a touchdown pass to become the first tight ends in NFL history to have 10 TDs in four different seasons.
3. With 120 yards in receptions, Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans on Sunday becomes the first rookie wideout to have at least 120 yards in catches in four consecutive games.
4. Five teams are unbeaten at home this season: Arizona, Denver, Philadelphia, Green Bay and New England.
5. Under Bruce Arians, the Arizona Cardinals are 15-3 outside the NFC West.
6. With a victory in New Orleans, Baltimore will complete a sweep of the NFC South.
7. Baltimore’s Justin Tucker is 10-for-10 in field goals indoors, including 2-for-2 at the Superdome.
8. With a victory Sunday, New England’s Bill Belichick joins Curly Lambeau at 14 consecutive winning years. Only Tom Landry had more.
9. Philadelphia leads the league with 16 forced fumbles, two of which were returned for touchdowns.
10. Jeff Fisher is 0-7 lifetime vs. San Diego.