(Photo courtesy of Miami Dolphins)
THIS WEEK’S HALL-OF-FAME GAME
Miami @ Detroit, 1 p.m. (EST)
The line: Lions by 2-1/2
The story: Now we find out about Ryan Tannehill and the Miami Dolphins. Tannehill has been hot, with three 100-plus ratings in his last five starts, and his teammates have been hotter. They won four of their last five and came within three seconds of circling the bases. Now, however, the curve gets steeper. Miami’s next three opponents are, in order, Detroit, Buffalo and Denver. Then, after playing the New York Jets, it’s on to Baltimore and New England. Ouch. Tannehill is unpredictable, but the Miami defense isn’t. It’s a top-five unit. That’s good. Unfortunately for Tannehill & Co., Detroit’s defense isn’t just top-five; it’s top dawg … and that’s better. This won’t be decided by Tannehill or Matt Stafford. It will be decided by two of the league’s best defenses — with Detroit getting the edge. It allows an average of 15 points a game at home, and it gained the attention of Miami coach Joe Philbin, who this week said the outcome may be determined by how well his offensive line performs. I say he’s right.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Beware of Tannehill’s ability to run. He’s had scrambles of 20 or more yards in each of his last four games.
THREE OTHERS SUITABLE FOR HALL-OF-FRAMING
Kansas City @ Buffalo, 1 p.m.(EST)
The line: Chiefs by 2
The story: And here’s where we find out about Buffalo. The Bills have been surprisingly resilient, winning three of four road games. But that’s why I worry about them here. I said road games. They’re 2-2 at home and were lucky to escape Minnesota. Buffalo has been hot, but Kansas City has been hotter — wining five of its last six, including impressive victories in Miami and San Diego. Plus, the Chiefs are 3-0 vs. the AFC East. I trust them because they can play defense (they’re ranked fifth, including first vs. the pass), can run the ball (they’re ranked sixth) and have a quarterback (Alex Smith) who doesn’t make mistakes. Buffalo plays tough defense, too, and Kyle Orton is leading the league in fourth-quarter passing. But if you’re asking if I trust him to pull out another last-second win … the answer is no.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Kansas City is 4-0 when leading at halftime and outscores opponents 105-60 in the second half.
San Francisco @ New Orleans, 1 p.m. (EST)
The line: Saints by 5
The story: The Saints seem to have regained their balance, but the 49ers? Uh, not so much. In fact, they’re in such a funk that GM Trent Baalke agreed with Hall-of-Fame quarterback Steve Young’s assessment that the club is “broken.” I don’t know about that. What I do know is the 49ers lost their identity, and I’m sorry if that comes as news to offensive coordinator Greg Roman. Once, the 49ers were about defense and Frank Gore. Now, they haven’t scored a rushing touchdown in five games, and Colin Kaepernick gets sacked eight times vs. St. Louis. Guaranteed, that puts pressure on a defense, though this defense will improve with the returns of Navarro Bowman and Aldon Smith. One problem: They’re not returning now … and the 49ers could use them. Drew Brees and the Saints’ offense is back on track, checking in at No. 2 in this week’s rankings. Plus, they’re in a stadium where they haven’t lost in 11 games and where their head coach, Sean Payton, hasn’t lost in his last 20 (including the playoffs). Impressive, huh? Try this: Since 2008, the Saints are an NFL-best 19-5 in November. Check, please.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Brees is 6-1 vs. San Francisco and won his last 11 at home — with 34 TDs and six interceptions.
Chicago @ Green Bay, 8:30 p.m. (EST)
The line: Packers by 7-1/2
The story: This one is pretty easy to figure, folks. When Jay Cutler plays Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, he plays for second. Sorry, but that’s just the way it is … and the envelope, please: Since joining Chicago in 2009, Cutler is 1-9 vs. Green Bay (including the playoffs), with 12 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. And, no, that’s not good if you’re the Bears and looking for a way out of a 1-4 slide. Rodgers, meanwhile, is on fire and is 11-2 vs. Chicago. His receivers, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, are on fire, too. But the Bears are bumbling, stumbling and grumbling — with critics starting to jump coach Marc Trestman, who insists the organization is “behind” him. Great … but that’s not the issue. It’s what’s in front of him that matters — namely, Green Bay and Detroit — and unless he and the Bears respond soon the Bears can start making early reservations for January tee times. Remember, Chicago allows an average of 27.75 points per game, its pass defense ranks 23rd and it plays the top-rated passer in the league. If this sounds like a mismatch, it’s only because it is.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Under Mike McCarthy, the Packers are 7-1 after a bye.
… AND ONE THAT’S NOT
Atlanta @ Tampa Bay, 1 p.m. (EST)
The line: Falcons by 2-1/2
The story: The Falcons lost 12 of their last 13 away from the Georgia Dome. The Bucs are one of three teams (Oakland and Chicago are the others) not to win at home this season. Talk about a Clash of the Munchkins. Both teams stink, with one difference: Tampa Bay’s Lovie Smith isn’t in the midst of a Farewell Tour. Atlanta’s Mike Smith might be, despite walloping Tampa Bay earlier this season (the Falcons led 56-0 after three quarters). Bad enough to blow games on this continent, but when you take that act to an international audience … it’s time to contact the realtor.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: In Matt Ryan’s last six games vs. the Bucs he has a 113.4 passer rating. When Ryan starts and posts a rating of 100 or better the Falcons are 36-3.
UPSET OF THE WEEK
Clark Judge — Miami (+2-1/2) over Detroit. Calvin Johnson’s return is a plus for the home team, but I have trouble buying these guys — especially after watching them vs. Atlanta, a game they should’ve lost. This time, Miami won’t bungle the finish.
Ron Borges –Buffalo (+2) over Kansas City. The Chiefs are looking to sweep the AFC with a win in Buffalo and have won five of their last six. But the Bills have had nearly two weeks to prepare and are at home. I like th home dog to have some bite. Take the Bills.
Rick Gosselin –Buffalo (+2) over Kansas City. Buffalo is home and can stop the run. That puts the pressure on Alex Smith.
LOCK OF THE WEEK
Denver over Oakland (+11-1/2). The Broncos are 6-2; the Raiders haven’t won once … in their last 14 starts. Not good. Now it gets worse. Peyton Manning is coming to town, and he won his last seven against these guys, throwing for 18 touchdowns and five interceptions. Raiders’ coach Tony Sparano says he wants to bury the past, so last month he buried a football in front of his team. That may make for great theater, but it doesn’t make for an improved outlook. It’s the Raiders who get buried here. Again.
FIVE GUYS WHO COULD MAKE SUNDAY’S WALL OF FAME
1. Kansas City LB Justin Houston. He has 10 sacks and a forced fumble in his last six starts and aims for his seventh straight game with at least one sack.
2. Miami DE Cameron Wake. He has 11 sacks and two forced fumbles in his last nine starts vs. the NFC.
3. Dallas QB Tony Romo. In his last seven games vs. the AFC, he’s completed 70 percent of his passes, with 14 touchdowns, two interceptions and a 109.5 rating. Now we know why Dr. Jerry Jones was so interested in flying him to England.
4. Denver WR Demaryius Thomas. He aims for his sixth straight game with 100 yards in catches.
5. Seattle QB Russell Wilson. He’s 20-2 at home, with 36 touchdowns, nine interceptions and a passer rating of 103.2. Oh, yeah, he’s also playing the woebegone Giants.
HALL OF NOTES-WORTHY
1. In every season since 1987 at least one team with a record of .500 or below at the halfway point makes it to the playoffs. Last year, it was Philadelphia (3-5) and San Diego (4-4) that made it.
2. It should come as no surprise that passing numbers are up, with an average of 487.8 net yards per game. If that were to stand, it would break last season’s mark of 471.2. Quarterback passer ratings are up, too, with the league average of 91.2. The previous high was 86.0, also set last year.
3. Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger has an NFL-record 12 touchdown passes the past two weeks. If he throws four vs. the Jets Sunday … and, remember, it’s the Jets … Big Ben would set the league mark for most TD passes in a three-week span.
4. Denver’s Von Miller (9) and DeMarcus Ware (8) are just the eighth pair of teammates in league history to have eight sacks apiece through their team’s first eight games. The last to do it were Tampa Bay’s Warren Sapp (10.5) and Marcus Jones (10) in 2000.
5. Andrew Luck has thrown for 300 yards in his lasts seven games and is on pace to break Peyton Manning’s league record of 5,477 yards passing, set last season.
6. The New York Jets have only three takeaways, including one interception.
7. DeMarco Murray is on pace to finish with 2,014 rushing yards.
8. Wes Welker needs one touchdown catch to become the third undrafted player (Antonio Gates and Rod Smith are the others) to have 50 scores for a career.
9. Arizona has won eight of its last nine at home and is an NFL-best 14-3 overall over its last 17 starts. With a win Sunday, the Cards would have their best record since 1948 (8-1) and their best home start (5-0) since 1976.
10. The Baltimore Ravens haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in an NFL-best 19 straight games. Arizona is second at 18.