GOLD JACKET GAME OF THE WEEK
GREEN BAY @ DALLAS
THE LINE: Dallas by 2.
THE WEATHER: Dome.
The story: The Packers have personally been standing in the way of Jerry Jones, Jason Garrett and the Cowboys in their bid for a sixth Lombardi Trophy. The Cowboys won the NFC East in 2014 with a 12-4 record and then claimed the top seed in the NFC in 2016 with a 13-3 mark. Both times their playoff run lasted a single game – a loss to the Packers. In 2014, the Cowboys fell in Green Bay, 26-21, when Aaron Rodgers passed for 316 yards and three touchdowns. In 2016, Dallas lost at home to the Packers, 34-31, when Rodgers passed for 355 yards and two scores. Rodgers is 5-2 in his career against the Cowboys, with a 101.7 passer efficiency rating. He has thrown 13 TD passes against only two interceptions.
Something to consider: Defending NFL rushing champion Ezekiel Elliott has faced the Packers twice in his career and rushed for 100 yards each time. A rookie in 2016, Elliott rushed for 157 yards on 28 carries in a regular-season game in Green Bay and 125 yards on 22 carries in a playoff rematch in Dallas.
THREE OTHERS SUITABLE FOR FRAMING
SEATTLE @ LA RAMS
THE LINE: The Rams by 1.
THE WEATHER: 80 degrees & clear.
The story: So who saw this coming? The Rams opened the season with a quarterback who had never won a game (Jared Goff) and the youngest head coach in NFL history (30-year-old Sean McVay). Seattle opened the season with a coach (Pete Carroll) and a quarterback (Russell Wilson) who won a Super Bowl and a defense stocked with Pro Bowlers (Cliff Avril, Bobby Wagner, Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor). But a month into the season, the 2-2 Seahawks are chasing the 3-1 Rams in the NFC West. The Rams stamped themselves as an playoff contender last week with an upset road victory over the Cowboys and can stamp themselves as the NFC West favorite with another victory at home Sunday against the Seahawks. McVay has done wonders with Goff, who ranks third in the NFL in passing, and Wade Phillips has done wonders with the defense, which now has one of the league’s better pass rushes with three former first-round draft picks in the front seven.
Something to consider: Russell Wilson has won games in 11 of the 16 NFC cities. He’s still looking for his first victories in Detroit, Green Bay, Los Angeles, New Orleans and Tampa. He has a chance to scratch L.A. from the list this weekend. In his only appearance there in 2016, Wilson failed to generate a touchdown in a 9-3 loss to the Rams.
KANSAS CITY @ HOUSTON
THE LINE: Pick ‘em.
THE WEATHER: Dome.
The story: Kansas City is the last of the NFL’s unbeatens at 4-0. It’s the third time in the last 16 years that the Chiefs were the final unbeaten standing. They also started 9-0 in 2003 and 2013 but each time lost the 10th game. Alex Smith is playing the best of any quarterback in the league – yes, better than Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers – with his 124.2 passer efficiency rating. He has not committed a turnover through four games and his backfield running mate, rookie Kareem Hunt, is the NFL’s leading rusher with 502 yards – almost 150 more than anyone else. The real test comes this week on the road against a Houston defense that ranks in the league’s Top 5. J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus will be bringing the heat on Smith.
Something to consider: The Chiefs are 4-0 for a very good reason – they don’t beat themselves. They have committed an AFC-low one turnover. That came on KCs first snap of the season – a fumble by rookie Kareem Hunt. That was 238 plays and 42 offensive possessions ago.
CAROLINA @ DETROIT
THE LINE: The Lions by 2 ½.
THE WEATHER: Dome.
The story: A year ago, the Detroit defense struggled to get off the field. The Lions lacked playmakers. Their 26 sacks were the fewest in the NFC and their 14 takeaways were second fewest. But through four weeks this season, the Lions already have a league-leading 11 takeaways and 10 sacks. That puts them on a pace for 44 takeaways and 40 sacks. Cornerback Darius Slay and safety Glover Quin have two interceptions apiece and ends Ezekiel Ansah and Anthony Zettel have combined for seven sacks. That defensive resurrection has fueled a 3-1 start by the Lions that gives them a share of the NFC North lead with the Packers. The Panthers are also 3-1 with a Top 10 rushing attack that features the legs of Cam Newton, Jonathan Stewart and Christian McCaffrey.
Something to consider: Only three NFC teams own a time of possession this season of more than 32 minutes per game – and two of them will be playing at Ford Field Sunday. The Panthers are holding onto the football for 32:44 per game and the Lions 32:30. Whomever stays on the field longer in this battle of offensive wills Sunday is the likely winner.
OUR BEST BETS:
(All choices are made vs. the spread)
RON BORGES (season record 2-2): Giants minus-3 vs Chargers. The Giants stink but so do the Chargers and Sunday somebody’s 0 has got to go. Or maybe not. Barring a tie, which would probably be fitting, take the hometeam Giants against the cross-country flying Chargers.
RICK GOSSELIN (season record 2-2): Eagles minus-6 ½ vs. Cardinals. The Eagles are 3-1 with their lone loss on the road to the NFL’s only unbeaten team. They’ll stay alone atop the NFC East for another week.
CLARK JUDGE (season record 2-2): Rams minus-1 vs Seattle. This one is very simple: The Rams score a lot of points. The Seahawks don’t. Check, please.
Eli Manning and Philip Rivers face each other for the fourth time in their careers Sunday. Manning was the first overall pick of the 2004 NFL draft by the Chargers and Rivers the fourth overall pick by the Giants. But before the day was done, the two quarterbacks were traded for each other. Manning has gone on to quarterback the Giants to two Super Bowl championships. Rivers has taken the Chargers to one AFC championship game. Both have been to Pro Bowls. Manning ranks seventh in NFL history in passing yards (49,327) and Rivers 11th (46,940). Manning also ranks seventh in career TD passes (326) and Rivers eighth (320). But Rivers is 3-0 in his career against Manning.
SUNDAY’S HALL OF FAMERS
Carolina DE Julius Peppers ranks fifth in the NFL with 4 ½ sacks and now has 148 in his career. His next sack will move him past Hall of Famer Alan Page into sole possession of seventh place on the NFL’s all-time sack list. Next up would be Chris Doleman in sixth place with 150 ½ sacks, then Jack Youngblood in fifth with 151 ½.
Buffalo CB Micah Hyde has intercepted eight passes in his last 12 games. He intercepted three in the final four games of the 2016 regular season for the Packers and another in three playoff games last January. He signed with the Bills last offseason in free agency and has intercepted three passes in his first four games. Among his victims are Matt Ryan, Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott and Matthew Stafford.
LA Rams RB Todd Gurley leads the NFL with seven touchdowns and is one of only three players to score a TD on each of the season’s first four weekends. Devonta Freeman (Falcons) and Leonard Fournette (Jaguars) are the others.
Indianapolis RB Frank Gore needs four yards to pass Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson and move into seventh place on the NFL’s all-time rushing list. Gore has rushed for 13,256 yards in his 13-year career.
Carolina QB Cam Newton has rushed for a touchdown in each of his last two games against New Orleans and New England. In so doing, Newton became the first quarterback in NFL history to rush for 50 career touchdowns. Hall of Famer Steve Young held the previous record of 43.
LA Rams K Greg Zuerlein has been perfect with his 14 field-goal tries and 14 conversion kicks this season, giving him the NFL scoring lead with 56 points. He kicked seven field goals last week against Dallas and now has made his last 18 field goals in a row. His last miss came Nov. 29, 2016 when he hit the left upright with a 48-yarder at home against Miami.
TEN THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW
1. Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers returns to the site of his greatest football triumph Sunday – AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, the home of the Dallas Cowboys. Rodgers passed for 304 yards and three touchdowns on his way to Super Bowl MVP honors in a 31-25 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers at AT&T Stadium on Feb. 6, 2011.
2. The best wide receiver tandem in the NFL today? It’s hard to argue against the Minnesota tandem of Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Diggs leads the NFL in receiving yardage (391) and Thielen ranks fourth (358). Diggs has caught 22 passes for an average of 17.8 yards per catch. Thielen has caught 24 passes for a 14.9-yard average. And the two Vikings have put up their numbers playing the last three games with a backup quarterback (Case Keenum). The Vikings visit the Bears Monday night.
3. There have been 30 individual 300-yard passing games this season. Quarterbacks having those games have a combined record of 16-14. There have been 18 100-yard rushing games this season. Running backs having those games have a combined record of 17-1 this season.
4. The Los Angeles Chargers have allowed a 100-yard rusher in each of the last three games, all losses – Jay Ajayi (122), Kareem Hunt (172) and LaGarrette Blount (136). But the Chargers catch a break this weekend when they visit the Giants, who have the 31st ranked rushing offense. New York has managed only one 100-yard rusher in its last 20 games.
5. Carson Palmer is a 39-year-old quarterback who has been feeling every bit of those 39 years these last two weeks. He has been sacked six times apiece by Dallas and San Francisco. Now here come the Eagles with Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry looking to pad their sack totals against Palmer and the Cardinals Sunday.
6. Only two NFL defenses have not allowed a 300-yard passer, a 100-yard receiver or a 100-yard rusher this season – Buffalo and Denver. The Broncos lead the NFL in defense and the Bills rank ninth. Both teams are 3-1.
7. With quarterback Derek Carr expected to miss a month or more with a fractured back, the Oakland Raiders now turn to E.J. Manuel to keep their AFC West and playoff hopes afloat. Oakland signed him in free agency last offseason as quarterback insurance. A former first-round pick of the Buffalo Bills, Manuel has 17 NFL starts under his belt. His 18th comes Sunday in Oakland against Baltimore. Manuel has started against the Ravens once before, beating them 23-20 as a rookie in 2013.
8. The Tony Corrente officiating crew has thrown 67 penalty flags for 657 yards, tops of the NFL’s 17 officiating crews. Fortunately for NFL teams and their fans, the league has given Corrente and his crew this weekend off.
9. On another officiating note, home teams have won the last six games worked by the Ronald Torbert crew. That crew has been assigned to the Kansas City game this weekend – at Houston.
10. This is the first weekend of the NFL’s scheduled byes with Atlanta, Denver, New Orleans and Washington all getting Sunday off. One guy who would prefer not to sit is Saints QB Drew Brees, who has not thrown an interception in the first four games covering 152 passes. He has passed for 1,135 yards and eight touchdowns for the 2-2 Saints.