GOLD JACKET FEATURE
JACKSONVILLE @ KANSAS CITY, 1 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Chiefs by 3
The weather: Thunderstorms, high of 66
The story: Jacksonville coach Doug Marrone joins the chorus applauding Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, calling him “an MVP quarterback” and saying, “I don’t think words can put into perspective how well he’s playing.” He’s right, of course, but then Mahomes hasn’t played the league’s best pass defense … until now. So what happens? I don’t know, but I’ve learned not to underestimate the Jaguars. They frazzled last year’s MVP quarterback in the AFC championship game until Tom Brady turned into Tom Terrific and did what he usually does in January. The Jags believe they’re Super Bowl worthy, the Chiefs believe they are, too, and a lot of people outside of New England believe this could be a preview of the AFC championship game. So what we have here is simple: A premier defense that calls itself “Sack-sonville” trying to shut down a premier quarterback whom Denver’s Von Miller calls “great,” and you make the call. It’s the irresistible force vs. the immovable object, with the Jags allowing three touchdown passes this season and Mahomes throwing a league-best 14 TD passes.
Something to consider: The Chiefs’ defense ranks last in total yards and 31st vs. the pass but is first in third-down percentage at 23.8.
THREE OTHERS SUITABLE FOR HALL-OF-FRAMING
ATLANTA @ PITTSBURGH, 1 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Pittsburgh by 3
The weather: PM thunderstorms, high of 81
The story: Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin isn’t worried about an apparent disconnect between Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, saying the two will “smooth it out.” But he should be concerned, and not about Big Ben and his favorite receiver … but about his defense. It’s porous, it doesn’t blitz and it ranks 28th in yards and 27th in points allowed. In short, it’s as terrible as those Steelers’ towels. But so is the Pittsburgh running game … if you want to call it that. A week ago, the Steelers had 19 total yards rushing, their lowest since 1970, provoking coaches to promise James Conner more touches. That’s great, but let’s be real: The arrow won’t point up until Le’Veon Bell reports, and that’s not happening until the end of the month. Of course, Atlanta’s defense is rotten, too, but at least the Falcons have an excuse: Injuries. They’ve already lost three starters for the season. So this one is pretty basic: It comes down to Matt Ryan vs. Roethlisbeger, and choose your weapons. The arms race is here.
Something to consider: A sign of things to come? Ryan threw for 794 yards, eight touchdowns and no interceptions the past two weeks … and lost both games.
MIAMI @ CINCINNATI, 1 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Bengals by 6
The weather: Partly cloudy, high of 86
The story: The Bengals say they’re starting to believe in themselves, and they should. They beat Baltimore. They stunned Atlanta on the road. In short, they look like a playoff team waiting to happen. But the season is four games old, people, and, yes, both these teams are on top of their divisions. The Bengals look legit, but Miami? Not so much. The Dolphins didn’t just get beaten by New England last week; they were annihilated, and, granted, that can happen … especially in Foxboro and especially when Patriots’ bashers are making their annual “sky-is-falling” predictions. But 100 yards passing? Please. Nevertheless, as bad as the Miami offense was, the defense was worse … and that’s where this game is decided. The Dolphins have six sacks all season. The Bengals have 10. The Dolphins are the 24th-ranked defense; the Bengals the 26th … and have the league’s worst third-down conversion percentage at 57.38. But the Dolphins are without Cameron Wake, while the Bengals return linebacker Vontaze Burfict to the lineup, and now I’m beginning to believe, too. I believe in advantage: Cincinnati.
Something to consider: From early 2015 to 2017, the Bengals failed to win a game decided by one possession. They’re 5-2 in those contests since. So what? So it demonstrates they know how to finish games, and that’s critical — especially as they’re limited at running back, with Giovanni Bernard out and Joe Mixon limited.
MINNESOTA @ PHILADELPHIA, 4:25 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Eagles by 3
The weather: Partly cloudy, high of 81
The story: This is a replay of last year’s NFC championship game … except it’s not. Not really. The quarterbacks are different, and the Vikings’ defense is different. A year ago, nobody was better. But now? Well, now coach Mike Zimmer says he’s never had a pass defense “this poor in coverage.” Uh-oh. That sounds like an alibi waiting to happen, an open invitation to the Eagles’ Carson Wentz … or both. Until he was hurt, Wentz last season was the league’s leading MVP candidate … and not because he reminded people of Randall Cunningham. He dissected defenses with his passing, and, while not quite there this time around, he says he feels like himself again. OK, then, memo to Fantasy Football owners: Start Wentz. And start Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins, too. He shredded the Rams for 422 yards last week and now plays a defense that is numero uno vs. the run but 19th vs. the pass. Plus, there’s no Dalvin Cook to keep the Eagles honest.
Something to consider: Wentz is 9-0 in his last nine home starts.
BEATING THE ODDS
RICK GOSSELIN — Atlanta (+3). These aren’t the Steelers of the past –not with this defense and not with Le’Veon Bell. (Season record: 2-1-1)
RON BORGES — L.A. Rams (–7-1/2). Not so long ago, nobody wanted to go to Seattle to face the Seahawks. Now teams can’t wait … which is why I can’t wait to see the Rams more than cover the seven-and-a-halfpoint spread. (Season record: 1-3)
CLARK JUDGE — Buffalo (+5-1/2). The Titans haven’t won a game by more than three points. The Bills are home. I’ll take a leap of faith. (Season record: 1-3)
THE WEEKEND PLAY LIST
NEW ORLEANS QB DREW BREES — The more he plays, the more records he sets. Now, with 201 passing yards vs. Washington on Monday, he passes Brett Favre (71,838) and Peyton Manning (71,890)as No. 1 on the all-time list. And with four touchdown passes he joins Tom Brady, Favre and Manning as the only quarterbacks with 500 or more TDs.
KANSAS CITY QB PATRICK MAHOMES. If he throws two more touchdown passes without an interception, he becomes the fifth quarterback in league history to open the season with at least 16 scoring passes and no picks. One of the four others is Alex Smith, the quarterback he replaced, who threw 18 before an interception last season.
MINNESOTA WR ADAM THIELEN. He can become the third receiver to open the season with five 100-yard receiving games with one team. The others are Houston’s Charley Hennigan (7) and the Rams’ Bob Boyd (5).
ATLANTA WR JULIO JONES. With nine catches Sunday, he surpasses Antonio Brown for the more receptions through his first 100 games. Brown had 622. Brown has 614 and plays his next game against … Brown’s Pittsburgh Steelers.
CAROLINA QB CAM NEWTON. He needs 27 yards to pass Randall Cunningham (4,482) as the quarterback with the most rushing yards in his career with one team.
CINCINNATI WR A.J. GREEN. He aims for his third straight game vs. Miami with 10 or more catches and 125 or more yards.
GREEN BAY QB AARON RODGERS. In his last nine games vs. the NFC North, he has 23 touchdown passes and no interceptions. He’s also 7-1-1.
DENVER LB VON MILLER. In three career games vs. the Jets he has 4-1/2 sacks and seven tackles for losses.
ARIZONA WR LARRY FITZGERALD. His 2,169 yards receiving and 17 touchdown catches vs. the 49ers are both the most against any opponent in his career.
SEATTLE QB RUSSELL WILSON. He has eight touchdown passes and no interceptions in his last four home games.
HOUSTON WR DE ANDRE HOPKINS. He has 11 touchdown catches in his last nine homes games.
There were 15 games last season where a quarterback threw at least 50 passes. There have been 11 already through four weeks.
BELIEVE IT OR DON’T
The longest current scoring streak of 20 or more points is held by a team that’s done it an NFL-best 13 consecutive times. So now the question: Who is it? If you said, “the Rams,” “Philadelphia” or “New England,” go to the back of the class. It’s the Baltimore Ravens, and it’s the longest streak in franchise history.
TEN THINGS YOU SHOULD REMEMBER
- Through four weeks, scoring is at an historic level — with points (3,030), touchdowns (344) and touchdown passes (228) at an all-time high.
- The average margin of victory is 9.90 per game, which is the lowest since 1932 when it was 9.3.
- With 30 points Sunday, the Rams become the fifth team in history to score 30 or more in each of their first five games. The 2013 Rams, the 2007 Patriots and the 2001 Rams each did it through the first eight games, the league record.
- Denver quarterback Case Keenum hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass since Week One when he threw three.
- The Steelers are 62-25 at home under Mike Tomlin but 0-2 there this season.
- Under John Harbaugh, Baltimore is 18-2 vs. Cleveland and 9-1 on the road.
- The Ravens are to the second half of this season’s game what the New York Yankees are to home runs. Nobody does it better. In the second halves of their first four games, Baltimore hasn’t allowed a touchdown, surrendered just nine points, held quarterbacks to a 47.9 passer rating and yields an average of 123 yards — all NFL bests.
- Baltimore and the L.A. Rams are the only teams that rank in the Top Five in scoring offense and scoring defense.
- Philadelphia won 13 of its last 14 home games, including the past four.
- Three of Kansas City’s four victories have been on the road, including two vs. division opponents.