GOLD JACKET GAME OF THE WEEK
PHILADELPHIA @ SEATTLE, 8:30 p.m. (EST)
The line: Eagles by 6
The weather: Partly cloudy, high of 44
The story: The Eagles not only are on an NFL-best nine-game roll; they’re on an extended road trip that will determined just who these guys are. They go to Seattle this weekend, then fly to southern California following Sunday’s game to train next week for their game vs. the Rams. That’s two tough road games against two tough opponents, but let’s make this one easy. Their job Sunday is pretty simple: Stop Russell Wilson. Period. The Seahawks have 27 offensive touchdowns this season, and he’s either thrown or run for 26 of them. Honest. So he IS the Seattle offense. You check him, you beat the Seahawks. Yeah, I know, they can be tough defensively, but they’re no longer the Legion of Boom — not with Kam Chancellor and Cliff Avril and Richard Sherman out. The Seahawks are tough in Seattle. They’ve lost only twice there the past two years, including this season to Atlanta. But look at that game: They had to outscore the Falcons, and they couldn’t. Bottom line: If the Eagles can minimize the damage Wilson inflicts, they’re good to go.
Something to consider: The Eagles scored 30 or more points in five consecutive games, tied for the second longest streak in franchise history.
THREE OTHERS SUITABLE FOR HALL-OF-FRAMING
MINNESOTA @ ATLANTA, 1 p.m. (EST)
The line: Falcons by 3
The weather: Partly cloudy, high of 64 (retractable roof)
The story: People wonder when quarterback Case Keenum steps aside for Teddy Bridgewater, but this just in, people: Keenum was the NFC Offensive Player of the Month, the first time a Viking gained that honor since Adrian Peterson in 2015 and the first Minnesota quarterback to win it since Brett Favre in 2009. And here’s why: Keenum had a 114.0 passer rating and was sacked just twice the entire month. But this is different because this is Atlanta, the defending NFC champion, and because the Falcons suddenly look like the Falcons of 2016. Not only have they won their last three; they averaged 31.6 points during that stretch. They averaged 21.3 the previous three. What’s more, they get star running back Devonta Freeman back to a lineup that last week produced a season-high 510 yards. This is big for both sides, but bigger for Atlanta because it’s trying to remain in the playoff picture. Minnesota has all but clinched the NFC North.
Something to consider: The Vikings have 10 scoring drives of 80 or more yards — six more than they had all of last season.
DETROIT @ BALTIMORE, 1 p.m. (EST)
The line: Ravens by 3
The weather: Mostly cloudy, high of 56
The story: This feels like an elimination game, and maybe that’s because it is — with the loser all but out of the playoff picture. No, that doesn’t mean it can’t get off life support, but let’s be real: Which of these two has momentum going into December? There, you answered it. Baltimore is all about a defense that thrives on takeaways, but it’s handicapped by an offense … and a quarterback … that can’t make downfield plays. Joe Flacco doesn’t have a TD pass in four of 11 starts and ranks last in yards per completion. What’s more, the Ravens are next to last in third-down conversions. Detroit, meanwhile, has a quarterback who loves to throw, can stretch the field (Matt Stafford is tied for first in completions of 40 or more yards) and has receivers who can operate outside the numbers — which is another way of saying the Lions are one-dimensional. But Stafford is coming off an ankle injury and is a sack … and turnover … waiting to happen. He’s been sacked 36 times and lost six fumbles. If that doesn’t change, the Lions are in deep kimchi.
Something to consider: The Ravens have an NFL-best 26 takeaways, including a league-high 18 interceptions.
CAROLINA @ NEW ORLEANS, 4:25 p.m. (EST)
The line: Saints by 4-1/2
The weather: Dome
The story: This is all about who’s going to rise again in the NFC South. The Saints and Carolina are tied at 8-3, with Carolina winning its last four and New Orleans winning eight of the last nine — a run, incidentally, that started with a 34-13 demolition of Carolina. But those were the days when Cam Newton wasn’t running (he had only three carries that afternoon), and Drew Brees was … well, Drew Brees. Normally, you might bill this as a Brees vs. Newton Winner-Take-All, but there’s nothing normal about what’s going on here. Newton is back to running again, and Brees doesn’t throw for 400 yards every other week. That’s because the Saints are — dare we say it?– balanced, with as many touchdowns rushing (16) as they have passing. They’re also vastly improved on defense. The Panthers are the league’s second-ranked defense and rank fifth in rushing, with Newton running over, around and through opponents and rookie running back Christian McCaffrey the team’s leading receiver. The Saints get the edge here for two reasons: 1) They walloped Carolina earlier this year, and 2) they’re home, where, since 2008, they have the league’s sixth-best record.
Something to consider: The Saints ranked first in third-down conversions the past three seasons. They’re 14th this year.
NEVER TOO OLD TO BE REMEMBERED
Former Cardinals’ quarterback Jim Hart on Sunday will be included in the team’s Ring of Honor during halftime of its game with the L.A. Rams — an honor he described as “out of this world.” An undrafted rookie free agent, Hart spent 18 of his 19 NFL seasons with the Cardinals and set club records for pass attempts, completions, passing yards and touchdowns. The 17th member of the Cards’ Ring of Honor, Hart’s best years were under then-coach Don Coryell, with the Cards winning three division titles and Hart leading 10 game-winning drives during that time
And speaking of Coryell … the L.A. Chargers on Sunday will pay homage to the Hall-of-Fame nominee and his Hall-of-Fame quarterback, Dan Fouts, by wearing their Royal Blue color-rush uniforms and yellow facemasks from the Coryell era. In addition, the club will honor Hall-of-Famers Fred Dean, Charlie Joiner and Ron Mix with updated Hall-of-Fame rings at halftime of their game with the Browns.
OUR BEST BETS
(Picks made vs the spread)
RON BORGES (Season record: 7-5) — SEATTLE (+6). Philadelphia is on a roll, but if the Eagles are going to stumble road trip to Seattle’s loud venue is a likely place.
RICK GOSSELIN (Season record 6-6) — GREEN BAY (–2). The Packers are home to a sub-.500 team, and the Bucs can’t rush the passer. I’d take the Packers in this game, no matter if it’s Brett Hundley or Aaron Rodgers quarterbacking.
CLARK JUDGE (Season record 5-7) — CHARGERS (–14). So Josh Gordon returns. Big deal. The Chargers are hot, the Browns are not and this is a rout waiting to happen.
SUNDAY’S HALL OF FAMOUS
PITTSBURGH QB BEN ROETHLISBERGER. With 238 yards passing Sunday, he becomes the eighth quarterback in NFL history to reach 50,000 for his career … and just the fifth to do it in under 200 games.
PITTSBURGH WR ANTONIO BROWN. With three catches, he surpasses Hall-of-Famer Marvin Harrison for the most catches (563) in a five-year span. Brown has 561.
ARIZONA WR LARRY FITZGERALD. With three receptions vs. the Rams, he becomes just the fourth receiver in NFL history to have 75 or more catches in each of 10 seasons.
CAROLINA DE JULIUS PEPPERS. He has 8-1/2 sacks. With one-and-a-half more, he becomes the third player in league history (Hall-of-Famers Bruce Smith and Kevin Greene are the others) to have 10 sacks at the age of 37 or more.
BALTIMORE PK JUSTIN TUCKER. He hit six field goals, including game-winning 61-yarder, the last time the Ravens and Vikings met.
NEW ENGLAND QB TOM BRADY. In his last five vs. Buffalo, he has 16 touchdown passes, one interception and a passer rating of 111.7.
JACKSONVILLE QB BLAKE BORTLES. In his last five starts vs. Indianapolis, he has eight touchdown passes, no interceptions and two scores rushing.
N.Y. JETS QB JOSH McCOWN. In his last three home starts, he has six touchdown passes, no interceptions and one TD rushing.
ARIZONA DE CHANDLER JONES. In four career games vs. the Rams he has 4-1/2 sacks and two forced fumbles.
TEN THINGS YOU PROBABLY SHOULD KNOW
- Philadelphia this Sunday can become the sixth team in history — and the first since the 1999 St. Louis Rams — to win five consecutive games by 20 or more points.
- Matt Ryan has thrown a touchdown pass in 29 straight games, the longest active streak.
- Jacksonville leads the league with six defensive touchdowns.
- Andy Reid is 5-0 vs. the Jets.
- Houston’s Jadeveon’s Clowney has six sacks and 11 tackles for losses in his last five games.
- Under Baltimore coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens are 11-1 at home vs. the NFC in November and December.
- The Vikings have allowed only 11 runs of 10 or more yards, the fewest in the NFL. Denver and Tennessee are tied for second with 20 each.
- Arizona’s Chandler Jones not only is tied for the league lead in sacks with 12; he leads the NFL in tackles for losses (20) and quarterback hits (26).
- The Lions have gone 63 consecutive games without a 100-yard rusher.
- Ben Roethlisberger is 11-2 in his career at Cincinnati and 20-7 vs. the Bengals overall.