GOLD JACKET GAME OF THE WEEK
PHILADELPHIA @ L.A. RAMS, 4:25 p.m.(EST)
The line: Rams by 1
The weather: Partly cloudy, high of 84
The story: Jared Goff was the first pick of the 2016 draft. Carson Wentz was the second. Both are success stories, with Wentz a leading MVP candidate and Goff proving he’s anything but a “bust,” as critics charged last season. But this isn’t about two of the best young quarterbacks in the game; this is about two of the most complete teams in the game. Each has a high-powered offense (each averages a league-best 30.1 points per game), both rank in the Top 10 in points allowed (the Eagles surrender an average of 17.9 per; the Rams 18.5) and both know how to protect the football (the Eagles are +7 in the takeaway/turnover differential; the Rams +6). Essentially, they’re mirror images of each other … with one difference: The Rams are home; the Eagles are not — and, yes, that’s a HUGE factor. Philadelphia’s only losses are on the road, including last week in Seattle, while the Rams not only won their last three starts at the Coliseum but outscored opponents, 92-27. Advantage: L.A.
Something to consider: Goff is much better on the road than he is at home. He has 12 TDs and one interception on the road; 8 touchdowns and five interceptions at home.
THREE OTHERS SUITABLE FOR HALL OF FRAMING
MINNESOTA @ CAROLINA, 1 p.m. (EST)
The line: Vikings by 2-1/2
The weather: Sunny, high of 42
The story: The Vikings are the top seed in the NFC and have proven they can win anyway, anyhow, anywhere (thank you, Pete Townshend). So this isn’t so much about them as it is about Carolina. The Panthers need a win here to stay in the wide-open NFC South race, and it can happen … especially the way Cam Newton has been playing. In his last three home games, he has six touchdowns and no interceptions — and he hasn’t thrown a pick in his last four starts, period. But if he couldn’t solve the Saints’ defense … and he couldn’t … how is he going to beat these guys? Normally, I’d say that’s where the Carolina defense comes in, but one thing about the Panthers this season: They don’t know what a turnover looks like … not unless they’re committing it. They have 11 all year, and only two teams (Oakland and Atlanta) have fewer. That means it’s up to Cam to pull his Superman routine, and good luck. The Vikings rank second in total defense, second in points allowed and first in third-down stops.
Something to consider: Minnesota leads the league with 50 points scored in the last two minutes of the second quarter. Carolina is second with 42 .
SEATTLE @ JACKSONVILLE, 4:25 p.m. (EST)
The line: Jaguars by 2-1/2
The weather: Sunny, high of 55
The story: The Seahawks gained national attention with last weekend’s defeat of Philadelphia, and they should have. They ended a nine-game win streak by what was then the league’s best club. But keep this in mind: It happened in Seattle, where the Seahawks have one of the league’s strongest home-field advantages. So that wasn’t as much a test as this game is … and for one simple reason: The Seahawks … particularly their offense … don’t travel well, and you can look it up. They average 20.3 points per game on the road (28 at home) where, incidentally, they won their last four. But three of those opponents have losing records, including the Giants and 49ers (a combined 4-20), so this is a chance to measure them … as well as the surprising Jaguars. Jacksonville leads the league in sacks, but good luck catching Russell Wilson, guys. He’s the key to everything here, responsible for 85.6 percent of Seattle’s offense and 29 of 30 of the Seahawks’ TDs. Blake Bortles isn’t going to outplay him, but if the Jags can do what Philadelphia could not — namely, minimize the damage Wilson inflicts — they can survive.
Something to consider: In his last 10 starts vs. the AFC, Wilson has thrown for 3,203 yards, with 32 touchdown passes, four interceptions and a 123.5 passer rating.
BALTIMORE @ PITTSBURGH, 8:30 p.m. (EST)
The line: Steelers by 4-1/2
The weather: Partly cloudy, high of 32
The story: Baltimore is making another run for the playoffs, and the Steelers are the only speed bump in their way. You can look it up: Of the Ravens’ four remaining opponents, only Pittsburgh has a winning record. And the others? Cleveland, Indianapolis and Cincinnati have a combined record of 8-28. That’s the good news. The bad: The Steelers won their last seven and are 4-1 at home. What’s more, they clobbered Baltimore (26-9) when the two met earlier this year. But the Steelers are reeling from the loss of linebacker and leading tackler Ryan Shazier, who just underwent spinal surgery, and are squeezing by opponents they should hammer. Nevertheless, they’re winning, and a win is a win is a … I think you get the idea. The Baltimore- Pittsburgh rivalry is the NFL’s best, most physical and most competitive rivalry, so don’t expect another beatdown. The Ravens are coming off their best offensive effort of the year, have won their last three and cart out a defense that has three shutouts and leads the league in takeaways. Key guy here: Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Brown. He has five games this year with 100 yards AND 10 receptions, but he struggles vs. the Ravens. He has only three TDs and two 100-yard games in 14 games against them.
Something to consider: The Ravens are 6-2 this season when rushing for 100 yards.
A PARADE FOR THE BROWNS?
It could happen. Honest. That’s because Cleveland’s Chris McNeil has asked for $10,000 on GoFundMe to bankroll a “Perfect Season” parade for the Browns if/when they finish 0-16 (www.brownsparade.com). He did the same thing a year ago, but when the Browns rained on their own parade by beating the Chargers he donated the money ($10,000) to the Greater Cleveland Food Bank. After the Browns matched that figure and then-defensive coordinator Ray Horton added another $5,000, McNeil wound up with an estimated $50,000 that was donated to the food bank. Now fast-forward to this season, and look what’s happened: Excedrin just jumped in to contribute the final $7,683 to sponsor the event if/when it happens, and smart move, people. Because you can book it. Look at the schedule, and tell me where there’s a victory. Maybe Chicago on Dec. 24, but Christmas never comes early for the Browns. Not now it doesn’t. So I don’t see one. And the Browns won’t, either.
OUR BEST BETS
(All picks are vs. the spread)
RON BORGES (Season record: 8-5) — ARIZONA (+3). The situation is right. The timing is right. And one of these days Arizona will be right. This is that week.
RICK GOSSELIN (Season record: 7-6) — NEW ENGLAND (–11). Don’t be fooled by Miami’s 26-point defeat of Denver last weekend. The Broncos couldn’t score. The Patriots can. And will.
CLARK JUDGE (Season record: 5-8) — BUFFALO (–4). I don’t care who quarterbacks the Bills. There’s going to be snow. The Colts stink. They’re an indoor team. The Bills are still in playoff contention. They love the winter (usually downhill sledding). Put them all together, and you have a Bills’ victory.
SUNDAY’S HALL OF FAMOUS
MINNESOTA QB CASE KEENUM. He completed his last 15 passes last week. Tommy Kramer’s team record is 16, set in 1979. Keenum also has a 100-plus passer rating in his last four starts.
ARIZONA WR LARRY FITZGERALD. With 26 yards receiving Sunday he passes Randy Moss (15,292)for third on the career yardage list.
PITTSBURGH WR ANTONIO BROWN. He’s only 12 catches away from becoming the first receiver in NFL history to produce five consecutive 100-catch seasons.
CINCINNATI WR A.J. GREEN. With 64 yards receiving he becomes the first player in league history to have 950 yards receiving in each of his first seven seasons.
HOUSTON DE JADEVEON CLOWNEY. He has six sacks and 12 tackles for losses in his last six games.
KANSAS CITY QB ALEX SMITH. He has 17 touchdowns and three interceptions in his last eight starts vs. Oakland.
DALLAS TE JASON WITTEN. He has 153 receptions and 14 touchdowns vs. the Giants, both career highs vs. opponents.
ARIZONA DE CHANDLER JONES. He has six sacks and a forced fumble in his last four games at home.
TEN THINGS YOU PROBABLY SHOULD KNOW
- If and when the Eagles clinch the NFC East it will mark the 14th time in the past 15 years that at least one team won its division a year after finishing last or tied for last.
- Andy Dalton has 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in his last six starts.
- The Chargers’ Keenan Allen is the only player in league history to have 10 or more catches for 100 or more yards and a touchdown in each of three consecutive games.
- The Ravens lead the league in takeaway/turnover differential at +14 and in takeaways with 29.
- Sunday’s game marks the first appearance for Tennessee at the University of Phoenix Stadium.
- Since taking over as the Vikings’ starter, Case Keenum is 8-2, with 16 TDs, five interceptions and a career-best 98.6 passer rating.
- Minnesota has allowed 15 runs of 10 or more yards, best in the NFL. Tennessee is second, allowing 22.
- The Chargers lead the league in fewest sacks allowed with 13. Minnesota is second with 14.
- There are three teams (New England, Pittsburgh and Minnesota) with winning streaks of seven or more games.
- Since Ron Rivera took over Carolina in 2011, the Panthers are 20-7 in December. Only New England (22), Seattle (21) and Green Bay (21) have more victories.