The Sunday GPS: Clock starts ticking on Steelers’ Big Ben


Ben Roethlisberger photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Steelers

GOLD JACKET GAME OF THE WEEK

PITTSBURGH @ KANSAS CITY, 4:25 p.m. (EDT)

The line: Chiefs by 4

The weather: Sunny, high of 61

The story: So after melting down vs. Jacksonville, Ben Roethlisberger says, “Maybe I don’t have it anymore.” Well, maybe we don’t believe him. Yes, Roethlisberger has more interceptions (7) than touchdown passes (6). And, yes, the Steelers failed to produce a touchdown last week vs. Jacksonville. But it happens. Roethlisberger and the Steelers are a legit playoff threat, and, maybe, just maybe, all the intrigue and drama surrounding him and his underachieving teammates this week produces change. All I know is that the last time these two met in the regular season Big Ben struck gold — throwing for 300 yards, with five touchdowns and no interceptions — and in seven career games vs. Kansas City (including the playoffs) he’s 6-1.

Something to consider: The Steelers have won their last six road games vs. AFC opponents.

THREE OTHERS SUITABLE FOR HALL-OF-FRAMING

GREEN BAY @ MINNESOTA, 1 p.m. (EDT)

Photo courtesy Green Bay Packers

The line: Packers by 3

The weather: Dome

The story: Sam Bradford won’t play again, the fourth time in the past five weeks he won’t start, and, frankly, it really doesn’t matter. All that does is that Aaron Rodgers is still in uniform, and that’s nothing but trouble for the Vikings. You can look it up. In nine career games at Minnesota, he’s thrown for 2,446 yards, with 20 touchdowns, two interceptions and a passer rating of 112.3. Nobody has more touchdown passes this season (13), and you saw what happened last week in the last minute vs. Dallas. He didn’t have security blanket Jordy Nelson, and he still drove his team 75 yards for the winning touchdown. Nope, it’s not Sam Bradford or Case Keenum or whoever takes the next snap for Minnesota who makes a difference here; it’s the guy on the other side of the field.

Something to consider: The Packers are the only team this year that hasn’t allowed a 300-yard passer.

NEW ENGLAND @ N.Y. JETS, 1 p.m. (EDT)

The line: Patriots by 9-1/2

The weather: AM showers, high of 79.

The story: Two months ago, we all agreed this was the year that New York would tank, and, so far, so good. Except it’s not the Jets listing toward Sam Darnold; it’s the Giants, and nobody saw that coming. The Jets? They’re tied for first in the AFC East with Buffalo and the Patriots, and nobody saw that coming, either. The story here, though, isn’t the Jets. It’s Tom Brady and a sprained left shoulder. He says he’s OK, and if you believe that I have a pair of tickets to sell you to the San Diego Loves Dean Spanos banquet. Brady has taken far too many hits this season, and that might matter if he were, say, 40. Oh, wait a minute … The Pats have had 10 days to rest. The Jets have not. Even with one arm, Brady should prevail.

Something to consider: Josh McCown has completed 71.4 percent of his passes this season, second only to the Chiefs’ Alex Smith this season.

L.A. RAMS @ JACKSONVILLE, 4:05 p.m. (EDT)

The line: Jags by 2-1/2

The weather: Partly cloudy, high of 86

The story: This is another chapter pulled from this week’s Believe It or Don’t. The Rams are tied for first in the NFC West; the Jags are alone in first in the AFC South. Nobody in the NFC scores more than the Rams, who average 30.4 points per; few play defense better than the Jags, who lead the league with 20 sacks and 10 interceptions. Jags’ rookie Leonard Fournette is one of the best backs anywhere, with touchdowns in each of his first five starts as a pro; the Rams’ Todd Gurley may be the best back anywhere, with a league-leading seven scores and 646 yards from scrimmage. I think you get the idea. Nothing is what it was supposed to be … which means we might have a game where neither Blake Bortles or Jared Goff throws a pick.

Something to consider: Bortles has been sacked two or fewer times in eight consecutive games.

OUR BEST BETS

(Picks are vs. the spread)

RICK GOSSELIN (Season record: 3-2). HOUSTON (– 9-1/2). The Browns break in a new starter at quarterback this week, and even without J.J. Watt this is not a defense an inexperienced QB wants to face.

RON BORGES (Season record: 2-3). NEW ENGLAND (– 9-1/2). The Jets and Patriots may be tied at 3-2, but the day Josh McCown beats Tom Brady is not Sunday

CLARK JUDGE (Season record: 2-3). ATLANTA (– 12-1/2). The Dolphins have two offensive touchdowns in the past three weeks. Check, please.

BROTHERS IN ARMS

Sunday’s San Francisco-Washington game features two Michigan State quarterbacks, the Redskins’ Kirk Cousins and the 49ers’ Brian Hoyer, and I know what you’re thinking: Yeah, big deal. Well, actually, it is. Only four colleges have two starting quarterbacks in the NFL — North Carolina State (and, no, I’m not counting Russell Wilson; he’s down for Wisconsin), Cal, Florida State and the Spartans — and N.C. State and Florida State have two playing by default: Oakland’s EJ Manuel started last week in place of the injured Derek Carr, and the Colts’ Jacoby Brissett plays in place of the injured Andrew Luck. Which means … which means only Cal and Michigan State have two starters playing on merit.

SUNDAY’S HALL OF FAMERS

KANSAS CITY QB ALEX SMITH. With a passer rating of 100 or better, he joins Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Carson Palmer as the only quarterbacks in league history to have ratings of 100 or better in each of their first six regular-season starts of a season.

JACKSONVILLE RB LEONARD FOURNETTE. With a touchdown Sunday, he would join New England’s Robert Edwards (1996) as the only rookie running backs to have a TD in each of their first six games.

HOUSTON WR DE ANDRE HOPKINS. He has five TDs in his past three home games.

NEW ORLEANS QB DREW BREES. He’s thrown for over 300 yards in each of six career meetings with Detroit.

NEW ENGLAND QB TOM BRADY. In his last 13 games vs. the Jets he’s thrown for 26 touchdowns, with just four interceptions. He’s also 11-2.

ARIZONA QB CARSON PALMER. He aims for his seventh consecutive home game with 300 yards passing.

OAKLAND WR MICHAEL CRABTREE. He aims for his fifth straight game vs. the Chargers with a touchdown catch.

TEN THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW

  1. With a win Sunday, Tom Brady surpasses Brett Favre and Peyton Manning for most career regular-season wins. Brady is tied with them at 186.
  2. The Broncos have the AFC’s best record coming off of byes. They’re 21-7.
  3. The Vikings, Redskins and Falcons are the only teams that rank in the top 10 in offense and defense.
  4. The Lions and Cowboys are the only teams that haven’t had a 300-yard passer this season.
  5. Drew Brees has been sacked a league-low four times this year.
  6. The 49ers are the league’s most penalized team, with 49 calls for 385 yards.
  7. Tom Brady is tied with Brett Favre as the only quarterbacks with 23 or more wins vs. two divisional opponents. Brady has 23 vs. the Jets and 26 vs. Buffalo. Favre had 26 vs. Detroit and 23 vs. Chicago.
  8. Green Bay is the only team with four touchdowns on opening drives this year. The Packers also lead the league with 27 points on their opening series. Want more? Try this: Green Bay scored touchdowns the past two weeks on nine of 10 possessions inside opponents’ 20-yard line.
  9. Over the past 15 years the Baltimore Ravens are 24-4 vs. the NFC when they’re at home. Nobody has a better inter-divisional record.
  10. Jacksonville has three wins this year by 20-plus points. The Jags had three wins by 20-plus the previous seven seasons combined.
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