GOLD JACKET GAME OF THE WEEK
MINNESOTA @ WASHINGTON, 1 p.m. (EST)
THE LINE: Vikings by 1-1/2
THE WEATHER: Partly cloudy, high of 49
THE STORY: Most of the talk this week has been about a quarterback who won’t play … and that’s the Vikings’ Teddy Bridgewater. He’s been activated, with Bridgewater saying, “The dream is still alive.” Yeah, well, the Redskins won’t be if they lose another. Which is why the interest here should be a quarterback who is playing … and that’s Washington’s Kirk Cousins. Anyone who thought he might not be in for a big pay day this offseason wasn’t watching last weekend’s Seattle game. Cousins is tough, accurate and resilient … and he’ll need to command all of those qualities to overcome the NFL North leaders. But he might want to channel some of that “no place like home” attitude, too. For some reason, Cousins hasn’t been nearly as good at home the past two years as he has on the road … and you can look it up. Cousins is 6-6 the last two seasons at FedEx Field, with 19 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions. Away from home, he’s 7-5, with 19 TDs and five interceptions.
SOMETHING TO CONSIDER: The Vikings have eight scoring drives of 80 or more yards this season … or four more than they had all of last year.
THREE OTHERS WORTH HALL-OF-FRAMING
NEW ORLEANS @ BUFFALO, 1 p.m. (EST)
THE LINE: Saints by 3
THE WEATHER: Cloudy, high of 43
THE STORY: Consider this a litmus test for both teams — though it’s more like a survival course for the Bills. The Saints are on a roll, winning their last six games behind a defense that looks more like Jim Mora’s Saints than Sean Payton’s. I’m serious. They allowed 17 or fewer points in five of those games, and that’s so unlike the Saints we know. That’s the good news. The bad: They have a brutal three-game stretch that will tell us just how genuine that defense … and the Saints … are. It starts here, continues next week vs. Washington and resumes the following weekend in L.A. vs. the high-flying Rams. Buffalo looked awful last week vs. the Jets, but that can happen. The good news for the Bills is is that it doesn’t happen at home … and you can look it up. They haven’t lost there this year, and that’s encouraging for a team desperate to reach the playoffs for the first time since 1999 — the longest drought of any NFL franchise.
SOMETHING TO CONSIDER: The Saints are second only to Seattle in second-half point differential. The Saints are a plus-41.
DALLAS @ ATLANTA, 4:25 p.m. (EST)
THE LINE: Falcons by 3-1/2
THE WEATHER: Cloudy, high of 49 (Retractable roof)
THE STORY: OK, the on-again, off-again Zeke Elliott suspension is off again, and, outside of Fantasy Football owners, the biggest losers are Dak Prescott and the Dallas defense. With Elliott, the Cowboys could extend drives, take the heat off Prescott and give their defense a blow. But that was then, and this is now … and now Prescott has Alfred Morris, Darren McFadden and Rod Smith to replace Elliott, and maybe now you can see who’s going to carry this offense. Dak Prescott, come on down. His task Sunday is complicated not just by the loss of Elliott, but by the loss of tackle Tyron Smith (groin) and the opponent. The Falcons are desperate … and they’re home … and desperate teams at home are dangerous teams. Once upon a time, these guys outgunned opponents. But that seems like a lifetime ago when Atlanta led the league in scoring, Matt Ryan was the league MVP, Kyle Shanahan was the hottest thing since fried chicken waffles and the Falcons were this close to winning a Super Bowl. But now? Well, now they haven’t topped 17 in four of their last five starts — all losses — and exceeded 23 only once when they counted to 30.
SOMETHING TO CONSIDER: Atlanta’s Matt Ryan has thrown a touchdown pass in 27 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the NFL.
NEW ENGLAND @ DENVER, 8:30 p.m. (EST)
THE LINE: Patriots by 7-1/2
THE WEATHER: Partly cloudy, high of 56
THE STORY: Welcome to Tom Brady’s House of Horrors. The game’s best quarterback laps almost every opponent except this one … especially in Denver where he’s 3-7. including the playoffs, with 16 touchdowns and nine interception. OK, you say, but Brock Osweiler’s the opposing quarterback. Uh-huh, and the last time he faced Brady in Denver (November, 2015)? Yep, Brock and the Broncos won in overtime. Furthermore, in Osweiler’s last four vs. the Patriots (including the playoffs) he has 20 or more completions in each game. So don’t start circling those Paxton Lynch wagons yet. This is the start of a grueling six-week stretch for New England, with the Patriots playing five games on the road — including next week in Mexico City. Still, they have a quarterback who defies the odds and conquers just about everything … except, of course, the Broncos in Denver. And remember this: The Pats still have the league’s 32nd-ranked defense, which means … yessirreee, which means even Brock Osweiler has a shot here. Just a hunch, but this game will be closer than most people think.
SOMETHING TO CONSIDER: Brady won eight of his last 10 Sunday Night starts, but is 1-1 during that stretch vs. Denver.
OUR BEST BETS
RICK GOSSELIN (Season record: 5-4) — JETS (–2-1/2). The Bucs have no Jameis Winston, no Mike Evans and, at 2-6, no momentum. J-E-T-S, Jet! Jets! Jets!
RON BORGES (Season record: 4-5) — PATRIOTS (– 7-1/2). Patriots may be in thin air Sunday, but the Broncos are in hot water.
CLARK JUDGE (Season record 3-6) — BILLS (+3). Combine their unbeaten record at home vs. a dome opponent, and what do you get? An upset.
SUNDAY’S HALL OF FAMOUS
NEW ENGLAND COACH BILL BELICHICK. With a win Sunday, he ties Tom Landry for the third-most coaching victories (270) in his NFL career.
N. Y. GIANTS QB ELI MANNING. With his next start, he ties brother Peyton for the NFL’s second longest consecutive regular-season start streak (208) for a quarterback. Only Brett Favre (297) has started more.
MINNESOTA DE EVERSON GRIFFEN. With a sack vs. Washington, he becomes the first player in league history to have at least one in his first nine games of a season.
NEW ORLEANS QB DREW BREES. In four career games vs. Buffalo, he has nine touchdowns and no interceptions — including a five-TD, no pick performance in his last start vs. the Bills.
PITTSBURGH QB BEN ROETHLISBERGER: Attention, Fantasy-Football owners. This is the week to start Big Ben. In his last three games vs. Indianapolis, he completed 72.2 percent of his passes, with 13 TDs, no interceptions and a passer rating of 144.6.
L.A. CHARGERS QB PHILIP RIVERS. In his last five starts vs. Jacksonville, he’s completed 74.4 percent of his passes, with 15 touchdowns, 0 interceptions and a passer rating of 133.8
TEN THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW
- The Jaguars are the only team that ranks in the Top 10 in both offense and defense.
- Tennessee’s Kevin Byard has five interceptions in his last two games.
- Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles has been sacked two or fewer times in 10 of his last 11 starts.
- The Redskins have a sack in 32 consecutive games, the longest current streak in the NFL.
- Cincinnati has scored touchdowns on all eight of its Red Zone series on the road.
- The Jets, Ravens, Chargers and Vikings are the only teams not to allow a 100-yard receiver.
- The Broncos, Ravens, Browns and Jets have not allowed a 300-yard passer.
- Jacksonville is looking to win three straight games for the first time since 2013, but it won’t be easy. The Jags lost their last six consecutive to the Chargers.
- The Titans are 7-1 in their last nine home games. Their only loss was the season opener to Oakland.
- Since the beginning of 2016, Tennessee is 6-0 in games decided by three or fewer points … including their last two victories. Pittsburgh (2-0) is the only other unbeaten team in that category.