GOLD JACKET GAME OF THE WEEK
PITTSBURGH @ DETROIT, 8:30 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Steelers by 3
The weather: Dome
The story: The Lions can’t wait to turn back their clocks, and here’s why: Under Jim Caldwell they’re 3-0 after byes, and, OK, fine. But look what happened last year: They won their first four after taking a week off. And look what happened the year before that; They were 3-0 after the bye … and a 1-7 start. That could happen again, but only if their offense responds … which, frankly, it hasn’t this season. They’re ranked 30th, and quarterback Matt Stafford — the highest-paid player in the game — has just one 300-yard passing game … and that was in a resounding loss to New Orleans. But that’s not all.. Five of their 19 touchdowns belong to the defense, and Stafford has been sacked on nearly 10 percent of his dropbacks – including 17 in the past three games. So what? So that may not improve if Brian Mihalik makes his first career start at left tackle … which, it appears, he will. It’s not just that it’ll be difficult to stay with an offense that features Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell; it’s that it will be difficult to solve their defense, too. The Steelers rank second in the league in sacks with 24.
Something to consider: The Lions have produced next to nothing on opening drives: A field goal and two defensive TDs.
THREE OTHERS SUITABLE FOR HALL-OF-FRAMING
OAKLAND @ BUFFALO, 1 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Bills by 2-1/2
The weather: AM showers, high of 48
The story: Only three teams won all their home games, and Buffalo is one of them at 3-0. In fact, it’s the only one in the AFC. Reason: Turnovers. The Bills don’t make them while their opponents do … and you can look it up. Buffalo has three this season, while its opponents committed 13 – a plus-10 ratio that leads the NFL. Then there’s Oakland. The Raiders are the only team without an interception. That’s 219 throws without a pick, folks, and that’s one reason Buffalo is the favorite. The other: LeSean McCoy. He touched the ball 28 times last weekend, scored twice and Buffalo held off Tampa Bay. Sounds like a formula for success. With starting cornerback E.J. Gaines out, look for Buffalo to ride McCoy and its 13th-ranked rushing attack hard, hoping to keep Derek Carr and a revitalized passing attack on the bench.
Something to consider: The Raiders will spend the week in the East. Following Sunday’s game they travel to Sarasota, Fla., where they will prepare for their Nov. 5 game vs. Miami.
HOUSTON @ SEATTLE, 4:05 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Seahawks by 6-1/2
The weather: Partly cloudy, high of 62
The story: Bad enough that the Texans have to win in Seattle, one of the most hostile environments in the NFL. Worse, that they have to solve the Legion of Boom — a unit that allows 15.7 points per game and a total … total … of nine points in the fourth quarter — and that they have to do it with a rookie quarterback. But now we have the Bob McNair mess, and there’s no telling what impact that has on Houston, Seattle or this game. Reports have the Texans doing everything from kneeling during the National Anthem to staying in the locker room to ripping decals off their helmets. Bottom line: They seem more focused on that than this game. Cornerback Richard Sherman suggested that if contracts were guaranteed, the Texans wouldn’t play … which is fine, except A) Richard Sherman doesn’t play for Houston and B) contracts are guaranteed. So we know the Texans will show up, and we know they will play. Then what? Stay tuned.
Something to consider: This is Seattle’s chance to move onward and upward. Three of the Seahawks’ next four games are home, where they’re unbeaten.
DALLAS @ WASHINGTON, 4:25 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Cowboys by 2
The weather: Rain, high of 61
The story: The Redskins haven’t beaten Dallas at home since their division-clinching defeat in Week 12 of the 2012 season, and that better change or else … or else they fade from the NFC East race, where Philadelphia is 6-1. Scoring shouldn’t be a problem for the home team. Washington has 20 or more points in each of its last five games. But how do the Redskins stop Zeke, Dak and Dez? The Cowboys are coming off their most complete game of the year, but we know virtually nothing about them, other than they can beat the teams they should beat. Their wins are over opponents that are a combined 4-17, and their losses … well, they’re all to teams .500 or better – and the Redskins are .500. Washington can get after the quarterback, with sacks in 30 consecutive games, the longest active record in the league … but that won’t determine the outcome of this game. What happens to Elliott – perhaps playing his last game before serving an NFL suspension – will. Dallas is the second-ranked rushing team in the league, averaging 147-1/2 yards per game.
Something to consider: In each of their last five games, the Redskins scored on their opening series and held opponents scoreless on their first possessions. They’ve outscored opponents by 23 in the first quarter, second only to Philadelphia (+35).
OUR BEST BETS
(Winners are chosen vs. the spread)
RICK GOSSELIN (Season record: 4-3): NEW ORLEANS (– 9-1/2) vs. Chicago: With four straight victories, New Orleans is the hottest team in football. The Saints won each of those game nine or more points, and their defense is starting to jell for coordinator Dennis Allen. That spells trouble for a rookie quarterback.
RON BORGES (Season record: 3-4): NEW ENGLAND (– 7) vs. LA Chargers. Rumor is that it will be too early and too chilly for an L.A. team to win. Plus, the presence of live people in the stands will disconcert the Chargers.
CLARK JUDGE (Season record: 2-5): CINCINNATI (– 10-1/2) vs. Indianapolis. The Colts three times this season suffered losses of 27 or more points. This could be the fourth.
COOKIE COMES HOME
It’s taken 46 years for the Buffalo Bills to get it right, but give them credit: They never gave up on putting the name of Cookie Gilchrist on their Wall of Fame. The former star running back, who once set an AFL record of 243 yards rushing in a game, was inducted into the Bills’ Hall of Fame (later named the Wall of Fame) in 1971, but disagreements between Gilchrist and then-Buffalo owner Ralph Wilson kept his name off the Wall … until now. With the team’s ownership transferred in 2014 to Terry and Kim Pegula, Gilchrist’s name was put back into play … and on Sunday during the Oakland-Buffalo game it will be added – as it should have been long ago — to the Wall of Fame. Gilchrist died in 2011, and he later was discovered to be suffering from severe CTE. Former teammate Booker Edgerson, a guest on this week’s Talk of Fame Network broadcast, will make a presentation on behalf of Gilchrist.
SUNDAY’S HALL OF FAMOUS
MINNESOTA WR ADAM THIELEN. He’s the only NFL receiver with five or more catches in each of his first seven games this season.
BUFFALO QB TYROD TAYLOR. In his last seven home games, he has 12 touchdown passes, two interceptions and one rushing TD.
CHARGERS DE JOEY BOSA. He has five sacks and two forced fumbles in his last three games. He and teammate Melvin Ingram are the only two teammates in the NFL with seven or more sacks each. Ingram has 8-1/2; Bosa 7-1/2.
NEW ORLEANS QB DREW BREES. He has 8 touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 127.4 in his last three games vs. Chicago.
PHILADELPHIA QB CARSON WENTZ. In his last five home starts he’s 5-0 with 12 TDs and three interceptions.
CAROLINA QB CAM NEWTON. He has eight rushing touchdowns in nine career starts vs. Tampa Bay. How? Next question.
DALLAS DE DEMARCUS LAWRENCE. The NFL sack leader, he has at least one sack in each of his six games this season and two … plus a forced fumble … in his last game at Washington.
10 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW
- The Vikings haven’t allowed a sack the past two games. What’s more, they’re the only team not to allow one in three games this season.
- Kansas City has one turnover all season, and it was a Kareem Hunt fumble on the first snap of the season.
- Caroline rookie Christian McCaffrey has the most receptions (44) of any Panther through the first seven games all-time and the third-most among running backs in NFL history over that time.
- With 12 completions vs. Chicago, Drew Brees joins Peyton Manning and Brett Favre as the only quarterbacks with 6,000 for his career.
- Alex Smith has no interceptions this season. He also has 15 touchdown passes, and that’s the fourth best start to a season in NFL history. Peyton Manning is first, with 20 TDs and no interceptions in 2013.
- With 144 yards from scrimmage vs. Detroit, Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell would surpass Hall-of-Famer Eric Dickerson for the most yards from scrimmage in his first 55 games. Dickerson had 7,095.
- If Everson Griffen has a sack vs. Cleveland he becomes the third player in NFL history to have at least one in each of his first eight games of a season.
- Buffalo’s Stephen Hauschka nailed all five of his field-goal attempts from 50 or more yards this season, running his consecutive streak from 50 and beyond to 12. That ties him with Matt Prater for an NFL career best. With one more, he sets the league mark at 13.
- The Vikings’ offense is tied with the Rams and Patriots for the most plays of 20 or more yards with 33. They also have seven scoring drives of 80 or more yards, or three more than they had all of last season.
- Thirty-one percent of Detroit’s runs this season resulted in no gain or lost yardage.