GOLD JACKET GAME OF THE WEEK
The line: Broncos by 3-1/2
The weather: Mostly sunny, high of 54
The story: Denver linebacker Von Miller calls this “the biggest game of the year,” and he’s warm. It’s more like a survivor pool that could determine which of these two teams joins Oakland in the playoffs. Denver is home, where it hasn’t lost, and that’s the good news. The bad? The Chiefs won here last year and should have swept the Broncos for the season. Yes, Kansas City is without Jeremy Maclin again, but, no, the Chiefs haven’t lost in consecutive weeks in over a year. Turnovers and kickers determine the winner in a game guaranteed to be low scoring.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Denver leads the league with 93 points off takeaways. The Chiefs are second with 72.
(Alex Smith photo courtesy Kansas City Chiefs; Von Miller photo courtesy Denver Broncos)
THREE OTHERS SUITABLE FOR HALL OF FRAMING
ARIZONA @ ATLANTA, 1 p.m. (EST)
The weather: Dome
The story: The Cards’ road show … and road woes … continue. Only this time, they should be motivated as they haven’t been before. First of all, coach Bruce Arians just returned from the hospital, and guess what put him there? Uh-huh, stress. It can happen when your team fizzles. Second, Arizona’s playoff hopes are circling the drain. It’s now or never … and it might be now considering that Atlanta is beginning its annual migration south – losing three of its last five games. If the Cards can frazzle Matt Ryan they might, just might, be able to steal one.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: In his last seven home games Ryan averages 324 yards passing, with 14 TDs, 5 interceptions and a rating of 111.7.
(Matt Ryan photo courtesy Atlanta Falcons)
CAROLINA @ OAKLAND, 4:25 p.m. (EST)
The line: Raiders by 3
The weather: Mostly sunny, high of 59
The story: The Panthers are the defending NFC champions, but their playoff hopes are slip-sliding away. Except … except they play in the NFC South where nobody wants to win. So color this game critical. But it’s big for Oakland, too. The Raiders haven’t had a winning season since 2002, and this is where they cross the threshold. They’re tied with New England for the best record in the AFC, and quarterback Derek Carr is in every discussion about league MVP. Look for him … and the Raiders receivers … to take advantage of a weak Carolina secondary and a defense without top playmaker Luke Kuechly.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Carr is especially good when the game matters. He’s led four fourth-quarter comeback wins and has nine touchdown passes, one interception and a league-leading rating of 121.0 in the fourth quarter and overtime.
SEATTLE @ TAMPA BAY, 4:05 p.m. (EST)
The line: Seahawks by 6
The weather: Sunny, high of 79
The story: Let’s make this simple. Tampa Bay believes it has a legit shot at the NFC South and that last weekend’s defeat of Kansas City – a victory that ended the Chiefs home winning streak at 10 – was a signature victory that could launch it to a division championship. OK, then, prove it. There is no better way, place or time to do just that than against the best team in the league at the moment. Seattle probably plays without safety Earl Thomas, but it will take a lot more than that to keep the Seahawks down. Remember, they went to New England two weekends ago on a short week and stunned the Patriots, who were coming off a bye. This is the time of year when Seattle excels, and that’s a lesson that Tampa Bay will learn shortly.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Since the start of Week 5, Tampa Bay has a league-best 15 takeaways.
MONDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
The line: Eagles by 4
The weather: Mostly sunny, high of 53
The story: Aaron Rodgers says the Packers can run the table this season, and he’s right. They can. One problem: They won’t. Anyone who thinks the Packers can win out hasn’t looked at their defense the past four weeks, and I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t look at it, either. It stinks, allowing an average … average … of 37 points per. I don’t care how sharp Rodgers is or how many touchdown passes Jordy Nelson catches. You can’t overcome a defense that leaks like the S.S. Minnow, and the proof is in the past three weeks when the Packers produced three consecutive 400-yard games for just the second time in seven years … yet lost all three games. Plus, there is this: Philadelphia hasn’t lost at home this season and allowed just three touchdowns in those contests.
Hall-of-Fame worthy — Jordy Nelson has a touchdown catch in all five road games this season.
(Aaron Rodgers photo courtesy Green Bay Packers)
OUR BEST BETS
RICK GOSSELIN — Oakland (– 3). The magic the Panthers enjoyed last season now belongs to the Raiders.
RON BORGES – Tampa Bay (+6). The Seahawks are playing well, but so is Jameis Winston. A chance for him to shine against a top defense, and hes ready to do it.
CLARK JUDGE – Buffalo (–7-1/2). The Jags may be the best two-win team Rex Ryan has seen, but they’re not good enough to push the envelope here.
THE WATCH LIST
ARIZONA WR LARRY FITZGERALD. With a catch Sunday, he will have receptions in 190 straight games – the third-longest streak in NFL history.And with three catches, he passes Tim Brown for fifth on the career list for receptions.
NEW ORLEANS QB DREW BREES. With four touchdown passes he ties Peyton Manning and Brett Favre for most consecutive seasons (9) with 30 or more scoring passes. Brees has 26 this year.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS. A victory Sunday would give them a winning season for the 16th straight year, tying San Francisco (1983-98) and Dallas (1970-85) for the most in NFL history since the 1970 merger.
SUNDAYS HALL OF FAMOUS
ARIZONA QB CARSON PALMER. He has a career rating of 110.4 in four games vs. Atlanta.
SAN DIEGO QB PHILIP RIVERS. In his past three vs. Houston he has 11 touchdown passes, 2 interceptions and a rating of 119.7.
HOUSTON QB BROCk OSWEILER. He’s 5-0 at home.
L.A. COACH JEFF FISHER. He’s 5-0 vs. New Orleans.
NEW ENGLAND QB TOM BRADY. He has 21 touchdowns, 4 interceptions and 3,000 yards passing in his past 11 games vs. the Jets.
NEW ORLEANS WR BRANDIN COOKS. He aims for his fifth straight game at home with a touchdown.
OAKLAND QB DEREK CARR. In his past three vs. the NFC South, he has 8 touchdown passes and no interceptions.
PHILADELPHIA DE BRANDON GRAHAM. He aims for his fifth straight home game with a sack.
HALL OF NOTES-WORTHY
The Chiefs’ Alex Smith hasn’t thrown an interception in his last 14 division road games.
Baltimore’s defense leads the league in fewest yards allowed at home (230.4).
Philadelphia (4-0) is one of three unbeaten teams at home this season. The others are Seattle (5-0) and Houston (5-0).
The Eagles outscored opponent 108-38 in four home games this season. The Eagles have allowed only three touchdowns at home this year, the fewest of any NFL team.
Tampa Bay, Denver and Kansas City lead the league with 10 fumble recoveries each.
Houston won its last six regular-season home games.
Atlanta’s Matt Ryan leads the league with 46 completions of 20 or more yards. Drew Brees is second with 42.
Arizona leads the league with the most points in the final two minutes of the first half (52).
Houston’s combination of three tight ends – C.J. Fiedorowicz, Ryan Griffen and Stephen Anderson — combined for 74 catches this year, or 33 more than Houston tight ends had for the entire 2015 season.
Next to Dallas (11), Houston has the most 100-yard rushing games with eight.
With a defeat of the Jets, Tom Brady joins Brett Favre as the only quarterbacks with at least 22 wins each vs. two opponents. Brady has 26 wins over Buffalo and 21 over the Jets.