By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
GOLD JACKET GAME OF THE WEEK
BALTIMORE @ PITTSBURGH, Sunday, 4:30 p.m. (EST)
The weather: Cloudy, high of 35
The story: This is just how it should be: The AFC North coming down to these two, teams that dislike each other so much that Ravens’ wide receiver Steve Smith calls the rivalry one of “”professional hatred” and “Elmer Fudd vs. Bugs Bunny.” Yeah, I’d say that just about sums it up. Pittsburgh is the favorite for several reasons: 1) It’s home; 2) it has weapons Baltimore does not and 3) that highly-ranked Baltimore defense has been poked lately, giving up 56 points the past two weekends. It’s Joe Flacco vs. Ben Roethlisberger, and oddsmakers are telling you to side with Roethlisberger. Reason: He’s 7-2 at home vs. the Ravens.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Under John Harbaugh, the Ravens are 4-4 at Heinz Field in regular-season play, with seven of the eight games decided by three points and each team committing 11 turnovers.
(Steve Smith photo courtesy of Baltimore Ravens)
(Ben Roethlisberger photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Steelers)
THREE OTHERS SUITABLE FOR HALL OF FRAMING
MIAMI @ BUFFALO, 1 p.m. (EST)
The weather: AM rain, high of 41
The story: Buffalo has played Scrooge before, and it can again … this time standing in the way of the Dolphins’ first playoff berth since 2008. The Bills aren’t going to the playoffs, but they could save Rex Ryan’s job, and, yeah, I think that … and the location … pushes them over the top here. Let’s face it, Miami isn’t a cold-weather town, and the Dolphins are cold fish when it comes to Buffalo. They’re 0-for-4 the last four seasons there. Plus, they don’t have starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill. They have Matt Moore, and while he looked terrific last weekend he could (should?) struggle here … along with the rest of his teammates. Lucky for them the weather won’t cooperate for the Bills. It’s rain, not snow. Consider that a break.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: The Dolphins have allowed the fourth-most rushing yards to quarterbacks (272) and surrendered an average 5.48 yards per carry to running backs the past four games.
MINNESOTA @ GREEN BAY, 1 p.m. (EST)
The line: Packers by 7
The weather: Partly cloudy, high of 36
The story: What happened to the frozen tundra? Aaron Rodgers weeks ago promised the Packers would run the table, and, so far, so good. The Packers are hot, winning their last four, and the Vikings are not, and, yes, it’s that simple. Green Bay has something to play for here, and Minnesota does not. Plus, the Packers have Aaron Rodgers; the Vikings have Sam Bradford, no Adrian Peterson, no offensive line and no running game. Game, set, match.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Aaron Rodgers is 6-2 at home vs. Minnesota, with 16 TDs, 4 interceptions and a 107.2 passer rating.
DENVER @ KANSAS CITY, Sunday, 8:30 p.m. (EST)
The line: Chiefs by 3-1/2
The weather: Thunderstorms, high of 64
The story: Denver keeps trying to convince itself that it can still reach the playoffs, but it’s over, people. Their chances died with that overtime loss to the Chiefs earlier this month. Kansas City is driving for a division title, and the Chiefs are home. That combination, plus a limp Broncos offense that’s on life support, makes this an easy one to decide … even with Justin Houston out of the lineup.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: The Chiefs have won their last nine division games.
MONDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
DETROIT @ DALLAS, 8:30 p.m. (EST)
The weather: Scattered thunderstorms, high of 66 (retractable roof)
The story: Other than Baltimore-Pittsburgh, this is the most intriguing matchup of the weekend. Dallas has nothing to play for, yet coach Jason Garrett says he plans to play his starters through the next two weeks. Bravo for him. The Lions, on the other hand, have plenty to play for, and they’re indoors where they’re 9-3. But Detroit has little margin for error. The Lions cannot commit the turnovers that sabotaged them a week ago vs. the Giants. There are holes in the Dallas defense for Matt Stafford to exploit, but he and his teammates must be careful not to fall too far behind. They’ve demonstrated they’re adept at fourth-quarter comebacks, but Ezekiel Elliott – pushing for the rookie rushing record – can close out opponents by himself.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: The Lions have held eight straight opponents to 17 or fewer points.
(Ezekiel Elliott photo courtesy of Dallas Cowboys)
OUR BEST BETS
Clark Judge – Tennessee (-5). A new coach won’t change anything in Jacksonville, especially the final score. The Titans are driving for the playoffs; the Jags are driving for layoffs.
Ron Borges — New England (-17). I don’t care the predicted score; New England will beat them by more.
Rick Gosselin — San Diego (-4). The Browns are a freight train steaming toward history (0-16). The Chargers will oblige.
THE WATCH LIST
DALLAS RB EZEKIEL ELLIOTT. He needs 258 yards in the next two weeks to break Eric Dickerson’s rookie rushing record of 1,808 yards.
BALTIMORE PK JUSTIN TUCKER. With one more field goal of 50 yards he sets an NFL record (11) for most 50-yarders in one season.
PITTSBURGH WR ANTONIO BROWN. With four catches, he ties Hall-of-Famer Marvin Harrison for most consecutive 100-catch years (4).
ARIZONA RB DAVID JOHNSON. With 62 yards rushing vs. Seattle, he becomes the fourth player in NFL history with 1,200 yards rushing and 800 yards receiving in the same year. The last to do it was Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell in 2014.
INDIANAPOLIS RB FRANK GORE. With 58 scrimmage yards vs. Oakland, he becomes the first player in NFL history with at least 1,200 yards from scrimmage in 11 consecutive seasons.
CAROLINA TE GREG OLSEN. With 8 yards vs. Atlanta, he becomes the first tight end in league history to have three straight seasons with 1,000 yards receiving.
(Matt Ryan photo courtesy of Atlanta Falcons)
SUNDAY’S HALL OF FAMOUS
BUFFALO QB TYROD TAYLOR. He has five touchdowns, no interceptions and a 122.8 passer rating in his last three games vs. Miami.
NEW ENGLAND QB TOM BRADY. He has 23 touchdowns, 4 interceptions and a 96.1 rating in his last 12 games vs. the Jets.
ATLANTA QB MATT RYAN. He has 17 touchdown passes and three interceptions in his last three road games. Moreover, he threw for 504 yards and four TDs vs. Carolina earlier this season.
CAROLINA DT KAWANN SHORT. He has five sacks and three forced fumbles in the last three games vs. Atlanta.
NEW ORLEANS QB DREW BREES. In his last 10 games at home vs. Tampa Bay he has 21 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 101.9 passer rating.
PITTSBURGH QB BEN ROETHLISBERGER. He has the most career TD passes (28) vs. Baltimore of any quarterback.
BALTIMORE LB TERRELL SUGGS. His 16-1/2 career sacks of Roethlisberger are the most of the Pittsburgh quarterback.
DALLAS WR DEZ BRYANT. He has five touchdown catches in three career games vs. Detroit.
HALL OF NOTES-WORTHY
Dallas leads the league with six wins over opponents with records of .500 or better. Tennessee, Oakland and New England are tied for second with five each.
Since John Harbaugh took over the Ravens in 2008, 12 of the past 17 Baltimore-Pittsburgh games have been decided by three or fewer points.
Russell Wilson has a 34-5 record at home.
Detroit and San Diego are the only teams with five players with 40 or more catches each.
Houston and Minnesota are the only teams not to allow a 300-yard passer.
Dating back to 2013, the Steelers have won seven straight home games in December.
Minnesota’s defensive line has 30-1/2 sacks, the highest in the NFL. The Vikings are the only team with three defensive ends with seven or more sacks each.
With three sacks in his last two games, Cincinnati’s Geno Atkins leads all defensive tackles in sacks with 7-1/2.
Oakland is a league-best 5-0 in games decided by three or fewer points. Tennessee is second at 4-0.
Green Bay is the only team to have four-game winning streaks in each of the last eight seasons.
Baltimore linebacker Elvis Dumervil has at least a half-a-sack in nine of 12 games vs. Pittsburgh.
Carson Palmer is 2-0 as Arizona’s quarterback in CenturyLink Field. He is one of five visiting quarterbacks to win multiple games there since the stadium opened in 2002.
Buffalo allows the fewest points off turnovers (17) in the league. Detroit is second with 19.
Since Jim Bob Cooter took over as offensive coordinator in Detroit, Matt Stafford has 41 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions.
Twenty of the past 29 regular-season games between Green Bay and Minnesota have been decided by seven or fewer points.