GAME OF THE WEEK
N.Y. GIANTS @ DALLAS, 8:30 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Cowboys by 4
The weather: Sunny, high of 88 (retractable roof)
The story: If the NFL suspends Ezekiel Elliott six games, then why is he allowed to play here? Don’t ask. He can, let’s just leave it at that. Dallas should be more concerned, however, if he actually shows up … because he didn’t vs. the Giants a year ago, and the envelope, please: 44 carries for 158 yards (3.6 average) and one score. But he’s not alone. Look at his partner, quarterback Dak Prescott. Like Elliott, he was shut down by Big Blue, completing only 50 percent of his passes for one touchdown and two losses. So what? So he was 13-1 vs. the rest of the league. The Cowboys and Giants figure to be the strongest teams in the NFC East … and maybe two of the strongest in the NFC, period. Make this an early litmus test, OBJ or no OBJ.
The last word: Prescott threw two interceptions in two games vs. the Giants. He threw two in 14 games vs. the rest of the NFL.
THREE OTHERS SUITABLE FOR HALL-OF-FRAMING
JACKSONVILLE @ HOUSTON, 1 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Texans by 5-1/2
The weather: Mostly sunny, high of 89 (retractable roof)
The story: So it’s not a great matchup. But it is a great story, with a ravaged city pulling together behind its pro football team and that team’s star player, J.J. Watt, who just so happened to collect hurricane-relief donations the size of California’s GNP. What the Saints did for New Orleans in the wake of Katrina, the Texans are doing in the wake of Harvey. “It’s going to be special,” Watt said of Sunday. Forget about the game. This is all about a celebration of the human spirit.
The last word: Houston’s Bill O’Brien is 6-0 vs. the Jags.
OAKLAND @ TENNESSEE, 1 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Titans by 2-1/2
The weather: Mostly sunny, high of 77
The story: The Raiders are a trendy picky to win the AFC West … at least they were before Thursday night. The Titans are a trendy pick to win the AFC South. Something has to give, and it might by the Oakland defense. The Raiders not only ranked 26th in overall defense a year ago; they surrendered a legue-high 61 passing plays of 20 or more yards and tied for a league-worst 16 passing plays of 40 or more yards. “I’m more confident than a lot of people,” said Oakland coach Jack Del Rio. Maybe that’s because he can make big play plays, too, with a healthy Derek Carr.
The last word: Tennessee’s Mike Mularkey is 0-5 vs. Oakland.
SEATTLE @ GREEN BAY, 4:25 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Packers by 3
The weather: Sunny, high of 70
The story: While the Packers lost three of their last five vs. Seattle, they’re the choice here for two very good reasons: 1) They have Aaron Rodgers and 2) they won their last seven at home vs. the Seahawks. Yeah, OK, so Russell Wilson is 3-2 vs. Green Bay (including the playoffs). He also has three more interceptions (10) than touchdown passes (7). What’s more, he lost his starting left tackle, George Fant, for the season. Fantasy Football alert: Maybe that’s a call for Eddie Lacy to do more for Seattle than he did the Pack.
The last word: If this isn’t close, don’t say you’re weren’t warned. The Packers won three of their last four home games vs. Seattle (including the playoffs) by 20 or more points.
OUR BEST BETS
RON BORGES — HOUSTON (–5-1/2). Texans’ defense vs. Blake Bortles? Forget about it.
RICK GOSSELIN — DETROIT (1-1/2). The Lions have the highest-paid player in the NFL in Matthew Stafford. You expect a player of that caliber to win his home games … and I expect the Lions to win at Ford Field Sunday.
CLARK JUDGE — HOUSTON (–5-1/2). No line is big enough. Emotion will be great. The Texans’ opponent won’t.
HISTORICAL NOTE WORTH MENTIONING
Quick now: Who holds the NFL record for most yards passing in one game … and when did he do it? If you said, “Hall-of-Famer Norm Van Brocklin, on the opening weekend of the 1951 season,” go to the head of the class. You heard right: 1951. That’s when the L.A. Rams’ Hall-of-Fame quarterback broke Johnny Lujak’s record of 468, set in 1949, in a 54-13 shredding of the New York Yanks. Surprising? We’re just getting starter. First of all, Van Brocklin wasn’t scheduled to start that afternoon. Bob Waterfield was. But he was hurt. So Van Brocklin stepped in, and you know what happened. Second, Van Brocklin’s performance comprised 32.1 percent of his passing total for the entire year, mostly because he made only one other start. Lastly, he set a record that has stood for over six decades with just 27 completions — an average of 20.5 yards per. “You did it all,” former Yanks’ star George Taliaferro, in a 2011 interview with the New York Times, said he told Van Brocklin that day. “But why didn’t you do something really extraordinary? Run and catch is yourself?”
SUNDAY’S HALL-OF-FAME WATCH LIST
CINCINNATI WR A.J. GREEN — In his last five games vs. Baltimore, he has 604 yards receiving and six TDs.
PITTSBURGH QB BEN ROETHLISBERGER — He has more career passing yards (5,490) and more career TD passes (35) than anyone vs. the Browns.
ARIZONA WR LARRY FITZGERALD — He has four receiving TDs in his last three Kickoff Weekend starts.
HOUSTON DE J.J. WATT — He has nine sacks, 11 tackles for losses, four deflected passes, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery in his last four games vs. Jacksonville.
TENNESSEE WR ERIC DECKER — He has five touchdown catches in seven career games vs. Oakland.
WASHINGTON LB RYAN KERRIGAN — His 9-1/2 sacks vs. Philadelphia lead all active players.
CHICAGO QB MIKE GLENNON — In four games vs. Atlanta he completed 71.2 percent of his passes for six touchdowns, no interceptions and a 109.2 rating.
TEN THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW
- Blake Bortles is 2-20 in road games.
- If you want to win a Super Bowl, win your season opener. Super Bowl winners have a record of 41-9-1 in Kickoff Weekend games. Since 1978, when the NFL went to a 16-game schedule, teams that won their season openers are more than twice as likely to reach the playoffs as teams that did not.
- With Cleveland starting DeShone Kizer, this marks the 10th consecutive year a rookie quarterback has opened the season in the NFL as a starter.
- With six straight wins, San Francisco has the longest active winning streak on Kickoff Weekend.
- Arizona’s Bruce Arians is 3-0 vs. Detroit. The Cardinals have won seven straight and 12 of their last 15 vs. the Lions.
- Drew Brees is working on an NFL-record nine consecutive seasons with 30 or more touchdown passes.
- In 2016, 135 games — of 52.7 percent — were decided by seven or fewer points, the most in league history.
- In four games vs. Arizona, Detroit’s Matt Stafford has just two touchdowns, seven interceptions, a 62.8 passer rating and an 0-4 record. Twice he’s thrown three interceptions in games against the Cards, including the last time the two met.
- Carlos Hyde’s five touchdowns in the last three season-opening games are the most in the NFL over that period.
- Since entering the league in 2011, Cam Newton leads all rushers in third-down percentage, converting 40.1 of his carries into first downs. Jamaal Charles is second (25.0), followed by LeSean McCoy (24.2).