The Sunday GPS: Time to find out who rises in NFC South


Photo courtesy of the Atlanta Falcons

GOLD JACKET GAME OF THE WEEK

ATLANTA @ CAROLINA, 1 p.m. (EST)

The line: Falcons by 2

The weather: Partly cloudy, high of 76

The story: If the Panthers are a legit threat to win the NFC South … and they are … why did they just jettison Kelvin Benjamin? I don’t get it, and his ex-teammates don’t, either. “Some things you will never understand,” tweeted Cam Newton. He’s right. Because one thing I don’t understand is why the Falcons can’t get out of their own way. It’s not that the defending NFC champions are way behind last year’s schedule. They’re not. They were 4-3 after seven starts a year ago, and they’re 4-3 now. But it’s how they got there that separates the two. In 2016, they scored 229 points, or an average of 32.7 per. This year they’re at 153, an average of 21.8, and now you know why Matt Ryan is no threat to defend his MVP title. So now the question: Are the Falcons a threat to defend their division title? We’re about to find out.

Something to consider: Cam Newton has thrown just one touchdown pass in his last three home games. He has nine on the road.

THREE OTHERS SUITABLE FOR HALL-OF-FRAMING

Demarco Murray photo courtesy Tennessee Titans

BALTIMORE @ TENNESSEE, 1 p.m. (EST)

The line: Titans by 3-1/2

The weather: Mostly cloudy, high of 78

The story: The Titans are on top of their division, and the Ravens wish they were on top of theirs. But they’re not, and this is an ideal opportunity for them to do something about it. Tennessee has been anything but impressive, going to OT to beat Cleveland in its last start and dropping two of their last four. But Tennessee is a different team at home, beating Seattle there a month ago and averaging 34.5 points per game in its last two at home. Contrast that to the Titans’ last three road games — where they average 12 per — and you know why there’s no place like home. Baltimore, of course, has a myriad of problems, beginning with injuries to just about everyone on offense and a quarterback who is recovering from a concussion and suddenly looks like an ordinary Joe. Good news for the Ravens: They win this, and they get next week off. The bad news: Tennessee is coming off a bye.

Something to consider: Baltimore’s defense leads the league with 12 interceptions.

DENVER @ PHILADELPHIA, 1 p.m. (EST)

The line: Eagles by 7

The weather: Cloudy, high of 69

The story: Brock Osweiler returns as the Broncos’ starter, and raise your hand if you think it makes a difference. Someone? Anyone? I mean, this is a guy Cleveland didn’t want, for crying out loud. Worse, he returns to a team that, once upon a time, didn’t want him, either; hasn’t won a road game this season and is stuck in the middle of a three-game swoon — with a loss to the Giants one of those defeats. Which means … which means you gotta like the Eagles. Denver is looking for Osweiler to give it a pulse, and good luck, guys. The problem with Denver isn’t the Broncos’ defense; it’s their offense. There isn’t one. They can’t run. They can’t pass. And they can’t score, with 29 points the past three starts and 35 in three road games. So tell me how they outscore an Eagles team that averages 29 points per game, has an MVP candidate in Carson Wentz and just added Jay Ajayi? Answer: They don’t.

Something to consider: The Eagles scored 20 or more points in 12 straight games, the longest active streak in the NFL and the second longest streak in franchise history. They’re also the only team to score 20 or more points in every game this season.

KANSAS CITY @ DALLAS, 4:25 p.m. (EST)

(Ezekiel Elliott photo courtesy of the Dallas Cowboys/James D. Smith)

The line: Cowboys by 2-1/2

The weather: Closed roof

The story: Ezekiel Elliott wasn’t supposed to play this game … but he is. Yep, the never-ending, on-again-off-again suspension is off again, with a lower court granting the Dallas running back a stay of a 6-game time-out that was supposed to start … uh-huh, seven games ago. But it didn’t … and it’s not … and now Elliott is playing for at least another week. Talk about good timing. With this game, the Cowboys begin a three-week swing that determines their fate this season. It’s Kansas City this week, then on to defending NFC champion Atlanta before returning home Nov. 19 vs. Philadelphia.  Combined record of those opponents: 17-6. I mention that because Dallas hasn’t beaten an opponent with a winning record. Honest. In fact, the combined record of the teams they conquered is 7-22. So Dallas needs Elliott, now more than ever. Remember, Kansas City not only is tied for the best record in the AFC but is 3-1 on the road and plus-10 in the takeaway/turnover ratio.

Something to consider: Prescott has 14 TD passes and two interceptions in his past seven home dates.

OUR BEST BETS

(Picks are made vs. the spread)

RICK GOSSELIN (Season record: 4-4) — RAMS (–4-1/2). The Rams are legit. The Giants are not. Even jet lag from this cross-country flight will not slow down Todd Gurley or the Wade Phillips pass rush.

RON BORGES (Season record 4-4) — SEATTLE (– 7). Too much noise in Seattle for a Michigan State-bred quarterback like Kirk Cousins to lead the Redskins to victory. Seahawks soar.

CLARK JUDGE (Season record: 2-6) — PHILADELPHIA (– 7). The Broncos average 12 points in their last three road games. The Eagles haven’t scored fewer than 20 in any start this season. This isn’t rocket science.

SUNDAY’S HALL OF FAMOUS

BALTIMORE COACH JOHN HARBAUGH. With his next victory he reaches 100 for his career.

ATLANTA QB MATT RYAN. He has seven touchdown passes, one interception and a passer rating of 131.1 in his last three games vs. Carolina.

HOUSTON RB LAMAR MILLER. In his last four games vs. Indianapolis he has 442 scrimmage yards and five TDs.

L.A. RAMS QB JARED GOFF. He won his last three road starts, with 6 touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 111.4. And now he’s playing the Giants. BINGO!

PHILADELPHIA DT FLETCHER COX. He has four sacks and a forced fumble in his last three games vs. an AFC opponents.

ARIZONA WR LARRY FITZGERALD. He has 41 catches and five touchdowns in his past five games vs. San Francisco.

WASHINGTON RB CHRIS THOMPSON. The only player to lead his team in rushing and receiving yards, Thompson has six touchdowns in his last five road games.

TEN THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW

  1. The Seahawks are the league’s most penalized team, with 66 calls for 534 yards — including 25 walk-offs for 230 yards the last two weeks. By contrast, Carolina is the NFL’s least penalized team with 34.
  2. Baltimore is one of only three teams since 2010 to shut out two opponents in the same year.
  3. Carolina has held four opponents this season without a passing or rushing touchdown, tying a single-season franchise record.
  4. The Bengals’ next three games are on the road, and good thing for Andy Dalton. He has 8 touchdown passes there. He has three at home.
  5. Cleveland’s DeShone Kizer has not thrown a touchdown pass in his last four starts.
  6. With 17 yard rushing and a touchdown Sunday, the Cards’ Adrian Peterson becomes just the seventh player in NFL history to rush for 12,000 yards and score 100 times. The other six are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
  7. Dallas defensive end Demarcus Lawrence leads the league with 10-1/2 sacks and has at least one in each of his first seven games. With one Sunday he becomes just the fourth player in the Super Bowl era to open the season with a sack in his first eight games. Minnesota’s Everson Griffen is one of the four, and he’s done it this year.
  8. Jacksonville leads the league in defensive passer rating at 62.3. Baltimore is second at 66.5.
  9. The Tennessee and Minnesota defenses allowed the fewest big pass plays this season, each hit for 16 passes of 20 yards or more. The Titans surrendered only one passing touchdown of 20 or more yards. The Vikings allowed four.
  10. Philadelphia leads the league in average time of possession (33:37) and drives of five minutes or more (16). The Eagles also lead the NFL in plays of 10 or more yards (121), including a league-leading 35 runs.

 

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