(Richard Sherman photo courtesy of the Seattle Seahawks)
(Aaron Rodgers photo courtesy of the Green Bay Packers)
OUR SUNDAY BEST
SEATTLE @ GREEN BAY, 8:30 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Packers by 3-1/2
The story: It’s the NFC championship game, Part Deux, and Green Bay has a score to settle … with itself. Let’s face it, the Packers blew the 2014 title game, making just enough bone-headed mistakes to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Afterward, a disappointed Mike McCarthy said Green Bay, not New England or Seattle, was the best team in the league. Well, this is the Packers’ chance to prove it, and, yeah, I like what they have – namely, Aaron Rodgers plugging holes in a secondary minus Kam Chancellor. But this just in: The Packers can’t stop the run. Chicago gashed them for 189 yards, including an NFL-high three runs of 20 or more. I don’t care what Marshawn Lynch’s mother says; just give him the damn ball.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Aaron Rodgers has 41 touchdowns, no interceptions and a 124.4 passer rating in his last 17 starts at home. He also has 512 consecutive attempts at home (including the playoffs) without an interception. His last interception at Lambeau? Try Dec. 2, 2012.
THREE OTHERS SUITABLE FOR HALL OF FRAMING
NEW ENGLAND @ BUFFALO, 1 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Patriots by 1
The story: This game is about one team, and it’s not New England. OK, so the Bills don’t like their opponent or Tom Brady. Understandable. They’re 3-23 against him. But this year is supposed to different. This year is supposed to be about how Rex Ryan, a rejuvenated defense and a quarterback off the used-car lot challenge the Super Bowl champs. Well, bring it on, guys. If Buffalo wants to make a statement, this is its chance. And to do it, I’d strongly suggest running at the Pats. Pittsburgh did and produced 134 yards. Only one problem: LeSean McCoy has a hamstring problem that caused him to leave Thursday’s practice.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Brady is 11-4 vs. Ryan coached teams (including 2-0 vs. Baltimore when Ryan was an assistant), with 25 TDs and 8 interceptions.
SAN FRANCISCO @ PITTSBURGH, 1 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Steelers by 6-1/2
The story: The Steelers are working on nine days’ rest and are home. The 49ers are operating on five and fly from the Pacific Time zone to the East. Advantage: Pittsburgh. And make that advantage huge. Yes, the 49ers’ defense stuffed Adrian Peterson and Teddy Bridgewater, but that was then, and this is now. And now you’re up against a quarterback who’s been to three Super Bowls. Pittsburgh has a raft of defensive issues with or without headsets, and maybe Colin Kaepernick or Carlos Hyde exploits them. But tell me who covers Antonio Brown and who turns Big Ben into Gentle Ben? Somebody? Anybody?
Hall-of-Fame worthy: In his last 12 games, the Steelers’ Brown averages 8.7 catches and 110 yards per game, with nine touchdowns.
DALLAS @ PHILADELPHIA, 4:25 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Eagles by 5
The story: Philadelphia is operating on five days’ rest, too, but there’s a difference: The Eagles are home and meet an opponent that is minus its most dangerous weapon. Would Dez Bryant please sit down? I know what the Cowboys looked like without Dez because I saw those last three drives, but the Giants were in a matador defense. That won’t happen here. Philadelphia is better on that side of the ball and better on offense, too, provided it can keep Sam Bradford from taking more of those vicious hits. Former Cowboy DeMarco Murray insists he’s “very emotionless” about playing his ex-teammates, and if you believe that I’ll offer you season tickets to 2017 St. Louis Rams’ games.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Romo won his last three starts in Philadelphia.
MONDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
(Andrew Luck photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts)
N.Y. JETS @ INDIANAPOLIS, 8: 30 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Colts by 6-1/2
The story: Quick question: Indianapolis lost five of its last six openers, all on the road. So what happened afterward? Uh-huh, they reached the playoffs five of six times. That’s one reason they’re favored here. Nobody is too concerned about Week One. Another is the Jets don’t face Johnny Football. They’re up against one of the game’s best young quarterbacks, and, sorry, but Andrew Luck doesn’t lay an egg two weeks straight. Does that mean there aren’t issues in Indianapolis? Hardly. The Colts’ offensive line struggles with pressure, Luck will make mistakes and the defense still can’t stop the run. Nevertheless, they’re home where Luck is 19-5.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: If you have Coby Fleener or Dwayne Allen on your Fantasy Football Teams, now’s the time to play them. The Jets allowed a league-high 13 touchdown passes to tight ends last year.
CHICAGO OVER ARIZONA, 1 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Cardinals by 2
The story: OK, so the Bears should’ve hired Bruce Arians. They didn’t. They have John Fox, and that’s not all that bad. In fact, Chicago threw a scare into Green Bay in Fox’s debut before offensive coordinator Adam Gase went brain-dead on a goal-line series, and Jay Cutler coughed up another interception. I know, Chicago’s run defense stinks, and I know the Cards ran for 120 yards last weekend. But I also know Andre Ellington, who had 69 of them, is out. Which means Chris Johnson is in. Then there’s this: Arizona was 11-5 last year, but 4-4 on the road. It was 10-6 the year before and 4-4 on the road. Do the math, people. That’s 14-3 at home (including last weekend) under Bruce Arians and 8-8 on the road. If the Cards are vulnerable, they’re vulnerable here.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Arians is 4-0 vs. the NFC North and 17-4 vs. non-division opponents.
LOCK OF THE WEEK
NEW ORLEANS OVER TAMPA BAY, 1 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Saints by 10
The story: Stop if you heard this before: The Saints’ defense just got pulverized, and coordinator Rob Ryan was left shaking his head. But that was against veteran quarterback Carson Palmer at home, where Palmer is 12-2. This is in New Orleans against rookie Jameis Winston, who struggled in his debut and who will struggle here. A year ago the Bucs were the league’s worst outfit, and it looks as if nothing’s change. So make this one simple: If the Bucs couldn’t figure out Marcus Mariota, how do they solve Drew Brees? Answer: They don’t.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: The Saints won their last seven vs. Tampa Bay.
HALL-OF-FAME SHOUT OUT
Former Buffalo GM Bill Polian, one of 18 inductees to the Hall of Fame this year, will be honored at halftime of the Bills-Patriots game – with Polian will receiving his Hall of Fame Ring of Excellence award. The Bills made the playoffs in each of the last five seasons of Polian’s tenure there and were 58-22 from 1988-92, including three Super Bowl appearances. They have not been to the playoffs since 1999.
FIVE GUYS ON THIS WEEK’S HALL-OF-RADAR
Buffalo LB Jerry Hughes. In his past nine home games, he has 7.5 sacks.
Arizona QB Carson Palmer. He’s 3-0 vs. Chicago, with 8 touchdowns, one interception and a 120.3 passer rating. He also won his last seven starts, period.
Chicago LB Jared Allen. In six career games vs. Arizona he has 9.5 sacks. He’s aiming for his fourth straight with two or more.
Minnesota RB Adrian Peterson. He says he’ll hit the “reset button,” and here’s a perfect opportunity. In 12 career games vs. Detroit he has 11 touchdowns and seven 100-yard rushing games.
N.Y. Giants QB Eli Manning. So he can’t tell time. He knows how to beat Atlanta. He won five of his last six against the Falcons.
HALL OF NOTES-WORTHY
1. Since the 2002, 60.3 percent of teams that started 1-1 or 0-2 reached the playoffs, including six of the eight division champions in 2014.
2. Drew Brees needs three touchdown passes to hit 400 for his career; Tom Brady needs four.
3. Marcus Mariota alert: Only four rookie quarterbacks since 1970 won their first two starts: John Elway, Ryan Leaf, Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez.
4. Since entering the NFL in 2010, New England tight end Rob Gronkowski leads the league in TD catches (57).
5. Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown has an NFL-record 7 or more catches in 12 straight games.
6. Adam Vinatieri is 41 of 44 in career field goals vs. the Jets.
7. Seattle is 13-1 in prime-time games under Pete Carroll since 2010, outscoring opponents 367-154.
8. Baltimore won its last four vs. Oakland by a combined score of 113-59.
9. With two touchdown passes Sunday, Mariota becomes the first quarterback in league history to throw six TDs in his first two starts.
10. A Dallas win would be the Cowboys’ 10th straight road victory, tying a 10-game streak from the 2006-07 seasons.