By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
GOLD JACKET GAME OF THE WEEK
PHILADELPHIA @ DALLAS, 8:30 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Cowboys by 4-1/2
The weather: Sunny, high of 88 (retractable roof)
The story: Philadelphia’s Jordan Matthews says that Carson Wentz-Dak Prescott could be the new Manning-Brady, and he’s right. It could be. But it’s not. Not yet. And not for a long, long time. Manning and Brady have been to nine Super Bowls and are among the best quarterbacks ever. Wentz and Prescott aren’t among the best quarterbacks now.
As I said, they could be. But they’re not.
So let’s forget about the quarterbacks and concentrate on what matters. most And what matters for the NFL is this: This game goes head-to-head with the World Series, which means we gain another barometer on TV ratings. Yeah, this is an attractive matchup, but so is Cubs-Indians … especially if Game 5 decides the Series.
For Philadelphia, of course, what matters is pretty simple: Stop Ezekiel Elliott and make the next Tom Brady … er, make Dak Prescott … beat you. If not, you force Wentz to play from behind, and we saw how that worked in Detroit. Let’s just say he looked like neither Manning or Brady.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Philadelphia is 5-2 at AT&T Stadium since it opened in 2009, the best record of any Dallas opponent. The Eagles won their last three there.
THREE OTHERS SUITABLE FOR HALL OF FRAMING
GREEN BAY @ ATLANTA, 1 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Falcons by 3
The weather: Dome
The story: The Falcons lost their last two, but Atlanta coach Dan Quinn insists this is not last year’s club. He better hope not. Last year’s club started 5-0, then cratered — dropping eight of its last 11. That team would lose this game. This team could. The Falcons lead the league in offense, and Matt Ryan will get some mid-season MVP votes, but their defense can leak like the S.S. Minnow … and that’s not good when Aaron Rodgers is next on the schedule. One problem: Aaron Rodgers doesn’t look like Aaron Rodgers, and everyone wants to know why. The clues start here.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Ryan has thrown for 300 yards in four of his last five home starts.
(Matt Ryan photo courtesy of Atlanta Falcons)
NEW ENGLAND @ BUFFALO, 1 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Patriots by 6
The weather: AM showers, high of 52
The story: This one is simple. It’s payback time. New England has only one loss this year, and it was to Buffalo. And it was no ordinary loss. The Patriots were shut out for the first time ever at Gillette Stadium … and it happened after a pre-game skirmish. Of course, that was without Tom Brady, but bottom line: They lost. So now what? Well, so now Brady is back, and he’s 25-3 vs. the Bills. And so Bill Belichick has no use for Rex Ryan, just as Rex has no use for Bill. Brady is on a mission. The Patriots are on a mission. LeSean McCoy may not play. Aaron Williams definitely won’t play. Belichick has a long memory. And Buffalo can’t stop running backs like LeGarrette Blount (think Jay Ajayi). Connect the dots, people: Going to be a different result this time around.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: New England has not been swept in the last 15 years by anyone.
SAN DIEGO @ DENVER, 4:05 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Broncos by 4-1/2
The weather: Partly cloudy, high of 81
The story: The Chargers believe they turned their season around with their last two games – both victories – and they may be right. Here’s where we find out. That streak started with a defeat of the Broncos two Thursdays ago, and it catapulted San Diego to an overtime defeat of the Falcons last weekend. Both those victories were upsets, and the Bolts aren’t expected to win this one, either. But careful: Philip Rivers is on fire, Melvin Gordon leads the league in TDs and Joey Bosa has pumped life into a defense that just subtracted end Caraun Reid. Yeah, I know, the Denver defense just shut down Brock Osweiler, but this is no Brock Osweiler coming to town. Plus, cornerback Aqib Talib is hurt. If the Chargers lose, they will do it as they have too many times this season: They will beat themselves.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: In his last 11 games vs. San Diego, Von Miller has 12 sacks, 14 tackles for losses and three forced fumbles.
MONDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
MINNESOTA @ CHICAGO, 8:30 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Vikings by 4-1/2
The weather: Partly cloudy, high of 68
The story: Jay Cutler is back, and that’s supposed to make a difference. But who’s kidding whom? Chicago fans are pumped up, all right, but it has nothing to do with Cutler and everything to do with Schwarber … and Rizzo … and Lester. They like their Cubs. They don’t like their Bears, and can you blame them? They stink, ranking 31st in points and 27th in touchdowns, and they’re at or near the bottom in local interest. There’s little to like about this club except where it drafts next spring. And that includes Mr. Personality, Cutler, who returns in time to face the league’s top-ranked defense and a pass rush that sacked Cam Newton eight times.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Chicago’s Alshon Jeffrey averages 108.8 yards receiving in his last five games vs. Minnesota, with five touchdown catches.
(Jay Cutler photo courtesy of the Chicago Bears)
OUR BEST BETS
Clark Judge – Minnesota (– 4-1/2). It’s the Bears, stupid.
Ron Borges – Oakland (Even). Raiders on the road again. Ten days in Florida will focus the mind.
Rick Gosselin – Cleveland (+3). The Browns are celebrating the 30th anniversary of their 1986 team that reached the AFC championship game, and then-coach Marty Schottenheimer will be present. This would be the proper time for Cleveland’s first win of the season.
THE WATCH LIST
DETROIT QB MATT STAFFORD. With a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter Sunday vs. Houston, he ties Peyton Manning and Jake Plummer for the second-most (25) of such drives in a quarterback’s first eight seasons since 1970. Only Matt Ryan (30) has more.
ATLANTA QB MATT RYAN. With 406 yards passing vs. Green Bay he passes Philip Rivers (2,753) for the second-most yards passing through the first eight games of a season.
CINCINNATI QB ANDY DALTON. He aims for his fifth straight game with a passer rating of 100 or better and non interceptions.
SAN DIEGO QB PHILIP RIVERS. His next 300-yard game will be the 50th of his career.
SAN DIEGO RB MELVIN GORDON. If he scores twice Sunday, he ties the franchise record for most touchdowns (12) through the first eight games in franchise history, set by LaDainian Tomlinson.
DALLAS RB EZEKIEL ELLIOTT. Through his first six games he has 707 yards rushing, second only to Eric Dickerson (787) for a rookie. With 130 yards rushing vs. Philadelphia he would become only the seventh player in league history to rush for 130 or more yards in five consecutive games.
SUNDAYS HALL OF FAMOUS
WASHINGTON QB KIRK COUSINS. He has a passer rating of 100 or better in five of his last six road games.
HOUSTON QB BROCK OSWEILER. He’s 4-0 as a starter at home.
INDIANAPOLIS Q ANDREW LUCK. He’s thrown for 300 or more yards in his last five of his last six home games.
NEW ORLEANS QB DREW BREES. He averages 403.4 yards per game in his last five at home, throwing for 17 touchdowns with just two interceptions.
SAN DIEGO TE ANTONIO GATES. He has four TDs in his last five starts vs. Denver.
ATLANTA WR JULIO JONES. He averages 9-plus catches and 140-yards in four of his last five at home.
HALL OF NOTES-WORTHY
The Philadelphia Eagles outscore opponents 86-26 in the second half, including 60-6 in the third quarter.
The Chiefs lead the league in opponents’ passer rating at 52.9.
The Eagles have 10 sacks on first downs, most in the NFL.
Indianapolis, Oakland and Washington lead the league in forced fumbles with nine each.
Minnesota’s defensive linemen have combined for 17 sacks, most in the NFL for that position.
Minnesota’s opponents have a passer rating of 30.1 on third downs, lowest in the league. Oakland is next at 61.8.
Arizona has not allowed a touchdown in the last 11 quarters.