(Tom Brady photo courtesy of the New England Patriots)
By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
OUR SUNDAY BEST
NEW ENGLAND @ INDIANAPOLIS, 8:30 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Patriots by 9
The story: Welcome to Deflategate, Part Deux. The last time these two met the Patriots hammered Indianapolis in the 2014 AFC championship game. But that wasn’t the story. Deflategate was, and one guess who threw the stick of dynamite on a story that wouldn’t go away. That’s why this is more than a game. It’s a morality play, Good vs. Evil, depending on which team you like. But it’s more than that for New England. It’s personal for the Patriots and a quarterback that feel their reputations were tarnished by the Colts’ accusations. So what happens? Gettysburg, that’s what. The Patriots destroyed opponents in the wake of Spygate eight years ago, and they’re destroying them in the wake of Deflategate, too. Now, of course, they have a chance to punish a franchise that, basically, called them cheaters, and start manning the lifeboats, people. The Colts will need them. The last four times Brady played these guys New England put up, in order, 45, 42, 43 and 59 points. I would expect nothing less this time around, given the circumstances and the state of the Colts – and given Brady’s incentive. Yeah, I know, Andrew Luck says he might play. So what? He played the last four, too, when he wasn’t a turnover waiting to happen. And look what happened then. Maybe that’s why coach Chuck Pagano insists Luck plays only “when he’s ready.”
Hall-of-Fame worthy: The Patriots ran for at least 177 yards the last three times they played the Colts.
THREE OTHERS SUITABLE FOR HALL-OF-FRAMING
(Andy Dalton photo courtesy of the Cincinnati Bengals)
CINCINNATI @ BUFFALO, 1 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Bengals by 3
The story: All the momentum here is with the Bengals. They have a hot quarterback, they’re emotionally jacked after that come-from-behind defeat of Seattle and Buffalo quarterback Tyrod Taylor is gimping around with a sprained knee. So this one’s a lock, right? Not so fast. The Bills are a tough out, especially at home, and, whether it’s Taylor or EJ Manuel at quarterback, the Bills’ passing game may get a valuable weapon back in Sammy Watkins. That’s the good news. The better? Now-you-see-him, now-you-don’t running back LeSean McCoy is hinting he’ll return this weekend. You saw what happened without him last week. The Bills were lucky to survive Tennessee. They’re going to need a lot of him, luck and Bengals’ mistakes to win here, and I’d be careful, Marvin Lewis. This could be a trap waiting to be sprung.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Andy Dalton’s 115.6 passer rating is the highest of any Bengals’ quarterback ever through the first five games.
ARIZONA @ PITTSBURGH, 1 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Cardinals by 4
The story: Funny thing about Arizona. Once the Cardinals couldn’t win on the road. Once they couldn’t run. And once Carson Palmer was little more than an ordinary quarterback. Now they’re unbeaten away from home, their 4.96 yards per carry leads the NFL and Palmer is tied with Aaron Rodgers for most touchdown passes (13). What in the name of Jake Plummer is going on? Answer: Bruce Arians. The guy has his team playing as well as almost anyone out there, and now … well, now he takes on the head coach who let him go following the 2011 season. Arians says this is not about revenge or payback or any of that nonsense, but I don’t believe it. If there’s one game he wants to win, it’s Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh … and with Mike Vick quarterbacking the Steelers he has more than a decent chance.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: The Cards’ 190 points lead the league, as does their plus-100-point differential.
CAROLINA @ SEATTLE, 4:05 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Seahawks by 7
The story: A week ago I said we’d find out about Cincinnati … and we did. The Bengals rallied from a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit to overcome Seattle. “Not the same ol’ Bengals,” fans said. Not so fast. January is still out there, people. For Carolina, winning in Seattle … and solving Jimmy Graham … are the next hurdles, and good luck. In 10 games vs. the Panthers, Graham has 56 catches for 700 yards and 8 TDs. Of course, that was with New Orleans and Drew Brees. But this is Seattle, where Graham’s new quarterback, Russell Wilson, is 28-2, including the playoffs. “I think Drew Brees makes Jimmy Graham a different player,” Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis said, and he’s probably right. But Wilson makes the Seahawks a different team at home, as Carolina discovered in last year’s playoffs. So does Marshawn Lynch, and he’s expected back. If the Panthers are a legit Super Bowl threat, there’s never a better moment than now to let us know.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: The Panthers rank first in the league at plus-8 in the takeaway/giveaway differential.
MONDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
(Eli Manning photo courtesy of the N.Y. Giants)
N.Y. GIANTS @ PHILADELPHIA, 8:30 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Eagles by 5
The story: This is all about turnovers. The Eagles force them, and Eli Manning doesn’t commit them. Something has to give, and with Manning’s top two targets – Odell Beckham Jr. and Reuben Randle bothered by sore hamstrings – the needle moves toward Philadelphia. The Eagles have 13 takeaways this season, second best in the league, and have 22 interceptions of Manning in 22 games. But this is a different Eli, with two interceptions this year and 14 last season. Not only is he making smarter decisions; he’s making better throws, too – with last Sunday’s last-gasp TD to tight end Larry Donnell the latest example. It’s hard to get a read on Philadelphia, which doesn’t seem to wake up until the second half, but if its offense moves as it did in the second half last weekend the Giants are in deep kimchi – especially with cornerback Prince Amukamara missing from the league’s worst pass defense.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: In two starts with Dallas last year, DeMarco Murray ran over, under and through the Giants for 249 yards and a touchdown.
Clark Judge. Chicago (+3) over Detroit. It’s not that I like Chicago. It’s that I don’t like Detroit. If the fans are going to give up on the Lions, so will I.
Ron Borges. Miami (+1) over Tennessee. Miami is an underdog to Tennessee? How can that be? Miami has a defensive lineman making more than the entire Titans’ team. So I’ll take a boy named Suh and a team under new management.
Rick Gosselin. N.Y. Giants (+5) over Philadelphia. The Giants have won three in a row to claim the top spot in the NFC East in large part because Eli Manning is not throwing interceptions. The Giants will have the better quarterback on the field against the Eagles.
LOCK OF THE WEEK
(Adrian Peterson photo courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings)
MINNESOTA over KANSAS CITY, 1 p.m.
The line: Vikings by 3-1/2
The story: The Chiefs just lost Jamaal Charles, and a defense that’s been the backbone of this team ranks 30th in points allowed, 27th vs. the pass and 24th in interceptions. So quick question: How are they going to win. Answer: They’re not. Minnesota is coming off a bye and is rested; Kansas City just lost Charles and is toast. It’s not that I don’t believe in Andy Reid; it’s that I don’t believe in Alex Smith … not here, not now. The Vikings have Adrian Peterson, and the Chiefs have … Charcandrick West? Check please.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Minnesota quarterback Teddy Bridgewater won his last five starts at home.
HALL-OF-FAME SHOUT OUT
(Barry Sanders photo courtesy of the Detroit Lions)
The Pro Football Hall of Fame will honor three Gold Jackets during Sunday’s game with Chicago — cornerback Lem Barney, running back Barry Sanders and linebacker Joe Schmidt. Each will receive his Hall-of-Fame ring of excellence during halftime of the game. In addition, the Pro Football Hall of Fame Tour, called “Honor the Heroes,” kicks off this weekend at the Minneapolis Convention Center, with four Gold Jackets in attendance — quarterback Warren Moon, guard Randall McDaniel, safety Paul Krause and defensive tackle John Randle. Moon and McDaniel will appear on Saturday; Krause and Randle on Sunday.
FIVE GUYS ON SUNDAY’S WALL OF FAME
Denver QB Peyton Manning. He’s 6-0 vs. Cleveland.
Detroit QB Matt Stafford. He’s won three of his last four vs. Chicago at home.
Houston DE J.J. Watt. In eight career starts vs. Jacksonville he has 15 sacks, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, a safety, six pass deflections and a touchdown catch.
New England QB Tom Brady. He won his last six vs. the Colts, with 12 touchdown passes and three interceptions.
Seattle QB Russell Wilson. He’s 4-o vs. Carolina (including the playoffs), with a 105.1 passer rating.
HALL OF NOTES-WORTHY
Since the current playoff system was adopted in 1990, 15 teams that were three games or more under .500 through the first five weeks went on to reach the playoffs – and that includes four 1-4 teams that won their divisions.
With 186 yards Sunday, Aaron Rodgers will reach 30,000 passing yards for his career and become the quarterback with the fewest pass attempts to get there. John Unitas holds the record with 3,695 attempts. Rodgers has 3.628.
With his 150th consecutive starts Sunday, the Chargers’ Philip Rivers becomes only the fourth quarterback in league history to start 150 or more regular-season games in a row. The others are Brett Favre (297), Peyton Manning (208) and Eli Manning (172). Like Rivers, Eli Manning’s streak is active.
The top-ranked Denver defense is the first unit in 17 years to have 14 takeaways and 22 sacks through the first five games.
Through the first five weeks, the average league passer rating of 90.6 is on pace to be the highest in league history. It is the second highest through the first five weeks, with 2014’s 90.7 mark the best. One reason: The league-wide completion rate of 64.3 is the highest ever through the first five weeks.
More evidence that it’s a passing league: The top five rated quarterbacks have a combined record of 20-4.
Denver has advanced to the Super Bowl in five of the last six seasons it started 5-0.
In his last 20 games at home (including the playoffs), Aaron Rodgers has 50 touchdown passes and two interceptions. And in his only game vs. San Diego, he completed 21 of 26 for 247 yards, four TDs and a passer rating of 145.8.
Under Bill Belichick, the Patriots are 21-6 on the back end of consecutive road games
Green Bay scored at least 31 points in each of its last five games against San Diego.
Since Week 2 the New York Jets (2) and New York Giants (3) have allowed the fewest sacks in the NFL.