Why We Watch: Who’s best in the NFC — Packers or Carolina?


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(Cam Newton photo courtesy of the Carolina Panthers)
(Aaron Rodgers photo courtesy of the Green Bay Packers)

By Clark Judge

Talk of Fame Network

OUR SUNDAY BEST

GREEN BAY @ CAROLINA, 1 p.m. (EST)

The line: Packers by 2-1/2

The story: The Packers are supposed to be the best team in the NFC, but this is a team with a glaring weakness. It’s called defense. Three weeks ago, Philip Rivers shredded it for 503 yards passing. Last week the Broncos ran for 160 yards en route to 500 total yards. If defenses win championships, Green Bay’s in trouble. Reason: This week’s opponent not only is the only unbeaten team in the NFC; it has one of the best defenses anywhere. The Panthers rank 10th overall, seventh in points allowed, seventh vs. the pass and third in interceptions. But that’s not all. They’re a complete team, able to beat you on offense with Cam Newton or Jonathan Stewart with the run. And that could be the critical element here, especially with the Packers allowing 4.7 yards per attempt. Run effectively, and you keep Aaron Rodgers and Co. off on the field … and that’s big. The Packers have not lost back-to-back regular-season games with Rodgers since 2010.

Hall-of-Fame worthy: The Packers scored 30 or more points in all four games vs. Carolina under Mike McCarthy.

THREE OTHERS WORTH HALL-OF-FRAMING

Regular Season

(Ben Roethlisberger photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Steelers)

OAKLAND @ PITTSBURGH, 1 p.m. (EST)

The line: Steelers by 4-1/2

The story: The Raiders not only are back; they’re one of only five teams in the AFC with a winning record, which makes them … yep, a legitimate playoff contender. Not only are they on a two-game roll, but they broke an 11-game road losing streak with a defeat of Cleveland in September. That ups their chances for success here, except … except Pittsburgh is fighting for its season, and that makes the Steelers desperate. Desperate teams at home are dangerous teams, and, yeah, I know the Steelers just lost Le’Veon Bell, but there’s no way Ben Roethlisberger is as inaccurate as he was a week ago. Plus, where are the Raiders most vulnerable? Uh-huh, vs. the pass, and that’s where Big Ben will attack.

Hall-of-Fame worthy: If the Raiders don’t allow a sack, they tie the franchise record for fewest sacks (10) allowed through their first eight games since the 1970 merger.

ST. LOUIS @ MINNESOTA, 1 p.m. (EST)

The line: Vikings by 1-1/2

The story: Minnesota is hot, winning five of its last six, but so is St. Louis. The Rams are 3-1 since Todd Gurley took over at running back, and something’s got to give. People tell me the Vikings are a legitimate playoff threat, and they’re right. But so is St. Louis. The Rams can run the ball. They attack the pocket. And their defense is terrific, ranking sixth overall, third in points allowed and tied for second in sacks. But look at Minnesota. The Vikings can run the ball. They attack the pocket. And their defense is terrific, ranking seventh overall, second in points allowed and ninth vs. the pass. St. Louis is 10th. I think you get the idea. These two teams are mirror-images of each other. The Vikings have Adrian Peterson; the Rams have the next Adrian Peterson. The Vikings are the second-best team in their division, and so are the Rams. The Vikings have Teddy Bridgewater; the Rams have … uh-oh, there’s where this game can be won. For St. Louis to pull the upset, Nick Foles can’t make he mistakes that hounded him the past two seasons. If he stands back and let’s Gurley and Tavon Austin make plays, St. Louis can move a little closer to Arizona.

Hall-of-Fame worthy: Teddy Bridgewater has won six straight at home with a 91.7 rating.

DENVER @ INDIANAPOLIS, 4:25 p.m. (EST)

The line: Broncos by 5-1/2

The story: Frankly, I’m surprised the line isn’t higher. The Broncos’ defense is second to none, and Andrew Luck … lately, he’s been second to everyone. Denver leads the league in sacks and ties for second in takeaways, while Indianapolis not only can’t protect Luck — he can’t protect the ball. There will be a lot of talk about Peyton Manning returning to play the team that drafted him – especially with a chance to make more history vs. a defense that’s allows more passes of 20 or more yards (36) than anyone – but this isn’t about Manning. It’s about a defense that won’t let Luck … or the Colts … breathe.

Hall-of-Fame worthy: With 284 yards passing, Manning surpasses Brett Favre for the most yards passing in a career.

MONDAY NIGHT LIGHTS

Philip Rivers (17)

(Philip Rivers photo courtesy of the San Diego Chargers)

CHICAGO @ SAN DIEGO, 8:30 p.m. (EST)

The line: Chargers by 4

The story: Let’s make this one simple. The Bears stink, and so do the Chargers. The Bears are hurt, missing Matt Forte and Eddie Royal, and so are the Chargers. They had 12 players bow out of last week’s game and just lost top receiver Keenan Allen for the season. Neither one of these teams is going anywhere, but the Chargers hold the edge in the all-important most-important-player-on-the-field department. That would be Philip Rivers, and when it comes down to Rivers vs. Jay Cutler the choice is easy.

Hall-of-Fame worthy: Rivers has thrown for at least 300 yards and two touchdowns in each of his last five games. With another performance of 300 yards and two TDs he becomes the fourth quarterback in NFL history to achieve that feat in six games. Only Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Steve Young have done it.

LOCK OF THE WEEK

2011 New Orleans Saints New Orleans Saints 30 - Carolina Panthers 27 (W) Saints Record Now 4-1 All Images Copyright Michael C. Hebert
(Drew Brees photo courtesy of the New Orleans Saints)

NEW ORLEANS OVER TENNESSEE, 1 p.m. (EST)

The line: Saints by 8

The story: The Saints are rolling, winning their last three – including a seven-touchdown performance by Drew Brees last weekend. And the Titans? They flat-out stink, firing their head coach this week and scoring fewer points (36) the past four games than New Orleans had the first three quarters (42) last weekend. So Mike Mularkey’s in charge. Big deal. Does anyone really think that makes a difference? Ken Whisenhunt was 3-20 with four quarterbacks, while, as a head coach, Mularkey was 3-20 in his last 23 games with four quarterbacks. This is simply more proof that the more the Titans change the more they stay the same.

Hall-of-Fame worthy: The Saints rank third in time of possession at 32:31.

UPSET ALERTS

(Home team in capital letters)

Clark Judge. St. Louis (+1-1/2) over MINNESOTA. I believe in the St. Louis defense, and I believe in Todd Gurley. I’ve always said, Todd is Godd.

Rick Gosselin. DALLAS (+2-1/2) over Philadelphia. The Cowboys are 0-5 without Tony Romo. But they’ve already beaten the Eagles in Philadelphia with Romo, and their defense will allow the Cowboys to beat them again in Dallas without him.

Ron Borges. Oakland (+4-1/2) over PITTSBURGH. The Raiders are ready to shut down Steel Town.

FIVE GUYS ON SUNDAY’S WALL OF FAME

Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers. He won his last two vs. Carolina, with five touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 140.1. He also has a career rating of 109.2 vs. NFC opponents, highest in the NFL.

Minnesota RB Adrian Peterson. He’s run for 350 yards and three TDs in three games vs. St. Louis.

Dallas PK Dan Bailey. He’s made all 10 field goal tries and 23 extra-point attempts vs. Philadelphia. He also has 23 touchbacks on 40 kickoffs.

Carolina CB Charles Tillman. He aims for his fifth consecutive game vs. Green Bay with a forced fumble.

N.Y. Jets WR Brandon Marshall. In three games vs. Jacksonville he has 28 catches for 375 yards – including 12 receptions for 144 yards and a touchdown in his last appearance vs. the Jags.

HALL OF NOTES-WORTHY

Since 2000, 35 teams at .500 or below eight games into the season reached the playoffs – including at least one in each year. Of those 35 teams, five advanced to the conference championship game.

Green Bay and Indianapolis each face opponents with records of 6-0 or better for the second straight week. Only the 1934 Detroit Lions and 2004 Pittsburgh Steelers faced opponents with records of 6-0 or better in consecutive weeks.

With four touchdown passes Sunday, Drew Brees surpasses Y.A. Tittle and Nick Foles for the most scoring passes (3) in a game following a seven-TD performance.

Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger has thrown for at least one touchdown pass in each of his last 34 games at home.

Todd Gurley has run for 566 yards in his first four starts, the most by any player making his first four starts since 1970.

Eli Manning is 4-0 vs. Tampa Bay and threw for a career-best 510 yards in his last game against the Bucs.

The Broncos have not allowed a first-quarter point this season, one of nine teams since the 1970 merger to hold opponents scoreless in the first quarter through their first seven games. The 1974 Los Angeles Rams hold the league record with nine straight games without allowing a first-quarter score.

The Packers and Panthers are the only teams with 4-0 records against the NFC this season.

If the Oakland Raiders don’t commit a turnover in Pittsburgh it would mark the third straight game they’ve had an error-free game – tying the franchise record.

Philadelphia’s defense has a takeaway in 13 straight games, with 32 total takeaways during that span. The Eagles lead the league with 19 forced turnovers.

With a win over Washington, the New England Patriots are guaranteed to finish with a record of .500 or better for the 15th straight season.

Rex Ryan is 1-5 in games immediately following byes, with his teams outscored 138-48.

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