Milt Northrop’s Sunday Playbook: Road beckons for unbeaten teams - The Buffalo News
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Milt Northrop’s Sunday Playbook: Road beckons for unbeaten teams

Beware the dangers of the road. That’s where the Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins were ambushed last Sunday.

Today, all five of the NFL’s unbeaten teams must travel, and all will be encountering major tests. The New Orleans Saints, Kansas City Chiefs and Seattle Seahawks all face teams with 3-1 records. The Denver Broncos and New England Patriots take on the 2-2 Dallas Cowboys and Cincinnati Bengals, respectively.

The most interesting game on the docket, however, finds two 2-2 teams going at it tonight in San Francisco, where the Houston Texans and 49ers meet.

A lot of preseason predictions had the Texans and 49ers meeting in the Super Bowl next February. Houston has lost two in a row and San Francisco lost decisively at Seattle and at home against the Colts before righting the ship last week at St. Louis. It’s all created some doubt in the Niners’ ability to get back to the big game.

Pittsburgh, Washington, Minnesota and Tampa Bay, who are combined 2-14, get a much-needed week off.

A look at the Week Five games:

Game of the day

Texans (2-2) at 49ers (2-2)

TV: Ch. 2, 8:30 p.m.

The line: 49ers (-6).

The scoop: Tough spot for Texans on the road against strong opponent, coming off home loss to Seattle and in danger of falling below .500. ... Statistically, these are two of the best defenses in the league. Houston leads (254.3). Niners top the NFC at 299.8. ... Houston QB Matt Schaub (3 TDs, 6 INTs) getting lot of heat because of late-game pick six that led to OT loss to Seattle at Reliant Stadium last week.

Outlook: Wade Phillips’ defense contained Seattle’s Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch much of game last week. Let’s see how he does against Colin Kaepernick and Co. Niners, 24-14.

Top attractions

Chiefs (4-0) at Titans (3-1)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Chiefs (-2½).

The scoop: Ryan Fitzpatrick gets first start for Tennessee in place of injured Jake Locker against team he’s had success against. Fitz is 4-1 vs. KC in career (3-1 as a Bill with the loss in OT). ... Everything breaking KC’s way so far but they live and die on winning turnovers battle, which is sometimes unpredictable. Also, beaten opponents so far are only 3-13.

Outlook: Titans have no turnovers so far, but Fitz ... Chiefs, 21-16.

Saints (4-0) at Bears (3-1)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Saints (-1).

The scoop: Jimmy Graham (27 catches, 458 yards, 6 TDs) is having a Gronk-type season. ... Saints’ Drew Brees has 10-4 TD-INT ratio while Jay Cutler of Bears is 8-6. His turnovers led to loss at Lions last week.

Outlook: Always wary of Saints outdoors on road, but these are not the Mike Ditka Bears. New Orleans, 33-20.

Patriots (4-0) at Bengals (2-2)

TV: Ch. 4, 1 p.m.

The line: Pick ‘em.

The scoop: Bengals unimpressive so far, except for win over Green Bay. Cleveland has tough defense but getting shut out from field by Browns is a bad sign. ... Pats already have beaten Bills and Falcons on road although they nearly blew 17-point lead in last 6:18 at Atlanta.

Outlook: Who needs Welker, Amendola? Edelman has 34 catches already for Pats. New England, 31-21.

Lions (3-1) at Packers (1-2)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Packers (-7).

The scoop: Green Bay coming off bye week. In a key division matchup, it doesn’t seem fair that one team had extra week of preparation and rest. Outcome could decide NFC North. ... Green Bay has won 14 of last 15 against Lions and Pack coach Mike McCarthy is 13-1 against Motor City guys.

Outlook: Playing at Lambeau, Packers can’t afford to lose. Green Bay, 42-31.

Seahawks (4-0) at Colts (3-1)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Seahawks (-2½).

The scoop: At Stanford, Andrew Luck used to torment Pete Carroll-coached Southern Cal team. Now they’re on opposite sides again. This promises to be a major test for Mr. Luck against Seattle rush, throwing into perhaps best secondary in the league.

Outlook: Can newcomer Trent Richardson keep Seattle defense honest? Probably not. Seahawks, 24-20.

Ravens (2-2) at Dolphins (3-1)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Dolphins (-2½).

The scoop: Does Cameron Wake (knee) play? He will be game-time decision again. Dolphins’ pass rush missed him in loss at New Orleans. ... Ravens obviously displeased with O-line play versus Bills. That’s why they made mid-week trade for LT Eugene Monroe of the Jaguars. ... Five INT game last week sent Joe Flacco’s passer rating plummeting to 69.4.

Outlook: Ravens got caught in sandwich game last week. This is big for them with Green Bay coming up next week. Front-running South Florida fans are excited. Miami, 28-20.

Best of the rest

Broncos (4-0) at Cowboys (2-2)

TV: Ch. 4, 4:25 p.m.

The line: Broncos (-7½).

The scoop: Peyton Manning is making it look so easy. He leads the league in passing yards, TDs and passer rating. Tony Romo of Cowboys quietly having good year with modest 8 TDs and just one INT. ... Broncos have won last 15 regular season games by seven points or better. Last to do that was a 1942 Bears team. Also, Denver’s 179 points is most in opening four games since 1966 Cowboys scored 183 with Dandy Don Meredith at the controls.

Outlook: Dallas rush may give Manning some problems. Broncos, 35-33.

Jets (2-2) at Falcons (1-3)

TV: ESPN, Monday, 8:30 p.m.

The line: Falcons (-10).

The scoop: A week after anointing Geno Smith for Canton, New York media ready to relegate rookie QB to scrap heap after his two INTs helped Titans to 24-6 halftime lead and rout at Tennessee last week. ... Falcons’ striking power was impressive against Pats but they managed just two field goals in four trips to 10 and beyond.

Outlook: Falcons already three behind Saints and should be desperate. Atlanta, 27-13.

Chargers (2-2) at Raiders (1-3)

Kickoff: 11:35 p.m., NFLN

The line: Chargers (-4½).

The scoop: Game gets late start because of stadium issues caused by AL playoff game. ... Will it be Terrelle Pryor or Matt Flynn at QB for Raiders? ... Chargers QB Philip Rivers is impressive 11-2 in TD-INT ratio so far. ... Chargers have won last three over Silver and Black, but Raiders lead all-time series, 57-47-2.

Outlook: Raiders make it interesting. San Diego, 20-17.

Eagles (1-3) at Giants (0-4)

TV: Ch. 29, 1 p.m.

The line: Giants (-1½).

The scoop: This one used to be for the NFC East title. Eagles have won seven of last nine in Metroliner Rivalry. Giants’ Tom Coughlin is only 10-12 versus Philly in career. ... Victor Cruz has four of Giants’ seven touchdowns so far including only score in rout at KC last week.

Outlook: Eagles shell-shocked after Denver loss. Giants trying to regroup, too. Home edge to Giants, 30-27.

Panthers (1-2) at Cardinals (2-2)

Kickoff: 4:05 p.m.

The line: Panthers (-2).

The scoop: Carolina is 8-3 all-time against Cardinals, Panthers coming off bye week and might enjoy playing indoors. Patrick Peterson saved Redbirds with two INTs in comeback win at Tampa Bay last week.

Outlook: Panthers will have difficulty containing Larry Fitzgerald. Arizona, 24-21.

Dog of the day

Jaguars (0-4) at Rams (1-3)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Rams (-11½).

The scoop: Rams are underachieving but Jags are putting up some dismal numbers. QB Blaine Gabbert has 30.7 passer rating and Maurice Jones-Drew is averaging only 2.4 per rush. ... Rams haven’t scored a rushing TD yet.

Outlook: Jags may go down in history with 1952 Dallas Texans, 2008 Lions and 1976 Buccaneers among league’s worst. Rams, 28-10.

Last week: 8-6 straight up, 9-5 versus spread.

Season’s record: 33-26 straight up, 23-31-4 versus spread.


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