Sunday Playbook by Milt Northrop: Plenty to choose from during season’s most attractive week - The Buffalo News

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Sunday Playbook by Milt Northrop: Plenty to choose from during season’s most attractive week

It’s been a season of extremes and wild swings so far in the National Football League. For example:

• Embarrassed by 49-9 one week by Cincinnati, the New York Jets cool off the high-powered New Orleans Saints, 26-20, the next.

• Those Saints come back from that performance to roll up the score on Dallas, 49-17, amassing 625 yards, the most a Cowboys team ever has given up.

• Another proud team, Pittsburgh, gave up 55 points and 610 yards to New England, then came back and held the Bills to 227 the next week.

• And then, there’s been some pitifully weak offensive performances such as Miami’s 2 yards rushing in last Monday night’s loss at Tampa Bay and the Indianapolis Colts 18 yards (17 by quarterback Andrew Luck) in their surprising 38-8 loss AT HOME to the St. Louis Rams.

Here’s what’s in store today on what looks like the most attractive Sunday schedule of the season so far:

Game of the day

Chiefs (9-0) at Broncos (8-1)

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

The line: Broncos (-7 1/2)

The scoop: The two teams with the best record in the AFC will meet twice in the next three weeks. Denver must travel to New England in between. Chiefs would be in good position with a split although neither side has a challenging December schedule. ... Chiefs never have been 10-0. … K.C. leads league with plus-15 turnover margin. … Broncos leading NFL with 458.7 yards total offense, 36 yards more than No. 2 Saints. Chiefs are first team since 1977 to allow 17 or fewer points in first nine games of season. … Each side had issues during week. Denver’s is condition of QB Peyton Manning (ankle). Chiefs’ is arrest of its most reliable WR Dwayne Bowe.

Outlook: If Chiefs hold Denver under 17 they win, but they won’t unless Manning is hobbled. ... Broncos, 31-17.

Top attractions

49ers (6-3) at Saints (7-2)

Kickoff: 4:25 p.m.

The line: Saints (-3)

The scoop: Saints coming off 49-17 rout of Dallas. How impressive was New Orleans’ offense in rout of Cowboys? They scored seven touchdowns and missed a makeable (37-yard) field goal in their eight possessions.

Scoring drives were 80, 80, 52, 75, 92, 89, 83 and 78 yards. Nothing cheap. No short fields. None off turnovers, no return TDs.

They had 40 first downs and converted 9 of 12 third downs. … Niners, on the other hand, playing at home managed just 10 first downs and 151 yards total offense in 10-9 loss to Carolina. They were just 2-13 on third down.

Outlook: Niners QB Colin Kaepernick showing some limitations the more exposure he gets. SF can’t score with Saints, especially in Superdome. Saints, 27-20.

Patriots (7-2) at Panthers (6-3)

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

The line: Panthers (-2 1/2)

The scoop: Hard to believe that Carolina team that bumbled against the Bills in September is now on a tear (five-game win streak) with four 30-plus points games before last week’s defensive masterpiece at San Francisco, 10-9. … Panthers’ Cam Newton has better passer rating (88.3) than Pats’ Tom Brady (82.7). Each has 13 TD passes; INTs are Newton 8, Brady 6.

Outlook: Cam never has faced a Bill Belichick defense and the Patriots have had bye week to prepare. Carolina leads NFC in defense (283.3). Nevertheless it’s New England, 30-20.

Ravens (4-5) at Bears (5-4)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Bears (-3)

The scoop: Ravens kept their season alive with OT upset of Bengals last week, after blowing 17-0 halftime lead. ... Baltimore still getting limited production from running game (Ray Rice - 289 yards, 2.5 average) and Joe Flacco has almost as many INTS (11) as TD passes (12). … Bears keep losing players to injury (CB Michael Tillman and QB Jay Cutler), but Josh McCown has 103.2 rating and 4-0 TD-INT as backup.

Outlook: Bears getting strong season from RB Matt Forte (7 TDs). At Soldier Field, he and McCown enough to outpoint Ravens, 24-20.

Browns (4-5) at Bengals (6-4)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Bengals (-6)

The scoop: Cleveland could throw the AFC North into a real free-for-all if they repeat their 17-6 win over Bengals on Sept. 29. Browns come in off a bye week, yet another case of unfair NFL scheduling. … Ohio rivals rank second (Bengals) and third (Browns) in defense. … In last two starts, Browns’ Jason Campbell has completed 63.4 percent with 5 TDs, no INTs. Andy Dalton of Bengals has sloughed off. He threw three INTs and completed only 24 of 51 against Ravens last week and is 18-13 in TD-INT for season.

Outlook: Cleveland TE Jordan Cameron burned Bengals for 10 catches, 91 yards and TD in first meeting. ... No-name Browns are tough as old leather and won’t go down easily. Bengals, 17-14.

Best of the rest

Jets (5-4) at Bills (3-7)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Jets (-1)

The scoop: Even Meg Ryan could scheme up a defense to frustrate the Bills. The only Ryan the Bills have had much success against is Buddy, who was 1-1 as head coach of Eagles versus Buffalo. Son, Rex, is 7-2 and other son, Rob, made his record 5-2 as defensive coordinator versus Buffalo two weeks ago. Rex’s hard-charging defense is not good news for Bills’ rookie QB EJ Manuel and his depleted receiving corps. … Jets had bye week to study Manuel and Bills, although Buffalo didn’t show much during the loss to Pittsburgh last week.

Outlook: If Jets maintain their win-lose-win-lose pattern they are due to fall but their defense will break the spell. New York wins duel of unpredictable rookie QBs and tough defenses, 20-17.

Packers (5-4) at Giants (3-6)

TV: Ch. 29, 4:25 p.m.

The line: Giants (-4)

The scoop: Brandon Jacobs leads Giants with only 154 yards rushing. Andre Brown ran for 115 last year and looks like New York’s new featured back if he can finally stay healthy. … Two weeks ago Scott Tolzien, a Wisconsin grad, was on Packers’ practice squad. Now he’s being called on to keep the Pack’s playoff hopes alive in wide-open NFC North race with Aaron Rodgers out. … Green Bay wanted to lean on RB Eddie Lacy in home loss to Eagles last week but fell behind, 20-3, and had to scrap that. Besides Lacy averaged only 3.0 yards with long of 11 in 24-carry day.

Outlook: Eli Manning still throwing pick-sixes, but Giants have tidied up their defense and have won last three. New York, 27-13.

Redskins (3-6) at Eagles (5-5)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Eagles (-4 1/2)

The scoop: Redskins need this one to stay in race in weak NFC East. Philadelphia is tied with Dallas for division lead. ... Eagles won first game, 33-27, in Landover, Md., on Sept. 9 with Michael Vick at QB. New starter Nick Foles has 10 TDs last two weeks and has thrown no INTs in 136 attempts. His passer rating is an astounding 132.5 for season, although he hasn’t play enough to make NFL lists. Notice how fast Philly snapped up utilityman Brad Smith as soon as the Bills waived him.

Outlook: Robert Griffin III seems to be getting back in the swing of things for Redskins. Venue doesn’t seem to mean much in this rivalry. Redskins are 5-3 in Phila. since ’05. Washington, 35-30.

Lions (6-3) at Steelers (3-6)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Lions (-2 1/2)

The scoop: Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau truly is a genius if he can slow down Detroit offense which is averaging 410 yards per game. Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson eagerly will go after the suspect Pitt secondary, something the Bills were unable to do. … Lions are 0-8-1 in Pittsburgh since they last won there in 1955 with Bobby Layne at QB. The late Jim Finks and Bona great Ted Marchibroda threw TD passes for Steelers that day.

Outlook: Steelers underdogs at home? Detroit, 28-27.

Chargers (4-5) at Dolphins (4-5)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Chargers (-1 1/2)

The scoop: When these teams meet, can’t help thinking back to epic playoff game of 1981 season. Bolts won in overtime, 41-38, to earn the right to suffer in Cincinnati next week in Freeze Bowl for AFC championship.

Outlook: Dolphins calm down after Richiegate and Chargers must be road weary. Miami, 20-17.

Cardinals (5-4) at Jaguars (1-8)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Cardinals (-8)

The scoop: What former Clemson back has the highest rushing average this season? Not C.J. Spiller. It’s Arizona rookie Andre Ellington at 7.2.

Outlook: Undermanned Jaguars are improving slowly and trying hard but Cardinals, 27-17.

Raiders (3-6) at Texans (2-7)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Texans (-9)

The scoop: Gary Kubiak returns to take reins of Texans after his ministroke. Undrafted rookie QB Case Keenum has thrown for three TDs last two games for Houston. Last time that happened was in 1960 (Butch Songin of the Patriots, who was 36 at the time). … Raiders had only two TDs against Giants last week, one on a 5-yard drive after fumble and the other on a interception return.

Outlook: J.J. Watt and Houston pass rush will bother Terrell Pryor. Texans 20-13.

Falcons (2-7) at Buccaneers (1-8)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Pick’ em

The scoop: Atlanta won first game Oct. 20 in Tampa, 31-23. That was last big game for slumping QB Matt Ryan. Falcons are 0-3 since. Bucs are decent on defense but rank 31st in league in total offense.

Outlook: Amazing how badly the Falcons have played and it probably will cost Mike Smith his job when season is over. Bucs are almost as bad. Falcons, 24-17.

Dog of the day

Vikings (2-7) at Seahawks (9-1)

Kickoff: 4:25 p.m.

The line: Seahawks (-11 1/2)

The scoop: Seahawks and Saints are only NFC teams with fewer than two conference losses, a key tiebreaker. ... Percy Harvin should be back to give Seattle offense a jolt. … Nobody wants to play Seattle in postseason but Seahawks have struggled at home against Titans and Bucs in last two. … Minnesota is winless (0-4) but competitive on the road.

Outlook: Should be routine, 27-13 win for Seattle with bye next week before big games against Saints and Niners.

Last week: 8-5 outright, 8-5 versus spread. Season’s record: 78-59 outright, 67-66-4 versus spread.


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