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Milt Northrop’s Sunday playbook: Pats’ no-names have history of tormenting Bills

It’s too early to count anybody out of the National Football League postseason picture, but five divisional matchups in Week Four could go a long way to determining who makes it.

Besides the Bills-Patriots meeting in Foxborough, Mass., there are five other intradivisional games on Sunday’s schedule. They wouldn’t be knockout blows, but losses by the Carolina Panthers at Atlanta, the Tennessee Titans at Houston, and the Arizona Cardinals at home against the Los Angeles Rams would damage hopes of returning to the playoffs as divisional champions.

The other division matchup is Sunday’s first game, the morning clash (locally) of the Indianapolis Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars in London’s Wembley Stadium. A Colts loss could conceivably drop them two games behind the AFC South leader.

Here’s a capsule look at the Week Four games:

Game of the day Raiders (2-1) at Ravens (3-0)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Ravens (-3)

The scoop: Baltimore looks like most overrated team of early season. Defense is second in league with 254.3 yield, but who have Ravens faced? Bills at home and Browns and Jaguars on road. Talk about cupcakes. ... Raiders are second in league in offense, but that may be deceptive because first game was against Saints’ inept defense.

Outlook: Which is a real contender? Raiders show their mettle, 23-17.

Top attractionsBills (1-2) at Patriots (3-0)

TV: CBS, 1 p.m.

The line: Patriots (-4½).

The scoop: What would line be if Brady were playing? ... After upset of Cards last week, Bills have only two question marks: offense and defense. ... Pats’ subs and no-names have tortured Bills in past. Who says Garoppolo and Brissett won’t do the same?

Outlook: Script says Patriots go 4-0 without Tom. New England, 31-21.

Chiefs (2-1) at Steelers (2-1)

TV: NBC, 8:30 p.m.

The line: Steelers (-5).

The scoop: Chiefs using their usual formula - limit mistakes with Alex Smith at QB and win turnover battle (plus 5). ... Hard to believe Steelers were embarrassed like they were in Philly last week, largest margin of defeat since 41-10 loss to Bengals in 1989 (an Adam Schefter scoop). Bet Mike Tomlin’s practices were fun this week.

Outlook: Steelers rebound for big win, 20-14.

Vikings (3-0) at Giants (2-1)

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

The line: Vikings (-5).

The scoop: Minnesota getting lot of credit for record in light of losses of QB Teddy Bridgewater and RB Adrian Peterson and LT Matt Kalil, but new QB Sam Bradford is much more dangerous passer than Teddy. ... Defense (295.0, league-leading 15 sacks) are why Vikes are 3-0 against tough schedule. ... WR Odell Beckham Jr. hurts Giants more with his antics than he helps with his remarkable receiving talent.

Outlook: Beckham lays off the black coffee and calms down. Giants, 16-14.

Panthers (1-2) at Falcons (2-1)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Panthers (-3).

The scoop: Carolina and Cam Newton were dreadful at home in loss to Minnesota. How much of that was because of the turmoil in Charlotte week before the game? How much was lack of physical running game without injured Jonathan Stewart? ... Falcons mauled Saints on road last Monday night. Hard to believe Atlanta’s leading receiver is TE Jacob Tamme (14 receptions, 154 yards), not Julio Jones (10, 188).

Outlook: Panthers aren’t the Saints, but something is missing with Carolina team. Atlanta, 27-23.

Best of the restColts (1-2) vs. Jaguars (0-3)

TV: CBS, 9:30 a.m.

The line: Colts (-2½).

The scoop: Jags routed Colts, 51-16, in last meeting in Jacksonville near end of 2015 season. However, Indy QB Andrew Luck did not play in that one and he has won his last five starts against Jaguars. ... It’s fourth straight year Jaguars have played a game in their home-away-from-home, Wembley Stadium. They are 1-2 so far with the win last year when Jax spoiled Bills playoff chances.

Outlook: Unless zebras come up with a phantom interference call again, Jaguars lose, 35-24.

Lions (1-2) at Bears (0-3)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Lions (-3).

The scoop: Detroit has won last six from Chicago in one of hoary old rivalries that dates to when Lions were Portsmouth Spartans. ... Bears have had win streaks of 11 and 10 in rivalry. ... Looks like Brian Hoyer will start at QB or Chicago again. Matthew Stafford of Lions has passed for three TDs and has 105.0 passer rating. ... Detroit coach Jim Caldwell is 4-0 as head man against Bears.

Outlook: There are a lot of weak teams in NFC and Chicago is one. Lions, 28-16.

Titans (1-2) at Texans (2-1)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Texans (-5).

The scoop: Houston jolted by loss of DE J.J. Watt (back surgery), perhaps for rest of season on top of let’s-get-real, 27-0 loss at New England. ... Titans had Raiders on ropes last week and let them get away by failing to get tying TD in final minute. ... Grand Islander Brett Kern averaging 48.9 punting for Titans with 41.7 net average.

Outlook: Although they really haven’t been tested yet, Texans lead league in pass defense and should contain Marcus Mariota. Houston, 27-20.

Seahawks (2-1) at Jets (1-2)

TV: Fox, 1 p.m.

The line: Seahawks (-2½).

The scoop: With bye coming up, some believe Seahawks will hold out gimpy (knee) Russell Wilson this week in favor of rookie backup Trevone Boykin (TCU). ... After carving up Bills, Ryan Fitzpatrick of Jets had 18.2 passer rating. For those who don’t understand passer-rating formula: That’s bad. Very bad.

Outlook: Desperate Jets hang in against Seattle offense that is not that great. Jets, 17-16.

Cowboys (2-1) at 49ers (1-2)

TV: Fox, 4:25 p.m.

The line: Cowboys (-3).

The scoop: Great thing about this one for Cowboys haters is it brings back haunting memories of Dwight Clark’s “The Catch” from Joe Montana in 1981 NFC Championship Game at Candlestick. ... Did Cowboys luck into good one in rookie QB Dak Prescott or did rest of NFL talent scouts whiff again? He’s saved Dallas season.

Outlook: Kaepernick sits again and Cowboys win, 23-10.

Rams (2-1) at Cardinals (1-2)

Kickoff: 4:25 p.m.

The line: Cardinals (-8).

The scoop: Los Angeles produced no TDs first two games, then put up 37 at Tampa Bay last week. How did that happen? ... Everybody time I read that Rams QB Case Keenum can’t play, L.A. wins another game. ... Cardinals have to put things in order after loss to Bills exposed a lot of flaws.

utlook: Back home with playoff hopes in danger, Cardinals have to be psyched. Also they lost to Rams, 24-22, early for one of only three regular-season defeats in 2015. Cards, 28-13.

Broncos (3-0) at Bucs (1-2)

Kickoff: 4:05 p.m.

The line: Broncos (-3½).

The scoop: Seventh-round draft pick Trevor Siemian (4 TD passes, no INTs in win at Bengals last week) is best QB to come out of Northwestern since Otto Graham. ... Bucs have had two bad games in a row - a no-show at San Diego and dreadful performance in home loss to Rams last week.

Outlook: Bucs fired Lovie Smith for this? Broncos’ pass rush makes it a long day for Jameis Winston. Denver, 24-14.

Dog of the weekSaints (0-3) at Chargers (1-2)

Kickoff: 4:25 p.m.

The line: Chargers (-4).

The scoop: Saints haven’t been the same since Bountygate. Last time teams met, Drew Bees passed for 370 yards and four TDs in 31-24 Saints win in 2012. Last time they met in San Diego (2004), Brees passed for 257 yards and four TDS for Chargers.

Outlook: Philip Rivers vs. Brees should be great to watch. Chargers 45, Saints 35.

Last week’s record: 8-7-0 straight up; 6-8-1 vs. spread.

Season’s record: 29-17 straight up; 24-21-1 vs. spread.


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