It’s difficult to sneak up on anybody in the NFL, given the attention the sport commands.
Yet the Indianapolis Colts have been something of a secret at 6-3. If you’re surprised to see them tied with Tennessee atop the AFC South, it’s excusable.
After beating the Titans, should they handle one of the NFL’s elite teams, the Packers, on Sunday, well, evaluations of the Colts will change from outsider to contender.
“We enjoyed the heck out of that win (at Tennessee). We were all excited,” quarterback Philip Rivers says. “That was a big win, but at the same time we know you just have to keep pushing. I refer to it as … it’s a week-to-week league. It’s what are you doing this Sunday?
“As excited as we are to put ourselves in position here after nine games, we know that our best football needs to be ahead of us starting this week.”
Green Bay (7-2) is solidly in control of the NFC North and in strong position to pursue the conference’s top seed and lone playoffs bye. The Packers have only one future opponent that currently has a winning record, the Titans.
Aaron Rodgers disregards the upcoming schedule.
“I think every game is a measuring stick, and there’s ways we can look at every aspect of our matchup and use it to our advantage when critiquing ourselves or coaching up certain things,” the outstanding Packers quarterback says. “Numbers are used to project things, but they’re also a reflection of performance.
“I think every week in the NFL, it’s about winning and it’s about execution. We’ve played great defenses in the past and done well, and we’ve played defenses that ranked really low and not done well. It just depends on the execution and how things match up on Sunday.”
The action began with Seattle temporarily taking the NFC West lead with a 28-21 win over Arizona on Thursday night. The Seahawk moved to 7-3 as Russell Wilson rebounded from his worst game of the season to throw for two touchdowns. Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray, who periodically had his right arm and shoulder area attended to during the game, also threw for two TDs. The Cardinals are 6-4.
Off this week are Chicago (5-5), the New York Giants (3-7), Buffalo (7-3) and San Francisco (4-6).
Kansas City (8-1) at Las Vegas (6-3)
How much have the Chiefs dominated the AFC West? Try:
Kansas City has won 17 of the past 19 road games in the division, losing only to the Raiders in 2014 and ’17. Kansas City also has won 17 of its past 18 games overall, including the playoffs, with the only loss coming last month to Las Vegas.
The Raiders believe they are prepared for a shootout against Patrick Mahomes and Co. Mahomes has 25 touchdown passes and one interception; Drew Brees in 2018 is the only quarterback to throw more TDs before his second pick, 26. And KC looks to score at least 23 points for an NFL-record 24th straight game.
But Las Vegas has its running game tuned up — the Raiders have run for at least 150 yards in three straight games. They haven’t done four in a row since an eight-game streak in 1985. Derek Carr had one of his best games in the win over the Chiefs with 347 yards passing and three TDs.
Pittsburgh (9-0) at Jacksonville (1-8)
The Steelers don’t play particularly well in Jacksonville, but they still have squeezed out victories in their past three trips. While their running game has sagged a bit, there’s nothing wrong with the defense. The Steelers have at least one sack in 66 consecutive games, three shy of Tampa Bay’s NFL record set between 1999 and 2003.
Jacksonville, which has lost eight in a row, is one shy of a very dubious mark: 100 defeats under owner Shad Khan. He fired coach Gus Bradley following a ninth straight loss in 2016. The Jaguars are 41-99 in Khan’s nine-year tenure. A loss Sunday would tie him with former New Orleans Saints owner John Mecom Jr. as the second fastest to reach 100.
Tennessee (6-3) at Baltimore (6-3)
It’s all about Derrick Henry, as the Ravens found out in last January’s playoff loss to the Titans’ superb running back. Henry, second in the NFL in rushing with 946 yards, ran for 103 yards in his previous game, a loss to Indianapolis. Henry has five 100-yard rushing games this season and 11 since the start of the 2019 schedule.
But the Ravens lead the NFL in fewest points allowed per game (18.3), forced fumbles (17) and fumble recoveries (10). And they can also run the ball, having rushed for at least 100 yards in 32 straight games, the third-longest streak in NFL history.
Tennessee has the NFL’s fewest turnovers with four. The Titans lead the NFL with a plus-10 turnover differential. Baltimore, coming off a messy defeat in nasty weather at New England, saw its NFL-record run of scoring at least 20 points in 31 straight games end. So did its streak of forcing a turnover in 21 successive games.
Philadelphia (3-5-1) at Cleveland (6-3)
The Eagles have won five straight against the Browns and four in a row at Cleveland. But these Eagles have been serious underachievers — injuries have had a lot to do with that — and are on top of the NFC East only because the division is so week. The Eagles’ next five opponents are a combined 32-13.
They do play the run pretty well, and the Browns run well. Nick Chubb returned last week after missing four games with a sprained right knee and rushed for 126 yards. Kareem Hunt added 104 yards against Houston; Chubb and Hunt are the first Cleveland backs to run for 100 yards apiece since Hall of Famer Leroy Kelly and Ernie Green in 1966.
Miami (6-3) at Denver (3-6)
Turnovers often are decisive in the NFL, so get this: The Dolphins rank second in takeaways per game at 1.7. They have a takeaway in 16 consecutive games, the longest streak in the league. Denver leads the league with 21 giveaways, including a league-high 16 interceptions. The Broncos turned over the ball five times at Las Vegas last week.
Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa could match Ben Roethlisberger as the only quarterbacks in the past 40 years to win their first four starts as a rookie. Roethlisberger won his first 13 starts in 2004. The Dolphins’ five-game winning streak is their longest since 2016.
New England (4-5) at Houston (2-7)
Even though the Patriots have won two in a row, it’s difficult to get excited considering they were pushed to the limit by the winless Jets, then knocked off Baltimore in ugly weather last week.
Weather won’t be a factor in Houston — and the Texans might not be, either. It’s easy to feel for talented QB Deshaun Watson, who is getting little help. Houston’s only two victories are against Jacksonville, which is almost as hapless as the Jets.
Dallas (2-7) at Minnesota (4-5)
Kirk Cousins can’t feel comfortable against the Cowboys, even if Dallas is one of the league’s worst teams. DeMarcus Lawrence has more sacks, with five, of Cousins than any other player in his career. Cousins is 2-6 in his career against the Cowboys but has 14 TDs against five interceptions for a 99.2 passer rating in the eight starts, mostly with Washington.
Slowing Minnesota running back Dalvin Cook is the key for Dallas, while Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott has struggled and still does not have a 100-yard rushing performance in 2020.
Los Angeles Rams (6-3) at Tampa Bay (6-3), Monday night
For all the excitement about the offenses, this one could come down to a pair of dependable defensive units.
LA’s defense has allowed 29 points in the second half this season, including just two touchdowns, both by Buffalo in Week 3. The Rams have allowed an NFL-low nine touchdown passes, including just one TD throw in their six victories. In Aaron Donald, they have the most dominant defender in the league, and Tom Brady will be facing a top-level secondary led by Jalen Ramsey.
Meanwhile, the Bucs lead the NFL in run defense (76.6 yards per game) and are tied for first with 17 takeaways.
Atlanta (3-6) at New Orleans (7-2)
The Falcons are playing better under interim coach Raheem Morris, and the Saints, minus Drew Brees, could be vulnerable.
The Saints have won six straight games, the fourth straight season they’ve had a winning streak that long. Whether it continues might depend on if Jameis Winston can protect the ball better than he did when he was with Tampa Bay, and how productive Alvin Kamara is against a vulnerable Atlanta defense. Kamara ranks second in the NFL in scrimmage yards with 1,134, and has 11 TDs.
Cincinnati (2-6-1) at Washington (2-7)
The top two selections in last April’s draft face off.
Bengals QB Joe Burrow ranks second in the NFL with 370 pass attempts and third with 242 completions. He has five 300-yard passing games, tied for second most among rookies in NFL history.
Washington edge rusher Chase Young hasn’t had nearly as much impact, but leads all rookies with 3 1-2 sacks. Young committed a roughing-the-passer penalty that set up the Lions for Matt Prater’s winning 59-yard field goal last Sunday.
Detroit (4-5) at Carolina (3-7)
The Lions are 3-2 on the road, the Panthers are 1-4 at home and have dropped five in a row overall.
Surprising factoid: Carolina’s Robby Anderson ranks fifth in yards receiving (772), and DJ Moore ranks 10th with 736, making Carolina the only team in the league with two players with more than 700 yards receiving.
New York Jets (0-9) at Los Angeles Chargers (2-7)
Two teams headed nowhere.
New York has not won a regular-season road game against the Chargers since 2004, and has never been 0-9 before. We might be repeating the phrase each week as the numbers climb.
At least LA has had one positive in 2020: Justin Herbert is the first rookie to throw multiple TDs in six straight games. Most likely he’ll make it seven.
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