GOLD JACKET FEATURE PRESENTATION
L.A. RAMS @ CHICAGO, 8:20 p.m. (EST)
The line: Rams by 3
The weather: Mostly sunny, high of 34
The story: A little over a week ago, good defense triumphed over great offense when the Cowboys held off the Saints. Can it happen again? We’re about to find out. Chicago’s Mitch Trubisky is back at practice and expected to make his first start in three weeks … and talk about perfect timing. The Bears need this game. The Rams don’t. They’ve already won their division, though they’re neck-and-neck with New Orleans for home-field advantage in the playoffs. The Rams have the league’s No. 2-ranked offense and its top scorer in Todd Gurley. The Bears have the league’s fourth-ranked defense and its leader in takeaways, interceptions and points off turnovers. Moreover, they lead the league in allowing the fewest runs of 10 or more yards (20). So what does that mean for Gurley? And what does it mean for Jared Goff? Remember, Dallas beat New Orleans at home, and Chicago is home. Plus, it’s going to be cold. So can it be déjà vu all over again? Stay tuned.
Something to consider: The Bears lead the NFL in fewest first-half points allowed.
THREE OTHERS SUITABLE FOR HALL OF FRAMING
BALTIMORE @ KANSAS CITY, 1 p.m. (EST)
The line: Chiefs by 6-1/2
The weather: AM clouds, PM sun, high of 35
The story: The Chiefs are scoring points at a prodigious rate, with 40 or more in each of five games and 37 or more in eight. Their quarterback leads the league in touchdown passes, is second in passing yards and is threatening Peyton Manning’s single-season record of 55 TDs. It figures, then, that their offense is among the league leaders, checking in at first in points and third in total yards. Nice, huh? It gets better. They’re home where they haven’t lost this year, and only three teams (New England and the Rams are the others) can say that. So why should they be nervous? Because Baltimore is on a three-game roll, its rookie quarterback hasn’t lost (3-0) and the Ravens are beating opponents not so much with Lamar Jackson as they are with defense. Over their last three games, the Ravens allowed an average of 211 yards and 18 points per. Now the question: How does that defense hold up vs. Mahomes and the Chiefs? Consider this a gut check for both sides.
Something to consider: The Ravens are 3-0 at Arrowhead, including the playoffs.
NEW ENGLAND @ MIAMI, 1 p.m. (EST)
The line: Patriots by 7-1/2
The weather: Thunderstorms, high of 81
The story: If the AFC playoffs were to start today, New England would be the second-seeded team, and the Dolphins would be home. But don’t let that fool you. Nor should you pay attention to the Patriots’ 38-7 beatdown of Miami earlier this year. Because this is the mother of all trap games, and the Patriots know it. Reason: Miami is Tom Brady’s Kryptonite. Brady is 85-32 for his career on the road during regular-season games but only 7-9 at Miami – losing four of his last five here. But that’s not all. He’s thrown 15 interceptions in south Florida, which is more than he's thrown in any season of his career, and he has nearly half as many losses in Miami (9) in 16 games as he’s had in 132 home games (19). Then there’s this: Miami’s Ryan Tannehill is 8-0 in his last eight starts at home. Put them all together, and you have an accident that may be waiting to happen.
Something to consider: The Patriots have not allowed a 300-yard passer in five consecutive games and a 100-yard rusher in nine straight.
PHILADELPHIA @ DALLAS, 4:25 p.m. (EST)
The line: Cowboys by 3
The weather: Retractable roof
The story: Until I looked at the Eagles’ depth chart, I thought Kamu Grugier-Hill was a contagion. Then I discovered it was something worse: Some linebacker who just earned his 15 minutes of infamy by declaring that the Cowboys are going “to choke” Sunday. “I mean, look at Dallas’ history,” he said. “They always choke. So we’ll go down there and make them choke.” Got it. Unfortunately, Grugier-Hill conveniently omitted that the Cowboys didn’t “choke” a month ago when they won their first road game … uh-huh, in Philadelphia. And they didn’t “choke” when they beat then-division-leading Washington two weeks later and NFC-leading New Orleans seven days after that. In fact, the Cowboys are on a roll, winning their last four, vaulting to the top of the NFC East and suddenly looking like a team headed for January. Grugier-Hill has apologized to his head coach, but too late. The damage is done. Nevertheless, if he really wants to talk about choking, he should consider a defending Super Bowl champion that’s 6-6 and in danger of fading from the playoff picture. Because, no matter what happens Sunday, the hill gets steeper for Philadelphia. Its remaining opponents are a combined 26-10.
Something to consider: The Cowboys’ Dak Prescott has run for a touchdown in five of his last seven starts.
BEATING THE ODDS
RON BORGES – HOUSTON (--4-1/2). Maybe it’s nuts to think Houston can win 10 straight. But after watching the Colts last weekend it’s nuts to think they can’t.
CLARK JUDGE – N.Y. GIANTS (--3-1/2). First, it’s the Butt Fumble. Now, it’s the Butt Recovery. Mark Sanchez and the Redskins are the Butts of all jokes.
RICK GOSSELIN – N.Y. GIANTS (--3-1/2). Even without OBJ, Giants are on a roll. A Washington team down to its third QB is not.
THE WEEKEND OMG
During their three-game winning streak, the Baltimore Ravens lead the league in average time of possession (37:20), have run for 200 yards three times and allowed an average of 211.7 yards per game – best in the NFL.
THE SUNDAY PLAY LIST
KANSAS CITY QB PATRICK MAHOMES. With 77 yards Sunday, he joins Dan Marino and Kurt Warner as the only second-year quarterbacks to throw for 4,000 yards and 40 touchdowns in one season. Both Warner and Marino were named league MVPs in those years.
GREEN BAY QB AARON RODGERS. In eight career games vs. Atlanta, he has 21 touchdown passes and three interceptions.
ARIZONA WR LARRY FITZGERALD. With one catch, he passes Jerry Rice for the most receptions by a player with one team in NFL history. Fitzgerald and Rice each have 1,281.
BALTIMORE QB LAMAR JACKSON. His 270 rushing yards are the most by a quarterback in his first three starts in the Super Bowl era.
MIAMI RB FRANK GORE. With 43 yards, he passes LaDainian Tomlinson for the fifth-most yards from scrimmage in NFL history. Tomlinson has 19,154.
HOUSTON DE J.J. WATT. In three of his last five starts vs. Indianapolis he has two or more sacks.
KANSAS CITY DL CHRIS JONES. He has at least one sack in eight consecutive games.
L.A. RAMS DT AARON DONALD. With two sacks Sunday he becomes the fourth player since sacks became an official statistic in 1982 to produce two or more in four consecutive games. The others are Simeon Rice, Kevin Greene and Reggie White.
WASHINGTON LB RYAN KERRIGAN. He has five sacks, a forced fumble and deflected pass in his past three home games.
NEW ORLEANS QB DREW BREES. He aims for his fifth straight game vs. Tampa Bay with a passer rating of 100 or more.
TEN THINGS YOU MIGHT WANT TO REMEMBER
The Bears and Chiefs are the only two teams to hold a second-half lead in every game this season.
Ben Roethlisberger has won road games vs. every AFC opponent but Oakland. He lost in 2006, 2012 and 2013 to Raiders’ teams that were 2-14, 4-12 and 4-12.
The Patriots can clinch their 10th straight division title with a win or a tie Sunday. According to Elias Sports Bureau, they would then tie the Atlanta Braves as the only MLB, NFL, NBA or NHL team to win at least 10 consecutive division championships.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have six interceptions with four games left. The club record for fewest interceptions in a season is eight.
A win Sunday gives the Chargers double-digit victories for the first time since 2009.
Tampa Bay’s two straight wins coincide with two straight turnover-less games by quarterback Jamies Winston.
Giants’ rookie Saquon Barkley leads the league with 11 games of 100 or more yards from scrimmage.
Baltimore is the only team to rank first in third-down offense and defense.
Denver rookie Phillip Lindsay is the only player to rank in the Top Five in rushing yards, rushing average and rushing touchdowns.
The Chargers lead the AFC with 54 runs of 10 or more yards.