Why We Watch: Litmus test next for Vikings vs. Denver, Manning

It's not a four-star lineup of weekend games, but there is a game in Denver that bears watching -- and that's because Minnesota thinks it's playoff worthy. Well, this is a chance to take the Vikings' pulse. That game, plus plenty more -- including this week's upsets -- are ready and waiting for you.

Photo courtesy of the Denver Broncos
Photo courtesy of the Denver Broncos

(Peyton Manning photo courtesy of the Denver Broncos)



The line: Broncos by 6-1/2

The story: It’s Adrian Peterson vs. the Denver defense, and I don’t care what A.D. says about feeling himself again. It’s going to be tougher to navigate the league’s top-ranked defense than it is rush-hour traffic in Aurora. The Vikings feel good about themselves, and they should. They won their last two. But they were home, and they conquered opponents with a combined 1-5 record. OK, so Peyton Manning’s not the same, and Denver’s offense is predicated on an ineffective running game and a short passing attack. But this isn’t about Manning or the offense. It’s about coordinator Wade Phillips and a Denver defense that already has 11 sacks and 10 takeaways. "We've got to play physical," Phillips said. They will.

Hall-of-Fame worthy: Dating back to 2013, the Broncos are 16-1 at home, the second-best home record during that time. Only New England (17-1) is better.


Eli Manning photo courtesy of the New York Giants
Eli Manning photo courtesy of the New York Giants

(Eli Manning photo courtesy of the N.Y. Giants)


The line: Bills by 5-1/2

The story: It’s a rematch of Super Bowl XXV, won by the Giants, and it’s an opportunity for Big Blue to make a statement. The Giants should be 3-0, but two late-game meltdowns cost them vs. Dallas and Atlanta. So they’re 1-2 and trying to overcome a resilient Buffalo team that just buried Miami but may be without LeSean McCoy (hamstring). No problem. The NFL’s top rushing attack has rookie Karlos Williams and quarterback Tyrod Taylor to keep the Giants’ front seven busy. And, on the other side of the ball, Buffalo boasts the league’s top-ranked run defense -- which is where this story will be told. The Giants won’t win this with Rashad Jennings; they’ll put their faith in Eli Manning, and for good reason. He has a lethal weapon in Odell Beckham Jr., Reuben Randle is involved in the game plan again and Eli’s playing so well he hasn’t thrown an interception in three starts.

Hall-of-Fame worthy: Tyrod Taylor is the first Bills’ quarterback to throw for seven touchdowns and have a completion percentage of 70 or more (74.4) through the first three games since Hall-of-Famer Jim Kelly in 1991.


The line: Bengals by 4

The story: Let’s see, the Steelers are hurt, the Ravens are 1-3 and the Browns are the Browns. So the AFC North belongs to Cincinnati, which is looking to go 4-0 for the first time since 2005. Andy Dalton is hot. A.J. Green is hotter. And the Kansas City Chiefs are not, with critics putting out an APB on the vertical passing game. But be careful, people. This game could be a trap. The Chiefs are all about defense and Jamaal Charles. And while the defense hasn’t been scintillating, Charles has. And there’s where this game could hinge: Cincinnati ranks fifth vs. the run, with opponents averaging 76.7 yards per game.

Hall-of-Fame worthy: Andy Dalton aims for his fourth straight game with a passer rating of 115 or better. Dalton’s 18.1-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio (74-4) in the red zone ranks third among active NFL quarterbacks.


The line: Packers by 8-1/2

The story: San Francisco kept the Packers from advancing in the 2012 playoffs, and it kept it from advancing in the playoffs a year later. One reason: Colin Kaepernick. Green Bay couldn’t figure him out when he threw the ball and when he ran it, and the envelope, please: He's 3-0 vs. Green Bay (including the playoffs), with six touchdown passes and 301 yards rushing. That was Good Colin. Now it's Bad Colin, with coach Jim Tomsula working the bilge pumps. I know, the 49ers are back home, but they’re 5-4 at Levi’s Stadium. Plus, they’re facing the league’s leading quarterback and a team on a mission, determined to prove it's numero uno in the NFC. Do the 49ers have a chance? Sure, they do. Green Bay is vulnerable to the run, and San Francisco has Carlos Hyde and Kaepernick. But how does a pass defense that ranks 27th overall and that opposing quarterbacks shred with a 111.6 passer rating survive Aaron Rodgers? Answer: It doesn’t.

Hall-of-Fame worthy: San Francisco has sacked Rodgers 16 times in six games (including the playoffs).



(Marshawn Lynch photo courtesy of the Seattle Seahawks)

DETROIT @ SEATTLE, 8:30 p.m. (EDT)

The line: Seahawks by 10

The story: Marshawn Lynch is 50-50 for this game, which isn’t good for the Seahawks. But Detroit is next on the schedule, and that is. The Lions haven’t won a game since last December, are up against the 12th Man and have an offense so predictable opponents claim they know the plays before they’re run. Swell. Something must change, and something will: The Lions will be 0-4 this time next week.

Hall-of-Fame worthy: Russell Wilson is 4-0 on Monday Night Football, with nine TDs, no interceptions and a passer rating of 123.1. Including the playoffs, he’s 27-2 at home.


Clark Judge.Giants (+5-1/2) over Buffalo. I know, the Bills are rolling. But as the Giants' coach, Tom Coughlin is 2-0 in Buffalo and 1-0 vs. Rex. Plus, he has a quarterback who can beat Buffalo where it's vulnerable -- with the pass.

Rick Gosselin. Giants (+5-1/2) over Buffalo. The Bills had problems with Tom Brady and New England's high-powered passing attack. Eli Manning hasn't thrown an interception yet and could cause some of the same aerial problems for the Bills.

Ron Borges. Dallas (+4) over New Orleans. Why? Because the Cowboys have an offensive line, and the Saints don't have a prayer.


Seattle over Detroit. The Lions are winless, but the Seahawks? Well, they won 13 of their last 14 at home (including the playoffs) and their last nine Monday Night games. Oh, yeah, they're also 13-2 in prime-time contests since 2010, outscoring opponents 384-181. What part of this don’t you understand?


Jerome Bettis

(Jerome Bettis photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Steelers)

Hall-of-Fame Class of 2015 member Jerome Bettis was honored Thursday night at halftime of the Steelers-Ravens game. The former Steelers’ running back is the fourth member of this year’s class to be honored this season, with Charles Haley, Bill Polian and Mick Tingelhoff recognized the past three weeks, and he’s the 21st member of the Steelers franchise to make it to Canton.


St. Louis DE Robert Quinn. He has nine sacks and three forced fumbles in eight career games vs. Arizona, including two games with at least three sacks each.

Carolina QB Cam Newton. He’s 4-2 vs. Tampa Bay, with 10 touchdowns and four interceptions for 1,414 yards. Plus, he's run for 281 rushing yards and six TDs.

Philadelphia TE Zach Ertz. In his last game vs. Washington he had a career-high 15 catches for 115 yards.

Denver LB Von Miller. In his last eight games vs. the NFC he has nine sacks and three forced fumbles.

Green Bay LB Clay Matthews. He has 4.5 sacks in his last three games vs. San Francisco.


Only five AFC teams have plus figures in the takeaway/turnover differential, and they’re a combined 13-2. Draw your own conclusions.

If Denver wins Sunday, it marks the seventh season that a Peyton Manning-led club started 4-0, the most in NFL history.

In his first 15 games as pro, the Giants’ Odell Beckham Jr. has 110 yards, 1574 yards and 14 touchdowns. Oh, yeah, he also has eight 100-yard games.

The Falcons are the first team in NFL history to start 3-0 after trailing in the fourth quarter of every quarter.

Carson Palmer won 16 of his last 18 starts, including the last nine. He’s also won 12 of 14 starts at home with the Cardinals.

After Sunday, Arizona will play just two homes games over the next 62 days.

Larry Fitzgerald has more catches (23), receiving yards (333) and TDs (5) through three games than at any time during his career.

The Eagles have not allowed a 100-yard rusher in any of their last 15 games and only one in their last 27. They haven’t allowed a touchdown rushing, either.

Under coach Bruce Arians, Arizona has held 14 of 18 opponents at home to 20 or fewer points. The Cards are 14-0 in those games.

Denver is just the fourth team in the last ten years to start the first three games with at least 10 sacks and 10 takeaways.

With a win Sunday, Peyton Manning becomes only the second quarterback in league history to have 100 wins at home. Brett Favre (113) is the other.