Game of the week
Pittsburgh at Baltimore
The Ravens are a 3 1/2-point home favorite despite looking up at Pittsburgh in the AFC North. But Sunday is when the Ravens take control of the division. Yes, the Steelers were impressive in last week’s win at Tennessee, but we’re thinking Baltimore used the bye week to fix its 31st-ranked passing game.
Ravens 31, Steelers 27
Lock of the week
Minnesota at Green Bay
The Packers are a 6 1/2-point home favorite. Minnesota traded pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue and officially lost Danielle Hunter for the season (neck surgery) during its bye. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers will face little-to-no-resistance as the Packers start to pull away from Chicago in the NFC North.
Packers 41, Vikings 20
Upset of the week
L.A. Rams at Miami
The Dolphins are coming off their bye. The Rams are working on a short week. The Dolphins are debuting a new quarterback (Tua Tagovailoa). And the Rams are flying from the West Coast and playing at 10 a.m. body-clock time. Add it all up and it leads us to a Dolphins win as a 4-point home underdog.
Dolphins 24, Rams 20
Around the AFC: Dolphins turn to Tua despite Fitzpatrick’s mostly solid play
Around the AFC
Broncos’ record safe. Back in the glory days of Broncos football, they were a 26 1/2-point favorite over Jacksonville in October 2013. The Broncos won 35-19. Their record is safe even though the 0-7 Jets play at 6-1 Kansas City Sunday. That line opened at 20 1/2 points and was 19 1/2 at midweek. Only eight games in modern NFL history have had a point spread of at least 20 points.
Tua debuts for Dolphins. Miami was 3-3 last week heading into its bye when coach Brian Flores made the call to start rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and sit Ryan Fitzpatrick (10 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 95.0 rating). This must have been the Dolphins’ plan all along. Remember, Miami’s bye was originally Week 11, which would have given Tagovailoa plenty of time to get prepared. The time table has been pushed up, though, and Tagovailoa joins Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow and the Chargers’ Justin Herbert as starting 2020 first-round quarterbacks.
Marrone “fired up.” It was great to hear Jacksonville coach Doug Marrone’s zeal during his bye-week press conference. The Jaguars are 1-6 and have allowed at least 30 points in each loss. They’re not very good. But Marrone said, “I’m not going to bull-(bleep) anyone — I’m kind of fired up. … I want to go a little bit outside the box. I want to challenge these coaches and challenge these players.” Our take on Marrone’s optimism: Owner Shad Khan told him early in the week he would remain on the job for the rest of the season.
Around the NFC: Well below .500, Eagles, Cowboys face off for first place in division
Around the NFC
NFC Least. Some team has to win the awful NFC East and that team will get to host a first-round playoff game … as it should be. The national media are up in arms over the putrid performance of Philadelphia (2-4-1), Dallas/Washington (2-5) and the New York Giants (1-6), but we guarantee the division winner will have at least eight wins. The Eagles are a 7 1/2-point home favorite over Dallas on Sunday night, an indictment on the state of the Cowboys. It was a bad look that nobody on the Cowboys’ offense confronted Washington linebacker Jon Bostic last week after his dirty and reckless hit on quarterback Andy Dalton (who was injured). The Cowboys don’t have a pulse.
Yards, not wins. Atlanta defeated Carolina on Thursday night and will get the weekend to rest up for the Broncos. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is a classic example of how passing yards don’t equal wins. Entering Week 8, the top three passers in yards were Ryan (2,181), Houston’s Deshaun Watson (2,095) and Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow (2,023). Their teams’ combined record was 3-17-1. If the Falcons bottom out to the No. 1 pick, which will be difficult so long as the Jets keep being the Jets, Atlanta could be an attractive destination for Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence.
San Francisco surging. We may have written off the 49ers too early after they were routed at home by Miami in Week 5 to fall to 2-3. The 49ers beat the Los Angeles Rams 24-16 and New England 33-6 to get back to .500. Now comes a trip to Seattle. We’ll pick San Francisco for the upset because the Seahawks’ defense remains horrible — they’re on pace to allow the most yards, first downs and passing yards in NFL history.