THE WEEKEND'S BEST
New Orleans @ N.Y. Jets
The time: 1 p.m. (all times EST)
The line: Saints by 6
The story: People wonder how Geno Smith beats these guys, and the answer is: He doesn't. If the Jets plan to pull the upset -- and, remember, they haven't lost consecutive games all season -- they don't do it with Smith; they do it with their running game and defense.
First of all, the Jets have the backs to overcome the mistake-prone Smith. Second, the Saints can't stop the run, allowing a league-worst 4.8 yards per carry. So ride Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell, throw in assorted scrambles by Smith and -- presto! -- you keep Drew Brees and Co. off the field and maybe, just maybe, shock the Bayou.
Even if that doesn't happen, the Jets can expect more fireworks from Brees ... not just because he loves to throw deep but because that's where New York is vulnerable -- and we call Andy Dalton to the witness stand. Besides, nobody runs well vs. the Jets. They not only allow 77.9 yards rushing per game, best in the NFL; they've allowed only 12 runs of 10 or more yards, also tops in the league.
Granted, the Saints are one of the game's elite teams, and the Jets aren't, but New York can't possibly be as rotten as it was a week ago when it hemorrhaged 49 points. Plus, Smith is a different quarterback after losses, with six touchdowns, three interceptions and a 3-0 record.
Something to consider: Since 2006, the Saints have the league's second-best road record (35-24). Only New England (44-16) is better. The Saints are 2-1 away from home this season.
THREE OTHER GAMES WORTH WATCHING
Baltimore @ Cleveland
The time: 4:25 p.m.
The line: Ravens by 2 1/2
The story: This is where we discover who or what the Baltimore Ravens are. They spent the bye week reshaping their roster, cutting veterans Marcus Spears and Michael Huff, and now they try to recover from a two-game bender that has them 3-4 for the first time in the John Harbaugh era.
The good news is they draw Cleveland, a club they've beaten 11 straight times. The bad news is they draw Cleveland. Though the Browns are 3-5, they're resilient, taking Kansas City to the mat last weekend before tapping out ... in Kansas City, no less. Now they're home, where they won two of their last three, and feeling pretty good about their chances.
"The Ravens aren't the Ravens of old," Browns cornerback Joe Haden said.
Well, no kidding. Unfortunately for Joe, the Browns are.
Cleveland starts Jason Campbell again, and it should. He looked downright decent against the Chiefs, and while he didn't get the win he had the Browns in the game until the end. Campbell's mission is beating a rested Ravens team coming off a bye, and good luck. Since Harbaugh took over in 2008, Baltimore hasn't lost a game immediately following a weekend off.
Something to consider: The Ravens have a plus-13 turnover differential during their 11-game winning streak over the Browns.
Pittsburgh @ New England
The time: 4:25 p.m.
The line: Patriots by 6 1/2
The story: Normally, this game tops the marquee, but there's nothing normal about what's going on with either of these teams. The Steelers stink, with their latest loss vs. Oakland, while the Patriots struggle with lesser opponents. OK, so they're 6-2, but look closely at that record: Three of the victories were by a combined eight points and a fourth was achieved after overcoming a 17-3 third-quarter deficit.
The Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger made headlines this week by saying Tom Brady is the game's best quarterback ... and duh. The earth is round, too. Brady's record speaks for itself, with the guy going to the Super Bowl five times, winning three, and reaching the playoffs in all but one season he finished.
Anyway, Brady is everything to the Patriots, and lately he's not been himself -- with two touchdown passes the last four games. He used to throw two TDs in four minutes, but this is a different New England team -- with unknown wide receivers, an offensive line that just lost starter Sebastian Vollmer and a defense that subtracted its top two players. In short, New England doesn't have much around Brady, and it shows.
So Pittsburgh has a chance here. But the Steelers must pressure Brady (he's been sacked 27 times) and somehow not lean so much on Big Ben. Remember, New England is vulnerable vs. the run, allowing an average of 130.8 yards per game, worse than all but one club. Of course, Pittsburgh runs about as well as your grandfather's wristwatch, ranking 30th in the league with a 68.7 yards per game average.
Then there's this: Since 2001, the Patriots are 35-13 in November, four times going through the month undefeated -- including last season. If Brady returns to being Tom Brady, the Patriots should be OK.
Something to consider: In his past three games vs. Pittsburgh, Brady has nine touchdown passes, no interceptions and a passer rating of 115.9. Overall, he's 6-2 vs. Pittsburgh (including the playoffs), with 16 touchdowns and three interceptions.
Indianapolis @ Houston
The time: 8:30 p.m.
The line: Colts by 2 1/2
The story: Both are coming off bye weeks after playing opponents that were undefeated, and both have issues. For Houston, it's a season that's gone so sour that undrafted Case Keenum, not Matt Schaub, is the quarterback, Brian Cushing is gone and coach Gary Kubiak is under siege. For the Colts, it's the loss of wide receiver Reggie Wayne, a huge setback to a club that not only has playoff designs but ideas of reaching the Super Bowl.
Keenum is the story here. He started two weeks ago and tied a franchise record with six completions of 25 or more yards. Yeah, he lost, but that's not the point. He produced a spark for a club with a dead battery.
So he gets the start over Schaub, who must wonder what's next in his career. The season is all but gone, and his future in Houston is on life support. A win here would take some of the pressure off Kubiak, but who's kidding whom? Indianapolis crushed San Francisco, then beat Seattle and Denver.
Houston only beats itself.
Something to consider: These two split the last three season series, with the home team always winning.
MONDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
Chicago @ Green Bay
The time: 8:40 p.m.
The line: Packers by 10 1/2
The story: The Bears are hurt, with quarterback Jay Cutler, star linebacker Lance Briggs, cornerback Charles Tillman and any defensive tackle you can name sidelined. But even if Cutler played, their chances were slim, and here's why: He lost eight of his last nine starts vs. Green Bay (including the playoffs).
Granted, the Packers have their share of significant setbacks, too, including Clay Matthews, Jermichael Finley and Randall Cobb, but last time we checked Aaron Rodgers was still the quarterback, which gives them the edge over almost everyone.
Rodgers vs. Josh McCown is no contest, so the Bears must turn to someone else ... and we have just the guy. Introducing running back Matt Forte. He runs, he catches, he scores and, best of all, he can keep Rodgers off the field.
Still, even if Forte checks all the boxes, the odds for a Bears' upset are long. Green Bay is home, and the Packers don't lose there. In fact, they won their last 10 regular-season games at Lambeau and 23 of their last 24 there. Furthermore, they're on a 10-game home winning streak vs. divisional opponents, and you don't have to look far to see why. They're a plus-26 in the turnover differential in the 44 regular-season divisional games under coach Mike McCarthy.
Something to consider: Rodgers has six straight victories over Chicago, with 13 touchdowns and five interceptions. Since becoming a starter, he's 5-0 vs. the Bears at home, with a 106.4 passer rating.
CRUMMY GAME OF THE WEEK
Tampa Bay @ Seattle
The time: 4:05 p.m.
The line: Seahawks by 16 1/2
The story: Nobody but the Seahawks succeed in Seattle, and you can look it up: They won their last 11 there and 13 of their last 14. Now we have winless Tampa Bay making a cross-country flight, starting a rookie quarterback, struggling under an embattled coach and you wonder if it can pull the upset? Puh-leeze. The Bucs just got torched at home by Carolina, so it doesn't take a genius to figure out what happens here.
If there's a mystery, it's only when coach Greg Schiano gets the gate. The opening was there a week ago after Tampa Bay's latest el foldo, but nobody budged. Let's see how long the Glazers can put up with this mess, especially if Tampa Bay is embarrassed again.
Something to consider: Seattle's Russell Wilson is 11-0 at home, with 22 TDs, 4 interceptions and a 117.1 passer rating.
FIVE GUYS IT'S GOOD TO BE
--1. Baltimore linebacker Elvis Dumervil. In five career games vs. Cleveland he has 10 sacks, his most vs. an opponent.
--2. Baltimore QB Joe Flacco. He's 11-0 vs. Cleveland, with 13 TDs and five interceptions.
--3. Chicago wide receiver Brandon Marshall. He aims for his fourth consecutive Monday Night Football game with a touchdown catch.
--4. Carolina QB Cam Newton. In his last two starts vs. Atlanta he had four touchdowns, no interceptions, a 113.8 passer rating and 202 yards rushing and two scores.
--5. Minnesota DE Jared Allen. In three career games vs. Dallas he has three sacks and two forced fumbles.
BELIEVE IT ... OR DON'T
--1. Since 2000, 32 teams reached the midway point of the season with losing records, yet went on to reach the playoffs -- including at least one each year.
--2. Among NFL quarterbacks, only Cam Newton has more rushing touchdowns (11) the past two years than the Colts' Andrew Luck. Luck is tied with Colin Kaepernick for second with eight each.
--3. AFC West teams have a combined record of 22-8 (.733). With three of the fourth in action this weekend (Denver has a bye) the division could finish with the best winning percentage since 1970 through the first nine weeks. That record is .689, held by the AFC West.
--4. Nobody is better in November than Tony Romo, Joe Flacco and Tom Brady. Romo is 21-4 this month, while Flacco is 17-5 and Brady 31-10. Romo's .840 winning percentage is the best of any quarterback in the Super Bowl era for November. Former Oakland quarterback Daryle Lamonica is second at 19-4-2 (.826).
--5. Robert Mathis (11.5), Justin Houston (11), Mario Williams (11) and Robert Quinn (10) already hit double digits in sacks. If two more join them this weekend it marks the first time since 1982 that six players had 10 or more sacks each through the first nine weeks of the season.
--6. Dating back to last season, Baltimore has at least two sacks in 15 straight games -- the longest current streak of its kind and the longest since the New York Giants went 16 consecutive games with two or more sacks in 2010-11.
--7. Rex Ryan has faced brother Rob nine times in their football careers, dating back to college. Rex is 6-3 overall and 4-0 in the pros.
--8. San Diego has played with five different left tackles and four different left guards, yet allowed only seven sacks -- tied for second-best in the NFL. Only center Nick Hardwick played every snap of every game.
--9. The Indianapolis Colts committed the fewest turnovers and penalties this season.
--10. Washington has five defensive touchdowns in seven games. With its next score, the Redskins' defense ties a franchise record set three times, most recently in 1984.
--11. The Baltimore Ravens won 10 of their last 11 immediately following byes and are 5-0 under coach John Harbaugh.
--12. Buffalo is the only team with three players (Kiko Alonso, Jim Leonhard and Aaron Williams) with three or more interceptions each.
--13. The Cleveland Browns are the only team not to allow a pass of 40 or more yards this season. The Browns and Texans are the only clubs not to allow a 100-yard rusher or 300-yard passer, too.
--14. San Diego and Atlanta are tied for the most drives of 10 plays or more. Each has 17.
--15. Seattle's Russell Wilson is 14-2 over his last 16 regular-season starts, with 29 touchdowns, 6 interceptions and a 109.0 passer rating.
TEN NUMBERS THAT MIGHT MEAN SOMETHING
--0-3 -- Buffalo vs. undefeated opponents entering games with records of 8-0 or better.
--3-0 -- Terrelle Pryor's record at home as a starter.
--3 -- Defensive touchdowns scored by Washington cornerback DeAngelo Hall.
--4-1 -- Jets' record when they score first.
--5 -- Fourth-quarter comeback victories for Russell Wilson.
--8 -- Points that separated winner from loser in Baltimore's last three defeats.
--11 -- Teams that haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher.
--16 -- Geno Smith turnovers.
--27-5-1 -- Alex Smith's record since 2011.
--45 -- Philadelphia offensive plays of 20 or more yards, tops in the NFL.
-- Clark Judge, a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange, has covered pro football since 1982 and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selections Committee.
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