THIS WEEKEND'S BEST GAME
Denver at Indianapolis
The time: 8:30 p.m. ET
The line: Broncos by 6 1/2
The story: Once, this was supposed to be an emotional homecoming for Peyton Manning. Now it looks more like a celebrity roast, with Manning advised to steer clear of welcome wagons driven by Jim Irsay.
The Colts' owner provided the back story to Manning's return to Indianapolis with comments that seemed critical of his stay there. Denver coach John Fox called them "a cheap shot." Former Colts general manager Bill Polian was not amused. Manning said nothing, which tells you what he thinks.
The fact of the matter is: Irsay should not have said anything and let Manning enjoy the moment. But he did, and, frankly, the truth hurts. The knock on Manning is his playoff record (it is 9-11), but the last guy you would expect to point that out is Irsay.
Or maybe not. As someone said, it is just Irsay being Irsay, and if you follow him on Twitter you know what we are talking about.
Anyway, Irsay's Colts are 6-0 in regular-season games immediately following losses the past two years. But this is Manning, and this is Manning with a purpose. Oddsmakers believe Indy does not have the ammunition to stay with an opponent that averages 46 points per game, but it might not have to. The Colts' defense is underrated, allowing only 13 fourth-quarter points, best in the league.
Then there is Andrew Luck, and talk about pressure. With his comments about Manning, Irsay put more heat on Luck to succeed -- now and for the rest of his career -- and that will not be easy with Manning and Von Miller, back from a six-game suspension, up next. All I know is that a game that was supposed to be Manning vs. Luck has become something more: Manning vs. Irsay. And that is one the Colts owner cannot win.
Something to consider: Denver has eight consecutive road victories, the most in franchise history. With another win the Broncos tie the 2003-04 New England Patriots for the third-longest regular-season winning streak (18) in NFL history.
THREE OTHERS YOU SHOULD CHECK OUT
Dallas at Philadelphia
The time: 1 p.m. ET
The line: Eagles by 2 1/2
The story: What is the best team in the NFC East? We are about to find out. Philadelphia is the surprise, not so much because the Eagles are 3-3 but because they are winning with Nick Folk.
He is the quarterback who relieved an injured Michael Vick two weeks ago against the Giants, and he is the quarterback who won last Sunday in Tampa, site of his only two victories as a starter. Foles does not make mistakes -- at least he is not making them now -- which could make him the favorite to keep this job awhile.
Tony Romo, of course, does make mistakes. But he also makes a lot of plays, and he better keep the record clean here. Not only has he lost running back DeMarco Murray for this one, but star defensive end DeMarcus Ware is iffy, too.
Then there is this: Romo wins in Philadelphia every other year. He is 3-2 there, with seven touchdowns and four interceptions, and his last start was ... uh-huh, a Dallas victory. That means he is due for a loss, especially if Foles continues his error-free play.
Something to consider: The Eagles are the fourth team in NFL history to produce 400 yards in offense in each of their first six games.
New England at N.Y. Jets
The time: 1 p.m. ET
The line: Patriots by 3 1/2
The story: The Jets' Geno Smith insists he can be an "elite quarterback," and that is great except ... there is already one here, and Smith is advised to take notes. Tom Brady may not be producing big numbers this year, but he is 5-1 and winning with a cast of backboards disguised as wide receivers.
In short, he is Tom Brady again, and that is bad news for the Jets and everyone else in the AFC East.
The Jets flummoxed Brady when they met earlier this season, but stop if you have heard this before: He won. And he won because Smith stunk. The Patriots are better defensively, but if they keep subtracting guys like Jared Mayo and Vince Wilfork, even Brady might not be enough to rescue them.
Check that: It is Tom Brady. I do not care if the Jets follow coach Rex Ryan's instructions and save up their energy this week. Brady is one tough act to overcome, and Ryan should know. Brother Rob was the victim of Brady's last-minute comeback last weekend -- and that was without Rob Gronkowski.
Just the Jets' luck: Gronkowski has been cleared to play this weekend.
Something to consider: No starting running back has averaged more than 3.1 yards per carry vs. the Jets.
Cincinnati at Detroit
The time: 1 p.m. ET
The line: Lions by 2 1/2
The story: The Bengals lead the AFC North. The Lions are tied for first in the NFC North. What is wrong with this picture? Nothing. Both teams are improved, both can beat you with their quarterbacks and both can beat you with their defensive lines.
That does not mean they are mirror images of each other ... because they are not. Cincinnati's Andy Dalton threw to eight different receivers a week ago. Detroit's primary weapons are Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush, though neither has as many TD catches as Joseph Fauria (5).
Where they are alike is at defensive tackle. The Bengals have Geno Atkins; the Lions have Ndamukong Suh. Both are threats to disrupt the pocket, sack the quarterback and force mistakes.
Keep that in mind, Bengals fans, because the key for your team is to avoid critical errors -- i.e., interceptions -- and to extend drives. Detroit's defense will hemorrhage yards, but it has 10 interceptions. The Lions must force those errors and shore up a run defense that allows opposing backs to gain 5.4 yards per carry, the most in the league.
It is a close call, but Detroit has the edge and here is why: The Lions are home. Not only are they unbeaten at Ford Field; they average 37 points per game there.
Something to consider: Marvin Lewis is 8-2 vs. the NFC North, including 2-0 against the Lions.
MONDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
Minnesota at N.Y. Giants
The time: 8:40 p.m. ET
The line: Giants by 3
The story: Introducing two of the most disappointing teams anywhere -- a combined 1-10 -- with Monday Night ratings the big loser here. OK, so Josh Freeman makes his first start for Minnesota. But he is the Vikings' third quarterback in four games, and that is not good.
Then again, look at the Giants. They have the same quarterback they have had for years, and they are 0-6. One reason: Eli Manning cannot stop throwing to opponents. He has 15 interceptions -- including eight in the fourth quarter -- and that is through six games. He had 15 all of last season.
The key for the Giants is getting ahead and holding on to the football. The key for Minnesota is finding someone other than Adrian Peterson on offense. Freeman is the latest to audition at quarterback, and he picked the right opponent: The Giants have a league-worst five sacks this season.
Something to consider: Manning is 7-4 on Monday Night TV.
CRUMMY GAME OF THE WEEK
Tampa Bay at Atlanta
The time: 1 p.m. ET
The line: Falcons by 7
The story: Tampa Bay's Greg Schiano promises fans the Bucs "are going to be good" -- and he may be right. The only question is: Which year? They stink this season, and Schiano better stop worrying about fans and start concentrating on his job security because it gets thinner each week.
The Bucs were supposed to be one of the league's surprise teams, and they lived up to expectations. They are awful. But Atlanta is right there with them. The Falcons just dropped their third straight for the first time under Mike Smith and subtracted Julio Jones in the process.
Normally, the Falcons are bullet-proof at home, but there is nothing normal about this season. Atlanta has been dreadful, and while you do not want to say it is do-or-die time seven weeks into a season, it is precisely that for Atlanta.
A year ago it had the NFC's best record. Now it is already lost more -- including Jones -- than it did all of last season. If Atlanta is serious about trying to make a playoff run it must wake up now.
Something to consider: Tony Gonzalez has at least one catch in his last 200 games, including 22 in his last two.
FIVE GUYS IT IS GOOD TO BE SUNDAY
--1. Miami defensive end Cameron Wake. He aims for his fourth straight game vs. Buffalo with at least one sack.
--2. New England quarterback Tom Brady. He is 18-4 in regular-season games vs. the New York Jets.
--3. Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck. He is 9-2 at home, with 17 touchdowns and six interceptions, and never lost consecutive regular-season games.
--4. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He won 21 of his last 22 regular-season starts at home.
--5. Denver wide receiver Wes Welker. He aims for his ninth straight game with a touchdown catch.
BELIEVE IT ... OR DON'T
--1. Through the first six weeks, 27 of 92 games (29.3) have been fourth-quarter comebacks. That puts this season on track to finish with the second-highest percentage of games with fourth-quarter comebacks since the 1970 merger. Only 1989 (31.3) had more.
--2. With a win Sunday, the Chiefs' Alex Smith ties Dieter Brock (1985 L.A. Rams) for the most consecutive victories for a quarterback to start a season with a new team since 1970.
--3. In eight of his last 10 starts in October, Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers has passer ratings of at least 100. Over his last 10 October starts, he completed 67.8 percent of his passes, with 28 TDs, four interceptions and a passer rating of 119.9. He threw for over 300 yards in seven of those contests.
--4. If Dallas wins Sunday it would make the Cowboys 3-0 in the division for the first time since 2007.
--5. With nine drives of 80 or more yards, Cincinnati is within one of its entire 2012 total and matches its total for 2011.
--6. Green Bay is not known for its rushing attack, but the Packers have four straight games with 135 or more yards running, the first time that has happened since 2003. With three different 100-yard rushers this season Green Bay already tied a franchise record for most 100-yard games in one year by different backs.
--7. Kansas City's 31 sacks are tied with the 1973 Washington Redskins for the fifth most through the first six games since 1963. The 1987 Chicago Bears had a league-leading 43 through their first six starts.
-8. Dating back to 2012, the Chicago Bears have 11 interception or fumble returns for touchdowns, easily the best in the NFL. The Bears are 9-0 the past two years in games where they return a giveaway for a score and won their last 12 when they turned an interception or fumble return into a TD.
--9. The New England Patriots won their last 12 vs. the AFC East.
--10. Seven of the last nine Baltimore-Pittsburgh games have been decided by three points each and nine of the past 12 were decided by no more than four.
TEN NUMBERS THAT MIGHT MEAN SOMETHING
--2 -- Career 100-yard games by Ray Rice vs. Pittsburgh
--3 -- 400-yard passing games this season by Philip Rivers, most in NFL
--3 -- Consecutive games with at least four sacks by Green Bay pass rushers
--5 -- Sacks of Peyton Manning
--4-14 -- Dallas' record when Tony Romo throws more than one interception
--7 -- Matthew Stafford career games with at least four TD passes
--11-2 -- Indianapolis' record under Chuck Pagano in games decided by no more than one possession
--20.3 -- Yards per catch for Baltimore's Torrey Smith
--25 -- League-wide touchdowns off interceptions this season
--127.9 -- Nick Foles' passer rating this year
-- 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.