And then there were four.

As the NFL season approaches the halfway mark, there are four undefeated teams – Carolina (7-0), Cincinnati (7-0), Denver (7-0) and New England (7-0). That marks the most 7-0 teams in a season in NFL history and doubles the previous high of two, which occurred most recently in 2009. This past Sunday marked the first time that 3 game-winning scores occurred in 4th qtr with no time remaining on same day since 1970.

The first half of the season has been packed with thrilling comebacks and close finishes but the excitement will only intensify as the playoff push begins. “The season is not over. It’s just getting started,” Cincinnati safety Reggie Nelson told the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Several games in Week 8 were decided in the final moments, as six teams scored the winning points inside the 3:00 mark of the fourth quarter or in overtime. Sunday marked the first time there were three game-winning scores in the fourth quarter with no time remaining on the same day since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.

HE’S NO “GURLEY” MAN!: The St. Louis Rams selected running back Todd Gurley in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Just five games into his NFL career, Gurley is already making his mark in the NFL’s record book.

“Todd is a special player,” says Rams general manager Les Snead, who drafted Gurley from Georgia with the 10th overall pick.

Since making his first career start in Week 4 at Arizona, Gurley has registered at least 125 rushing yards in four consecutive games. He is the first rookie in NFL history to rush for at least 125 yards in four games in a row.

“Guys like Todd come around once every 10 years,” says St. Louis head coach Jeff Fisher told KMOX-Radio.. “Look at his explosion and change of direction, plus his football instincts. He loves football. He loves his teammates. That’s what he’s all about. He’s about winning football games and trying to contribute.”

A look at Gurley’s first four career starts:

DATE – WEEK, OPPONENT (ATT., YARDS-AVG., LONG-TDs)
10/04/15 – 4, at Arizona (19, 146-7.7, 52-0)
10/11/15 – 5, at Green Bay (30, 159-5.3, 55-0)
10/25/15 – 7, Cleveland (19, 128-6.7, 48-2)
11/01/15 – 8, San Francisco (20, 133-6.7, 71t-1)

“Todd Gurley is the premier player on that offense right now,” says NFL Network analyst and former Pro Bowl running back La Danian Tomlinson. “He’s the feature guy that they lean on. He’s a rookie and after not starting the season, it’s kind of shocking that already he is the main, feature guy for that offense. But it speaks to how far along he is in his development in terms of being an NFL running back. He’s made this transition seamlessly and a lot of it has to do with obviously his size and speed combination, and also his vision and how smart he is as a football player. He’s truly the next great three-down back – not just running back. He can be a three-down back.”

Gurley has rushed for 566 yards in his first four starts, the most by any player in his first four career starts since at least the 1970 merger.

PLAYER – YEAR (TEAM, YARDS)

Todd Gurley – 2015 (St. Louis, 566)
Billy Sims – 1980 (Detroit, 539)
Arian Foster – 2009-10 (Houston, 525)
Rudi Johnson – 2003 (Cincinnati, 517)
Julius Jones – 2004 (Dallas, 517)

“He can do it all,” says NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah about Gurley. “Look at everything he brings to the table. He’s got size, power and consistency. I love his burst and the way he finishes runs. He’s got the ability to run inside and the ability to run outside. He can hit the home run. He changes the entire identity of the Rams football team and has taken them to being a potential postseason team.”

In each of the past four games, Gurley has recorded a run of at least 45 yards. He is the first rookie in NFL history with a 45+ yard run in four consecutive games and only the second player ever to accomplish the feat in a season (Steven Jackson, 2007).

“Todd Gurley is truly amazing,” says NFL Network analyst and former Pro Bowl fullback Michael Robinson. “He has the vision of a Frank Gore, the explosion of an Adrian Peterson. He’s violent like Marshawn Lynch and he has the world class speed of Chris Johnson in his prime.”

Gurley, despite rushing for only nine yards on six carries in his NFL debut (Week 3 versus Pittsburgh), has 575 rushing yards in his first five games to begin a career. In NFL history, only Pro Football Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson (645) and Arian Peterson (607) rushed for more yards in a player’s first five career games.

PLAYER – YEAR (TEAM-YARDS)
Eric Dickerson – 1983 (Los Angeles Rams – 645)
Adrian Peterson – 2007 (Minnesota – 607)
Todd Gurley – 2015 (St. Louis – 575)

Peterson and Gurley are the only players in NFL history with at least 100 rushing yards in four of their first five career games.

“Todd Gurley is the tone-setter for the Rams,” says NFL Network analyst Bucky Brooks. “He’s their version of Marshawn Lynch. He has given the Rams an identity. He’s got the ability to run inside and outside and make big plays with those power runs. He gives them another level of physicality on their offense. Their offense is far more dynamic with Todd Gurley. I like what he brings to the table.”

As the season’s midpoint approaches, it’s all still to be decided, with plenty of football left to play. Since 2000, 35 teams have reached the halfway point of their season with a .500 or below winning percentage and advanced to the playoffs, including at least one in each season.

FANTASTIC FINISHES: Three teams – Baltimore, Minnesota and New Orleans – won on game-winning scores in the fourth quarter as time expired in Week 8, the first time there have been three such game-winning scores on the same day since 1970.

The games decided on a game-winning score as time expired in the fourth quarter in Week 8:

GAME – GAME-WINNING SCORE
BALTIMORE 29, San Diego 26 (Justin Tucker, 39-yard field goal
Minnesota 23, CHICAGO 20 (Blair Walsh, 36-yard field goal
NEW ORLEANS 52, New York Giants 49 (Kai Forbath, 50-yard field goal)
(Home team ALL CAPS)

OVERTIME EXCITEMENT: Week 8 continued the trend of close games, as two games were decided in overtime. Eleven games have gone to overtime this season, the fifth-most through Week 8 in NFL history.

The most overtime games through Week 8 in NFL history:

SEASON – OVERTIME GAMES THROUGH WEEK 8
1995 – 14
1983 – 13
2002 – 12
2003 – 12
2015 – 11

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIR: The Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Detroit Lions 45-10 at London’s Wembley Stadium in this season’s third and final game of the NFL International Series in the United Kingdom.​

In the first game on October 4, the New York Jets defeated the Miami Dolphins 27-14. In Week 7, the Jacksonville Jaguars defeated the Buffalo Bills 34-31.

The 14 regular-season games played at Wembley Stadium:
DATE – WEEK: FINAL SCORE
November 1, 2015 – 8: Kansas City 45, Detroit 45-10
October 25, 2015 – 7: Jacksonville 34, Buffalo 31
October 4, 2015 – 4: New York Jets 27, Miami 14
November 9, 2014- 10: Dallas 31, Jacksonville 17
October 26, 2014 – 8: Detroit 22, ATLANTA 21
September 28, 2014 – 4: Miami 38, Oakland 14
October 27, 2013 – 8: San Francisco 42, Jacksonville 10
September 29, 2013 – 4: Minnesota 34, Pittsburgh 27
October 28, 2012 – 8: New England 45, St. Louis 7
October 23, 2011 – 7: Chicago 24, Tampa Bay 18
October 31, 2010 – 8: San Francisco 24, Denver 16
October 25, 2009 – 7: New England 35, Tampa Bay 7
October 26, 2008 – 8: New Orleans 37, San Diego 32
October 28, 2007 – 8: New York Giants 13 Miami 10

Kansas City defeated the Detroit Lions 45-10 at London’s Wembley Stadium in this season’s third and final game of the NFL International Series in the United Kingdom.

Four different Kansas City players rushed for a touchdown – quarterback Alex Smith, running backs Spence Ware and Charcandrick WestT and wide receiver De’Anthony Thomas – marking the first time since October 2, 1960, when the team
was known as the Dallas Texans, that four different players rushed for at least one touchdown in the same game for the franchise.

The game also marked the first time in 54 years in which three different players (Smith, Thomas and West) scored a rushing touchdown in the first half for the club, when Pro Football Hall of Famer Len Dawson, Abner Haynes and Curtis McClinton accomplished the feat for the Dallas Texans on November 11, 1962.

Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson rushed for 103 yards in the Vikings’ 23-20 win against Chicago. The performance marked Peterson’s 45th career 100-yard rushing game, tying Pro Football Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett for 13th place on the all-time list.

Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer passed for 374 yards and four touchdowns in the Cardinals’ 34-20 win at Cleveland. Palmer has 20 touchdown passes in 2015, surpassing Kurt Warner (16 in 2008 and 2009) for the most ever by a Cardinals player through the first eight games of a season.

Cardinals running back Chris Johnson rushed for 109 yards against the Browns and is the first Cardinal with four 100-yard rushing games in a season since 1985 (Stump Mitchell, four).

FAST STARTERS: Four teams – Carolina, Cincinnati, Denver and New England – have started the season 7-0, the most in a single season in NFL history.

HEAD START: Denver head coach Gary Kubiak has led the Broncos to a 7-0 start in his first season with the team, becoming the fourth head coach to lead his team to a 7-0 record in his first season with a new team since the AFL-NFL Merger.

The head coaches to lead their teams to a 7-0 record in their first season with a new team since 1970:

COACH – TEAM (SEASON, STARTED; FINAL RECORD; PLAYOFF RESULT)
Ray Malavasi – Los Angeles Rams (1978, 7-0; 12-4; Advanced to Conference Championship)
Jim Caldwell – Indianapolis (2009, 14-0; 14-2; Advanced to Super Bowl XLIV)
Andy Reid – Kansas City (2013, 9-0; 11-5; Advanced to Wild Card)
Gary Kubiak – Denver (2015, 7-0; ???; ???)

SENSATIONAL SCORING: New Orleans defeated the New York Giants 52-49 in Week 8 on kicker Kaz Forbath’s game-winning 50-yard field goal as time expired.

The teams’ combined total of 101 points tied for the third-highest single-game total ever and was the most since November 28, 2004, when the Cincinnati (58) and Cleveland (48) combined for 106 points.

QB MILESTONES: Below is a sampling of the quarterback milestones that were reached in Week 8:

Denver quarterback Peyton Manning completed 21 of 29 passes for 340 yards in the Broncos’ 29-10 victory over Green Bay on Sunday night. The game marked Manning’s 186th regular season victory, tying Brett Farve for the most of any starting quarterback in NFL history.

The quarterbacks with the most regular season wins:

PLAYER – TEAM(S) (YEARS, REGULAR SEASON WINS)
Brett Favre – Green Bay, New York Jets and Minnesota (1991 to 2010, 186)
Peyton Manning – Indianapolis and Denver (1998 to present, 186)*
Tom Brady – New England (2000 to present, 167)*
John Elway – Denver (1983-98, 148)
Dan Marino – Miami (1983-99, 147)
* Active

ICE THEIR ARMS DOWN: New Orleans’ Drew Brees passed for seven touchdowns, tying the single-game NFL record for touchdown passes, while the Giants’ Eli Manning posted a career-high six touchdowns. The 13 combined touchdown passes are the most in  NFL history in a single game.

The performance marked Brees’ 10th career game with at least five touchdown passes, eclipsing Peyton Manning (nine) for the most such games in NFL history.

Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger passed for 262 yards and a touchdown against Cincinnati in Week 8, reaching 40,000 career passing yards (40,231). Roethlisberger is the fifth active quarterback to reach 40,000 career passing yards, the most active quarterbacks ever to have 40,000+ passing yards at one time. Peyton Manning (71,555), Drew Brees (58,409), Tom Brady (55,668) and Eli Manning (41,881) are the four other active quarterbacks to reach the
milestone.

Roethlisberger reached the feat in his 163rd game, surpassing Pro FootballHall of Famer Warren Moon (165 games) for the fifth fewest games to reach the milestone.

The quarterbacks to reach 40,000 career passing yards in the fewest games in NFL history:

PLAYER FEWEST GAMES TO REACH 40,000 PASS YARDS

Drew Brees – 152
Dan Marino – 153
Peyton Manning – 154
Tom Brady – 162
Ben Roethlisberger – 163
Warren Moon – 165

Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton threw for 231 yards and one touchdown in the Bengals’ 16-10 win at Pittsburgh in Week 8. The victory marked Dalton’s 23rd career road victory, tying Pro Football Hall of Famer Dan Marino, Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan for the most road wins by a starting quarterback in his first five seasons during the Super Bowl era (since 1966).

WHAT TO LOOK FOR – WEEK 9

STILL IN THE MIX: History shows that a losing record at this point in the season does not negate a team’s chances of making the playoffs. Since 2000, 35 teams have reached the halfway point of their season with a .500 or below winning percentage and proceeded to the playoffs, including at least one in each season.

Of those 35 clubs, five have advanced to the Conference Championship Game, including the 2001 New England Patriots, who won Super Bowl XXXVI.

ROLLING RIVERS: San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers has passed for at least 300 yards and two touchdowns in five consecutive games.

With another performance of 300+ yards and two touchdowns against Chicago on Monday Night Football, Rivers would become the fourth player in NFL history to accomplish the feat in six straight games. Drew Brees (eight), Peyton Manning (seven) and  Pro Football Hall of Famer Steve Young (six) are the only other quarterbacks to pass for 300 yards and two touchdowns in at least six consecutive games.

Rivers’ previous five starts:

WEEK – OPPONENT (COMP-ATT, PCT.), (YARDS-PASS TDs/INTs-RATING)
4 – Cleveland (23-38, 60.5) (358-3/0-118.1)
5 – Pittsburgh (35-48, 72.9) (365-2/1-99.7)
6 – at Green Bay (43-64, 66.2) (503-2/0-99.7)
7 – Oakland (38-58, 65.5)(336-3/2-83.7)
8 – at Baltimore (28-37, 75.7)(301-3/0-126.1)

FANTASTIC FOLLOW-UP: New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees completed 39 of 50 passes (78.0 pct.) for 505 yards and seven touchdowns in the Saints’ 52-49 Week 8 victory over the New York Giants.

With at least four touchdown passes against Tennessee on Sunday, Brees would surpass Nick Foles (three) AND Y.A. Tittle (three) for the most touchdown passes following a seven touchdown performance in NFL History.

The quarterbacks who have passed for seven touchdowns in a single game and their next performance:

QUARTERBACK – TEAM (TDs-OPPONENT, DATE; TDs NEXT GAME-OPPONENT, DATE)
Nick Foles – Philadelphia (7-Oakland, 11/3/13; 3-Green Bay, 11/10/13)
Y.A. Tittle – New York Giants (7-Washington, 10/28/62; 3-St. Louis, 11/4/62)
Peyton Manning – Denver (7-Baltimore, 9/5/13; 2-New York Giants, 9/15/13)
George Blanda – Houston (7-New York Titans, 11/19/61; 1-Denver, 11/26/61)
Joe Kapp – Minnesota (7-Baltimore, 9/28/69; 0-Green Bay, 10/5/69)
Drew Brees – New Orleans (7-New York Giants, 11/1/15; ???-Tennessee, 11/8/15)

With at least 350 passing yards on Sunday, Brees would surpass his own performance (349 in 2006) for the second-most passing yards following a 500-yard performance in NFL history.

The quarterbacks who have passed for 500 yards in a single game and had the most passing yards the following week:

QUARTERBACK – TEAM (YDS-OPPONENT, DATE; YDS NEXT GAME-OPPONENT, DATE)
Tom Brady – New England (517 vs. Miami, 9/12/11; 423 vs. San Diego, 9/18/11)
Drew Brees – New Orleans (510 vs. Cincinnati, 11/19/06; 349 vs. Atlanta, 11/26/06)
Ben Roethlisberger – Pittsburgh (522 vs. Indianapolis, 10/26/14; 340 vs. Baltimore, 11/2/14)
Philip Rivers – San Diego (503 vs. Green Bay, 10/18/15; 336 vs. Oakland, 10/25/15)
Matt Schaub – Houston Texans (527 vs. Jacksonville, 11/18/12; 315 vs. Detroit 11/22/12)
Warren Moon – Houston Oilers (527 vs. Kansas City, 12/16/90; 288 vs. Cincinnati, 12/23/90)
Eli Manning – New York Giants (510 vs. Tampa Bay; 288 vs. Carolina, 9/20/12)
Drew Brees – New Orleans (505 vs. New York Giants 11/1/15; ??? vs. Tennessee 11/8/15)

HOME SUCCESS: Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has thrown at least one touchdown pass in 34 consecutive home games.

With at least one touchdown pass in Week 9 against Oakland, Roethlisberger would tie Aaron Rodgers (35) for the fourth-longest streak of consecutive home games with at least one touchdown pass.

New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees, who has 50 consecutive games at home with at least one touchdown pass, can extend his record streak in Week 9 when the Saints host Tennessee.

The players with the most consecutive home games with at least one touchdown pass:

PLAYER – TEAM, DATES (CONSECUTIVE HOME GAMES WITH AT LEAST ONE TOUCHDOWN PASS
Drew Brees – New Orleans, 10/18/2009-present (50)*
Tom Brady – New England, 9/14/2009-12/14/2014 (47)
Dan Marino – Miami, 10/9/1983-11/14/1988 (39)
Aaron Rodgers – Green Bay, 10/5/2008-12/2/2012 (35)
Ben Roethlisberger – Pittsburgh, 12/19/2010-present (34)*
Johnny Unitas – Baltimore, 12/23/1956-9/30/1962 (34)
* Active streak

MEGATRON MILESTONE: Detroit wide receiver Calvin Johnson had five receptions for 85 yards against Kansas City in the third and final game of the NFL’s 2015 International Series in London.

Johnson surpassed 11,000 career receiving yards (11,064) in his 127th game, the fewest needed to reach the milestone in NFL history.

The players to reach 11,000 career receiving yards in the fewest games:

PLAYER, TEAM (GAMES TO REACH 11,000 CAREER RECEIVING YARDS)
Calvin Johnson, Detroit (127)
Torry Holt, St. Louis (131)
Jerry Rice, San Francisco (133)
Andre Johnson, Houston (136)
Marvin Harrison, Indianapolis (137)

GREAT GURLEY: St. Louis rookie running back Todd Gurley rushed for 133 yards, including a 71-yard touchdown, in the Rams’ 27-6 victory against San Francisco.Gurley has rushed for 575 yards in his first five games, the third-most yards by a player in his first five games in NFL history. Only Pro Football Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson (645) and Adrian Peterson (607) gained more yards in their first five NFL games.

The players to rush for the most yards in their first five NFL games:

PLAYER, TEAM (YEAR, RUSHING YARDS IN FIRST FIVE NFL GAMES)
Eric Dickerson, Los Angeles (1983, 645)
Adrian Peterson, Minnesota (2007, 607)
Todd Gurley, St. Louis (2015, 575)
Billy Sims, Detroit (1980, 560)
Julius Jones, Dallas (2004, 533)

WONDERFUL WOODSON: Oakland safety Charles Woodson had an interception in the Raiders’ 34-20 victory against the New York Jets in Week 8. Woodson now has 65 career interceptions, tying Ken Riley for fifth-most in NFL
history.

The players with the most career interceptions in NFL history:

PLAYER – TEAM (MOST CAREER INTERCEPTIONS)
Paul Krause – Washington and Minnesota (81)^
Emlen Tunnell – New York Giants and Green Bay (79)^
Rod Woodson – Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Baltimore and Oakland (71)^
Dick ‘Night Train’ Lane – Los Angeles Rams, Chicago Cardinals and Detroit (68)^
Charles Woodson – Oakland and Green Bay (65)*
Ken Riley, New England (65)

* Active
^ Pro Football Hall of Famer

HORSEPOWER: With their stalwart defense leading the way, the Denver Broncos are one of four remaining undefeated NFL teams in 2015.

Denver leads the league in total defense (261.1 yards per game) and scoring defense (16.0 point per game) and has reached 7-0 for the second time in franchise history. This season marks the best start for the Broncos since 1998, when Denver began the season 13-0 en route to its second consecutive Super Bowl title.

“They can beat you from a lot of different ways,” says NFL Network analyst and former Patriots defensive end Willie McGinest of the Broncos’ top-ranked defense. “They have guys up front that are interchangeable that can constantly get after the quarterback. They’ve got corners that they can lock down with anybody in the league and go play one-on-one.”

In Week 8, the Broncos’ defense was nothing short of dominant against the previously undefeated Packers. Denver limited Green Bay to 140 total net yards, the fifth-fewest allowed against a team with a record of 6-0 or better in NFL history.

The fewest yards allowed in a game against an opponent that was 6-0 or better:
TEAM – UNDEFEATED OPPONENT, DATE (TOTAL NET YARDS ALLOWED)
Pittsburgh – Philadelphia (7-0), November 7, 2004 (113)
Baltimore Colts – Green Bay (9-0), November 18, 1962 (116)
Detroit – Green Bay (10-0), November 22, 1962 (122)
Detroit – Chicago Bears (12-0), December 2, 1934 (129)
Denver – Green Bay (6-0), November 1, 2015 (140)

Denver’s defense leads the league with 29 sacks, providing consistent pressure up front. The Broncos also feature one of the league’s top defensive backfields, which has contributed an AFC-best nine interceptions.

The Broncos have not allowed a first-quarter point this season, and are one of nine teams since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger to hold their opponents scoreless in the first quarter through their first seven games to begin a season.

“They’ll pretty much dictate the tempo of the game,” says McGinest. “So when you have teams or defenses that are great on every single level and they can do a lot of different things and you have players that are interchangeable, it makes for a dangerous defense.”

The most consecutive games without allowing a first-quarter point to begin a season since 1970:

TEAM – YEAR (NO. OF GAMES)
Los Angeles Rams – 1974 (9)
Pittsburgh – 1978 (8)
New Orleans – 1991 (8)
Denver – 2015 (7)*
*Active streak

NFL teams are a combined 670-358-2 (.651) when allowing zero points in first quarter since the start of the 2010 season, demonstrating the impact a defense can have on the game by setting the tone early.

Over the past five seasons (since 2010), the Broncos have held their opponents scoreless in the first quarter in 40 games, tied for the second-most such games during that span, and posted a 33-7 (.825) record in those contests.

The teams with the most games allowing no points in the first quarter since 2010:

TEAM – NO. OF GAMES (W-L-T, PCT.)
Green Bay – 41 (35-6-0, .854)
Denver – 40 (33-7-0, .825)
San Francisco – 40 (27-13-0, .675)
Seattle – 39 (31-8-0, .795)
Atlanta – 37 (29-8-0, .784)
Carolina – 37 (22-14-1, .608)

Byes for week 9 belong to Arizona, Baltimore, Detroit, Houston, Kansas City and Seattle, while Jacksonville, Philadelphia and Washington return from their week eight vacations. As far as games in London? Done for the year. Everything from here on out will be on American soil.

Of those 35 clubs, five have advanced to the Conference Championship Game, including the 2001 New England Patriots, who won Super Bowl XXXVI.

​Week 9 began last Thursday with Cincinnati hosting and beating Cleveland 34-10 and ends on the West Coast on Monday night as the San Diego Chargers host Da Bears at 8:30 p.m. Eastern on EPSN. As far as last week, another week of double digit wins, as we went 10-4 (for the season, we’re 84-34). With that, here are the Sunday and Monday picks for week nine.

ATLANTA (6-2) at San Francisco (2-6), 4:05 p.m. (FOX and DirecTV 712). Atlanta makes its furthest trip west in the 2015 campaign as they travel to Santa Clara to face the struggling 49ers at Levis’ Stadium.

Atlanta, second in the NFC South, rallied from a 13-3 halftime deficit at home against regional and division rival Tampa Bay and eventually tied the contest at 20-20 with 17 second left in regulation when WR Julio Jones caught an 8-yard TD pass from Matt Ryan before the Bucs retook the lead in overtime on a 31-yard field goal by Connor Barth for a 23-20 lead. Atlanta then got the ball back in the overtime and had the ball for five plays in the extra period but Ryan’s pass attempt on fourth down was blocked by DT Gerald McCoy and lost by three to Tampa Bay in the Big Peach. The Falcons were outrushed by Tampa Bay 117-101 and rookie QB Jameis Winston threw for 177 yards with a TD pass thrown and a rushing TD of his own, while Ryan threw for 397 and two TDs, including the game-tying one to Jones (the first going to TE Jacob Tamme) and had an interception. Atlanta was 6 of 12 on third down conversions in the Georgia Dome (2 of 3 on fourth down) and kept the ball for 39:05, while Tampa Bay went 6 of 13 and 0 of 1 on third and fourth down and held the ball for 30:11.

The 49ers were held to a pair of Phil Dawson field goals in the first half, held to 38 yards rushing and allowed rookie RB Todd Gurley to rush for 133 yards and a TD to fall to St. Louis 27-6 (the Rams ran for 197 yards). San Francisco led briefly at 3-0 when Dawson opened the scoring with a 54-yard field goal early in the first half and the wheels proceeded to fall off, as the Rams outscored them 27-3 the rest of the contest. It was not a good game for Colin Kaepernick, who threw for 162 yards but was sacked three times and had a QB rating of 59.2 and for that, Kaepernick was benched for this contest and Blaine Gabbert will the signal caller for San Francisco Sunday. The 49es were 3 of 17 and 1 of 2 on third and fourth down conversions, keeping the ball for 28:02, while the Rams ruled the clock, holding the ball for 31:58 but struggled on third down tries at 1 of 12.

San Francisco holds a 45-29-1 lead in the series and have outscored the Falcons 1,804-1,301. San Francisco’s last win over Atlanta came in 2013, the final year of play in Candlestick, as they downed the Falcons 34-24, while Atlanta’s last win in the regular season came in 2010 in the Big Peach by a final of 16-14. Atlanta’s favored by 3 and the over/under’s 44 1/2. Both numbers make a lot of sense, considering that the Falcons are in contention for either a wild card spot or winning the NFC South (the strongest division in the NFL at 20-10), while the 49ers are struggling in a NFC West that has a combined record of 16-15. Atlanta gets its swagger back on the Left Coast and takes San Francisco to the woodshed, covering the 3 in the process.

Miami (3-4) at Buffalo (3-4), 1 p.m. (CBS and DirecTV 705) A pair of AFC East rivals meet in upstate New York Sunday afternoon as the Bills circle the wagons and host the Miami Dolphins.

Miami hopes to right its ship after they were taken apart by Tom Brady and the New England Patriots last Thursday night in Foxboro, losing 36-7. The ‘Fins struggled in Foxboro, trailing 19-0 at the half and could never get on track against the defending Super Bowl champions. Miami was held to 15 yards rushing, while the Pats did a little better, rushing for 95 in the contest. Tom Brady outpaced Ryan Tannehill in passing yardage in the lopsided win, throwing for 356 yards, while Tannehill had 300 yards but was sacked five times and picked off twice. Both clubs had a hard time getting things going on third down conversions (Miami was 2 of 11, New England was 3 of 12) but both did well on fourth down tries (Miami went 1 of 2, while the Pats were successful in their only fourth down try) and New England ruled the clock, holding the ball for 32:37, while the ‘Fins kept it for 27:23.

After recovering from fish and chips and jet lag, the Bills return to Ralph Wilson Stadium after their 34-31 loss to Jacksonville in London two weeks ago. Although they trailed the Jaguars 27-13 at halftime at Wembley Stadium, the Bills did manage to outscore Jacksonville 18-7 in the final 30 minutes of play and made the contest closer than Bills fans would have liked. Jacksonville outrushed Buffalo 120-115 in the contest on the other side of the Big Pond (Atlantic Ocean) and E.J. Manuel threw for 298 yards and a pair of TDs (he also threw a pair of interceptions and was sacked four times), while Jaguars signal caller Blake Bortles threw for 182 yards, also throwing a pair of TDs but was picked off once and sacked twice. Third and fourth down tries were nothing to send a postcard home to the fan base, as Buffalo was 3 of 12 and 0 of 1, while the Jaguars were 5 of 14 and 0 of 1. Buffalo may not have ruled Britaina but they did rule the clock, keeping the ball for 31:22 to Jacksonville’s 28:38.

Including contests played at the Orange Bowl and old War Memorial Stadium, the Dolphins lead the series 57-40-1 and have outscored Buffalo 2,096-1,823. They split the two contests they played last year, with each taking wins in front of their home fans.

The first meeting took place in upstate New York in week two and the Bills circled their wagons, coming away 29-10 winners. Buffalo led 9-0 at halftime before putting their foot on the gas and outscored the ‘Fins 20-10 in the second half. Miami was outrusheed 130-80 and Ryan Tannehill was sacked four times in upstate New York in the 19-point loss. Buffalo was 5 of 15 on third down tries, while the Dolphins were 5 of 16 and 1 of 4 on fourth down tries in the contest at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Miami did manage to rule the clock, keeping the ball for 31:17 to Buffalo’s 28:43.

Round two… the Sunshine State… Miami got revenge as the Bills could only muster three David Carpenter field goals and Miami rallied from a 6-3 halftime deficit to win 22-9 at Sun Life Stadium in week 11. The Dolphins held Buffalo to 54 yards on the ground, while the ‘Fins tallied 125 and Tannehill, despite being sacked five times, threw a pair of TDs without an interception. Miami was not much better on third down tries in the second contest, going 4 of 9, while the Bills were 6 of 15 and 0 of 2 on fourth down. Miami again ruled the clock, holding the ball for 32:22, while the Bills kept it for 27:38.

Buffalo was favored by 1 in the week two contest in upstate New York and won by 19, easily covering the spread. That was the good news. The bad news was that neither team covered the 42 1/2 over/under, tallying only 39 points. In the week 11 matchup in the Sunshine State, the ‘Fins won by 13, covering the 5-point spread but neither touched the 42 over/under, scoring 31 points. The Bills in upstate New York are favored by 3 and the over/under’s 46. Both clubs are coming off losses and both have actually played some pretty decent but not great football of late. Buffalo may circle the wagons but Miami takes care of the Bills along the shores of Lake Erie and covers the 3.

Green Bay (6-1) at Carolina (7-0), 1 p.m. (FOX and DirecTV 709). A once-beaten Green Bay team led by Aaron Rodgers travels to the Tar Heel State for a contest against the Carolina Panthers and Cam Newton in Charlotte.

The Panthers outlasted the Colts for a 29-26 overtime win on Monday night as Carolina reached 7-0 for the first time in franchise history. The Panthers led Indy 10-6 at the half before the Colts rallied to tie the contest in rainy Charlotte, sending the contest into overtime. Carolina trailed in the overtime when Indy K Adam Vinatieri connected on a 50-yard field goal but rallied to tie things back up when Greg Gano connected on a 42-yard field goal with 7:50 left in the extra period. Carolina then capitalized on a Colts turnover and Gano sent the home crowd somewhat wet but happy when he nailed a 52-yard field goal with 5:22 to play.

“It wasn’t pretty,” says Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. “We know that. We know we have to be better but at the end of the day we’re one of the lucky few who can say we’re 7-0.” Carolina outrushed the Colts 140-136 and Newton threw for 248 yards and a pair of TDs, while Andrew Luck tallied 231 yards and three interceptions, the last one coming in the overtime that gave the Panthers the ball back. Carolina was 4 of 16 on third down tries (2 of 2 on fourth down) and held the ball for 33:40, while the Colts kept the pigskin for 35:58, while going 6 of 18 and 1 of 1 on third and fourth downs.

The Packers will look to rebound from their first loss of the season, a 29-10 road defeat against the 7-0 Broncos. Week 9 marks the second consecutive game Green Bay will face an undefeated opponent.

“We have another tough road challenge in Carolina,” Packers QB Aaron Rodgers told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “These two games are going to show us how good we are after a 6-0 start.” Green Bay was outrushed by Denver last Sunday 160-90, with Broncos RB C.J. Anderson running for 101 yards and a TD. Meanwhile, in the battle of insurance pitchmen, Nationwide (Manning) outpaced Discount Double Check (Rodgers) 340-77. Denver was 6 of 12 on third down tries and held the ball for 33:27, while the Packers had the pigskin for 26:33 and went 2 of 8 on third down conversions in the Mile High City.

The Packers lead the series 8-4, have outscored Carolina 341-263 and won two of the last three contests, including taking a 38-17 win at Lambeau last year (Carolina’s last win in the series came in 2008, also at Lambeau, as the Panthers came away from the land of cheese, beer and bratwurst 35-31).

The week seven matchup at Lambeau was not much of a contest from the Carolina point of view as they trailed 28-3 at the half and could never get on track, even though they outscored Green Bay 14-10 in the final 30 minutes of play. Green Bay outrushed Carolina 122-108 and sacked Newton three times, while Rodgers threw three TD passes for the win at home. Green Bay went 4 of 11 on third down tries in the land of cheese, beer and bratwurst and kept the ball for 29:49, while Carolina kept the pigskin for 30:11 and went 4 of 12 on third down and failed in their only fourth down try.

Green Bay’s 21-point win allowed them to cover the 7-point spread and both teams combined for 55 points, allowing the 49 over/under to be covered as well. Green Bay’s favored by 1 1/2 and the over/under is 45 1/2. Both numbers make sense. One team is no longer unbeaten and the other wants to stay that way. Green Bay is a bit on the angry side after being taken apart by Peyton and the Broncos and look to take it out on Cam and the Panthers. Carolina makes it close but the Packers bounce back in the Tar Heel State and covers the 1 1/2.

St. Louis (4-3) at Minnesota (5-2), 1 p.m. (FOX and DirecTV 710). Minnesota hosts St. Louis on Sunday afternoon in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, as the Vikings aim for their seventh consecutive home win. Minnesota earned a 23-20 road victory in Chicago last week, as kicker Blair Walsh converted the game-winning 36-yard field goal as time expired. The Vikings have won five of their past six games, with their past two wins coming in games decided by one score.

St. Louis, who has won three of their last four contests, held San Francisco to a pair of Phil Dawson field goals in the first half, holding the 49ers to a dismal 38 yards rushing and rookie RB Todd Gurley ran roughsod over San Francisco for 133 yards and a TD to take a 27-6 win (the Rams ran for 197 yards). Gurley became the first rookie in NFL history to rush for at least 125 yards in four consecutive games. St. Louis trailed briefly at 3-0 when Dawson opened the scoring with a 54-yard field goal early in the first half before the Rams outscored them 27-3 the rest of the contest. St. Louis made life somewhat miserable for 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick, who threw for 162 yards but was sacked three times and had a QB rating of 59.2, while Rams QB Nick Foles threw for 191 yards and a TD to WR Tavon Austin. The 49es were 3 of 17 and 1 of 2 on third and fourth down conversions, keeping the ball for 28:02, while the Rams ruled the clock, holding the ball for 31:58 but struggled on third down tries at 1 of 12. “I keep bringing up that ‘S’ word, which is ‘special,’” says St. Louis head coach Jeff Fisher of his star rookie. “I’ve been saying that he’s special.”

“We are developing some intensity at the end of football games, being able to come back and finish,” Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and KARE-TV. “The team is really starting to believe we can win in these situations.”

Minnesota broke a 13-13 halftime tie against Chicago at Soldier Field last Sunday and then needed to rally against Da Bears to come away 23-20 winners, thanks to a 36-yard field goal by Brad Walsh as time ran out. The Vikings trailed 13-10 after three quarters of play and outscored Chicago in the final 15 minutes of action 13-7. Minnesota ran for 147 yards (with RB Adrian Peterson rushing for 103 of those yards), while holding Da Bears to 97 and QB Teddy Bridgewater threw for 187 yards and a TD with an interception for the 3-point win. Minnesota was 5 of 12 on third down conversions, keeping the ball for 27:18, while Da Bears ruled the clock, holding the ball in hibernation for 32:42 but struggled on third down at 3 of 12 but found success in their only fourth down try at Soldier Field.

Including contests that were played when the Rams were in Los Angeles and the Vikings played at Metropolitan Stadium before moving to the Metrodome, Minnesota leads the series 20-14-2, have outscored the Rams 823-795 and have won three of the last four contests, including taking a 34-6 win in St. Louis last year (St. Louis’ last win over the Purple Gang would come in 2006 in the Twin Cities by a 41-21 final).

Leading 13-0 at the half in the week one contest, Minnesota would go on to outpace the Rams 24-6 in the final 30 minutes of play. Minnesota outrushed St. Louis 186-72 (RB Cordarrelle Patterson ran for 102 yards and a TD, while Peterson chipped in with 75) and the Vikes forced a pair of St. Louis turnovers in the win. Third down tries? Not a lot to talk about (Minnesota was 3 of 11, St. Louis was 4 of 14) but the Rams did rule the clock, holding the ball for 31:43 to Minnesota’s 28:17 at the Edward Jones Dome.

St. Louis was favored by 3 1/2 in the season opener and the Vikings’ 28-point win in St. Louis allowed them to cover the spread but both teams missed the 44 over/under. The Purple Gang are favored by 3 and the over/under is 40. Two clubs with two pretty good running backs and two teams contending in the NFC North and NFC West. St. Louis could make this one interesting but Minnesota prevails in the Land of 10,000 Lakes and covers the 3.

Washington (3-3) at New England (7-0), 1 p.m. (FOX and DirecTV 711). The defending Super Bowl champions and Tom Brady host the Washington Redskins in an interleague contest in Foxboro.

Washington returns from their bye week after their 31-30 come from behind win against Tampa Bay in Landover. The Redskins trailed 24-7 at the half in Landover before they rallied in the second half to take the slim 1-point at FedEx Field. Washington outscored Tampa Bay 24-6 in the final 30 minutes of action, taking the lead for keeps with 24 seconds left when Kirk Cousins and TE Jordan Reed connected on a 6-yard TD pass that capped an 11-play, 80-yard drive that burned two minutes off the clock. Tampa Bay had one last chance in the contest to take the win with either a field goal or a TD and was three plays into that drive when Jameis Winston and RB Charles Sims connected on a 19-yard pass. Sims then fumbled and Washington recoverd the fumble and proceeded to run out the clock. Tampa Bay did manage to outrush Washington 190-50 and Winston did manage to play turnover-free football, connecting for a pair of TDs in the 1-point loss, while Doug Martin led all rushers with 136 yards. Tampa Bay on third down tries went 7 of 12 and held on to the ball for 31:18, while the Redskins were 5 of 11 and kept the pigskin for 28:42.

The defending Super Bowl champions took Miami to the woodshed in Foxboro last Thursday night and made life miserable for the Dolphins, beating their AFC East foes 36-7. New England led 19-0 at the half and did not allow the Dolphins to get on track against the defending Super Bowl champions. The running game in the contest was non-existant as neither team breached the 100-yard barrier, with the Pats rushing for 95 yards, while Miami was held to 15. Brady outpaced Ryan Tannehill in passing yardage in the lopsided win, throwing for 356 yards, while Tannehill had 300 yards but was sacked five times and picked off twice. Both clubs had a hard time getting things going on third down conversions (Miami was 2 of 11, New England was 3 of 12) but both did well on fourth down tries (Miami went 1 of 2, while the Pats were successful in their only fourth down try) and New England ruled the clock, holding the ball for 32:37, while the ‘Fins kept it for 27:23.

Washington leads the series 6-3 but the Pats have outscored the ‘Skins 205-195 and won the last two contests, including taking a 34-27 win in Landover in 2011 (Washington’s last win came in 2003, also in Landover, by a final of 20-17). The oddsmakers like the defending Super Bowl champs as 13-point favorites at home with a 52 over/under. Washington struggled two weeks ago against Tampa Bay in Landover, while New England took Miami to the woodshed in Foxboro. The Redskins would like nothing more than to be David and knock off Goliath. Sorry, Washington fans. This week you’ll be singing “Hell, it’s the Redskins!” Pats may not cover the 13 but they remain unbeaten and takes the win at home.

Tennessee (1-6) at New Orleans (4-4), 1 p.m. (CBS and DirecTV 706). The struggling Tennessee Titans, with a new head coach roaming the sidelines, travels to the Big Easy to take on New Orleans.

The Titans were held to a pair of Ryan Succop field goals in Houston last Sunday, as they fell to the Texans 20-6. Playing without Marcus Mariota for the second week in a row, backup QB Zack Mettenberger was sacked seven times, while throwing for 171 yards and an interception in the 14-point loss. The good news was that Tennessee outrushed Houston 86-56 and that was the good news. The bad news? First… Tennessee turned the ball over three times and went 1 of 12 on third down tries and kept the ball for 31:08, while Houston was 4 of 15 third-down wise (both teams were 0 for 1 on fourth down) and the Texans kept the ball for 28:52. Secondly… The Titans relieved Ken Whisenhunt of his duties as the head man and named Mike Mularkey, who was the team’s assistant head coach and also coached tight ends the interim head coach. Whisenhunt’s record with the Titans was 3-20.

Meanwhile, the Saints are coming off a hard-earned 52-49 win over the New York Giants last Sunday in the Superdome. Despite leading 28-21 at halftime, the Saints would find themselves being outscored in the second half the Giants 28-24 and needed help in the final minutes and got that help, thanks to a face mask penalty by Giants kiceker Brandon Wing. The Saints then marched down the field and took the win on a 50-yard field goal by Kirk Forbath as the clock struck :00. New Orleans outrushed the Giants 103-87 and Drew Brees outpassed Eli Manning 511-350. The two combined for 13 TD passes in the back and forth contest that saw three ties and six lead changes (Manning had six TD passes, Brees had seven). New Orleans went 6 of 10 on third down tries in the Big Easy, holding the ball for 34:59, while the Giants held the pigskin for 25:01, while struggling on third down tries, going 1 of 8 (both teams were succesful on fourth down, with the Saints going 2 of 2, while the Giants found success in their only fourth down conversion).

Tennessee leads the series 7-5-1 (which includes contests when they were the Houston Oilers) and have outscored the Saints 279-255. The Saints took a 22-17 win in Nashville in 2011, while Tennessee’s last win came in the Big Easy by a 31-14 final in 2007. New Orleans is favored by a touchdown and the over/under’s 48. Tennessee’s not that bad, even though they are 1-6, while the Saints are looking up at Carolina and Atlanta in the NFC South, the strongest of the four in the NFC and the strongest in the NFL. Tennesse may make this one interesting but New Orleans and Brees makes it two wins at home in November and covers the 7.

Jacksonville (2-5) at New York Jets (4-3), 1 p.m. (CBS and DirecTV 707). The Jaguars come off their bye week and head up I-95 to take on the J-E-T-S! JETS! JETS! JETS! in the Meadowlands.

The Jaguars return from their trip to London two Sundays ago, taking a 34-31 win over Buffalo at Wembley Stadium. Jacksonville led 27-13 at halftime before the Bills managed to outscore them 18-7 in the final 30 minutes of play and made things somewhat intersting for Jaguar fans. Jacksonville outrushed Buffalo 120-115 in the contest on the other side of the Big Pond (Atlantic Ocean) and E.J. Manuel threw for 298 yards and a pair of TDs, while throwing a pair of interceptions and was sacked four times. Meanwhile, while Jaguars signal caller Blake Bortles threw for 182 yards, also throwing a pair of TDs but was picked off once and sacked twice. Third down tries were nothing to send a postcard home to the fan bases for either clube, as Buffalo was 3 of 12, while Jacksonville was 5 of 14 (both teams were 0 of 1 on fourth down). Jacksonville in the 3-point win kept the ball for 28:38, while Buffalo held on to the pigskin for 31:22.

GangGreen could never get themselves on track against Oakland last Sunday on the West Coast and fell to the Raiders 34-20. New York trailed 21-6 at the half but managed to outscore the Silver and Black in the second half 14-13. New York was held to 74 yards on the ground, while the Raiders ran for 118 (Raiders RB Latavius Murray led all rushers with 113) and Geno Smith did manage to throw for 265 yards in place of Ryan Fitzpatrick (thumb) but was sacked twice, despite throwing a pair of TDs. GangGreen was 7 of 16 on third down conversions in Oakland (1 of 3 on fourth down) and held the ball for 29:22, while Oakland, led by David Carr’s 333 yards and four TDs (no interceptions), was 4 of 10, holding the ball for 30:38.

Jacksonville leads the series 6-4 and they may have outscored GangGreen 189-157 but the J-E-T-S! JETS! JETS! JETS! have taken wins in the last two contests, including taking a 17-10 win in 2012 in the Sunshine State, while Jacksonville’s last win came in 2009 in the Meadowlands by a 24-22 final. GangGreen’s favored by a touchdown and the over/under is 40. The Jaguars are not that bad, considering they’re in third place in the somewhat weak AFC South, where the two leaders, Indy and Houston, are below the .500 mark and the J-E-T-S! JETS! JETS! JETS! are looking to catch that Brady guy and the defending Super Bowl champions. Jacksonville may have recovered from their trip overseas but GangGreen gets back on track and wins in upsate New Jersey and could cover the 7 in the process.

Oakland (4-3) at Pittsburgh (4-3), 1 p.m. (CBS and DirecTV 708) Oakland travels to Pittsburgh for a battle of second-place teams. The Silver and Black are winners of back to back games are aiming to reach the season’s hallway point with a record above .500 for the first time since 2001, when Oakland started 6-2 en route to a 10-6 record and an AFC West title.

“I think we’re getting better each week,” says Oakland head coach Jack Del Rio. “The process that we work so hard at, I feel like the coaches are doing a good job game planning, the players are doing a great job coming and being purposeful about our work, learning about each opponent and preparing to come out here and compete.” The Silver and Black took the Jets to the woodshed last Sunday in Oakland, taking a 34-20 win in the process. Oakland led 21-6 at the half but the Jets managed to outscore the Silver and Black in the second half 14-13. Oakland held the Jets rushing game to 74 yards on the ground, while Latavius Murray ran for 113 of Oakland’s 117 and David Carr threw for 333 yards with four TDs and no interceptions. GangGreen was 7 of 16 on third down conversions in Oakland (1 of 3 on fourth down) and held the ball for 29:22, while Oakland, led by David Carr’s 333 yards and four TDs (no interceptions), was 4 of 10, holding the ball for 30:38.

Pittsburgh welcomed quarterback Ben Roethlisberger back to the lineup last week, as he became the first Steeler to reach 40,000 career passing yards. But the Steelers could not hold their fourth-quarter lead against the Bengals, as Cincinnati preserved its undefeated record with a 16-10 victory at Heinz Field.

“We needed one more stop,” Pittsburgh defensive end Cameron Heyward told KDKA Radio and KDKA-TV. “We’ve got to grow from this. If we talk about being the team we want to be, you’ve got to step up in critical situations. We have to learn from this.” Pittsburgh let a 10-6 lead after 45 minutes of play get away from them to fall 16-10 at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh did manage to hold the Bengals to 78 yards, while tallying 116 but Cincinnati managed to sack Ben Roethlisberger (262 yards) three times, while picking him off three times. Dalton threw for 231 yards, including a a 9-yard TD pass to WR A.J. Green to get the rally going, despite being sacked three times and picked off twice. Third down was somewhat problematic for both the Bengals and Steelers in the Steel City (the Bengals were 4 of 15, while the Steelers were 3 of 11) but Pittsburgh managed to rule the clock, holding the ball for 30:09, while Cincinnati kept it for 29:51.

The Silver and Black lead the series 12-9 but the Steelers have outscored Oakland 437-430. Oakland won the last two meetings, both in Oakland, with the Raiders taking a 21-18 win in 2013, while the Steelers came away 35-3 winners in 2010 at Heinz Field. The Steelers are favored by 7 and the over/under is 47 1/2. Both numbers make a lot of sense. Both teams are looking to catch the teams on top in their respective divisions. Oakland could make this one close but Pittsburgh prevails at home and takes the win in the Steel City.

New York Giants (4-3) at Tampa Bay (3-4), 4:05 p.m. (FOX and DirecTV 713). Eli Manning and the New York Giants travel to the Sunshine State to face off against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and rookie QB Jameis Winston.

Eli and the Giants come into the late afternoon contest in the Sunshine State with a 52-49 loss to New Orleans under their belts. Although they trailed the Saints 28-21 at halftime, the G-Men would eventually outscore the Saints in the second half the Giants 28-24 but a facemask penalty on a punt return by P Brandon Wing did them in. That allowed the ball to be moved 15 yards closer to New Orleans’ goal and the Saints would capitalize on that error, marching their way down the field and lost in the final seconds on a 50-yard field goal by Kirk Forbath as the clock struck :00. The Saints outrushed Big Blue 103-87 and Drew Brees outpassed Eli 511-350, with the two combined for 13 TD passes in the back and forth contest that saw three ties and six lead changes (Manning had six TD passes, Brees had seven). New Orleans went 6 of 10 on third down tries in the Big Easy, holding the ball for 34:59, while the Giants held the pigskin for 25:01, while struggling on third down tries, going 1 of 8 (both teams were succesful on fourth down, with the Saints going 2 of 2, while the Giants found success in their only fourth down conversion).

Tampa Bay let a 3-3 halftime lead at Atlanta get away from them and needed to rally when the Falcons tied the contest in regulation at 20-20 with 17 seconds left in regulation when WR Julio Jones caught an 8-yard TD pass from Matt Ryan. Tampa Bay took the lead back and for good in the overtime when Connor Barth connected on a 31-yard field goal before the Bucs retook the lead in overtime on a 31-yard field goal by Connor Barth for a 23-20 lead. Atlanta then got the ball back in the overtime and had the ball for five plays in the extra period but Ryan’s pass attempt on fourth down was blocked by Bucs DT Gerald McCoy, which ended the game and gave Tampa Bay a hard-earned road win. Tampa Bay outrushed the Falcons 117-101 and rookie QB Winston threw for 177 yards with a TD pass thrown and a rushing TD of his own, while Ryan threw for 397 and two TDs, including the game-tying one to Jones (the first going to TE Jacob Tamme) and had an interception. Atlanta was 6 of 12 on third down conversions in the Georgia Dome (2 of 3 on fourth down) and kept the ball for 39:05, while Tampa Bay went 6 of 13 and 0 of 1 on third and fourth down and held the ball for 30:11.

Big Blue leads the series 12-6, have outscored Tampa Bay 302-286 and won their last meeting with the Bucs in 2012 in the Meadowlands by a 41-34 final, while Tampa Bay last won in the series in 2003 in the Sunshine State by a final of 19-13. New York’s favored by 1 1/2 and the over/under’s 47 1/2. These are two pretty good QBs going at it in the Sunshine State in the late afternoon contest, one with a Super Bowl ring, the other hoping to have one before his career ends. Bucs make it close but the Giants bounce back from their loss in the Big Easy last Sunday and takes the win in the Sunshine State, covering the 1 1/2.

Denver (7-0) at Indianapolis 4:25 p.m. (CBS and DirecTV 714) It’s Peyton Manning vs. Andrew Luck as the Broncos travel to the Hoosier State to face off against the Colts.

Denver led Green Bay from start to finish Sunday night at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, knocking the Packers out of the ranks of the unbeatens 29-10. RB C.J. Anderson ran for 101 yards and a TD, while the Broncos out-rushed Green Bay 160-90 and in the battle of insurance pitchmen, Nationwide (Manning) outpaced Discount Double Check (Rodgers) 340-77. Denver was 6 of 12 on third down tries and held the ball for 33:27, while the Packers had the pigskin for 26:33 and went 2 of 8 on third down conversions in the Mile High City. Manning earned his 186th career regular-season win, tying Brett Farve for the most of any starting quarterback in NFL history.

“Anytime that you have some sort of record like that, you think about all the players that you played with, the coaches that you’ve coached with,” says Manning, who needs 284 yards this week to surpass Favre’s all-time record for career passing yards (71,838). He told the Rocky Mountain News and KUSA-TV, “I’ve played for a long time. This one might be a quarterback’s record but I look at all those as a number of people contributing to all those wins.”

Indy trailed Carolina 10-6 at the half in rainy Charlotte before the Colts rallied to tie the contest at 23-23, sending the contest into overtime. The Colts took the lead first in the overtime when Indy K Adam Vinatieri connected on a 50-yard field goal but rallied to tie things back up when Greg Gano connected on a 42-yard field goal with 7:50 left in the extra period. Carolina then capitalized on a Colts turnover and Gano sent the home crowd somewhat wet but happy when he nailed a 52-yard field goal with 5:22 to play.

Indy was outrushed by Carolina 140-136 and Newton threw for 248 yards and a pair of TDs, while Andrew Luck tallied 231 yards and three interceptions, the last one coming in the overtime that gave the Panthers the ball back and the win. Carolina was 4 of 16 on third down tries (2 of 2 on fourth down) and held the ball for 33:40, while the Colts kept the pigskin for 35:58, while going 6 of 18 and 1 of 1 on third and fourth downs. “We can still accomplish all of our goals,” says Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano. “The number one goal is to win the division, win the next game. We have to get to number four. Everything is still out there for us.”

The Broncos hold a 12-9 lead in the series and have outscored the Colts 468-436. They met twice in the 2014 campaign, once in the regular season and once in the postseason. They met in week one in the Mile High City and the Colts managed to throw everything at Peyton and the Broncos but Denver would prevail 31-21. Denver led 24-7 at the half before the Colts would rally to make the contest a bit too close for Denver fans at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Denver outrushed Indy 102-54 and Manning threw for 269 yards and three TDs, while Luck threw for 370 with a pair of TDs and a pair of interceptions. Denver was 7 of 14 on third down tries in the season opener, keeping the ball for 32:24, while the Colts were 4 of 13 (2 of 4 on fourth down) and held the ball for 27:36.

That was the regular season.

The second meeting would be in the postseason.

Winner advances.

Loser goes home.

They met again in round two of the AFC Playoffs in Denver and this time, the Colts got revenge on Manning and the Broncos, taking a 24-13 win in the Mile High City. Indy trailed 7-0 after the first 15 minutes of action before the Colts would go on to outscore Denver 24-6 in the final 45 minutes of play. The rushing game for both clubs took a longer than planned Christmas break as neither club reached the 100-yard barrier (Indy came the closest, rushing for 99 yards, while Denver had 88) and Luck would outpace the man he replaced in Indy, throwing for 265 yards and a pair of TDs (two interceptions), while Manning had a TD pass in the loss. Indy in the second meeting on third down conversions? 5 of 13. Denver? 4 of 16 (1 of 2 on fourth down). The Colts in the second meeting for all the marbles ruled the clock, holding the ball for 34:01 to Denver’s 25:59.

Denver won by 7 but barely missed the spread (7 1/2) but both the Colts and Broncos covered the 55 over/under exactly in the week one affair at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The second meeting in the Mile High city saw Denver favored by 7 but Indy covering the spread, winning by 11. As for the 54 over/under? Safe and sound, as both clubs scored only 37 points.

Given the storyline of Peyton playing so many seasons with Indy and Luck now his replacement, along with the fact that Denver’s unbeaten and both teams are in first place in their divisons makes this one “DRILL WORTHY” (For those of you that know what The Drill is, you are excused. Everyone else, pay attention. We don’t want any rookie mistakes here, k?)

After you go to the 9:30 mass on Sunday (the 4:30 vigil mass on Saturday counts as a mass attended, people! Don’t make us send the nuns after you! If we do, it is SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO OVER!), head to your favorite store (a trip to Wal Mart, Target, K-Mart or Costco counts) and get the vittles and the beverages (soda, beer, wine, coffee, et al… if you live in a state that allows the purchase of the items in question) and invite the co-workers, the neighbors (including that really cute kindergarden teacher that knows what to do with a cover-2 defense) and your cousin Connie (remember her? She’s the one that’s been married twice that’s just turned 56 last June and dates a 41-year old ex-Marine, who’s now a football coach at the high school in your town. She’s also the one that ate an entire Oreo cheesecake, two bags of Cool Ranch Doritos, two bacon cheeseburgers with blue cheese and chugged two 2-liter Cokes at your Super Bowl party last year and didn’t gain a pound. You look at her and say to yourself, “what the hell?”
Denver’s favored by 4 and the over/under’s 47. Denver played a lot better last week than they have in the past, while the Colts find themselves tied with Houston for first in the AFC South, the weakest of the eight divisons in the NFL. Once again, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Denver covers the 4 and wins in the Hoosier State.

Philadelphia (3-4) at Dallas (2-5), 8:30 p.m. (NBC). It’s a week 2 rematch in the Lone Star State as Dallas hosts Philadelphia in a prime time contest in Arlington. With only two wins separating the four NFC East clubs in the standings as the halfway point approaches, the division title is still up for grabs.

The primetime game marks the return of running back De Marco Murray to Dallas for the first time since signing with Philadelphia in the offseason. Murray, who was named the 2014 NFL Offensive Player of the Year by the Associated Press, set Cowboys records for rushing yards (1,845) and scrimmage yards (2,261) last season. Fresh off an extended break, the Eagles have an NFC-best 20-6 (.769) record after bye weeks.

“We have a really good football team,” says Philadelphia safety Walter Thurmond. “Even though our record says otherwise, we know what we have in our room and it really comes down to needing to execute in all three phases. We can’t beat ourselves. That’s the biggest thing.” The Eagles had a bye last week after their loss to Carolina in Charlotte in week seven. In that contest, the Eagles were outrushed 204-177 (with Carolina’s Jonathan Stewart rushing for 125) and Sam Bradford was sacked five times and picked off once. Carolina went a somewhat dismal 2 of 9 on third down conversions in the Sunday night contest in Charlotte and kept the ball for 28:54, while the Eagles were 7 of 18 and 1 of 2 on third and fourth tries, holding the ball for 31:06.

The Cowboys lost a 13-12 decision at home against the defending NFC champion Seahawks last week but Dallas is hopeful about its prospects with quarterback Matt Cassel in a starting role in relief of an injured Tony Romo.

“Obviously we didn’t make the plays in the passing game at the critical moments – down in the red zone and some of the third downs – as the game wore on,” says Dallas head coach Jason Garrett of his offense’s performance in Cassel’s second start. “But we’ll look at the tape. I think Matt’s getting more comfortable running our offense.” Dallas trailed Seattle 10-6 at the half and lead briefly 12-10, thanks to a 27-yard field goal by Dan Bailey before the defending NFC champs took the lead back and for keeps when Seahawks K Steven Hauschka connected on a 24-yard field goal with 66 seconds left to play in regulation. Dallas did manage to outrush Seattle 129-113 but Cassel had only 97 yards passing (13 of 25), while Russell Wilson threw for 210. Dallas on third down tries went 4 of 14 (1 of 2 on fourth down) and kept the ball for 30:22, while the victorious Seahawks were 5 of 12, holding the ball for 29:38.

They met in week two in the City of Brotherly Love and Dallas led from start to finish, winning 20-10 at Lincoln Financial Field. Leading 6-0 at the half, thanks to a pair of Dan Bailey field goals, Dallas made life miserable for Eagles fans as they would outscore Philly 14-10 in the second half. Dallas held Philadelphia to a season-low 7 yards, picking off Sam Bradford twice. Before he was injured, Romo was 18 of 27 for 195 yards, while his replacement Brad Weeden was perfect on all seven of his passes, connecting with WR Terrance Williams for the only TD pass of the day. Dallas on third down tries went 4 of 12, while the Eagles were 2 of 11 but did manage to find success in their only fourth down try. In addition to winning in the City of Brotherly Love, the Cowboys ruled the clock, keeping the ball for 40:30, while the Eagles kept it for 19:30.

Philly was a 5-point favorite and the Cowboys won by 10, allowing them to cover the spread but neither club came anywhere near the 55 1/2 over/under, scoring only 30 points. This time, the Eagles are favored by 1 1/2 and the over/under’s 45 1/2. The Eagles are second in a somewhat strong NFC East, where the combined record of all four teams is 12-17. Dallas has stumbled, losing their last five games. This one might be a good game to watch but not a great one, so if you decide to watch “The Good Wife,” we’ll understand. Philly gets revenge on Dallas from their week two loss in the City of Brotherly Love and take Dallas to the woodshed, covering the 1 1/2.

Chicago (2-5) at San Diego (2-6), 8:30 p.m. Monday (ESPN). A pair of struggling teams trying to keep pace in their respective divisions close out action on the West Coast in prime time as the San Diego Chargers and Philip Rivers host Jay Cutler and Da Bears.

Chicago and Minnesota were tied 13-13 at halftime at Soldier Field last Sunday and then let a 13-10 lead after three quarters get away from them as they fell to the Vikings 23-20, thanks to a 36-yard field goal by Brad Walsh as time ran out.Minnesota ran for 147 yards (with RB Adrian Peterson rushing for 103 of those yards), while Da Bears were held to 97. Minnesota was 5 of 12 on third down conversions, keeping the ball for 27:18, while Da Bears ruled the clock, holding the ball in hibernation for 32:42 but struggled on third down at 3 of 12 but found success in their only fourth down try at Soldier Field.

San Diego also lost a close contest, losing to Baltimore in Charm City by a 29-26 final. The Chargers led 16-13 at the intermission before the Ravens rallied in the second half, outscoring San Diego 16-10 in the final 30 minutes and Ravens K Jeff Tucker broke the hearts of Chargers fans as he nailed a 39-yard field goal as the clock expired. There were three bright spots for San Diego last Sunday. First, they outrushed Baltimore 81-72, second, Philip Rivers threw for 301 yards and three TDs and third, the Charger defense sacked Joe Flacco three times. There was one more thing (to paraphrase Columbo)… the Chargers did well on third down conversions, going 7 of 13 and held the ball for 30:06, while the Ravens were 5 of 12 on third down, 1 of 1 on fourth down and held on to the ball for 29:54.

Da Bears lead the series 6-5 but the Bolts have outscored Chicago 213-182. Chicago’s last win in the series came when the teams last met in 2011 in the Windy City, with the Monsters of the Midway coming out 31-20 winners, while San Diego’s last win in the series came at Qualcomm Stadium in 2007 by a final of 14-3.

San Diego is 22-20 on MNF but lost their only meeting last year, while Da Bears are 28-36, splitting their two MNF games in 2014. The Chargers are favored by 4 1/2 and the over/under is 52. Both clubs are struggling to keep their heads above water in their divisions. It may not be one of the better Monday night games and if you decide to watch “Supergirl,” “Scorpion” and “NCIS: Los Angeles” or “Castle,” we’ll understand. San Diego puts up a fight on the West Coast but Da Bears take this one on the road.

Advertisements