Un­de­feated Chiefs await ma­jor test in New Eng­land

The Record (Troy, NY) - - SPORTS - By Barry Wilner Pro Picks: Go with Giants over Ea­gles on a short week

There can be no bet­ter mea­sur­ing stick for the Chiefs and young quar­ter­back Pa­trick Ma­homes than what they face Sun­day night.

Beat the Pa­tri­ots in Foxbor­ough and all that ex­cite­ment in Kan­sas City might be val­i­dated.

Re­mem­ber, though, that the Chiefs, with Alex Smith, went into Gil­lette Sta­dium and won the 2017 kick­off to the sea­son. They went on an up-and- down ride the rest of the way, lost in the wild­card play­off round, while the Pa­tri­ots straight­ened out and made the Su­per Bowl be­fore los­ing to Philadel­phia.

Ma­homes, of course, has looked im­mune to any sort of high-stakes pres­sure in lead­ing the Chiefs (5- 0) to the top of the AFC. He em­braces this chal­lenge and try­ing to outdo Tom Brady.

“It is go­ing to be a great op­por­tu­nity,” says Ma­homes, who has a leaguebest 14 touch­down passes. “He is one of the great­est quar­ter­backs, if not the great­est to ever play. I am go­ing against their de­fense, but as a team we are go­ing to go in and try to com­pete. They are a good team in the AFC ev­ery sin­gle year. Just to com­pete against one of the best teams in the league is go­ing to be an awe­some op­por­tu­nity.”

How fa­mil­iar is Ma­homes with three- time league MVP Brady, whom he has never met?

“I def­i­nitely watched a good amount of him in col­lege (at Texas Tech),” he says. “Coach (Kliff) Kings­bury ac­tu­ally played with Tom at one point. He liked to show me some things that he did where he was in the pocket, his pocket move­ments and things like that. I have def­i­nitely taken some things from him. He does it at such a high level, it’s some­thing you have to strive to be like.”

New Eng­land (3-2) is striv­ing to be, well, New Eng­land. Af­ter a 1-2 start, the Pa­tri­ots ap­pear to have got­ten back on their usual win­ning path.

The week­end be­gan with Philadel­phia’s 34-13 road vic­tory over the New York Giants. Car­son Wentz threw a sea­son-high three touch­down passes for the Ea­gles (3-3). They beat the Giants (1-5) for the fourth straight time and sev­enth in eight games.

Off this week are Detroit (2-3) and New Or­leans (4-1)

Pitts­burgh (2-2-1) at Cincin­nati (4-1)

One of the NFL’s most vi­cious and yel­low-tinted ri­val­ries . As in:

—These teams com­bined for four penal­ties for un­nec­es­sary rough­ness, one for un­sports­man­like con­duct, one for taunt­ing, one for rough­ing the passer, and two 15-yard penal­ties for grab­bing a face­mask in their pre­vi­ous meet­ing.

—Cincin­nati set a club record with 173 yards in penal­ties in that messy af­fair, when the Steel­ers over­came a 17- 0 deficit to win. More num­bers of note: —The Steel­ers have won the past six games in this se­ries, nine of 10 and 14 of 17.

—The Ben­gals are 8-24 vs. the Steel­ers un­der coach Marvin Lewis

—Lewis is 2-15 at Paul Brown Sta­dium against Pitts­burg.

— Steel­ers QB Ben Roeth­lis­berger is 24- 4-1 in his na­tive Ohio, in­clud­ing the post­sea­son. He’s 13-2 at Paul Brown Sta­dium with 23 TDs, 10 in­ter­cep­tions.

Los An­ge­les Charg­ers (32) at Cleve­land (2-2-1)

When last they met in Cleve­land, the Browns won in their 15th game to avoid a per­fect sea­son on the wrong side of the ledger. So they lost ev­ery game in 2017, in­clud­ing at the Charg­ers.

“Not to speak too much of last year, but I could not be­lieve and I did not feel like they were an 0-16 team or 0-14, what­ever they were when we played them last year,” says Charg­ers quar­ter­back Philip Rivers. “It was a good foot­ball team. They just did not find ways to win and so many (games) they had op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

They’ve got two wins al­ready and lead the NFL with 15 take­aways, two more than in the en­tire 2017 sea­son.

Bal­ti­more (3-2) at Ten­nessee (3-2)

Two clubs com­ing off down week­ends: Ten­nessee was punch­less at Buf­falo, Bal­ti­more was inept of­fen­sively at Cleve­land.

Both can play D, though, so don’t ex­pect a lot of end zone ac­tiv­ity in Mu­sic City.

The Ravens are play­ing a third straight road game, then have four of the next five at home. They lead the NFL in scor­ing de­fense, al­low­ing 15.4 points per game, with no TDs in a sec- ond half.

The Ti­tans have al­lowed seven points in the first quar­ter and lead in red zone de­fense, al­low­ing three TDs in 13 pos­ses­sions for a 23.1 per­cent suc­cess rate by op­po­nents.

Chicago (3-1) at Mi­ami (3-2)

The Bears have won three in a row and come off a bye. They haven’t earned four straight wins since 2012.

With Khalil Mack re­vi­tal­iz­ing the de­fense, Chicago ranks No. 1 against the run and sec­ond over­all. If sec­ond-year quar­ter­back Mitch Tru­bisky truly has found the pass­ing rhythm — his six TD throws in a rout of Tampa Bay tied for sec­ond most in an NFL game — the Bears needs to be taken se­ri­ously.

Mi­ami was taken se­ri­ously un­til it laid eggs at New Eng­land and Cincin­nati, where it blew a 17- 0 lead. The Dol­phins rank third worst in yards and fifth worst in points. They have been out­gained by 94 yards per game, which ranks third worst.

Carolina (3-1) at Wash­ing­ton (2-2)

Wash­ing­ton was on the wrong end of the record­set­ting Brees blitz through the air in New Or­leans, and was dam­aged as much by penal­ties as in­ef­fi­cient de­fense. The usu­ally pre­cise Alex Smith threw an in­ter­cep­tion and was gen­er­ally off-tar­get.

Now comes Carolina, which has seven picks, is plus- 5 in turnovers, and has nine sacks. The Pan­thers also have the NFL’s top rush­ing of­fense, in part be­cause quar­ter­back Cam New­ton is such a weapon on the ground. New­ton is 4- 0 with nine TDs and zero picks for a 115.4 passer rat­ing vs. Wash­ing­ton, along with two rush­ing scores.

Wash­ing­ton has lost five straight to Carolina.

Los An­ge­les Rams (5- 0) at Den­ver (2-3)

While Den­ver’s de­fense has been get­ting Orange Crushed re­cently, LA’s of­fense has looked un­stop­pable. Jared Goff leads the league with 1,727 yards pass­ing and ranks sec­ond with a 119.7 passer rat­ing. In the past month, Goff is av­er­ag­ing 374 yards per game.

Todd Gur­ley tops the NFL with seven TD runs and ranks sec­ond with 645 scrim­mage yards. Of con­cern for the im­pres­sive re­ceiv­ing group is that Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp each left last week’s win at Seat­tle with con­cus­sions.

Den­ver star LB Von Miller has gone sack­less the past three weeks. The Bron­cos yielded 323 rush­ing yards to the Jets, so, yes, that has caught Gur­ley’s at­ten­tion.

Jack­sonville (3-2) at Dal­las (2-3)

Oddly, Dal­las has never won its first three home games at Jerry World.

With RB Leonard Four­nette still hurt, the show­piece matchup with Ezekiel El­liott dis­ap­pears. El­liott has been the prime weapon for Dal­las and is av­er­ag­ing 154 yards from scrim­mage per game in the past three. But the pass­ing game is 30th as Dak Prescott strug­gles without a top­notch re­ceiver.

He’ll face the stingi­est de­fense in the NFL.

Seat­tle (2-3) vs. Oak­land (1- 4) at Lon­don

Won­der if the Raiders will have as many fans in Wem­b­ley as they did in StubHub Cen­ter. They could re­ally use the sup­port as Jon Gru­den’s re­turn sea­son spi­rals out of con­trol.

“I’m go­ing to con­tinue to em­pha­size the good and do ev­ery­thing I can to fix the things that are bad, be­cause most of the things that are bad, my fin­ger­prints are all over,” Gru­den said.

Such as a de­fense, mi­nus the traded Mack of course, that ranks 30th. Oak­land has the fewest QB pres­sures in the league (29), tied for fewest sacks (six), and is tied for third-fewest take­aways (five).

Seat­tle makes its first reg­u­lar-sea­son over­seas ap­pear­ance. Worth watch­ing:

—Pete Car­roll seeks his 91st win with the team to pass Mike Holm­gren as win­ningest coach for the fran­chise.

—Rus­sell Wil­son is 25- 6 af­ter a loss, the best record of any quar­ter­back since the merger.

— Sea­hawks kicker Se­bas­tian Janikowski spent 18 sea­sons with the Raiders, hold­ing the fran­chise record for points (1,799) and games (268).

In­di­anapo­lis (1- 4) at New York Jets (2-3)

If any team needed the long lay­off from a Thurs­day nighter it was the Colts. They went into New Eng­land un­der­manned and then got ham­mered with more in­juries, giv­ing them lit­tle chance against the Pa­tri­ots.

As­sum­ing they are some­what health­ier, this is a far bet­ter chance for Indy to straighten out its sea­son. An­drew Luck’s arm looks strong, but who does he have to throw to if T.Y. Hilton isn’t in the lineup?

New York opened up its of­fense in a win over Den­ver, let­ting Sam Darnold oc­ca­sion­ally fling the ball down­field and it led to some huge plays. The Colts are vul­ner­a­ble to that.

Buf­falo (2-3) at Hous­ton (2-3)

Each team comes off a tight vic­tory in which the of­fenses were stag­nant, while the de­fenses and kick­ing games were de­ci­sive.

Hous­ton wants things more open when it has the ball, with De­shaun Wat­son con­nect­ing on throws to De­An­dre Hop­kins. Buf­falo’s solid sec­ond-year cor­ner­back Tre’Davi­ous White, will be tested.

Ap­par­ently fully healthy af­ter two tough years, Tex­ans DE J. J. Watt is tied for the NFL lead with six sacks. Watt had an 80-yard in­ter­cep­tion re­turn for a score in his pre­vi­ous game against the Bills in Hous­ton, a 2317 win in 2014.

Ari­zona (1- 4) at Min­nesota (2-2-1)

What could be a mis­match — Ari­zona has the NFL’s worst of­fense and has scored all of 65 points — has one in­trigu­ing el­e­ment. Car­di­nals WR Larry Fitzger­ald, a likely Hall of Famer, re­turns to his home­town for the sixth time in his 15-year ca­reer, with an av­er­age of 87.4 re­ceiv­ing yards and no touch­downs at Min­nesota.

On the other side, wide­out WR AdamThie­len leads the league in re­cep­tions (47) and is sec­ond in yards (589). He’s also first in third-down catches (14). Thie­len is the third player in NFL his­tory with five 100-yard games to start a sea­son, the first since 1961.

San Fran­cisco (1- 4) at Green Bay (2-2-1), Mon­day night

Fol­low­ing a stinker at home to hand Ari­zona its first win, the Nin­ers go to the prime-time show­case against Green Bay, which is fol­low­ing a stinker of its own at Detroit.

Both teams strug­gle to pro­tect the ball, and the 49ers can’t find ways to take it away from op­po­nents; they have a leaguelow one in­ter­cep­tion and have forced three turnovers.

Of spe­cial in­ter­est for the Pack: Ma­son Crosby went 1 for 5 on field goals and missed his only ex­tra-point try at Detroit.

Tampa Bay (2-2) at At­lanta (1- 4)

No one played worse the past two weeks than the Bucs. But the Fal­cons were close.

Bucs QB Jameis Win­ston gets back his start­ing job fol­low­ing a bye; he was sus­pended for the first three games, when Ryan Fitz­patrick was ei­ther mag­i­cal or medi­ocre. Tampa’s de­fense has been dread­ful.

Then again, so has At­lanta’s, which is rav­aged by in­juries. It ranks worst in points al­lowed and worst in third-down per­cent­age. The of­fense strug­gles to pro­tect Matt Ryan and to gen­er­ate a run­ning game.

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