Rested and ready to light up the scoreboard.
That’s what the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings bring to Sunday night’s prime-time matchup.
”This is a big game for us,” Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson says. ”One, it’s Sunday night. The world will be watching, and we want to show the world that the Vikings are not the ones to be counted out. Plus, they’re 5-1, so they’re a great team and we want to be on that plus side of our record.”
Yes, it’s a game that means a ton to both sides, even this early in the schedule: The Cowboys (5-1) believe they have a shot at the NFC’s best record and the Vikings (3-3) are in position to contend for a wild-card playoff berth.
That’s more than two months away, though. For now, coming off their bye weeks, both teams bring strong offenses to the field – Dallas first overall, Minnesota fifth.
The Cowboys have at least two straight games of 500-plus yards of total offense for the second year in a row, but quarterback Dak Prescott comes off a calf problem. He also will face a pass rush that has a league-best 21 sacks.
”Those guys up front are doing a great job,” Vikings safety Harrison Smith says. ”For the most part, we’ve been playing good as a unit. There were a few plays, especially early on, we didn’t like obviously, but we’ve tightened some things up. The thing is, it doesn’t mean everything’s fixed. You just go to the next week, the next issue, whatever. So you’ve got to stay vigilant with that.”
Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins must keep an eye – or both eyes – on cornerback Trevon Diggs. He would set an NFL record with an interception, giving him at least one in the first seven games to start a season. The Cowboys also have the NFL’s longest active streak with multiple takeaways at 10 straight games.
The action began with Green Bay beating previously undefeated Arizona 24-21 on Thursday night.
Aaron Rodgers threw two touchdown passes to Randall Cobb and the Packers won after Kyler Murray’s stunning late interception. The Cardinals looked like they were going to rally to win their eighth straight game but Murray threw an interception on second-and-goal with 12 seconds left. A.J. Green didn’t expect the pass to come his way, never turned around and Green Bay’s Rasul Douglas was there to snatch the ball in the corner of the end zone.
Off this week are Baltimore (5-2) and Las Vegas (5-2).
Tampa Bay (6-1) at New Orleans (4-2)
The Saints swept the regular-season meetings last season before the Bucs won at New Orleans in the playoffs. Since then Tampa Bay andTom Brady have been almost unstoppable. Brady leads the NFL in completions (203), passing yards (2,275) and TD passes (21). In 11 road starts since joining the Bucs in 2020, the seven-time Super Bowl champion has thrown for 3,514 yards, 28 TDs and three interceptions.
New Orleans quarterback Jameis Winston makes his first start against the franchise that drafted him first overall in 2015. He moved to the Saints in free agency last year and backed up Drew Brees.
Tennessee (5-2) at Indianapolis (3-4)
If the Titans follow up impressive victories over Buffalo and Kansas City with a strong away win, they could become the favorite for the AFC’s top seed and only playoff bye. That’s a long way off, but the Titans have won five straight division games and are 14-6 on the road since 2019.
This could come down to which team’s run defense can be effective. Tennessee’s Derrick Henry needs 131 yards rushing for his fourth straight 1,000-yard season and had 113 yards rushing against the Colts in a September win. Indy’s RB Jonathan Taylor has rushed for 50 or more yards in 13 straight games, the second-longest active streak behind Henry (32), and has been particularly impactful this month.
Cincinnati (5-2) at New York Jets (1-5)
New York’s 27th-ranked defense faces what is becoming a powerhouse offense. Bengals rookie receiver Ja’Marr Chase had eight catches for 201 yards and a touchdown in Cincinnati’s signature victory over Baltimore. The Bengals are second in the NFL in yards per pass play (9.22) and third in yards per play (6.2), have scored on every red zone possession (seven TDs, six FGs), and Joe Burrow is tied for first with eight passing plays of at least 40 yards.
The Jets not only come off one of their worst defeats, a pile-it-on 54-13 loss at New England, but Mike White will make his first career start at quarterback.
Pittsburgh (3-3) at Cleveland (4-3)
One of the oldest and nastiest of NFL rivalries, with both teams having underachieved thus far.
What better way for Steelers coach Mike Tomlin to equal his predecessor, Hall of Famer Bill Cowher, in victories than by beating Cleveland?
Cowher went 149-90-1 from 1992-2006 and Tomlin is 148-81-1 since 2007.
The Steelers have owned the Browns since they returned to the league in 1999, going 36-9-1. But Cleveland has won two of the past three, including last season’s playoff matchup. The Browns last won three straight in the series 1988-89. Their starting quarterback is uncertain with Baker Mayfield having missed last week’s win over Denver with left shoulder problems.
New England (3-4) at Los Angeles Chargers (4-2)
The Patriots rarely flinch when they encounter lightning bolts. But they built almost all of their recent success – six straight wins against the Chargers and nine in the past 10 meetings – with Brady on hand.
These Chargers are a much more talented bunch, though 2020 Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert had by far his worst outing against New England last season.
Patriots tight end Hunter Henry, who played his first five seasons for the Chargers, has caught a touchdown pass in four straight games.
Los Angeles Rams (6-1) at Houston (1-6)
Even if Tyrod Taylor is healthy enough to return as Texans quarterback, this could get very ugly. Houston hasn’t been able to move the ball and doesn’t have the playmakers to challenge LA’s defense, which hasn’t been great, but can be with Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey leading the way.
Rams receiver Cooper Kupp had 10 receptions for 156 yards and two touchdowns last week to give him at least two TD catches in four of the Rams’ first seven games in what has been a career-best season.
New York Giants (2-5) at Kansas City (3-4), Monday night
You might think the slumping, pressing Chiefs would welcome a visit from the mediocre Giants. Nope.
The Giants have dominated the series, winning 11 of 14 meetings and five of the past six. They also come in as one of two teams with a takeaway in every game – and Kansas City has become adept at giveaways. The Chiefs are an incredulous minus-10 in turnover margin. Patrick Mahomesalready has three more interceptions (nine) this season than all of last season.
”We just kind of are not playing well enough,” Mahomes says. ”It’s just the little things here and there that we are not doing well. If it’s a pass that I need to throw to a certain point, I’m missing the pass. If it’s a shot downfield, we didn’t get the ball out in exactly the right way. If you look at the talent overall, people are playing hard and doing what they need to do.”
Miami (1-6) at Buffalo (4-2)
Josh Allen loves the sight of Dolphins blue. After losing his first career meeting against Miami in 2018, Allen has six straight wins in which he’s gone 113 for 178 for 1,500 yards with 17 TDs passing and three TDs rushing. Buffalo has won the past six matchups by an average score of 39-19. In those six games, the Bills have 14 takeaways (seven fumbles, seven interceptions), made 22 sacks and have only once allowed 100 yards rushing.
”Sometimes you just find ways to move the ball against a team. I really think that’s it,” Allen says. ”I don’t think there’s a secret formula or a special drink that we’re drinking before the game.”
The Dolphins have never lost seven in a row to Buffalo. They also are 6-0 on Halloween.
Carolina (3-4) at Atlanta (3-3)
While the A-T-L is playing close attention to the World Series, the Falcons could continue their revitalization – though their victories are against opposition with a combined 4-16 mark. They have won six of the past seven in this series.
Carolina’s main chores will be righting quarterback Sam Darnold’s trajectory and slowing down rookie tight end Kyle Pitts. The fourth overall draft choice set a franchise record at his position with 163 yards receiving on seven catches in last week’s victory over Miami. He’s on pace for the most productive season by a rookie tight end in NFL history.
Washington (2-5) at Denver (3-4)
If the Broncos don’t win, they’ll have their second winless October (1967) in franchise history. So they are bringing back some Manning magic. They are honoring Peyton Manning during halftime ceremonies for his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction last summer. No, they won’t be persuading the last quarterback to take them to a title to suit up again.
Washington was supposed to be stingy on defense, yet is last in opponents’ scoring.
San Francisco (2-4) at Chicago (3-4)
Two teams heading in the wrong direction.
The Niners have been flagged for a league-worst 14 pass interference calls, costing them 250 yards. San Francisco was 1 for 11 on third downs in a loss to Indianapolis and is converting a league-low 16.7% over the past three games. The 49ers turned over the ball four times last week and San Francisco’s 120 turnovers in four-plus seasons under coach Kyle Shanahan are second worst in the NFL. Their 397 points allowed off turnovers are the worst.
Chicago is the only team averaging more yards rushing (131) than passing (a pitiful 124.4).
Jacksonville (1-5) at Seattle (2-5)
The Jaguars are rested off their bye after their first victory. Seattle, still without quarterback Russell Wilson, is 2-5 for the first time since the 2011 season when they were 2-6. Seattle has started a season 0-3 at home for the first time since 1992.
Some intriguing connections here:
Jacksonville’s roster and coaching staff are littered with former Seahawks: cornerback Shaquill Griffin, TE Jacob Hollister and backup RB Carlos Hyde on the field; special teams coordinator Nick Sorensen; passing game coordinator Brian Schottenheimer; and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. Five of the six were with the Seahawks a season ago.
Philadelphia (2-5) at Detroit (0-7)
Not exactly a headline game.
Detroit is the NFL’s only winless team and has lost 11 straight, going back to Dec. 6, 2020, for, naturally, the NFL’s longest active losing streak. Philadelphia has been penalized a league-high 58 times this season.
AP Pro Football Writer Dave Campbell and Sports Writer John Wawrow contributed.
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