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NFL Matchups

Some have dubbed it the point-spread game, given that Denver is favored by more than four touchdowns against Jacksonville on Sunday.

Others are calling it the biggest mismatch in NFL history. Still others expect Peyton Manning to sit out the second half, his requisite four touchdown passes already in the books.

What no one is projecting is the Jaguars’ first victory after five lopsided defeats, nor the Broncos’ first loss following a record-setting opening five weeks.

“We have never talked about that and so it’s completely irrelevant to me,” Manning said. “I don’t look at anything besides what I see on the tape. On defense I see a team that’s stingy in the red zone. I’ve seen some offenses that have made some really good plays against them, that have been hard to defend, and certainly it’s a team with a lot of pride. It’s about what are you doing each week.”

Also Sunday, it’s New Orleans at New England, Oakland at Kansas City, Washington at Dallas, Green Bay at Baltimore, Tennessee at Seattle, Arizona at San Francisco, St. Louis at Houston, Cincinnati at Buffalo, Detroit at Cleveland, Pittsburgh at the New York Jets; Philadelphia at Tampa Bay and Carolina at Minnesota.

Monday night, it’s Indianapolis at San Diego.

Off this week are Miami (3-2) and Atlanta (1-4)

Bears 27, Giants 21

At Chicago, Jay Cutler threw two touchdown passes to Brandon Marshall, and Tim Jennings had two of Chicago’s three interceptions against Eli Manning in a victory over winless New York on Thursday night.

The Bears (4-2) snapped a two-game slide following a 3-0 start. New York is 0-6 for the first time since the 1976 team dropped its first nine, a stunning turn for a franchise that won the Super Bowl two years ago. Cutler and Marshall were in tune early on, connecting for two touchdowns, and Jennings ran an interception back 48 yards as Chicago built a 24-14 halftime lead.

The Bears were up by 13 when New York’s Brandon Jacobs ran it in from the 1 in the closing seconds of the third after Jennings got called for interference against Hakeem Nicks near the goal line. That cut it to 27-21, but Jennings made up for it in a big way when he picked off an overthrown pass by Manning intended for tight end Brandon Myers at the 12 with 1:54 left in the game.

Jacksonville (0-5) at Denver (5-0)

While the point spread has fluctuated in the vicinity of 27 points, the Jaguars have been ridiculed nearly everywhere. That includes on the Broncos’ Twitter account, which noted that Denver scored 51 points in beating Dallas last Sunday, the same number of points Jacksonville has managed all year.

“My whole life I’ve been an underdog, so it doesn’t change anything,” said Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew, one of the few Jacksonville players who could make Denver’s roster. “When things aren’t going well you try to find challenges throughout, and obviously the Broncos are No. 1 in rush defense, so that’s a big challenge for us.”

Not to mention slowing down an offense averaging 46 points a game.

“Obviously, facing an offense that’s playing at the highest level of anybody in the league, but we try not to get too caught up on that,” first year coach Gus Bradley said. “It’s more about what we need to do and what we can get accomplished.”

The Broncos can accomplish a 17-game regular-season winning streak dating back to last Oct. 15.

New Orleans (5-0) at New England (4-1)

As juicy a quarterback matchup as you can find. Well, it would be if Tom Brady had anywhere near the complement of players Drew Brees has on offense. At least Brady might get back outstanding tight end Rob Gronkowski from a myriad of injuries and surgeries.

“I just want us to score points, so whatever it takes to score points, that’s what matters,” said Brady, whose Patriots managed only six in last week’s loss at Cincinnati. “I think you let your emotions get into it and feelings and so forth — I mean realistically, you have to come up with a plan we have to figure out to score points.”

New Orleans has had no such issues. Brees has Marques Colston, Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas and a pretty fair tight end, too, in Jimmy Graham. He also, for the first time in a long while, has a solid defense on his side.

Oakland (2-3) at Kansas City (5-0)

This once was the bitterest rivalry in the NFL, but now far less hostile because, in general, both teams have struggled for nearly a decade. Andy Reid has turned things around so quickly in KC — remember, the Chiefs were 2-14 in 2012 and the first team to go 5-0 the next year— that some folks see the Chiefs hanging with the Broncos all season in the AFC West.

Oakland comes off its most impressive win since Dennis Allen became coach at the beginning of last season, 27-17 over San Diego.

Washington (1-3) at Dallas (2-3)

One thing the Cowboys absolutely must do is put behind the pain of last weekend’s loss to Denver. Should the offense perform in the same manner, particularly the line and QB Tony Romo, Dallas will have too much for Washington to handle. But that is a huge if.

Like the rest of the NFC East, neither team has a decent defense. The rested Redskins need Robert Griffin III to approach his top offensive rookie form of 2016 and to get versatile running back Alfred Morris more room to roam.

Green Bay (2-2) at Baltimore (3-2)

The Packers looked strong enough coming off their bye to change the outlook for Cheeseheads to something more positive. A win at Baltimore, particularly without star linebacker Clay Matthews, would brighten things even more.

But Green Bay must find a way to block Terrell Suggs, who has stepped up on the transitioning Ravens defense and has a sack in five straight games.

“He’s one of the premier guys in the league at his position, and he proves it every year,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “He’s a guy you’ve got to account for in the run game, you’ve got to account for in the passing game. You’ve got to make sure you don’t let him get off, but that’s obviously easier said than done. He’s had a great start to the season.”

Tennessee (3-2) at Seattle (4-1)

The Seahawks finish their trip through the AFC South, having beaten Houston and Jacksonville and lost to Indianapolis in the last three weeks. The 34-28 defeat at Indy was only Seattle’s second in the regular season since last October.

No place in the NFL is tougher to visit than Seattle, but the Titans played well on the road before winning two of three at home. Of course, they now have backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in for injured starter Jake Locker.

Arizona (3-2) at San Francisco (3-2)

Two pretty solid defenses hook up, and a Cardinals win will stamp them as a contender in the NFC West. They’ve allowed 16 points in the last two weeks, but that was against Tampa Bay and Carolina. The Niners, who seemed to straighten out their offense in a win over the Rams and have been off since that Thursday night game, are a much bigger challenge.

The 49ers play four of their next five on the road, so winning here, particularly against a division foe, is paramount.

Indianapolis (4-1) at San Diego (2-3)

The mantra throughout the NFL is that teams never look beyond the current week. The Colts can prove that true beyond doubt with a strong performance against the Chargers, because Indy’s next game is Manning’s return to Lucas Oil Stadium.

San Diego seemed to be on the right track before getting derailed at Oakland. The Chargers can’t stop the pass, but can throw the ball with anyone.

Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano is the brother of Colts coach Chuck Pagano.

St. Louis (2-3) at Houston (2-3)

Turmoil in Texas, with Houston among the league’s biggest disappointments. Now, tight end Owen Daniels is gone with a broken leg, although he could return later in the schedule. That won’t make reviving Matt Schaub’s career any easier.

The Rams will be salivating at the thought of getting yet another pick-6 off Schaub. They also ought to be figuring out where to find a running game and how to stop the run.

Cincinnati (3-2) at Buffalo (2-3)

After edging the Patriots in a monsoon in Cincinnati, maybe the Bengals are wishing for an early blizzard in Buffalo. But they have lost six straight at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

What they will get is untested Thad Lewis, up from the practice squad, behind center for the Bills. Expect a heavy dose of aggressive defensive calls from coordinator Mike Zimmer.

Detroit (3-2) at Cleveland (3-2)

The Lions are not nearly the same dynamic club away from Ford Field, and the Browns have a defense good enough to stymie anyone. Critical is having star WR Calvin Johnson back after he missed the loss in Green Bay with a knee injury. If it doesn’t happen, Cleveland could replicate the five sacks the Packers got on Matthew Stafford.

The Browns have won three in a row and have shown great fortitude in their turnabout.

Pittsburgh (0-4) at New York Jets (3-2)

Coming off that uplifting, last-second win at Atlanta, the Jets should be looking forward to hosting the winless Steelers. There are some other elements at work here, though: New York comes off a short week; Pittsburgh comes off a bye that helped it heal a bit; and the Steelers are 18-4 against the Jets.

Steelers are seeking 600th win in franchise history.

Philadelphia (2-3) at Tampa Bay (0-4)

Here’s a weird one: The Buccaneers know who their quarterback will be, rookie Mike Glennon, and the Eagles can’t be sure, what with Mike Vick nursing a pulled hamstring.

Tampa had a week off to stew over its agonizing start and the Josh Freeman saga. If the Bucs don’t show a finishing touch soon, the end of Greg Schiano’s short tenure as coach could be the result.

Carolina (1-3) at Minnesota (1-3)

Last time we saw the Vikings, they were across the pond in Wembley, whipping the Steelers. If they are to make any kind of a run in the NFC North, they need 2012 MVP Adrian Peterson to be a game changer once more. He was that in London.

Carolina looked great in its 38-0 demolition of the Giants, then gave up seven sacks and turned it over four times in a 22-6 loss at Arizona. Coach Ron Rivera is asking for some consistency.

— Barry Wilner, Associated Press



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