By DENNIS WASZAK Jr.
The Associated Press
NEW YORK — Aaron Rodgers vs. Tom Brady. Green Bay vs. New England. Talk about one spicy prime-time matchup.
Sure, the Packers are hovering around the .500 mark and the Patriots don’t appear as invincible as they sometimes — well, often — are. But the matchup between these two quarterbacks features lots of wins, even more touchdown tosses — and plenty of mutual admiration.
“I love watching him play,” Brady said of Rodgers. “To see him up close is great. I watch him play whenever he’s out there. I study a lot of the Packers’ offense, I study Aaron as a player and he just does an incredible job.”
The two will meet for just the second time in their careers, when the Packers (3-3-1) and Patriots (6-2) square off Sunday night.
Rodgers and the Packers won the only other showdown, 26-21 at Green Bay, in 2014.
“I loved going to Lambeau Field and playing him four years ago,” Brady said. “It’ll be great to play him at home this time. I’m really looking forward to it.”
The weekend began Thursday night with the San Francisco 49ers’ 34-3 victory over the Oakland Raiders in a lopsided Battle of the Bay. Nick Mullens threw for 262 yards and three touchdowns for the most productive NFL debut since the merger for the 49ers (2-7). The Raiders are 1-7.
Off are: Indianapolis (3-5), Arizona (2-6), New York Giants (1-7), Jacksonville (3-5), Philadelphia (4-4), Cincinnati (5-3).
Football fans will have to wait until Sunday night for the Packers and Patriots to kick off, but they could be treated to plenty of passing.
Rodgers (24 of 38 for 368 yards, two touchdowns) and Brady (22 of 35 for 245 yards, two TDs) combined for 613 yards passing the last time they faced each other. Rodgers (103.6) and Brady (97.6) also rank first and third, respectively, in NFL history in career passer rating.
“I enjoy competing against great players,” Rodgers said, “and obviously Tom is right at the top.”
L.A. Rams (8-0)
at New Orleans (6-1)
The Rams put their undefeated mark — the only team in the NFL yet to lose — on the line in a game that features the squads with the NFC’s best records.
Los Angeles boasts the No. 2 overall offense with the top-ranked running game in the league, led by the versatile and electric Todd Gurley. But the Saints have the No. 1 run defense in the NFL, so something’s got to give, right?
One thing the Rams have working in their favor: quarterback Jared Goff has won his past seven starts on the road with 13 touchdowns and five interceptions in that span.
Meanwhile, Drew Brees has been sensational at home lately, with 1,045 yards passing with eight TDs and no INTs in his last three games at the Superdome.
at Baltimore (4-4)
Joe Flacco and the Ravens won the first meeting this season, 26-14 on Sept. 30, and Baltimore will try to complete its first series sweep since 2015.
That game, by the way, was the last Ben Roethlisberger and the surging Steelers have lost.
Big Ben & Co. are looking for their fourth straight victory, and that’s despite all the drama — will he show up or not? — surrounding the still absent Le’Veon Bell. James Conner has done just fine in his place, though, rushing for 599 yards and nine touchdowns this season.
It might be tougher sledding this week, though, as the Steelers face a Ravens defense that ranks No. 1 overall in the NFL and is allowing a league-low 17.1 points and 293.8 yards per game.
Kansas City (7-1)
at Cleveland (2-5-1)
Just what the struggling Browns need: a matchup against the team that has the best record in the AFC as well as the NFL’s most potent offense.
The Chiefs average a league-high 36.3 points per game and Patrick Mahomes has been putting up eye-popping numbers. He has a league-leading 26 TD passes, just four shy of the franchise record set by Len Dawson in 1964, and has thrown for 300 yards or more in a Chiefs-record seven straight games. Mahomes also leads the NFL in yards passing (2,526) and TD-to-INT rate (plus-20).
The Browns are coming off another turbulent week following the firings of coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will make his debut as the Browns’ interim coach against Kansas City’s Andy Reid, who is 6-0 in his career against Cleveland.
L.A. Chargers (5-2)
at Seattle (4-3)
Philip Rivers and the Chargers are well-rested after their bye-week break, looking to keep things going after a solid start to the season.
Rivers will start in his 200th straight game, becoming just the 10th player since the merger in 1970 with such a streak. And, he has shown little signs of slowing. Rivers is tied for third in the NFL with 17 touchdown passes.
He’ll face a Seahawks team that has won four of five and begins a stretch of six of nine games at home to close the regular season. Russell Wilson has 11 TD throws and no interceptions in his last five home games, and will look to build off last week’s performance when he became the first player in franchise history to post a perfect quarterback rating.
at Denver (3-5)
Hey, that guy looks familiar, huh?
Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas will make his debut with the Broncos on Sunday against the team with which he spent his first eight-plus NFL seasons before being traded to the Texans on Tuesday. He’ll be counted on by Houston right away to replace the injured Will Fuller and keep the DeShaun Watson-led offense humming.
The Broncos will also try to change the Texans’ fortunes. Houston is the fifth team since the 1970 merger to win five consecutive games following an 0-3 start.
Tampa Bay (3-4)
at Carolina (5-2)
Fitzmagic is back. Again.
Ryan Fitzpatrick will start at quarterback for the Buccaneers — who rank No. 1 in the NFL in total offense — in place of the benched Jameis Winston. He’ll look to recapture some of the success he had during his four-game stint as the starter at the beginning of the season. The 35-year-old Fitzpatrick threw for over 400 yards in each of the first three games, and had 11 touchdowns in that span with four interceptions before giving way to Winston.
While the Buccaneers have instability at the quarterback spot, Cam Newton is firmly entrenched as the guy in Carolina and has the Panthers looking for their 10th straight home win with him under center. Newton has 17 combined touchdowns and just four interceptions this season.
New York Jets (3-5)
at Miami (4-4)
Sam Darnold faces the Dolphins for the second time, looking for a much better outing than the one he had in Week 2 when New York lost 20-12. The rookie threw for 334 yards — still a personal best — but also had two interceptions.
This also begins a three-game stretch in which New York takes on AFC East opponents.
The Jets will see a different face running the offense on the other side, with Brock Osweiler getting the start for the Dolphins in place of the injured Ryan Tannehill. Osweiler has played well with six touchdown throws and three interceptions in his three starts, during which Miami is 1-2.
at Washington (5-2)
The ageless Adrian Peterson and the Redskins will try to go two games up on Philadelphia in the NFC East. They’ll have to get past the Falcons first, though, and Atlanta has won each of the last five meetings.
Peterson, by the way, rushed for 149 yards and a TD last week against the Giants. He has some past success when facing Atlanta, with 442 yards from scrimmage and three TDs in three games against the Falcons.
Despite the Falcons’ mediocre record, Matt Ryan is off to a solid start and leads the NFL with 333.6 yards passing a game. Julio Jones, his favorite target, needs 134 yards receiving in his 102nd game to become the fastest to 10,000 in a career.
at Minnesota (4-3-1)
Adam Thielen comes into this one with his sights set on the end zone — as usual.
The Vikings wide receiver is tied with former Lions star Calvin Johnson (2012) with eight straight games of 100 or more yards receiving, the longest streak in NFL history.
To get the record, he’ll have to do it against Matt Patricia’s fourth-ranked passing defense.
Speaking of Patricia, this is his first NFC North road test. The Lions have mostly fared well against division opponents overall, going 21-10 since the start of the 2013 season — the best of the NFC North teams.
at Buffalo (2-6)
The Bears stopped a two-game skid last week by manhandling the Jets. Even more impressive was the way Mitchell Trubisky rebounded from a so-so first half in that game.
The second-year QB failed to throw for 300 or more yards after three straight while finishing with 222, but he had two touchdown passes and no interceptions. He has 13 TDs in his last four games, the most in that type of span for Chicago since Sid Luckman in 1947.
The Bills are turning back to turnover-prone Nathan Peterman, who’s starting with rookie Josh Allen ruled out with a sprained elbow and Derek Anderson dealing with a concussion. Peterman, who lost his starting gig midway through the season opener, has thrown 10 interceptions in just 84 career attempts.
at Dallas (3-4)
Amari Cooper makes his Cowboys debut after being acquired from Oakland on Tuesday, giving Dak Prescott a new No. 1 wide receiver. He comes just in time to boost a passing game that ranks a lowly 29th in the NFL. Dallas made another change during its bye-week break by firing offensive line coach Paul Alexander and promoting former Cowboys lineman Marc Colombo. Maybe the shake-ups will help energize the Cowboys, who are looking to improve to 4-0 at home.
The Titans are looking to change their luck a bit, too. They have lost three in a row, but two of those defeats were by one point each.