By BARRY WILNER
What some are calling the NFL’s Game of the Year already has made huge headlines by being moved out of Mexico City because of poor playing conditions. Chiefs-Rams is back in Los Angeles, in prime time and, if it lives up to its billing, could be a wild, high-scoring affair.
Regardless of who wins, both clubs figure to be in the Super Bowl mix. And because of the extracurriculars associated with Monday night’s meeting, perhaps it won’t be a fair measurement which is the superior team.
For a mid-November match, fans can’t ask for much better than a pair of 9-1 teams with powerhouse offenses and stars galore — leading MVP contenders Todd Gurley of Los Angeles and Patrick Mahomes of Kansas City for starters — going at it as the only show in town. No matter which town.
It’s the first meeting in NFL history this late in a season between two teams averaging 33 points per game.
“He’s made some plays that you sit back and you can’t help but just say, ‘Wow, what a great play,’” Rams coach Sean McVay says of Mahomes, who leads the NFL in yards passing (3,150). Rams QB Jared Goff is second (3,134).
Mahomes set a Chiefs record with an NFL-best 31st TD pass of the season last week. Len Dawson had held that KC record since 1964.
Gurley paces the NFL in scoring (108 points), yards rushing (988), carries (198), yards from scrimmage (1,390) and touchdowns (17). He has scored a touchdown in 13 consecutive games, extending his own franchise record.
“He is a heck of a player. A great player,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid says when asked how to slow Gurley. “You have to be disciplined. They’re a disciplined offense, so you have to be disciplined from a defensive standpoint. Then practice that way and then you go play.”
OK, guys, go play. Let America watch what could be a classic.
The weekend began Thursday night with Seattle’s 27-24 home victory over Green Bay. Russell Wilson threw for 225 yards and his 15-yard touchdown pass to Ed Dickson with 5:08 left was the difference. Seattle (5-5) snapped a two-game losing streak. Green Bay dropped to 4-5-1.
Off this week are New England (7-3), the New York Jets (3-7), Miami (5-5), Cleveland (3-6-1), San Francisco (2-8) and Buffalo (3-7).
MINNESOTA (5-3-1) at CHICAGO (6-3)
We soon will find out if the Bears are for real. They are on top of the NFC North, now face the defending division winners, then in a ridiculously short turnaround from Sunday night, they play the early Thanksgiving Day game at Detroit. They also have the Rams and Packers on the road in December.
Two of the NFL’s stingiest and most physical defenses should be main factors Sunday.
Chicago dropped 10 in a row against the NFC North before beating Detroit last Sunday. It leads the NFL with 16 interceptions, and ranks second with 24 takeaways.
HOUSTON (6-3) at WASHINGTON (6-3)
Two also-rans of 2017 now leading their divisions.
The Texans have won six in a row and come off a bye. Key personnel such as DE J.J. Watt and QB Deshaun Watson were injured last year and are now playing at peak efficiency.
If Watson gets time to throw — Houston has surrendered 30 sacks — DeAndre Hopkins will be the biggest challenge to cover. He has four games with 10-plus catches, 100-plus yards and a touchdown through the air. That’s most in the league since the start of 2017, and Hopkins has five TD catches over the past four games. .
Washington has showed some balance on offense, but the defense has been a major factor in its strong year. It has forced a turnover in 13 consecutive games, the NFL’s longest active streak.
TENNESSEE (5-4) at INDIANAPOLIS (4-5)
Suddenly, there’s a race in the AFC South, and the Colts could get even more involved with a fourth consecutive victory. But the Titans, coming off their best game by far in an upset of the Patriots, have won six straight within the division.
Of course, Andrew Luck was not in the lineup for any of those; Luck is 9-0 in starts against Tennessee.
“I’m aware of it,” Luck says. “But what’s happened has happened, and good, bad or ugly, it doesn’t really matter.”
The Titans have the league’s No. 1 scoring defense, allowing 16.8 points a game, and have yielded a league-low 16 touchdowns.
PHILADELPHIA (4-5) at NEW ORLEANS (8-1)
New Orleans looks like the NFL’s top team right now, and the Eagles don’t resemble their title-winning squad of last season.
Injuries are damaging Philly’s defense at a really bad time. A banged-up secondary takes on Drew Brees and his assortment of helpers. The Saints have scored at least 40 points in five games this season, the third team in NFL history to score 40 in five of the first nine. Brees is completing 77.1 percent of his passes, has thrown for 21 TDs with one interception, and has a 123.8 passer rating.
Michael Thomas is tied for the NFL lead with 78 catches, ranks second with 950 yards, while Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram form a formidable and versatile backfield.
PITTSBURGH (6-2-1) at JACKSONVILLE (3-6)
The Steelers will be wise to look forward and not back at their last encounter with the Jaguars. Jacksonville beat Pittsburgh twice last season, including a 45-42 playoff shocker at Heinz Field.
Thinking revenge would be foolish because the Steelers are on a roll. Well, so are the Jags: Pittsburgh has won five in a row, Jacksonville has dropped that many consecutively.
Steelers running back James Conner has not allowed the team to regret the contract impasse that has led to Le’Veon Bell sitting out the season. Conner is the eighth player in team history with at least 10 rushing touchdowns, leads the AFC in rushing, and is expected to play after being placed in concussion protocol following last week’s win over Carolina.
CINCINNATI (5-4) at BALTIMORE (4-5)
Cincinnati brings a historically leaky defense to Baltimore, which might be without regular quarterback Joe Flacco (hip). That would mean either first-round pick Lamar Jackson or veteran Robert Griffin III will try to further expose that Bengals unit.
The Bengals have won eight of the last 10 in the series, but they fired first-year defensive coordinator Teryl Austin after a 51-14 loss to the Saints, the second-most points allowed in franchise history. They became the first team in the Super Bowl era to give up 500 yards in three straight games and are on pace to give up an NFL-record 7,273 yards.
Head coach Marvin Lewis takes over defensive coordinator duties, too.
DALLAS (4-5) at ATLANTA (4-5)
The Falcons appeared ready to take a role in the playoff race with three successive wins. Then, they put forth a stinker at Cleveland.
Meanwhile, the Cowboys seemed headed toward irrelevance before they went into Philadelphia and outplayed the Super Bowl champions.
Dallas will want to run with Zeke Elliott, who’s second in the NFL in rushing behind Gurley after gaining 151 yards against the Eagles. Atlanta will want to throw: Matt Ryan has seven games with a QB rating over 100 and six games with more than 300 yards passing, while Julio Jones became the fastest player in NFL history with more than 10,000 yards receiving.
CAROLINA (6-3) at DETROIT (3-6)
Both teams would like to forget last week’s poor performances.
Carolina leads this infrequent series 6-2 and remains in good position in the wild-card race with a victory. Detroit needs an immediate turnaround to get into contention.
If this is close, expect Cam Newton and Co. to win. Since 2013, the Panthers are 26-14 in games decided by seven points or fewer. They have won five straight games decided by three or fewer.
Newton has thrown at least two TD passes in eight straight games, the longest streak in franchise history.
DENVER (3-6) at LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (7-2)
While the Rams grab the headlines in LA, the Chargers keep grabbing victories. They could get help in the AFC West if their neighbors knock off KC, too.
The Chargers are a league-best 13-3 since Week 9 of last season. Their six-game winning streak marks the 11th time since the merger they had a streak of six or more. Philip Rivers has thrown for two or more TDs in nine straight games. Only five quarterbacks in league history have a string of 10 or more games.
TAMPA BAY (3-6) at NEW YORK GIANTS (2-7)
Saturday’s Notre Dame-Syracuse matchup in the New York area figures to be more fun than this, although the Bucs usually pile up the yards in passing offense and the Giants come off a stirring Eli Manning-led comeback win.
Tampa has lost three in row and six of seven, while New York broke a five-game slide on Monday night. Bucs wideouts Mike Evans (13 catches for 217 yards and a TD in two games) and DeSean Jackson (five touchdowns in the last six games) have feasted on the Giants’ defense.
OAKLAND (1-8) at ARIZONA (2-7)
The lowest-ranked teams in the AP Pro32 face off with the Cardinals coming off a solid effort at Kansas City. The Raiders? They seem to have fallen into the Black Hole, outscored 54-9 in the last two games.
Cardinals star Larry Fitzgerald needs eight receptions to surpass Jerry Rice for the most catches for one team.