Rob Gronkowski (87)
Rob Gronkowski (87)
DALLAS COWBOYS (5-3) AT ATLANTA FALCONS (4-4)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, Mercedes-Benz Stadium. TV: FOX, Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews (field reporter).
SERIES HISTORY: 25th regular-season meeting. Cowboys lead series, 14-10. The Falcons have won the past two meetings, 39-28 in Dallas on Sept. 27, 2015, and 19-13 at the Georgia Dome on Nov. 4, 2012.
KEYS TO THE GAME: While neither the Cowboys nor the Falcons are sitting where they had hoped they would be, the Cowboys appear to be heading in the right direction.
But a key to the Cowboys’ ability to win for the fourth straight time arrived Thursday in New York when running back Ezekiel Elliott was rejected in his attempt to get yet another preliminary injunction that would have kept him on the field for the rest of the season. He was denied and so begins his six-week suspension. Probably.
The NFL’s ongoing attempt to impose that suspension was a weekly drama for the Cowboys. Now without Elliiott (probably), the Cowboys still have Alfred Morris and Darren McFadden as excellent stand-ins…
The Cowboys will try to establish the run. That is the foundation of their offense, but it could come in the form of quarterback Dak Prescott against a Falcons defense that gave up 86 yards on nine carries to Cam Newton last week.
Defensively, the Cowboys must stop the run and pressure Matt Ryan and limit big plays to Julio Jones.
While both teams are fighting to stay in postseason contention, the Falcons’ situation is more dire. After a 3-0 start, Atlanta has lost four of five and is averaging less than 20 points a game during that stretch. The team that averaged more than 32 points per game in the first half of 2016 has struggled under offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, who was hired when Kyle Shanahan left to take the top job in San Francisco.
Now, Atlanta must face a Dallas defense that has held its past three opponents under 20 points in consecutive double-digit wins.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
–Cowboys WR Cole Beasley vs. Falcons CB Brian Poole. Beasley, who plays in the slot, has been a good red-zone weapon for quarterback Dak Prescott. He has caught 22 passes for 165 yards and four touchdowns. Poole has four pass breakups, a sack and three quarterback hits. Poole prepared for Beasley by working against Taylor Gabriel and Marvin Hall in practice.
–Falcons RT Ryan Schraeder vs. Cowboys DE Demarcus Lawrence. Lawrence is second in the league with 10.5 sacks, becoming the defensive force the Cowboys were hoping he would. In addition to rushing the passer well, he’s stout against the run. Schraeder has played well in pass protection but has missed some combination blocks with right guard Wes Schweitzer in the running game.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
–Out: K Dan Bailey (right groin) – plus, Elliott (suspension).
–Questionable: CB Chidobe Awuzie (hamstring), WR Dez Bryant (knee, ankle), DT Maliek Collins (foot), T Tyron Smith (back, groin), TE Geoff Swaim (knee)
–Out: LB Duke Riley (knee)
–Questionable: G Andy Levitre (knee)
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Falcons QB Matt Ryan. Ryan has thrown 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions. In his 2016 MVP season, Ryan threw a total of seven interceptions — to go with 38 touchdown passes. This year, he’s on pace for 22 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Through eight games a year ago, Ryan had 19 touchdowns and four interceptions.
FAST FACTS: Cowboys QB Dak Prescott passed for 249 yards and two touchdowns a week ago. He has 10 rushing touchdowns since 2016, the most by an NFL QB. … Now suspended, RB Ezekiel Elliott has 506 rushing yards (126.5 per game) and six TDs (five rushing, one receiving) in the past four games. He is second in the NFL with 783 rushing yards and is tied for the league lead with seven rushing TDs. Since entering the NFL in 2016, he ranks first in rushing yards (2,414), scrimmage yards (2,987) and TDs (25). … WR Dez Bryant has a TD catch in three of his past four road games. Since 2011, he leads the NFL with 65 receiving TDs. … WR Terrance Williams had a career-high nine receptions and 141 yards last week. … TE Jason Witten ranks second among TEs in NFL history in catches (1,124) and receiving yards (12,207). … DE Demarcus Lawrence ranks second in the NFL with 10.5 sacks. He has a sack in seven of eight games. … LB Sean Lee led Dallas with 12 tackles in Week 9. He had 10 tackles and a sack in the teams’ last meeting. … DL David Irving has six sacks and a forced fumble in his past seven games. … Rookie DE Taco Charlton had his first career sack last week. … Falcons QB Matt Ryan is one of four players with 250 TD passes in his first 10 seasons. He has thrown a TD pass in 27 consecutive games, the longest active streak. … RB Devonta Freeman rushed for 141 yards and three TDs the last time he faced the Cowboys. Since 2015, he ranks third in the NFL with 3,824 yards from scrimmage. … WR Julio Jones led the Falcons with six receptions for 118 yards in Week 9. He had 12 catches for 164 yards and two TDs in the last meeting. … LB Vic Beasley has seven sacks and three forced fumbles in his past eight home games. He has 19.5 sacks since 2016, third most in the league. … S Keanu Neal had eight tackles, a fumble recovery and a career-high two forced fumbles last week.
PREDICTION: While the Cowboys have scored at least 28 points in six straight games, and the Falcons are just 1-2 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the Atlanta offense still has the weapons to make plays.
HOUSTON TEXANS (3-4) AT LOS ANGELES RAMS (6-2)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. TV: CBS, Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts, Evan Washburn (field reporter).
SERIES HISTORY: Fourth regular-season meeting. Rams lead series, 2-1. This will be the Texans’ first trip to Los Angeles. The Rams won the most recent meeting, 38-13, in 2013, when they played in St. Louis.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Just a little more than a week ago, this looked like a surprising midseason showdown. Now, the Rams and Texans appear headed in different directions.
The Rams, the NFL’s highest-scoring team (32.9 points per game), are coming off a 51-17 thrashing of the Giants in New York. Under 31-year-old, first-year coach Sean McVay, second-year quarterback Jared Goff has seen a huge leap forward in production. At the halfway point of this season, Goff has thrown for 2,030 yards and 13 touchdowns, with just four interceptions.
The Rams are playing their first game in Los Angeles in more than a month, and the 3-0 record they compiled during that time has energized Los Angeles and the fan base. The Rams hope to use that to their advantage against the Texans by getting on the board early with their high-powered offense and forcing Houston to play catchup. With a passionate crowd behind them, a defense that goes into attack mode when given a lead to defend and struggling Texans QB Tom Savage in charge of countering all that, the Rams could have an easy time of it.
The Texans will need to find some offense, playing their second game without rookie sensation Deshaun Watson. With Savage under center, the Texans, who had been the No. 3 scoring team in the league, managed just 14 points in a loss to the Colts.
The Texans will try to pound the football against the Rams. They will certainly be wary of DT Aaron Donald when they run and pass.
Defensively, the Texans’ beleaguered secondary has its hands full against Goff.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
–Texans QB Tom Savage vs. Rams pass rush. Los Angeles is sixth in the league with 25 sacks this season. In a 20-14 loss in Indianapolis, Savage said he “played like crap.” He completed just 8 of 26 passes through the first three quarters. But now he gets a full week of practice with the first team.
–Rams RB Todd Gurley vs. Texans run defense. Houston has given up 768 yards in seven games but are allowing just 3.7 yards per carry, 10th in the NFL, and are tied for a league-low three TDs allowed on the ground. Gurley has gained 686 yards this season (more than five NFL teams) and is averaging 4.3 yards per carry, a big jump from 3.2 during his sophomore slump in 2016. First-year coach Sean McVay has made a point of calling plays that allow Gurley to run in open space.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
–Out: LB Dylan Cole (hamstring), DE Joel Heath (knee)
LOS ANGELES RAMS
–Out: RB Malcolm Brown (knee)
–Doubtful: TE Derek Carrier (hamstring), LB Robert Quinn (illness)
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins. He has 51 catches for 692 yards and a league-leading eight touchdowns. He’s on pace to shatter the Houston record of 11 touchdown receptions and has scored in five straight games. After a prolific stretch with rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson, Hopkins is now back to teaming with first-game starter Tom Savage. Last week, in the Texans’ first game without Watson, Hopkins had six receptions for 86 yards and a touchdown.
FAST FACTS: Houston RB Lamar Miller had 91 scrimmage yards (57 rush, 34 receiving) in Week 9. … WR DeAndre Hopkins is averaging 124 yards receiving in his past four road games. Hopkins is the only NFL WR with 50 catches (51), 600 receiving yards (692) and five TD catches (8). … WR Will Fuller trails only Hopkins with seven TD catches. … DE Jadeveon Clowney is going for his third straight game with a sack. He has 25 tackles for loss since 2016, tied for second in the league. … CB Johnathan Joseph is one of four active players with 25 INTs (28) and five INT-TDs (6). … CB Kareem Jackson is one of two AFC CBs with 40 tackles (41) and a sack. … S Eddie Pleasant had a career-high two sacks and a forced fumble in Week 9, his first career multi-sack game. … Rams QB Jared Goff set career-highs in passing yards (311), TD passes (four) and passer rating (146.8) in last week’s 51-17 rout of the Giants. … RB Todd Gurley leads the NFL with 10 TDs and ranks second with 1,024 scrimmage yards. He aims for his fourth in a row with 100 scrimmage yards. … WR Robert Woods led the Rams with 70 receiving yards and two TDs in Week 9, his first career multi-TD game. … WR Cooper Kupp ranks fourth among NFL rookies with 370 receiving yards and leads rookie receivers with 26 receptions. … DT Aaron Donald had a sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery last week. He will try to get a sack for the fourth game in a row. … DE Robert Quinn has six sacks and three forced fumbles in his past five home games vs. AFC teams. Since 2013, he leads the NFL with 17 forced fumbles.
PREDICTION: The surprising Rams continue to be, well, surprising. After scoring 51 against the Giants a week ago, the NFL’s highest-scoring team takes on a Houston team that looked demoralized last week playing without its rookie quarterback sensation, Deshaun Watson.
CHESTNUT HILL — It wasn’t very pretty, but No. 23 North Carolina State was happy to escape Chestnut Hill with a 17-14 win over Boston College that snapped its two-game losing streak.
“It’s always good to get a winning taste back,” coach Dave Doeren said after Nyheim Hines’ 50-yard touchdown run with 8:22 left was the difference in a sloppy game played in Northeast cold on Saturday.
“Our goal at the end of last week was to try to get to seven wins in the ACC, which has never been done.”
Hines, playing on a sore ankle, looked great, running for 110 yards.
“I found out we have one of the best training staff in the country,” he said.
“We knew this was going to be a challenge as well,” Hines added about Boston College. “Boston always historically has a great defense. They didn’t disappoint. They had a great defense.”
But that BC defense allowed State to go nine of 17 on third-down conversions — and also allowed the Wolfpack to survive despite making enough mistakes to lose.
The N.C. State kicking game, a problem all season, produced one Kyle Bambard field goal in four attempts. Ryan Finley, passing against a defense that came in second in the nation against the pass, threw an interception and was just 13 of 32 through the air. He also misfired on a lateral that turned the ball over. Passes were dropped, others broken up.
The Wolfpack (7-3, 5-1 ACC) also allowed a 196-yard day, including a 66-yard touchdown run by Boston College freshman AJ Dillon.
But after allowing 73 points in losses to Notre Dame and Clemson, the defense was stout when it had to be — and it got a break when BC, which had a three-game winning streak snapped, lost quarterback Anthony Brown after his right knee buckled in the second quarter.
Hines’ winning score came two plays after the Wolfpack moved to midfield on a 25-yard run by Jaylen Samuels. Hines broke the winner down the right sideline.
“I had patience,” he said of the run.
The Eagles (5-5, 3-4) had a chance to tie their Senior Day game late. But a bad snap on what would have been a 40-yard field-goal attempt killed the chance with 4:15 remaining. Their offense never really got over the loss of Brown, who ran for seven yards down to the State 13 when his right knee buckled.
“Right now all we care about is him,” coach Steve Addazio said of Brown, who was on crutches and will be tested further Sunday. “Praying and hoping the best possible outcome can happen. … It didn’t look good.”
Even though Brown got the ball down to the 13, the Eagles couldn’t score, with a strange call on fourth-and-1, as the next play had running back Jon Hilliman roll out and throw a pass to nowhere.
“That’s directly on me,” said Addazio, who said he thought he had a good play called.
Samuels scored his 44th career touchdown on an 8-yard run. Wide receiver Thadd Smith rushed for 12 yards and BC’s other score.
Senior Darius Wade replaced Brown and was 8 of 15 for 82 yards and he also lost a fumble, triggering a bizarre end to the first half that saw him turn the ball over, and Finley give it right back with a pick — only to have N.C. State block a punt and recover with eight seconds left. That set up Bambard’s only success of the day — a 41-yarder.
Bradley Chubb had 2 1/2 sacks, allowing him to pass Mario Williams and become N.C. State’s career sacks leader with 26. He is also a half tackle off Williams’ school mark of 55.5 tackles for loss.
“We just gave him the game ball,” Doeren said. “That’s pretty special when you talk about the D-linemen N.C. State’s had and Mario Williams, the first overall pick. For him to now be better statistically, to be called the all-time greatest defensive lineman at N.C. State, is a big thing.
“That’s why he came back.”
NOTES: Boston College star DE Harold Landry missed his second straight game with an ankle sprain. … North Carolina State G Terrone Prescod left in the first half, appearing groggy, while WR Stephen Louis also left with an injury, while Eagles CB Kamrin Moore aggravated a shoulder injury and also left. … The Eagles came in with the second-toughest schedule in the nation, in terms of the combined records of previous opponents — 43-22, behind only Penn State’s 45-22. … N.C. State visits Wake Forest and Boston College plays a “road” game against Connecticut at Fenway Park. … BC had scored 121 points in its winning streak.
BOSTON – Even when their leading scorer heads to the locker room early, the Boston Celtics can still lean on their league-best defense to keep their winning streak alive. The Celtics hope to have Kyrie Irving back at the head of that defense when they try to push their winning streak to 12 straight on Saturday against the visiting Toronto Raptors.
Irving was bashed in the face by an elbow from teammate Aron Baynes, who was turning to box out after committing a foul on defense, and was sent home at halftime on Friday and will be monitored despite not being diagnosed with a concussion during initial testing. “I haven’t talked to him,” Boston coach Brad Stevens told reporters of Irving after his short-handed team pulled off a 90-87 win over the Charlotte Hornets to run the NBA’s longest winning streak to 11 straight. “But he sent a text to a group of us right when we walked back into the coaches’ office and it said, ‘Way to go. Great win’ … So obviously he watched the end of the game.” The Celtics are allowing a league-low 94 points per game but will be tested by a Toronto squad that averaged 120.5 points in back-to-back home wins. “The game is changing,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey told reporters after watching his team outlast the New Orleans Pelicans in a 122-118 win on Thursday. “It’s 3-pointers. It’s a scoring game. You’ve got to be able to score, but also you have to have some semblance of defense and we didn’t.”
TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, Sportsnet ONE (Toronto), NBCS Boston
ABOUT THE RAPTORS (7-4): Most of Toronto’s scoring is coming from star shooting guard DeMar DeRozan, who led the way with 33 points on Thursday and is averaging 30 over the last four contests to boost his season mark to 24.7. DeRozan is embracing the way Casey wants to open the offense this season and is averaging 2.6 3-point attempts while starting to hit them with some regularity — 4-of-8 from 3-point range in the last two games. Fellow All-Star Kyle Lowry has never been shy about hoisting the ball up from beyond the arc and is averaging 6.3 3-point attempts but is shooting just 33.3 percent from beyond the arc, his lowest mark since the 2009-10 campaign.
ABOUT THE CELTICS (11-2): Boston trailed by as many as 18 points on Friday and was playing without center Al Horford (concussion) in addition to Irving and Gordon Hayward (ankle), but an inexperienced group held the Hornets to 4-of-20 from the field in the fourth quarter to pull off an improbable win. “I remember during a timeout and Coach had said, ‘We’re going to win this game and this place is going to go crazy,” point guard Terry Rozier told ESPN. “We were definitely down. We were down probably like 15. (Stevens) knew that we were going to win the game and the crowd was going to feed into it. It was going to be crazy, and that’s exactly what happened.” Shane Larkin came off the bench when Irving went down and finished with 16 points in 17 minutes to earn himself a larger role if Irving has to miss more time.
1. Celtics G Marcus Smart is shooting 29.1 percent from the floor on the season and is 6-of-27 over the last two games.
2. Raptors C Jonas Valanciunas grabbed double-digit rebounds in each of the last two games after failing to hit double figures in his previous four outings.
3. Toronto took three of the four meetings last season and six of the last eight in the series.
4. Both of Toronto’s professional sports teams visited TD Garden in Boston this weekend with the Maple Leafs defeating the Bruins Saturday night.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (6-2) AT BUFFALO BILLS (5-3)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, New Era Field. TV: FOX, Kenny Albert, Ronde Barber, Kristina Pink (field reporter).
SERIES HISTORY: 11th regular-season meeting. Saints lead series, 6-4, including a 35-17 victory in the last meeting in 2013 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. New Orleans has won three of the four meetings in Buffalo, including a 27-7 win in the last meeting there in 2009.
KEYS TO THE GAME: For the Saints, it’s run the ball and contain the run. The Saints will face their coldest and perhaps windiest conditions of the season, though relatively mild (40-something degrees) compared to Buffalo late in the year. If Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara have success rushing, it would lessen the burden on Drew Brees passing in the elements. On the other side of the ball, the Saints have been susceptible to big runs. If they can limit LeSean McCoy and force Tyrod Taylor to try to win the game through the air, it will be to New Orleans’ advantage.
The Bills need to get their running game working again after another down game against the Jets. LeSean McCoy was held to 25 yards by a Jets defense that still ranks only 23rd in the league. The Saints have improved on defense across the board, but they are still getting gashed on a per-carry basis; their 4.7 average ranks 29th.
Buffalo needs to control the ball and keep Brees off the field. Whether it’s by rushing or the short passing game, the Bills have to win time of possession and make good use of each offensive series by either scoring or flipping the field.
New Orleans will probably test the Bills’ pass defense, which has struggled in recent weeks — yielding three 300-yard passing games until stopping that streak against the Jets’ Josh McCown on Thursday. Brees is having a magnificent year, and he could feast against Buffalo’s mostly non-existent pass rush. The Bills have only 14 sacks and are 28th in sacks per attempt. If Brees has time, he will pick the young Buffalo secondary apart, even if CB E.J. Gaines returns.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
–Bills WR Kelvin Benjamin vs. Saints CB Marshon Lattimore. This will be Benjamin’s debut with the Bills, and he’ll probably see the rookie Lattimore across from him on multiple plays. Lattimore has had a solid rookie season, and he’ll be helped by the fact that he and the Saints’ secondary have already studied Benjamin extensively from his time in the NFC South with division rival Carolina. On the flip side, that could work to Benjamin’s advantage, too.
–Saints passing game vs. Bills secondary: The Saints have one of the best passing games in the NFL and the Bills have playmakers in the secondary. Buffalo is second in the league with 51 passes defensed, led by rookie No. 1 draft choice Tre’Davious White’s league-leading 12, and Micah Hyde is second in the league with five interceptions. Michael Thomas has been steady and Ted Ginn Jr. has made big plays in recent weeks, but New Orleans has had trouble finding a third wide receiver to complement them.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Saints RB Mark Ingram. Though rookie Alvin Kamara has received a lot of attention for his immediate impact, Ingram remains the Saints’ primary running back. He has more than twice as many carries as Kamara, accumulating 541 yards and a team-high four touchdowns while averaging 4.4 yards per carry. He has six fewer receptions than Kamara, grabbing 31 for a 6.2-yard average. His 733 yards from scrimmage are 10th in the NFL.
FAST FACTS: The Saints are the third team in the Super Bowl era to follow an 0-2 start with at least six consecutive wins. The previous two teams (1993 Cowboys and 2007 Giants) won the Super Bowl. … Saints QB Drew Brees completed 26 of 34 passes (76.5 percent) for 332 yards, five TDs and no interceptions in the last meeting, one of his seven career games with five-plus TD passes and no interceptions. In four career meetings, he has nine TDs and no interceptions. Brees needs 11 completions to become the third quarterback in NFL history to accumulate 3,000 away from home. … RB Mark Ingram has 719 scrimmage yards (102.7 per game) and four TDs in the past seven games on the road against AFC teams. … DE Cameron Jordan had a sack, a forced fumble and fumble recovery in the last meeting. He has six sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception in the past six games on the road against AFC teams. He has three sacks and two forced fumbles in the past four games on the road. … The Bills have scored at least 20 points in their last 13 home games, the longest active streak in the league and the longest stretch in franchise history. … Bills QB Tyrod Taylor completed 29 of 40 passes (72.5 percent) for a season-high 285 yards, two TDs and no interceptions and rushed for a TD in Week 9. He is 0-5 when totaling at least 280 yards. He ranks third in the NFL with a 0.8 interception percentage (two interceptions in 236 attempts) in 2017. He has a 1.5 career interception percentage, lowest among active NFL QBs with 1,000 attempts. … RB LeSean McCoy has 100 scrimmage yards and a rushing TD in two of the past three games. In his past two games against New Orleans (including playoffs), he has 225 scrimmage yards (112.5 per game) with a rushing TD. In his past 10 games at home, he has 1,337 scrimmage yards (133.7 per game) and 14 rushing TDs. … LB Preston Brown has eight-plus tackles in five of the past six games.
PREDICTION: Something has to give here, as the Bills are unbeaten at home and the Saints have won six straight. That something will be the Saints’ winning streak as the Bills get back on track after laying a mutant egg last week in the Meadowlands for the Jets’ benefit.