Sunday night’s live NFL triple-header on Sky Sports features Baker Mayfield’s Browns travelling to Houston, a huge test for Minnesota in New England, and a mouth-watering AFC match-up between the Chargers and Steelers.
We are live on Sky Sports Action from 5pm for an hour’s build-up to the first game of the night. Here’s a look ahead to what you can expect…
Cleveland Browns @ Houston Texans, KO 6pm
After years of misery, Browns’ fans finally have hope thanks to the arrival of No 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield. Cleveland (4-6-1) managed their first win of the season when he took over for the injured Tyrod Taylor in Week Three, and have gone on to win three more since, matching their total from the last three seasons combined (4-44!)
In the past two outings, they have scored 63 points to secure their first back-to-back victories since 2014, and Mayfield has been on fire, throwing seven touchdowns and no interceptions. They have a very slim chance of making the playoffs, but at the very least they are looking the most competitive they have been in recent history.
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Houston (8-3) have kept their winning streak alive after losing their first three games of the season and, after the Saints lost on Thursday night, it is now the longest in the league. With the same record as the second-seeded Patriots, every game is important in the hunt for home-field advantage in the AFC.
The return of J.J. Watt from injury has had a major impact on the team. He leads the AFC with 11.5 sacks and is the only player in the NFL with at least 10 sacks and five forced fumbles.
Mayfield is the first rookie in league history to record a passer rating of 140 or higher in consecutive games and has completed 73.9 percent of his passes (65 of 88) with a 129.5 passer rating in his past three.
He can join Aaron Rodgers (2011) and Pro Football Hall of Famer Kurt Warner (1999) as the only QBs in NFL history to record a passer rating of 140 or higher in three consecutive games. Both Rodgers and Warner were named Associated Press MVP in those seasons.
Ones to watch
Cleveland’s roster is filled with talent, and it can be fulfilled with Mayfield at the helm. Second-year tight end David Njoku has flashed potential all season and is a deep and redzone threat. Rookie running back Nick Chubb has been playing at the highest level since Carlos Hyde was traded to Jacksonville – he has 106 carries, 490 yards and six touchdowns in his last five games. Defensively, the Browns have stars too – with 2017 top overall pick Myles Garrett becoming one of the league’s best pass rushers.
Garrett will be chasing after Houston QB Deshaun Watson, who has 26 total touchdowns (24 passing, two rushing) in nine career home games, and just seven interceptions – adding up to a 110.4 passer rating. His top target is DeAndre Hopkins, arguably the best player on the field. He’s on pace for another fantastic season – 73 catches, 1,024 yards and eight touchdowns so far.
Cleveland’s improving O will face a staunch Houston D, led by Watt and Jadeveon Clowney, who has seven sacks of his own. They have stars on every level, including play-making safety Tyrann Mathieu who looks to be returning to All-Pro form.
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Minnesota Vikings @ New England Patriots, KO 9.25pm
Last week’s win over the Green Bay Packers bumped the Vikings (6-4-1) up to the top Wild Card seed. However, a loss this weekend could drop them back out of the playoff race. Everything is on the line for Minnesota, who have looked good against mediocre opponents (49ers, Packers, Eagles, Cardinals, Jets, Lions) but struggled against top sides (Rams, Saints, Bears).
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New England (8-3), meanwhile, are safely at the top of the AFC East and currently sitting in the No 2 seed in the AFC. They have had their fair share of surprises this season – back-to-back losses in Week Two and Three, and a 24-point defeat to Tennessee – but have also dominated at times. They will have their eyes on the top seed held by Kansas City (9-2).
New England quarterback Tom Brady, who surpassed Peyton Manning (79,279) for the most passing yards in league history (including the postseason) last week, has 578 career touchdown passes (including the playoffs) and needs two more to surpass Manning (579) for the most ever.
Ones to watch
The battle between Brady and Vikings QB Kirk Cousins will be one to watch on Sunday evening. Brady is not quite keeping up with the MVP level of Patrick Mahomes or Drew Brees, meanwhile Cousins, just like during his time in Washington, plays hot or cold. Minnesota will be hoping for the Cousins we saw against the Packers (29 of 38 for 342 yards, three touchdowns and no picks) rather than against the Bears (30/46, 262 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions).
New England’s ‘multiple’ offense forces a defense to choose between Josh Gordon, Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Sony Michel and James White. Who will feature this week?
As for the Vikings, be sure to keep eyes on wide receiver duo Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Both are top five in receptions and top 20 in yards and touchdowns, and almost impossible to cover one-one-one. But focusing on just them leaves room for sophomore star Dalvin Cook.
Los Angeles Chargers @ Pittsburgh Steelers, KO 1.20am
Despite both having winning streaks snapped by Denver in the last two weeks, these two teams are hot, boasting excellent records with playoff spots almost secured.
Last week, Los Angeles (8-3) blew out the Cardinals thanks to a majestic performance by Philip Rivers (28 of 29, 259 yards, three touchdowns) and dominant defense. Since early losses to the Chiefs and Rams, they have won seven of the last eight, staying in contention for the AFC West and holding the top Wild Card spot.
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The Steelers (7-3-1) similarly started slow but rattled off six straight wins before falling at Mile High. They look like the favourites for the North but after the Chargers still have to face the Patriots and Saints in their final four games. This game is huge for both teams.
Last week Rivers completed his first 25 pass attempts, the most consecutive completions in a single game in NFL history. He also finished the game completing 96.6 percent of his passes, surpassing Pro Football Hall of Famer Kurt Warner (92.3 percent on 24 of 26 passing on September 20, 2009) for the highest single-game completion percentage ever.
Ones to watch
Rivers and Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger were selected with the fourth and 11th picks, respectively, in the 2004 NFL Draft and meet as starting quarterbacks for the fifth time in their careers, with the head-to-head series tied at two wins apiece. They are two of the fiercest competitors in the league.
There are Pro Bowl talents all over the place in this game. James Conner, Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster are all having fantastic, productive seasons for Pittsburgh, while the offensive line has been awesome. Watch out for outside linebacker T.J. Watt too, who has 10 sacks this season.
Speaking of pass rushers, Joey Bosa‘s return for L.A. takes their already-great defense to the next level. He had 23 sacks in his first two seasons, and in just his second game back from injury last week, he recorded two more. Melvin Ingram pairs with him to form a dangerous duo and, behind them, rookie safety Derwin James might have been the steal of the 2018 NFL Draft. He has 78 tackles (which leads the team), along with 3.5 sacks, nine passes defended, and two interceptions.
The absence of running back Melvin Gordon is a huge miss for the Chargers – he has 1,255 total yards and 13 TDs – so a lot will depend on the play of Austin Ekeler. When Gordon missed the game against Tennessee, Ekeler had his highest carry total of 12 but only managed 42 yards.
@PFF will provide a host of in-depth analysis throughout the season across Sky Sports platforms including our live coverage on Sunday and throughout our weekly build-up and reaction on www.skysports.com/NFL