- Associated Press - Saturday, November 1, 2014

Call it the Romo Factor.

Seems like everyone has tunnel vision on Dallas quarterback Tony Romo heading into the Cowboys’ game Sunday with Arizona. It might also be a good idea to focus on the Cardinals, who have the NFC’s best record at 6-1 and despite injuries of their own are finding ways to prosper.

Sure, Romo’s injury is a big story in Big D and elsewhere, particularly after he injured his back on national television last Monday night - then returned to the game. His status being uncertain for this huge matchup deserves some headlines, as well.

And so do the Cardinals (6-1). The previous time they had sole possession of the best record in NFC this late in an NFL season was Week 11 of 1974. They lived in St. Louis then and were 7-0.

This superb start has occurred despite a slew of injuries.

Clutch performances and brilliant coaching have been at the heart of Arizona’s success.

“Realizing all the negative things that happened and we still keep getting wins, I do think we have a good swagger about us, a confidence, and that will continue to live if we keep winning,” quarterback Carson Palmer said.

To improve their spotless conference record to 5-0, the Cardinals must slow down Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray. He has an NFL record eight straight 100-yard rushing games to start season.

But the Cardinals haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in 17 straight outings.

“Wow!” said Cowboys play caller Scott Linehan. “No, I know they’re good. I didn’t know what the streak was. They know where they’re rated defensively. We obviously respect our opponent greatly. But we spend a lot more talking about what we want to get done regardless what they’ve done or they’ve been able to do, and I think you focus on that and what our goal is, then I think it’s a better way to approach it as far as the team’s mindset and focus.”

The action began this week with New Orleans romping 28-10 at Carolina on Thursday night. The Saints (4-4) won on the road for the first time to move atop the NFC South for the first time this season. The Panthers (3-5-1) have lost three straight.

Mark Ingram ran for two TDs and Drew Brees rushed for one and threw to Jimmy Graham for another.

Off this week are Atlanta (2-6), Buffalo (5-3), Chicago (3-5), Detroit (6-2), Green Bay (5-3), and Tennessee (2-6).

Denver (6-1) at New England (6-2)

Yet another classic might be in store in the Peyton Manning-Tom Brady rivalry, the longest and best between two brilliant quarterbacks that the modern NFL has seen.

Here’s an added twist: Sunday is the first game in NFL history matching quarterbacks with more than 150 regular-season wins.

Brady, now 37, is 10-5 against Manning, now 38, including 8-3 in the regular season. Brady has led the Patriots to three straight wins over Denver in the regular season, two of those with Manning at the Broncos’ helm.

Both are playing lights-out recently, and Manning is tied for the longest streak in NFL history with 13 games of two or more TD passes.

“Maybe when I’m his age, I’ll be playing as well as that,” cracked Brady.

“That’s the cold, hard facts,” Manning replied.

Baltimore (5-3) at Pittsburgh (5-3)

One more terrific matchup, this one between nasty AFC North rivals. The Ravens beat the Steelers in Week 2 and don’t mind going to Heinz Field, where they’ve won three of the past four meetings.

Nor does Baltimore mind entering November, in which coach John Harbaugh is 20-7.

The Steelers come off a record-setting victory over Indianapolis, 51-34. Ben Roethlisberger set club marks with 522 yards passing and six touchdowns, and his ace receiver, Antonio Brown, has at least five receptions and 80 yards receiving in each of the first eight games.

Jacksonville (1-7) at Cincinnati (4-2-1)

The Jaguars might have found an offensive star, and it’s not rookie QB Blake Bortles. Running back Denard Robinson - you might remember him as a quarterback at Michigan - has rushed for more than 100 yards in each of the past two games. Cincinnati’s defense ranks 29th against the run.

While the Bengals are eager to get back standout receiver A.J. Green from his toe injury, they too have some budding brilliance on offense. WR Mohamed Sanu had a career-high 125 yards on five catches last week and leads the Bengals with 35 catches for 533 yards and three TDs. He also has run three reverses for 31 yards and completed two passes for 68 yards and a TD.

“Mo’s been playing great,” quarterback Andy Dalton said. “I have a lot of confidence in him, and he has a lot of confidence in himself that he’s going to make plays.”

Indianapolis (5-3) at New York Giants (3-4), Monday night

No more Peyton vs. Eli, yet still an intriguing matchup with Andrew Luck running Indy’s offense. The Colts had their five-game winning streak shattered to the tune of 51-34 at Pittsburgh, but Luck has passed for at least 300 yards in six straight games, surpassing Peyton’s longest streak in Colts history.

New York comes off a bye and two straight road losses.

Philadelphia (5-2) at Houston (4-4)

Philly could use some better decision making by quarterback Nick Foles, but he’s also been quite productive. In last Sunday’s tight loss at Arizona, he set a team mark with 36 completions and had his third career 400-yard passing game last week. But he’s also been picked nine times after being intercepted only twice in 2013.

Worth watching in this one will be Houston’s dynamic defensive end, J.J. Watt, and how much top overall draft pick LB Jadeveon Clowney can contribute in his second game back from arthroscopic knee surgery that cost him six games.

St. Louis (2-5) at San Francisco (4-3)

While the injury-ravaged Rams were further battered in last week’s loss to Kansas City - LT Jake Long now is gone for the season - the 49ers were off. Doesn’t quite seem fair.

These teams met three weeks ago, when the Niners rallied from a 14-point deficit.

Watch for 49ers RB Frank Gore, who has 1,229 yards rushing against St. Louis, the most by any player against the Rams in NFL history.

Oakland (0-7) at Seattle (4-3)

Yes, the Seahawks haven’t looked much like a championship team, so maybe the winless Raiders are the perfect tonic. Seattle barely broke a two-game slide with a last-minute victory at Carolina, needing more late heroics from Russell Wilson. The third-year quarterback led his 12th fourth-quarter or overtime comeback last week, capped by his 23-yard TD pass to Luke Willson with 47 seconds left.

The Raiders’ 0-7 start is their worst since losing the first 13 games of the 1962 season.

New York Jets (1-7) at Kansas City (4-3)

The Jets have matched the Raiders in several ineptitude departments thus far, including losing seven straight. Hey, their only win was in the opener over Oakland.

Mike Vick gets the start at quarterback against the coach who helped resurrect his career in Philadelphia, Andy Reid.

“Yeah, Mike, you guys know how proud I am of him for the man that he is and the things that he’s done to change things around and kind of bounce back,” Reid told New York reporters. “And then as a football player, I think you probably know that, too. I joked to our media here that he’s going to be 50 years old and still be the fastest guy on the field and the best arm on the field.

“He’s an amazing guy that way. You never slight Michael Vick.”

San Diego (5-3) at Miami (4-3)

Miami is not where the Chargers prosper: their last victory there came on Jan. 2, 1982, in the playoffs. They’ve lost seven road games in a row against the Dolphins.

And San Diego comes off two straight defeats, to Kansas City and Denver.

The Dolphins have won two straight, road victories against Chicago and Jacksonville. This is the first of four consecutive matchups against winning opponents.

Washington (3-5) at Minnesota (3-5)

Two teams coming off overtime wins - yes, it’s happened before, as recently as 2008.

Each coach was with the Bengals last year. Mike Zimmer was Cincinnati’s defensive coordinator before heading to the Vikings; Jay Gruden ran the offense for the Bengals before moving to DC.

“We competed every day in practice,” Gruden said. “It was not friendly, usually. Both of us are pretty good competitors and we all wanted to win the drill, definitely … so we had our share of arguments and tension, but ultimately I have a ton of respect for him.”

And from Zimmer: “I coached with him for two years so I’m pretty familiar, but he’s pretty familiar with me as well. He’s very innovative, changes a lot from week to week from what they do, tries to use the players to the best of their abilities.”

Tampa Bay (1-6) at Cleveland (4-3)

Another reunion, this one of first-round rookies from Texas A&M.; Big difference, though: Tampa WR Mike Evans is a regular, Browns QB Johnny Manziel is a backup.

The Bucs rank last in overall offense and defense so far, a huge disappointment in their first season under Lovie Smith.

Cleveland’s first-year head coach, Mike Pettine, has fared much better, but his Browns need a win badly because they have a difficult second-half schedule.

___

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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