- Associated Press - Saturday, October 31, 2015

Usually the hype machine points toward February and the Super Bowl when two runaway division leaders meet.

Yet when the Packers visit the Broncos, both 6-0, on Sunday night, there’s not much Super Bowl preview talk.

For one, such other powerful teams as New England, Carolina, Cincinnati - all unbeaten - could get in the way. For another, neither Green Bay nor Denver has displayed its full force in 2015.

Both sides are rested and ready, coming off bye weeks.

“I mean, I got away from it at first,” Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall says of the game’s buildup, “but then as soon as Sunday came they started talking about all the headlines. Packers-Broncos, Aaron Rodgers-Peyton Manning, and then they went back to when we played them in the Super Bowl in the 1990s, and so I started thinking about all of that, and then it got me hyped and got my blood boiling.”

Green Bay’s visit to Denver marks only the fourth meeting between teams 6-0 or better. The numbers look good for the Pack, which is 23-7 in Sunday night games, the top percentage in the league; 8-1 after a bye week under coach Mike McCarthy; and Rodgers has thrown for 3,734 yards and 31 TDs in 13 Sunday nighters.

Of course, the Broncos’ Manning seems to set records nearly every time he takes the field. With a win, Manning ties Brett Favre for the most regular-season victories (186) by a quarterback. How appropriate that the opponent is the Packers.

“Every game is an incentive for us,” Packers receiver Randall Cobb says. “We only get 16 guaranteed opportunities. Definitely when we go up against a great team, both of us being undefeated, Sunday night football, definitely, the stakes - I wouldn’t say are higher, but it’s a little bit more added to the game, and makes the game a little bit more fun.” The only time the Broncos started 7-0 was 1998, when they won the Super Bowl after finishing 14-2.

This week’s action began Thursday night with as the Patriots moved to 7-0 as Tom Brady threw for four touchdowns and 356 yards in a 36-7 rout of Miami. Stephen Gostkowski broke Adam Vinatieri’s franchise record for consecutive field goals by connecting from 52 and 36 yards to make it 26 in a row. Rob Gronkowski had 113 yards receiving and a touchdown, and Dion Lewis had 93 yards receiving and one score.

The loss was the first for Miami (3-4) under interim coach Dan Campbell.

Off this week are Buffalo (3-4), Philadelphia (3-4), Washington (3-4) and Jacksonville (2-5).

Cincinnati (6-0) at Pittsburgh (4-3)

What a great time for Ben Roethlisberger to return. A Cincinnati victory would boost the Bengals to their first 7-0 start, and give them a hefty 3½-game lead in the AFC North. So back from his knee problems comes Big Ben, is 16-6 against the Bengals. Indeed, the Steelers have won the last three and eight of 10 in the series.

“He’s a special quarterback,” All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown said. “Anytime you have a guy of that caliber, it rejuvenates, revitalizes and gets everyone excited.”

Bengals QB Andy Dalton leads the NFL with a 116.1 passer rating, and DE Carlos Dunlap is tied for the NFL lead with 6 1-2 sacks.

Indianapolis (3-4) at Carolina (6-0), Monday night

This has been Carolina’s best start, but the Colts hardly are ready for prime time. They’ve flopped in most every area, and they can’t seem to win outside the awful AFC South. Indy played better with backup QB Matt Hasselbeck than with Andrew Luck, but the Colts must sink or swim with Luck.

The Panthers have shown versatility, from Cam Newton throwing and running to Greg Olsen getting open short and deep to establishing a strong pass rush to Josh Norman tying for the league lead with four interceptions.

Tampa Bay (2-4) at Atlanta (6-1)

After the Buccaneers blew a 24-0 lead and lost at Washington, coach Lovie Smith mentioned the progress his team is making. For real progress in the NFC South, look at Dan Quinn’s Falcons.

Atlanta ranks fifth on offense after finding a running game behind Devonta Freeman, is second in rushing defense, and shows tons of energy and aggressiveness. Freeman leads the league with 621 yards rushing and has scored 10 touchdowns.

Arizona (5-2) at Cleveland (2-5)

In yet another quirk to this year’s schedule, the Cardinals play a third straight game against the AFC North. And they have not won in Cleveland since 1985.

But these Cardinals lead the NFL with 229 points and 28 TDs, with Carson Palmer tied with Tom Brady for tops in the league with 16 TD passes entering this week.

Cleveland hopes to have QB Josh McCown on the field after he missed practice time with a shoulder injury sustained in a loss at St. Louis last week. He’d work behind an offensive line that has allowed 21 sacks in the past five games and will face the blitz-happy Cardinals.

Seattle (3-4) at Dallas (2-4)

This looked like such a juicy early November matchup when the schedule came out. Now Dallas is limping and on a four-game slide, while the Seahawks are trying to remember how they surged from a 3-3 mark to the Super Bowl last season.

The Cowboys have no chance if they keep turning it over; Matt Cassel was picked off three times by the Giants in his first Dallas start, and Seattle’s secondary is much better, with two All-Pros in Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas. At least star WR Dez Bryant might be back after being sidelined since the opener with a broken foot.

Seattle has set a franchise record of 18 straight games of at least 100 yards rushing.

New York Giants (4-3) at New Orleans (3-4)

By far the most intriguing person at this game won’t be suiting up. Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul, who blew off an index finger in a July 4 fireworks accident, is back with the team, but not close to playing.

New York could use a ramped-up pass rush against the NFL’s third-ranked passing attack.

If New Orleans can pound the ball with Mark Ingram the way Dallas did to New York with Darren McFadden, the Saints might grab a third consecutive victory.

New York Jets (4-2) at Oakland (3-3)

The winner here establishes its credentials in the wild-card race, with only remote chances for a division crown.

New York had the Patriots on the ropes last weekend, but made just enough errors to fail. No one can run on the Jets, so Oakland will try to turn loose sensational rookie wideout Amari Cooper. Of course, he’ll be matched up with All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis much of the time.

New York’s Ryan Fitzpatrick looks to become the first quarterback to beat the Raiders with four organizations, having done it already with Buffalo, Tennessee and Houston.

This once was among the nastiest of rivalries, but it has cooled.

Minnesota (4-2) at Chicago (2-4)

Soldier Field is not a favorite ground for the Vikings, who have dropped seven straight there and 13 of 14. But that one win was memorable: Adrian Peterson ran for 224 yards, the most by a Bears opponent, in 2007.

Chicago comes off a bye and its new coach, John Fox is 10-3 in games following a bye: 6-3 with Carolina, 4-0 with Denver. His main weapon is Matt Forte, who is second among NFL running backs to Atlanta’s Freeman with 698 scrimmage yards.

Detroit (1-6) vs. Kansas City (2-5) at London

Not exactly what the NFL envisioned for the last of its trio of London games. Of course, both teams were contenders a year ago, prompting this matchup.

Detroit fired offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and line coaches Jeremiah Washburn and Terry Heffernan on Monday. QB coach Jim Bob Cooter is serving as offensive coordinator, TEs coach Ron Prince is handling the offensive line and assistant special teams coach Devin Fitzsimmons is working with tight ends. The Lions are last in rushing offense, but at least have gotten starting RB Joique Bell back from injury.

The Chiefs may have found a decent replacement for Jamaal Charles (torn ACL) in Charcandrick West, who ran for a career-best 110 yards and a TD against Pittsburgh.

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

Don’t look for much scoring in this one. These are the lowest-ranked offenses in the league, and to boot, the Rams have a sensational pass rush. San Francisco does have Anquan Boldin whose 1,513 yards receiving against the Rams are the third most by an opponent, and he has a TD catch in four of the past five meetings.

For St. Louis, rookie RB Todd Gurley has rushed for 433 yards, averaging 144.3 per game, in his first three career starts. He leads the NFL with three rushes for 45 or more yards. And the Rams are tied for the NFC lead with 23 sacks; the Niners have allowed 25.

Tennessee (1-5) at Houston (2-5)

As usual, quarterbacks are in the spotlight here. Houston cut the undependable (on and off the field) Ryan Mallett, so the job is journeyman Brian Hoyer’s.

Tennessee doesn’t have QB job security issues; once Marcus Mariota is recovered from a left knee injury, he’s the man. Otherwise, they’ll have to go with second-year Zach Mettenberger, who struggled in a loss to Atlanta last week.

Texans RB Arian Foster is gone for the season with a torn Achilles tendon.

San Diego (2-5) at Baltimore (1-6)

The Disappointment Bowl.

Both teams have flopped by losing tight games, and the Chargers were so flat against Oakland last week it led some to wonder if they’d already packed up for LA. Yet receiver Keenan Allen leads the NFL with 62 receptions, the most in history over the first seven games of any season.

November usually is a good month for Baltimore, which needs it: since coach John Harbaugh took over in 2008, Baltimore is 12-2 in November home games.


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

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