NEW YORK (AP) — Before the NFL season, the New Orleans Saints' visit to the New England Patriots on Sunday loomed as a milestone matchup.
Patriots passer Tom Brady would have a chance to tie Drew Brees' NFL record of 54 consecutive regular-season games with a touchdown pass. Both teams would be unbeaten. Not anymore. That scenario disappeared when New England lost to Cincinnati 13-6 last Sunday. But Patriots-Saints still brings together two of the best.
While their combined record is 9-1, Brady is having one of his worst seasons. And both teams have struggled to score touchdowns in the red zone. The return of coach Sean Payton from a suspension for the bounties scandal has sparked New Orleans, particularly on offense where it is ranked fourth in the NFL.
Shockingly, throwing the ball has been a problem for Brady and the Patriots. The running game has also been inconsistent. At least Brady might get back outstanding tight end Rob Gronkowski from a myriad of injuries and surgeries.
"I just want us to score points, so whatever it takes to score points, that's what matters," Brady said. "I think you let your emotions get into it and feelings and so forth — I mean realistically, you have to come up with a plan we have to figure out to score points."
New Orleans has had no such issues. Brees has Marques Colston, Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas and a pretty fair tight end, too, in Jimmy Graham. He also, for the first time in a long while, has a solid defense on his side.
Some are calling the Jacksonville Jaguars' visit to the Denver Broncos the biggest mismatch in NFL history. The Jaguars are winless, the Broncos unbeaten, and favored by more than four touchdowns. The Jaguars have been ridiculed nearly everywhere. That includes on the Broncos' Twitter account, which noted that Denver scored 51 points in beating Dallas last Sunday, the same number of points Jacksonville has managed all year.
"My whole life I've been an underdog, so it doesn't change anything," said Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew, one of the few Jacksonville players who could make Denver's roster. "When things aren't going well you try to find challenges throughout, and obviously the Broncos are No. 1 in rush defense, so that's a big challenge for us."
Not to mention slowing down an offense averaging 46 points a game. "Obviously, facing an offense that's playing at the highest level of anybody in the league, but we try not to get too caught up on that," first year coach Gus Bradley said. "It's more about what we need to do and what we can get accomplished."
The Broncos can accomplish a 17-game regular-season winning streak dating to last Oct. 15. On Thursday, Jay Cutler threw two touchdown passes to Brandon Marshall, and Tim Jennings had two of Chicago's three interceptions against Eli Manning as the Bears kept the New York Giants winless by 27-21.
New York is 0-6 for the first time since the 1976 team dropped its first nine, a stunning turn for a franchise that won the Super Bowl two years ago. Also on Sunday, it's Oakland at Kansas City, Washington at Dallas, Green Bay at Baltimore, Tennessee at Seattle, Arizona at San Francisco, St. Louis at Houston, Cincinnati at Buffalo, Detroit at Cleveland, Pittsburgh at the New York Jets; Philadelphia at Tampa Bay and Carolina at Minnesota.
On Monday, it's Indianapolis at San Diego.