Flexed: NFL’s nice move had Bengals-Chiefs in prime time


By BARRY WILNER - AP Pro Football Writer



FILE - In this Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018, file photo, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, left, catches a pass in front of Kansas City Chiefs safety Josh Shaw (30) during the second half of an NFL football game in Foxborough, Mass. Gronkowski was the runaway choice this week as the NFL's top tight end by a panel of 10 football writers for The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)

FILE - In this Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018, file photo, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, left, catches a pass in front of Kansas City Chiefs safety Josh Shaw (30) during the second half of an NFL football game in Foxborough, Mass. Gronkowski was the runaway choice this week as the NFL's top tight end by a panel of 10 football writers for The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)


FILE- In this Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018, file photo, Indianapolis Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri (4) kicks an extra point out of the hold of Rigoberto Sanchez (2) during the first half of an NFL football game against the Houston Texans in Indianapolis. Vinatieri spent this week preparing for Sunday’s game like every other one. The same, simple routine helped him collect four Super Bowl rings, celebrate 226 victories and earn the title of best clutch kicker in NFL history. So the 23-year veteran isn’t changing a thing as he nears Morten Andersen’s career scoring record. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)


FILE - In this Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018, file photo, Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill strikes a pose as he warms up before an NFL football game against the New England Patriots in Foxborough, Mass. It's been a while since the NFL flexed a game to Sunday night. The Bengals vs. Chiefs is a worthy choice, (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)


It’s been a while since the NFL flexed a game to Sunday night. The Bengals vs. Chiefs is a worthy choice.

No games were moved from day to night last season, except for the final weekend, when all games are scheduled for the afternoon until the league and NBC figure out what is most attractive for prime time. Back in 2016, there were three flexed games, including Week 17. Not counting that, the last flex was Bucs at Cowboys on Dec. 18, 2016.

So switching a pair of first-place teams made sense: Cincinnati (4-2) is at Kansas City (5-1).

Some of the juicy plot lines involve offense, hardly a surprise in this year of points, points and more points. Kansas City has the league’s lowest-ranked defense and the Bengals rank 29th. Even worse, both are dealing with a slew of injuries on that side of the ball.

So Patrick Mahomes throwing to Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce and Kareem Hunt could fill the screen. So might Andy Dalton connecting with A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd.

“Any time you want to be one of the great ones on the defense or you want your defense to have a statement-type game, you have to do it against the best offenses in the league,” Cincinnati defensive end Carlos Dunlap said. “And right now, they’re putting up those points like they’re one of the best offenses in the league. So you’ve got to go out there and put it on ‘em.”

There are some caveats to this matchup, however.

Although the Bengals have won four straight in the series dating to Oct. 14, 2007, they are 3-15 on Sunday nights, losing eight straight. The Chiefs are 7-3 in games on Sunday nights.

The weekend began with Denver’s 45-10 victory at Arizona on Thursday night

Emmanuel Sanders threw and caught touchdown passes, Denver returned two interceptions for first-quarter touchdowns and the Broncos snapped a four-game losing streak.

Todd Davis returned rookie Josh Rosen’s deflected pass for a touchdown on the second play of the game and Chris Harris Jr. took another back 53 yards for a score with 2:02 left in the quarter as the Broncos (3-4) opened a 21-3 lead. Rosen threw three interceptions and fumbled the ball away twice on a rough night that began badly for him and never got better. The Cardinals (1-6), down 35-3 at the half, fell to 0-4 at home for the first time since 1979.

Off this week are Seattle (3-3), Green Bay (3-2-1), Oakland (1-5) and Pittsburgh (3-2-1).

New England (4-2) at Chicago (3-2)

Seems like every week, the Patriots’ opponent is battered by injuries to key players. No one is more key in Chicago than edge rusher Khalil Mack, who is battling an ankle problem.

Just what Tom Brady needs against one of the five teams he’s never lost to. Brady is 4-0 against the Bears; the others are Atlanta (5-0), Dallas (4-0), Minnesota (4-0) and Tampa Bay (4-0).

While the Bears should be able to move the ball on New England, they’ll likely need lots of points for a chance in this one.

New Orleans (4-1) at Baltimore (4-2)

Just like Patriots-Bears, this is one terrific offense against defense matchup. New Orleans ranks third in total offense and Baltimore is first on defense.

Led by Drew Brees, who set the yards passing career mark in a rout of the Redskins before their bye the Saints have won four in a row. Nobody is more balanced with the ball now that RB Mark Ingram is back from suspension to team with dynamic Alvin Kamara. Brees, who is 0-4 vs. the Ravens, this year has a 78 percent completion rate for 1,658 yards with 11 touchdowns and no interceptions.

The Ravens had 11 sacks last week against Tennessee and a league-most 26 overall. They are allowing an NFL-low 12.8 points per game and the fewest yards per game (270.8). Baltimore has four of the NFL’s past 14 shutouts since the start of the 2017 season.

Carolina (3-2) at Philadelphia (3-3)

An intriguing matchup of a solid running team in Carolina, led by Christian McCaffrey and QB Cam Newton, facing the second-stingiest rushing defense in a place where the Eagles are 17-4 under Doug Pederson.

As for the air game, which seemingly everyone needs to succeed these days, Carolina is far too inconsistent.

Meanwhile, Carson Wentz has thrown at least one TD in his past 19 games played, the longest streak in franchise history and second-longest active streak behind Andrew Luck (28). Wentz has thrown 133 consecutive passes without a pick. His longest streak is 135 passes.

Tennessee (3-3) vs. Los Angeles Chargers (4-2) at London

The Titans were humiliated at home by Baltimore and should welcome the long trip overseas. Then again, they have lost 10 of the past 11 to the Chargers and bring a sputtering offense into Wembley.

Although Tennessee has a solid D, it faces an in-synch offense. The Chargers are 13-5 since starting last season 0-4 and QB Philip Rivers leads the AFC and ranks second in the NFL with a 115.1 passer rating. He has 13 TD passes and four interceptions in seven games vs. the Titans.

Houston (3-3) at Jacksonville (3-3)

The other AFC South leaders.

After beginning the season with three defeats, the Texans have turned it around, albeit all their wins have been tight affairs, two in overtime.

Defensive end J.J. Watt , perhaps the NFL’s best player when healthy, is back in form after missing most of the 2016 and ‘17 seasons with injuries. Watt has seven sacks and three forced fumbles in the past four games.

The Jaguars have a solid defense, too, particularly against the pass, where they ranked first in yards surrendered. But Jacksonville was outscored 70-21 in consecutive road losses, forcing coach Doug Marrone to return to training camp practices this week to emphasize fundamental football.

Dallas (3-3) at Washington (3-2)

Among pro sports’ most intense rivalries, this will be a physical and possibly low-scoring affair given the strength of both defenses and imbalance of the offenses.

Dallas, winless on the road, will try to run with Ezekiel Elliott, second in rushing yards with 586 and third in yards from scrimmage with 752. Washington will counter with Adrian Peterson, who averaged 108.5 yards rushing in the past two home games.

Minnesota (3-2-1) at New York Jets (3-3)

The Vikings have never won at the Jets, going 0-5. To break that slump, the main weapon could be WR Adam Thielen. He had 11 catches for 123 yards last week, joining Houston’s Charley Hennigan (1961) as the only players in NFL history with 100 or more yards in each of his team’s first six games to begin a season. Thielen leads the NFL with 58 catches, the most by a player in the first six games in league history, and 712 yards receiving.

Guess what: New York’s secondary is banged-up and porous.

The Jets are seeking their first three-game winning streak since Weeks 3-5 of 2017.

Los Angeles Rams (6-0) at San Francisco (1-5)

Keeping the NFL’s only perfect record shouldn’t be too challenging for LA, which has the most dangerous offense around. RB Todd Gurley ran for a career-high 208 yards and two TDs last week. The Rams are averaging 32.7 points per game despite scoring TDs on only 56.7 percent of red-zone trips. Los Angeles also leads the NFL with 7.64 yards per play on first down.

San Francisco blew a game at Green Bay last week and Niners QB C.J. Beathard is tied for the NFL worst with seven turnovers in the past three weeks since Jimmy Garoppolo tore up his knee. The Niners have an NFL-worst minus-11 turnover margin.

New York Giants (1-5) at Atlanta (2-4), Monday night

More injuries plagued the Falcons, who placed top running back Devonta Freeman on IR. No team has been more damaged by injuries in 2018, most of them coming on defense.

That means Atlanta needs shootouts to have a chance most weeks, and QB Matt Ryan leads the NFL with 1,432 yards passing and a 128.2 rating since Week 3. He is tied for first with 12 TD passes in that span.

New York’s D is vulnerable and the offense is enigmatic despite the presence of sensational rookie RB Saquon Barkley, and firebrand wideout Odell Beckham Jr. The O-line should be dubbed the “Awful-Line.”

Detroit (2-3) at Miami (4-2)

The Lions are feeling upbeat following a victory over Green Bay and a week off, but that special feeling could turn sour because of their special teams.

Lions coverage units rank last on punts and sixth worst on kickoffs. The Dolphins rank second in kickoff return average and third in punt return average.

Miami is no powerhouse, though. The Dolphins are tied for the AFC East lead even though they’ve been outgained by 398 yards.

Cleveland (2-3-1) at Tampa Bay (2-3)

The Dawg Pound was silenced in Cleveland when the Chargers pounded the Browns last week. Tampa will be hitting the airwaves, trying to find mismatches for WRs DeSean Jackson and Mike Evans. It won’t hurt the Bucs that Browns Pro Bowl MLB Joe Schobert is out with a hamstring injury. This will be his first game missed — at any level — due to injury.

The Browns do lead the NFL with 16 takeaways, three more than all last season. Tampa has 11 giveaways.

Buffalo (2-4) at Indianapolis (1-5)

Remember Derek Anderson, most lately the backup to Newton in Carolina. He has surfaced as the new starter in Buffalo with rookie Josh Allen hurting and Nathan Peterman an interception machine.

On the positive side, the Bills’ defense is tied for the league lead with seven fumble recoveries.

The Colts will try for the fifth time to win game No. 300 since moving to Indy in 1984. And placekicker Adam Vinatieri needs 10 points to break Morten Andersen’s scoring record (2,544 points).

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FILE – In this Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018, file photo, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, left, catches a pass in front of Kansas City Chiefs safety Josh Shaw (30) during the second half of an NFL football game in Foxborough, Mass. Gronkowski was the runaway choice this week as the NFL’s top tight end by a panel of 10 football writers for The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2018/10/web1_121602136-48f7f1b6e5264fe383d40fb5fd2995b8.jpgFILE – In this Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018, file photo, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, left, catches a pass in front of Kansas City Chiefs safety Josh Shaw (30) during the second half of an NFL football game in Foxborough, Mass. Gronkowski was the runaway choice this week as the NFL’s top tight end by a panel of 10 football writers for The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)

FILE- In this Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018, file photo, Indianapolis Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri (4) kicks an extra point out of the hold of Rigoberto Sanchez (2) during the first half of an NFL football game against the Houston Texans in Indianapolis. Vinatieri spent this week preparing for Sunday’s game like every other one. The same, simple routine helped him collect four Super Bowl rings, celebrate 226 victories and earn the title of best clutch kicker in NFL history. So the 23-year veteran isn’t changing a thing as he nears Morten Andersen’s career scoring record. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2018/10/web1_121602136-86008adcabd84990a4ecf2186a0683cf.jpgFILE- In this Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018, file photo, Indianapolis Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri (4) kicks an extra point out of the hold of Rigoberto Sanchez (2) during the first half of an NFL football game against the Houston Texans in Indianapolis. Vinatieri spent this week preparing for Sunday’s game like every other one. The same, simple routine helped him collect four Super Bowl rings, celebrate 226 victories and earn the title of best clutch kicker in NFL history. So the 23-year veteran isn’t changing a thing as he nears Morten Andersen’s career scoring record. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)

FILE – In this Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018, file photo, Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill strikes a pose as he warms up before an NFL football game against the New England Patriots in Foxborough, Mass. It’s been a while since the NFL flexed a game to Sunday night. The Bengals vs. Chiefs is a worthy choice, (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2018/10/web1_121602136-254f699b4a494631bb4286994be69d02.jpgFILE – In this Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018, file photo, Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill strikes a pose as he warms up before an NFL football game against the New England Patriots in Foxborough, Mass. It’s been a while since the NFL flexed a game to Sunday night. The Bengals vs. Chiefs is a worthy choice, (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)

By BARRY WILNER

AP Pro Football Writer