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This week in the NFL

Tom Silverstein
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

WHAT’S TRENDING

In the Milwaukee television market, the rating for the Packers-Giants game Sunday night was 43.7, about on par with any other Packers game. But around the country, the game drew a 10.2 rating, which is the lowest for a Sunday night game since October 2013, according to Yahoo Finance. The drop is consistent with ratings overall this season, especially in the prime-time slots. The NFL has addressed the drop through a memo to its teams that several news outlets obtained, and the 2016 presidential election was identified as a major factor. This was the second of the NFL’s prime-time games to go head-to-head with a presidential debate. According to Yahoo Finance, the Saints-Falcons Monday night game Sept. 26, played the same night of the first debate, was the lowest-rated “Monday Night Football” game ever. But in a sign the election isn’t the only factor, SportsBusiness Daily reported that the Carolina-Tampa Bay game this past Monday was the lowest-rated “Monday Night Football” game since ESPN took over the broadcast. Overall TV ratings are down 11%, according to the Washington Post. Clearly, there are other factors in play. Streaming video is one possible answer. More and more people are watching games on their phones and computers. In addition, there are three prime-time games a week and that might be diluting interest, especially with the NFL having difficulty finding three great matchups to broadcast each week. Whatever the case, the NFL better hope post-election numbers rebound, otherwise they’ve got a serious problem.

ON DECK

All along it seemed like quarterback Colin Kaepernick was a better fit for 49ers coach Chip Kelly’s system than Blaine Gabbert. But Kaepernick wasn’t physically ready to return to being a starter after missing almost all of the off-season because of surgeries to his non-throwing shoulder, knee and thumb. He has lost weight and isn’t back to his former weight of 225 pounds, but off to a 1-4 start, Kelly figured a weaker Kaepernick was better than nothing. Kaepernick has lost 10 of his last 13 games and was terrible playing in a more traditional offense last year. Kelly’s system is built for a runner like Kaepernick, and if the first-year coach can get him moving around the way he did when he played for Jim Harbaugh, there’s a better chance for success. The 49ers are not a good team and they don’t have a receiving corps that can bail out Kaepernick when he needs help, so it’s going to be an uphill climb to revive this offense, especially with having to face a very good Buffalo defense Sunday. Kaepernick has gained respect in the locker room for the way he has handled criticism over his national anthem protests and no longer is considered a prima donna. But now he has to do what he’s paid to do. The Bay Area is waiting to see if he can return to the force he once was.

NORTHERN EXPOSURE

The 5-0 Minnesota Vikings get a chance to take a deep breath now that the bye week is here. All that happened to them leading up to this week is they lost their starting quarterback, left tackle and star running back to injury; traded for a new starting quarterback; opened a new stadium; and took their show on the road twice without blinking. They are the only undefeated team in the NFL, but they still have some work ahead of them. The Vikings have played only one division game and return from the bye having to play three of their next four on the road against NFC teams. In Detroit, the Lions found a way to avoid a catastrophic start by handing the Philadelphia Eagles their first loss and head into a home game against the 3-2 Los Angeles Rams with a 2-3 record. That loss at Chicago remains a sore spot. The Lions come into the Rams game banged up. They will be without running back Theo Riddick, tight end Eric Ebron and nose tackle Haloti Ngata. End Ziggy Ansah will return, but they’ll have their hands full with the Rams. The Bears hung tough with Indianapolis despite ignoring receiver Alshon Jeffery for some reason, but they get another shot at the pathetic AFC South with a home game against Jacksonville.

GAME OF THE WEEK

Atlanta Falcons (4-1) at Seattle Seahawks (3-1)

When: 3:25 p.m. Sunday.

Key injuries: Falcons — LB Paul Worrilow (groin) is out. Seahawks — DE Quinton Jefferson (thumb) and RB Thomas Rawls (fibula) are out; S Kam Chancellor (groin), DE Frank Clark (hamstring), RB C.J. Prosise (wrist) and DT Garrison Smith (oblique) are questionable.

Player to watch: Falcons running back Devonta Freeman has scored touchdowns in three straight games and is averaging 121.8 yards from scrimmage over his past four games.

Recent history: The Falcons have won three of the last four but haven’t won in Seattle since 2011.

Key statistic: Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has just 15 carries for 28 yards this season.

Bottom line: The Seahawks still have one of the best defenses in the NFL, but if they are without Chancellor and Clark they won’t be the same. Clark has been teaming with end Michael Bennett inside in nickel situations to give the Seahawks great push up the middle, and his absence would greatly affect their pass rush. Chancellor’s importance is well-documented. The forecast calls for rain and winds of 40 mph, which could affect both teams’ passing game. The Falcons have a much better run game than the Seahawks so they might be able to adapt better. Quarterback Matt Ryan has been on fire and a victory on the road against Denver last week showed just how good the Falcons offense is. Wilson has had an extra week to heal from ankle and knee injuries, but he may not go back to his usual running style. The Seahawks have found a nice rhythm with him standing in the pocket and may do less of the read-option that Wilson has been so good at in the past.

BY THE NUMBERS

Packers

0 Interceptions QB Aaron Rodgers has thrown against the Dallas Cowboys in five career regular-season starts (179 attempts).

21-3 Margin by which the team has outscored opponents in the first quarter at home.

1.7 Yards per carry Randall Cobb and Ty Montgomery have combined to average on their seven running attempts.

24 Average yards of receiver Davante Adams’ three touchdown catches.

44 Yards of Jacob Schum’s longest punt in his last 11 attempts.

NFC North

2.5 Yards per carry the Minnesota Vikings are averaging, worst in the NFL.

4 300-yard passing games division quarterbacks have produced, two by Detroit’s Matthew Stafford and two by Chicago’s Brian Hoyer.

105 Consecutive regular-season games the Lions’ Glover Quin has started, the longest active streak of any safety in the NFL.

7 Field-goal attempts missed by division kickers, none by the Packers’ Mason Crosby.

11.2 Average margin of victory for the Vikings, second-highest in the NFL .

NFL

420 Combined passing attempts Dallas’ Dak Prescott (155), the Vikings’ Sam Bradford (125) and Hoyer (140) have without throwing an interception this season.

62 Passes targeted to Tampa Bay receiver Mike Evans in five games, the most in the NFL and nine more than the No. 2 receiver.

12 Players who have scored for the Atlanta Falcons.

2.74 Yards per carry Los Angeles running back Todd Gurley is averaging. He averaged 4.8 during his rookie season.

0 Games in which the New York Giants have covered the spread. At 0-3-2, they are the only team yet to cover.