New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) carries Chicago Bears defensive back Al Louis-Jean (39) into the end zone while scoring a touchdown in the second half of an NFL football game on Sunday, Oct. 26, 2014, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

THIS WEEK’S STORYLINE: After rough start to the season, the New England Patriots get a chance to extend their win streak against Peyton Manning and the Broncos

The Patriots are angry.

They heard the doubts at the beginning of the season — the talk that Tom Brady was finished as an elite quarterback and Bill Belichick’s genius had finally expired — and now it appears they’re on a mission to embarrass those who dared question them.

Since losing to the Kansas City Chiefs 41-14 on Monday night football, the Patriots have won four consecutive games by a combined 71 points. Last week’s 51-23 thrashing of the Bears, which featured Rob Gronkowski running over Chicago for 149 yards, might have been the most impressive of the bunch.

But now once again taken seriously as a contender, the Patriots will test their mettle against the Denver Broncos on Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium. It will be the 16th meeting between Brady and Peyton Manning and will determine which of these teams should be considered the favorite to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.

For a while, it looked like the script was changing in the AFC after the Patriots stumbled through September, but as it’s been for more than a decade, it appears this conference is still controlled by whichever teams these two quarterbacks are taking snaps for.

Just one of them seems to be considerably more angry about their mission.

Nick Underhill

Underhill’s top five teams in the NFL (this week)

1. Broncos (6-1)

This is the only team that passes for an elite unit but could be exposed if they fall to the Patriots.

2. PATRIOTS (6-2)

They could land on the top of this list if they beat Denver. This team is playing like it has a point to prove.

3. CARDINALS (6-1)

I’m still not sure I completely buy in, but something is happening in the desert.

4. EAGLES (5-2)

Lost a tough game to the Cardinals last week, and there are now concerns about their secondary.

5. CoWBOYS (6-2)

Why didn’t they give the ball to DeMarco Murray at the end of Monday’s game when they needed 3 yards?

This Week’s Games


WHEN: Noon Sunday

LINE: Browns by 61/2

BRIEFLY: Buccaneers have lost three straight since shocking Steelers in Pittsburgh on Sept. 28. ... Bucs QB Mike Glennon is 3-1 in his career against AFC North teams. ... Bucs RB Bobby Rainey, who leads team in yards rushing, played six games for Browns last season. ... Bucs rookie WR Mike Evans was teammate and go-to-guy at Texas A&M for Browns backup QB Johnny Manziel. Evans has made at least four catches in six career games.

NICK’S PICK:Browns 20, Buccaneers 13

ARIZONA (6-1) at DALLAS (6-2)

WHEN: Noon Sunday

Line: Cowboys by 21/2

BRIEFLY: Last time Cardinals had sole possession of best record in NFC this late in season was Week 11 in 1974, when they played in St. Louis and were in NFC East with Cowboys. It was only season in span of 19 that Dallas missed playoffs; St. Louis lost in divisional round to Minnesota. ... Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray has NFL record eight straight 100-yard rushing games to start season, and Cardinals haven’t allowed 100-yard rusher in 17 straight. ... Cardinals have won past three Dallas meetings, all on final play. Two have been in overtime.

NICK’S PICK: Cardinals 21, Cowboys 17


WHEN: Noon Sunday

Line: Chiefs by 9

BRIEFLY: Teams meet at Arrowhead Stadium for first time since 2005. ... Jets have won last three matchups against Kansas City. ... Chiefs are third in NFL in rushing. Jets are fourth. ... Both teams have 24 sacks, tied for fourth most in league. ... QB Mike Vick will start for first time with Jets. He threw for 153 yards and ran for 69 yards last week vs. Buffalo. ... Jets WR Percy Harvin had three catches for 22 yards and four carries for 28 yards vs. Bills.

NICK’S PICK: Chiefs 27, Jets 20


WHEN: Noon Sunday

Line: Vikings by 1

BRIEFLY: NFL schedule rotation only guarantees intra-conference matchups once every three years, but thanks to several same-place finishes this is fifth straight and seventh time in nine seasons Redskins and Vikings will play. ... Jay Gruden (Redskins) and Mike Zimmer (Vikings), both first-time head coaches, were on staff together in Cincinnati. Gruden was offensive coordinator (2011-13) for the Bengals, and Zimmer was defensive coordinator (2008-13). ... QB Robert Griffin III expected to return or Redskins for first time since dislocating left ankle in Week 2.

NICK’S PICK: Vikings 21, Redskins 20


WHEN: Noon Sunday

Line: Bengals by 101/2

BRIEFLY: Bengals have won last three games in series. ... Teams played twice a year from 1995-2001 as members of AFC Central. ... Jaguars go directly to England from Cincinnati. They play Dallas on Sunday, Nov. 9 in London. ... In last two games, Jaguars ran for 185 yards and 176 yards. Jaguars averaging NFL-best 180.5 yards and 5.5 yards per carry.

NICK’S PICK: Bengals 20, Jaguars 14


WHEN: Noon Sunday

LINE: Eagles by 11/2

BRIEFLY: Philadelphia QB Nick Foles had team-record 36 completions and his third career 400-yard passing game last week. ... RB LeSean McCoy had 130 total yards of offense and two touchdowns in last game against Houston. ... Eagles have allowed just two sacks in last six games.

NICK’S PICK: Eagles 24, Texans 20

SAN DIEGO (5-3) at MIAMI (4-3)

WHEN: Noon Sunday

Line: Dolphins by 2

BRIEFLY: Dolphins rank third in NFL at 5.0 yards per rush, while Chargers are averaging 3.1, next to last. ... Chargers’ last victory in Miami came on Jan. 2, 1982 in playoffs. They’ve since lost seven road games against Dolphins. ... With five turnovers, all on interceptions, Chargers are tied for fewest turnovers by any team through eight games since 1978. They’re only team without a fumble lost.

NICK’S PICK: Chargers 27, Dolphins 20

ST. LOUIS (2-5) at SAN FRANCISCO (4-3)

WHEN: 3:05 p.m. Sunday

Line: 49ers by 91/2

BRIEFLY: These teams just played in Monday night game Oct. 13, when Rams squandered early 14-point lead. ... 49ers have won three of last five meetings. ... Rams make debut in new Levi’s Stadium; 49ers coming off bye week in which most of the roster got healthy. ... St. Louis has scored four times on opening drive, most in NFL. ... Rams DE Robert Quinn has three sacks in last two games, including two sacks and forced fumble in loss to K.C. He had 19 sacks last season.

NICK’S PICK: 49ers 27, Rams 23

OAKLAND (0-7) at SEATTLE (4-3)

WHEN: 3:25 p.m. Sunday

Line: Seahawks by 14

BRIEFLY:Raiders’ 0-7 start is worst for franchise since losing first 13 games of 1962 season. ... QB Derek Carr won starting job with performance in preseason finale against Seahawks. ... Carr coming off career-high 328 yards passing and 54 pass attempts last week against Browns. He’s first Raiders rookie to throw for 300 yards in a game. ... Carr needs 31 yards passing to set franchise record for most yards passing by rookie. ... RB Maurice Jones-Drew has just nine carries for 14 yards in past two games.

NICK’S PICK: Seahawks 28, Raiders 17

DENVER (6-1) at NEW ENGLAND (6-2)

WHEN: 3:25 p.m. Sunday

Line: Broncos by 3

BRIEFLY: First game in NFL history matching quarterbacks with more than 150 regular-season wins. Patriots QB Tom Brady is 10-5 against Broncos QB Peyton Manning, 8-3 in regular season. ... Teams meet for fourth straight regular season, with Patriots winning previous three games. Broncos beat Patriots in AFC championship game last January, 26-16. ... New England staged its biggest comeback last Nov. 24 with 34-31 OT victory after trailing Denver 24-0 at halftime. ... Denver leads NFL with 32 points per game, Patriots third with 29.8.

NICK’S PICK: Patriots 34, Broncos 31


WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Sunday

Line: Ravens by 2

BRIEFLY:Ravens have won three of their previous four regular-season trips to Pittsburgh. ... Steelers have won consecutive games for first time this season. ... Ravens sacked Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger twice and forced three turnovers in Week 2 victory in Baltimore. ... Last time a team swept season series was 2011, when Ravens won both meetings. ... Nine of last 11 games between teams have been decided by three points or less.

NICK’S PICK: Ravens 23, Steelers 20


WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Monday

Line: Colts by 3

BRIEFLY: Andrew Luck threw for 400 yards and three touchdowns last week and has passed for at least 300 yards in six straight games, surpassing Peyton Manning (2009) for longest streak in Colts history. ... WR Reggie Wayne needs five receptions to surpass Hall of Famer James Lofton (14,004) for No. 8 all-time.

NICK’S PICK: Colts 28, Giants 24


SEASON: 60-38

WASHINGTON (2-5) at DALLAS (6-1)

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Monday

Line: Cowboys by 91/2

Briefly: This is 16th Monday night meeting between Cowboys and Redskins, second in frequency behind Raiders-Broncos (17). ... Washington has dropped seven straight prime-time games and is 4-15 on Monday nights since 2000. ... Redskins haven’t won NFC East game since beating Dallas in 2012 regular-season finale with playoff berth on line. They’re also trying to win consecutive games for first time since finishing 2012 with seven straight wins.

NICK’S PICK: Cowboys 28, Redskins 21