THIS WEEK’S STORYLINE: The Detroit Lions and Arizona Cardinals are two of the NFL’s more surprising teams this season, and they’re out to show they have staying power

It would have been outlandish to think that this week’s meeting between the Arizona Cardinals and Detroit Lions would be one of the more scintillating contests on this week’s schedule back in August.

Oddly enough, despite the fact that both teams are among the best teams in the NFL this week, both have a lot to prove. For Arizona (8-1), Drew Stanton needs to prove that he can carry this offense after quarterback Carson Palmer went down with an ACL injury last week against the St. Louis.

Stanton struggled earlier this year filling in for Palmer, completing 43-of-88 passes in starts against the Giants, San Francisco, and Denver, but Arizona managed to win two of those games.

As for Detroit, it needs to show that it can beat quality teams. It has quality wins against the Green Bay Packers and Miami Dolphins, but the rest of their wins have come against teams with losing records.

We’re also likely to find out what the Cardinals are really made of due to a difficult schedule down the stretch. The Cardinals have two games against the Seattle Seahawks, and one each remaining against San Francisco and St. Louis. They also have a difficult non-division game against Kansas City remaining.

So, for both clubs, this game is a bit of a measuring stick.

Nick Underhill

NICK’S PICKS: Underhill’s top five teams in the NFL (this week)

1. Patriots (7-2)

The last time we saw them, they were beating the Broncos. They’ll try to do the same to the Colts.

2. Cardinals (8-1)

Will losing Carson Palmer make a difference? Nothing seems to be able to slow the Cardinals this season.

3. BRONCOS (7-2)

The Broncos rebounded from the loss to Patriots with a big win against the Raiders last week.

4. EAGLES (7-2)

Can they stay afloat with Mark Sanchez? He looked good last week but needs to prove he can keep it going.

5. COLTS (7-2)

This spot could be short-lived if they fall to the Patriots at home Sunday night.

This Week’s Games

HOUSTON (4-5) at CLEVELAND (6-3)

WHEN: Noon Sunday

LINE: Browns by 31/2

BRIEFLY: During bye week, Texans coach Bill O’Brien benched QB Ryan Fitzpatrick for Ryan Mallett, who will make first career start. ... Mallett has appeared in five games during career and attempted just four passes, completing one. ... Mallett and Browns QB Brian Hoyer were teammates in New England, backups behind QB Tom Brady. ... Mallett is 10th QB to start game in team’s history. ... Texans have lost four of five.

NICK’S PICK: Browns 20, Texans 13

MINNESOTA (4-5) at CHICAGO (3-6)

WHEN: Noon Sunday

LINE: Bears by 21/2

BRIEFLY: Vikings have won two straight. ... Minnesota seeking third road victory after going winless away from home last season. ... Vikings have dropped six straight at Chicago since winning at Soldier Field in Oct. 2007. ... Minnesota last in league with six touchdown passes — same number Aaron Rodgers had in first half against Chicago last week. ... QB Teddy Bridgewater has led Vikings back from fourth-quarter deficits in all three of his wins.

NICK’S PICK: Bears 21, Vikings 17

DENVER (7-2) at ST. LOUIS (3-6)

WHEN: Noon Sunday

LINE: Broncos by 10

BRIEFLY: Broncos have won five of six; Rams have lost two of three and are 1-3 at home. ... Rams have won three of last four in series. ... Denver coach John Fox is 4-1 vs. Rams; St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher is 1-3 vs. Broncos. ... Broncos QB Peyton Manning leads NFL with 29 TD passes and is first in AFC with 112 passer rating. Manning is coming off ninth five-TD game, passing Drew Brees for career lead. Manning has at least two TD passes in 15 consecutive games, longest streak in NFL history.

NICK’S PICK: Broncos 31, Rams 20


WHEN: Noon Sunday

Line: 49ers by 4

BRIEFLY: Niners get Aldon Smith back from nine-game suspension in same week they lost fellow LB Patrick Willis for the season with toe injury. ... When QB Colin Kaepernick starts and has rating better than 100, team is 15-1. ... WR Anquan Boldin has 12 catches for 188 yards and two touchdowns in last two games. ... WR Michael Crabtree had season-long 51-yard catch last week. ... Rookie LB Chris Borland has 35 tackles in past two games. ... CB Antoine Bethea has interceptions in consecutive games. ... New York is on season-high four-game losing streak.

NICK’S PICK: 49ers 24, Giants 20

ATLANTA (3-6) at CAROLINA (3-6-1)

WHEN: Noon Sunday

LINE: Falcons by 1

BRIEFLY: Falcons are 1-4 on road. ... QB Matt Ryan has 15 touchdown passes and six interceptions in last seven meetings. ... WR Julio Jones has eight catches for 170 yards and three TDs in last two games at Carolina. ... WR Roddy White has caught TD pass in four straight games vs. Carolina. ... Falcons have 11 sacks, four coming last week against Buccaneers. ... Former Southeastern Louisiana standout Robert Alford has three interceptions in last three games vs. Carolina.

NICK’S PICK: Falcons 27, Panthers 20

SEATTLE (6-3) at KANSAS CITY (6-3)

WHEN: Noon Sunday

LINE: Chiefs by 11/2

BRIEFLY: Former AFC West rivals meeting for 51st time but just fourth since 2002 realignment. Chiefs have won two of last three in series. ... Seattle visiting Arrowhead Stadium for first time since Oct. 29, 2006. Kansas City won 35-28. ... Seahawks ran for franchise-record 350 yards last week against Giants.

NICK’S PICK: Seahawks 21, Chiefs 14


WHEN: Noon Sunday

Line: Redskins by 71/2

BRIEFLY: Both teams have ball security issues: Tampa Bay has minus-7 turnover differential; Washington is at minus-9. ... Tampa Bay has lost five straight, scoring 17 points or fewer in last four. Two losses during streak went to overtime. ... Buccaneers have held fourth-quarter leads in four of eight losses. ... Tampa Bay has been outscored 82-20 in first quarter. ... Buccaneers had season-high 373 total yards in last week’s loss to Falcons.

NICK’S PICK: Redskins 20, Buccaneers 13

OAKLAND (0-9) at SAN DIEGO (5-4)

WHEN: 3:05 p.m. Sunday

Line: Chargers by 10

BRIEFLY: Monday is anniversary of Raiders’ last win, 28-23 against Texans. Raiders have lost 15 games since then. ... They are only winless team in NFL and are trying to avoid becoming just second to go 0-16 in a season. Detroit did it in 2008. ... Raiders QB Derek Carr leads rookies with 13 TDs passing, ranks second with 1,903 yards. He passed for 192 yards, two TDs last week against Denver, surpassing Tom Flores (1,738 yards, 12 TDs in 1960) for club rookie records.

NICK’S PICK: Chargers 28, Raiders 20

DETROIT (7-2) at ARIZONA (9-1)

WHEN: 3:25 p.m. Sunday

Line: Cardinals by 1

BRIEFLY: Lions have their best record after nine games since 1972, Cardinals their best since 1948. ... Series dates to 1930, when the Lions were Portsmouth Spartans and Arizona was Chicago Cardinals. ... In his first game back after missing three games due to injury, Lions WR Calvin Johnson caught seven passes for 113 yards against Miami, including 49-yard touchdown. ... Jim Caldwell has most wins through nine games for first-year Lions coach since 1934.

NICK’S PICK: Cardinals 21, Lions 20


WHEN: 3:25 p.m. Sunday

Line: Packers by 51/2

BRIEFLY: Eagles beat Packers 17-13 at Franklin Field in Philadelphia in 1960 for Philadelphia’s third and most recent NFL championship. ... Eagles 14-3 in last 17 regular-season games, tying Arizona for best record in that span. ... Eagles WR Jeremy Maclin and Packers WR Jordy Nelson, along with Steelers WR Antonio Brown, are only players in NFL with at least 800 yards receiving and eight TD catches.

NICK’S PICK: Packers 30, Eagles 27


WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Sunday

Line: Colts by 3

BRIEFLY: Patriots have won four straight in series dating to 2010, beating three different Colts quarterbacks. ... New England is scoring 40.2 points during five-game winning streak. ... One more win will assure Pats of 14th consecutive non-losing record, longest active streak. Only two other coaches have done that: Tom Landry (20) and Curly Lambeau (14). ... New England has NFL best 38-14 record in November since 2001.

NICK’S PICK: Patriots 31, Colts 28


WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Monday

Line: Steelers by 6

BRIEFLY: Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger is 3-3 against Titans as starter. Roethlisberger has thrown for 1,692 yards with 12 TDs and seven interceptions for 99.4 passer rating in those games. ... RB Le’Veon Bell leads AFC and second in NFL with 1,213 yards from scrimmage. ... Former LSU standout Zach Mettenberger trying to become first rookie to win as starter for Titans since Vince Young in 2006.

NICK’S PICK: Steelers 27, Titans 20

LAST WEEK: 8-4; SEASON: 77-45