BAL (6-2) @ MIA (2-7) | THU 8:20 PM ET | FOX/NFL Network/Amazon
The Ravens are back atop the AFC North despite having lost to Cincinnati, 41-17, prior to their Week 8 bye, but all the talk of them being the best team in the conference and Lamar Jackson being the MVP favorite seems premature—almost as if the media is trying to will it into happening. Baltimore has perhaps the most difficult remaining schedule in the league (including five divisional games, plus matchups versus the Packers and Rams), so it’s important they are focused to take care of business tonight. Miami not having Tua Tagovailoa (finger) again would make them an easier matchup, but the defense of the Dolphins has played much better over the past two weeks, so maybe Xavien Howard and Byron Jones can slow down Marquise Brown. However, the Ravens might be getting Sammy Watkins (thigh) back to give them a very formidable group of weapons for Jackson (on pace for a career-best season on the ground) along with Brown, Mark Andrews, and rookie Rashod Bateman. To pull off the Thursday night upset, the Dolphins need to feature Mike Gesicki against a defense that has allowed 52 receptions, 595 yards, and six touchdowns to opposing tight ends through eight games.
Winner: Baltimore Ravens
BUF (5-3) @ NYJ (2-6) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
The Bills are coming off their worst offensive performance of the season and arguably the worst since Josh Allen has taken over as the franchise quarterback, but anyone sounding the alarm probably had their finger hovering over the button; I’d fully expect a bounce back this week, and it’s notable that Allen absolutely torched Robert Saleh’s defense last year in San Francisco by completing 32-of-40 passes for 375 yards and four touchdowns in a primetime win. And on the other side of the ball, there aren’t any concerns about Sean McDermott’s unit, so the NFL’s top pass defense might be the squad to stop Mike White—who has thrown for 500 yards over his last five quarters of football. I was very high on Zach Wilson as a prospect (and his play style was expected to have a steeper learning curve at the next level), but White somehow knocking off the Bills would create a serious controversy, because as pointed out by Troy Aikman, the former fifth-round pick works through progressions and simply has a very strong grasp on how to play the position.
Winner: Buffalo Bills
TB (6-2) @ WAS (2-6) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
The playoff rematch between Tampa Bay and Washington could be close if Taylor Heinicke plays like he did in January, but the offense remains undermanned with Curtis Samuel (groin) looking unlikely to return and Antonio Gibson (shin) potentially not being himself at any point this season—while an even bigger loss is on the defensive line with Montez Sweat (jaw) out. The Bucs have injuries of their own with Chris Godwin (foot), Antonio Brown (ankle), and Rob Gronkowski (back), but it might not matter who Tom Brady throws to if he’s given a clean pocket, and Sweat not playing is a significant blow to a defensive line that hasn’t lived up to expectations to begin with. Especially if Godwin suits up, he and Mike Evans will likely overmatch a Washington secondary allowing the most passing yards per game (286.8) and the second-most passing touchdowns (20) in the league, so Heinicke may need to be as precise as he was in the postseason for Washington to have any shot of an upset.
Winner: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
ATL (4-4) @ DAL (6-2) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
There was a bump in the road versus Carolina on Halloween, but for the most part, Matt Ryan has been on fire since an 0-2 start—completing 69.6% of his passes with a 13:3 touchdown-interception ratio over the past six games. As the current No. 7 seed in the NFC, Matty Ice should have everyone focused based on how last year’s matchup against Dallas went (Atlanta blew a 29-10 halftime lead to lose on a last-second field goal, 40-39), and Cordarrelle Patterson turning into one of the league’s top offensive weapons helps make up for the absence of Calvin Ridley (personal). Of course, Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn knows Ryan just about as well as anyone, so it’s a very interesting matchup in general. On defense, the Falcons need to cover better than they did last year when they allowed 100-yard games to both CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper, but emerging second-year cornerback A.J. Terrell should be more comfortable/confident than he was in 2020. While it could be close, I think the Cowboys are too good to show up flat at home for the second week in a row.
Winner: Dallas Cowboys
NO (5-3) @ TEN (7-2) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Tennessee’s defense set the tone in Sunday night’s win over the Rams, and the result might have been even more lopsided if A.J. Brown didn’t uncharacteristically drop a couple of would-be conversions on third down. Either way, punching Los Angeles in the mouth despite being without Derrick Henry (foot) for the first time shows that the Titans will remain a force in the AFC, and the defense pressuring Trevor Siemian and/or Taysom Hill early should allow them to play from ahead again. As far as setting the tone by running the ball on offense, Adrian Peterson is facing the NFL’s top-ranked run defense, and the Saints are an opportunistic bunch that could try to punch the ball out with AD—who has a history with fumbles—perhaps not overly focused on ball security with his new team. But if the turnover battle isn’t lost (Ryan Tannehill can also be prone to a bad interception at times), I like the Titans to keep rolling.
Winner: Tennessee Titans
JAX (2-6) @ IND (4-5) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Jacksonville is a different team and playing with more fire coming off a huge win over Buffalo, but Jonathan Taylor ripped them for 253 yards and two touchdowns on 30 attempts to close out the 2020 regular season, and Indy can’t mess around by throwing the ball too much with a chance to get to .500; the Jaguars won’t be playing cushion coverage at the level they did versus the Bills, but anything less than consistently stacked boxes should mean another monster day for the favorite to lead the NFL in rushing. Plus, the Colts could be getting T.Y. Hilton (concussion) back to pair with Michael Pittman Jr., so it will be up to Josh Allen to have another game-wrecking performance for a unit that still ranks towards the bottom of the league in pass defense and total defense. That said, I’d remain skeptical about the Jaguars suddenly flipping a switch offensively, as the Colts’ run defense should be able to contain James Robinson (heel), and the passing attack hasn’t shown a ton of explosiveness since losing D.J. Chark (ankle) for the season.
Winner: Indianapolis Colts
DET (0-8) @ PIT (5-3) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Dan Campbell has said he will have more input in the offense coming out of the bye for Detroit, but there is really no obvious fix for their struggles until a perimeter playmaker is acquired. Although claiming Josh Reynolds—who had a good connection with Jared Goff in Los Angeles—and having Taylor Decker (finger) back at left tackle will at least provide a boost, I’m worried about No. 7 overall pick Penei Sewell switching back to the right side ahead of a matchup versus T.J. Watt; the last thing the Lions need is for a franchise cornerstone to have his confidence drained, so we’ll see if Sewell is up to the challenge on Sunday. Defensively, Detroit needs to stop Najee Harris, but that’s easier said than done, and Diontae Johnson feels like the type of wideout that can give their cornerbacks trouble. I doubt there is any looking ahead, and Pittsburgh should take care of business at Heinz Field.
Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers
CLE (5-4) @ NE (5-4) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
There is still hope for Nick Chubb (COVID-19 list) to get cleared by Sunday, but I’d say it’s unlikely based on how much time others have missed, and Cleveland not having their best player would be unfortunate for an AFC matchup with potential playoff implications. Assuming Chubb is out, the Browns won’t have a ton of firepower on offense, and Bill Belichick might decide to make sure D’Ernest Johnson doesn’t beat them like Denver allowed to happen last month. Overall, this could be a somewhat low-scoring game—and the Browns winning in the trenches would give them a good shot—but the Patriots could get Trent Brown (calf) in the lineup for the first time since the opener, and Mac Jones hopefully won’t lock onto players like Joe Burrow did last week for Cincinnati. I’m expecting a great game and a close finish, but New England’s defense is getting better every week, and the possible loss of Chubb cannot be overstated based on the history of how much better Cleveland has been when he plays.
Winner: New England Patriots
MIN (3-5) @ LAC (5-3) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | FOX
I said last week that I didn’t have faith in Minnesota’s defense being able to stop Lamar Jackson on the ground (he rushed for 120 yards), and this week, I don’t think they’ll be able to stop Justin Herbert and Mike Williams—a pairing that hasn’t been on the same page, but is too good to not get there soon. In two weeks without Patrick Peterson, Mike Zimmer’s defense has allowed 360 passing yards to the Cowboys (without Dak Prescott) and 386 total yards to the aforementioned Jackson, while three wideouts have gone for 100+ yards. Herbert completing a career-high 84.2% of his passes last week to get back on track is bad news for the Vikings on the road, so they need to keep Los Angeles off the field by feeding Dalvin Cook (the 17 carries he saw in a game that Minnesota led last week simply isn’t enough), and Alexander Mattison should be closer to double-digit touches against the league’s worst run defense. I’m on the Chargers, though, and eventually we’ll see impact players Joey Bosa and Derwin James takeover for the defense.
Winner: Los Angeles Chargers
CAR (4-5) @ ARI (8-1) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | FOX
Cam Newton bringing back in Carolina is exciting news, and I would bet Matt Rhule—needing a spark at 4-5—is also banking on the former NFL MVP providing a jolt to the locker room in addition to whatever on-field contributions will be made. Remember, the Panthers have the youngest team in the league (at least they did to start the season), and a lot of their players will be fired up to play alongside Newton when he takes over as the starter. For this week, P.J. Walker will be under center, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him pull off the upset, especially if the defense can cause problems for either Kyler Murray (ankle) or Colt McCoy. However, I picked against the Cardinals last week and probably have too much this season, so while on the fence, I’ll go with them here. Other than a Thursday night loss to the shorthanded Packers, no one has beaten Arizona, and only a couple of their wins have been close.
Winner: Arizona Cardinals
PHI (3-6) @ DEN (5-4) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | CBS
Denver has stepped up on defense to climb out of their four-game skid with two wins in a row, and injuries hitting the unit hard hasn’t stopped them from allowing the second-fewest points per game in the league (17.0) through nine weeks. Still, something about how the Eagles have played since making Jordan Howard their lead runner has me thinking they can have success on the road, and Jalen Hurts’ production on the ground—with 60+ rushing yards in each of the past three games, and multiple scores in both games prior to that—could give the Broncos problems trying to stop both him and the running backs. Defense is the more pressing issue in Philadelphia, and failing to provide different looks will lead to Teddy Bridgewater seamlessly moving the ball up and down the field; in particular, the Philly pass rush has been extremely quiet, so defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon needs to send pressure in order to get home… To be fair, he isn’t exactly working with the ’85 Bears in terms of personnel, but I’ll go with the Eagles anyway.
Winner: Philadelphia Eagles
SEA (3-5) @ GB (7-2) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | CBS
Seattle and Green Bay have had some epic battles over the years, so it’s great that Russell Wilson (finger) and Aaron Rodgers (COVID-19 list) are both set to be on the field this weekend. The Seahawks may also get Chris Carson (neck) back if practice goes well, and his return would come at the perfect time with the Packers expected to show some lighter fronts to prevent D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett from going off. Also, the defense began to play better prior to the bye week, and a turnaround similar to last season would put Seattle right back into the NFC playoff race with the determined Wilson leading them. Green Bay’s quarterback will also be determined, though, as while social media has been mercilessly attacking Aaron Rodgers, he has seemed to have full support inside the building, and Sunday could be a spot where Davante Adams—who had eight receptions for 160 yards and two touchdowns in the most recent matchup versus the Seahawks (2019 playoffs)—takes over. This should be a very close game, but the second-half run for Seattle might have to ignite in Week 11.
Winner: Green Bay Packers
KC (5-4) @ LV (5-3) | SUN 8:20 PM ET | NBC
The two overlap some, but the Raiders being 5-3 despite all the drama and missed draft picks in recent years is pretty amazing, and we’ll see if their newest acquisition (DeSean Jackson) can lift the offense by forcing opponents to respect the deep ball—thus opening up space for Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow to work underneath. Last season, Las Vegas split in a couple of shootouts versus Kansas City, and Derek Carr was great in both games, so he’ll want to come out hot for the first Sunday Night Football appearance (at least with fans) at Allegiant Stadium. Perhaps one deep ball connection or another big play will somehow unlock the Chiefs’ offense (averaging 12.0 points per game over the past three outings), but Patrick Mahomes frankly needs to play better by consistently taking what the defense gives him rather than trying to force the issue, and that’s been something he hasn’t adjusted to since Super Bowl LV. This is a difficult game to make a selection for, so I’ll side with Raider Nation at the Death Star.
Winner: Las Vegas Raiders
LAR (7-2) @ SF (3-5) | MON 8:15 PM ET | ESPN/ESPN2
Odell Beckham Jr. signing with the Rams is big enough news to knock Cam Newton off the top of the headlines today, but should it be? The 29-year-old has zero 100-yard games over the past two calendar years, and winning hasn’t exactly come with all the numbers and highlight plays—most of which he is a handful of years removed from. OBJ is going to be the No. 3 wideout at best for Los Angeles, so signing there might not be all about football, and for their sake, hopefully the Rams took everything into consideration. What’s done is done, though, and the Monday night game this week could lead to Beckham playing in Week 10, so the balance of winning and keeping the new target happy could be somewhat of a highwire act for not only Matthew Stafford, but also Sean McVay. If anything, the addition of Beckham and Von Miller might cause San Francisco to be even more juiced up to beat what’s turned into a “dream team” in Los Angeles, and this week appears to be a now-or-never spot for them if playoffs are going to be in play. The 49ers have swept the Rams in each of the past two years, and I’ll say divisional matchup is what gets them back on track with Fred Warner and the defense leading the way.
Winner: San Francisco 49ers