NYJ (2-5) @ IND (3-5) | THU 8:20 PM ET | FOX/NFL Network/Amazon
The Colts wasting a great defensive effort to contain Derrick Henry last week—because of two costly interceptions on an inexcusable 51 pass attempts by Carson Wentz—is extremely frustrating, and I’m skeptical about them ever becoming a serious contender with Jonathan Taylor averaging just 15.1 carries per game. Last year, Indianapolis was at their best when feeding the superstar runner, who went for 148.5 rushing yards per game and averaged 6.1 yards per carry when given 20+ attempts as a rookie (and the team had a 4-0 record). Maybe the short week combined with how the loss to Tennessee ended will lead to Frank Reich coming to his senses, but if not, New York can definitely stick around and maybe pull off another upset with Mike White under center. For what it’s worth, I thought White was a very underrated draft prospect in 2018, and my scouting report for him included a couple of notable strengths that were on display last week: “Works through progressions” and “Recognizes when his checkdown option is available”. The Colts get the edge at home, but I don’t have a ton of confidence in the pick.
Winner: Indianapolis Colts
ATL (3-4) @ NO (5-2) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Following a season-ending knee injury for Jameis Winston, Drew Brees seemed to squash any chance of an NFL return on NBC’s Football Night in America last week—but I wouldn’t be so sure. Brees didn’t exactly close the door over the summer when given a chance by Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth on a preseason broadcast (he was asked about a team having a late-season injury), and do you think he would have just said “yeah, I might come back” last Sunday night? New Orleans is the perfect situation, and almost anyone would agree that they’d have a better shot at a Super Bowl with a future Hall of Fame quarterback than they would Taysom Hill or Trevor Siemian. Defense should be able to lead the way again on Sunday versus an undermanned Atlanta squad, but the stretch after that not going well (@ TEN, @ PHI, v BUF, v DAL) could lead to Brees coming out of retirement for a two-month stretch to chase another ring.
Winner: New Orleans Saints
DEN (4-4) @ DAL (6-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Dak Prescott (calf) should return this weekend after missing Sunday night’s game against Minnesota, and the Cowboys are in a tremendous spot with their franchise quarterback getting a couple of weeks to rest since the overtime win over New England last month. On Sunday, the Broncos won’t have Von Miller (now in Los Angeles) trying to track down Prescott, and Dallas may not need to be overly aggressive in the passing game considering how poorly Vic Fangio’s defense has done defending opposing running backs in recent weeks. For the Denver offense, Jerry Jeudy returning wasn’t enough to spark them last week—despite the win—and not having Garret Bolles (ankle) or Noah Fant (COVID-19 list) in Week 9 doesn’t inspire much confidence about the group suddenly coming alive. It will be interesting to see what kind of impact the trade of an all-time franchise great has on a coaching staff and locker room that likely feels they are still in contention at .500 through two months.
Winner: Dallas Cowboys
NE (4-4) @ CAR (4-4) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Under Bill Belichick, the Patriots have historically been a team that really kicks into gear around this time of the year, but I’d argue they are already ahead of the curve based on October—with a down-to-the-wire loss versus Tampa Bay, a gritty win over Houston, an overtime loss to the Cowboys, a blowout victory over the Jets, and a close road win over the Chargers. A strong rushing attack combined with a spread-it-out passing game makes the Pats difficult to defend, and the other side of the ball is usually handled by limiting the opposition’s top weapon; this week, that will be Christian McCaffrey (hamstring) if he plays, but I’d expect to see bracket coverage on D.J. Moore to make Sam Darnold (concussion) or P.J. Walker try to beat them by throwing to other targets. Former NFL Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore coming away with a clutch play to give Carolina a close win feels like something that could happen, but it’s also possible New England knows how to attack him (or avoid him) better than anyone.
Winner: New England Patriots
MIN (3-4) @ BAL (5-2) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
The Vikings are competitive every year, but the current group doesn’t have the feel of a championship core, and losing a primetime game to a backup quarterback on Halloween is more reason to believe it might be wise to make sweeping changes in the offseason. To add injury to insult, monster defensive end Danielle Hunter (pectoral) is done for the year, and Minnesota badly needs to offense to step up with him and Patrick Peterson (hamstring) out of the lineup. Baltimore has quietly allowed the most passing yards per game in the league, so Kirk Cousins playing like he did a couple of weeks ago in Carolina would be a huge boost, and Dalvin Cook—with just 12 receptions for 73 scoreless yards in five games—becoming more of a factor out of the backfield would take the pressure off Cousins, Justin Jefferson, and Adam Thielen. Even so, I don’t have a ton of faith in the Minnesota defense being able to stop Lamar Jackson as a runner or passer on Sunday, and the Ravens will be eager to make up for a 41-17 loss prior to the bye.
Winner: Baltimore Ravens
CLE (4-4) @ CIN (5-3) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Browns-Bengals is now arguably the game of the week because of absences for Aaron Rodgers (COVID-19) for Packers-Chiefs and Derrick Henry (foot) for Titans-Rams, but Odell Beckham Jr. essentially being dismissed from the team having almost no impact shows just how fall he’s fallen from his early-career highs. If nothing else, maybe not needing to worry about targets for OBJ will lead to more touches for Nick Chubb, and Kevin Stefanski—unlike Frank Reich in Indy—is at least committed to the run for the most part despite only 16 carries for Chubb last week, so Cleveland can still turn things around in the AFC North if they recommit to their best player. On defense, though, I’m not sure the Browns will be able to stop Joe Mixon, Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, and C.J. Uzomah in a Joe Burrow-led offense; Mixon in particular has totaled 127.7 yards per game in seven career matchups against the division rival. Cleveland was my original pick after winning both shootouts in 2020, but health being on the side of the Bengals has me leaning towards them at home.
Winner: Cincinnati Bengals
BUF (5-2) @ JAX (1-6) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Winner: Buffalo Bills
HOU (1-7) @ MIA (1-7) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Tyrod Taylor (hamstring) is set to return for Houston this week, and while rookie Davis Mills flashed at times, the Texans should be more competitive over the final nine games with the veteran back under center. Remember, Taylor beat the Jaguars in the opener and then was giving Cleveland a battle before going down in Week 2, so hopefully he can stay healthy and get an expanded opportunity over the final nine games. Tua Tagovailoa is also hoping to prove himself down the stretch, which I think he will as things continue to slow down for him—and the Dolphins having an underrated trio with DeVante Parker, Jaylen Waddle, and Mike Gesicki helps. The talent advantage both offensively and defensively should be enough for Miami to snap their seven-game losing streak and push Houston’s to eight games.
Winner: Miami Dolphins
LV (5-2) @ NYG (2-6) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Considering all the drama they’ve gone through this season, Derek Carr should be squarely in the MVP conversation if the Raiders are in playoff contention by the end of the year, and the only thing I’ll say about this week’s events is that it’s absolutely insane that there was more outrage over words from Jon Gruden than actions by Henry Ruggs III that led to the sickening death of a 23-year-old woman and her dog. On the field, Las Vegas will be counting on Bryan Edwards to be their No. 1 wide receiver to complement Darren Waller, and I think he’s ready for an increased role; the team might also decide to bring back veteran John Brown as an ideal fit with Edwards and Hunter Renfrow, so we’ll see if a move is made. For this week’s opponent, the Giants have really stepped up on defense and can make it a close game, but Josh Jacobs being off the injury report to begin the week should have him at full strength, and Daniel Jones is still waiting to get an extended shot with a fully healthy supporting cast around him in New York.
Winner: Las Vegas Raiders
LAC (4-3) @ PHI (3-5) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | CBS
Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles offense has hit a cold stretch over the past two games—and a decrease in terms of chunk plays is a big reason for it (5.7 passing yards per attempt, compared to 7.6 passing yards per attempt over the first five weeks). It’s no coincidence that Mike Williams getting banged up and being less of a threat has overlapped the struggles, but I think last week was more about being taken away by New England’s defense than anything else, and I’m optimistic about the Herbert-Williams connection reigniting very soon. The bigger concern for the Chargers might be whether they can stop the suddenly effective Philadelphia ground attack as the NFL’s worst run defense through two months, especially since the one-two punch of Boston Scott and Jordan Howard showed they know how to take advantage of open holes created by Jason Kelce and the offensive line. I’m expecting a close game, and even if they’re run on some, this could be a spot where the defensive stars in Joey Bosa and Derwin James make impact plays to get the Chargers back on track in the AFC.
Winner: Los Angeles Chargers
GB (7-1) @ KC (4-4) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX
Fans are unfortunately getting robbed of an Aaron Rodgers v. Patrick Mahomes showdown for the second time (this is an “extra” matchup with the 17-game schedule), but despite the Chiefs now being favored by a touchdown, I’m anticipating a great game. For one, Jordan Love is in a tremendous spot operating Matt LaFleur’s offense in his first career start, and I’m sure the game plan will be to feature the running game and give Love as many “layups” as they can to Davante Adams. Plus, Kansas City hasn’t exactly been a stout defense in 2021 (fourth-most yards per game allowed in the league), so the Packers’ success when they get into scoring territory is where Love’s play will be key in pulling off an upset—look for Adams and Aaron Jones to be leaned all game. Defensively, Green Bay wants to keep everything in front of them and eliminate deep throws, but there have been some lapses this year, so the secondary can’t lose Tyreek Hill, particularly if/when Patrick Mahomes tries to create second-chance opportunities. I regretted not pulling the trigger on the Packers last Thursday night, but I’m going with them in Week 9 based on Mahomes’ struggles and how dialed-in LaFleur has been as a play-caller.
Winner: Green Bay Packers
ARI (7-1) @ SF (3-4) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX
It sounds like both Kyler Murray (ankle) and DeAndre Hopkins (hamstring) will be game-time decisions dealing with actual injuries rather than simply being banged up, so that’s bad news for Arizona’s offense heading into what should be another hard-fought battle against the 49ers; part of me thinks it might be a good idea to rest the offensive stars with January in mind (as the Cowboys did for Dak Prescott in Week 8), but that doesn’t seem likely. Instead, Kliff Kingsbury needs to protect his quarterback from getting hit by Nick Bosa (who had 2.0 sacks last week), and Rondale Moore should be featured after he totaled 97 yards on eight touches in the first meeting because it will a) stretch the defense horizontally, and b) quickly get the ball out of Murray’s hands. Jimmy Garoppolo playing with an edge, Arizona having key players out or injured, and the boost San Francisco will get with George Kittle (calf) likely returning is a the recipe for an upset that San Francisco couldn’t serve back in Week 5.
Winner: San Francisco 49ers
TEN (6-2) @ LAR (7-1) | SUN 8:20 PM ET | NBC
I wouldn’t put it past Derrick Henry (foot) to overcome the odds by returning late in the season for the contending Titans, but in the meantime, they’ll need to find a way to win without one of the game’s best players. Fortunately, A.J. Brown still remains as a superstar talent, and the injury to Henry could result in Julio Jones becoming a central part of the offense—which would be a major help if Jalen Ramsey were to shadow Brown on Sunday night (though he hasn’t followed opponents in 2021). Also, Adrian Peterson isn’t a player to bet against, and it’d be like a video game with all-time rosters to get Henry, AD, Brown, and Julio all on the field together, so I’m hoping the Titans stay afloat and get their monster runner back by at least the playoffs. On the Los Angeles offense, they might not need to contend with Jeffery Simmons (ankle) in the trenches, and if given time, it could be a spot where Matthew Stafford finds open wideouts all over the place operating Sean McVay’s system. I expect the Titans will make it a fight, but it’s tough to pick them in the first game without Henry.
Winner: Los Angeles Rams
CHI (3-5) @ PIT (4-3) | MON 8:15 PM ET | ESPN
The media counted Pittsburgh out at 1-3, but they’ve won three games in row, and people should have known better than to write off a team that has never had a losing season under Mike Tomlin. Chicago coming to town could result in another slugfest, and I’m sure that’s what the Steelers are comfortable with at this point as the old-school rookie duo of Najee Harris and Pat Freiermuth provides a jolt to Ben Roethlisberger (and maybe even gives him mid-2000s flashbacks). The Bears have a couple of rookies in the own leading the way with Justin Fields and Khalil Herbert, but the team success hasn’t been there in the midst of a three-game losing streak; Monday night could be a bad spot for Fields in particular if the offensive line can’t protect him from T.J. Watt, and I’d be shocked if Pittsburgh didn’t send the kitchen sink early and often to test how well the rookie passer handles the blitz. A fortunate bounce can always make a difference in a low-scoring game, but there is no guarantee Chicago holds up defensively if they are without Khalil Mack (foot) and Eddie Jackson (hamstring).
Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers
Why do I have a good feeling about the Jets?
We wanted more Mike White. Man…
I hope the Rams get killed
this week is going to be many close games