CAR (6-2) @ PIT (5-2-1) | THU 8:20 PM ET | FOX/NFL Network/Amazon
The past handful of Thursday Night Football matchups haven’t lived up to expectations at all with an average point differential of 22.0 points per game and no games decided by less than two touchdowns, but Panthers-Steelers should be one of the best overall matchups of the year. Pittsburgh was surprisingly able to dominate the last meeting between these teams—which also came on a Thursday night in 2014—thanks to a combined 265 rushing yards from Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount in a 37-19 victory, but the backfield is now a one-man show led by James Conner, who is on pace for 2,170 total yards and 20 total touchdowns as a legitimate MVP candidate. The 23-year-old will be one of the many offensive stars on both sides to kick off Week 10, but will Ben Roethlisberger be without Antonio Brown after the superstar receiver was cited for driving 100+ miles per hour this morning? It doesn’t sound like there will be any team-imposed discipline, and AB is as good as it gets, but he’s had some very troubling character concerns brought to light this year. Fortunately, the offense has plenty of weapons ready to step up if needed, including second-round pick James Washington, and JuJu Smith-Schuster appears to have a great matchup against five-foot-nine slot corner Captain Munnerlyn for Big Ben to exploit. The bigger concern for the Steelers will be stopping Cam Newton, Christian McCaffrey, Greg Olsen, Devin Funchess, and the dynamic duo of D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel, as the group has averaged 38.0 points per game over the past two weeks. This game should be close, entertaining, and high-scoring, but I’m taking Pittsburgh to extend their winning streak to five.
Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers
NO (7-1) @ CIN (5-3) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
New Orleans could very easily be 8-0 at this point if not for a stunning 48-40 loss in the season opener in which Tampa Bay’s air-raid attack shocked everyone and destroyed survivor pools everywhere, but the Saints have really established themselves as a force over the past four weeks with wins over the Redskins (41-19), Ravens (24-23), Vikings (30-20), and Rams (45-35). It will be interesting to see how the acquisition of Dez Bryant impacts the offense, as the three-time Pro Bowler sharing even a whisper of discontent for passes going elsewhere won’t sit well with Drew Brees, but they must feel the culture is in place to include a potential difference-maker in the red zone. On the other side of the field, Cincinnati is 5-9-1 under Marvin Lewis coming off the bye, and that’s simply not good enough for a franchise that hasn’t won a playoff game since 1990 against the Houston Oilers. This week, the passing attack will be much less feared with A.J. Green (toe) out, but I have confidence in John Ross, and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor should be forced to get Joe Mixon more involved as a receiver by letting him run more complex routes in one-on-one coverage rather than limiting him to swing passes as an outlet for Andy Dalton. At home, I think the Bengals can make this close, but the Saints should be able to take care of business if they don’t come in too confident.
Winner: New Orleans Saints
ATL (4-4) @ CLE (2-6-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
What happened to all the people saying Matt Ryan was overrated after a 1-4 start for Atlanta? There aren’t any stats doubters could use against Matty Ice considering he’s on pace for better numbers (5,370 yards and a 38:6 touchdown-interception ratio) than his MVP campaign (4,944 yards and a 38:7 touchdown-interception ratio), and I’m highly skeptical about them intently watching games to give a fair evaluation of players. Whether or not Baker Mayfield can keep up with Ryan and his assortment of weapons will be the key this week, but I really like the starting running backs in this matchup, as Tevin Coleman (ATL) and Nick Chubb (CLE) are both star talents that simply handle their business and don’t have to let people know how good they are after every run. For the Browns, feeding Chubb (19.3 attempts per game since Carlos Hyde was traded) even more than they are will a) take some pressure of their rookie signal-caller, and b) keep Atlanta’s high-powered offense off the field. Plus, if the ground attack is able to pull defenders closer to the line-of-scrimmage, the second level should open up for David Njoku on play-action passes down the seam and over the middle. That said, the Browns don’t have the firepower to keep up, and injuries on defense could make this a long day for the Dawg Pound.
Winner: Atlanta Falcons
DET (3-5) @ CHI (5-3) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
The first of two meetings in 12 days between the Lions and Bears, this Sunday’s matchup will be big for the NFC North, as a Detroit win would make it a definite four-team race, and a Chicago win would put them in the driver’s seat and knock Matt Patricia’s squad 3.0 games back with three teams to climb in seven weeks. Predictably, the Bears had an overwhelming defensive display last week against Buffalo with three interceptions, one forced fumble, two touchdowns, and four sacks despite not having Khalil Mack (ankle), but the highest-paid defender in the league should be ready to roll for the second half by getting in a full practice to start the week, which is bad news for Matthew Stafford after he absorbed a career-high ten sacks in last week’s loss to Minnesota. To protect Stafford, the Lions need to get Kerryon Johnson going again after a combined 20 attempts for 59 yards over the past two weeks, but that will be easier said than done against a stout defensive front led by Johnson’s former SEC rival Roquan Smith; and as I said when they were drafted, it will be awesome to see the running back and linebacker do battle for the next eight-to-ten years. Round 1 should go to the first-round pick out of Georgia, as Chicago simply has more talent across the board with their best defender back and Allen Robinson (groin) also returning to boost a great receiving corps.
Winner: Chicago Bears
ARI (2-6) @ KC (8-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
It turns out Sam Bradford isn’t “soft” after casual fans gave him the label in recent years, as he played with no cartilage in his left knee to start the season, which is the most impressive feat when it comes to a leg injury since Batman beat Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. In all seriousness, Bradford should be the first call a potential contender makes if a starter goes down in the second half of the season because he will be able to come in and deliver the ball accurately and on-time in any offensive system, and I’m sure he would play for next to nothing. Interestingly enough, I think two of his former teams in the Rams and Vikings would be perfect fits if he’s healthy enough to practice, and they have space to bring him in as a luxury No. 2 quarterback that would keep the season alive if Jared Goff or Kirk Cousins get injured. As for Bradford’s most recent team, the Cardinals probably need a Hyperbolic Time Chamber for Josh Rosen to reach his potential ahead of what would have to be a shootout with Patrick Mahomes at Arrowhead Stadium. Arizona might be able to stick around if the offense runs through David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald with Christian Kirk chipping in some chunk plays, but the Chiefs will almost certainly be 9-1 heading into next week’s Mexico City clash against Los Angeles.
Winner: Kansas City Chiefs
NE (7-2) @ TEN (4-4) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Dion Lewis and Malcolm Butler have switched sides since January’s playoff matchup in New England (a 35-14 Patriots win), but the defending conference champions still appear to be even better than they were in 2017, which is a scary thought for the rest of the AFC. Donning a new uniform, Lewis took over as the clear lead back on Monday night and impressed, but based on the play of Butler through eight games, it doesn’t look like Bill Belichick’s decision to bench him in Super Bowl LII cost them the game, and things could get ugly if Josh Gordon matches up with the 28-year-old this weekend. The Titans could also have problems defending Julian Edelman in the slot after Danny Amendola went for 11 receptions and 112 yards against former Patriot Logan Ryan last year, as no one knows how to attack his former players better than Belichick. But will that include Tennessee’s head coach? Mike Vrabel won three rings in New England as a standout linebacker from 2001 to 2008, and he’s quickly risen up the coaching ranks to field the NFL’s best scoring defense through eight weeks (17.6 points per game allowed). But while no opponent has scored more than 27 points in a game against Vrabel’s team so far, New England is a different animal with 35.5 points per game during their six-game winning streak; I don’t think it will be a cakewalk, but the Titans need to keep it close in the fourth quarter to give Marcus Mariota a chance to make some more clutch plays and pull off a home upset.
Winner: New England Patriots
WAS (5-3) @ TB (3-5) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
I picked Atlanta last week in Washington because I thought they’d be able to expose the cornerback group as the weakness for an otherwise strong Redskins defense, and that’s exactly what happened. In two games against pass-heavy, spread-the-wealth offenses (NO and ATL) this year, Jay Gruden’s club has been thrashed for 350+ yards and at least three touchdowns, so that bodes well for Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Buccaneers in what could be a make-or-break game. In four full starts, the Harvard grad has thrown for 368.3 yards per game with a 15:6 touchdown-interception ratio, so Tampa Bay is basically going to live or die by the pass. Washington’s secondary—especially safeties D.J. Swearinger (four interceptions) and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (three)—will at least have opportunities to get their hands on some errant throws against the 35-year-old gunslinger, but their outlook in the NFC East took a big hit with injuries on the other side of the ball by losing starters Brandon Scherff (a Pro Bowler at left guard in each of the past two seasons), Shawn Lauvao, and Paul Richardson for the season. The Redskins will also be without Chris Thompson (ribs) again, and I think he will be crucial down the stretch to add big-play ability to an offense that lost it in Week 9. Even at less than 100%, though, I’ll take Washington to hold the division lead for at least one more week.
Winner: Washington Redskins
BUF (2-7) @ NYJ (3-6) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
We still have another day for Josh Allen (elbow) to get a full practice in, but he looks on the wrong side of questionable for Sunday’s matchup against the Jets, as there’s no reason for the franchise to rush their playmaking rookie quarterback into the lineup at less than full health. Sadly, the game becomes less intriguing if Allen and Sam Darnold (foot, already ruled out as the starter this week) both don’t play, but there will be plenty of meetings between the two friends to look forward to for football fans. In the present, New York has a chance to climb right into the muddled AFC playoff picture with a victory, and it’s probably not hyperbole to call it a must-win with two matchups against the Patriots over the final seven games. Sunday’s starter Josh McCown performed admirably for the Jets in 13 appearances last year, going 5-8 with 2,926 yards and an 18:9 touchdown-interception ratio, so he’ll leave his mentorship role for at least a week to strap up for battle in his age-39 season. Defensively, I have slightly more faith the Bills, but in what projects to be a low-scoring game, it’s probably safe to go with the home team, especially when they have the edge at quarterback.
Winner: New York Jets
JAX (3-5) @ IND (3-5) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
The “running backs don’t matter” crowd has been awful quiet since Jacksonville dropped four-straight games with Leonard Fournette out of the lineup, but the LSU product looks to be returning just in time to potentially turn the season around with a winnable schedule over the final eight weeks. Overall, the Jags are 2-0 with Fournette in the lineup and 1-5 without him this season, and we’ve seen what a prolonged absence has done to the team. Doug Marrone is clearly banking on Blake Bortles being better with the offensive centerpiece back, but he shouldn’t hesitate at all to play Cody Kessler if the starter struggles early in a season-altering spot. Also, I brought up a couple good fits for Sam Bradford as a backup, but Jacksonville would be the ideal landing spot for him as an immediate starter, as the running game will keep defenses honest, and Bradford will be able to hit the oft-used crossing routes and drags in stride much more consistently than Bortles does. Of course, it will be Bortles/Kessler on Sunday, and the Jags need to figure out how to piece things together on defense and stop the red-hot Indy offense led by Andrew Luck (18 touchdowns over the past five games) and emerging runner Marlon Mack (347 rushing yards, three touchdowns, and 6.2 yards per carry over the past three games). I have little confidence in Jacksonville, but they have more talent, and the promising Colts might be a year away from truly competing.
Winner: Jacksonville Jaguars
LAC (6-2) @ OAK (1-7) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | FOX
Oakland’s performance in last Thursday night’s 34-3 loss was one of the most embarrassing displays I’ve ever seen, and it’s an indictment on the players more than anything else to be giving up just because two players got traded. Jon Gruden has been endlessly ridiculed for his personnel decisions to date, but I think his chief mistake was not tearing the whole thing down when he was first hired, and the lack of effort, communication, and mental preparedness shown in Week 9 was proof that the right guys simply aren’t in the building. And to be fair, I didn’t agree with the selection of left tackle Kolton Miller in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, but the rookie deserves time to develop, and Gruden is going to be around for several years whether players/fans/media like it or not. I expect the loudest critics will eventually be eating their words, but for now, it’s impossible to pick the Raiders, especially after I made the mistake of picking them in Week 5 against the Chargers. The trio of Philip Rivers, Melvin Gordon, and Keenan Allen might go nuts if Paul Guenther’s defense plays like they did last time out, but hopefully the mini bye at least gives us a competitive game.
Winner: Los Angeles Chargers
SEA (4-4) @ LAR (8-1) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | CBS
The Rams lost their first matchup against the Seahawks last year, 16-10, but Sean McVay can self-evaluate and make adjustments as well as anyone, and Los Angeles has since won 42-7 (Week 15 of 2017) and 33-31 (Week 5 of this season) in the NFC West rivalry. Last month, Jared Goff threw two interceptions in Seattle, but they were both fluky, and he still averaged 10.0 yards per attempt despite Brandin Cooks leaving the game with a concussion before even making an impact in the box score. Now, the pass-catchers are at full strength, and this could be a statement game after last week’s comeback attempt against the Saints fell short. The concern for LA is obviously on defense after allowing 45 points to New Orleans, and they need to make sure Russell Wilson isn’t able to make plays as a scrambler—whether it’s to pickup yardage on the ground or buy time for his receivers to get downfield. In particular, I’m sure Seattle will want to pick on the confidence-shaken Marcus Peters, who was busting coverages left and right—literally, on both sides of the formation—even before allowing the game-sealing 72-yard touchdown last week that ended the team’s bid for an undefeated season. Wilson hasn’t really had a magician-like performance yet in 2018, so the Rams need to be careful, but I expect them to outscore the Seahawks at home.
Winner: Los Angeles Rams
MIA (5-4) @ GB (3-4-1) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | CBS
Green Bay looked to be in really good shape on Sunday night against the Patriots with the game tied 17-17 in the fourth quarter, but an Aaron Jones fumble in New England territory drained all the momentum away in what turned out to be a 31-17 defeat. And the loss came at a cost, too, as defensive starters Blake Martinez (ankle) and Kevin King (hamstring) both look shaky for Week 10, and the Packers need all hands on deck as they sit below .500 in a competitive division. If there’s a silver lining, I think it’s that second-round pick Josh Jackson might be able to get in the starting lineup for King and not look back, which would give the unit a pair of stud rookie corners—Jaire Alexander being the other—that can stick with receivers and take the ball away. As heavy underdogs, Adam Gase’s squad needs to have Xavien Howard contain Davante Adams on defense and move the ball with opportune screens on offense to keep heat off Brock Osweiler as he makes his fifth start in a row. For what it’s worth, Green Bay is 3-0-1 at home and 0-4 on the road, and the Dolphins are 4-1 at home and 1-3 on the road; plus, the Packers have a significant advantage against Miami with the temperature near freezing at kickoff, and I would be shocked if they drop to 3-5-1.
Winner: Green Bay Packers
DAL (3-5) @ PHI (4-4) | SUN 8:20 PM ET | NBC
The Cowboys’ season hangs in the balance after a 28-14 loss to the Titans on Monday Night Football, and to pull off a win on Sunday night, they need to feed Ezekiel Elliott at least 25-30 times, even if it means hitting brick walls early on. At the very least, trying to establish the running game will open things up for Amari Cooper on play-action passes against an aggressive Philly secondary, and the upside is Zeke wearing the defense out by the fourth quarter if Dallas can stick around. Last year, the Eagles absolutely destroyed the Cowboys on SNF, 37-9, but even if there’s a repeat for the Week 10 outcome, I actually don’t think widespread organizational changes are needed like Troy Aikman suggested this week, as the draft picks Jerry Jones and his team have made this decade have been as successful as any franchise—especially on Day 1 and Day 2; the real change that needs to be made is at head coach, because Jason Garrett simply isn’t turning the talent on the roster into wins. Desperation has been known to bring the best out of teams, but I don’t see it happening with the Cowboys at Lincoln Financial Field, and Carson Wentz should have a big night with Golden Tate joining a stacked group of pass-catchers that should have a bunch of momentum after a close victory in London a couple weeks ago.
Winner: Philadelphia Eagles
NYG (1-7) @ SF (2-7) | MON 8:15 PM ET | ESPN
Games like this really make me wish Jon Gruden had stayed in the broadcast booth to at least bring some entertainment to Monday Night Football, but I think Nick Mullens is a guy everyone can root for…
… and that includes New York fans hoping for a higher draft pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Still, I think the Giants have the edge with game-breakers Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham Jr. combined with some young talent on defense hopefully making an impact down the stretch.
Winner: New York Giants
Last week: 8-5 /// Overall: 63-71
Recommended picks last week: 4-1 /// Overall: 29-16
Panthers @ Steelers (-4)
Saints @ Bengals (+4.5)
Falcons (-4) @ Browns
Lions @ Bears (-6.5)
Cardinals @ Chiefs (-16.5)
Patriots (-6.5) @ Titans
Redskins (+3) @ Buccaneers
Bills (+7) @ Jets
Jaguars (+3) @ Colts
Chargers (-9.5) @ Raiders
Seahawks @ Rams (-10)
Dolphins @ Packers (-9.5)
Cowboys @ Eagles (-6.5)
Giants (+3) @ 49ers
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