ARI (6-3) @ SEA (6-3) | THU 8:20 PM ET | FOX/NFL Network/Amazon
Kyler Murray is a very accurate passer from the pocket, but as everyone knows, what really makes him special is the innate athleticism and quickness (I compared him to Barry Sanders if he played quarterback in the pre-draft process), which has been difficult to corral because he knows how to subtly avoid hits. That said, I’d be telling my defense to drill Murray every chance they get to make him uncomfortable, and that includes—not in a dirty way—making sure he is never untouched on zone reads; the strategy might lead to some penalties, but it’s better than letting Murray pull the ball from his running back at the last moment and finding the end zone in a flash (as he’s done ten times this year). In general, the bigger issue for the Seahawks is coverage, but with almost no pass rush to speak of, it’s all the more important to deliver hits on Murray whenever they can in the running game. The advantages appear to be in favor of the Cardinals right now with Chris Carson (foot) out, Tyler Lockett (knee) banged up, and D.K. Metcalf entering a matchup against Patrick Peterson (who has limited him to three receptions for 29 scoreless yards in three matchups), but I just can’t pick against Seattle—coming off two losses in a row—to lose at home in primetime.
Winner: Seattle Seahawks
CIN (2-6-1) @ WAS (2-7) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
As expected, Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati offense has shown plenty of promise this year, but the struggles have come against Baltimore (27-3 loss) and Pittsburgh (36-10 loss). Although Washington isn’t close to their levels as a complete defensive unit, the front four—led by No. 2 overall pick Chase Young—can cause some havoc with the fifth most sacks in the league, so it could be another long day for Burrow if the Bengals’ patchwork offensive line can’t keep him upright; getting Joe Mixon (foot) back in the lineup would be huge. Pass protection has also been an issue for Washington, but Cincinnati has just 11 sacks this year (only the Jaguars have fewer), and Alex Smith seems to be all the way back after orchestrating a comeback last week in Detroit with a career-high 390 passing yards. If the coverage for the Bengals doesn’t improve from last week when all three of Diontae Johnson (6/116/1), JuJu Smith-Schuster (9/77/1), and Chase Claypool (4/56/2) went off for the Steelers, the connection between Smith and Terry McLaurin could stay hot as Washington remains in the NFC East race.
Winner: Washington Football Team
ATL (3-6) @ NO (7-2) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Last year, Atlanta came out of the bye to shock the Saints at the Superdome, 26-9, and they could embrace playing spoiler down the stretch again this season—particularly this weekend when they have a shot to knock their biggest rival down a rung in the NFC standings. Calvin Ridley (foot) looks highly questionable, but the Falcons won without him in 2020, and the firepower is still plentiful for Matt Ryan as guys like Olamide Zaccheaus step up behind Julio Jones. On defense, Atlanta showed signs of improved play prior to the bye with a 25-17 win over the Panthers and a strong performance against Denver before allowing some points as Drew Lock played from behind—and they have notably held Alvin Kamara without a touchdown in six career matchups. If Deion Jones and others can keep Kamara bottled up, the pressure will fall on Jameis Winston, and a slow start for an offense that hasn’t operated at the level of year’s past could cause him to get impatient by throwing up some ill-advised passes. A win for the Falcons would give them a 4-1 record over their past five games (and the only loss being a last-second heartbreaker against Detroit).
Winner: Atlanta Falcons
PIT (9-0) @ JAX (1-8) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
The strength of the Pittsburgh defense combined with excitement from younger quarterbacks has kept Ben Roethlisberger mostly out of the MVP discussion, but he’s thrown for 22 touchdowns with just four interceptions through nine games, and it will be difficult to overlook him if the Steelers can remain undefeated into December. This week, Big Ben could have another chance to put up big-time numbers against a Jacksonville defense that has only nine sacks this season, and his collection of receivers will basically make it a seven-on-seven game; I’ll be interested to see what happens in terms of the coaching changes for the Jaguars in the offseason, as Josh Allen (2.5 sacks) and K’Lavon Chaisson (1.0 sack) would be much better fits as edge rushers in a traditional 3-4 defense in my opinion. Putting up a weekly fight is encouraging for Jacksonville, but I doubt Pittsburgh will overlook them after Dallas nearly upset them on the road a couple of weeks ago, and Sunday could be a spot where Jake Luton finally struggles as a rookie signal-caller.
Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers
NE (4-5) @ HOU (2-7) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
I don’t know how people seriously thought the Patriots were going to “tank” after a 2-4 start, but as usual, Bill Belichick’s squad is rounding into form this month, and now they are a win away from being .500 and potentially one game back from a playoff spot. In the past, Deshaun Watson and the Texans have given New England some problems, though this is obviously a different Houston team (they’ve yet to beat someone other than the Jags), and their run defense—allowing 167.4 rushing yards per game—is the NFL’s worst since 2010; I’m anticipating another 100-yard day for Damien Harris after he powered the Pats to a win over the Ravens on Sunday night. Romeo Crennel’s defense hasn’t been much better in coverage (18:2 touchdown-interception ratio allowed also ranks dead last), so Cam Newton should continue playing more efficient as he operates a scaled-back, opportunistic passing attack centered around Jakobi Meyers. I think they’ll win either way, but New England getting Stephon Gilmore (knee) back would be key in preventing a possible upset if Watson is able to take over the game.
Winner: New England Patriots
PHI (3-5-1) @ CLE (6-3) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
The Browns were the most recent team to beat up on the Texans’ run defense, and they sit at 6-3 because—unlike previous years—Nick Chubb is finally being treated as the team’s best player. Philadelphia, on the other hand, feels like they have absolutely no identity, which is an indictment on the organization as a whole based on how far they’ve fallen since Super Bowl LII; aside from another near playoff run by Nick Foles in 2018, the Eagles are 17-18-1 over the past three seasons, and that’s while playing the NFC East every year. Honestly, I couldn’t tell you what the offensive game plan was last week against the Giants, but Miles Sanders has averaged 8.1 yards per carry over his past three appearances and simply needs more than the 13.3 touches per game he’s seen during that span. Perhaps the lack of a vertical threat (Odell Beckham Jr.) for Cleveland will allow Jim Schwartz’s defense to stack the box to have better success against the run, but I’m not optimistic they can stop Chubb and Kareem Hunt if/when they reach the second level. Carson Wentz needs to be a playmaker for Philly to avoid a 3-6-1 record through ten games.
Winner: Cleveland Browns
DET (4-5) @ CAR (3-7) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
The schedule hasn’t been easy, but Carolina—in the midst of a five-game losing streak—has declined overall as a team, and the young defense in particular seems to have been figured out after exceeding expectations earlier in the year. Now, the Panthers will be facing a Detroit offense that has unleashed second-round pick D’Andre Swift and might get Kenny Golladay (hip) back at receiver, so it could be tough for them to go blow for blow with Christian McCaffrey (shoulder) out again and Phillip Walker set to start in place of Teddy Bridgewater (knee). They were actually favored as of Thursday before Bridgewater was reported to be doubtful, but for Carolina to win, I think they need big games out of Mike Davis and Robby Anderson as two weapons that were important pieces early in the season, and the hopeful future impact players on defense (Derrick Brown, Brian Burns, and Jeremy Chinn) may need to force a turnover or two.
Winner: Detroit Lions
TEN (6-3) @ BAL (6-3) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Some early unforced errors for the Titans combined with poor tackling doomed them last Thursday night against the Colts, but I’m shocked that they are touchdown underdogs this weekend against the Ravens. Back in January, Derrick Henry ran all over Baltimore with 195 yards on 30 attempts (plus a passing touchdown for good measure), and the defense—already weaker against the run than it was in 2019—will be missing Brandon Williams (ankle) and Calais Campbell (calf) up front. If the Titans start quickly and don’t go away from the formula that works best for them, I’d argue they have the advantage on both sides of the ball; remember, Mike Vrabel will have had a few extra days to prepare for this matchup, and they held Lamar Jackson and the Ravens out of the end zone until a garbage-time touchdown in the fourth quarter for their playoff victory. Furthermore, a team coming off a hard-fought matchup against the Patriots can often come out flat the following week, and Baltimore simply hasn’t shown they can come from behind if that’s what they need. A possible solution might be having a more centralized game plan built around Jackson’s legs with a focus on Mark Andrews and Marquise Brown when they do throw, but I’m going with Tennessee to get back on track.
Winner: Tennessee Titans
NYJ (0-9) @ LAC (2-7) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | CBS
Sunday could be the best chance for the Jets to avoid 0-16, and as displayed a couple of weeks ago in their 30-27 loss to the Patriots—when all three of Jamison Crowder, Breshad Perriman, and Denzel Mims were on the field together for the first time—the talent is there for them to create serious problems for opposing defenses. Sam Darnold (shoulder) will be out again, but Joe Flacco should have plenty of confidence, and the offense featuring rookie runner La’Mical Perine should give them a little more explosiveness. All that said, it will be a challenge to outduel young Anakin Skywalker (Justin Herbert), and New York placing cornerback Brian Poole (knee) on injured reserve isn’t going to help their chances of stopping Keenan Allen, who is on pace for a 122/1,306/10 line since the No. 6 overall pick took over as the starter in Week 2. The history of routinely coming up with new ways to lose doesn’t have me overly confident about picking the Chargers, but all seven defeats have been by one possession, and they have more high-end players on both offense and defense.
Winner: Los Angeles Chargers
MIA (6-3) @ DEN (3-6) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | CBS
I originally mentioned taking care of the ball as the likely reason that Brian Flores turned to Tua Tagovailoa despite a quality play from Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Miami has to be thrilled with their rookie starter having just one turnover (a strip sack by Aaron Donald) through three games. A more conservative approach using the running game and misdirection to move the ball has led to Tua saying the NFL game is easier than he thought (not in an arrogant way), so offensive coordinator Chan Gailey deserves credit for allowing that to be possible. However, I’m not sure getting rid of Jordan Howard—a grinder that could help in a couple of probable cold-weather games down the stretch (including the season finale in Buffalo)—was a wise move; at the very least, Howard is strong option in short-yardage situations with four touchdowns in five games. For this week, the Dolphins should be able to take care of business on the road against the Broncos if don’t come in overconfident, and the defense has a chance to suffocate Drew Lock (ribs) at less than 100% as he leads an inexperienced Denver offense.
Winner: Miami Dolphins
DAL (2-7) @ MIN (4-5) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX
Minnesota is right back in the playoff picture following three wins in a row, and the strength (or lack thereof) in the NFC East has Dallas well within striking distance for a playoff spot themselves, setting up Cowboys-Vikings as a very important matchup on Sunday. When they were both in the NFC North, Mike McCarthy versus Mike Zimmer was pretty much as close as possible (Minnesota had the edge with a 5-4-1 record), but the two have great respect for one another—with Zimmer calling it a “sad day” and “mistake” after McCarthy was fired midseason. I would assume the Vikings are going to provide a much different look on defense than they did on Monday night against Chicago when they essentially dared them to run, but Ezekiel Elliott (hamstring) not being himself could change that if the trio of Dallas wideouts present some problems for the young cornerbacks, so it will be interesting to see the in-game adjustments made depending on what happens early. Overall, Andy Dalton should have a bit of a chip on his shoulder, but the Cowboys might not be able to get enough stops against Dalvin Cook to win on the road.
Winner: Minnesota Vikings
GB (7-2) @ IND (6-3) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX
I know the Colts won last week, but based on their usage of Jonathan Taylor, it’s almost as if they didn’t even watch him play at Wisconsin, and the switch to a shotgun-heavy offense (up to 76% from 66% in 2019) is a mystery considering the success they had using heavier formations in recent years. To make the most out of their second-round investment, Indianapolis should use Taylor more on the power runs that he’s comfortable with, as we have seen the kind of punishment he can inflict on defenders when given some space; Green Bay’s struggles to tackle would seem to be reason for the Colts to feature him in a two-back rotation with Nyheim Hines. Defensively, Indy knows they need to stop Davante Adams, but Allen Lazard (abdomen) making his return gives Aaron Rodgers another weapon in his arsenal, while cornerback Jaire Alexander (concussion) should be back on the other side of the ball. Maybe I’m underestimating the Colts again, but Green Bay was sluggish last week and could be energized by a fast track at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Winner: Green Bay Packers
KC (8-1) @ LV (6-3) | SUN 8:20 PM ET | NBC
The Raiders knocking off the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium back in Week 5 was perhaps the biggest win of the second Jon Gruden Era, but a win this week would be even bigger to give Las Vegas a realistic shot in the AFC West. Unfortunately, they are catching Kansas City at the wrong time—Andy Reid has a career record of 24-5 coming off the bye (including playoffs)—and having several defenders on the reserve/COVID-19 list isn’t going to help their chances of stopping Patrick Mahomes, who has nine touchdowns over his past two games. Also, the Chiefs being displeased about the celebration by the Raiders in their win against them makes me doubly concerned about Mahomes going off, so the running game continuing to roll is the best “defense” they can have to slow down a passing attack that will get Sammy Watkins (hamstring) back as a deadly option behind Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. Derek Carr will need to throw more than he has during the team’s three-game winning streak to keep up, though, and connecting on a couple of deep shots (like we saw in the first meeting with a 59-yard score to Nelson Agholor and a 72-yard score to Henry Ruggs III) is critical to defend the Death Star.
Winner: Kansas City Chiefs
LAR (6-3) @ TB (7-3) | MON 8:15 PM ET | ESPN
Both the Rams and Buccaneers have significantly improved on defense since their 55-40 shootout last September, but we should still get some fireworks on Monday Night Football if pass protection holds up for each side. In order to make up for the loss of left tackle Andrew Whitworth (knee), Sean McVay will likely decide to dial up the tempo even more with a quick-strike attack, so the aggressive defense for Tampa Bay needs to be prepared for plenty of misdirection with the backs, receivers, and tight ends all being involved. For the Tampa Bay offense, they had a 46-point outburst last week to make up for their previous primetime appearance, but I still think Chris Godwin needs to be a bigger priority—particularly when they get into scoring territory; Mike Evans being the most likely candidate for coverage from Jalen Ramsey could allow that to finally be accomplished. Either way, the Bucs are at their best when Ronald Jones II is featured, and that’s something that should continue this week and beyond after he became the fourth player in NFL history to run for a touchdown of 98+ yards. With him, Godwin, Evans, Antonio Brown, and Rob Gronkowski all on the field together, even a defense as good as the one Los Angeles has will have a difficult time beating Tom Brady.
Winner: Tampa Bay Buccaneers