PHI (2-3) @ NYG (1-4) | THU 8:20 PM ET | FOX/NFL Network/Amazon
Let’s be clear: this isn’t the same Philly team that won it in all February, and they have some major issues that need to be addressed if they want to win the NFC East, let alone repeat as Super Bowl champions. The biggest concern for me is a lack of dominance in the trenches, which along with Doug Pederson’s play-calling/aggressiveness, was their biggest strength in 2017; even though they didn’t compile league-leading sack numbers last year, the Eagles would consistently get pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and not doing so this season has exposed a lack of talent in the secondary. I think this may need to be a takeover performance by Carson Wentz against the Giants, as over the past two years, Eli Manning has played well versus Jim Schwartz’s defense, throwing for over 350 yards per game and at least three scores in all but one matchup. And while the Giants are 1-3 since Pederson took over as Philadelphia’s head coach, all four games have gone down to the wire, and Pat Shurmur is a brilliant offensive mind that has the weapons—no matter how immature a couple of them are—to put up 30+ points in any given week. With Lane Johnson (ankle) likely playing but at less than 100%, New York has a really good chance of picking up a huge divisional win at home if Eli takes care of the ball, but for what it’s worth, I think Le’Veon Bell will be an Eagle by this time next week.
Winner: New York Giants
TB (2-2) @ ATL (1-4) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
I thought last week’s Falcons-Steelers game would get into the 40s, but Atlanta didn’t hold up their end of the bargain in a 41-17 defeat that saw their offensive line get bullied by T.J. Watt and the Pittsburgh pass rush. Dan Quinn’s squad doesn’t have much of a chance to turn things around if the offense doesn’t takeoff, but I definitely wouldn’t write them off considering the talent they have combined with the upcoming schedule (v TB, v NYG, @ WAS, @ CLE, v DAL). This week, Matt Ryan and the downfield attack gets the best matchup imaginable to catch fire, as the Bucs are last in the league in passing yards allowed, passing touchdowns allowed, completion percentage allowed, and yards per attempt allowed, while Julio Jones has frequently found the end zone against them (ten times, more than any other opponent). Every game from here on out will probably be high-scoring for the Falcons, but the more Jameis Winston has the ball and is forced to put up points, the more he will make mistakes, which we saw last week when he tossed two interceptions on 20 attempts in relief of Ryan Fitzpatrick. The best game plan for my Bucs, in my opinion, is to try to get second-round pick Ronald Jones II going in tandem with Peyton Barber in order to keep the 2016 NFL MVP off the field, but at home, I highly doubt Atlanta falls to 1-5.
Winner: Atlanta Falcons
CAR (3-1) @ WAS (2-2) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Picking the Redskins to beat the Saints on Monday night was my biggest miss of the year, as they were completely overmatched coming off the bye to face Drew Brees in a record-breaking primetime performance. I had liked the way Washington’s defensive front had played after being high on them coming into the season, but whereas they held Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara in check outside of a couple goal-line scores for the former Heisman winner, Brees did whatever he wanted through the air by completing 89.7% of his passes for 363 yards, three touchdowns, and zero touchdowns. On the other side of the field, Alex Smith might have been pressing to keep up, but he had arguably his worst game in recent memory, displaying poor accuracy and uncharacteristically slow decision-making in a 43-19 loss. I expect him to be a lot better back at home this weekend, so it’ll come down to whether or not the Redskins can get healthy offensively and stop Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey defensively. If they feed Run CMC 22+ touches like they have in each of the past three outings, I think the Panthers—who get Thomas Davis back from a four-game suspension—should come out victorious in a close game.
Winner: Carolina Panthers
SEA (2-3) @ OAK (1-4) | SUN 1:00 PM ET (in London) | FOX
You are what your record says you are, but Oakland would be right in the playoff race if Derek Carr could just cut down on the inopportune interceptions (his eight picks lead the league), as the Raiders are No. 5 in total yards, but No. 22 in scoring through five weeks, and that’s in large part due to a lack of success in the red zone. I don’t think Carr needs to worry about his starting job because he’s mostly playing well outside of a handful of morale-draining mistakes, but if he doesn’t correct them, there’s no way he will be for long under Jon Gruden, especially with the NFL looking like it has a surplus at quarterback. This week, Oakland should be able to take advantage of Seattle’s young secondary by using double moves for potential chunk gains to Amari Cooper, Jordy Nelson, and Martavis Bryant, and it’ll be interesting to see if Marshawn Lynch runs even angrier than usual against his former team. Seattle has been better at stopping the run than their numbers suggest, though, and the game being in London adds another layer of unpredictability to it. Still, I’m taking the Raiders with the expectation that Carr finally figures it out in a potential shootout against Russell Wilson.
Winner: Oakland Raiders
IND (1-4) @ NYJ (2-3) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
He only completed 10-of-22 passes, but Sam Darnold was able to throw for three long scores (76 yards, 35 yards, and 20 yards) in a convincing 34-16 victory over the Broncos last week, and the middle of the field could open up more for the Jets after their franchise quarterback had success targeting Robby Anderson on the outside. That could be exactly what the offense needs considering Darnold hasn’t completed more than 50% of his passes in any of the past three games, so perhaps a big day in Week 5 builds momentum for the 21-year-old. This Sunday, Indianapolis doesn’t have an imposing cornerback depth chart by any means, but 2017 first-round pick Malik Hooker has solidified the backend (career-high 12 tackles last week), and it’s only a matter of time before he gets his first takeaway of the year; I would say there’s a very good chance it comes against a turnover-prone rookie, and fellow building block Darius Leonard should be back to continue transforming the defense (54 tackles and 4.0 sacks in September). New York was my original pick, but I think the Colts simply have more impact players, including Andrew Luck on extended rest after combining for a healthy 121 pass attempts over a five-day stretch.
Winner: Indianapolis Colts
ARI (1-4) @ MIN (2-2-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
I’ve said it once or twice already, but it’s an absolute shame that Larry Fitzgerald’s final season is going down the way it has in Arizona, and what appeared to potentially be a great game when the schedule released—a visit for Fitz to face his hometown team—will probably be a one-sided affair with Josh Rosen at quarterback against Mike Zimmer’s getting-it-together defense. The Cardinals were able to get a win over San Francisco last week, but excluding an 85-yard touchdown on a busted coverage, Rosen again struggled to move the ball in a good spot. And while people who haven’t watched a single second of the Cards believe it was a no-brainer to bench Sam Bradford, there are players on the team that apparently believe he should still be the starter, and it’s difficult to blame them; Steve Wilks basically pulled the plug on the season before Week 3 was even in the books, and Arizona could easily be 3-2 if they didn’t make a switch at quarterback. Plus, we need to remember that Bradford was coming off a season-ending knee injury and barely got any work in the preseason, so guys are probably upset that the coaching staff benched him when they see him throwing darts in practice every day. I’m confident in saying Arizona isn’t going to win barring a complete meltdown by Minnesota’s offense, but I hope Fitzgerald can at least find the end zone against the team he used be a ball boy for.
Winner: Minnesota Vikings
PIT (2-2-1) @ CIN (4-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
There have been a handful of close games including the violent 18-16 playoff victory for the Steelers in 2015, but Pittsburgh has basically owned the bad-blooded rivalry with the Bengals, winning nine their past ten matchups. Things feel different this year, though, as Cincinnati sits comfortably atop the AFC North through five weeks, and it looks like they have the offensive firepower to finally keep up with their division rival thanks to the continued excellence of A.J. Green, the second-year leap from Joe Mixon, and the emergence of Tyler Boyd as a great “Robin” in the passing game. The key to the offense (and team in general) is Andy Dalton, as the Bengals are 4-0 when he doesn’t turn the ball over four times, and—this isn’t groundbreaking stuff (for that, get Fantasy Consigliere)—0-1 when he turns it over four times. I’ve never been sold on Dalton as a championship-caliber quarterback, but he’s shown flashes this year, and the full offseason in Bill Lazor’s system has paid dividends. All that said, and despite all the drama surrounding the Steelers, I don’t think they are ready to surrender their edge in this rivalry; look for James Conner to be featured again, and hopefully Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t feel the need to lock onto Antonio Brown after he got his numbers in Week 6.
Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers
LAC (3-2) @ CLE (2-2-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
It took two years and a 31 losses, but the Browns are finally turning talent into wins under Hue Jackson, and they’ve been competitive every week, including three overtime games (1-1-1 record). Against the Ravens, Baker Mayfield bounced back from a four-turnover day in his first career start to throw for 342 yards, one touchdown, and one interception against a hard-hitting defense, and we should only see him improve as the season progresses and he gets more comfortable against the speed of NFL defenders. Cleveland gets to stay home in Week 6, but Mayfield might need to get in a shootout with the high-powered Chargers visiting, and you better believe that even after getting revenge last season in a 19-10 victory, Philip Rivers and his guys remember their Christmas Eve loss to the Browns in 2016 that gave the Dawg Pound their only win of the season. Los Angeles is undoubtedly on upset alert, but I think Rivers’ career-best weapons—Melvin Gordon, Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Tyrell Williams, Antonio Gates, Austin Ekeler, etc.—should be enough to put up enough points against an emerging defensive unit.
Winner: Los Angeles Chargers
BUF (2-3) @ HOU (2-3) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
This is probably the most difficult pick of the week, and that could be the case all season with the Bills because they have an elite defensive head coach and a raw, playmaking quarterback that’s basically going out and playing ball with no regard for statistics, which is refreshing. As long as it doesn’t drain his confidence—which doesn’t seem to be happening with two wins already for a team that many thought would go 0-16—I think Josh Allen’s trial by fire will benefit him in 2019 and beyond, as the game will come easy when he gets an improved offensive line and difference-makers on the outside. In general, Buffalo fans should be excited about their rookie quarterback and the possibility of a clean slate to add players around him through free agency and the draft next year, but I just hope protection is able to hold up against J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney in Houston. As for the Texans and their quarterback, they need to make sure Deshaun Watson does a better job protecting himself, as he took a few crushing hits as a runner on Sunday night against Dallas. We could see a similar low-scoring battle between two defensive teams this weekend, which I think the league needs more of.
Winner: Houston Texans
CHI (3-1) @ MIA (3-2) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
I bet the people that called Mitchell Trubisky a bust after three games under Matt Nagy felt pretty dumb when he tossed six touchdowns passes in Week 4, and if he can continue playing well, I don’t think it’s crazy to consider Chicago the favorite in the NFC North. The hiring of an offensive head coach could have thrown fans off, but the Bears have been a defensive-minded football team for the past couple years, and they’ve gotten back to the glory days with an NFL-best 64.0 rushing yards per game allowed helping boost the No. 2 ranked defense in yards per game (294.5) and points per game (16.3). Honestly, there isn’t a noticeable weakness on Vic Fangio’s unit, and keeping him on board as coordinator was one of the most underrated moves of the offseason. The focus against the Dolphins should be making sure Kenyan Drake, Kenny Stills, Albert Wilson, or Jakeem Grant don’t break the game open with a big play, but injuries to Miami’s offensive line has derailed a 3-0 start, and Khalil Mack could be fully unleashed following the bye week.
Winner: Chicago Bears
LAR (5-0) @ DEN (2-3) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | FOX
I think all football fans should be pumped for the forecast in Denver this weekend, as snow is set to hit Mile High Stadium overnight before the Rams-Broncos game, and there’s also a 30% chance of snow at kickoff. Even if the skies are clear when players hit the field, temperatures will be below freezing all day, which adds another element to the matchup as Los Angeles looks to remain unbeaten. It’s worth noting that in their lone cold-weather game (below 40 degrees) last season, the Rams defeated the playoff-bound Titans, 27-23, behind 301 yards and four touchdowns from Jared Goff, so don’t let people tell you the California kid is going to be impacted by the weather. Overall, I have much more faith in Sean McVay and Wade Phillips getting the team ready for an earlier-than-expected snowstorm than I do Vance Joseph, and the Broncos would need a drastic turnaround in regards to effort and execution if they want to have any chance of pulling off a home upset. To win, the formula for Denver should be to run the ball with Royce Freeman and not allow Goff to pick them apart with the deadly intermediate passing attack; I don’t see the latter happening if one or both of Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp can clear the concussion protocol.
Winner: Los Angeles Rams
BAL (3-2) @ TEN (3-2) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | CBS
The Ravens played a sloppy game in last week’s loss to the Browns, and the outcome could have been significantly different if not for an interception at the two-yard line that would have put Baltimore up 10-0 in an eventual 12-9 loss. The red-zone offense was the main issue for John Harbaugh’s squad with no touchdowns in three trips, and it’s tough to win at any level when you can’t punch the ball in for six. Of course, the Ravens weren’t alone in their struggles last week, as Tennessee turned it over three times, dropped a potential game-winning touchdown, and allowed the Bills to get in range for a last-second field goal in a 13-12 loss. I expect a much cleaner effort from both teams on Sunday, but avoiding turnovers will still be crucial in what could be a defensive battle. I’m interested to see which playmakers (if any) are able to step up, and special teams could also be a key factor for two teams that figure to be in the playoff race come December—which makes this a huge early-season matchup. It’s usually safe to go with the home team in a toss up, but I think Baltimore will have either Michael Crabtree be more consistent or Hayden Hurst make an impression to take some pressure off John Brown (14 targets last week).
Winner: Baltimore Ravens
JAX (3-2) @ DAL (2-3) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | CBS
If you were someone that enjoyed Cowboys-Texans in Week 5, you’re in luck, as the schedule appears to have a handful of potential old-school games on Sunday. Sure, it’s fun to see Ryan Fitzpatrick light the league on fire with 400-yard performances if he’s on your fantasy team, but a 17-13 or 14-10 game where defense matters still has a place in today’s NFL—or at least it should. Since turning into a contender, the Jaguars have actually struggled against other physical teams (0-3 against the Titans, for example), and injuries to left tackle Cam Robinson (knee, IR), left guard Andrew Norwell (foot, questionable), and backup left tackle Josh Wells (groin, out) leaves them vulnerable against a strong Dallas defensive line. The biggest impact players set to miss the game on both sides (JAX: Leonard Fournette; DAL: Travis Frederick and Sean Lee) definitely takes some star power away from this matchup, but I think all things considered, the Cowboys have an edge in the trenches, and their receivers being contained by Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye really wouldn’t be new territory for the group. I like Dak Prescott to make more plays with his legs than Blake Bortles in a game that should be close throughout.
Winner: Dallas Cowboys
KC (5-0) @ NE (3-2) | SUN 8:20 PM ET | NBC
Kansas City has defeated New England 41-14 (in 2014) and 42-27 (in 2017) in two regular season meetings under Andy Reid, and while they were both September matchups where the Patriots were still finding their footing, this one, just a couple weeks later, feels significant for a potential playoff rematch. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick can beat anyone at any venue, but losing at home to the Chiefs on Sunday night would put them three games behind them for the No. 1 seed in the AFC, and it’d obviously be a huge benefit to play in Foxborough instead of Arrowhead Stadium in January. I’m not at all concerned about New England putting up points with Rob Gronkowski set to explode, Josh Gordon getting more involved, and Julian Edelman back in the lineup, but will the defense be able to stop Reid’s next-level play-calling with Patrick Mahomes at the controls? Two sets of eyes should be on Tyreek Hill at all times, and Travis Kelce is probably going to see bracket coverage, so it will probably come down to the projected one-on-one matchup between Sammy Watkins and Stephon Gilmore, which I think favors Kansas City because of Watkins’ ability to move all over the formation. However, the Pats are just so tough to beat at home, and Brady will have his guys laser-focused after being trounced in their first Sunday Night Football showing. New England in a primetime thriller.
Winner: New England Patriots
SF (1-4) @ GB (2-2-1) | SUN 8:15 PM ET | ESPN
Rams-Broncos isn’t the only unseasonably chilly game on this mid-October slate, as Lambeau Field is forecasted to be a brisk 40 degrees at kickoff. San Francisco already faces long odds of an upset win without their franchise quarterback or two-top running backs, and Aaron Rodgers isn’t going to let another game get away after a questionable roughing-the-passer call forced a tie in Week 2, and kicking woes led to a loss in Week 5—not to mention the team needing a heroic effort from their injured superstar leader to win season opener. It might be one guy, or two guys, or three guys, but Monday night feels like the spot for Green Bay to get the running game going to ice the game in the second half, and that would create a necessary offensive balance when they come out of their bye to face the Rams and Patriots in back-to-back weeks. For the 49ers to pull off a road victory, they’ll need to create confusion and chaos on defense while riding Alfred Morris with opportune play-action passes. It’s definitely not impossible with the gritty C.J. Beathard making plays—and we’ve seen stranger outcomes this year alone—but I wouldn’t get my hopes up.
Winner: Green Bay Packers
Last week: 6-9 /// Overall: 34-44
Recommended picks last week: 2-3 /// Overall: 15-10
Eagles @ Giants (+3)
Buccaneers @ Falcons (-3.5)
Panthers (+1) @ Redskins
Seahawks @ Raiders (+3)
Colts (+2.5) @ Jets
Cardinals @ Vikings (-10.5)
Steelers (+2.5) @ Bengals
Chargers (-1) @ Browns
Bills @ Texans (-1)
Bears (-3) @ Dolphins
Rams (-7) @ Broncos
Ravens @ Titans (+3)
Jaguars @ Cowboys (+3)
Chiefs @ Patriots (-3.5)
49ers @ Packers (-9.5)
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