NYG (2-3) @ NE (5-0) | THU 8:20 PM ET | FOX/NFL Network/Prime
The Giants go into Thursday Night Football as three-score underdogs missing their top two running backs, top receiver, and top tight end, but the Patriots aren’t going to overlook them on a short week. Offensively, New England is still trying to put together a complete game, and if the passing attack in particular doesn’t fully reach its potential soon, I wouldn’t be surprised to see either a) Antonio Brown—despite foolishly burning a bridge with owner Robert Kraft on his way out—be brought back because of the support he had from Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, b) a trade for A.J. Green, or c) Rob Gronkowski being lured out of retirement for a playoff run. Also, the increased involvement of Sony Michel as a receiver adds another dimension to the offense, and we may see more of him and James White on the field together tonight with Phillip Dorsett (hamstring) out. Anything can happen, but Daniel Jones going into Foxborough and beating the Pats in his first primetime start is a definite longshot.
Winner: New England Patriots
CAR (3-2) @ TB (2-3) | SUN 9:30 AM ET (in London) | NFL Network
The first rematch of the 2019 season will take place in London, as Panthers-Buccaneers will have a national audience for the second time after Tampa Bay won 20-14 on Thursday Night Football back in Week 2. A balanced offense for Bruce Arians—led by Peyton Barber’s 23 carries for 82 yards and a score—helped them get a big road victory in the first meeting, but Cam Newton was clearly less than 100% and left far too many plays on the field, so Kyle Allen will provide a boost against an attackable secondary. The offensive line should also be improved for the Panthers if rookie Greg Little (concussion) is cleared to start at left tackle, as he is an excellent pass protector that would be able to hopefully neutralize NFL sack leader Shaquil Barrett (3.0 sacks in Week 2). On the other side of the field, the Bucs will be without right guard Alex Cappa (arm) and right tackle Demar Dotson (hamstring), so they will have a difficult time stopping No. 16 overall pick Brian Burns off the edge. And to make that matchup even more concerning, Dotson’s replacement Josh Wells missed Wednesday’s practice because his wife is having a baby. Overall, this overseas game couldn’t have come at a worse time for Tampa Bay.
Winner: Carolina Panthers
WAS (0-5) @ MIA (0-4) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Earlier this year, I thought the Redskins were a “sleeper” team in the NFC East, but Reuben Foster’s torn ACL suffered in the spring took an impact player away on defense, and Trent Williams’ holdout took away an impact player on offense. When you also consider Alex Smith’s broken leg, I would argue that the three most important players on the roster were gone, and it’s unfortunate—though perhaps somewhat relieving to him personally—that Jay Gruden was fired as one of the lone bright spots for an organization that has done almost nothing right under the current ownership. People are quick to forget, but last year, Washington was in first place in the division (6-3) before Smith went down, and they are 1-11 since. Gruden getting another chance in a more stable situation should definitely happen based on how the players (most notably Chris Thompson) reacted to the firing, and a win this weekend shouldn’t change the way the former head coach is viewed. This is a coin flip between two teams with a real shot at the No. 1 overall pick in 2020, but Miami had an extra week to prepare and gets the edge at home.
Winner: Miami Dolphins
PHI (3-2) @ MIN (3-2) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
The Vikings rebounded from their 38-7 beatdown in the NFC Championship Game two years ago with a 23-21 victory in Philadelphia last season, and fans can anticipate another close game between two playoff contenders with Super Bowl expectations on Sunday afternoon. Minnesota held the Eagles to just six points until the fourth quarter of last October’s meeting, so Doug Pederson’s squad needs to come out better than they did in the loss, which will be best accomplished by feeding Jordan Howard, who has had surprising success against the Vikings (4.7 career YPC and 109-yard, two-touchdown game against them in final regular season game with Chicago). In the passing game, things need to run through Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert, and Nelson Agholor, who has been criminally underutilized since his overlooked Super Bowl performance. For the Vikings, it may be difficult for Dalvin Cook to get going against a stout front, but Kirk Cousins just needs to not make the head-scratching mistakes while Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs find space against a burnable secondary. I think whoever gets off to a better start will come out victorious, and quick starts haven’t been the norm for Philly this season.
Winner: Minnesota Vikings
HOU (3-2) @ KC (4-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
I said last week that Detroit showed the formula to beat the Chiefs—“running the ball and playing tight man-to-man coverage”—and that’s exactly what happened on Sunday night against the Colts. To be fair, Patrick Mahomes lost Sammy Watkins (hamstring) after just one or two plays, but the defensive game plan needs to be the same no matter who is at receiver for Kansas City (including Tyreek Hill, who may return on Sunday), and it will be interesting to see if Houston wants to slow things down or try to match Andy Reid’s offense punch for punch. I would guess it’s going to be the latter, but the Texans may not have the pieces on the backend to hold up for 60 minutes—especially if Hill ends up suiting up, as Romeo Crennel’s defense has historically struggled against dynamic deep threats (see: T.Y. Hilton). Houston also needs to worry about Damien Williams as a receiving threat out of the backfield after allowing at least nine receptions to opposing running backs in four-of-five games to start the year. Maybe J.J. Watt can stay hot to make a couple of impact plays and the firepower for Houston is enough to keep up, but I doubt the Chiefs lose two in a row at Arrowhead Stadium.
Winner: Kansas City Chiefs
NO (4-1) @ JAX (2-3) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
As of Thursday, it sounds like Jalen Ramsey (“back”) may suit up for the Jaguars, which would be a crucial boost to a secondary that needs to contain Michael Thomas following a season-best 11/182/2 line. New Orleans’ No. 1 wideout has now caught 25-of-29 targets for 331 yards and three touchdowns in three starts by Teddy Bridgewater, so preseason concerns about Drew Brees’ backup should be erased as he keeps them atop the NFC South at 4-1. Teddy isn’t a guy that will go out and throw for 300 yards every week, but he’s intelligent, confident, and has the ability to deliver the ball accurately and on-time in any system. The same can be said for Gardner Minshew if the start of his career is a sign of things to come; in four starts, Minshew has thrown for seven touchdowns and zero interception while going 2-2 with losses against the Texans and red-hot Panthers by a combined eight points. The connection with D.J. Chark has been key, but this week, look for slot receiver Dede Westbrook to have a big game if Jacksonville is going to come out on top.
Winner: Jacksonville Jaguars
SEA (4-1) @ CLE (2-3) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
He’s not been helped by the coaching staff or offensive line, but Baker Mayfield has arguably been the worst starting quarterback in the NFL through five weeks, and he’s shown none of the big-time plays that made him such a revelation during his rookie campaign. The struggles have a lot to do with not successfully pulling the trigger on tight-window throws (which he had unbelievable success doing on downfield passes last season), and just in general, it seems like Baker is too worried letting everyone know he has an edge instead of just playing with it. Tom Brady continues to have a chip on his shoulder after six rings, but he isn’t worried about winning a war or words (especially after a loss) or criticizing another team’s draft pick in a GQ interview. And I’m not sure how much I can bring it up until it sticks, but Cleveland’s best player is Nick Chubb, and the team will fail to reach expectations for as long as they feel the need to get Odell Beckham Jr. going early instead of keeping the ball on the ground. Perhaps they will play down to their competition, but an extra few days to prepare should allow Seattle to improve to 5-1.
Winner: Seattle Seahawks
CIN (0-5) @ BAL (3-2) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
It may not mean much because both teams have changed quite a bit this season, but Cincinnati has typically given Baltimore fits over the past several years, including winning eight of the past 11 matchups dating back to 2013. This time, though, the Bengals won’t have A.J. Green (ankle), and the offensive line remains in tatters against a Ravens team that is coming off back-to-back sub-par performances and will want to correct things before a couple of really tough games (@ SEA, v NE) surrounding their Week 8 bye. Defensively, the focus will be stopping Joe Mixon and the running game, but offensively, Lamar Jackson (five interceptions over the past two weeks) needs to regain his confidence to take complete control of the AFC North by midseason. If Baltimore doesn’t get back on track the Bengals—who are allowing the third-most yards per attempt to opposing quarterbacks (9.7) and the second-most rushing yards per game (167.6)—it may be time to panic.
Winner: Baltimore Ravens
SF (4-0) @ LAR (3-2) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | FOX
Let me start off by saying that while he’ll get a pass for his political leanings and relationship with similar-minded folks in the media, Richard Sherman is still the same “me-first” guy he was when he first became a household name with his WWE-style rant after Seattle’s playoff win over the 49ers in January of 2014. I mean, what kind of person would lie about an opponent not shaking hands before a game like Sherman did to try to make Baker Mayfield look bad? And then he wants to drop it when he’s caught in a lie (because video evidence exists) like it wasn’t a big deal. Whatever, I just wanted to bring that up because the media is content to let it slide. On the field, San Francisco is the only undefeated team other than New England, but Sunday afternoon will be their biggest test yet as they take on the Rams at the Coliseum. Los Angeles may not have Todd Gurley (quad), which is unfortunate because he was coming off his best game of the year and had a few extra days to rest for this NFC West clash, but whether or not the superstar runner is active, the biggest matchup to watch is LA’s offensive line against Nick Bosa and the 49ers defensive line. If Jared Goff has time to find his playmakers, the Rams should win; if not, it could be a long day for Sean McVay’s squad.
Winner: Los Angeles Rams
ATL (1-4) @ ARI (1-3-1) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | FOX
The Falcons continue to be the most disappointing team in the NFL, and Sunday is an absolute must win considering the schedule the rest of the way—and in particular over the next three opponents (v LAR, v SEA, @ NO). While Matt Ryan has thrown for 300+ yards in every game to start the year, it’s been out of necessity as running game led by Devonta Freeman (under 2.8 YPC in four-of-five games) sputters and the defense falls apart (only the Dolphins have allowed more points per game). Dan Quinn’s calling card is defense, so if Kyler Murray and the Cardinals enjoy an offensive explosion close to what we saw from the Texans in Week 5, it wouldn’t be surprising to see some drastic changes made in the very near future. Arizona should be gaining confidence coming off Kliff Kingsbury’s first victory, but David Johnson (back) not playing would be a huge blow, and on defense, they’ve had enough trouble containing Julio Jones in the past with Patrick Peterson (suspension) at cornerback It’s now or never for Atlanta’s season.
Winner: Atlanta Falcons
DAL (3-2) @ NYJ (0-4) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | CBS
His reputation and brash personality make him a figure that media members would rather ignore (and it’s tough to get too excited about a winless team), but not enough has been made of the job Gregg Williams has done with an undermanned New York defense, including on the backend where things looked so uncertain to open the year that star safety Jamal Adams volunteered to play cornerback. Through five weeks, the Jets rank eighth in opponent’s passer rating (84.5) and have allowed a 5:4 touchdown-interception ratio while also playing great run defense (3.4 YPC allowed, which is fourth in the league) despite missing C.J. Mosley and others. I don’t think they are going to turn things around and compete for a playoff spot, but if Sam Darnold can reach his potential after a three-game absence, the Jets should at least put up a fight on a weekly basis—starting at home against the Cowboys. However, this may be the spot where the weakness at cornerback for Williams’ defense is exposed, as Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup are tough covers on the outside, and Dallas has shown they can bury lesser competition.
Winner: Dallas Cowboys
TEN (2-3) @ DEN (1-4) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | CBS
Like many struggling teams, the offensive line is the main problem for the Titans, and they won’t go anywhere if Marcus Mariota gets sacked over four times per game (currently putting Tennessee in the same company as the combined 1-16-1 Jets, Dolphins, Cardinals, and Bengals). The talent is there to turn things around up front, though, and I think calling more running back screens would be beneficial to not only get opposing pass rushers on their heels a bit, but also to give Derrick Henry more creative touches in space. Denver has been known as a defensive team over the past several years, but they have been vulnerable to powerful, high-volume backs, so it’ll be interesting to see if Henry is able to have a monster game on the road. For the Broncos offense, Courtland Sutton has emerged as a legitimate No. 1 target for Joe Flacco, and his size (six-foot-four) could present problems for sub-six-footers Malcolm Butler and Adoree Jackson on the perimeter. This matchup could go either way, but I’m taking the Titans.
Winner: Tennessee Titans
PIT (1-4) @ LAC (2-3) | SUN 8:20 PM ET | NBC
Mason Rudolph (concussion) is somehow on track to possibly start on Sunday night against the Chargers, which would make this game even more intriguing—and I already thought it was a better matchup than the records might indicate. This is the third week in a row I’m saying Pittsburgh shouldn’t be counted out in the AFC North, but it’s still true in a division that could have all teams at or below .500 by Monday, and the Steelers will come out of their Week 7 bye with three home games followed by three divisional games (@ CLE, @ CIN, v CLE) to fight their way up the standings. This week, James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster will need to do the heavy lifting to beat Los Angeles, and the defense must contain Keenan Allen after he went for a 14/148/1 line with a two-point conversion in last December’s 33-30 victory for the Chargers. Also, Melvin Gordon should be more “game ready” after the entire offense struggled in his season debut, and a healthy Mike Williams seems poised to breakout soon. If he plays, Rudolph makes it closer than the experts think.
Winner: Los Angeles Chargers
DET (2-1-1) @ GB (4-1) | MON 8:15 PM ET | ESPN
The bye week came at a good time for the Lions and their head coach, as multiple starters look on track to be close to full health, and Matt Patricia (Achilles) has reportedly ditched his cane. Interestingly enough, Packers head coach Matt LaFleur also had a torn Achilles that impacted him this year, but the most important injury news for Monday night is wide receiver Davante Adams (toe) sounding less than optimistic about his status for a primetime battle in the NFC North. Green Bay’s No. 1 receiver wasn’t needed in last week’s win over the Cowboys, but Detroit is likely going to stack the box and—as strange as it sounds—make Aaron Rodgers beat them by throwing to Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Geronimo Allison, and Jimmy Graham. On the other side of the ball, Kerryon Johnson should be featured with at least 20-25 touches against a defense that’s best attacked on the ground, and Matthew Stafford needs to avoid testing the young playmakers (Jaire Alexander and Darnell Savage) in the secondary. Overall, everything seems to be pointing in the Lions’ favor, but I have a feeling the Rodgers-LaFleur pairing will find a way to win under the lights at Lambeau Field after failing to do so in Week 4.
Winner: Green Bay Packers