KC (4-2) @ DEN (2-4) | THU 8:20 PM ET | FOX/NFL Network/Prime
The Chiefs have dropped two home games in a row, and Denver—who has as much of a reason as anyone (including the Lions) to complain about officiating—is rolling with two straight wins and a chance to blow the AFC West race wide open on Thursday night. Last season, the Broncos gave Kansas City a fight in both meetings, and a big reason was the running game having so much success behind Phillip Lindsay (5.5 YPC in two matchups) and Royce Freeman (eight carries for 67 yards and a touchdown in one matchup). The second-year duo has formed a more even split this season, and the offensive line should continue to open up holes against a Chiefs defense surrendering 5.2 yards per carry and 161.8 yards per game on the ground. As for the passing game, Joe Flacco has played better than the numbers suggest, and he should be able to capitalize on play-action opportunities to Courtland Sutton, Emmanuel Sanders, and rookie tight end Noah Fant. Defensively, it will be interesting to see who Vic Fangio tries to take away (both Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce have killed Denver in the past), but aside from Patrick Mahomes (ankle) being hobbled, Andy Reid’s offense hasn’t been in a groove because they are rotating too much at running back in my opinion. Right now, I have more confidence in the Broncos and their identity at home.
Winner: Denver Broncos
MIA (0-5) @ BUF (4-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Coming off the bye, Buffalo gets three home games in a row to close out the first half of their season, and Sunday presents an excellent opportunity to get the passing attack on track against the winless Dolphins. Josh Allen doesn’t put up flashy numbers and needs to cut down on the hero plays, but he’s been clutch when it matters, as through 16 career starts, he is now 9-7 with six game-winning drives. Those who have actually watched Allen play dating back to college should know that he has underrated natural accuracy, and he’s been particularly effective on short throws to keep the offense moving this year. I think we could see the strong-armed gunslinger do more damage with his legs this week after he combined for 230 yards and two touchdowns against Miami last season, but protecting himself will be key in a game the Bills should handle. That said, Ryan Fitzpatrick will pose a bigger challenge than Josh Rosen, and even though Sean McDermott’s secondary is among the stingiest in football, the Harvard grad has shown he can come out on fire in any given week. I doubt the quarterback switch will lead to a win, but head coach Brian Flores deserves credit for playing the guys that give him the best chance to avoid 0-6 (and eventually 0-16).
Winner: Buffalo Bills
JAX (2-4) @ CIN (0-6) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
It feels like A.J. Green (ankle) is a week away from returning to the field, so Cincinnati will need to rely heavily on Joe Mixon and Tyler Boyd against a Jaguars defense that may want to prove they are still among the best in the league without Jalen Ramsey. If the Bengals want to turn things around in 2019, they really need to get the running game going after Mixon was held to eight attempts for ten yards last week, as he’s yet to score a rushing touchdown or have a carry that went for 20+ yards. While Jacksonville’s defensive front could present some problems in obvious passing situations, they’ve allowed 5.2 yards per carry on the ground, so Zac Taylor should create as much balance as he can with Mixon leading the way. On defense, Cincinnati is down starting cornerbacks William Jackson (shoulder) and Dre Kirkpatrick (knee), which should allow Gardner Minshew and D.J. Chark to get back on track after a sub-par showing against New Orleans. Leonard Fournette will be the focal point, though, and a stable workload (26+ touches in each of the past three games) for him makes me optimistic about the Jags’ ability to win on the road and stay in contention.
Winner: Jacksonville Jaguars
MIN (4-2) @ DET (2-2-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
The Vikings defeated the Lions rather handily in both 2018 matchups, but Matt Patricia’s squad—coming off what should have been a primetime victory at Lambeau Field to take over first place in the NFC North—has seemed to buy into the former Bill Belichick disciple’s coaching philosophy in 2019. However, Detroit still has plenty of room for improvement, most notably on offense where Kerryon Johnson isn’t getting the ball in space enough. As I’ve said before, I think Johnson is similar to Le’Veon Bell or David Johnson (an all-around back that can dominate on all three downs), but he’s not used enough in the screen game or as an underneath receiving weapon, and 15 touches simply isn’t enough for a player of his caliber. Minnesota’s defense is stout up front, but the Lions can’t make the same mistake Philadelphia did last week by abandoning the run and becoming one-dimensional. We know that the Vikings won’t decommit to the running game despite the success Kirk Cousins had last week, so Detroit’s defense will really need to bundle up against Dalvin Cook, who has averaged 5.9 yards per carry in three career meetings. At home, I think the Lions will come out fired up to correct Monday night’s mistake.
Winner: Detroit Lions
OAK (3-2) @ GB (5-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
The outcome of Thursday night’s game will determine whether the Raiders have a shot to claim first place in the AFC West by Sunday, but either way, Jon Gruden will have his team more than prepared coming off the bye. Offensively, Derek Carr probably won’t have No. 1 receiver Tyrell Williams (foot), but things will run through Josh Jacobs and the newly-extended Darren Waller anyway, as Oakland’s quarterback has surely been told to be wary of cornerback Jaire Alexander. Still, I’m interested to see how much former second-round pick Zay Jones—who was just acquired from the Bills—will be involved in his first game, and it’s worth noting that general manager Mike Mayock really liked him coming out of East Carolina in 2017. If Jones can reach his potential in a new city, the Raiders may be set with him, Williams, and Hunter Renfrow at receiver, Waller and Foster Moreau at tight end, and Jacobs at running back. That leaves the defense as the big question mark, but defensive coordinator Paul Guenther at least has his guys playing hard, and they should be able to slow down the running game while making Aaron Rodgers—or more accurately, his diminishing receivers—beat them. I think the Packers would be wise to give Jordy Nelson a call.
Winner: Oakland Raiders
LAR (3-3) @ ATL (1-5) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
If you like points, Rams-Falcons is the game to watch this weekend. Los Angeles made a huge splash by trading two first-round picks and a fourth-round pick for superstar cornerback Jalen Ramsey (and trading away Marcus Peters) on Tuesday, but the move won’t fix the offensive line, which is a bigger long-term concern than the defense. Fortunately, Atlanta doesn’t offer much to worry about in terms of a pass rush, so Jared Goff should have time to distribute the ball to his playmakers following last week’s burn-the-tape showing for the entire offense. Plus, it sounds like Todd Gurley (quad) will give it a go this weekend, and his presence alone should provide a significant boost to Sean McVay’s attack. The Falcons need to avoid falling behind early, as if the Rams come out throwing big-play haymakers and connecting on one or two of them, it could basically be the end of their season (and potentially the Dan Quinn era). Matt Ryan has the firepower on his side to keep up—and I don’t think Ramsey will be a match for Julio Jones if they try to take him away with one-on-one coverage—but this game appears slanted in the Rams’ favor.
Winner: Los Angeles Rams
HOU (4-2) @ IND (3-2) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Even without Andrew Luck, the Colts should be very confident ahead of this weekend’s matchup against the Texans, as they won two-of-three meetings last season (including playoffs), with the only loss coming in overtime during the team’s 1-5 start. In January, Marlon Mack churned out tough yardage all evening with 24 carries for 148 yards (6.2 YPC), one touchdown, and eight first downs as Indianapolis won 21-7, but the play on the other side of the ball was what really set the tone. Most importantly, cornerback Pierre Desir absolutely erased DeAndre Hopkins (who caught five passes for 37 yards and had to work for every grab), so if he suits up despite missing practice with a hamstring injury to start the week, it could be another long game for Houston’s top weapon. Also, Frank Reich has had an extra week to prepare for the team’s biggest game of the season, and star middle linebacker Darius Leonard will be back from a three-game absence to help slow down a rejuvenated Carlos Hyde. The Texans can beat anyone with Deshaun Watson under center, but I like the rested Colts to open holes for Mack in a battle of AFC South foes.
Winner: Indianapolis Colts
SF (5-0) @ WAS (1-5) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Because of what both teams want to do (run the ball), 49ers-Redskins might be the quickest game of the season. Adrian Peterson showed he can still be a workhorse coming off a 25-touch, 136-yard performance, but San Francisco will present a much bigger test than Miami did, and in the previous four games to start the year, AD averaged just 2.7 yards per carry on 40 attempts. The Niners have more of a committee, but Tevin Coleman has unsurprisingly established himself as a true difference-maker at the position because he can pick up tough yards, convert in short-yardage situations, hit the home run, catch passes, and stone blitzers in pass protection (which is often overlooked by the fools that say running backs don’t matter). Traveling to the east coast for an early start—especially after such a huge win over the Rams in Week 6—makes this feel like a trap game, but San Francisco is 13-2 with Jimmy Garoppolo under center, and their formula should travel well.
Winner: San Francisco 49ers
ARI (2-3-1) @ NYG (2-4) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Kyler Murray versus Daniel Jones wasn’t a storyline in the pre-draft process because it was a foregone conclusion that Arizona would take the reigning Heisman winner, while the media members driving the conversation ignorantly labeled the Duke product as a joke rather than a legitimate first-round prospect. That doesn’t mean a fun, competitive rivalry can’t start now, though, and Sunday has the potential to be a high-scoring affair between two promising rookie passers. New York’s advantage comes in that they had a few extra days to prepare for Kliff Kingsbury’s offense, and the hefty trio on the defensive line (Dexter Lawrence, B.J. Hill, and Dalvin Tomlinson) may be able to control things up front to contain David Johnson on the ground; stopping him through the air will be a different story, as Johnson is on an 80/840/8 receiving pace, including 65+ yards in each of the past three games. Of course, the Giants will get their own superstar runner back on the field with Saquon Barkley (ankle) expected to return, and Jones will have the weapons at his disposal to attack Arizona’s weakness in coverage (over the middle) while avoiding Patrick Peterson. A win would suddenly move the Giants into a tie for second place in the NFC East.
Winner: New York Giants
LAC (2-4) @ TEN (2-4) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | CBS
Ryan Tannehill can be a capable starter, but the Titans made a serious mistake by benching Marcus Mariota, and it frankly seems pretty desperate for a team that will likely sink even further now that their leader is watching from the sideline. The former No. 2 overall pick had no chance behind an offensive line that blocked with the effectiveness of an intramural flag football team, and teammates from veteran Delanie Walker to rookie A.J. Brown expressing disappointment about the decision shows how much they think of Mariota. The Chargers have issues of their own, but left tackle Russell Okung (pulmonary embolism) sounds like he may make his season debut, and this could be a game where everything comes together against a deflated opponent. Los Angeles—as a very surprising road underdog that’s seen the line somehow increase late in the week—has too much talent to be 2-5.
Winner: Los Angeles Chargers
NO (5-1) @ CHI (3-2) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX
Chicago is set to get Mitchell Trubisky (shoulder) back this weekend, and a couple of weeks off (one because of the injury and one because of the bye) should do the dual-threat quarterback good for the rest of the season. I would hope/think that Trubisky and the coaching staff went through all the tape to see what they did good and what they did bad, including Allen Robinson not even being the primary read on several would-be chunk plays—which falls on Matt Nagy more than anyone. If getting Robinson the ball is a priority like it was when Chase Daniel was under center in London, Trubisky just needs to be smart with Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore lurking after three consecutive shutdown games against Amari Cooper, Mike Evans, and D.J. Chark. Defensively, Chicago must be eager for an opportunity to get back on the field after they let a rookie (Josh Jacobs) dominate in Week 5, and they may see a heavy dose of Latavius Murray if Alvin Kamara (ankle/knee) is rested at less than 100%. I’m expecting a close, low-scoring game that can go either way.
Winner: Chicago Bears
BAL (4-2) @ SEA (5-1) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX
Especially with both teams looking like legitimate Super Bowl contenders, there should be plenty of excitement for Sunday’s quarterback matchup between Lamar Jackson and Russell Wilson. Seattle was able to escape Cleveland with a 32-28 road victory last week, and Wilson’s MVP-caliber season continued with another three scores, giving him 17 total touchdowns and zero interceptions on the year. As for Jackson, his passing numbers haven’t been as impressive since the opener, but he again showed his dynamic rushing ability last week with 19 carries for 152 yards and one touchdown—putting him on pace for over 1,200 rushing yards on the year. Both defenses have struggled so far this season, so there could be plenty of offensive highlights, but Baltimore might be missing first-rounder Marquise Brown (ankle) again, which would be a huge loss. If the Ravens are hiding a creative, triple-option attack using all four of Jackson, Mark Ingram, Justice Hill, and Gus Edwards, Sunday would be a great time to bring it out; I’m not sure Wilson will be outdueled at home.
Winner: Seattle Seahawks
PHI (3-3) @ DAL (3-3) | SUN 8:20 PM ET | NBC
Doug Pederson drew headlines this week by guaranteeing a victory and then claiming he didn’t, but that storyline faded into the background in Philadelphia because the front office—after reportedly calling in every week—failed to pull off a trade for cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Personally, I don’t view Ramsey as an appropriate answer for the Eagles considering the price tag (though Howie Roseman’s draft record is… less than stellar), but the pressure will really be on the secondary now, and things could get ugly in a hurry if the Cowboys win their fourth consecutive game in this rivalry (they are currently 4-2 against the Eagles since drafting Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott). However, Philly is catching Dallas at the right time with Amari Cooper (quad), Tyron Smith (ankle), and La’el Collins (knee) all potentially out (though their status looks more favorable late in the week), and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz may be able to put together a game plan that eliminates Michael Gallup and forces Tavon Austin, Devin Smith, and Cedrick Wilson to beat them if Zeke is contained. Because of the bulletin board material provided by Pederson, anything from a decisive Dallas victory to a classic Philly beatdown wouldn’t surprise me—but I think the Eagles will win a close one.
Winner: Philadelphia Eagles
NE (6-0) @ NYJ (1-4) | MON 8:15 PM ET | ESPN
If the Jets are going to pull off a primetime upset, it’s going to be mainly via an epic defensive effort from Gregg Williams’ unit, which will get inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (groin) back for his first game since Week 1. Basically, New York needs to throw everything at Tom Brady to get him off the spot and make him uncomfortable, and disguising coverages (something that isn’t done enough) would help create turnovers to set up short fields for the offense. Sam Darnold is obviously a huge boost for the Jets, but I don’t see Robby Anderson, Jamison Crowder, and Demaryius Thomas creating much separation from New England’s corners, and Le’Veon Bell (who was limited to 63 scoreless yards on 22 touches against the Pats in Week 3) hasn’t found room to run against anyone through five games with New York. All the talk this offseason was about the Jets making a move in the AFC East, so—win or lose—this will be a good measuring stick after the Bills nearly knocked off Brady and Belichick last month.
Winner: New England Patriots