IND (5-3) @ TEN (6-2) | THU 8:20 PM ET | FOX/NFL Network/Amazon
The move for Indianapolis to acquire All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner may have been partly fueled by the success Derrick Henry has had against them in the division (5.9 yards per carry in eight meetings, including at least 5.1 yards per carry in every game with more than one touch), so it will be a great battle tonight as the improved defense of the Colts tries to contain the monster runner. Henry’s playing time has actually been scaled back a bit in back-to-back games, which could mean he is unleashed on a short week with Tennessee hoping to create some separation in the AFC South. The problem for Indy is that—as we have repeatedly seen over the past two years—stacking the box gives A.J. Brown single coverage on the outside, and the former Ole Miss standout has proven to be one of the game’s top wideouts and gamebreakers; the physicality of cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes and Rock Ya-Sin will be a fun challenge. Perhaps a short week will lead to a simplified game plan for the Colts (feeding Jonathan Taylor and setting up play-action shots to T.Y. Hilton), but I trust the Tennessee coaching staff more, and Jadeveon Clowney (knee) returning will be a significant boost.
Winner: Tennessee Titans
PHI (3-4-1) @ NYG (2-7) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
The Giants have played the Eagles very tough in most of their matchups over the past few years, but Carson Wentz is 7-1 against them, and now the Philadelphia offense is getting close to full strength with Miles Sanders (knee) and Alshon Jeffery (calf) expected to be in the lineup on Sunday. It is worth nothing, though, that Doug Pederson is just 1-3 following the bye week, and in general, starting slow is something his teams have historically struggled with, so they can’t come out flat against a New York squad that should have some confidence after they took down Washington last week. Plus, the Giants have clearly brought into Joe Judge, as getting a close win in a week where veteran Golden Tate was benched showed that the young team is focused, and they are an Evan Engram drop (against the Eagles) from being in first place. Per usual, the biggest advantage for Philadelphia lies in the trenches, and Daniel Jones (four turnovers in two matchups) needs to hold onto the ball against a defense that somewhat quietly trails only the Steelers in sacks per game (3.5) to pull off an upset. Overall, the talent might slant too much towards the Eagles.
Winner: Philadelphia Eagles
JAX (1-7) @ GB (6-2) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Already getting blown out after feeling overconfident earlier in the year should have Green Bay in position to avoid a possible trap game this weekend, but Jacksonville has the weapons on offense to present a challenge—especially if Jaire Alexander (concussion) isn’t cleared to match up with D.J. Chark—and Jake Luton showed very well in his career debut last Sunday. Of course, going into Lambeau Field for a game with possible rain and sub-40 temperatures in the forecast will be different than taking on the Texans, but the Packers haven’t done anything to show substantial improvement against the run, and James Robinson could go wild if the game script doesn’t get out of hand early. Still, I’m certain Aaron Rodgers would be just fine with a shootout if it came to that, and rookie cornerback C.J. Henderson could really struggle if tasked with stopping Davante Adams after allowing a long touchdown to Will Fuller last week. The best chance for the Jags would be jumping out to an early lead to allow Robinson to pound the ball on offense and Josh Allen (who has heated up some in recent games) to try to get after Rodgers off the edge.
Winner: Green Bay Packers
WAS (2-6) @ DET (3-5) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
The remarkable comeback story for Alex Smith could have ended when he was cleared for football activities over the summer or hit the field earlier this year, but there are more chapters to write, and Sunday will be his first start in nearly two years to the day of his injury (November 18, 2018). Despite being known as a quarterback that takes care of the ball, Smith’s three interceptions thrown off the bench last week shouldn’t come as a surprise at all considering how long he’s been out of action, and the 38-year-old will only get better and better with more game reps. For this week, Detroit is a great opponent to get in a groove against, as they lack a strong pass rush and have an attackable cornerback group that Terry McLaurin can exploit. On the other side of the ball, the Lions will likely be without Kenny Golladay (hip) again, and Halapoulivaati Vaitai (foot) not playing would really make it difficult to prevent Chase Young from hitting a banged-up Matthew Stafford. Maybe the three-headed backfield for Detroit will help carry them to a win, but I’m not sure the team has the makeup to respond with their season essentially on the brink.
Winner: Washington Football Team
HOU (2-6) @ CLE (5-3) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
He doesn’t get the praise that others in the league do, but Nick Chubb—set to make his return from a sprained MCL this week—is a legitimate superstar, and he was having perhaps his best season yet before going down (5.9 yards per carry and four touchdowns on just 57 attempts in three-plus games). Cleveland is simply a different team when Chubb is on the field, as his presence allows Kareem Hunt to be a lethal 1B option off the bench, and the receivers should have an easier time getting open with more stacked boxes from opponents. The Browns are also hopeful about guard Wyatt Teller (calf) returning this week, which would be more bad news for a Houston defense that is on pace to allow 2,318 rushing yards to opposing running backs this year. Furthermore, Austin Hooper (abdomen) being healthy gives Cleveland three very capable options at tight end to make up for the loss of Odell Beckham Jr. A high-scoring game would benefit Deshaun Watson and his explosive wideouts, but I believe Chubb will be the difference in allowing the Browns to start the second half with a victory.
Winner: Cleveland Browns
TB (6-3) @ CAR (3-6) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Tampa Bay was my Super Bowl pick and I still feel confident about it, but I’m worried about the offensive identity a bit, as while it sounds like Bruce Arians had wanted to make Mike Evans the main option, I’d say the team should play through Chris Godwin to get back on track. Just last week, not giving Godwin a chance around the end zone—and instead calling a couple of failed jump balls for Evans with Marshon Lattimore on him—basically sums up the concern. Fortunately for them, the Bucs have rebounded nicely from their losses this year (including a 31-17 win over Carolina back in Week 2), and based on last week’s disappointment, you can count on Tom Brady being on point no matter who the main piece is on offense. Obviously, the Panthers would have a much better shot to push Tampa Bay further down the standings if Christian McCaffrey (shoulder) was healthy, but they might look to Curtis Samuel for a continued spark by getting him the ball in a variety of ways. With games against the Rams and Chiefs coming up to close out the month, the Bucs need to straighten things out on Sunday.
Winner: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
LAC (2-6) @ MIA (5-3) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | CBS
I wish we’d get Bills-Cardinals or Seahawks-Rams flexed to Sunday night, but the final round of The Masters on CBS this Sunday is leading to more late games (six) than early games (five) for at least the first time in recent memory, and Chargers-Dolphins shouldn’t be overlooked as the first matchup between Justin Herbert and Tua Tagovailoa. So far, phenomenal play from Herbert hasn’t been enough to break LA’s curse of routinely finding new ways to lose games (something that seems to happen multiple times to them every year), but it’s encouraging for them to have been in every game through a not-so-easy schedule. Although the improving secondary for Miami will be a tough test this weekend, Keenan Allen should be able to escape Xavien Howard and Byron Jones enough in the slot; and the running game is in a quality spot with Joshua Kelley and Kalen Ballage—the latter of whom probably has something to prove against his former team. I’m torn because of how good Tua looked last week in terms of accuracy and velocity on intermediate routes, but I’ll go with the Chargers to finally find a way to win a close game.
Winner: Los Angeles Chargers
DEN (3-5) @ LV (5-3) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | CBS
I said last week that the Raiders might need to win a shootout to top Justin Herbert and the Chargers, but it was the defense that got the stop they needed late—giving another confidence booster to a team that has the playoffs in sight. That said, the pass rush needs to find a way to improve if Las Vegas is going to do much more than sneak into the playoffs or be a one-and-done (their nine sacks are the second fewest in the NFL), and it would be great for Clelin Ferrell in particular to come alive in the second half of the year; he’s still looking for his first sack of the 2020 campaign heading into this weekend’s action. For the Broncos, they’ve fallen down big in each of the past three games, and the offense needs to start games on a better note to allow both Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay to remain parts of the game plan. In the passing game, Noah Fant is averaging just 10.9 yards per reception this year (compared to 14.1 yards per reception as a rookie), and I’d like to see him used more on deeper routes to maximize the explosiveness alongside Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler. Even if that leads to increased turnovers from Drew Lock, it’d be better to learn from the mistakes now before Denver hopes to take off in 2021. I’ve got the Raiders at the Death Star.
Winner: Las Vegas Raiders
BUF (7-2) @ ARI (5-3) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | CBS
All it took was a couple of losses—to the 8-1 Chiefs and 6-2 Titans—for the media to downplay Josh Allen’s MVP candidacy, but he and the Bills went off last week in a 44-34 victory over Seattle, and this week will present another opportunity to make a case against Kyler Murray and the Cardinals in a showcase game. As previously stated, an important factor in the October slump for Buffalo was John Brown being either inactive or less than 100%, so seeing him catch eight passes for 99 yards last week will put Arizona in a precarious position trying to slow down Brian Daboll’s spread-it-out attack; especially since Allen is one of the most effective intermediate passers in football, the defense could be in for a long day after struggling in that area against Miami. Slowing down Kliff Kingsbury’s offense isn’t much easier, but I would assume Sean McDermott will do what they can to contain DeAndre Hopkins, and Murray can’t force the ball to his star receiver just because he might be frustrated about limited production last week. With the way Tre’Davious White and the Buffalo secondary can create clutch takeaways, I give them the edge in what projects to be another high-scoring affair.
Winner: Buffalo Bills
SF (4-5) @ NO (6-2) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX
Last season’s matchup between San Francisco and New Orleans was arguably the game of the year, but things have really changed for the Niners since then—and they’ll be without Jimmy Garoppolo (349 yards, four touchdowns, and one interception), Raheem Mostert (109 total yards and two touchdowns), George Kittle (6/67/1), likely Deebo Samuel (5/76 and 33 rushing yards), and multiple others from that 48-46 victory. One of the missing pieces not mentioned is Week 10 opponent Emmanuel Sanders (who had a 7/157/1 receiving line and a passing touchdown last year), so overall, it will be an awfully tall task for Nick Mullens to pull off an upset. A letdown is always possible, though, and it was funny to hear the NBC broadcast talk about how Marshon Lattimore is at his best when he’s matched up against a big-name wideout (such as Mike Evans) but can sometimes struggle against others; I wonder what category Brandon Aiyuk and Richie James might fall into. Either way, it’s easy to forget Drew Brees torched a healthy San Francisco defense for 349 yards and five scores in last year’s loss.
Winner: New Orleans Saints
SEA (6-2) @ LAR (5-3) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX
I know not everyone is convinced that Seattle should be an underdog this week, but there is certainly good reason for it, as over the past five matchups against the Rams, they are 1-4 with a -57 point differential; and the defense—which is now a bigger concern than ever—has allowed 33.6 points per game during that span. Sean McVay having the bye to prepare a game plan is another negative for the Seahawks this week, so the question might be whether or not Russell Wilson can find a way to score 30-35+ points against a Los Angeles defense that leads the league in touchdown passes (nine) and yards per attempt (6.3) allowed. Not using Jalen Ramsey in shadow coverage has worked out for the Rams under new defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, but perhaps they will change up the strategy by matching him up on D.K. Metcalf while doubling Tyler Lockett. If Jared Goff can take care of the ball, the Rams—despite not being raved about like Seattle or Arizona so far this year—could be the ones leading the division by Sunday night.
Winner: Los Angeles Rams
CIN (2-5-1) @ PIT (8-0) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX
I’m with Joe Burrow here, but not watching scary movies/shows as a kid has clearly had zero impact on his fearless mindset as an NFL quarterback—though that will be tested this week in his first career matchup against the Steelers. As if the pressure Pittsburgh can bring versus an average offensive line isn’t enough to wreck a game, the Bengals have allowed their rookie passer to absorb 28 sacks this year (only Carson Wentz has taken more, but that’s often due to him holding onto the ball), and they remain banged up at both tackle spots. Also, the status of Joe Mixon (foot) doesn’t appear promising at this point, and the Steelers will be extremely focused after nearly getting upset by Garrett Gilbert and the Cowboys in Week 9. I don’t think the lack of preparation will have a significant impact on Ben Roethlisberger (COVID-19 list) or the Pittsburgh passing attack, so assuming he’s cleared by Sunday, they should be able to extend their winning streak against Cincinnati to ten games.
Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers
BAL (6-2) @ NE (3-5) | SUN 8:20 PM ET | NBC
Lamar Jackson and the Ravens topping New England last year on Sunday Night Football with a 37-20 victory was one of the most surprising results of the season, but the Baltimore offense—and the Patriots defense, for that matter—isn’t what they were in 2019. The genius of Bill Belichick and hopeful return of Stephon Gilmore (knee) has me feeling good about them eventually righting the ship (even if it’s not by Sunday night), but Jackson revealing that opponents have been calling out plays seems like a) something that should be kept in-house, and b) an excuse for not living up to expectations. This week’s drama follows up Marquise Brown tweeting about his frustration before last week’s game, and the Ravens won’t be able to get over the hump in January if they are too worried about outside noise. On defense, being without Calais Campbell (calf) will make it tougher to stop the New England running game, but Cam Newton might not last the night if he struggles with mechanics/accuracy like he did against the Jets, as being off target against the Ravens often leads to turnovers and points in the other direction.
Winner: Baltimore Ravens
MIN (3-5) @ CHI (5-4) | MON 8:15 PM ET | ESPN
The Bears are in the midst of a three-game losing streak, but the losses have been to the Rams (24-10), Saints (26-23), and Titans (24-17), so it’s not time to hit the panic button yet. Last year, Chicago was able to sweep the Vikings, and a big reason for that was their ability to limit the running game, which needs to be the priority on Monday night with Dalvin Cook almost single-handedly lifting Minnesota back into contention. He’s never quite played at this level, but for what it’s worth, Cook has struggled against the Bears more than any opponent throughout his career (34 attempts for 86 yards and one touchdown in three meetings), and the success through the air hasn’t been much better (54 scoreless yards on 13 receptions; 3.4 yards per target). We also can’t forget that Kirk Cousins is an unbelievable 0-9 on Monday Night Football, and the streaky Nick Foles—as the Vikings know well—can shine in clutch spots. Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson will be difficult to contain if Minnesota airs it out, but the same is true of Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, and Darnell Mooney. With the defensive line for the Vikings struggling to generate a consistent pass rush, I think we could see Foles come out hot in primetime.
Winner: Chicago Bears