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Sunday, October 6, 2019
SAINTS VS BUCCANEERS
Venue: Mercedes-Benz Superdome | Start: 4:00am AEDT
The New Orleans Saints are 2-0 without injured quarterback Drew Brees (thumb surgery), and they’ll look to make it 3-0 against the visiting Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. After getting scores on special teams and defense in a Week 3 win at Seattle, the Saints (3-1) suffocated the Cowboys’ previously explosive offense in Sunday night’s 12-10 home victory. New Orleans will look to do the same to a Tampa Bay team coming off a franchise-record 55 points scored in Sunday’s win at the Los Angeles Rams. The last time the Bucs (2-2) were in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, they matched the previous franchise-high with a 48-40 victory in Week 1 of 2018. While that win was led by since departed quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jameis Winston appears to have settled in under new coach Bruce Arians, throwing for 765 yards and seven touchdowns against two interceptions over the past two weeks. Mike Evans — who has a volatile history with Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore — has 12 grabs for 279 yards and four scores over the same span, and Chris Godwin is coming off of a 12-172-2 line in Los Angeles. The Bucs also have newfound firepower on defense, where Shaq Barrett leads the league with 9.0 sacks, equaling the most through four games since the stat became official in 1982. Barrett missed Wednesday’s practice with a groin injury but is expected to play Sunday.
Margin: Saints 1-13
Line: Saints -3.5
Total Points: Under 47.5
GIANTS VS VIKINGS
Venue: MetLife Stadium | Start: 4:00am AEDT
Through two games, New York Giants rookie quarterback Daniel Jones’ entrance into the league is sliding along smoother than a New York City subway. His hype could jump the tracks this week against a formidable Minnesota Vikings defense, however, which is surrendering an average of just 15.8 points per game – roughly half of what the teams he helped the Giants beat – Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Washington Redskins (ranked 30th and 31st in the NFL) – are giving up.
The quality of opponent is something to monitor for Jones, who entered the league with plenty of questions about his arm strength and a track record of dominating lesser teams in college but struggling against elite defenses. Aiding Jones’ win over NFC East rival Washington was a breakout performance from Wayne Gallman, who contributed 118 total yards and two scores with Saquon Barkley recovering from a high ankle sprain.
While the Giants have taken the traditional approach of complementing a young quarterback with the running game, the Vikings have taken a more medieval approach, bludgeoning opponents with a league-leading eight rushing touchdowns and third-ranked overall rushing attack. One yard shy of the current NFL rushing lead (410 yards to Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey’s 411) and currently tied for most rushing touchdowns (five, with Baltimore’s Mark Ingram), Dalvin Cook has supplanted Pro Bowlers Kirk Cousins, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs as the Vikings’ top threat.
Margin: Vikings 1-13
Line: Vikings -5.5
Total Points: Under 45.5
PANTHERS VS JAGUARS
Venue: Bank of America Stadium | Start: 4:00am AEDT
In perhaps the most improbable battle for a winning record in Week 5, 2018 undrafted free agent quarterback Kyle Allen and the Carolina Panthers play host to rookie Gardner Minshew II and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Both of the 1995 expansion teams are shockingly in contention after losing Super Bowl starters Nick Foles and Cam Newton, respectively, to injury.
Allen, who has four touchdowns on the season and is yet to toss an interception to go with his 118.3 passer rating, has helped guide the Panthers to consecutive wins in Arizona and Houston. The mustachioed Minshew has taken over Jacksonville and, frankly, the entire NFL in much the same way he did tiny Pullman, Wash. for the WSU Cougars, willing his team to wins with moxie, mobility and accuracy – including a 7-1 TD to INT ratio with a 106.9 passer rating.
To be clear, the Panthers and Jaguars have each supported their young passers with a steady dose of running the ball. Christian McCaffrey has emerged as one of the league’s elite dual-threat runners, currently leading the Panthers in both rushing (411 games and four TDs in as many games) and receiving (25 catches for 218 yards).
Shockingly, the Jaguars have yet to score a rushing touchdown this season but rank second in the NFL behind only Baltimore per rush attempt, gashing opponents 5.7 yards per carry.
Margin: Panthers 1-13
Line: Jaguars +3.5
Total Points: Under 41.5
EAGLES VS JETS
Venue: Lincoln Financial Field | Start: 4:00am AEDT
The New York Jets’ offense needs all the help it can get ahead of Sunday’s visit to face the Philadelphia Eagles, but starting quarterback Sam Darnold will miss at least one more game as he recovers from mono and an enlarged spleen. So Luke Falk will make his second career start, following a 30-14 defeat to the New England Patriots before the Jets’ Week 4 bye. Between Trevor Siemian (injured in Week 2) and Falk, the Jets (0-3) have scored a total of three points on offense across 25 possessions without Darnold. (All 14 points against the Patriots came via special teams or defense). The Eagles (2-2) will welcome a Darnold-less attack, as they rank 27th in the league with an average of 26.3 points allowed per game, allowing between 24 and 27 in all four contests, and enter with a banged-up secondary. Philadelphia bounced back from two straight losses with a 34-27 win over Green Bay on Sept. 26 and then had a mini bye to get healthy. Despite the break, wideout DeSean Jackson (abdomen) will not play Sunday, while cornerback Ronald Darby (hamstring) is uncertain. The Eagles are a perfect 10-0 against the Jets all-time, with the most recent win a 24-17 road triumph in 2015.
Margin: Eagles 1-13
Line: Jets +13
Total Points: Under 43.5
REDSKINS VS PATRIOTS
Venue: FedExField | Start: 4:00am AEDT
Since losing six straight games to the Washington Redskins from 1978 to 2003, the New England Patriots have won three consecutive meetings by a combined margin of 113-44. Another lopsided affair could be in store Sunday when the 4-0 Patriots visit the 0-4 Redskins. Washington will turn to veteran quarterback Colt McCoy, who makes his return from a broken leg. Case Keenum is battling a foot injury but the turnover-prone QB was also pulled from the Redskins last game, only to see rookie first-round pick Dwayne Haskins throw three interceptions. McCoy will face the league’s stingiest unit in total defense (243 yards per game), yards per play (4.05) and points per game (6.8). Washington can take some solace in the Patriots’ relative struggles on offense, a unit that ranks 19th in yards per play (5.43) and 28th in yards per carry (3.2). However, the Redskins have yet to hold any opponent under 24 points, and the Patriots still rank fifth with 30.5 points per game despite posting just 16 in Buffalo last week. Tom Brady will surely be looking to rebound from an ugly performance — 18 of 39, 150 yards, one interception — against the Bills.
Margin: Patriots 14+
Line: Redskins +15
Total Points: Over 42.5
RAIDERS VS BEARS
Venue: Tottenham Hotspur Stadium | Start: 4:00am AEDT
Chase Daniel has consumed Matt Nagy’s offense from all angles, even pre-dating their reunion with the Chicago Bears. Daniel has performed well as a starter and in relief, including last week guiding the team to a critical win over the Minnesota Vikings that put the Bears at 3-1 for the season. With Mitchell Trubisky (left shoulder) not likely to play until the end of the month, Daniel’s next test is to win overseas. The Bears are in London against an Oakland Raiders team coming off of its own big win — on the road at Indianapolis — to reach 2-2. But the Raiders lost a key defender, linebacker Vontaze Burfict, in the takedown of the Colts and could be susceptible to a middle-out scheme driven by Nagy’s RPO playcalls. Daniel is mobile in the pocket and throws the ball well on the move. Chicago’s recent success running the ball — and throwing the ball to running backs Tarik Cohen and David Montgomery — will back the Raiders’ pass rush off to some degree. But Oakland will demand Daniel use his receivers down the field by focusing on defending the short and intermediate zones to get the veteran out of his comfort zone. The Raiders are showing strong offensive balance with rookie Josh Jacobs fighting through a groin injury to keep defenses on their heels. Quarterback Derek Carr is getting plenty of time in the pocket, but old friend Khalil Mack — traded to Chicago prior to the start of the 2018 season — takes the test of Carr’s offensive line up a notch. Oakland more than handled a similar challenge in Week 1, holding Von Miller and Bradley Chubb of the Broncos without a sack in a Raiders victory. Carr’s favorite target has been Tyrell Williams, who caught eight passes last week at Indy and kept his four-game TD streak alive. Jacobs will get the ball early as the Raiders attempt to test Chicago’s shuffled defense, although middle linebacker Roquan Smith (personal issue) said he expects to play.
Margin: Bears 1-13
Line: Raiders +5.5
Total Points: Over 40.5
TITANS VS BILLS
Venue: Nissan Stadium | Start: 4:00am AEDT
No longer unbeaten, the Buffalo Bills hope to rebound from last week’s 16-10 home loss to the New England Patriots when they visit the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. Starting quarterback Josh Allen was concussed against the Patriots but practiced and is expected to play despite remaining in concussion protocol. If he cannot play, Matt Barkley (9 of 16, 127 yards, one INT vs. New England) will start for Buffalo (3-1). Either way, the Bills will rely on its defense, which ranks third in yards per play (4.49), third in passing yards per play (4.88) and tied for fifth in points allowed (15.8), right behind Tennessee. The Titans (2-2), who fell at Buffalo in Week 5 last season on a last-second field goal, are coming off a convincing 24-10 victory at Atlanta, highlighted by rookie wideout A.J. Brown’s three catches for 94 yards and two touchdowns. Marcus Mariota, who has seven touchdowns and no interceptions, is the only quarterback in the NFL to have started four games without committing a turnover. He does have three fumbles, but the opposition has not recovered any. Mariota will get blind-side protector Taylor Lewan back from a four-game suspension, reinforcing a line that allowed no sacks in Atlanta after permitting 17 — including nine in Week 3 — over the first three games.
Margin: Titans 1-13
Line: Titans -3.0
Total Points: Under 38.5
TEXANS VS FALCONS
Venue: NRG Stadium | Start: 4:00am AEDT
Critics abound in Atlanta and Houston as two teams with star quarterbacks and playoff aspirations face off eager to get back on the winning track following disappointing home losses to inferior opponents a week ago. The situation is particularly dire for the Falcons, where vultures are beginning to circle around head coach Dan Quinn with his team currently in the NFC South cellar. The focus has – as always – been on the quarterback and there is no denying that four-time Pro Bowler Matt Ryan has struggled, already throwing six interceptions (against eight touchdowns) in just four games. By comparison, Ryan threw for 35 touchdowns and 7 interceptions a year ago. Ryan’s struggles – like those of running back Devonta Freeman – stem from a lack of durability and consistency up front, where five former first round picks, among others, have failed to jell along the offensive line. Houston ranks just 17th in total defense, but the Texans are tied for sixth with 13.0 sacks, so Atlanta must be productive against a run defense allowing an average of 104.5 rushing yards per game. Houston, meanwhile, is also finding that draft picks dedicated to blockers – even veterans – does not necessarily translate into immediate success. Recently acquired left tackle Laremy Tunsil was among the Texans’ offensive linemen pillaged by the Carolina Panthers last week. After being sacked a league-high 62 times a year ago, Deshaun Watson has already gone down 18 times in 2019. That’s despite Duke Johnson and Carlos Hyde leading the league’s 11th-ranked run offense averaging 120.2 yards per game. The problem for Houston has been in punching the ball into the end zone, as the Texans rank 22nd with an average of 19.5 points per game. Watson may be one of the game’s most electric young talents, but the fact remains that Houston ranks 27th in passing offense entering Week 5.
Margin: Texans 1-13
Line: Falcons +5.5
Total Points: Under 49.5
STEELERS VS RAVENS
Venue: Heinz Field | Start: 4:00am AEDT
Something went south on the way to the Super Bowl coronation of the Baltimore Ravens. After a sizzling start, consecutive losses to the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns in which the defense was scorched for 73 combined points has head coach John Harbaugh back at the drawing board. When the Ravens were in position to dictate pace and tempo, the offense appeared virtually unstoppable with Lamar Jackson slinging and slashing into MVP conversation. This week’s challenge is slowing down the front five of the Pittsburgh Steelers. With defensive end Cameron Heyward and linebacker T.J. Watt blasting through the Bengals on Monday night, the Steelers recorded 8.0 sacks and made the pocket unsafe on virtually every snap. The Ravens can counter with misdirection and run-pass options that incorporate running back Mark Ingram, but the Steelers have been solid in the secondary when the four- and five-man rush and fire blitz packages get home. Pittsburgh’s offense veered away from traditional and caught the Bengals by surprise. James Conner was far more effective as a receiver — eight receptions, 83 yards — than a runner and has yet to gain complete traction with Mason Rudolph at quarterback. Rudolph should get isolated coverage looks to his running backs again with the Ravens bracketing JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Margin: Ravens 1-13
Line: Ravens -3.5
Total Points: Over 44.5
BENGALS VS CARDINALS
Venue: Paul Brown Stadium | Start: 4:00am AEDT
Only five teams in the NFL have yet to win a game and two of them – each notably led by first-year NFL head coaches – face off in this contest between “offensive gurus” Kliff Kingsbury of Arizona and Cincinnati’s Zac Taylor. The allure of revolutionary schemes earned each plenty of praise when hired but, frankly, neither has delivered to this point. Kingsbury’s Cardinals and hand-picked quarterback Kyler Murray rank 23rd in the NFL in total offense (326.2 average yards per game) and 25th in scoring (18.5 points per game). However, Murray has displayed the athleticism and arm strength that made him the No. 1 overall pick, lending credence to Arizona’s plan that he simply needs time to acclimate to the NFL. And Murray is comfortably ahead of veteran quarterback Andy Dalton and the Bengals, who rank 27th in yards per game and 30th in scoring. Cincinnati scored the same amount of points in a Game One loss at Seattle (20) as it did in its the past two losses (at Buffalo, Pittsburgh) combined. As one might expect given their combined 0-7-1 record, the defense being played on both sides has not been much better. Despite a talented front four led by longtime standouts Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap, the Bengals rank just 28th in points allowed, surrendering an average of 27.5 points per game. That is one spot higher than the Cardinals (28.8) – one of two teams (along with the also winless Denver Broncos) that has yet to record a single interception thus far this season.
Margin: Bengals 1-13
Line: Cardinals +3.5
Total Points: Under 47.5
CHARGERS VS BRONCOS
Venue: Dignity Health Sports Park | Start: 7:05am AEDT
The Los Angeles Chargers will face a winless opponent for the second straight week when the Denver Broncos (0-4) visit Carson, Calif., on Sunday. The Chargers cruised by the hapless Dolphins in Miami last week to get to 2-2, but they remain two games back of the Chiefs in the AFC West. Boosting Los Angeles will be running back Melvin Gordon, who was active in Miami but did not play after ending his holdout last Thursday. Gordon has 463 rushing yards in seven career games against the Broncos, his most against any opponent. A year ago, the Broncos beat the Chargers 23-22 on the road on a last-second field goal, with the help of Von Miller (one sack, one interception) and Bradley Chubb (one sack). Los Angeles won’t face Chubb on Sunday, though, after the second-year pro partially tore his ACL in Sunday’s loss to the Jaguars and was lost for the season. Miller had 2.0 sacks on Sunday after being shut out through the first three games of the season. Meanwhile, Denver’s offense is looking to finish more drives, as it is tied for 26th in points scored per game (17.5) despite being tied for 14th in first downs per game (21). Quarterback Joe Flacco was not sacked by the Jaguars after going down six times in Week 3 at Green Bay, but he threw an interception for the third straight week.
Margin: Chargers 1-13
Line: Broncos +6.5
Total Points: Over 44.5
COWBOYS VS PACKERS
Venue: AT&T Stadium | Start: 7:25am AEDT
The Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers lost for the first time in the 2019 season last week and walked away counting a number of missed opportunities in defeat. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers had the ball with a chance to tie or win in the final minute but a tipped ball and interception against Philadelphia knocked Green Bay back to 3-1. Rodgers and his offense are yet to fully click for four quarters. The critical tests against this Dallas defense will be blocking an athletic and relentless front seven with the linebackers playing to bottle up running back Aaron Jones. With wide receiver Davante Adams (toe) out, Rodgers could be more reliant on his second and third options in the passing game. Tight ends Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis are critical to the success of the offense this week, but as much for their pass-blocking assistance to keep Rodgers in a calm pocket as their handiness in the red-zone. Dallas kept its first three opponents guessing with creative design and unusual heel-to-throat aggressiveness from new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. The play-calling was more predictable in Week 4, and the New Orleans Saints took away Moore’s comfort zone thanks to smothering coverage from cornerback Marshon Lattimore plus a healthy array of blitz packages. Quarterback Dak Prescott will be working without left tackle Tyron Smith (ankle), but Smith has been limited enough in practice over the past two years that Prescott should be able to find his comfort zone quickly behind a reshuffled line. The Packers struggled to check tight ends and Jason Witten, Blake Jarwin and Dallas’ running backs could be the leading outlets for Prescott to gauge Green Bay’s level of risk in the early going. Running back Ezekiel Elliott is fully up to speed following his summertime holdout and given the issues the Packers have had stopping the run, he could be in line for a breakout showing.
Margin: Cowboys 1-13
Line: Packers +3.0
Total Points: Under 47.5
CHIEFS VS COLTS
Venue: Arrowhead Stadium | Start: 11:20am AEDT
After escaping with a thrilling win in Detroit last week, the Kansas City Chiefs hope to move to 5-0 under the bright lights when the Indianapolis Colts (2-2) visit Sunday night. Patrick Mahomes didn’t throw a touchdown pass against the Lions, breaking a streak of 14 consecutive games with at least two TD passes, one shy of Peyton Manning’s record (set from 2013-14). Don’t count on another goose egg though — since taking over as the full-time starter last year, Mahomes has as many games with six touchdown passes (two) as games with zero. Wideout Tyreek Hill (clavicle) is out for another week, although running back Damien Williams (knee) returned to practice and is expected to share the backfield work with LeSean McCoy. The Colts’ defense, which gave up 31 points in a home loss to the Raiders on Sunday, hopes to have linebacker Darius Leonard back from a two-week absence due to a concussion. He returned to practice and appears on track to play, but safety Malik Hooker (knee) is likely out a few more weeks. Starting quarterback Jacoby Brissett is coming off his shakiest performance of the season — completing just 24 of 46 attempts for 265 yards with three touchdowns and an interception — but he is tied with Mahomes (and Lamar Jackson) for the league lead with 10 touchdown passes.
Margin: Chiefs 1-13
Line: Colts +11
Total Points: Under 57