LAR (3-1) @ SEA (3-1) | THU 8:20 PM ET | FOX/NFL Network/Prime
Seattle’s primetime statistics in the Pete Carroll era don’t seem possible, but they are 26-5-1 under the lights, 17-2 at home, and 8-1 on Thursday Night Football, so this will be a tough game for the slumping Rams to come in and win on a short week. However, similar to the Eagles last week, limited preparation time may lead to a better, more simplified offensive game plan for Sean McVay’s offense, and Gerald Everett (like Jordan Howard for Philly) could be the key to getting things back on track. In Week 4, the former second-round pick caught five-of-eight targets for 44 yards and a touchdown, and the Seahawks have shown some vulnerability against opposing tight ends. Also, Todd Gurley—coming off just 12 touches on Sunday—will hopefully be more involved for a big divisional matchup, as he’s really stung Seattle over their past three matchups with eight total touchdowns. Defensively, the Rams need to be sure Marcus Peters knows he can’t get burnt by Tyler Lockett and/or D.K. Metcalf, but Russell Wilson’s magic act is going to put points on the board either way; it’ll be up to Jared Goff to keep up on the road, and this is a great spot for him to silence the critics.
Winner: Los Angeles Rams
JAX (2-2) @ CAR (2-2) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Second-year quarterback Kyle Allen (an undrafted free agent in 2018) is now 3-0 to start his career, but all the hype for this matchup has been centered around Gardner Minshew (a sixth-round pick this year), who has lifted the Jaguars back into contention after all hope had been lost following Nick Foles’ broken collarbone. A big reason for the rookie’s success is an innate feel for moving around in the pocket to avoid pressure, but he will be tested this week against a Carolina defense that leads the league in sacks (18, tied with the Patriots) and has allowed the fewest passing yards per game (156.8) despite facing Jared Goff, Jameis Winston, Kyler Murray, and Deshaun Watson. Allen, on the other hand, will have a much easier time against Jacksonville’s defense if Jalen Ramsay doesn’t play again, but the offensive line may struggle if left tackle Greg Little (concussion) misses more time, and overall, the injury situation is very worrisome for the Panthers as of Thursday. Still, I think Curtis Samuel should have a big game by challenging the defense vertically, and Luke Kuechly is going to be ready to stop Leonard Fournette.
Winner: Carolina Panthers
NE (4-0) @ WAS (0-4) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
How good have the Patriots been defensively this year? Through the first month of the season, the only touchdown they have allowed was a quarterback sneak by Josh Allen on fourth-and-goal—which it was inches away from being a fumble instead of a score. Simply put, the unit has been suffocating, and there’s a good chance the opponent’s touchdown-interception ratio (0:10) gets even worse against whoever the Redskins start at quarterback out of Colt McCoy, Dwayne Haskins, and Case Keenum (foot). If there’s a way to attack New England, it is probably punching them in the mouth with Adrian Peterson after 36-year-old Frank Gore ripped off 109 yards on 17 carries last week, but I don’t see how Tom Brady and the Patriots offense can be stopped, especially since they will come out focused after a sub-par showing against Buffalo. It seems like Jay Gruden has a decent chance of being fired after the week, but Washington’s issues extend way beyond their head coach.
Winner: New England Patriots
BUF (3-1) @ TEN (2-2) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
I hate that we were robbed of Josh Allen potentially having chance at a game-winning drive in the biggest game of his young career, but in general, the Bills showed they can hang around with anyone in last week’s loss to New England. Allen—who remains in the concussion protocol—will hopefully get cleared by Sunday, and Buffalo could have another defensive battle for a trip to Tennessee. When these teams met last season, the Bills were able to win on a last-second field goal by Stephen Hauschka, and they should go down to the wire again, which is exciting because of how clutch both quarterbacks have been. Despite talks of being benched to start the year, Marcus Mariota is on pace for a career-high in passing yards and a 28:0 touchdown-interception ratio, as the weapons just needed some time to gel in a low-volume passing attack. A letdown for Buffalo following a tough loss versus New England is always a possibility, but defense travels, and Sean McDermott should have his guys ready to win a close game.
Winner: Buffalo Bills
BAL (2-2) @ PIT (1-3) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Pittsburgh would be in really good shape right now if they were able to put away San Francisco in Week 3 after forcing five turnovers, but the AFC North is still very much up for grabs with the Ravens—who still may be stunned after a 40-18 loss to the Browns—coming to town. Lamar Jackson didn’t start either matchup in this rivalry last season, but he saw action off the bench as a change-of-pace quarterback, rushing nine times for just 27 yards. I think the physicality of the Steelers should have them well-equipped to slow Jackson down for a full game, and he will probably have to beat them with his arm to keep from falling to 2-3. First-round pick Marquise Brown (Antonio Brown’s cousin) getting deep would be huge after he’s been contained in back-to-back games, but as I’ve stated previously, giving Justice Hill more carries in the backfield could create added explosiveness in the running game, which hasn’t had the complexity that I thought it would. For the Pittsburgh offense, Mason Rudolph might struggle if Marlon Humphrey’s teammates play as well as he did last week, but right now, I have more confidence in the Steelers to win a low-scoring game at home.
Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers
ARI (0-3-1) @ CIN (0-4) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
The confidence/optimism surrounding the Bengals after they nearly upset Seattle in the opener has disappeared, and it just shows that moral victories aren’t really victories at all in the NFL. Since then, Cincinnati has lost by 17.3 points per game, and the low point was last week’s primetime defeat in which Andy Dalton was sacked eight times. If there’s a positive to take out the most recent loss, it’s that Joe Mixon and the running game showed more life, so head coach Zac Taylor should ride him on Sunday in what looks like the team’s best chance for a victory until December. Entering the week, I felt like Larry Fitzgerald—on pace for a 92/1,200/8 line—would be primed for another big game, and that sentiment has only grown following the death of team owner Bill Bidwill on Wednesday. Fitz has always shown up in big moments, and he will do everything he can to get a memorable win for the Bidwill family this weekend. Expect a heavy dose of David Johnson and Fitzgerald for Kliff Kingsbury’s offense.
Winner: Arizona Cardinals
ATL (1-3) @ HOU (2-2) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
It wasn’t a high-profile move, but Atlanta trading for safety Johnathan Cyprien shows they expect to turn things around this season, and I love the addition for a team that has too much talent to be 1-3. The biggest concern for the Falcons is that the offensive line—despite heavy investment in the offseason—isn’t giving Matt Ryan time to push the ball downfield to Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, though, and Cyprien obviously won’t help there. Unfortunately for Atlanta, they are catching the Texans at the wrong time with J.J. Watt heating up (3.0 sacks over the past two games), and the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year may absolutely wreck a banged-up right side of the line. I also think it’s worth noting that the Falcons are missing everything that Tevin Coleman brought to the table as a home-run threat that was also exceptional in pass protection. As for Houston, their fatal flaw is the same as Atlanta’s, and not keeping Deshaun Watson upright is holding them back in the AFC South. I’ll be interested to see how DeAndre Hopkins reacts to another quiet game, but it’s the soft-spoken receivers on the other side that I think will explode in a crucial game.
Winner: Atlanta Falcons
TB (2-2) @ NO (3-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Tampa Bay is hoping that Jameis Winston has finally turned a corner under Bruce Arians’ tutelage, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up. Even in last week’s 55-40 win over the Rams in which he threw for 385 yards and four touchdowns, Winston had a costly pick-six that got LA right back into the game, and he is on pace for 20 interceptions through four weeks. This divisional matchup against the Saints has turned into a heated rivalry over the past couple of years, so Jameis needs to stay composed and not try to do too much—which is best accomplished by playing through Chris Godwin rather than forcing things to Mike Evans with Marshon Lattimore on him. Getting a win in the Superdome won’t be easy, but Todd Bowles’ defense will do their best to get pressure on Teddy Bridgewater and make him uncomfortable. Plus, Tampa Bay has the stingiest run defense in the league to potentially slow down Alvin Kamara. All that said, Teddy B didn’t flinch last week as he absorbed five sacks, and I trust New Orleans to take care of business.
Winner: New Orleans Saints
MIN (2-2) @ NYG (2-2) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
He needs to play better, but I feel bad for Kirk Cousins as his reputation takes a hit in the court of public opinion when he’s been the only one handling things appropriately (compared to Adam Thielen publicly voicing his frustration or Stefon Diggs skipping practice instead of working to get on the same page). While I thought the Vikings made a mistake in not re-signing Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater prior to the 2018 season, Cousins has shown enough throughout his career to compete with, and not keeping things in-house could lead to a loss of confidence for what should be a get-right matchup against the Giants on Sunday. For New York, it’s been all positive vibes, as not only does Daniel Jones continue to impress, but they also get Golden Tate—who has given Mike Zimmer fits throughout his career—back from suspension and may somehow have Saquon Barkley (ankle) miss only one game to beat a reported six-to-eight-week timetable. (If so, he’s a confirmed superhuman.) Perhaps the Vikings will figure everything out and go off, but I like the Giants to stay hot in a matchup that seems to line up well for them.
Winner: New York Giants
CHI (3-1) @ OAK (2-2) | SUN 1:00 PM ET (in London) | FOX
The media will be hyping up this matchup as Khalil Mack versus Jon Gruden, but the on-field battle will actually be the superstar pass rusher against elite right tackle Trent Brown. The three-time All-Pro is undoubtedly one of the best players in football, but as Brown and the Patriots showed last season when he was basically invisible, you can scheme around him—and that’s exactly what Gruden is going to do for the first London game of the year. We can probably expect the offense to feature Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow on quick-strike passes to get the ball out of Derek Carr’s hand, as feeding Josh Jacobs is unlikely to be successful against a dominant run defense that gets Roquan Smith back in the lineup after he missed Week 4 for personal reasons. The bigger concern than neutralizing Mack may actually be containing Allen Robinson, as the Raiders have been exposed by big-bodied weapons at receiver, and Chase Daniel has the ability to get the ball out accurately and on-time. No matter who comes out on top, I’d like to see Gruden and Mack finally meet and maybe even share a laugh about their relationship—or lack thereof—in Oakland.
Winner: Chicago Bears
NYJ (0-3) @ PHI (2-2) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
The Jets are in a difficult position because of Sam Darnold’s health as he deals with an enlarged spleen due to mono, but at least the 22-year-old has his priorities straight by knowing he doesn’t want to die. Unless Darnold is medically cleared for contact, New York wouldn’t seem to have much more than a puncher’s chance to win in Philadelphia, but perhaps an extra week to prepare will allow Luke Falk to fare significantly better than he did against the Patriots (12-of-22 for 98 yards and one interception). Overall, the offensive game plan needs to be built around Le’Veon Bell with opportunistic deep shots to Robby Anderson, and Adam Gase may even want to think about throwing in more of the wildcat plays they’ve run with Bell and Ty Montgomery on the field together (including variations similar to what the Steelers showed on Monday night). I doubt anything thrown at the Eagles will be enough, though, especially with their own running game turning into a dominant one-two punch.
Winner: Philadelphia Eagles
DEN (0-4) @ LAC (2-2) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | CBS
In most cases, I think it’s dumb to play the “well, we could be…” card, but Denver has a legitimate gripe about very questionable roughing-the-passer calls in the fourth quarter of two of their losses, and I don’t think anyone that knows what they’re talking about would put them in the same class as other winless teams like Miami. To make matters worse, the Broncos face zero teams that currently have a losing record the rest of the way, and last year’s No. 5 overall pick Bradley Chubb is out for the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. A loss this weekend would push the franchise closer to a fire sale as we move towards the trade deadline, but Vic Fangio certainly won’t give up, and the banged-up Chargers don’t have much of a homefield advantage to impact their divisional foe. Keeping the ball on the ground—where Los Angeles is most vulnerable—to set up play-action throws to Courtland Sutton (with Emmanuel Sanders occupied by cornerback Casey Hayward) and Noah Fant will be the strategy, but it might not be enough with Philip Rivers, Melvin Gordon, and Keenan Allen all on the field for LA.
Winner: Los Angeles Chargers
GB (3-1) @ DAL (3-1) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX
Green Bay struggled to punch the ball into the end zone to conclude last Thursday night’s loss against the Eagles, and with Davante Adams (toe) looking unlikely to suit up for Week 5, the offense as a whole may lack the star power needed to get a win over the Cowboys. In three career matchups against the Packers (including playoffs), Dak Prescott has scored ten total touchdowns with three passing scores in every game, but even if the Green Bay pass defense is improved with Jaire Alexander at cornerback, the bigger concern will be stopping Ezekiel Elliott and the running game. In my opinion, Zeke hasn’t quite looked like himself through four weeks, but this weekend could be a “showcase” game against a soft front that just allowed Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders to rush for 6.1 yards per carry. I could definitely see Aaron Rodgers pulling a rabbit out of his hat as a road underdog—and my pick will be changed if Adams ends up playing—but I think Dallas will win a one-possession game.
Winner: Dallas Cowboys
IND (2-2) @ KC (4-0) | SUN 8:20 PM ET | NBC
The Lions showed the exact formula needed to beat Kansas City (running the ball and playing tight man-to-man coverage), but to replicate it, Indianapolis must a) have Marlon Mack (ankle) healthy enough to contribute, and b) not fall behind like they did in the playoff loss back in January. The Chiefs ended up winning 31-13 in the AFC Divisional Round matchup, and it was the slow start (down 24-7 at the half) that doomed Indy, as they threw 36 times despite having success on the ground (12 carries for 70 yards). With Jacoby Brissett under center, it’s important to not abandon the run because of the score so that the offense can stay in manageable third downs. Defensively, the Colts couldn’t stop Damien Williams (30 touches for 154 yards and a touchdown) in the playoffs, and the backfield has even more weapons with him, LeSean McCoy, and Darrel Williams forming an impressive committee. The Chiefs have too much firepower at Arrowhead Stadium.
Winner: Kansas City Chiefs
CLE (2-2) @ SF (3-0) | MON 8:15 PM ET | ESPN
The Browns finally stopped throwing the ball around and fed Nick Chubb in a decisive victory over the Ravens last week, and no matter how you feel about the rest of the Cleveland players, it’s impossible to dislike their starting running back, who lets his play do the talking in a world where everyone needs to tell everyone how good they are. Even in a win, though, it was disappointing to see Odell Beckham Jr. basically dejected because the numbers weren’t there for him personally, and the Browns will never go anywhere if individuals put themselves before the team. The 49ers watch the same tape everyone else does, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them stoke the flames by trying to eliminate OBJ early in the game. Coming off the bye, San Francisco’s offense should be refreshed with Tevin Coleman (ankle) returning to lead the backfield, which adds another explosive piece for a group that hasn’t really taken off despite a 3-0 start. Monday night could be a game where George Kittle goes wild after a quiet first three weeks (for his standards), but while it might be dangerous to assume, I think Freddie Kitchens has to know Chubb is the team’s best player and offensive centerpiece that they can ride to first place in the AFC North.
Winner: Cleveland Browns