TENNESSEE TITANS (3-1) AT BUFFALO BILLS (1-3)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 PM ET, New Era Field; CBS, Spero Dedes, Adam Archuleta
SERIES HISTORY: 43rd regular-season meeting. Titans lead series, 27-15. The Bills won the last meeting 14-13 in 2015 at Tennessee in a game where Tyrod Taylor, in his first year as the starter, pulled off what was one of the few fourth-quarter comebacks of his career. That ended a five-game losing streak in the series that dated to Buffalo's win on opening night in 2000. This series will always be remembered by Titans fans for the 1999 Music City Miracle playoff game where Tennessee scored on a cross-field lateral on a kickoff from Frank Wycheck to Kevin Dyson in the waning seconds of the game.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Bills have to figure out a way to get their running game going because it has been non-existent during the 1-3 start. The Bills are averaging just 88.3 yards, 24th in the league, and even that's a bit dubious because their leading rusher is rookie quarterback Josh Allen with 110 yards, who has been running for his life. LeSean McCoy has just 85 yards in the three games he has played, and Chris Ivory is averaging just 2.6 yards per attempt. Until the Bills start hurting teams on the ground, it's going to be very difficult for Allen to make things happen in the passing game because the Bills have zero play-action effectiveness right now.
After three ho-hum efforts on offense, Tennessee comes into Buffalo fresh off a game where quarterback Marcus Mariota produced 390 yards of total offense including 344 passing in a victory over the defending champion Eagles. Mariota is a dual threat who can make things happen outside the pocket, so the Bills will need to hold the edges with their pass rush because if ends Trent Murphy and Jerry Hughes get upfield too far inside, Mariota will get out and make plays outside the pocket either throwing or running. Making the Titans one-dimensional would help, and that means slowing down the combo of Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis.
Defensively, look for the Titans to put the heat on Allen by making him make quick decisions. However, the Titans will need to contain Allen well enough not to allow him to hurt them by making big plays on scrambles or off-schedule throws. Coordinator Dean Pees will probably blitz a lot, but the Titans might also employ a spy on Allen to keep him around the pocket. Also, the Titans will want to keep in check and put the Bills' fortunes in Allen's hands.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Bills LBs vs. Titans RB Dion Lewis. Last week, Lewis was rendered useless by the Eagles, but the Bills know that's probably an aberration because they saw plenty of Lewis' versatility when he was with the Patriots. Derrick Henry is the more dynamic runner, but Lewis could present some real problems for the Bills in the passing game and it will be on players like Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano to spy him and make sure they have him contained when Marcus Mariota drops the ball off on a checkdown or a quick hitch route in the middle of the field.
--Titans CB Malcolm Butler vs. Bills WR Kelvin Benjamin. Benjamin has been a bit of a disappointment for the Bills thus far. Butler has given up some big plays, getting beat over the top in his first season with the Titans. But Butler is also known to gamble and make big plays, which he might be able to do against rookie quarterback Josh Allen.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Titans RB Derrick Henry. By his own admission, Henry has been slow out of the gate this season. He has just 163 yards rushing through four games and is averaging only 3.0 yards per carry. Henry had just eight carries for 24 yards Sunday vs. the Eagles. But this week against Buffalo might be more suited to his skill set if the Titans want to try and pound away at the Bills' front.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
--OUT: S Kenny Vaccaro (elbow), LB Wesley Woodyard (shoulder)
--QUESTIONABLE: T Dennis Kelly (illness)
--QUESTIONABLE: S Rafael Bush (shoulder), TE Charles Clay (ankle), S Micah Hyde (groin)
FAST FACTS: TITANS QB MARCUS MARIOTA passed for 344 yards with 2 TDs vs. 1 INT for 99.4 rating & rushed for 46 yards with TD in Week 4. Has 6 games with pass TD & rush TD since entering league in 2015, tied for 6th-most among NFL QBs. ... ... RB DERRICK HENRY has 454 rush yards in 4th Q since 2017, 2nd-most in NFL (KAREEM HUNT). ... WR COREY DAVIS set career-highs with 9 catches & 161 rec. yards, his 1st-career 100+ yard game, & had GWTD catch last week. Is 1st Titan with 150+ rec. yards & TD catch in single game since JARED COOK (12/24/11). ... ... CB MALCOLM BUTLER had 10 tackles, sack & FF in Week 4. Is 1 of 2 in NFL (JOSH NORMAN) with 200+ tackles (215) & 45+ PD (48) since 2015. ... DT JURRELL CASEY had 1.5 sacks in last meeting. Has 3 sacks & 2 FFs in past 3. ... LB JAYON BROWN had career-high 10 tackles, 2 TFL & sack last week. Aims for 3rd in row with TFL. ... BILLS QB JOSH ALLEN (rookie) threw for 245 yards & TD in only career home start (9/16/18 vs. Chargers). Has 2 rush TDs, tied for 2nd-most among NFL QBs. ... RB LeSEAN MC COY aims for his 3rd meeting in row with 100+ scrimmage yards. In past 9 at home, has 1,005 scrimmage yards (111.7 per game) with 6 TDs (5 rush, 1 rec.). ... WR KELVIN BENJAMIN has TD catch in 2 of past 3 at home. TE CHARLES CLAY has 165 catches in 4 seasons with Buf., 4th-most by TE in franchise history. ... CB TRE'DAVIOUS WHITE had 3 PD last week. Since entering league in 2017, has 4 games with 3+ PD, tied for 2nd-most in NFL. Ranks 5th in NFL with 22 PD since 2017. ... DE JERRY HUGHES had 3 TFL last week. Has sack in 2 of past 3.
PREDICTION: The Titans are simply playing solid football under first-year head coach Mike Vrabel, and it's difficult to imagine the Bills getting enough done offensively to win.
OUR PICK: Titans, 19-10.
NEW YORK GIANTS (1-3) AT CAROLINA PANTHERS (2-1)
KICKOFF: Sunday 1:00 PM ET, Bank of America Stadium; FOX, Kenny Albert, Charles Davis, Pam Oliver (Field reporter)
SERIES HISTORY: 10th regular-season meeting. Panthers lead series, 5-4. The Giants are 2-2 against the Panthers on the road, their last meeting a 38-35 loss on Dec. 20, 2015 in Charlotte. The teams are 2-2 in games in Charlotte. The Panthers won the lone postseason matchup with a 2005 wild-card clash at the Meadowlands.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Defensively, the Giants can probably expect to see an uptick in the zone-read options from quarterback Cam Newton, a big man who has shown the power of a running back when he takes off with the ball. In past weeks when facing the zone read, the Giants' second-level players, most notably the outside linebackers, have been caught flat-footed, almost as though they were unsure what was unfolding in front of them. The Giants need to do a better job with reading those keys and committing one way or another sooner, lest Newton run amok against them.
Offensively, the Giants have frustrated their fan base by giving up on the run early and by checking down the ball all too often instead of taking some deep shots downfield. Head coach Pat Shurmur has mentioned that he'd like to call more running plays, but he's also done that on at least two different occasions this season. It's time to stop talking about it and start doing it by getting the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, Saquon Barkley, more involved early on to help establish some tempo and to more important keep the Panthers offense off the field.
The Panthers can keep opponents guessing about their use of running back Christian McCaffrey and that should be a big boost. Two games ago, he was a go-to player in the passing attack and then he turned into a major rushing threat in the next game. In three previous games against the Giants, Newton has accounted for 10 touchdowns (eight passing, two rushing).
On defense, the Panthers want to force Giants quarterback Eli Manning into mistakes. While he hasn't been overly productive with only four touchdown passes this season, Manning also has tossed only one interception. The Panthers should see an opportunity to overpower the Giants at times along the line of scrimmage.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Giants RB Saquon Barkley vs. Panthers MLB Luke Kuechly. Kuechly is a tackling machine and still has enough quickness to fill holes and burst through protections to corral linebackers. Kuechly not only leads his team in tackles (25), he also leads the Panthers with 15 tackles-for-loss, according to Pro Football Focus. Thus far, Barkley has had very little resistance from opposing linebackers, but Kuechly is certainly the cream of the crop when it comes to defending the run and defending running backs in space, so theirs should be a key matchup.
--Giants run defense vs. Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey. The Giants run defense is currently ranked 29th against the run, a statistic that's largely the result of two or three big-play runs that opponents have been able to rip off against them. The Giants have primarily been stout up the middle but have had some issues on the edges. The potential return of Olivier Vernon to the lineup this week could help with that as Vernon has historically been solid locking down his edge. McCaffrey is a tough customer who's so quick and shifty that he's able to find creases and slip through them before an opponent has a chance to react.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr. Weeks after signing the richest contract in NFL history for a wide receiver, Beckham has recorded 331 yards on 31 receptions, his receiving yardage putting him 16th in the league behind an impressive list of names that includes Raiders tight end Jared Cook and Saints running back Alvin Kamara. And interestingly, only Julio Jones of the Falcons join Beckham from that top-16 list as the players without a receiving touchdown to date. The problem is the Giants, whether intentional or how things evolved, have turned Beckham into a possession receiver who lately has specialized in shallow crossing routes and slants. But if the Giants are to turn their fortunes around, they're going to have to find a way to get their most dynamic player on offense more involved.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
NEW YORK GIANTS
--OUT: TE Evan Engram (knee), LB Olivier Vernon (ankle)
--OUT: TE Greg Olsen (foot)
--QUESTIONABLE: LB Jared Norris (toe)
FAST FACTS: GIANTS QB ELI MANNING passed for 255 yards with 1 TD last week. Has 343 career TD passes & surpassed HOFer FRAN TARKENTON (342) for 7th-most TD passes in NFL history. Has 576 pass yards (288 per game) with 3 TDs & 0 INTs for 113.2 rating in past 2 on road. ... RB SAQUON BARKLEY (rookie) had 100 scrimmage yards (56 rec., 44 rush) & rush TD in Week 4. Is 5th player in NFL history with 100+ scrimmage yards in each of 1st 4 career games. Has 453 scrimmage yards, most among NFL rookies in 2018. ... WR ODELL BECKHAM JR. had 6 catches for 76 yards & TD in last meeting. ... WR STERLING SHEPARD had 10 catches for 77 yards & TD last week. Aims for 3rd in row with TD. ... S LANDON COLLINS tied career high with 14 tackles in Week 4. ... Rookie DT B.J. HILL had sack last week. Aims for 3rd in row with sack. ... CB JANORIS JENKINS has 2 INT-TDs, 8 PD & FF in his past 7 on road. ... PANTHERS QB CAM NEWTON aims for 3rd in row with 100+ rating. Had 4 TDs (2 pass, 2 rush) & 108 rating in Week 3. Has 3 career games with 2+ TD passes & 2+ rush TDs, 2nd-most all-time. Has 57 career rush TDs, most by QB in NFL history. ... RB CHRISTIAN McCAFFREY had career-high 184 rush yards in Week 3. Has 95+ scrimmage yards in all 3 games in 2018. ... Since entering league in 2011, WR TORREY SMITH ranks 3rd among active NFL players with 16.4 yards per reception (min. 200 catches). ... LB LUKE KUECHLY since entering league in 2012, leads NFL with 844 tackles. ... Rookie CB DONTE JACKSON had 7 tackles & 2 INTs in Week 3. Has 3 INTs in 2018, tied for NFL lead. ... DE EFE OBADA had sack & INT in Week 3 in NFL debut.
PREDICTION: The Panthers are rested coming off their bye, and the Giants are in the midst of another poor start that could doom their season. At home, Carolina will be tough to beat.
OUR PICK: Panthers, 24-16.
MIAMI DOLPHINS (3-1) AT CINCINNATI BENGALS (3-1)
KICKOFF: SUNDAY, 1:00 PM ET, Paul Brown Stadium; CBS, Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon, Steve Tasker (Field reporter)
SERIES HISTORY: 22nd regular-season meeting. Dolphins lead series, 15-6. However, Cincinnati won the most recent matchup, 22-7, in 2016. But, since Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill and Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton have been in the NFL, Miami leads this series, 2-1, with one of those games going to overtime. Miami won the OT battle 22-20 in 2013. The teams have split the last six meetings after Miami won the previous nine from 1978 to 2000.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Dolphins will be running into a hot offense that ranks fourth in the NFL with 31.5 points per game. Miami ranks 14th in the league in points allowed (22.5), 20th in rushing yards allowed (110.5) and 26th in passing yards allowed (284.8). The Bengals offer an opportunity for Miami's defense to prove itself, but it won't be easy to contain quarterback Andy Dalton, running back Gio Bernard and wide receivers A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd.
With an offense among the league's most effective, it's hard to imagine the Bengals deviating from a game plan that features a heavy dose of Green. If the Bengals encounter a fierce defense against Green, it will be interesting to see how much Boyd gets emphasized following two straight 100-yard games.
On offense, Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill needs to bounce back after a 38-7 loss to New England last week. Tannehill was held to 100 yards and no touchdowns with one interception. But there was enough blame to go around as the offensive line got whipped, and the running game was held to 56 yards on 18 carries.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Dolphins LG Ted Larsen, C Travis Swanson and RG Jesse Davis vs. Bengals DT Geno Atkins. Dolphins starting C Daniel Kilgore is out for the year after suffering a triceps injury last Sunday. Two weeks ago, the Dolphins lost starting G Josh Sitton for the season due to a rotator-cuff injury. Miami's remade offensive line, especially in those three interior positions, figures to be vulnerable against Atkins, a six-time Pro Bowl player. Atkins had a sack and two tackles for losses last Sunday, and he and NT Andrew Billings combined for eight tackles.
--Dolphins CB Xavien Howard vs. Bengals WR A.J. Green. Howard had three interceptions and four passes defensed in Miami's first three games this season, stamping himself as one of the NFL's best cornerbacks. However, Howard had no picks or passes defensed last week against New England, and he also got beat for a touchdown by Phillip Dorsett. Meanwhile, Green had four catches for 78 yards and one TD last week in a 37-36 win over the Falcons. A seven-time Pro Bowl selection, Green, 30, has five TD catches in four games this season.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Bengals QB Andy Dalton is off to a tremendous start and directed his 22nd game-winning drive last week. His next one will break the mark set by Boomer Esiason. Last week he was 29 of 41 for 337 yards and a 109.5 passer rating. Dalton has a passer rating of over 100 in each game so far and, after throwing three touchdowns, he has 11, five more than last year at this point.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
--OUT: TE A.J. Derby (foot), CB Bobby McCain (knee)
--DOUBTFUL: DE Cam Wake (knee)
--QUESTIONABLE: LB Chase Allen (foot), LB Stephone Anthony (hamstring), TB Brandon Bolden (hamstring), DE Andre Branch (knee), S Reshad Jones (shoulder), S T.J. McDonald (foot), WR DeVante Parker (quadriceps)
--OUT: RB Giovani Bernard (knee), C Billy Price (foot), WR John Ross (groin)
FAST FACTS: DOLPHINS QB RYAN TANNEHILL has 120+ rating in 2 of past 3. Is 10-2 in his past 12 starts. Ranks 2nd in AFC in comp. pct. (69.1 pct.) & 3rd in rating (106.1). ... RB KENYAN DRAKE has TD in 4 of past 6 on road. ... WR KENNY STILLS had 74-yard TD catch in last meeting. Aims for his 3rd in row vs. Cin. with TD catch. Since entering league in 2013, has 16.3 yards per catch avg., 2nd-highest among NFL players (min. 200 catches). ... WR ALBERT WILSON has rec. TD in 2 of his past 3. Is 1 of 4 active players with 5+ TD catches (9), rush TD (1) & pass TD (1) in career. . LB KIKO ALONSO ranks 2nd in NFL with 46 tackles & is only NFL player with 40+ tackles & INT this season. DE CAMERON WAKE has 4 sacks, 2 TFL, FF & FR in his past 3 meetings. ... CB XAVIEN HOWARD has 3 INTs & 4 PD in his past 3. ... BENGALS recorded GW-TD pass with under 10 seconds remaining in 4th Q last week for 2nd time in franchise history (10/10/99). ... QB ANDY DALTON completed 29 of 41 (70.7 pct.) for 337 yards with 3 TDs vs. 1 INT for 109.5 rating last week. Aims for his 3rd in row with 330+ pass yards. Has 100+ rating in 3 of his past 4. Tied for 2nd in NFL with 11 TD passes. ... RB GIOVANI BERNARD had 96 scrimmage yards (69 rush, 27 rec.) & 2 rush TDs last week. Since entering league in 2013, is 1 of 2 active players (Le'VEON BELL) with 3,000+ rush yards (3,055) & 2,000+ rec. yards (2,138). WR A.J. GREEN aims for 3rd in row vs. Mia. with 10+ catches & 125+ rec. yards. Ranks 2nd in NFL with 5 TD catches. ... WR TYLER BOYD had career-high 11 catches for 100 yards last week. ... DT GENO ATKINS had sack last week. In past 3 vs. Mia., has 3.5 sacks & 4 TFL. Aims for 4th meeting in row with sack. ... DE CARLOS DUNLAP aims for 3rd in row with sack. Has sack in 5 of past 6.
PREDICTION: The Bengals are home after being on the road for three of their first four games. This game starts a stretch of four at home in the next five games. The Miami defense will have a difficult time against a hot offense.
OUR PICK: Bengals, 27-20.
BALTIMORE RAVENS (3-1) AT CLEVELAND BROWNS (1-2-1)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 PM ET, FirstEnergy Stadium; CBS, Andrew Catalon, James Lofton, John Schriffen (Field reporter)
SERIES HISTORY: 39th regular-season meeting. Ravens lead series, 29-9. Baltimore is 14-5 in Cleveland. Under head coach John Harbaugh, Baltimore is 18-2 against the Browns, including 9-1 on the road. The Ravens have also won five straight games against Cleveland and four in a row at FirstEnergy Stadium. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is 36-23 against the AFC North. He has almost half of those victories at the expense of the Browns. The Browns are 2-17 when facing Flacco.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Ravens revamped offense has been impressive this season, averaging 396.8 yards and 30.8 points per game. Joe Flacco is having one of the finest seasons of his career. He has thrown for 1,252 yards with eight touchdowns and two interceptions. He will test a Browns secondary that is allowing 278 passing yards per game. Baltimore, however, still needs to get its running game revved up to set the tone and control the clock in a hostile road environment. The Ravens have to be wary of Browns defensive end Myles Garrett, who had nine tackles (seven solo) and a half-sack last week against Oakland.
The Ravens defense has been dominant up front and in the secondary. They will look to keep Browns rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield on his heels for much of the game. The Ravens are tied with seven teams with 12 sacks on the year. One of the keys for Baltimore will be shutting down Browns running back Carlos Hyde to make Mayfield try and win the game through the air. Hyde has been impressive and is ranked sixth in the NFL with 285 yards and a league-high five touchdowns.
Duke Johnson Jr. has become the forgotten man in the Browns offense. The fourth-year running back led the Browns with 74 catches last season, but he has only nine through four games. This could be the week offensive coordinator Todd Haley calls Johnson's numbers with screen passes to slow the Ravens pass rush.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Ravens secondary vs. Browns QB Baker Mayfield. The Ravens will get a boost this week with the return of cornerback Jimmy Smith in an already strong secondary. Baltimore has four interceptions over the opening four games and has forced two fumbles. The Ravens will try to confuse Mayfield with multiple blitz packages and different looks in the secondary. Mayfield, however, will not be intimidated. He has thrown for 496 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
--Ravens WRs vs. Browns S Damarious Randall and CB Denzel Ward. Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco has multiple weapons and threw to 11 receivers against the Steelers. John Brown is the most dangerous deep threat, while Michael Crabtree and Willie Snead IV are adept at catching the ball in the middle of the field and at the first-down markers. Randall and Ward have been solid and already have two interceptions apiece. However, the Browns placed cornerback Terrance Mitchell on injured reserve with a broken wrist. This is a key loss. Cornerback E.J. Gaines will likely start opposite of Ward.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Ravens WR John Brown. The Ravens signed Brown in the offseason as a potential big-play threat and he has delivered. Brown caught two passes for 104 yards and a touchdown in the first half Sunday night against Pittsburgh. He has caught 15 passes for a team-high 338 yards and three touchdowns over four games. He ranks third in the NFL with 22.5 yards per catch.
Browns RB Nick Chubb. Chubb carried the ball only three times against the Raiders, but he opened some eyes, including those of head coach Hue Jackson, by scoring touchdowns on runs of 63 and 41 yards. Jackson said the Browns have to find ways to get Chubb more carries, but first Chubb has to become more efficient in pass protection. He says he is improving in that area.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
--OUT: CB Anthony Averett (hamstring), LB Tim Williams (hamstring)
--QUESTIONABLE: CB Brandon Carr (knee), DT Willie Henry (abdomen), TE Hayden Hurst (foot), DB/LB Anthony Levine Sr. (hamstring), G Alex Lewis (shoulder), DT Michael Pierce (foot), LB Za'Darius Smith (hamstring)
--OUT: LB James Burgess (knee)
--QUESTIONABLE: LB Christian Kirksey (illness), S Damarious Randall (heel)
FAST FACTS: RAVENS QB JOE FLACCO passed for 363 yards with 2 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 109.5 rating last week. Has 350+ pass yards in 2 of past 3. Has 11 TD passes vs. 5 INTs for 90.5 rating in his past 6 vs. Cle. ... RB JAVORIUS ALLEN has rush TD in 3 of his past 4. ... RB ALEX COLLINS has TD in 4 of his past 5. ... WR JOHN BROWN had 3 catches for 116 rec. yards & TD catch last week. Has TD catch in 3 of past 4. Has 22.5 yards per catch avg. in 2018, 2nd-highest in NFL (DeSEAN JACKSON) among players with 15+ catches. ... WR MICHAEL CRABTREE has 26 TD catches since 2015, tied for 5th-most in NFL. ... BROWNS QB BAKER MAYFIELD (rookie) passed for 295 yards with 2 TDs vs. 2 INTs last week. His 295 pass yards were 5th most by No. 1 overall pick in his 1st-career start in SB era. ... RB CARLOS HYDE since 2016, is 1 of 8 with 2,000+ rush yards (2,211) & 20+ total TDs (22). ... Rookie RB NICK CHUBB had 3 carries for 105 yards, incl. rush TDs of 63 & 41 yards last week. Is 1st player in NFL history with 100+ rush yards & 2+ rush TDs on 3 or fewer carries. ... RB DUKE JOHNSON JR. since 2015, leads NFL RBs with 1,825 rec. yards & ranks 2nd among RBs with 197 catches. ... WR JARVIS LANDRY had TD catch last week. Aims for 3rd in row at home with 7+ catches & 100+ rec. yards. ... DE MYLES GARRETT has 4 sacks, 3 TFL & 3 FFs in his past 4 vs. division. ... LB JOE SCHOBERT had career high 14 tackles & sack last week. ... DT LARRY OGUNJOBI has 6 TFL in past 4. Is 1 of 5 in AFC with 6+ TFL (6) & 3+ sacks (3) in 2018.
PREDICTION: There's no doubt the Browns are a better than they have been over the last two seasons. However, finishing games remains their biggest issue. That will be tough to do against a Ravens team off to a promising start.
OUR PICK: Ravens, 20-17.
GREEN BAY PACKERS (2-1-1) AT DETROIT LIONS (1-3)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 PM ET, Ford Field; FOX, Thom Brennaman, Chris Spielman, Shannon Spake (Field reporter)
SERIES HISTORY: 176th regular-season meeting. Packers lead series, 98-70-7. The Lions swept the season series last year for the first time since 1991, but Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers missed both of those games with a broken collarbone. One memorable meeting between these two teams came in 2015, when Rodgers completed a 61-yard Hail Mary to tight end Richard Rodgers to give the Packers a 27-23 win at Ford Field.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Lions beat Tom Brady by controlling the clock and keeping him off the field, nearly doubling up the New England Patriots in time of possession, and that's a good plan to replicate against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. The Lions have run the ball well at times with Kerryon Johnson, and against a middle-of-the-pack run defense they should have the opportunity to do so again Sunday.
On defense, the Lions need to keep Aaron Rodgers in the pocket. Rodgers is at his best when he buys time and extends plays, so Devon Kennard, Ziggy Ansah (if he plays) and the Lions' other edge rushers must hold their rush lanes. The Lions rank last in the NFL in run defense, but if they can stop Jamaal Williams they'll at least make the Packers one-dimensional.
If starting receivers Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison are either limited or out altogether, it will be up to the Packers to somehow get Davante Adams open against a defense that will have its full attention directed at him. Adams, with 28 catches for 285 yards and three touchdowns, is Green Bay's leading receiver. If Cobb and Allison are sidelined, the rest of the receiver corps combined has two catches for 41 yards.
Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford dominated the Packers last season, with 361 passing yards, two touchdowns, zero interceptions and a 132.4 passer rating at Lambeau Field and 323 passing yards, three touchdowns, zero interceptions and a 140.4 passer rating at Ford Field. In his last seven meetings against Green Bay, Stafford has thrown 17 touchdown passes against three interceptions. The Packers' pass defense, however, might be rounding into form after getting demolished in the second half by Minnesota's Kirk Cousins and the first half against Washington's Alex Smith. With eight touchdowns and five interceptions this season, Stafford has been a big play waiting to happen for the Lions or their opponent. The Packers have to take advantage of any opportunities offered by Stafford.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Lions RG Kenny Wiggins vs. Packers DL Mike Daniels. Wiggins is expected to start at right guard Sunday in place of the injured T.J. Lang, and he'll have his hands full with one of the better interior defensive linemen in the NFL. Daniels plays over both the right and left guard in the Packers' scheme, and as good as he is, he's tough to double-team because of the various blitz packages employed by Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. Wiggins had a mediocre performance filling in for Lang over the final two-plus quarters last week. If he's not significantly better on Sunday, Matthew Stafford could be in for a long day.
--Packers WR Davante Adams vs. Lions CB Darius Slay. The Lions have no fear playing Slay anywhere or against anyone on the field. He plays right and left corner and occasionally in the slot, and the Lions like to travel him with their opponents' No. 1 receiver. Adams leads the Packers with 28 receptions, nine more than Geronimo Allison, and Slay called him one of the two best players in the NFL at getting off the line of scrimmage. If Green Bay is without its next-best receivers, Randall Cobb and Allison, then the Packers' hopes on Sunday might hinge on Adams' ability to beat Slay, who led the NFL with eight interceptions and 26 passes defensed last season.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Packers WRs Marquez Valdes-Scantling, J'Mon Moore and Equanimeous St. Brown. After releasing veteran receiver Jordy Nelson, the Packers drafted Moore in the fourth round, Valdes-Scantling in the fifth round and St. Brown in the sixth round. Combined, they have two catches - both by Valdes-Scantling. Moore hadn't played on offense until last week and St. Brown hasn't played on offense at all. However, with veterans Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison battling injuries, the Packers might have to lean on their rookie receivers to take some of the pressure off the last veteran standing, Davante Adams.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
GREEN BAY PACKERS
--OUT: WR Randall Cobb (hamstring)
--QUESTIONABLE: WR Davante Adams (calf), CB Jaire Alexander (groin), WR Geronimo Allison (concussion), CB Bashaud Breeland (hamstring), S Kentrell Brice (ankle), G Justin McCray (shoulder), G Lucas Patrick (back), S Jermaine Whitehead (back)
--OUT: DE Ezekiel Ansah (shoulder), G T.J. Lang (concussion), TE Michael Roberts (knee)
--QUESTIONABLE: DB Quandre Diggs (hand), DL Da'Shawn hand (ankle), LB Eli Harold (not injury related), WR Marvin Jones Jr (ankle), CB Nevin Lawson (illness), S Tracy Walker (ankle), S Tavon Wilson (back)
FAST FACTS: PACKERS QB AARON RODGERS has 34 TD passes vs. 6 INTs for 109.4 rating in 16 career games vs. Det. Aims for 3rd in row vs. Det. with 4+ TD passes & 100+ rating. ... RB AARON JONES had 82 scrimmage yards (65 rush, 17 rec.) & rush TD in Week 4. ... WR DAVANTE ADAMS led team with 8 catches for 81 yards in Week 4. Has 6 rec. TDs in his past 6. Since 2016, leads NFL with 25 rec. TDs. ... TE JIMMY GRAHAM had TD catch last week, his 1st-career TD with GB. Has 6 TDs in his past 6 on road. Since 2012, leads NFL TEs with 54 TD catches & ranks 2nd in receptions (442) & rec. yards (5,303). ... Rookie CB JAIRE ALEXANDER had 1st-career INT in Week 4. ... LB KYLER FACKRELL had career-high 3 sacks last week, his 1st-career multi-sack game. ... LIONS QB MATTHEW STAFFORD aims for 4th in row with 100+ rating. Has 1,416 pass yards (354 per game) with 10 TDs vs. 2 INTs for 118.3 rating in his past 4 meetings. Aims for 5th in row vs. GB with 300+ pass yards, 2+ TDs & 95+ rating. ... RB KERRYON JOHNSON (rookie) rushed for 1st-career TD last week. ... RB THEO RIDDICK leads NFL RBs with 207 receptions since 2015. ... WR GOLDEN TATE had 8 catches for 132 yards & 2 TDs last week. Has 20 catches for 294 yards (98 per game) & 2 TDs in his past 3 meetings. ... WR MARVIN JONES JR. has 25 receptions for 507 yards (101.4 per game) & 6 TDs in 5 career meetings. ... DE EZEKIEL ANSAH has 4 sacks in his past 2 at home. Aims for 3rd in row at home with sack. ... LB JARRAD DAVIS led team with 11 tackles & FF in Week 4. CB DARIUS SLAY since 2017 leads NFL in INTs (9) & PD (30).
PREDICTION: It will be raucous in Ford Field Sunday, and the difference will be Stafford limiting his mistakes against Green Bay's defense.
OUR PICK: Lions, 28-27.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (3-1) AT KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (4-0)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 PM ET, Arrowhead Stadium; CBS, Jim Nantz, Tony Romo, Tracy Wolfson (Field reporter)
SERIES HISTORY: 12th regular-season meeting. Jaguars lead series, 6-5. The teams have only met twice in last seven seasons. Last meeting was in 2016 with Chiefs posting 19-14 win at home. Kansas City has won last three meetings, winning by 28-2 (2013) and 42-20 (2010) scores. Jacksonville won four of the first games in the series but have won just twice in the last six contests. Chiefs have won three of the five games played at Arrowhead Stadium.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Jaguars' game plan is to control the ball and time by putting together lengthy drives against the Chiefs. Doing so will keep the Chiefs offense on the sideline. Look for the Jaguars to go with five defensive backs much of this game, similar to what they did against both the New York Giants and New England. Mahomes has been very effective in his first four games this season which is why the Jaguars secondary will have five, sometimes six defensive backs in the game.
The Jaguars offense will be without Leonard Fournette for the third time in five games and that will put more emphasis on the passing game. Blake Bortles has been most effective with short throws, slants over the middle or quick tosses to wide receivers near the sidelines. Look for added attention to backup running back Corey Grant on the short throws out of the backfield.
The Jaguars bring the No. 1 scoring defense in the league into Kansas City, giving Mahomes the toughest challenge to date. But the Chiefs with running back Kareem Hunt should find yards on the ground against the Jaguars. Don't be surprised if the Chiefs lean on a lot of misdirection with their speedy wide receivers out of the backfield as well. Mahomes can take over if needed, but look for the Chiefs to look for quick passes on the edges to their playmakers and less downfield shots than usual.
Kansas City's secondary suspect, so expect the Chiefs to use sub-packages with an additional safety to prevent the deep ball and force Bortles to beat them with a short passing game.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Chiefs TE Travis Kelce vs. Jaguars FS Deshaun Gipson. This will be a matchup of two of the league's top players at their position. Kelce leads the Chiefs with 38 targets and has 23 catches for 307 yards and three touchdowns. His size, athleticism and ability to find an open spot in opposing secondaries makes him a threat on every passing play. Gipson has had a solid start to the 2018 season and says he's up for the challenge of playing one of the best tight ends in the game today. "This is a matchup that I'm really excited about," he said. "When the schedule came out for this year, I circled the games where there were tight ends I knew I would really be amped up to play, and this is certainly one of them. If you feel like you're the best or want to put it out there that you're the best, you have to go against the best and that's Kelce. He and (New England's) Rob Gronkowski are 1-A and 1-B."
--Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill vs. Jaguars CB Jalen Ramsey. This matchup has the potential for serious fireworks. Hill and Ramsey both love to talk and playfully take shots at each other off the field. But Hill wants to prove himself against the best and wants to challenge Ramsey.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Chiefs S Eric Murray. The third-year safety picked up the first interception of his career in Week 4 against the Denver Broncos as he continues filling in for injured strong safety Eric Berry. Murray has 26 total tackles on the season along with two passes defended. Head coach Andy Reid praised Murray for his performance thus far this season, and called his game against Denver the best of his young career.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
--OUT: RB Leonard Fournette (hamstring), CB D.J. Hayden (toe)
--QUESTIONABLE: CB Tre Herndon (hamstring)
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
--DOUBTFUL: S Eric Berry (heel)
--QUESTIONABLE: LB Dee Ford (groin), WR Sammy Watkins (hamstring), S Armani Watts (groin)
FAST FACTS: JAGUARS QB BLAKE BORTLES completed 29 of 38 (76.3 pct.) for 388 yards with 2 TDs vs. 1 INT for 114.8 rating last week. Has 375+ pass yards in 2 of past 3. Since entering the league in 2014, is 1 of 2 NFL QBs (RUSSELL WILSON) with 15,000+ pass yards (16,023) & 1,500+ rush yards (1,542). ... RB T.J. YELDON had 100 scrimmage yards (52 rush, 48 rec.) & 2 TDs (1 rush, 1 rec.) last week. ... RB LEONARD FOURNETTE has 874 scrimmage yards (109.3 per game) & 5 TDs (4 rush, 1 rec.) in 8 career road games. ... WR DEDE WESTBROOK set career highs with 9 catches & 130 rec. yards last week. ... WR DONTE MONCRIEF had 109 rec. yards & TD catch in Week 4. Has TD catch in 2 of past 3. ... DE CALAIS CAMPBELL has 3 sacks & 5 TFL in past 4. Since 2017, ranks 3rd in NFL with 17.5 sacks. ... DT MALIK JACKSON had sack in Week 4. Aims for 5th in row with TFL. ... DE YANNICK NGAKOUE had sack last week. In past 6 on road, has 7 sacks, 5 TFL & 3 FFs. ... CHIEFS QB PATRICK MAHOMES had 304 pass yards with TD & 1st-career rush TD last week. Aims for 4th in row with 300+ pass yards. Leads NFL with 14 pass TDs & ranks 2nd with 126.5 rating. ... RB KAREEM HUNT had 175 scrimmage yards (121 rush, 54 rec.) & rush TD last week. Has 7 games with 100+ rush yards since entering league in 2017, tied for 2nd-most in NFL. Since 2017, ranks 2nd in NFL with 1,616 rush yards & 3rd with 2,130 scrimmage yards. ... TE TRAVIS KELCE had 7 catches for 78 yards & TD last week. Has 100+ rec. yards in 2 of past 3. ... WR TYREEK HILL has 3 TD catches in past 4. Is 1 of 5 in NFL with 350+ rec. yards (364) & 3+ TD catches (3). ... LB DEE FORD had sack last week. Aims for 3rd in row with sack. ... LB JUSTIN HOUSTON had sack in Week 4. Has 3 sacks & 2 FFs in past 2. ... CB ERIC MURRAY had 1st-career INT last week.
PREDICTION: The Chiefs have to lose at some point, right? This could be the day, even at Arrowhead. The Jaguars' defense will keep Mahomes in control, and the offense will do just enough.
OUR PICK: Jaguars, 17-16.
DENVER BRONCOS (2-2) AT NEW YORK JETS (1-3)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 PM ET, MetLife Stadium; CBS, Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts, Evan Washburn (Field reporter)
SERIES HISTORY: 36th regular-season meeting. Broncos lead series, 19-15-1. Denver has won five of the last six meetings between these teams, including last year's 23-0 victory when Broncos linebacker Shane Ray broke Jets quarterback Josh McCown's left hand, ending his season. It was the first time the Jets were shut out since Oct. 5, 2014, against the Chargers, and was their first of four losses to end the season. The Jets' last win in the series was in Denver on Oct. 17, 2010.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Broncos hope to complement what has been a very sturdy running game with more productivity in their passing game, disappointingly feeble in recent weeks. Quarterback Case Keenum is in his first year as the Broncos' starter and is still developing a rapport with his receivers. But the hope is now, a month into the season, that Keenum and especially wideouts Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas are getting close to being on the same page.
The Broncos' pass rush has its eyes on rattling Jets rookie quarterback Sam Darnold. Von Miller, Bradley Chubb and Co. hope to take out some of their frustration in their failures against the Chiefs' elusive Patrick Mahomes by getting to Darnold, getting stops and/or turnovers and giving their offense more scoring opportunities.
The Jets have allowed a 20-plus-yard rush to the opposing quarterback the last three games, and all three have come in the first quarter. Shockingly, only Blake Bortles' 23-yard run on Sunday led to points (a field goal), but it's a trend the Jets can't continue. Case Keenum isn't extremely mobile, but he did have a rushing touchdown in Denver's Week 2 win over the Raiders. Furthermore, this trend speaks to the Jets' tendency to over-pursue the run, which they might try to do against Broncos speedster Phillip Lindsay, who is averaging 5.9 yards per carry and Royce Freeman (5.0 yards per carry).
Offensively, the Jets have to run the ball effectively. They held the ball only 22:25 Sunday in Jacksonville, allowing the Jaguars to run 23 more plays than them.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Jets LT Kelvin Beachum/RT Brandon Shell vs. Broncos WLB Von Miller. The six-time All-Pro is versatile, but he more often than not lines up as an edge rusher on the weak side, with Denver hoping to get him in a one-on-one matchup with a slower offensive tackle. The 29-year-old is the best in the business at getting to the quarterback, as his 87.5 career sacks are the most in the league since he was drafted second overall out of Texas A&M in 2011. He already has four in four games this season, while the Jets have allowed 10.
--Broncos WRs Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders vs. Jets CBs Trumaine Johnson and Morris Claiborne. The big play from Denver's wideouts has been largely missing in the last couple weeks and Thomas in particular has had several dropped passes at critical moments in games. As such Denver has struggled to stretch opposing defenses. Both Sanders and Thomas have shown before that they are capable playmakers and it may just be a matter of gradually improving chemistry between new quarterback Case Keenum and his wideouts before they start connecting with more frequency on downfield plays. Pass defense, though has been a strength for the Jets, whose six interceptions are fifth in the league.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Jets DE Henry Anderson. The Jets traded a seventh-round pick for the 27-year-old during the draft and it's already paid dividends, as Anderson leads the Jets with a career-high 2.5 sacks. Rookie third-round pick Nathan Shepherd has made three of the four starts opposite Leonard Williams, but the 6-foot-6, 301-pounder out of Stanford has made more impact plays, including three pass deflections against the Jaguars.
Broncos TE Jeff Heuerman. He has seen a significant bump in playing time as the Broncos look to replace promising tight end Jake Butt, who was lost to a season-ending knee injury two weeks ago during a team practice. The 6-foot-5 Heuerman, a fourth-year pro, averaged 14.3 yards on a season-high four receptions in last Monday's loss to the Chiefs.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
--OUT: T Jared Veldheer (knee)
--DOUBTFUL: P Marquette King (right thigh)
--QUESTIONABLE: LB Todd Davis (shoulder), DE Adam Gotsis (knee)
NEW YORK JETS
--OUT: CB Trumaine Johnson (quadriceps), WR Charone Peake (hamstring), TE Neal Sterling (concussion)
--QUESTIONABLE: S Marcus Maye (ankle, foot)
FAST FACTS: BRONCOS QB CASE KEENUM passed for 245 yards last week. Has 100+ rating in 3 of his past 6 road starts. Since 2017, is 1 of 4 NFL QBs with 4,500+ pass yards (4,535), 25+ TD passes (25) & 66+ comp. pct (66.2). ... RB PHILLIP LINDSAY (rookie) is only NFL rookie with 300+ scrimmage yards (312), rush TD (1) & rec. TD (1). ... Rookie RB ROYCE FREEMAN had 8 carries for 67 yards (8.4 avg.) & rush TD last week. Aims for 4th in row with rush TD. Freeman (219 rush yards, 3 rush TDs) & Lindsay (267, 1) are only pair of RB teammates with 200+ rush yards & TD run each in 2018. ... WR EMMANUEL SANDERS is 1 of 2 NFL players (ALVIN KAMARA) with 300+ rec. yards (314) & 50+ rush yards (53). ... LB VON MILLER had sack in last meeting. In 3 career games vs. NYJ, had 4.5 sacks & 7 TFL. Since entering league in 2011, leads NFL with 87.5 sacks. ... JETS QB SAM DARNOLD (rookie) threw for TD last week. Passed for 334 yards in only career home start (9/16/18 vs. Mia.). Leads rookie QBs with 868 pass yards. ... RB ISAIAH CROWELL ties for third in NFL with 4 rush TDs. ... RB BILAL POWELL since 2016, ranks 3rd among NFL RBs with 4.77 yards per carry avg. (min. 200 carries). ... TE JORDAN LEGGETT had 1st-career TD catch last week. ... LB AVERY WILLIAMSON had 9 tackles, FF & PD last week. Has 23 tackles & 2 sacks in past 2. ... S JAMAL ADAMS had career-high 12 tackles last week. Has 31 tackles, tied for 2nd-most among NFL safeties. ... DE LEONARD WILLIAMS had sack & 2 TFL last week. Has 2+ TFL in 2 of past 3.
PREDICTION: The Broncos played as well as they could have Monday, but succumbed late against Kansas City. It will be a short week, but Denver's defense should be able to handle rookie quarterback Sam Darnold.
OUR PICK: Jaguars, 17-16.
ATLANTA FALCONS (1-3) AT PITTSBURGH STEELERS (1-2-1)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 PM ET, Heinz Field; FOX, Chris Myers, Daryl Johnston, Laura Okmin (Field reporter)
SERIES HISTORY: 17th regular-season meeting. Steelers lead series, 13-2-1. Steelers have won the last two meetings: 27-20 in Atlanta in 2014 and 15-9 in overtime in Pittsburgh in 2010. Last Atlanta win was 41-38 in Atlanta in 2006. The Falcons have never won in Pittsburgh. Three of the past four games in this series have gone to overtime.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Look for the Falcons to play even more aggressive on defense this week. Despite possibly having as many as five starters out, Atlanta isn't likely to become a passive team. It's a good week to be aggressive and try to force turnovers; Pittsburgh has fumbled six times and lost four of them and the Falcons will try to get defensive end Takk McKinley and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett (if healthy) after Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and try to create some turnover opportunities there. The aggressiveness up front may help continue to keep Pittsburgh's rushing attack at bay; the Steelers rank 15th in the AFC in rushing.
Along those lines, the Steelers have to find a way to get their running game going. When the Ravens stuffed the run early they were able to easily defend the Steelers' passing game. They can't let the same thing happen against the Falcons. James Conner gained 135 yards in the opener at Cleveland, but he hasn't had much success since then. Much of that has to do with a lack of a commitment to the run game. The Falcons have struggled to defend the run and the pass. If the Steelers can do both effectively Sunday they'll have a much better chance of winning. Plus, possessing the ball more - they held it for just eight minutes in the second half against the Ravens - would give their defense some much-needed rest.
The defense must put a lid on the top of their leaky pass defense. The Steelers are giving up more than 300 yards passing per game, and much of that has to do with the large number of big plays opponents get every week. The Ravens connected on a 73-yard passing play and also completed a 33-yard touchdown. Those are the types of plays that are killing the defense. The Falcons have an explosive offense and they'll test the Steelers' secondary, especially since the Steelers have been besieged by injuries to several starters. Somehow, some way the Steelers have to figure out a way to limit the Falcon's high-powered offense.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Falcons CB Desmond Trufant vs. Steelers WR Antonio Brown. Trufant was a little dinged last week and struggled to keep up with Cincinnati star A.J. Green. Brown is cut from the same cloth. However, reports say the veteran receiver and QB Ben Roethlisberger have had issues this spring, despite the duo hooking up for 29 receptions and three touchdowns in four games. Brown was even quoted as saying, "I can't throw it to myself." Such division in the ranks can only help Trufant.
--Steelers CB Joe Haden vs. Falcons WR Julio Jones. Haden is the Steelers' top corner and he'll be charged with the task of trying to limit the number of big plays by Jones, one of the league's best receivers who has 29 receptions for 502 yards through the first four games of the season. Haden gave up a touchdown to John Brown last week, but he has been really good in coverage all season, especially against DeSean Jackson of Tampa Bay. Jackson entered the game as the NFL's leading receiver and was a non-factor in that game.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Steelers WR Ryan Switzer. The Steelers acquired Switzer just before the season began to be the team's punt and kick returner. He has done well as a returner, but the Steelers also have utilized him in their offense. Switzer played 21 snaps against the Ravens. He was targeted seven times and had seven catches for 32 yards. For the season, Switzer has 11 catches for 55 yards and a touchdown.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
---OUT: CB Justin Bethel (knee), DT Grady Jarrett (ankle, knee), DE Derrick Shelby (groin)
--DOUBTFUL: S Morgan Burnett (groin), WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (ankle), LB Vince Williams (hamstring)
FAST FACTS: FALCONS QB MATT RYAN has 1,065 pass yards (355 per game) & 10 TDs vs. 1 INT for 137.9 rating in past 3. Aims for 3rd in row with 300+ pass yards, 3+ TDs & 100+ rating. ... RB DEVONTA FREEMAN has 300 scrimmage yards (100 per game) & rush TD in his past 3 on road. ... RB TEVIN COLEMAN has 249 scrimmage yards (83 per game) & TD catch in past 3. ... Rookie RB ITO SMITH had 1st-career rush TD last week. ... WR JULIO JONES led team with 9 receptions for 173 yards in Week 4. Has 13 games with 150+ rec. yards since entering league in 2011, most in NFL over span. ... WR CALVIN RIDLEY leads NFL rookies with 264 rec. yards & 6 TDs in 2018. His 6 rec. TDs are most by rookie in his team's 1st 4 games of season in NFL history. ... DE TAKKARIST McKINLEY had 3 sacks last week, his 1st-career multi-sack game. Aims for 4th in row with sack. ... S DAMONTAE KAZEE had 7 tackles & 1st-career INT in Week 4. ... STEELERS QB BEN ROETHLISBERGER has completed 43 of 57 (75.4 pct.) for 598 yards (299 per game) with 3 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 126.2 rating in two career meetings. Leads NFL with 1,414 pass yards (353.5 per game) & ranks 5th with 119 comp. ... RB JAMES CONNER is 1 of 2 in AFC (MELVIN GORDON) with 200+ rush yards (232) & 150+ rec. yards (164) in 2018. ... WR ANTONIO BROWN had TD catch in Week 4. In his past 9 vs. NFC, has 76 catches (8.4 per game) for 935 yards (103.9 per game) & 8 TDs. ... WR JUJU SMITH-SCHUSTER has 100+ rec. yards in 4 of his past 5. Since entering league in 2017, ranks 7th in AFC with 1,333 rec. yards. ... TE VANCE MC DONALD has 2 TD catches of 75+ yards since 2016, tied for most in NFL. ... LB JON BOSTIC tied for team lead with 9 tackles last week. Has 5 TFL & 2 sacks in past 4.
PREDICTION: Both teams have potentially explosive offenses to go with defenses that struggle. For the Falcons, it's mostly because of numerous major injuries this season. The winner is probably the team that scores last.
OUR PICK: Steelers, 35-31.
OAKLAND RAIDERS (1-3) AT LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (2-2)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 PM ET, StubHub Center; CBS, Greg Gumbel, Trent Green, Bruce Arians, Melanie Collins (Field reporter)
SERIES HISTORY: 117th regular-season meeting. Raiders lead series, 62-52-2. The Chargers swept the Raiders last year, the first time that happened since 2014. Rivers was on board for part of the amazing streak when the Chargers beat the Raiders 13 straight times from 2003-2009. There were historic postseason clashes, with the Raiders beating the Chargers in the 1981 AFC Conference Championship Game. The Chargers were also on the losing end of the "Holy Roller" play, due to the art and craft of quarterback Ken Stabler.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Hot off their only win of the year - against the Cleveland Browns and rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield, 45-42 in overtime -- the Raiders need to beat a legitimate team to validate that they have a real pulse in the 2018 season. Not a playoff pulse, just a pulse.
And the Chargers are as legitimate as they come, with future Hall of Famers in quarterback Philip Rivers and recently unretired tight end Antonio Gates as well as versatile running back Melvin Gordon, wide receiver Keenan Allen and upcoming star receiver Mike Williams. On defense, the Chargers are missing edge rusher Joey Bosa (foot), but they still get help up front and get extra attitude in the box from safety Derwin James, who is top contender for Defensive Rookie of the Year with 26 tackles, three interceptions and two forced fumbles.
The Raiders lost veteran right tackle Donald Penn (injured reserve/groin) and will open with bookend rookies, each 6-foot-8 inches tall - left tackle Kolton Miller, a starter all season, and right tackle Brandon Parker, who looked good filling in for Penn. Therefore, this puts even more emphasis on the Raiders running with Marshawn Lynch, who battered the Browns for 130 yards on the ground last week, and hard-running Doug Martin. This will not only keep the pressure off quarterback Derek Carr it will keep the clock running so the Oakland defense spends less time coping with Rivers and friends.
While that all sounds logical, don't be surprised if Carr and Rivers get into a shootout.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Chargers running game with Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler vs. Raiders run defense ranked No. 30. Among the reasons Philip Rivers is on one of his best four-game performances to start a season is the Chargers' ability to run the football. Gordon picked up where he left off from his breakthrough season and Ekeler appears to set a career high weekly. Both are utilized on short passes that almost resemble a running play. The Raiders have been getting pushed around up front and that has leaked into the linebacking corps. But with two Chargers youngsters manning the edges at both tackle spots, the Raiders may catch a break.
--Raiders cornerbacks Gareon Conley and Rashaan Melvin vs. an array of talented Chargers receivers. Keenan Allen, who leads the team with 24 catches for 282 yards and Mike Williams, a first round pick last year who appears ready to explode.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Raiders RT Brandon Parker. This third-round rookie out of North Carolina A&T took over at right tackle Sunday when Donald Penn was injured. Parker did well against the Browns and this may mark the changing of the guard, er, tackle. With Penn on injured reserve, Parker becomes the starter and looked good enough in a brief stint last Sunday that he may be the future there for the Raiders.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
--OUT: S Karl Joseph (hamstring)
--QUESTIONABLE: G Kelechi Osemele (knee)
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
--OUT: WR Travis Benjamin (foot), DE Joey Bosa (foot), LB Kyzir White (knee)
--DOUBTFUL: T Joe Barksdale (knee)
--QUESTIONABLE: T Russell Okung (groin)
FAST FACTS: RAIDERS QB DEREK CARR completed 35 of 58 (60.3 pct.) for 437 yards with 4 TDs vs. 2 INTs for 92.4 rating last week. Aims for 3rd in row with 340+ pass yards. Ranks 4th in NFL with 120 completions & 71.0 comp. pct. ... RB MARSHAWN LYNCH has 492 scrimmage yards (82 per game) & 5 rush TDs in past 6 on road. ... WR AMARI COOPER had 8 catches for 128 yards & TD last week. Has 8+ catches & 110+ rec. yards in 2 of past 3. ... TE JARED COOK had 8 catches for 110 yards & 2 TDs last week. Leads NFL TEs with 370 rec. yards & ties for 3rd with 2 TD catches. ... WR JORDY NELSON aims for 3rd in row with rec. TD. ... LB TAHIR WHITEHEAD led team with 12 tackles last week. ... S REGGIE NELSON had INT last week. Leads all active players with 37 INTs. ... CB GAREON CONLEY had 36-yard INT-TD last week, his 1st-career INT. ... CHARGERS QB PHILIP RIVERS passed for 250 yards with 3 TDs vs. 1 INT for 97.2 rating in Week 4. Has 3+ TD passes in 4 of past 5. Aims for 6th in row with 97+ rating. Has 51,504 career pass yards & surpassed HOFer JOHN ELWAY (51,475) for 8th-most in NFL history. ... RB MELVIN GORDON had 159 scrimmage yards (104 rush, 55 rec.) & TD catch last week. Has 5 TDs (3 rec., 2 rush) in past 3. Aims for 4th in row with TD. Leads AFC with 475 scrimmage yards. ... RB AUSTIN EKELER has 351 scrimmage yards this season & joins Gordon (475) as only pair of RB teammates with 350+ scrimmage yards each in 2018. . WR KEENAN ALLEN had 9 catches for 133 yards & TD & had 27-yard FR-TD in last meeting. ... TE ANTONIO GATES had TD catch last week. Has 115 career rec. TDs, most among TEs in NFL history. ... S DERWIN JAMES (rookie) had 7 tackles, 2 PD & sack last week. Has sack in 3 of 4 career games. Is 1 of 2 players in NFL (CARLOS DUNLAP) with 3+ sacks (3) & 5+ PD (6) this season.
PREDICTION: There is no doubt the Raiders, and Carr, are improving. That was barely enough to beat the Cleveland Browns at home in overtime. They must take a step up this week on the road against their long-time rival Chargers, who are loaded on offense.
OUR PICK: Chargers 35-28.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS (1-2-1) AT PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (2-2)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:25 PM ET, Lincoln Financial Field; FOX, Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews (Field reporter)
SERIES HISTORY: 24th regular-season meeting. Vikings lead series, 13-10. Philadelphia has won seven of the past nine meetings between the two teams, including the playoffs. The playoffs are what makes this matchup so intriguing. Last year's NFC Championship Game came down to the two teams and Minnesota jumped out to a 7-0 lead in Philadelphia. The Eagles then flummoxed the Vikings by scoring 38 straight points on their way to a win and an eventual Super Bowl championship. Minnesota committed three turnovers in the game and Philadelphia, with Nick Foles at quarterback, went without a turnover and totaled 456 yards of offense.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Vikings should look for more balance and try to get the running game going with Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray. But it appears that Kirk Cousins and the passing game is option No. 1 these days. Look for the Vikings to run a bit more against the Eagles, but Philadelphia has the league's top run defense coming into Week 5. Instead, Cousins will look to receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen to make big plays and try and overcome the Eagles' offense with Carson Wentz and again without defensive end Everson Griffen.
One reason Minnesota has resorted to the pass so much is because the defense hasn't been able to stop opponents like last season, when the Vikings owned the league's top defense. Instead, it's been Cousins playing in shootouts to keep up with opponents. Minnesota needs to get back to its complement of pass rush and solid coverage. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes should be matched up with Alshon Jeffery in coverage. Danielle Hunter and Sheldon Richardson should try and pressure Wentz. The Eagles have allowed 14 sacks this season, tied for the sixth-highest total in the NFL.
Minnesota's ground game shouldn't factor into the outcome of this one. The Vikings rank dead last in running the ball, averaging just 63 yards per game. The Eagles, meanwhile, are ranked first in stopping the run, allowing 63.8 per game.
To prevent the big points being put up, the Eagles will need to stop Cousins and his cupboard full of weapons, especially Thielen, who already has 40 receptions.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Vikings S Harrison Smith vs. Eagles QB Carson Wentz. Smith is the leader of Minnesota's defense and he helps make up for mistakes of others. But, in last year's NFC Championship Game, quarterback Nick Foles and the Eagles took advantage of rare mistakes by Smith. Smith could draw some of tight end Zach Ertz in coverage and will help try and slow Philadelphia's running game. Smith has to watch Wentz and be in better positions than he was last year.
--Vikings WRs Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs vs. Eagles secondary. The Eagles are ranked 19th in pass defense while the Vikings have a high-powered passing game that is ranked fifth in the league led by Thielen and Diggs who have combined for 67 catches and five touchdowns in four games. The Eagles struggled in Tennessee playing their first game without safety Rodney McLeod, but there have been issues all season long with corners Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills. Three receivers have already torched the Eagles for more than 100 yards receiving, including Atlanta's Julio Jones (169), Tampa Bay's DeSean Jackson (129), and Tennessee's Corey Davis (161).
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Eagles CB Jalen Mills. The Eagles cornerback has been targeted a lot and challenged deep by defenses all year long, and figures to be tested mightily again by the Vikings. He has come under fire by fans in Philadelphia for being overmatched. The Eagles are sticking with him, though. "I'm firmly behind Jalen Mills as a corner," said defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. "One of the reasons we had a big parade on Broad Street (after winning Super Bowl LII) was Jalen Mills. And he's played a lot like a 2-2 corner. We have played a lot like a 2-2 defense, played a lot like a 2-2 team right now. There have been inconsistencies all around, but it's our job to help him through that. It's his job to get out of that, and I'm firmly behind Jalen Mills. That guy's played a lot of good football for us, and he epitomizes a lot of things we're about defensively: toughness, competitiveness and ability to bounce back. And I'm confident he will."
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
--OUT: DE Tashawn Bower (ankle), DE Everson Griffen (knee, not injury related), CB Marcus Sherels (ribs), CB Trae Waynes (concussion)
--QUESTIONABLE: RB Dalvin Cook (hamstring)
--OUT: DE Derek Barnett (shoulder), RB Darren Sproles (hamstring)
--QUESTIONABLE: RB Corey Clement (quadricep), DT Haloti Ngata (calf)
FAST FACTS: VIKINGS QB KIRK COUSINS passed for 422 yards with 3 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 117.3 rating last week. Has 4 games with 400+ pass yards since 2016, most in NFL. ... RB DALVIN COOK has 649 scrimmage yards (92.7 per game) & 2 rush TDs in 7 career games. ... WR ADAM THIELEN had 8 catches for 135 yards & TD in Week 4. Joined HOFer RANDY MOSS (2007) & ISAAC BRUCE (2004) as only players with 100+ rec. yards in each of team's 1st 4 games since 1970. ... WR STEFON DIGGS had 11 receptions for 123 yards last week. Has 6 TDs in his past 7. ... WR ALDRICK ROBINSON had 2 TD catches in Week 4, his 1st-career multi-TD game. ... DE DANIELLE HUNTER had 6 tackles & sack last week. Aims for 5th in row with sack. ... S HARRISON SMITH Since entering league in 2012, leads NFL safeties with 11 sacks. ... Rookie CB MIKE HUGHES is 1 of 3 NFL rookies with INT (1) & FF (1) in 2018. ... EAGLES QB CARSON WENTZ passed for 348 yards with 2 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 99.4 rating last week. Is 9-0 in his past 9 home starts. In his past 6 at home, has 1,464 pass yards (244 per game) with 18 TDs vs. 4 INTs for 110.9 rating. ... RB JAY AJAYI had 99 scrimmage yards (73 rush, 26 rec.) in 2017 NFC Champ. Game vs. Min. ... WR ALSHON JEFFERY had 8 catches for 105 yards & TD in Week 4. ... TE ZACH ERTZ led team with 10 catches for 112 yards last week. Has 10+ receptions in 2 games in 2018, most by NFL TE. Ranks 2nd among NFL TEs in catches (183) & rec. yards (1,967) since 2016. ... DE DEREK BARNETT aims for 3rd in row with sack. ... DT FLETCHER COX has 3 sacks in his past 4. ... Rookie CB AVONTE MADDOX had 1st career INT last week.
PREDICTION: It's October instead of January, but the venue is the same as the conference championship game when the Eagles came out on top. Not as much is at stake, but it will be a highly-charged atmosphere with the Vikings trying to avoid dropping to 1-3-1 and the Eagles hoping not to fall under .500.
OUR PICK: Eagles, 23-20.
ARIZONA CARDINALS (0-4) AT SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (1-3)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:25 PM ET, Levi's Stadium; FOX, Dick Stockton, Mark Schlereth, Jennifer Hale (Field reporter)
SERIES HISTORY: 54th regular-season meeting. 49ers lead series, 29-24. The Cardinals have won each of the past six meetings and seven of the last eight. Their six consecutive wins over San Francisco represents their longest active win streak against any opponent.
KEYS TO THE GAME: After a loss, or several of them, teams turn to curious use of statistics to explain or excuse the predicament. The 49ers and Cardinals are a case in point.
Arizona's rookie quarterback, Josh Rosen, made his NFL debut as a starter in a 20-17 loss to the Seattle Seahawks last week. Word from the desert, where mirages are prevalent, is that were it not for five dropped passes, Rosen would have had 300 yards passing and a victory. Who knows?
The 49ers are bemoaning three losses in four games by lamenting injuries - starting with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (out for season, ACL), then last week three starting linemen watched from the sideline with knee problems - center Weston Richburg and tackles Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchy. When 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan was asked who would be on the line against Arizona, he said, "How many left after those three? I think seven, so it'll be five of those."
All this obfuscates the fact that one of these teams may be the worst in the league, a discussion that may be settled Sunday when 49ers backup-turned starter, C.J. Beathard, goes against the Cardinals rookie quarterback, who hopes his receivers hold onto the ball more this week.
And, to hear it told, that may decide the game.
It is no more exotic for the other team, which believes it need only keep the game simple for Beathard and the 49ers will prove the Cardinals are the worst team in the league.
Your welcome for that in-depth analysis.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--49ers RB Alfred Morris vs. Cardinals MLB Josh Bynes. Arizona's opponents have run between the tackles so often this season, Bynes already has equaled his 2017 season tackle total (24). With RB Matt Breida limited by a shoulder injury, the 49ers would be wise to give their up-and-comer the week off and just pound Morris as much as possible against a defense that's already given up seven rushing touchdowns, two more than any other team.
--Cardinals RT Andre Smith vs. 49ers LDE Solomon Thomas. Smith hasn't played in three weeks because of an elbow issue and is expected to be back in the starting lineup this week. He'll have to be up to speed for this one against an edge rusher like Thomas, who has great quickness and good moves off the snap. Smith is a veteran without very good mobility, which was predictable back in 2009 when he ran an unforgettable 40 yards at Indianapolis while shirtless at a soft-and-jiggling 332 pounds (5.28 seconds). We're surprised he is still playing nine years later.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald. He is coming off one of the worst two-game stretches of his 15-year career, catching only five passes for 37 yards. Fitzgerald has been nursing a sore hamstring since the start of the season. It might also be a sign that at 35, Fitzgerald is slowing down. He was coming off the best three seasons of his career, however, in which he caught at least 100 passes for 1,000-plus yards each year.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
--QUESTIONABLE: CB Bene' Benwikere (neck), WR Larry Fitzgerald (hamstring, back), DE Markus Golden (knee), DT Robert Nkemdiche (foot), DT Corey Peters (elbow), CB Jamar Taylor (back, hamstring), T John Wetzel (shoulder)
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
--OUT: WR Dante Pettis (knee)
--QUESTIONABLE: RB Matt Breida (shoulder), WR Marquise Goodwin (hamstring, quadriceps), T Mike McGlinchey (knee), C Weston Richburg (knee), CB Richard Sherman (calf), T Joe Staley (knee), CB Jimmie Ward (hamstring)
FAST FACTS: CARDINALS QB JOSH ROSEN (rookie) had TD pass & 88.5 rating in 1st-career start last week. ... RB DAVID JOHNSON had 112 scrimmage yards (71 rush, 41 rec.) & rush TD in Week 4. Aims for 3rd in row with TD. Since 2016, ranks 3rd in NFL with 119 scrimmage yards per game (min. 20 games). ... WR LARRY FITZGERALD has 5 rec. TDs in his past 6 meetings. Has 2,169 rec. yards & 17 TD catches vs. SF, both most vs. any opponent in his career. Ranks 3rd in NFL history in rec. yards (15,686) & receptions (1,249). ... WR CHAD WILLIAMS had 1st-career TD catch last week. ... LB CHANDLER JONES aims for 3rd in row with sack. Has 3 sacks in his past 3 vs. SF. Since 2015, leads NFL with 43.5 sacks & ties for 1st with 56 TFL. ... S TRE BOSTON led team with career-high 11 tackles last week. ... 49ERS QB C.J. BEATHARD had career-high 298 pass yards with 2 TDs vs. 2 INTs in Week 4. ... RB MATT BRIEDA ranks 3rd in NFL with 313 rush yards in 2018. Has 347 scrimmage yards (115.7 per game) & rush TD in his past 3. ... WR MARQUISE GOODWIN has 18 catches for 312 yards (78 per game) & TD in his past 4 at home. ... TE GEORGE KITTLE led team with 6 receptions for career-high 125 yards & TD in Week 4. Ranks 3rd among NFL TEs with 316 rec. yards & leads TEs with 218 YAC this season. Has 416 rec. yards & TD in his past 5. ... DE DeFOREST BUCKNER has 3.5 sacks in his past 4. ... DB ANTONE EXUM JR. had 32-yard INT-TD & 3 PD in Week 4, his 1st-career TD. ... LB FRED WARNER is 1st rookie since 2000 with 10+ tackles in 4 consecutive games to begin career.
PREDICTION: Head scratcher to determine which team is worse. Let's see if veteran receiver Larry Fitzgerald can return to form, minimize the dropped passes and. ... see who is using what excuses next week.
OUR PICK: Cardinals, 28-17.
LOS ANGELES RAMS (4-0) AT SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (2-2)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:25 PM ET, CenturyLink Field; FOX, Sam Rosen, Ronde Barber, Joy Taylor (Field reporter)
SERIES HISTORY: 40th regular-season meeting. Seahawks lead series, 23-16. The Rams clinched the NFC West Division championship with a resounding 42-7 win over the Seahawks in Seattle last year in their last meeting.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Rams are now recognized as the best team, and three-ring circus, in the NFL. But when they were an ascending franchise last year, it was considered an anomaly that the Rams and an upstart quarterback named Jared Goff clobbered the Seahawks. 42-7 at CenturyLink Field, where the team and their 12s paraded the best home-field advantage in the league.
But it was more of a harbinger than an anomaly, although Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll is preaching revenge for what is left of a once mighty Seattle team. It took a last-minute field goal last week to overcome the Arizona Cardinals, a team they recently owned, as it were.
And Goff has quickly evolved from upstart to phenom, leading an offense that scored at least 33 points in all four games this year.
Not helping the Seattle cause was the loss of All-Pro safety Earl Thomas. But that doesn't put a finger on the reasons for Seattle's slide into mediocrity.
In fairness, "slide" is misleading because the Seahawks won their last two games despite being mediocre. Quarterback Russell Wilson, whose run-and-pass abilities (in that order), were a key, has not taken a back seat. Or a more comfortable seat, anyway, as he is able to manage the game without running around line a maniac. He threw only 26 times and was held under 200 yards passing in the last two games. Against the video game-like Rams, he may need to ramp it up.
As for the Rams, just refer to their roster - full of All-Pro and Pro Bowl talent on both sides of the ball.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Seahawks LB Bobby Wagner vs. Rams RB Todd Gurley II. The Rams added the explosive Brandin Cooks during an offseason trade with the Patriots to bolster the aerial attack and he leads the team in receiving yardage so far, but the offense still runs through Gurley. The electric fourth-year running back out of Georgia ranks second in the league with 338 rushing yards and has added 20 receptions for 194 yards while scoring a combined seven touchdowns in four games. In the Rams 42-7 dismantling of the Seahawks in Week 15 last season, Wagner played but was clearly not healthy dealing with a hamstring injury suffered the previous week in Jacksonville. With the All-Pro linebacker hampered by the soft tissue injury and a step slow compared to his usual self, Gurley feasted, rushing for 152 yards and three touchdowns while also scoring a touchdown as a receiver out of the backfield. Having a healthy Wagner in the lineup will be a major difference-maker for Seattle trying to slow him down in this rematch.
--Rams NT Ndamukong Suh vs. Seahawks C Justin Britt. Suh has started all 130 career games played, including 103 consecutive starts, the longest by an active defensive lineman and recorded his first two sacks as a Ram against the Chargers. Britt will be most responsible for keeping Suh out of Seattle's backfield.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Rams DT Aaron Donald. After struggling to get to the quarterback through the first three weeks of the season, Donald had a breakthrough Thursday against the Vikings by notching two fourth-quarter sacks to help close out a big win. It could be a sign that Donald is ready to wreak havoc upon rounding into form after missing all of training camp and preseason in a contract dispute. If so, expect the Rams defense to emerge in a big way.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
LOS ANGELES RAMS
--OUT: K Greg Zuerlein (right groin)
--QUESTIONABLE: LB Mark Barron (ankle), TE Tyler Higbee (knee)
--OUT: DE Rasheem Green (ankle), LB K.J. Wright (knee)
--QUESTIONABLE: G Ethan Pocic (ankle), DE Frank Clark (illness)
FAST FACTS: RAMS are 4-0 for 1st time since 2001 (started 6-0). ... QB JARED GOFF completed 26 of 33 (78.8 pct.) for career-high 465 yards with 5 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 158.3 rating last week. Is 5th player in NFL history with 450+ pass yards, 5+ TDs & 0 INTs in single game. Became 1st QB in NFL history with 350+ pass yards & 75+ completion pct. in 3 consecutive games. Ranks 1st in rating (127.3), 2nd in pass yards (1,406) & ties for 2nd in TD passes (11) in 2018. ... RB TODD GURLEY II aims for 3rd in row with 150+ scrimmage yards. Ranks 2nd in NFL with 338 rush yards, 532 scrimmage yards & 6 TDs. ... WR BRANDIN COOKS had 7 receptions for 116 yards & TD last week. ... WR COOPER KUPP set career-highs with 9 receptions, 162 rec. yards & 2 TDs in Week 4. Has 5 TDs in his past 5. ... WR ROBERT WOODS aims for 3rd in row with 100+ rec. yards & TD. ... DT AARON DONALD had 2 sacks last week. Has 6 games with 2+ sacks since 2015, 2nd-most among NFL DTs (KAWANN SHORT, 8). ... S JOHN JOHNSON has 22 tackles, FF & 3 PD in his past 3. ... SEAHAWKS QB RUSSELL WILSON has 8 pass TDs vs. 0 INTs for 102 rating in his past 4 at home. Has 14 TDs vs. 5 INTs for 95.4 rating in his past 11 vs. Rams. Since 2017, ties for NFL lead with 41 TD passes (TOM BRADY). ... RB MIKE DAVIS set career-highs in rush yards (101) & TD rushes (2) in Week 4. ... WR DOUG BALDWIN in his past 7 at home vs. NFC West, has 45 catches for 628 yards (89.7 per game) & 6 TDs. Since 2015, ranks 3rd in NFL with 29 TD catches. ... DE FRANK CLARK has 7 sacks, 8 TFL & FF in his past 9. Has 3 sacks in his past 4. ... DT JARRAN REED has 3 sacks & 4 TFL in his past 2.
PREDICTION: The Seahawks are a shell of the team that Pete Carroll built upon arrival, when he had inside knowledge of draft prospects and young free agents because he visited their living rooms while recruiting them to USC. Now the youth and the talent are on the Rams roster.
OUR PICK: Rams, 42-21.
DALLAS COWBOYS (2-2) AT HOUSTON TEXANS (1-3)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 8:20 PM ET, NRG Stadium; NBC, Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya (Field reporter)
SERIES HISTORY: 5th regular-season meeting. Cowboys lead series, 3-1. The Texans christened their franchise by defeating the Cowboys, 19-10, in their first ever NFL regular-season game. But since then, the Cowboys won three straight. Last time they saw each other, the Cowboys needed overtime to grab a 20-17 overtime victory in 2014.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Both teams expected to do well this season, but only the Texans really had the personnel to be a playoff contender. So we consider it almost an illusion in terms of ability that the Cowboys enter this game 2-2 and the Texans 1-3.
The main difference is in the perception of the two quarterbacks - the Cowboys' Dak Prescott and Houston's Deshaun Watson.
After a surprising rookie year, the Cowboys thought Prescott was better than it seems he really is. He was allowed to do great things because running back Ezekiel Elliott is the key player on offense. Elliott, who led the league in rushing as a rookie in 2016, comes in to this game at the top of an impressive parade of NFL backs, with 426 rushing, 88 ahead of the Rams' Todd Gurley II.
In Houston, Watson was off to a record-breaking pace as a rookie last year before an ACL injury put him out for the season. Despite a slow start against New England, he goes into Sunday night's game averaging 311 yards passing (plus 161 rushing and one TD) and is on pace to finish the season with 4,984 passing yards, 28 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.
The key will be making it through the season. Watson is also on pace to be hit 117 times this season, a stat that former Houston quarterback David Carr can relate to. The Texans gave up seven sacks against the Indianapolis Colts last week and for the season allowed 43 hits and 17 sacks. Not great stats for a quarterback recovering from knee surgery.
Defensively, the Texans have been an abject disappointment considering all the talent on their roster. The Colts ravaged them as quarterback Andrew Luck accumulated 464 yards, four TDs and no interceptions.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Texans LB Benardrick McKinney vs. Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott. McKinney represents the prototypical middle linebacker. He is big, fast and aggressive. Elliott is excellent at breaking tackles, or dodging them. He is the consummate all-around runner and receiver.
--Cowboys LBs vs. Texans QB Deshaun Watson. For the third time in five games, the Cowboys face a dual-threat quarterback. Watson passed for 375 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another 41 yards and a score in leading the Texans to a 37-34 overtime victory in Indianapolis on Sunday. He's now passed for more than 300 yards in three straight games. With Sean Lee likely still out with a hamstring injury, rookie LB Leighton Vander Esch and the upstart Jaylon Smith will need to help make Watson one-dimensional. Playing dual-threat QBs hasn't gone well for the Cowboys, though, as Carolina's Cam Newton and Seattle's Russell Wilson each made key plays in their teams' wins. Dallas kept Wilson from getting out as a runner, but he burned the Cowboys defense with TD passes of 16 and 52 yards that made the difference in the game.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Texans OLB Jadeveon Clowney. He is the AFC Defensive Player of the Week. He recorded two sacks, four tackles for losses, four quarterback hits and recovered a fumble for a touchdown.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
--OUT: C Travis Frederick (illness), LB Sean Lee (hamstring), WR Terrance Williams (not injury related/foot)
--QUESTIONABLE: CB Chidobe Awuzie (ankle), DT Maliek Collins (knee), DT Antwaun Woods.
--OUT: CB Aaron Colvin (ankle), LB Brian Peters (ankle)
--QUESTIONABLE: WR Keke Coutee (hamstring), WR Will Fuller V (hamstring), RB Lamar Miller (chest)
FAST FACTS: COWBOYS QB DAK PRESCOTT passed for 255 yards with 2 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 118.6 rating last week. Since entering league in 2016, ranks 2nd among NFL QBs with 12 rush TDs. ... RB EZEKIEL ELLIOTT had career-high 240 scrimmage yards (152 rush, 88 rec.) & TD catch last week. Is 3rd player in team history with 150+ rush yards & 50+ rec. yards in single game. Since 2016, leads NFL in rush yards (3,040) & rush TDs (24). TE GEOFF SWAIM had 1st-career TD catch last week. ... DE DeMARCUS LAWRENCE had career-high 8 tackles & 3 sacks last week. Has 2 games with 3+ sacks since 2017, 2nd-most in NFL. ... LB JAYLON SMITH aims for 3rd in row on road with sack. ... TEXANS QB DESHAUN WATSON passed for 375 yards with 2 TDs vs. 1 INT for 102.8 rating & rushed for 41 yards with TD last week. Aims for 4th in row with 300+ pass yards & 2+ TD passes. Ranks 4th in AFC with 1,246 pass yards & is only NFL QB with 1,200+ pass yards & 150+ rush yards (161) in 2018. ... RB LAMAR MILLER since 2014, ranks 3rd among active RBs with 5,398 scrimmage yards. ... WR DeANDRE HOPKINS had 10 catches for 169 yards & TD last week. Has 5 games with 10+ catches & 100+ rec. yards since 2015, tied for 4th-most in NFL. ... Rookie WR KEKE COUTEE had 11 catches for 109 yards in NFL debut last week, 2nd-most catches by player in 1st-career game in NFL history. ... DE J.J. WATT had 2 sacks & 2 FFs last week. Has 14 sacks, 16 TFL, 3 FFs & 2 FRs in his past 11 at home. ... LB JADEVEON CLOWNEY had 2 sacks & FR-TD in Week 4.
PREDICTION: If talent determines outcome, the Texans should win most games. This particular intra-Texas rivalry will be in only its fifth encounter, although Houston fans surely remember games between the Cowboys and the Oilers, before that franchise moved to Tennessee.
OUR PICK: Texans, 32-17.
WASHINGTON REDSKINS (2-1) AT NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (3-1)
KICKOFF: Monday, 8:15 PM ET; Mercedes-Benz Superdome; ESPN, Joe Tessitore, Jason Witten, Booger McFarland, Lisa Salters (Field reporter)
SERIES HISTORY: 27th regular-season meeting. Redskins lead series, 17-9. The two teams have never met in the NFL playoffs. They have won four of the last six meetings. Washington blew a 31-16 lead last season at the Superdome with 5:56 to go and lost 34-31 in overtime. The Redskins won 47-14 on Nov. 15, 2015 at FedExField and 40-32 at the Superdome on Sept. 9, 2012, the debut of former quarterback Robert Griffin III in his magical rookie season.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Saints will try to take advantage of having all of their primary offensive weapons available for the first time this season. That means quarterback Drew Brees can utilize Mark Ingram II and Alvin Kamara as well as wide receiver Michael Thomas, who has 42 catches through four games. Ingram's presence should give the Saints better inside-outside balance in the running game as well as another threat in the passing game, which will be important against the Redskins, who are second in the NFL in fewest points allowed (14.7) and third in fewest passing yards allowed (187.3).
With cornerback Josh Norman nursing a sore hamstring, the Redskins' need big games from corners Quinton Dunbar and Fabian Moreau, who usually plays in the slot.
The Saints have improved to third in the NFL in run defense and will try to contain Adrian Peterson and Chris Thompson and put the pressure on Alex Smith to produce in the passing game. Though the Saints pass defense has been susceptible to big plays, they showed improvement last week. Defensive ends Cameron Jordan and rookie Marcus Davenport have been pressuring the quarterback and cornerbacks Ken Crawley and P.J. Williams played better last week alongside Marshon Lattimore. If New Orleans can force Smith into obvious passing situations, it will have a much better chance of masking its shortcomings in pass defense.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Saints DE Cameron Jordan vs. Redskins LT Trent Williams. Jordan already has a pair of two-sack games this season. He had one last year, too, against Washington in New Orleans' 34-31 overtime win. Williams, a six-time Pro Bowler, will almost certainly play. He almost always does - even after undergoing minor knee surgery last week. That makes for an outstanding matchup.
--Saints T Ryan Ramczyk vs. Redskins DE Matt Ioannidis. Ioannidis has three sacks, having made one in each game, and his ability to sack Drew Brees or at least disrupt the timing of the Saints' passing game will be a key to the success of Washington's defense. Ramczyk has emerged as a solid tackle in just his second season, but he'll be challenged by Ioannidis.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Saints QB Drew Brees. Who else? Brees will be center stage from the time the ESPN build-up begins. That's primarily because of the anticipation of Peyton Manning's record for career passing yards being broken, but Brees is still deserving of the spotlight for this particular game. Through four games he has yet to give any indication that he is in fact 39 years old. He passed for 439 yards and three touchdowns in a season-opening loss to Tampa Bay. After a modest game against Cleveland, he passed for 396 yards and three touchdowns and ran for a touchdown that forced overtime and another that ended it in a victory at Atlanta. He passed for just 217 yards and no touchdowns last week against the Giants. He hasn't thrown an interception. Brees usually thrives on the biggest stages and this performance should be no different.
FAST FACTS: REDSKINS QB ALEX SMITH in 3 games with Was., has 767 pass yards (255.7 per game) with 4 TDs vs. 1 INT for 102.2 rating. ... RB ADRIAN PETERSON had 120 rush yards & 2 TDs in Week 3. Has 102 career rushing TDs & moved into sole possession of 7th place on all-time rush TD list. RB CHRIS THOMPSON has 10 TD catches since 2014, 3rd most among NFL RBs. ... TE JORDAN REED had 8 receptions for 64 yards & 2 TDs in his last Monday game (10/23/17 vs. Phi.). ... DL JONATHAN ALLEN had 2 sacks in Week 3, his 1st career multi-sack game. ... Rookie DL DARON PAYNE had 1st-career sack in Week 3. ... SAINTS QB DREW BREES in his past 8 at home, is 7-1 with 2,418 pass yards (302.3 per game) & 13 TDs vs. 3 INTs for 114.3 rating. Has 71,740 career pass yards & needs 201 yards to surpass HOFer BRETT FAVRE (71,838) & PEYTON MANNING (71,940) for most in NFL history. ... RB ALVIN KAMARA leads NFL with 611 scrimmage yards in 2018. Had career-high 134 rush yards & 3 rush TDs last week. Aims for 3rd in row with 175+ scrimmage yards. ... WR MICHAEL THOMAS has 46 catches for 498 yards (99.6 per game) & 5 TDs in his past 5 at home. Aims for 3rd in row at home with 10+ receptions & TD. ... DE CAMERON JORDAN has 9 sacks, INT-TD & 8 PD in his past 9 at home. ... LB DEMARIO DAVIS had 11 tackles & 2 sacks in Week 4, his 2nd-career 2-sack game.
PREDICTION: All eyes will be Brees two games after he broke Brett Favre's record for career completions. But records don't win games. This will be a tough environment for the Redskins, who are coming off their bye.
OUR PICK: Saints, 35-21.