NFL GAME SCOUT -- ANALYSIS ON WEEK 9 GAMES
Steelers PITTSBURGH STEELERS (4-2-1) AT BALTIMORE RAVENS (4-4)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 PM ET, M&T Bank Stadium; CBS, Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts, Evan Washburn (Field reporter).
SERIES HISTORY: 46th regular-season meeting. Steelers lead series, 24-21. In Week 4, the Ravens shut out the Steelers in the second half en route to a 26-14 win at Heinz Field, snapping a three-game losing streak in the series. Baltimore limited Pittsburgh to 284 total yards (only 19 rushing), including just 47 yards in the second half. Quarterback Joe Flacco was 28 of 42 for 363 yards -- the most ever by a Raven vs. Pittsburgh -- and had a 109.5 passer rating.
KEYS TO THE GAME: During the Steelers' three-game winning streak, running back James Conner has rushed for 100 yards and scored two touchdowns in each game. It's simple for the Steelers. They're at their best on offense when they have a balanced attack. In the first game against the Ravens, the Steelers fell behind by two touchdowns in the first quarter and abandoned the running game in favor of the pass. Conner was held to a season-low 19 yards and the Steelers were held to a season-low 14 points. They can't afford to let that happen again. Conner has to be a big part of the game plan in the rematch. During the three-game winning streak, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been much better taking care of the ball. He has six touchdown passes and two interceptions in the past three games after passing for eight touchdowns and five interceptions in the first four games of the season.
Baltimore's offense has sputtered since teams have adjusted by taking away opportunities for quarterback Joe Flacco to throw downfield. Pittsburgh is ranked 24th, allowing 265 yards passing per game. As a result, Flacco will once again look to go over the top to John Brown or Michael Crabtree to test that Steelers secondary. Brown caught three passes for a game-high 116 yards, including a 33-yard touchdown pass in the first meeting. Baltimore will need to keep its passing game revved up because the team has struggled to get its running game on track with Alex Collins and Javorius Allen sharing the load. The Ravens will need to get more out of these players to keep the Steelers' dynamic offense off the field.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
--Ravens secondary vs. Steelers WR Antonio Brown. Since making headlines for getting into a sideline argument with offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner, Brown has turned his focus back to football and is playing exceptionally well. He leads the league with eight touchdowns and has historically come up with big plays against Baltimore. The Ravens have struggled with CB Marlon Humphrey out of the lineup the last two games with a thigh injury. They could be in big trouble if he is not available this game. Fellow CBs Jimmy Smith has struggled since returning from a four-game suspension and Brandon Carr has also played unevenly.
--Steelers LT Alejandro Villanueva vs. Ravens LB Terrell Suggs. The Steelers have done a terrific job of protecting Ben Roethlisberger and Villanueva is a big reason why. He allowed one sack last week to Myles Garrett, but Garrett was a non-factor for the remainder of the game. Villanueva will have to keep up his strong play because Suggs remains a viable pass rusher in his 16th season. He has 5.5 sacks in the Ravens' first eight games.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Steelers RB James Conner. The second-year halfback has rushed for 100 yards and scored two touchdowns in each of the past three games, becoming the first player in franchise history to accomplish such a feat. He is the first player in the NFL to achieve that since 2009 when Chris Johnson did it with the Titans.
FAST FACTS: STEELERS QB BEN ROETHLISBERGER passed for 257 yards with 2 TDs vs. 1 INT for 94.3 rating last week. Has passed for 780 yards (390 per game) with 3 TDs vs. 1 INT in his past 2 vs. Bal. Aims for his 4th in row on road with 330+ pass yards. Ranks 2nd in NFL averaging 327.1 pass yards per game. ... RB JAMES CONNER had career-high 212 scrimmage yards (146 rush, 66 rec.) & 2 rush TDs in Week 8. Is 4th different 1st-or-2nd year player with 2+ rush TDs in 4 of his team's 1st 7 games of season, joining HOFers STEVE VAN BUREN (1945), JIM BROWN (1958) & ERIC DICKERSON (1983). Has 4 games with 100+ scrimmage yards & 2 TDs in 2018, most in NFL. Is 1 of 2 NFL players (TODD GURLEY) with 900+ scrimmage yards (922) & 8+ TDs (9). ... WR ANTONIO BROWN had 74 rec. yards & 2 TD catches last week. Leads NFL with 8 TD catches this season & is 5th player since 1970 with 8+ TD catches in 6 consecutive seasons. Has 7 TD catches in his past 5. Has 275 rec. yards (137.5 per game) & TD catch in his past 2 vs. Bal. ... LB T.J. WATT had sack & 2 TFL last week. Has 4 sacks in his past 3. Since entering league in 2017, is 1 of 3 NFL players (KHALIL MACK & CAMERON JORDAN) with 80+ tackles (89), 12+ sacks (14) & INT (1). ... CB JOE HADEN had INT & 2 TFL last week. ... RAVENS QB JOE FLACCO completed 28 of 42 (66.7 pct.) for 363 yards with 2 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 109.5 rating in Week 4 meeting. ... Rookie QB LAMAR JACKSON threw 1st-career TD pass in Week 8. ... RB ALEX COLLINS had rush TD last week. Has 3 rush TDs in his past 3. Has 293 scrimmage yards (97.7 per game) & 2 TDs (1 rush, 1 rec.) in his past 3 vs. Steelers. ... Rookie TE HAYDEN HURST had 1st-career TD catch in Week 8. ... LB C.J. MOSLEY had 11 tackles last week. Has 27 tackles (13.5 per game) in his past 2. Has 34 tackles (11.3 per game), 2 TFL, 2 PD & FF in his past 3 vs. Pit. ... LB TERRELL SUGGS has 3 sacks in his past 4.
PREDICTION: The Steelers unraveled in the second half of the Week 4 meeting against Baltimore, but have rebounded to win three straight while the Ravens have dropped three of four. There won't be a season sweep in the AFC North's most bitter rivalry.
OUR PICK: Steelers, 23-20
Bears CHICAGO BEARS (4-3) AT BUFFALO BILLS (2-6)
KICKOFF: Sunday 1:00 PM ET, New Era Field; FOX, Chris Myers, Daryl Johnston, Laura Okmin (Field reporter).
SERIES HISTORY: 13th regular-season meeting. Bears lead series, 7-5. The Bills won the last game in 2014, 23-20 in overtime in Chicago. The Bears won the last game played in Buffalo, 22-19 in 2010.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Bears have been a tough team to stop on the ground, and that's the best way to attack the Bills, especially if rookie middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds can't play due to a concussion. Bears running backs Tarik Cohen and Jordan Howard have combined for 688 rushing yards, and Cohen has been a game-breaker, as he has a video game-like 8.0-yard average per attempt. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is still a work in progress, and while he has played well this season, it's easy to see the Bears trying to pound the Bills on the ground, at least until Buffalo proves it can stop them.
It's almost impossible to play offense as poorly as the Bills have played it all season, and now they have to turn back to Nathan Peterman to start at quarterback against the Bears. Coordinator Brian Daboll is at his wits end as the Bills are on their third starting quarterback, and now he has to keep him upright with a weak offensive line that could get manhandled by Khalil Mack (if he plays) and the Bears. The Bills would like to run, but the Bears are third in the NFL in stopping the run. Chicago has allowed less than 75 yards rushing to five of their seven games and is the only NFL team not to give up a rushing touchdown. Do the Bills really want to put the ball in Peterman's hands? They may not have a choice.
Buffalo's quarterback problems make it likely that Chicago defensive coordinator Vic Fangio can go without many blitzes, but with disguised coverages in the back. Look for more twists from the Bears' defensive linemen than usual to confuse Peterman and induce panic.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
--Bears ILB Roquan Smith, who has a team-high four tackles for losses, vs. Bills RB LeSean McCoy, whose 3.4 yards-an-attempt average is the worst of his career. In his 10th season, McCoy hasn't had much running room. Still a true breakaway back, McCoy can be careless with the ball but can hurt opponents with his receiving ability out of the backfield. If there's a linebacker in the league who can keep pace with McCoy's speed, it is Smith. The Bears will want to have him on McCoy instead of putting the slower Danny Trevathan on him.
--Bills LB Matt Milano vs. Bears RB Tarik Cohen. The Bears have done a great job scheming things to get Cohen in space, and he has paid huge dividends, not only on the ground with his 8.0 average per carry, but with 398 yards on 30 pass receptions, which has also resulted in four touchdowns. Milano has had a roller-coaster season, but when he has played well, he's been great. If Edmunds can't play, Milano will need to step up against Cohen.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: LB Danny Trevathan. It was logical to expect Roquan Smith to lead the Bears in tackles, but Trevathan has been around the ball and has a team-high 49 tackles. He has stayed healthy, a key after a couple injury-plagued years. Trevathan still has obvious shortcomings in pass defense -- being too short to effectively cover on deep zone drops for instance -- but continues to show great speed when attacking the gaps and occasionally gets into the backfield to stuff runs. When Trevathan is healthy, and Eddie Goldman and Akiem Hicks are up front, the run defense is formidable. It will have to be this week because Buffalo is likely to pound away on the ground with its own passing game in question.
FAST FACTS: BEARS QB MITCHELL TRUBISKY passed for 220 yards & 2 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 102.7 rating last week. Has 1,223 pass yards (305.8 per game) & 13 TDs vs. 3 INTs for 113.1 rating in his past 4. Is only QB with 15+ TD passes (15) & 250+ rush yards (296) this season. ... RB JORDAN HOWARD had 81 rush yards & TD last week. ... RB TARIK COHEN had 110 scrimmage yards, incl. 70-yard TD catch last week. Is 2nd player since 1970 (BRIAN WESTBROOK) with a TD pass, rec. TD, rush TD & PR-TD all of 20+ yards in his 1st 2 seasons. Has 488 scrimmage yards (122 per game) & 4 TDs (3 rec., 1 rush) in his past 4. ... TE TREY BURTON leads NFC TEs with 4 TD catches. ... Rookie WR ANTHONY MILLER had TD catch last week. Ties for 2nd among NFL rookies with 3 rec. TDs in 2018. ... LB KHALIL MACK has 3 sacks, 2 FFs, FR & 27-yard INT TD in his past 3 on road. ... BILLS QB DEREK ANDERSON passed for 290 yards in Week 8. ... RB LeSEAN McCOY had 82 rec. yards last week. ... WR ZAY JONES had 55 rec. yards last week. ... DE JERRY HUGHES has 4.5 sacks & 2 FFs in his past 5 vs. NFC North. Has 2.5 sacks & 2 FFs in his past 4. ... LB LORENZO ALEXANDER had 2 sacks & FF last week, his 2nd-career game with 2+ sacks. Has 3.5 sacks, FF & INT in his past 3. ... Rookie LB TREMAINE EDMUNDS had 8 tackles, TFL & PD last week. Has 8+ tackles in 3 of his past 4 games. Ranks 3rd among NFL rookies with 62 tackles. ... CB PHILLIP GAINES had career-high 10 tackles in Week 8. ... LB MATT MILANO had 7 tackles & 2 PD last week.
PREDICTION: Peterman has nine interceptions and three touchdowns in his career, so Buffalo will be reliant on its defense to hold the Bears down. The Bills may succeed to a point, but not enough to overcome the offensive shortcomings.
OUR PICK: Bears, 23-13
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (3-4) AT CAROLINA PANTHERS (5-2)
KICKOFF: SUNDAY, 1:00 PM ET, Bank of America Stadium; FOX, Kenny Albert, Ronde Barber, Sara Walsh (Field reporter).
SERIES HISTORY: 36th regular-season meeting. Panthers lead series, 22-13. One of the teams has swept the series every year since 2008. Carolina won both meetings last season.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Buccaneers plan to throw the ball against the Panthers because that's what they do best. Tampa Bay has the best passing offense and overall offense in the NFL. They believe in quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to get the ball to his playmakers. It's no secret. The running game with Peyton Barber is an afterthought. The Panthers, meanwhile, have found ways to spread the ball around in the passing attack, but that won't distract them from grinding out yards on the ground as well. They see the value in the balance and head coach Ron Rivera feels the team's identity is best established by showing it can run the ball and allow other areas to open up from there.
Defensively, Tampa Bay will have its hands full. New defensive coordinator Mark Duffner isn't sure how to slow quarterback Cam Newton. He can beat you with his arm or his legs. The key will be stopping running back Christian McCaffrey and getting the Panthers in third-and-long situations, so they can bring extra pressure on Newton. Carolina's defense had perhaps its best outing against Baltimore because of varied contributions.
The Panthers will want to make it difficult on Fitzpatrick. They used defensive backs in a few blitzes against Baltimore and that gives opponents something else to keep in mind. Carolina still has to be cognizant in run defense, something that has been troubling early in some games. Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly normally is a tackling machine, but he had only five stops in the Baltimore game last week. He's familiar with Tampa Bay as a divisional rival and so expect his production to be back to typical levels on the statistics line as well.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
--Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey vs. Buccaneers LB Lavonte David. McCaffrey has really stepped his game up and can run inside as well as out. He leads the team with 423 rushing yards. But David appears up for the task.
--Bucs TE O.J. Howard vs. Panthers LB Thomas Davis. Howard is a great-looking NFL player. He is a tough matchup for any linebacker in the passing game. The former Alabama star has thrived with Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback this season. Two of his three TDs came with Fitzpatrick under center.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Buccaneers WR Chris Godwin. The third-round pick from Penn State has really stepped up his game and worked on his craft to become a favorite of Jameis Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Despite a roster that includes wide receivers Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson and tight ends Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard, Godwin is second on the team with 28 catches for 340 yards and a team-leading four TD receptions.
FAST FACTS: BUCCANEERS QB RYAN FITZPATRICK passed for 194 yards & 2 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 154.9 rating last week. Has 1,356 pass yards (339 per game) & 11 TDs vs. 5 INTs for 114.4 rating in past 4 starts. Is only QB in 2018 with 3 games (min. 10 atts.) with 140+ rating. ... RB PEYTON BARBER rushed for 85 yards & TD last week. ... WR MIKE EVANS had 6 catches for 179 yards, incl. career-long 72-yard TD catch in Week 8. ... WR DeSEAN JACKSON had 60-yard TD catch last week, his 24th-career TD of 60+ yards & surpassed HOFer JERRY RICE (23) for most all-time. ... TE O.J. HOWARD had TD catch last week. ... DE JASON PIERRE-PAUL had 2 sacks last week. Has sack in 6 consecutive games, tied for longest streak in franchise history (SIMEON RICE). Is 1 of 5 players with 7+ sacks in each of past 3 seasons. ... LB LAVONTE DAVID since entering NFL in 2012, is only player with 800+ tackles (820) & 15 FFs (18). ... PANTHERS QB CAM NEWTON had 2 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 116.9 rating & had rush TD last week. Has 21 career games with 2+ TD passes & 1+ rush TDs, most in NFL history. Leads all QBs in rush yards (309) & rush TDs (4) in 2018. Aims for 7th in row with 2+ TD passes. ... RB CHRISTIAN McCAFFREY had 2 TDs (1 rush, 1 rec.) in Week 8. Since 2017, is 1 of 2 NFL RBs (ALVIN KAMARA) with 120+ receptions (124). ... TE GREG OLSEN had 55th career TD catch last week & became 5th TE in NFL history with 650+ receptions (651) & 55+ rec. TDs (55). ... Rookie WR D.J. MOORE had career-high 90 rec. yards last week. Ranks 2nd among rookies with 15.6 yards per reception average (min. 15 catches) in 2018. ... LB LUKE KUECHLY has 875 tackles since 2012, most in NFL. ... DE JULIUS PEPPERS aims for 4th in row vs. TB with sack. Has 19.5 sacks vs. TB, most vs. any opponent in his career. ... Rookie DB DONTE JACKSON had 1st-career sack last week. Is only NFL rookie with 3+ INTs (3), 1+ sack (1) & 1+ FF (1).
PREDICTION: Newton had a pair of pedestrian games in last season's sweep of the Buccaneers, throwing for a combined 314 yards. It's hard not to see those numbers go up against a defense that ranks 31st in the NFL against the pass.
OUR PICK: Panthers, 27-24
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (7-1) AT CLEVELAND BROWNS (2-5-1)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 PM ET, FirstEnergy Stadium; CBS, Greg Gumbel, Trent Green, Bruce Arians, Melanie Collins (Field reporter).
SERIES HISTORY: 26th regular-season meeting. Chiefs lead series, 12-11-2. The Chiefs have won the last two games in the series, both under head coach Andy Reid, who owns a 6-0 record all-time against the Browns. The Browns prevailed in the last matchup in Cleveland between the two teams, a 30-7 victory in 2012.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Chiefs head coach Andy Reid stated his team's offensive mission plainly with the Browns shuffling their coaching staff this week: Stick to the process. The Chiefs do what they do, winning games by scoring points early and not letting up until the game is put away for good. Expect the Chiefs to run a more balanced attack this week, leaning on running back Kareem Hunt and working the ball to wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins. Opposing crowds haven't bothered quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who has averaged 310 passing yards in four road games with 15 touchdown passes and just two interceptions.
The best defense for the Browns on Sunday will be a grind-it-out offense with a heavy dose of running back Nick Chubb chewing up the clock to keep Mahomes on the sideline. The run offense has been better than the pass offense because quarterback Baker Mayfield isn't getting time to throw, so using a ground game, especially with running backs coach Freddie Kitchens as the interim offensive coordinator, won't be forced.
Defensively, Kansas City expects to make the Browns one-dimensional and force Baker Mayfield to beat them. Mayfield averages more than three sacks with an interception per game, so the Chiefs believe they can bring pressure off the edge with linebacker Dee Ford, who comes off a three-sack game last week against Denver. The Chiefs must avoid defensive lapses in the deep secondary that helped the Broncos stay close a week ago.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
--Browns DE Myles Garrett vs. Chiefs LT Eric Fisher. Fisher is quietly experiencing a solid season on the end of the line for the Chiefs, but he faces one of his biggest tests of the season this week against Garrett, who is tied for second in the league with eight sacks. The Chiefs need a strong outing from Fisher facing an aggressive Browns defensive line in establishing both the run and the pass.
--Browns SS Jabrill Peppers vs. Chiefs TE Travis Kelce. Peppers won't have to cover Kelce on his own all game long, but the Chiefs tight end is going to be a handful for him when he does draw the assignment. Kelce has 44 catches, tied for the team lead, and he has four touchdown catches. Peppers has three pass breakups.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Browns DB Damarious Randall. He likely is going to be a busy man on Sunday. Randall could line up at cornerback on some plays if his groin has healed sufficiently or he could line up at free safety and double-team a Chiefs receiver at other times. Either way, the only time he is likely to be off the field is when the Browns offense has the ball.
FAST FACTS: CHIEFS QB PATRICK MAHOMES passed for 303 yards with 4 TDs vs. 1 INT for 125 rating last week. Is 4th QB in NFL history with 4+ TD passes in 3 consecutive games. Is 1 of 3 different QBs in NFL history with 25+ TD passes (26) in his team's 1st 8 games of season. Leads NFL with 2,526 pass yards & 26 TD passes & ranks 4th with 115.3 rating. ... RB KAREEM HUNT had TD catch last week. Has 681 scrimmage yards (136.2 per game) & 7 TDs (4 rec., 3 rush) in his past 5. Aims for 8th in row with TD. Ranks 4th in NFL with 592 rush yards. ... WR TYREEK HILL tied for 2nd in NFL with 7 TD catches. ... TE TRAVIS KELCE had 79 rec. yards & TD last week. ... WR SAMMY WATKINS had 8 catches for 107 yards & 2 TDs last week. ... LB DEE FORD had 3 sacks & 2 FFs last week. Has 7 sacks in his past 6. ... DT CHRIS JONES has 4 sacks in his past 4. ... BROWNS QB BAKER MAYFIELD (rookie) threw 2 TD passes last week. Aims for his 3rd in row with 2+ TD passes & 6th in row with 20+ completions. ... RB NICK CHUBB (rookie) rushed for 65 yards last week. Has 145 rush yards (72.5 per game) & rush TD in his past 2. ... RB DUKE JOHNSON JR. has 151 scrimmage yards (75.5 per game) in his past 2 at home. Since 2015, leads all NFL RBs with 1,944 rec. yards & ranks 3rd with 208 catches. ... TE DAVID NJOKU has TD catch in 2 of his past 3. ... Rookie WR ANTONIO CALLAWAY & TE SETH DeVALVE each had TD catch last week. ... DE MYLES GARRETT had sack in Week 8. ... LB JAMIE COLLINS SR. led team with 11 tackles & had FF last week. ... Rookie CB DENZEL WARD had 7 tackles, TFL, FR & PD last week. Ties for lead among NFL rookies with 3 INTs & ranks 1st with 9 PD. ... CB DERRICK KINDRED had 5 tackles, FF & INT last week. ... DT LARRY OGUNJOBI is 1 of 7 NFL DTs in 2018 with 4+ sacks (4) & 6+ TFL (6).
PREDICTION: There isn't a good time to overhaul the coaching staff in-season, and certainly not with the league's highest-scoring offense coming to town. The Browns will play hard in front of the home fans, but the talent disparity will overwhelm them.
OUR PICK: Chiefs, 30-20
NEW YORK JETS (3-5) AT MIAMI DOLPHINS (4-4)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 PM ET, Hard Rock Stadium; CBS, Andrew Catalon, James Lofton.
SERIES HISTORY: 106th regular-season meeting. Jets lead series, 54-50-1. Rivals since 1966, these AFC East teams meet again, with the Dolphins going for their third straight win in the series. During that two-game win streak, the Dolphins have used three quarterbacks - Jay Cutler last year and then Matt Moore when he got hurt and then Ryan Tannehill this season. On Sunday, the Dolphins will try to keep the streak going with a fourth QB, Brock Osweiler.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Jets would like to establish the run after three subpar weeks on the ground. Whether they actually can is another story but the numbers seem to indicate they will since Miami is among the league's worst rushing defenses. With running back Bilal Powell out for the Jets, they will be counting on Isaiah Crowell, who has two-thirds of his season rushing total in two games. Crowell is 11th in the league with 484 rushing yards, but he had a franchise-record 219 yards in Week 5 against the Broncos and 102 Week 1 in Detroit, both Jets victories. In the other six games, the 25-year-old has carried the ball 69 times for 163 yards (2.4 per carry).
New York's two running backs were stuffed by the Chicago Bears last week as Crowell averaged just 1.9 yards per rush (13-for-25) and Trent Canton averaged 1.7 (6-for-10). If the Dolphins can shut down New York's meager running game, they can go after rookie quarterback Sam Darnold. On the other side, while working against the Jets defense, Miami should have enough weapons: running backs Frank Gore and Kenyan Drake; tight end Mike Gesicki and receivers Danny Amendola, Jakeem Grant and DeVante Parker. Quarterback Brock Osweiler has passed for 859 yards in three starts, and he will be working to avoid interceptions.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Dolphins DRE Cam Wake vs. Jets LT Kelvin Beachum. Wake is off to a very slow start with just nine tackles and one sack in six games. He's a five-time Pro Bowl player and a gifted pass rusher, but he turns 37 in January. Perhaps this is the end of the line for Wake, who has battled injuries and seems a long way removed from the player who had 10.5 sacks just last year. Beachum is an average left tackle at best. Perhaps Beachum is the player who wakes up Wake ... or the one who shows how badly the Dolphins' star's skills have eroded.
--Jets S Jamal Adams vs. Dolphins WR. Adams leads the Jets with 565 defensive snaps and leads the Jets with 56 tackles. In the last meeting, the Jets held Miami QB Ryan Tannehill to 122 yards while Adams had a sack and four tackles. According to Pro Football Focus, Adams is allowing a 56 percent completion rate along with nine quarterback pressures. This time, Adams and the Jets defense will be going against Brock Osweiler, who is starting a fourth straight game due to Ryan Tannehill's shoulder injury.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Jets TE Chris Herndon has been one of the most added tight ends in fantasy leagues the last few weeks. He has a touchdown reception three straight weeks. The 22-year-old, who was born with 12 fingers (six on each hand), has seven catches for 114 yards and the three scores have come in the last three games after having five receptions for 47 yards through five weeks.
FAST FACTS: JETS QB SAM DARNOLD (rookie) has 7 TD passes vs. 5 INTs in his past 4. Leads all rookies with 1,705 pass yards & 11 TD passes. ... RB ISAIAH CROWELL has 371 scrimmage yards (92.8 per game) & TD in his past 4. ... Rookie TE CHRISTOPHER HERNDON had TD catch last week. Aims for his 4th in row with TD catch. ... S MARCUS MAYE tied for team lead with 7 tackles last week. ... LB BRANDON COPELAND had sack last week. Aims for his 3rd in row with sack & TFL. ... Rookie LB FRANKIE LUVU had 1st career sack in Week 8. ... K JASON MYERS leads NFL with 18 converted field goals & ranks 3rd in league with 94.7 FG pct. (min. 10 FG att.). ... DOLPHINS RB KENYAN DRAKE had 95 scrimmage yards (58 rush, 37 rec.) & 2 TDs (1 rush, 1 rec.) last week. Has 375 scrimmage yards (93.8 per game) with 4 TDs (2 rush, 2 rec.) in his past 4. ... RB FRANK GORE has 18,145 scrimmage yards & needs 46 yards to surpass Pro Football Hall of Famer BARRY SANDERS (18,190) for 6th-most in NFL history. ... WR DeVANTE PARKER had 6 catches for career-high 134 yards last week. ... WR DANNY AMENDOLA had 43 rec. yards & threw 28-yard TD pass last week. ... LB RAEKWON McMILLAN had 9 tackles last week.
PREDICTION: What is always difficult to project in games are turnovers, and the propensity for Jets quarterback Sam Darnold to give some away swing this in Miami's direction. If he can avoid them, an upset is possible, but the home field favors the Dolphins.
OUR PICK: Dolphins, 24-17
DETROIT LIONS (3-4) AT MINNESOTA VIKINGS (4-3-1)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 PM ET, U.S. Bank Stadium; FOX, Thom Brennaman, Chris Spielman, Jennifer Hale (Field reporter).
SERIES HISTORY: 114th regular-season meeting. Vikings lead series, 72-39-2. Detroit has won three of the past four meetings, including a perfect 2-0 record at the Vikings' new home, U.S. Bank Stadium. It took overtime for Detroit to win 22-16 in 2016 and the Lions came away with a 14-7 victory last season. In head coach Mike Zimmer's first four seasons, the Vikings were 3-5 against Detroit.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Historically, the Lions and Vikings have played close, low-scoring games, and Sunday should be no different. As usual, taking care of the football will be paramount, and that's something Matthew Stafford has not done a great job of this year. Stafford has seven turnovers in as many games, and if the Lions don't want that number to rise they'll have to keep the ball in running back Kerryon Johnson's hands Sunday. The Vikings have two good edge rushers that have given Lions tackles Taylor Decker and Rick Wagner fits in the past, and a heavy dose of Johnson can keep them at bay this week. From a passing standpoint, if the Lions can find a way to get Johnson or Theo Riddick on Anthony Barr (if he plays), that's a matchup they can exploit.
Like Minnesota's Kirk Cousins noted, the NFC North is filled with quality quarterbacks and strong defenses with top pass rushers. Those are the keys. Cousins will try and find some success going against Detroit's seventh-ranked pass defense. Latavius Murray, and Dalvin Cook, if healthy, will be running at a Lions' defense that has allowed the second-most rushing yards per game. As Murray has gotten the run game on track, Minnesota has been more balanced and will likely look for the same on Sunday.
Defensively, expect the Lions to stick top cornerback Darius Slay on Adam Thielen, which should allow them to give help to whichever cornerback is covering the speedy Stefon Diggs. Minnesota will try to slow a Detroit running game that is finally complementing Stafford's passing. Behind rookie Johnson, the Lions are 16th in the league in rushing with 109.7 yards per game one year after finishing last.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
--Vikings WR Adam Thielen vs. Lions CB Darius Slay. Thielen tied Calvin Johnson's NFL record with his eighth straight 100-yard receiving game last week against the New Orleans Saints, and it will be up to Slay to make sure he doesn't break the mark on Sunday. Thielen is one of the smoothest route-runners in the NFL, and the Vikings throw him a ton of passes. The Lions typically use Slay on their opponents' No. 1 receiver, and aside from a rough outing against Davante Adams, Slay has won most of those matchups this year. The Lions don't have great cornerbacks opposite Slay, so quarterbacks like to target Teez Tabor and Nevin Lawson. But if the Vikings want to get Thielen the record, they'll have to go through Slay to make it happen.
--Lions interior OL vs. Vikings DTs. RB Kerryon Johnson has given Detroit opponents something else to think about other than Matthew Stafford's passing. The Lions' 70-game streak of not having a 100-yard rusher was finally snapped when Johnson had 101 yards rushing in a Week 3 win against New England. He had 158 yards rushing on just 19 carries and Detroit had 248 as a team in a win against Miami in Week 7. Minnesota DL Linval Joseph and Sheldon Richardson will play a role in trying to shut down Johnson and put all the attention on Stafford again. Richardson mentioned the play of Detroit's offensive line as a big reason for the running success, with G Frank Ragnow, Detroit's first-round pick, standing out in his first season along with C Graham Glasgow and RG T.J. Lang. The Lions only ran for 34 yards in last week's loss at Seattle.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Vikings CB Xavier Rhodes. It's Vikings against the Lions, so it's Rhodes' time to be in the spotlight. Rhodes was drafted, in part, because of the presence of Detroit in the division. Rhodes was Minnesota's answer to Calvin Johnson. Rhodes first started shadowing the opponent's top receiver when Johnson was still with the Lions. Rhodes missed last week's game, which put the spotlight on undrafted rookie Holton Hill against the Saints. Hill held his own but having Rhodes back will go a long way against Detroit. Rhodes could play his side or shadow either Kenny Golladay or Marvin Jones Jr. Golladay is emerging and could get the Rhodes treatment on Sunday.
FAST FACTS: LIONS QB MATTHEW STAFFORD passed for 310 yards with 2 TDs vs. 1 INT last week. Aims for 4th in row on road with 2+ TD passes & 100+ rating. ... RB KERRYON JOHNSON (rookie) had 91 scrimmage yards (69 rec., 22 rush) last week. Ranks 2nd among NFL rookies with 89.1 scrimmage yards per game. ... RB LeGARRETTE BLOUNT since 2015, tied for 3rd in NFL with 29 rush TDs. ... WR MARVIN JONES JR. had 7 catches for 117 yards & 2 TDs last week, his 5th career multi-TD game. ... CB DARIUS SLAY since 2017, leads NFL with 31 PD & tied for 1st (KEVIN BYARD) with 9 INTs. ... DE ROMEO OKWARA had sack last week. Aims for 3rd in row on road & 5th in row with sack. ... DT DAMON HARRISON had 7 tackles & sack in team debut last week. ... VIKINGS QB KIRK COUSINS passed for 359 yards & 2 TDs vs. 1 INT for 107.7 rating last week. ... RB LATAVIUS MURRAY had rush TD last week. Aims for 4th in row with 80+ scrimmage yards & rush TD. ... WR ADAM THIELEN had 7 catches for 103 yards & rec. TD last week. Became 2nd player in NFL history (CALVIN JOHNSON in 2012) to have 8 consec. games with 100+ rec. yards & 2nd player (PATRICK JEFFERS in 1999) with 5 consec. games of 100+ rec. yards & TD catch. ... WR STEFON DIGGS had 10 receptions for 119 yards & TD last week. ... S HARRISON SMITH aims for his 3rd in row with INT. Since entering NFL in 2012, is only player with 20+ INTs (20) & 10+ sacks (12).
PREDICTION: Minnesota hurt itself with mistakes in last week's home loss to New Orleans, but the Vikings catch the Lions at a good time. Detroit's offense will need time to adjust to the absence of Golden Tate, traded to Philadelphia this week.
OUR PICK: Vikings, 23-20
ATLANTA FALCONS (3-4) AT WASHINGTON REDSKINS (5-2)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 PM ET, FedExField; FOX, Kevin Burkhardt, Charles Davis, Pam Oliver (Field reporter).
SERIES HISTORY: 25th regular-season meeting. Redskins lead series, 14-9-1. Atlanta has won five in a row and six of the last seven. The last meeting was Oct. 11, 2015, a 25-19 Falcons win on a 59-yard interception return in overtime. Washington won the lone playoff meeting in 1991 on its way to the Super Bowl.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Much different challenge for Washington's defense this week after it stoned Carolina, Dallas and the New York Giants the past three games. All three teams can run the ball. None of them could against the Redskins' stout front, led by defensive linemen Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen plus inside linebackers Mason Foster and Zach Brown. But the Falcons rank third in passing yards per game (310.4) and passing yards per play (7.67). Julio Jones (53 catches, 812 yards) doesn't have a touchdown this year. He's due and the Redskins are likely going to have to rely on Josh Norman again to travel with him as he did most of the time against Odell Beckham Jr. last Sunday in the 20-13 win at the New York Giants.
The Falcons say they'll continue to be committed to the run. The ground game remains an integral part of the strategy, even though it ranks No. 30 in the NFL. That could be challenging this week against a Washington defense that ranks second in the NFL against the run and has held the opposition to less than 100 rushing yards in their last five games.
The Redskins haven't had a single 300-yard passing game from quarterback Alex Smith through seven games. He hasn't topped 178 yards in any of the past three. Of course, Smith has four touchdowns and no interceptions in three wins. Look for Washington to rely on Adrian Peterson again. He has 587 rushing yards at age 33 and four touchdowns. Peterson has topped 95 rushing yards in a game five times this season. The Redskins must play ball control and keep it away from quarterback Matt Ryan.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
--Falcons LB De'Vondre Campbell vs. Redskins RB Adrian Peterson. Campbell has emerged as the leader of the defense and has taken over the role of calling defensive plays. The Falcons can't afford to let Peterson get on a roll; he is third in the NFL with 127 runs and third in the NFC with 587 yards. Peterson needs one touchdown to catch John Riggins for sixth on the NFL's all-time list.
--Redskins OLB Ryan Kerrigan vs. Falcons RT Ryan Schraeder. Kerrigan had one sack in his first five games, an uncharacteristically slow start. He has 3.5 the past two weeks. That's bad news for Schraeder, who has struggled at times at right tackle playing on a makeshift offensive line that has already lost both starting guards for the season.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Redskins LB Mason Foster. He leads the team with 64 tackles, 37 solo, and is a big reason why the Redskins have been able to turn around their run defense. Washington is second in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game (80.1) and sixth in rushing yards allowed per play (3.84). Foster is tied for the team lead in tackles for loss (three) and has a fumble recovery.
FAST FACTS: FALCONS QB MATT RYAN passed for 379 yards with 1 TD & 0 INTs for 115.7 rating in Week 7. Has 100+ rating in 5 of his past 6. Aims for 3rd in row with 300+ passing yards. Since 2014, is 1 of 2 NFL QBs (DREW BREES) with 20,000+ passing yards (20,659). ... RB TEVIN COLEMAN had 82 scrimmage yards (50 rush, 32 rec.) & rush TD in Week 7. Aims for 3rd in row with TD. ... Rookie RB ITO SMITH has rush TD in 3 of his past 4. ... WR JULIO JONES had 9 catches for 104 yards in Week 7. In 14 career games vs. NFC East, is averaging 109 rec. yards per game & has 8 TDs. Aims for his 10th in row with 5+ catches. Since entering league in 2011, leads NFL with 43 games of 100+ rec. yards. ... WR MOHAMED SANU has TD catch in 2 of his past 3. ... WR CALVIN RIDLEY leads rookie WRs & tied for 4th in NFL with 6 TD catches. ... DT GRADY JARRETT had 2 sacks in Week 7, his 1st career multi-sack game. ... DE TAKKARIST MC KINLEY has 5.5 sacks in his past 6. ... S DAMONTAE KAZEE has 22 tackles, 4 PD, 3 INTs & FF in his past 4. ... CB ROBERT ALFORD has 60 PD since 2015, most in NFL. ... REDSKINS QB ALEX SMITH is 3-1 with 5 TDs vs. 1 INT & 92.4 rating in 4 career home games with Was. ... RB ADRIAN PETERSON had 149 rush yards, incl. 64-yard TD run, & TD catch last week. Became oldest player (33 years, 221 days) in NFL history with 100+ rush yards & both rush & rec. TD in single game. ... RB CHRIS THOMPSON has 597 scrimmage yards (99.5 per game) & TD catch in his past 6 at home. ... TE JORDAN REED has 304 receptions in 59 career games & is 2nd fastest TE in NFL history (HOFer KELLEN WINSLOW, SR.) to reach 300 career catches. ... LB RYAN KERRIGAN had 1.5 sacks last week. Aims for 3rd in row with sack. ... S D.J. SWEARINGER had 2 INTs last week. Is only player in NFL to record 2 INTs in multiple games this season. ... CB JOSH NORMAN aims for 3rd in row at home with FF. ... DL MATT IOANNIDIS had career-high 2.5 sacks last week.
PREDICTION: The Falcons have played only twice away from the comforts of home and the results have not been pretty, scoring only 29 points in losses at Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The Redskins make it four straight wins.
OUR PICK: Redskins, 23-22
HOUSTON TEXANS (5-3) AT DENVER BRONCOS (3-5)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 PM ET, Broncos Stadium at Mile High; CBS, Tom McCarthy, Steve Beuerlein.
SERIES HISTORY: 7th regular-season meeting. Broncos lead series, 4-2. Denver has won three of the four games played in the Mile High City. The teams last met on Oct. 24, 2016, a 27-9 victory for the Broncos in Denver.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Texans have protected quarterback Deshaun Watson well the past two weeks and this will be their biggest test yet against game-changing players off the edge. Tackles Kendall Lamm and Julien Davenport will have their work cut out for them this week against Broncos pass rushers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. The addition of Demaryius Thomas will add a new wrinkle to the offense and there will be a slight adjustment for Houston. Head coach Bill O'Brien will be tasked on getting Thomas ready and involved in the game plan because he will be needed to balance out the field.
Defensively, the Texans are going to have to slow the seventh-best rushing attack in the NFL (133.1). Phillip Lindsay has rushed for 531 yards (5.7 average) with three rushing touchdowns. Similar to last week, the Texans have to make the quarterback beat them and now it is Case Keenum's turn to handle Houston's defense. Keenum was sacked five times in last week's loss to Kansas City in addition to throwing an interception and losing a fumble. But if he can get time, the Broncos can open up the playbook in their passing game and get the ball downfield to their cadre of receivers.
The Texans' passing game is drawing a lot of attention, but the Broncos can't overlook their running attack, spearheaded by Lamar Miller. He had a season-high 133 yards rushing in the win over Miami last week after running for 100 yards the week before. Inside linebackers Todd Davis and Brandon Marshall will have the primary responsibility of shadowing Miller and limiting his impact on game day.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
--Broncos LT Garett Bolles and either RT Billy Turner or Jared Veldheer vs. Texans LBs J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney. The Broncos' offense has been stalled at times by some ill-timed holding calls, especially on the edges where Denver's tackles will again be under pressure to fend off high-profile pass rushers Watt and Clowney. Broncos QB Case Keenum's consistency has been affected by ragged pass protection, but when he has had time, he has hit his targets. If Denver's linemen can stay with the Texans' pass-rushing duo, the Broncos' offense should be able to put together some consistent drives.
--Texans WRs DeAndre Hopkins and Demaryius Thomas vs. Broncos CBs Chris Harris Jr. and either Bradley Roby or Tramaine Brock. Covering Hopkins in and of itself is a formidable challenge but with Houston's acquisition from Denver of the play-making Thomas, opposing teams won't be able to simply roll their coverage toward Hopkins all the time. Harris, Roby and Brock have familiarity with Thomas, having practiced against him in training camp and most of this season and that will help them, especially in situations where they will play man-to-man coverage.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Broncos WR Courtland Sutton. The rookie will be under a great deal of scrutiny as he takes his first step in filling the shoes of star wideout Demaryius Thomas, who was traded to the Texans earlier this week and will be on the field for Houston on Sunday playing against his former team. Sutton, a second-round pick out of Southern Methodist, has shown promise and his big-play capability was a factor in the Broncos' willingness to part ways with Thomas. Sutton has 17 catches for 324 yards and two touchdowns in eight games with one start. But the time has come for him to show he can be productive on a down-after-down basis.
FAST FACTS: TEXANS are 5th team since 1970 to win 5 consecutive games immediately following 0-3 start to season. ... QB DESHAUN WATSON completed 16 of 20 (80 pct.) for 239 yards with 5 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 156 rating last week. Since entering league in 2017, has 4 games with 4+ TD passes, tied for 2nd-most in NFL over span. Is 1 of 7 NFL QBs with 100+ rating since 2017 (min. 400 att.). ... RB LAMAR MILLER rushed for 133 yards & TD in Week 8. Aims for his 3rd in row with 100+ rush yards & TD. Is only player with 500+ rush yards in each of past 6 seasons (2013-18). Since 2013, is 1 of 4 active RBs with 6,500+ scrimmage yards (6,580). ... WR DeANDRE HOPKINS had 82 rec. yards & 2 TD catches last week. Has 4 TD catches in his past 3. Is 1 of 2 NFL players (ANTONIO BROWN) with 400+ catches (414) & 40+ TD catches (40) since 2014. ... WR DEMARYIUS THOMAS makes team debut. Appeared in 125 games for Den. from 2010-18. ... Rookie TE JORDAN THOMAS had career-high 2 TD catches last week, incl. his 1st-career rec. TD. ... DE J.J. WATT had sack, PD & 2 TFL last week. Has 8 sacks in his past 6. ... DE JADEVEON CLOWNEY since 2016, ranks 2nd in NFL with 46 TFL. ... S TYRANN MATHIEU aims for his 3rd in row with sack. ... BRONCOS QB CASE KEENUM passed for 262 yards with 2 TDs vs. 1 INT for 97.9 rating last week. Has 2+ TD passes in 3 of his past 4. Appeared in 10 games for Texans from 2012-14, passing for 2,195 yards with 11 TDs vs. 8 INTs. ... RB PHILLIP LINDSAY (rookie) had career-high 112 scrimmage yards (95 rush, 17 rec.) with rush TD last week. Aims for his 3rd in row with rush TD. Has 75+ scrimmage yards in 4 of his past 5. Leads all NFL rookies with 531 rush yards. ... Rookie WR COURTLAND SUTTON had career-high 78 rec. yards last week. ... WR TIM PATRICK had 1st-career TD catch last week. ... LB VON MILLER had TFL in last meeting. Has 5.5 sacks, 6 TFL, 2 FFs & FR in his past 4 at home. ... LB TODD DAVIS has 23 tackles (7.7 per game), 4 PD & INT-TD in his past 3. ... LB BRADLEY CHUBB leads all rookies with 7 sacks & ranks 2nd with 6 TFL. ... S DYMONTE THOMAS had 1st-career sack last week.
PREDICTION: Denver's two home losses have come to the conference-leading Rams and Chiefs and Sunday's game falls under the must-win category. Chalk one up for desperation as the Broncos spoil the return of Demaryius Thomas.
OUR PICK: Broncos, 26-24
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (5-2) AT SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (4-3)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 PM ET, CenturyLink Field; CBS, Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon, Steve Tasker (Field reporter).
SERIES HISTORY: 51st regular-season meeting. Seahawks lead series, 26-24. The Chargers defeated the Seahawks each of the first eight times they met, but the tide turned in the 1980s, as Seattle won seven straight in the series from 1984 to 1987. Since the Seahawks moved to the NFC West during realignment, the two teams have split their four contests, with the Chargers winning 30-21 when they last played during the 2014 season.
KEYS TO THE GAME: If it's not broken, don't fix it. That's how the Seahawks should approach this week offensively, as the Chargers haven't lit it up in any facet on the defensive side of the ball. Though the unit ranks 12th in overall scoring and has been respectable, Gus Bradley's defense has given up over 100 yards rushing four times this season and the Chargers are 2-2 in those games. Bradley's defense has amassed nine interceptions over the past six games, but it's worth noting they played against the 49ers, Browns, Raiders, and Titans before their bye week. As long as quarterback Russell Wilson doesn't try to take too many chances throwing jump balls up for grabs against cornerbacks Casey Hayward and Desmond King, the Seahawks should be able to move the ball through the air off play-action as they have in recent weeks.
If there's a game where defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. needs to be cautious about blitzing, it's against quarterback Philip Rivers. The 15-year veteran maneuvers the pocket as well as anyone in the league and welcomes extra pressure, as his 91.4 passer rating under duress ranks second to only Kirk Cousins this season. If you bring extra defenders, they better get home or he'll carve you up. Keeping that in mind, Norton has to manufacture a consistent pass rush with his front four to have a chance at slowing down the Chargers on Sunday. Playing in front of the home crowd will be beneficial, but if Frank Clark, Jarran Reed, and Dion Jordan can't get to him and finish, it could be a long afternoon for Seattle's secondary.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Seahawks Ts Duane Brown and Germain Ifedi vs. Chargers DE Melvin Ingram. When Seattle and Los Angeles met in the second game of the preseason, Ingram dominated both Brown and Ifedi during the couple of series starters played for both teams. Though Ingram didn't finish with any sacks, he harassed Russell Wilson frequently, forcing him to move the pocket and creating opportunities for his teammates. That exhibition matchup feels like eons ago, however, and Seattle's front line has improved dramatically since August. Wilson has been sacked less than twice per game over the past five contests, but Ingram will remain a challenging matchup for both tackles due to his speed off the edge. If Bosa returns, he will have even more favorable matchups as Seattle focuses on the former Ohio State star.
--Chargers QB Phillips Rivers vs. Seahawks DBs. The 36-year old Rivers has torched Seattle in the past, including a 284-yard, three-touchdown performance the last time these two teams met in a regular-season game in 2014. Already with 17 touchdowns and only three interceptions this season, he has a boatload of quality receivers at his disposal, including sixth-year talent Keenan Allen and 2017 first-round pick Mike Williams. Though he's only found the end zone once so far, Allen remains the top target for Rivers and he's still on pace for over 1,100 yards, making him a tough matchup for Seahawks CBs Shaquill Griffin and Tre Flowers. Based on his 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame alone, Williams will also be a matchup nightmare and he's coming off a game against the Titans where he hauled in a 55-yard touchdown reception. With his ability to beat defenses over the top, all eyes will be on FS Tedric Thompson, who will be making his fourth start since Earl Thomas was lost for the season.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Chargers RT Joe Barksdale. Barksdale is back in the lineup after missing two games and he's getting thrown right back in the fire. Barksdale will have to battle the noise and a stout pass-rush defense and if he shows any rust, the Chargers could go to Sam Tevi. That's not likely, but it's worth noting that coming back against the Seahawks in Seattle is a tough chore for Barksdale.
FAST FACTS: CHARGERS QB PHILIP RIVERS in his past 6 vs. NFC, has 1,834 pass yards (305.7 per game) with 15 TDs vs. 2 INTs for 107.8. Ranks 3rd in NFL with 117.8 rating & tied for 3rd with 17 TD passes. ... RB MELVIN GORDON aims for his 4th in row with 120+ scrimmage yards & TD. Since 2016, is 1 of 2 NFL players (TODD GURLEY) with 3,500+ scrimmage yards (3,742) & 30+ TDs (33). Gordon (745 scrimmage yards) & RB AUSTIN EKELER (538) are only pair of RB teammates with 500+ scrimmage yards each in 2018. ... WR TYRELL WILLIAMS had 4 catches for 118 yards & TD in Week 7. Has 236 rec. yards (118 per game) & 3 TD catches in his past 2. ... WR KEENAN ALLEN has 70+ rec. yards in 2 of his past 3. ... TE ANTONIO GATES had 6 TD catches in his past 5 vs. NFC West. ... DE MELVIN INGRAM has 3 TFL, 3 PD, 2 sacks & INT in past 3. ... DT DARIUS PHILON had sack in Week 7. Has sack in 2 of his past 3. ... SEAHAWKS QB RUSSELL WILSON passed for 248 yards & 3 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 158.3 rating in Week 8 & is 1st QB in franchise history to record 158.3 rating (min. 10 att.). ... RB CHRIS CARSON had 105 rush yards & TD last week. Is 1 of 4 in NFL (JAMES CONNER, EZEKIEL ELLIOTT & TODD GURLEY) with 3 games with 100+ rush yards in 2018. ... WR TYLER LOCKETT had TD catch in Week 8. Aims for 4th in row & 4th in row vs. AFC with TD catch. ... WR DAVID MOORE had career-high 97 rec. yards & TD catch last week. Aims for 4th in row with TD catch. ... DE FRANK CLARK had sack & FR last week. Has 4 sacks, 2 FFs & INT in his past 5 at home. ... LB BOBBY WAGNER since entering NFL in 2012, is 1 of 3 (LUKE KUECHLY & LAVONTE DAVID) with 800+ tackles (815). ... DT SHAMAR STEPHEN aims for 3rd in row with sack.
PREDICTION: One of the toughest calls of this week's slate of games. The Seahawks are putting a run together and are at home, while the Chargers are coming off their bye. Rivers will have just enough to help his team squeak by.
OUR PICK: Chargers, 21-20
LOS ANGELES RAMS (8-0) AT NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (6-1)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:25 PM ET, Mercedes-Benz Superdome; FOX, Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews (Field reporter), Kristina Pink (Field reporter).
SERIES HISTORY: 74th regular-season meeting. Rams lead series, 41-32. The Saints have faced only two teams - the Falcons (98) and the 49ers (75) - more times than they have faced the Rams, who were a divisional foe in the NFC West before the NFL realigned in 2002. The Rams have won three of the last four, including the last meeting, 26-20, in L.A. last season. The Saints' only win in that stretch was the last meeting in the Superdome, a 49-21 triumph two years ago. The Saints won the only playoff meeting, a 31-28 wild-card victory in the Superdome after the 2000 season, New Orleans' first post-season victory.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Saints beat the Vikings last week as Drew Brees passed for just 120 yards. He'll need to throw for more than that in order to win this one. The low number last week wasn't a result of inefficiency but rather a result of the game plan and the way the game developed. This figures to be a high-scoring game in which Brees has to utilize Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram II consistently in the passing game to complement Kamara and Ingram in the running game. In other words, the Saints have to be balanced and productive to keep L.A. off balance.
The Saints defense will face a similar balance from the Rams, who lead the NFL in rushing and are seventh in passing. They have to find a way to keep Todd Gurley II from breaking long runs while still devoting enough resources to the pass to pressure Jared Goff and cover a talented group of receivers. The pass defense has been New Orleans' biggest weakness, though cornerback P.J. Williams had a forced fumble and a pick-six against the Vikings and Eli Apple will be more acclimated to the defense as he makes his second start since being acquired in a trade with the Giants. The pass rush will have to be effective even in the absence of injured rookie DE Marcus Davenport.
The Rams expect a loud atmosphere Sunday in the Superdome on top of a very good opponent in the Saints. The key will be managing the atmosphere as much as possible, getting some traction on the ground and then taking some chances downfield. While they know Brees and the Saints will score points, they will try to mitigate their chances in the red zone and create some turnovers.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Saints run defense vs. Rams RB Todd Gurley II. There isn't one player or even one position unit that's going to be responsible for trying to slow down the NFL's leading rusher. It's going to take a combined effort from each level of the defense. As a unit, the Saints have been the best defense in the NFL against the run this season. New Orleans is allowing just 74.1 rushing yards per game. Though the Saints are 28th in passing yards allowed (300 per game), their success in rushing yards allowed isn't merely a result of teams feasting on their pass defense because they also lead the league in yards per rush (3.2). Gurley averages 4.7 yards per rush. The Saints defensive line, particularly tackles Sheldon Rankins, Tyeler Davison, David Onyemata and Taylor Stallworth, will have to occupy enough blockers to create tackling opportunities for the linebackers and defensive backs, especially the safeties, and the tackling will have to be sure-handed in order to keep Gurley from breaking big-gainers.
--Saints OL vs. Rams DL. The Rams have perhaps the most talented defensive line in the NFL, led by DT Aaron Donald, the league's sack leader. He'll create problems for the interior of the Saints line, primarily LG Andrus Peat, whose recent return from injury bolstered a Saints offensive line that already was playing well. But NT Ndamukong Suh will challenge C Max Unger, especially against the run, and DE Michael Brockers will go head to head with RT Ryan Ramczyk. The Saints line did a good job against two of the best pass-rushing teams in the NFL the last two weeks in wins against the Ravens and the Vikings, but the Rams front will present an even stronger challenge to protect Drew Brees and enable Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram II to find running room.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Rams WR Cooper Kupp. After missing the last two games with a sprained knee, Kupp is expected back Sunday against the Saints. Kupp has 30 catches for 438 yards and five touchdowns. "I think he's recovered really quickly," said Rams quarterback Jared Goff. "He's progressed and we'll see what happens this week. I think he's progressing well and I'll be excited to hopefully get him back out there."
FAST FACTS: RAMS QB JARED GOFF passed for 295 yards with 3 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 111 rating last week. Is 7-0 with 13 TDs vs. 5 INTs & 97.5 rating in past 7 on road. Aims for 3rd in row with 100+ rating & 2+ TD passes. ... RB TODD GURLEY II had 195 scrimmage yards (114 rush, 81 rec.) & TD catch last week. Leads NFL with 15 TDs & is 3rd player (HOFer JIM BROWN & PRIEST HOLMES) in NFL history with 15+ TDs in team's 1st 8 games of season. Since 2017, is only NFL player with 2,000+ rush yards (2,105) & 20+ rush TDs (24). ... WR BRANDIN COOKS ranks 3rd in NFL with 18.4 yards per reception in 2018 (min. 25 catches). Had 215 receptions for 2,861 yards & 20 TDs in 3 seasons with NO (2014-16). ... WR ROBERT WOODS has 7 games with 5+ catches & 70+ rec. yards this season, 2nd-most in NFL (ADAM THIELEN). ... DT AARON DONALD had 2 sacks last week, his 8th career multi-sack game. Leads NFL with 10 sacks in 2018. Aims for 6th in row overall with sack. Since 2014, leads NFL DTs with 49 sacks. ... LB CORY LITTLETON aims for 3rd in row with 8+ tackles & sack. ... SAINTS QB DREW BREES has 5 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 121.9 rating in past 2 vs. LAR. Aims for 3rd in row vs. Rams with 100+ rating. In past 3 at home, has 1,045 pass yards (348.3 per game), 8 TDs vs. 0 INTs & 131.1 rating. ... RB ALVIN KAMARA had 2 TDs (1 rush, 1 rec.) last week. Since 2017, is 1 of 2 RBs (TODD GURLEY II) with 4 games (4) with both rush & rec. TD. ... RB MARK INGRAM II had 92 scrimmage yards (63 rush, 29 rec.) last week. Has 567 scrimmage yards (113.4 per game) & 7 rush TDs in his past 5 at home. ... WR MICHAEL THOMAS since 2016, is 1 of 2 WRs (ANTONIO BROWN) with 250+ catches (254) & 3,000+ rec. yards (3,051). ... Rookie DE MARCUS DAVENPORT had 2 sacks last week, his 1st-career multi-sack game. Leads NFC rookies with 4 sacks in 2018, but has toe injury. ... DT SHELDON RANKINS had 2 sacks last week, his 1st-career multi-sack game. Aims for 3rd in row at home with sack.
PREDICTION: Yes, the Rams are 8-0, but three wins over Denver, Seattle and Green Bay have been by a total of seven points. They have to lose sometimes (don't they?) and this will be the one in the raucous Mercedes-Benz Superdome where both teams have premium engines.
OUR PICK: Saints, 28-24
GREEN BAY PACKERS (3-3-1) AT NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (6-2)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 8:20 PM ET, Gillette Stadium; NBC, Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya (Field reporter)
SERIES HISTORY: 11th regular-season meeting. Series tied, 5-5. The Packers beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl in 1997. The Packers were also the first road team to win at Gillette Stadium in October 2002 when they defeated the Patriots 28-10.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Offensively, the Patriots must play an up-tempo pace to tire out Packers linebacker Clay Matthews. The Patriots might also attack cornerback Kevin King and attempt to draw in the Packers inside linebackers (Blake Martinez and Oren Burks) with play-action and let Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan catch the 10-15-yard crossing routes. It is also critical for the Patriots to block Packers defensive end Mike Daniels - a very good edge player. The Packers traded Ha Ha Clinton-Dix so they Patriots could exploit the coverage skills of the Packers' safeties.
Defensively, the Patriots must stop wide receiver Davante Adams (52 receptions, 690 yards) and tight end Jimmy Graham (28 receptions 370 yards). Adams is almost impossible to cover with one defensive back as Los Angeles Rams cornerback Marcus Peters found out the hard way in the second half of the Packers loss to the Rams. The Packers are deep at receiver. Randall Cobb returned last week against the Rams after missing a month and had four catches for 40 yards. Aaron Rodgers also likes receiver Geronimo Allison who has 20 catches this season and the chemistry between them is improving.
Still, the play of quarterbacks Tom Brady and Rodgers will be the focal point with this only the second time in their long career that have been on the same NFL field together as opponents.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Packers WR Davante Adams vs. Patriots CB Stephon Gilmore. Adams has caught 52 passes for 690 yards and six touchdowns. That puts him on pace for 120 receptions for 1,577 yards and 14 touchdowns. He's on a roll with three consecutive games with 130-plus receiving yards. He figures to draw the Patriots' lockdown cornerback, Stephon Gilmore. Gilmore has one interception and ranks second in the NFL with 11 passes defensed. According to Pro Football Focus, he's allowed a catch rate of just 40.9 percent.
--Packers S Jermaine Whitehead vs. Patriots RB James White. Whitehead has been a matchup guy for coordinator Mike Pettine's defense. White is a matchup problem. He ranks seventh in the NFL with 55 receptions and leads all running backs with six touchdown receptions. In the highest praise imaginable, QB Tom Brady said: "I've played with a lot of great players and James is right there at the top. In terms of consistency, dependability, making great play after great play, James is as good as all the good Patriot players - Troy Brown, Wes Welker, Kevin Faulk."
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Packers RB Aaron Jones averaged 5.5 yards per carry as a rookie and has been even better this season. He enters Sunday's game with an NFL-best 6.2-yard average. In last week's loss to the Los Angeles Rams, Jones finally took over as Green Bay's No. 1 ball-carrier. He took advantage of his 12 carries to gain 86 yards, including a 33-yard touchdown. Jones can give the Packers needed balance so Patriots head coach Bill Belichick can't just tee off on quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
FAST FACTS: PACKERS QB AARON RODGERS passed for 286 yards with 1 TD vs. 0 INTs for 102.9 rating last week. Aims for 4th in row with 100+ rating. Has 40,785 career pass yards & surpassed HOFer JOE MONTANA (40,551) for 18th most all-time. ... RB JAMAAL WILLIAMS had rush TD last week. ... RB AARON JONES had 86 rush yards & TD last week. ... WR DAVANTE ADAMS had 5 catches for 133 yards last week. Since 2016, is 1 of 2 WRs (ANTONIO BROWN) with 2,500+ rec. yards (2,572) & 25+ TD catches (28). ... TE JIMMY GRAHAM since entering NFL in 2010, ranks 2nd among active players with 70 rec. TDs. ... LB CLAY MATTHEWS had sack last week. ... LB BLAKE MARTINEZ had 12 tackles & sack in Week 8. Is 1 of 2 in NFL (DARIUS LEONARD) with 60+ tackles (61) & 4+ sacks (4) in 2018. ... Rookie CB JAIRE ALEXANDER had career-high 5 PD last week, most by player in single game in 2018. ... DL KENNY CLARK had 2 sacks last week, his 2nd career 2-sack game. Aims for 3rd in row with sack. ... PATRIOTS aim for 10th consecutive home win. ... QB TOM BRADY passed for 324 yards last week. Has 300+ pass yards in 3 of his past 4. Has 8 TD passes vs. 0 INTs for 114.7 rating in his past 3 vs. GB. In his past 10 vs. NFC North, has 23 TD passes vs. 3 INTs for 112.7 rating. ... RB JAMES WHITE had 94 scrimmage yards (79 rec., 15 rush) & rush TD in Week 8. Aims for his 4th in row with 90+ scrimmage yards. Ranks 2nd among NFL RBs with 55 catches. ... TE ROB GRONKOWSKI had 7 catches for 98 yards in last meeting. ... WR JULIAN EDELMAN had 9 catches for 104 rec. yards last week. ... WR JOSH GORDON had 69 rec. yards & TD catch in his last game vs. GB (12/10/17 with Cle.). In 7 career games vs. NFC North, has 548 rec. yards (78.3 per game) & 3 TD catches. ... DE TREY FLOWERS has 7 TFL & 4 sacks in his past 7 at home. ... LB KYLE VAN NOY had team-high 8 tackles & 2 sacks last week. ... S DEVIN MC COURTY had 84-yard INT-TD in Week 8, his 1st-career INT-TD.
PREDICTION: Low scoring or high scoring? All lead to going high as the 56.5 over/under line indicates, but it might not. Still, it should be a great evening of quarterback watching and a game that should come down to the wire.
OUR PICK: Patriots, 28-24
TENNESSEE TITANS (3-4) AT DALLAS COWBOYS (3-4)
KICKOFF: Monday, 8:15 PM ET; AT&T Stadium; ESPN, Joe Tessitore, Jason Witten, Booger McFarland, Lisa Salters (Field reporter)
SERIES HISTORY: 15th regular-season meeting. Cowboys lead series, 8-6. The teams last met in 2014 at Nissan Stadium, during a time when the Titans were terrible and headed to a two-win season. Dallas won easily that day, 26-10. When the Titans last visited Dallas, Vince Young produced a 34-27 Titans victory in 2010.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Titans and Cowboys in some ways are mirror images of each other. They both feature quarterbacks in Marcus Mariota and Dak Prescott who have starred at times, but have not been consistent enough. Both teams need the running game to be effective to take the pressure off the quarterbacks and put them in favorable down-and-distance situations. The Titans may have to do some passing to run, given how stout the Cowboys defense can be against the run. If so, who among the receivers will step up? Running back Dion Lewis might be their best bet out of the backfield on check-downs and screens.
Defensively, the Titans have to slow down Ezekiel Elliott and put the pressure on Prescott to make plays in the passing game. The Cowboys, of course, want to get Elliott rolling and ride him to enough yards and points to win. But to do that, Prescott has to divert some attention from Elliott, whether it's by completing passes or running himself.
For the Cowboys on defense, theyhave to keep Tennessee from busting out of its offensive doldrums.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence vs. Titans QB Marcus Mariota. Tennessee is one of three teams in the NFL with a less productive offense than the Cowboys. Dallas knows all too well that a struggling offense grinds to a halt when the QB is under pressure. Lawrence, who has dazzled when healthy this season, should be feeling better after the bye week and ready to harass Mariota.
--Titans CB Logan Ryan vs. Cowboys WR Amari Cooper. Cooper, just acquired from the Raiders for a first-round pick on the Dallas bye week, will make his Dallas debut on Monday Night Football against the Titans. Ryan or Adoree' Jackson could draw Cooper in the game with Ryan usually taking the bigger wideouts and Jackson going against the smaller and quicker receivers.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Titans WR Corey Davis. The 2017 first-round pick was thought to have turned the corner with a breakout game against the Eagles a month ago (nine catches, 161 yards and a game-winning TD in overtime). Since then, Davis has all but disappeared from the offense and has been one of several Tennessee receivers to be plagued by drops this year. In the three games since his breakout game, Davis has eight catches total for 83 yards.
FAST FACTS: TITANS QB MARCUS MARIOTA completed 24 of 32 (75 pct.) for 237 yards with 1 TD vs. 1 INT for 92.8 rating & rushed for 38 yards in Week 7. Aims for his 3rd in row with 90+ rating. ... RB DION LEWIS had season-high 155 scrimmage yards (91 rush, 64 rec.) in Week 7. ... WR TAJAE SHARPE had career-high 101 rec. yards in Week 7. ... WR COREY DAVIS leads team with 30 catches & 395 rec. yards. ... TE LUKE STOCKER had TD catch in Week 7. ... LB JAYON BROWN had 7 tackles & sack in Week 7. Has 7+ tackles & sack in 3 of his past 4. ... CB LOGAN RYAN had INT in his only career game vs. Dal. (10/11/15 with NE). ... S KEVIN BYARD has 9 INTs since 2017, tied for most in NFL over span. ... COWBOYS QB DAK PRESCOTT passed for 273 yards with 1 TD vs. 0 INTs for 96.5 rating & had rush TD in Week 7. Has 10 career games with pass TD & rush TD, tied for 3rd-most among players in their 1st 3 seasons in NFL history. Is 2-0 with 5 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 146.4 rating in 2 career games on Monday. ... RB EZEKIEL ELLIOTT is averaging 132.8 scrimmage yards per game & has 14 TDs (12 rush, 2 rec.) in 16 career home games. Has 186 scrimmage yards (93 per game) & 3 rush TDs in 2 career games on Monday. Since entering NFL in 2016, leads league with 15 games of 100+ rush yards. ... WR AMARI COOPER makes Dal. debut. Has rec. TD in 2 of 3 career games on Monday. ... Rookie WR MICHAEL GALLUP had career-high 81 rec. yards & 1st-career TD catch in Week 7. ... DE DeMARCUS LAWRENCE has 3 sacks & 6 TFL in his past 4. Since 2017, is 1 of 3 (AARON DONALD & CHANDLER JONES) with 20+ sacks (20). LB SEAN LEE has 38 tackles (9.5 per game) & 5 TFL in his past 4 at home. Aims for 3rd in row vs. AFC with 10+ tackles & 2+ TFL. ... DT DAVID IRVING had sack in Week 7. Has sack in 2 of his past 3.
PREDICTION: In the past, home has not been overly kind to the Cowboys, but that's the case this season. They are 3-0 at home and 0-4 on the road. Two of Tennessee's losses have been on the road, plus one in London.
OUR PICK: Cowboys, 23-16