This week in the NFL, key divisional matchups will set the tone for the second half of the season.
The NFC East lead is up for grabs as the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys clash on Monday Night Football. The top two teams in the AFC South square off as the Indianapolis Colts host the Houston Texans. And though they’re both looking up to the Green Bay Packers, there’s a lot on the line as the Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings meet.
Week 1: 9-6-1
Week 2: 9-7
Week 3: 11-5
Week 4: 6-9
Week 5: 10-5
Week 6: 9-5
Overall Record: 54-37-1
Week 6 brought me my 5th winning record of the season. How is my overall record? ESPN has a panel of ten league experts for their weekly picks. I rank ahead of four of them (Clay, Golic, Graziano, Reid), tied with one (Seifert) and behind five (Bowen, the highest with 61 wins, Kimes, Riddick, Wikersham, and Wingo).
Buy my 54 wins trails the 57 wins garnered by ESPN’s Pigskin Pick ‘Em. So basically, I’m three wins behind the general public. I pick games at a 59% rate. It means I’m right “most” of the time, but still, picking all favorites will always get you above 50%.
My new goal for the season is to finish above 60%, or higher.
In Week 6 I incorrectly predicted:
- Cowboys over Jets
- No shame here at all. New York shocked us all. I actually had the Cowboys winning 37-16: LOL.
- Chiefs over Texans
- Looked like a good pick early, but Houston stormed back. I give them a lot of credit for this win.
- Rams over 49ers
- I’ve been doubting San Francisco, perhaps for too long. Or maybe I put too much faith in the Rams bouncing back from two straight losses.
- Falcons over Cardinals
- This was a tight pick, a tight game, and a tight spread. Can’t feel too bad about picking the wrong team. Atlanta lost by just one point. Still, I feel like I picked them because I still had a sliver of hope for the Falcons. No more.
- Chargers over Steelers
- Interestingly, I split this pick in two: if Rudolph started or if Hodges started. If Rudolph started I had Pittsburgh winning, with the Chargers winning if Hodges started. I was wrong, Hodges was still able to get it done.
Thursday Night Football
Kansas City Chiefs (4-2) at Denver Broncos (2-4)
Line: Kansas City Chiefs (-3.0)
A few weeks ago, the Chiefs were 4-0, Patrick Mahommes just signed the biggest extension ever, and writers like me were ready to crown Kansas City as the next potential dynasty.
Since then, injuries, an inefficient offense, and subpar defense have grounded the Chiefs with back-to-back losses to the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans.
Shockingly, both those losses came at Arrowhead Stadium, where the Chiefs are typically dominant. This week, they play in another stadium notoriously difficult for road opponents: they face the Denver Broncos at Mile High Stadium (Or whatever sponsor owns it nowadays, looks like it’s officially “Empower Field at Mile High Stadium”)
Denver has bounced back from an 0-4 start with two straight wins, defeating the Chargers and shutting out the Titans.
OT Eric Fisher, WR Sammy Watkins, CB Kendall Fuller, DT Chris Jones and G Andrew Wylie are all out for Kansas City. Patrick Mahommes is dealing with an ankle injury himself.
But the buck stops here for a Chiefs team that’s serious about contending this year. The Broncos defense has been stellar this year, especially given with the situations Joe Flacco’s lackluster offense gives to them. The Chiefs need this game to keep their season on track. On a Thursday night, with the spotlight on them, they bounce back.
Chiefs win 24-17, Chiefs win ATS
Sunday Day Games
Arizona Cardinals (2-3-1) at New York Giants (2-4)
Line: New York Giants (-3.0)
Through six games, rookie Kyler Murray isn’t playing like a first-year quarterback at all. He’s completing 63% of his passes, 277.3 yards per game (12th in the NFL, 1st among rookies AND first-year starters.) The team around him isn’t great though, and he’s been sacked 21 times, the 4th most in the league.
The Giants defense has been playing inspired football lately, almost stealing New York a win in New England last Thursday. This game will be decided by which Giants defense shows up. The one that allowed Jameis Winston to score on every possession in the first half? Or the one that held Tom Brady in check for most of three quarters?
Notice how in both examples, I can’t point to full games. Even over the course of a single games, the Giants defense can be wildly inconsistent.
Lucky for Daniel Jones and the Giants, the Cardinals defense isn’t great either. Only two teams give up more than Arizona’s 281.2 passing yards per game. That would be Tampa Bay and… the Giants.
This could lead to a shootout in the Meadowlands. Jones has been up and down through his four starts, but he’s obviously fared better against weaker defenses. This could be a confidence building win for the Giants. If they win, they’d still only be a game behind the winner of the Cowboys-Eagles Sunday night clash. The Giants season isn’t over yet, but if they can’t beat teams like the Cardinals, then there might not be reason to hold too much optimism.
Evan Engram and Saquon Barkley are expected to return, which should provide Jones with the tools he needs to get the job done.
Giants win 31-28, PUSH ATS
Los Angeles Rams (3-3) at Atlanta Falcons (1-5)
Line: Los Angeles Rams (-3.0)
Three straight losses. Three straight losses.
That’s all this Rams teams has heard after losing as many games as they did last season in just three weeks. Now, cornerback Marcus Peters is out while Jalen Ramsey is in at the same position. Can last year’s NFC Champions repeat with another Super Bowl appearance with the roster they have now?
On paper, yes. They’re not one of the three best teams in the NFC right now, but they have ten weeks to turn that around. That starts with beating a bad Atlanta Falcons team on Sunday.
Atlanta has the 7th-worst total defense in the NFL, allowing 388.8 yards per game. I’m done picking the Falcons for probably the rest of the season. Someone pointed out to me that they are a Nelson Aglohor drop away from being 0-6. They lose again here.
Rams win 27-21, Rams win ATS
Miami Dolphins (0-5) at Buffalo Bills (4-1)
Line: Miami Dolphins (-17.0)
I did a lot of writing for my first couple picks, so I’ll save some energy for both of us on this one.
The Dolphins are the worst team in the league. Miami turns back to Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback for reasons beyond my comprehension. The Dolphins are the worst team in the league, the Bills have made their way into my Top 10 in Power Rankings.
But here’s the hot take: the Dolphins can cover since Buffalo’s offense isn’t incredible.
Bills win 24-13, Dolphins win ATS
Jacksonville Jaguars (2-4) at Cincinnati Bengals (0-6)
Line: Jacksonville Jaguars (-3.5)
Hear me out. There’s a lot of bad teams in the NFL every year. But only two have ever gone winless. While the Miami Dolphins might have a shot this season, the Bengals aren’t that bad.
The Jaguars are a fun team to watch with Gardner Minshew under center, but that hasn’t exactly translated to wins. This is partly because the Jaguars lose the turnover battle every game.
Could the Jaguars win in Cincinnati? Absolutely. But I’ve gotta pick against the grain on some of these, and a week after the Jets and Redskins got their first wins of the season, the Bengals join the party.
Bengals win 27-24, Bengals win ATS
Minnesota Vikings (4-2) at Detroit Lions (2-1-1)
Line: Minnesota Vikings (-1.5)
Home underdogs? The Detroit Lions are getting no credit. They basically beat the Green Bay Packers, until a slew of calls, some the league would later admit were wrong, doomed them in the final minutes of a Monday Night loss.
Detroit’s defense played stellar for most of the night, visibly frustrating Aaron Rodgers. The Lions contain Kirk Cousins and the Vikings offense to grind out a redemption win.
Looking further at the numbers, I see now why the Vikings are favored: Detroit has outscored opponents by just one point this season, while Minnesota has a +57 point differential. I’m still sticking with Stafford at home on this one.
Lions win 23-17, Lions win ATS
Oakland Raiders (3-2) at Green Bay Packers (5-1)
Line: Green Bay Packers (-4.5)
I’ve had a couple requests to raise the Raiders in my Power Rankings, and specifically to be above the teams they beat (Colts, Bears.) I’m still not sold on any kind of consistency for Jon Gruden’s Raiders.
The Packers may have deserved to lose on Monday Night Football, but they’re still a very good team, one of the NFL’s best. Rodgers finds more success against Oakland’s defense than he did against a bothersome Detroit defense.
Packers win 27-20, Packers win ATS
Houston Texans (4-2) at Indianapolis Colts (3-2)
At time of writing, the line for this game is EVEN and I’m pretty sure it’s the first true pick ’em I’ve seen all year.
Both teams are coming in confident. The Texans emerged from a 2-2 start with a 50+ point performance against the Falcons and a come-from-behind win against the Chiefs. Jacoby Brissett and the Colts beat that same Chiefs team on a Sunday Night before their bye week.
I like the pick ’em nature of this game. On paper, I would say the Texans have the better team. But I’m gonna go with the Colts for two reasons: home field, and coming off a bye week. Indy has had a lot of time to prepare for this game. Hopefully they don’t overthink it.
Colts win 23-20
San Francisco 49ers (5-0) at Washington Redskins (1-5)
Line: San Francisco 49ers (-9.5)
I also got a lot of complaints on my Power Rankings for putting the Seahawks above the 49ers, even though they’ve played the same set of teams and the 49ers are undefeated. I still had San Francisco as a Top 5 team in the league, but honestly, the fact the Niners played the same teams and beat them by bigger margins says something.
The matchup couldn’t be much weaker here, and the 49ers will likely blow out another bad team. At 6-0, it won’t matter whether I respect them as a great team, as they’ll be undefeated for another week and well on their way to a playoff berth. Two matchups with the Seahawks still loom.
49ers win 30-16, 49ers win ATS
Los Angeles Chargers (2-4) at Tennessee Titans (2-4)
Line: Tennessee Titans (-2.0)
The Chargers have looked pretty bad the past couple weeks. But they weren’t the first team to get shut out this season: that would be the Titans last week. Tennessee turns to Ryan Tannehill at starter over Marcus Mariota. Will the former Dolphins QB be the answer?
Probably not. I could see this being one of those back and forth quarterback decisions where the coach yanks Tannehill in the second half as early as this week.
I think long-term, this Los Angeles team will struggle. But Philip Rivers is able to handle the struggling Titans team on the road.
Chargers win 23-17, Chargers win ATS
New Orleans Saints (5-1) at Chicago Bears (3-2)
Line: Chicago Bears (-3.0)
I thought I went with all favorites last week, but then I remembered the Saints were considered underdogs to the Jaguars in Jacksonville. It’s narrow and home teams get favorable point spreads, but the Saints find themselves three point underdogs to the Chicago Bears.
Teddy Bridgewater’s offense hasn’t been especially high scoring, and the Bears defense will give him a tough test. But whether it be Mitch Trubisky or Chase Daniel, the Saints defense should be able to keep this a low-scoring affair. They were able to do so to grind out wins over Dak Prescott and Gardner Minshew, and I think they do it again here. The Saints march on and stay undefeated in games Bridgewater starts.
Saints win 17-13, Saints win ATS
Baltimore Ravens (4-2) at Seattle Seahawks (5-1)
Line: Seattle Seahawks (-3.5)
I’m excited to see how this one plays out. The Seahawks have liked to play it close this season, and the Ravens have played well in five of their six games (played well in a close loss to the Chiefs, only played poorly in a 15-point loss to the Browns.)
Russell Wilson and Lamar Jackson could be trading highlight plays. This a really close matchup, so I had to check out some stats on the teams.
I didn’t realize the Ravens ranked #1 in total offense and #2 in points per game (30.7.) Yes, a lot of those points came against teams like the Cardinals and Dolphins, but with the sample size now up to six games, it’s still impressive. No slouches themselves, Seattle ranks 5th in total offense and 7th in points per game (27.7.)
Defensively, the Ravens hope Marcus Peters helps them improve their 13th ranked total defense/17th ranked scoring defense. Seattle’s defense is high octane with Jadeveon Clowney rushing the passer, but they surprisingly rank lower: 20th in total defense and 20th in scoring defense.
My gut was going to tell me Seahawks, and they could very well win at home here. But something tells me the Ravens high-flying offense isn’t a fluke, and Seattle’s defense hasn’t been elite this season.
Ravens win 27-24, Ravens win ATS
Sunday Night Football
Philadelphia Eagles (3-3) at Dallas Cowboys (3-3)
Line: Dallas Cowboys (-3.0)
No matchup in Week 7 is bigger than Eagles-Cowboys on Sunday Night. Dallas has one of America’s biggest fanbases and national following. Philadelphia is no stranger to the spotlight either, and both teams have playoff aspirations this year.
But as both teams find themselves 3-3 through six week, and a lot of strong competition set up for the NFC Wildcard race, it’s very likely just one of these teams makes the playoffs. Every game will count, and that goes double for head-to-head matchups.
I had the Dallas Cowboys as the preseason division winner, but I’m comfortable saying whoever wins this game will be in the driver’s seat moving forward.
This week, I picked teams like the Giants, Bengals, and Chiefs to rebound from losing streaks. The Cowboys come in with three straight losses, and of these four teams, they may be the most desperate. They lost tight games to good opponents in the Packers and Saints before shockingly falling to the Jets last week. Despite the two-point loss (where Dallas had an opportunity to make a two-point conversion and force overtime), the Cowboys outplayed the Jets in almost every facet of the game. An untimely turnover, followed by a 90-yard touchdown pass on the very next play really shifted the momentum of the games. Dallas outgained New York, held the ball longer, and picked up more first downs.
The Eagles beat the same Packers and Jets teams in the past few weeks, and looked impressive in doing so. Two of their three losses came in the seasons first three weeks, to the Falcons and Lions.
This is about as tight a matchup as it can get, with the Cowboys only being 3 point favorites by virtue of being the hometeam. I’ve went back and forth in mind, but I think I’m going to go with the Cowboys. At time of writing, Amari Cooper’s status is uncertain, but I’m still going to lock in Dallas. If he plays, that’s a bonus.
Cowboys win 23-20, PUSH ATS
Monday Night Football
New England Patriots (6-0) at New York Jets (1-4)
Line: New England Patriots (-10.0)
This is already the second meeting between the Patriots and Jets this year. New England won at home 30-14 in a game that now-released Luke Falk started. Sam Darnold is back now, and the Jets got their first win under their belt last week. The Patriots are “only” a modest 10-point road favorites.
The Jets will get a few more wins this season, but c’mon, it’s the Patriots. Yes, they have flaws and probably won’t finish the season undefeated. Yes, sometimes divisional opponents can outplay their skill and grind out upsets.
But it won’t happen on Monday Night at MetLife Stdium. The Jets keep it close until halftime, but in the second half New England’s scoring breaks open. Much like the Patriots Thursday Night win over the New York Giants.
Patriots win 33-17. Patriots win ATS
Teams on Bye
Cleveland Browns (2-4): After alternating wins and losses for the the first five weeks, the Browns suffered the same result in back-to-back games for the first time this season: losses.
It’s become apparent this Browns team isn’t where the media and fans thought they would be. They’re not terrible, as they’ve shown they can play with and even beat good teams. But at this rate, they’re probably looking at five or six wins this season: a regression from last year.
It doesn’t get much easier for Cleveland, as they play in New England and Denver over the next two weeks.
Pittsburgh Steelers (2-4): Pittsburgh has picked up two wins in the last three weeks to save their season from irrelevancy. The Ravens lead the AFC North at 4-2, and beat the Steelers, but there’s still hope for a team down to it’s third quarterback. That shows some grit.
The Steelers get to host the Dolphins, Colts, and Rams in a three-game homestand.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-4): One game, Jameis Winston looks like a Pro Bowler, and the next, he’s an interception machine. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been wildly inconsistent, and some are calling for this to be Winston’s last season in Tampa Bay.
Jameis can quell those talks with a couple wins, but at the end of the day, we know what he is by now. A middle of the road starter, no more no less.
Tampa Bay’s next three games see them face the Titans, Seahawks, and Cardinals.
Carolina Panthers (4-2): The Panthers are the only team on bye this week with a winning record. But that doesn’t mean they won’t have questions of their own to face. Kyle Allen has won four straight wins since taking over the winless Panthers. Cam Newton is expected back at practice after the bye. Is a QB controversy brewing?
After hearing comments from Panthers players like Greg Olsen on ESPN’s First Take, it seem like the decision may have been made already. Allen has turned the team around, and likely earned his spot as the starting quarterback even when Newton is healthy.
Be sure to follow Sak Sports Blog on Twitter for more NFL updates, or to debate my picks.
Header photo credit: Matt Rourke/AP