NFL WEEK 6: With several games pitting teams with winning records and several more featuring winning teams in tricky road spots, Week 6 should be an interesting one. It began in predictable fashion, with the Patriots easily outclassing the Giants on Thursday night, but something tells me we’re in for a crazy Sunday… it just feels like that kind of week.
Though it happens so regularly now it’s hardy worth a mention, there will be another London game on Sunday, as the Panthers and Bucs face off in early action (kickoff: 9:30am ET) at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, where the Raiders upset the Bears last week in the venue’s first ever NFL game. London fans will get a first-hand look at Christian McCaffrey, who is– and I can’t believe I’m saying this about a running back, but he proves it each week– probably the best and most valuable player in the entire league right now. The guy is an absolute dynamo, a player who can’t be stopped despite the entire stadium knowing that he’s getting the ball. Worth the price of admission, for sure.
After a second straight 2-2 week that looked for a long while like it was going to be better than that, it’s time to get that winning feeling back. The season is too short for 2-2!! With that in mind, here’s what I’m thinking this week:
Carolina Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers *LONDON* (Car -2, 47)
Recommendation: Carolina -2 at 1.89
I’ve been riding the Panthers with great success over the past couple of weeks, and this train is still moving– it’s not time to hop off just yet! Part of the reason Carolina continues to be a great value is because of the quarterback situation, as Cam Newton has been such a key piece over the years, and has (deservedly) received so much credit for the team’s success, that his absence has naturally caused folks to downgrade and doubt the Carolina offense. In reality, however, Newton wasn’t himself over the first two weeks of the season as he was gimping around on a bad foot, and his replacement, Kyle Allen, has done a much better job of opening up the offense and pushing the ball downfield. It seems almost sacrilegious to say it out loud, but the Panthers improved the minute Newton hit the bench.
Now, I’m not saying that Kyle Allen is Tom Brady, but he doesn’t have to be when he’s playing alongside McCaffrey, who continues to make jaws drop and leave defenders grasping air on a weekly basis. McCaffrey is the ultimate and final rebuttal to the “RBs don’t matter” crowd, and you can be sure that Tampa Bay will be getting a heavy dose of him on Sunday. The Bucs have been good against the run this season, but they rank last in the NFL against the pass, surrendering nearly 325 pass yards per game, and McCaffrey, in addition to leading the NFL in rushing, ranks 12th in the league with 31 receptions. On the other side of the ball, Carolina boasts a fierce defense that ranks 2nd in the NFL in sacks, 4th in pass yards allowed, and 7th in total yards allowed, so mistake-prone Tampa quarterback Jameis Winston is in a tough spot here. The Bucs were able to go into Carolina and pull out a 20-14 victory in Week 2 on a night when a hobbled Cam Newton completed fewer than half of his passes against the NFL’s most generous secondary, but I think we may see the game unfold a little differently this time around. I feel good about the Panthers in this spot.
New Orleans Saints @ Jacksonville Jaguars (Jax -2, 43)
Recommendation: Jacksonville -2 at 1.91
Bottom line: it’s time to Sell High on the Saints. To hear people talk, you’d think that New Orleans hasn’t missed a beat without Drew Brees, and should still be regarded as an elite team. The record backs this up– the Saints are 4-1 and have yet to lose with Teddy Bridgewater under center. And to bolster this line of thinking, you need only to look at Bridgewater’s statline from the 31-24 win over Tampa Bay last week: 26/34, 314 yards, 4 touchdowns. It was a triumph for Bridgewater, who has gallantly battled back after a severe leg injury derailed his once-promising career, but if you think it means the New Orleans offense is rolling again, you may want to consider all available evidence: the Bucs are allowing 30 more pass yards per game than any other defense in the league, and in Bridgewater’s previous two starts he was awfully shaky. (if you dispute my characterization of Bridgewater as “shaky” in wins over Seattle and Dallas, it means you probably didn’t watch the games. But don’t worry– you’re not alone. Fortunately.)
Fact is, the New Orleans offense has lost its crispness and efficiency without Brees, and is now a rough facsimile of the Carolina offense, with Sean Payton figuring out all sorts of creative ways to get Alvin Kamara the ball just like the Panthers do with Christian McCaffrey. Kamara is a little banged up, however, as he missed practice on Friday with an ankle injury and is officially listed as questionable for Sunday’s game. If he’s out, or even of he’s less than 100% healthy, the Saints will have a difficult time moving the ball against a stingy Jacksonville defense that has allowed more than 20 points just twice in their last nine home games. And while the Jags certainly haven’t been explosive on offense, they may present a tough matchup for the New Orleans D, as the Saints are surrendering 4.5 yards per rush and Jacksonville is one of the best rushing teams in the NFL, averaging 138 yards per game and 5.5 yards per carry. Plus, rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew has been one of the NFL’s breakout stars this season– don’t just assume that New Orleans will have the best quarterback on the field on Sunday. Jacksonville is the right side here.
Seattle Seahawks @ Cleveland Browns (Sea -1.5, 46.5)
Recommendation: Cleveland +1.5 at 1.95
Continuing with the “sell high” theme, I’ve heard lots of enthusiastic talk about Seattle over the last week, as the early-season skeptics were seemingly silenced by the Seahawks’ 30-29 win over the Rams last Thursday. But reasons for concern remain: the defense has been leaky, particularly the secondary, as the ‘Hawks rank an uncharacteristic 26th in pass yards allowed. They’ve faced two terrible teams already– Cincinnati and Arizona, combined record 1-8-1– and in their other three games, the Seahawks have surrendered 88 combined points despite facing backup QBs against both Pittsburgh and New Orleans. The Cleveland offense has been maddeningly inconsistent thus far, but the Browns boast elite skill-position talent and have showed flashes of brilliance, most recently two weeks ago, when they hung 40 points and 530 yards on a good Baltimore defense. Playing at home against a vulnerable secondary, I expect Baker Mayfield and Co. to get things cranked up this week.
Mayfield’s counterpart, Seattle’s Russell Wilson, is having a brilliant season and has rightly been hailed as one of the NFL’s top quarterbacks. But Brian Schottenheimer’s run-first scheme limits Wilson somewhat, and the Seahawks don’t exactly have the NFL’s most fearsome collection of skill-position talent– all of their WRs and RBs would be backups if they played for the Browns. Cleveland’s defense should present a stiff challenge for Wilson, as they rank 6th in the league with 16 sacks and are strong in the secondary, limiting opponents to just 206.4 pass yards per game (7th in NFL). Plus, the Browns have been operating without their starting cornerbacks for the part couple of weeks, but they should get both Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams back on Sunday, meaning Wilson will be facing the best version of the Cleveland defense. I’m just not sure the ‘Hawks are going to be able to keep up in this one– they’re not good enough defensively to discombobulate Baker Mayfield, and a road game in the Eastern time zone against a top-10 defense is about as tough as it gets for the plodding Seattle offense. I expect the Browns to temporarily get their season back on track with a much-needed win here.
Detroit Lions @ Green Bay Packers (GB -4, 45.5)
Recommendation: Detroit +4 at 1.91
I know you’ve heard it too: they’re overrated. Overvalued. They’re going to be exposed any week now. Playoff contender? Don’t make me laugh.
These things have all been said about one of the teams involved in this Monday night NFC North showdown, but in my humble opinion they’re being said about the wrong team. Nobody wants to believe in the Lions, because well… they’re the Lions. We’ve all seen Matt Stafford turn into a pumpkin too many times before. But the Lions team I’ve watched over the first four games is one with a much-improved defense, and an offense that is doing things a little differently– running the ball more than in years past, and when they do throw, they throw the ball downfield. Stafford may not be the most reliable sort, but he’s got a rifle for a right arm and is one of the more capable downfield passers in the league. And his receiving corps has been fantastic– Kenny Golladay continues to produce like a Pro Bowler, Marvin Jones Jr. and Danny Amendola are ultra-reliable possession receivers, and rookie tight end T.J. Hockenson has given Stafford a dynamic option over the middle. This Detroit offense is balanced and diversified.
The Packers, for their part, have improved offensively after a slow start, and they’re coming off their best all-around performance of the season in a 34-24 win over Dallas. But there are reasons for concern: they’re likely to be without top receiver Davante Adams for the second consecutive week, and Aaron Rodgers has been running for his life behind a shaky offensive line, as he’s been pressured on 41.4% of his dropbacks– the fifth-highest mark in the league. The Lions have an excellent secondary, one that is allowing just 6.9 yards per pass attempt and has only surrendered four passing touchdowns through four games, so this will be a tough test for Rodgers, particularly without the services of Adams. And though the Packers have been better than expected defensively, they’ve really struggled against the run, allowing 5.2 yards per rush, so this might be a game where speedy Detroit running back Kerryon Johnson is able to find some creases. I’m not at all convinced that Green Bay is the better team in this matchup, making a Lions team coming off a bye a great value as a 4-point ‘dog.