NFL WEEK 6: It feels like we’re walking on eggshells this season, as seemingly every day there’s a fresh report of an “outbreak” here, a positive test there, and a whole lot of uncertainty surrounding the schedule. This week’s oddities include no Thursday night game, a Monday afternoon game in addition to the regularly scheduled Monday night game, and a looming worry that Sunday’s Denver/New England contest, which has already been rescheduled once, won’t happen due to more positive tests from the Patriots, which prompted them to cancel practice on Friday.
But, still: we have football. And with 13 games that are apparently under no threat of cancellation, there’s plenty of opportunity and intrigue in this Week 6. Here’s what I’m thinking:
Chicago Bears @ Carolina Panthers (CAR -1.5, 44.5)
Recommendation: Chicago +1.5 at 1.97
First year head coach Matt Rhule has officially entered the honeymoon stage in Carolina, with the team’s current 3-game winning streak creating some good vibes and heightened expectations. But let’s be real: the Panthers have pulled off three close wins against teams with a combined record of 4-11. Their value in the betting marketplace right now is likely as high as it’s going to be all season, particularly after losing defensive tackle Kawaan Short, their best player in the front seven, for the remainder of the year after he injured his shoulder in last week’s victory over Atlanta. The loss of Short is a huge blow to a defense that was already having tremendous difficulty stopping the run– the Panthers are surrendering a staggering 5.4 yards per rush this season, worse than all but one team leaguewide. That makes this a nice matchup for a Chicago offense that likes to pound the ball with David Montgomery, and the Bears have some advantages on the other side of the ball as well, as pass rushers Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks will present an entirely different challenge from what the Carolina o-line has seen recently against teams like Atlanta and Arizona. The wrong team is favored here.
New York Jets @ Miami Dolphins (MIA -9, 47)
Recommendation: Miami -9 at 1.92
No need to check your vision, and it’s not a misprint: Miami is favored by 9 points this week. This is the first time the Dolphins have been a betting favorite in a whopping 21 games, and the first time they’ve been favored by more than a touchdown since 2016 (!!). It comes on the heels of their most impressive performance of the season, last week’s 43-17 walloping of San Francisco, but the more relevant issue here is their opponent– the New York Jets, currently your frontrunner in the Trevor Lawrence Sweepstakes. The Jets have been worse than even their staunchest critics could’ve possibly imagined, losing all five of their games by 9 points or more. Their defense has given up 30+ points in every game but one. The offense has scored 17 points or fewer in every game but one. And now starting quarterback Sam Darnold is sidelined with a shoulder injury, while disgruntled yet highly talented tailback Le’Veon Bell has been shipped to Kansas City. There’s also plenty of in-house dysfunction, with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams taking some veiled shots at the offense in media interviews this week, which he probably felt like he could do because head coach Adam Gase might not make it to next week. It’s an absolute train wreck in New York, while the Dolphins are picking up momentum and putting up points in bunches. This one won’t be close.
Green Bay Packers @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (GB -1.5, 55)
Recommendation: Tampa Bay moneyline at 2.03
This is going to be a compelling game for obvious reasons, and a real test of just what kind of team Green Bay is this season. Currently riding high at 4-0, the Packers have only faced one quality team– New Orleans, whom they beat 37-30 back in Week 3. But the Saints have been surprisingly shaky thus far, nearly losing a home game to a Chargers team led by a rookie QB last week, and Green Bay’s other three wins have come against teams with a combined record of 2-12. The Bucs are coming off a tough 1-point loss to Chicago, but they’ve mostly looked the part of a contender thus far, particularly on defense, where they rank second in the NFL in yards allowed, behind only Indianapolis. The offense ain’t too bad either, averaging 27.8 points per game, and Tom Brady is starting to get some of his weapons back, as both Chris Godwin and Leonard Fournette are expected to play this week. The Green Bay defense has struggled at times and is a little banged up, with several key players carrying Questionable designations into this week’s game. I expect Brady and the Tampa offense to have some room to operate, while Aaron Rodgers will find the sledding a little tougher against one of the league’s stingiest defenses. Gimme the Bucs in a good one.
Arizona Cardinals @ Dallas Cowboys (ARI -1, 55)
Recommendation: Dallas moneyline at 1.98
Last week’s Dallas game was the stuff of nightmares, as franchise QB Dak Prescott suffered a gruesome broken ankle that could change the trajectory of both his career and the team’s season. But life, and the game, goes on, and the Cowboys have one of the best backup QBs in the league in Andy Dalton, a former Pro Bowler who had several productive years in Cincinnati. Dalton said publicly this week that he plans on picking up right where Dak left off– the Dallas offense currently leads the NFL in pass yards by a wide margin– and while I have doubts about his ability to back that statement up long-term, I think he may be able to pull it off against an Arizona defense that has faced a succession of bad offenses and will now be without its best player in the front seven, OLB Chandler Jones, who tore his right biceps in last week’s win over New York. Jones has been the Cardinals’ only consistent pass-rushing force, so Dalton should have some time to operate in this game, and he has an elite collection of skill-position talent at his disposal. The Dallas defense, meanwhile, will be welcoming back one of its best players, as LB Leighton Vander Esch is set to return after missing the past four games with a broken collarbone. If you’re one of the many who seem eager to fade this Dalton-led Dallas team, I’d advise you to wait at least a week before doing so. They’re gonna win this one.