NFL WEEK 6: Tampa Bay held off Philadelphia on Thursday night to kick off this Week 6, and though Arizona remains the league’s only unbeaten, Brady and the Bucs look like Super Bowl favorites once again. But this is the NFL, where a season’s worth a hopes and dreams can come crashing down over the course of one 60-minute game (hello, Seahawks) or one afternoon of breaking news (hello, Raiders), so we should be careful in making definitive pronouncements about what things are going to look like three months from now.
There is one thing we can be pretty definitive about, however– neither of the teams playing in London this week are going to be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy this season (if I’m wrong… well nevermind. We all know I’m not going to be wrong). It’s difficult to tell if the NFL is trying to build up the fan base in London or just test the willingness of Londoners to attend a game no matter how poor the matchup, but Jets vs. Falcons and Jags vs. Dolphins in back-to-back weeks is about as bad as it gets. I’m fully expecting a disgusting display of turnovers, penalties, and about 400 yards of combined offense. Prove me wrong, boys! I’ll be watching.
Four teams are on bye this week so the Sunday slate isn’t quite as robust as its been over the past month, but there are still several intriguing matchups, highlighted by Arizona’s trip to Cleveland and the Bills/Titans Monday night showdown. Here’s what I’m thinking:
Los Angeles Chargers @ Baltimore Ravens (BAL -2.5, 51.5)
Recommendation: Los Angeles +2.5 at 1.94
Lamar Jackson put on quite a show in bringing Baltimore back from a 16-point 4th-quarter deficit last Monday night, and the Ravens have now won four straight since their season-opening loss in Las Vegas. That said, the schedule hasn’t been especially daunting lately, particularly when to comes to the opposing offenses– Detroit, Denver, and Indianapolis being the most recent.
The challenge will be entirely different when Justin Herbert and the Chargers come to town on Sunday, as Herbert ranks 4th in the NFL in passing yards and the Bolts have put up 105 combined points over their last three games, including 47 (and 500 total yards) in a victory over Cleveland last week. The Baltimore secondary struggled mightily in slowing down explosive passing attacks over the first two weeks, surrendering 435 pass yards to Derek Carr and 343 to Patrick Mahomes, and it would be a surprise if Herbert doesn’t put up similar numbers in this one.
It will be interesting to see if the Chargers change their defensive philosophy for this game– they’ve been almost begging opposing offenses to run the ball with their light boxes and multiple safety looks, and that’s a far cry from what defenses normally try against Baltimore– but either way, with the way the LA offense is rolling right now I just don’t see the Ravens being able to keep pace. Jackson is amazing, but his surrounding talent on that offense is average at best, and it’s going to catch up to Baltimore against the better teams.
Las Vegas Raiders @ Denver Broncos (DEN -4, 44.5)
Recommendation: Las Vegas +4 at 1.91
This play carries some obvious risk given the tumult in Vegas over the past few days, but I tend to think the “off the field distraction” stuff is a bit overblown when we’re talking about professional athletes, most of whom probably don’t care if Jon Gruden or Jon from the equipment room is coaching them on Sunday, just as long as their paychecks cash and their on-field role isn’t affected.
Denver has been exposed as a paper tiger over the past two weeks– the offense simply isn’t very good, and though the defense is salty in the front seven, they can be exposed in the secondary, as Ben Roethlisberger showed us last week and others will in the weeks to come. Remember, team stats can be deceiving at this point in the season because they’re so dependent on schedule. Prior to last week, the Broncos had faced the Giants, Jags, Jets, and Ravens… not exactly a murderers’ row of passing attacks. Raiders QB Derek Carr has topped 380 yards passing three times already this season, and with or without Gruden calling the shots we can expect Carr to push the ball downfield to the likes of Henry Ruggs and All-Pro tight end Darren Waller. I think Vegas has an excellent chance of pulling off the outright upset here, but I’m happy to take the 4 points in a game involving the low-scoring Broncos.
Dallas Cowboys @ New England Patriots (DAL -3.5, 50.5)
Recommendation: Dallas -3.5 at 1.95
I know people keep expecting Bill Belichick to pull a rabbit out of the hat with these Patriots, and maybe the fact that they’ve managed to scrape out two wins so far should be seen as an accomplishment given the hand Belichick has been dealt (well, the hand he’s dealt himself, technically).
New England does have a quality defense, though it’s not as good as last year’s version, but the personnel just isn’t there for an above-average NFL offense. Mac Jones has been fine, but he’s a rookie, and his receiving corps isn’t scaring anybody. The running backs have been fumble-prone and lead back Damien Harris is now dealing with various injuries, casting doubt on his status for this game. Dallas, meanwhile, has the look of a legit Super Bowl contender. The defense is much-improved under first-year coordinator Dan Quinn, and the offense has been downright unstoppable, ranking 2nd in the league in both points scored (34.0 ppg) and total yards (439.6 ypg).
I’m having trouble envisioning ways that New England keeps this one close… I mean, the Dallas secondary isn’t great, so Jones will have some opportunities downfield, but are you really ready to trust an offense that has topped 21 points in just 3 of its past 11 home games? Is that offense going to be able to outscore the Dallas juggernaut? If Belichick pulls this one off, he truly is a magician.
Seattle Seahawks @ Pittsburgh Steelers (PIT -5, 43)
Recommendation: Pittsburgh -5 at 1.91
The Steelers have notched quality wins against Buffalo and Denver, but they’ve been largely unimpressive this season, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, where they’ve averaged just 18.8 points and 319.6 total yards per game, ranking 27th in the NFL in both categories. That said, it’s difficult to resist taking them in this spot– a night game in Heinz Field, where Ben Roethlisberger seemingly always brings his best stuff, against a Seahawks team that will be without all-world field general Russell Wilson and starting running back Chris Carson, among others.
Geno Smith was capable in relief of Wilson last week, but there is obviously a significant difference between the two players, and I’m sure the Pittsburgh front seven is looking forward to getting after Smith, who has been turnover-prone throughout his career. But a banged-up, unrecognizable offense isn’t the only problem in Seattle right now, and it might not even be the biggest one– the defense has been unthinkably bad this season, allowing 450+ yards in four straight games, tying the longest streak in NFL history. If Big Ben can’t look like his old self against this defense, it may truly be gone forever… but I expect him to turn back the clock in this one. The Steelers should roll.