It’s trade season. Just a few years ago, NFL in-season trades were rare. Now they are commonplace. Cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and Marcus Peters were traded this week, and Minkah Fitzpatrick was shipped to Pittsburgh last month. Five future first-round picks have been traded since the final day of August, and three of them have gone to the Dolphins.
More deals are on the way. Bengals receiver A.J. Green, Washington left tackle Trent Williams, Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson, Chargers running back Melvin Gordon, Dolphins running back Kenyan Drake, Minnesota’s Stefon Diggs, and a dozen other players could feasibly be dealt before the deadline on Tuesday, October 29. There may not be another five first-round picks traded, but this week could be the final game for some notable players in their current uniforms.
Crucial Divisional Matchups
Philadelphia Eagles (3-3) @ Dallas Cowboys (3-3)
Kickoff time: 8:20 p.m. ET
Announcers: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Dallas -2.5
Key Eagles injuries and absences: Receiver DeSean Jackson (abdomen), left tackle Jason Peters (knee), cornerback Jalen Mills (foot), cornerback Ronald Darby (hamstring), cornerback Avonte Maddox (concussion/neck),
Key Cowboys injuries and absences: Receiver Amari Cooper (ankle/quad), receiver Randall Cobb (back), left tackle Tyron Smith (ankle), right tackle La’el Collins (knee), cornerback Byron Jones (hamstring), cornerback Anthony Brown (hamstring)
What to watch: Backups on backups on backups
These teams are hurting in the same places. The Eagles’ cornerback depth has been an issue for years, and Minnesota shredded Philly’s Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas last week without Darby and Maddox, but the Cowboys may not be able to take advantage if Cooper and Cobb can’t play. A similar dynamic exists on the other side of the ball. Two of Dallas’s three best corners may not be able to play, but Philly’s DeSean Jackson may not return for this game after last playing in Week 2.
Both teams have issues at receiver and cornerback, but Philly’s biggest problem is injuries to their longtime stalwart left tackle. If he ends up missing the game, Jason Peters will likely be replaced by rookie left tackle Andre Dillard, who would make his first start. The situation is even worse for Dallas, which missed both its starting tackles last week in their embarrassing loss to the Jets. As much as defensive ends Robert Quinn and DeMarcus Lawrence may want to feast on Dillard, the Cowboys’ backup blockers may have an even harder time protecting Dak Prescott from the Eagles’ deep defensive line. It’s up to Prescott to feel the pressure and avoid turnovers, which he’s struggled to do when Smith isn’t protecting his blind side.
Minnesota Vikings (4-2) @ Detroit Lions (2-2-1)
Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Announcers: Brandon Gaudin, Chris Spielman, Shannon Spake (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Pick ’em
Key Vikings injuries and absences: Tackle Riley Reiff (ankle)
Key Lions injuries and absences: Cornerback Amani Oruwariye (knee), defensive tackle Mike Daniels (foot), defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson (knee)
What to watch: The Lions’ luck
The Lions are 2-2-1 but could easily be undefeated.
- In Week 1, they were up 24-6 on the Arizona Cardinals in the fourth quarter but let Kyler Murray and the Cardinals offense score 18 unanswered points to reach overtime, where they tied 27-27.
- In Week 3, they lost 34-30 to Kansas City after fumbling twice inside the Chiefs’ 5-yard line in the second half, including a fumble at the 1 that was returned 100 yards for a Chiefs touchdown.
- Last week, the Lions lost to Green Bay 23-22 in a game where more than a half-dozen referee decisions ranging from questionable to outlandish advanced multiple Green Bay scoring drives and kept the Lions from getting the ball down one point with more than a minute to go.
Detroit is playing well this season. Quarterback Matthew Stafford has a career high in yards per attempt (8.0) and a career low in interception rate (1.2 percent of his passes) outside of 2010, when he played three games. The Lions rank fourth in net turnovers, the highest the team has recorded in eight years. But they rank last in luck, and subsequently they are last in the NFC North.
Houston Texans (4-2) @ Indianapolis Colts (3-2)
Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Announcers: Greg Gumbel, Trent Green, Melanie Collins (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Indianapolis -2.5
Key Texans injuries and absences: Offensive lineman Tytus Howard (knee)
Key Colts injuries and absences: Receiver Parris Campbell (abdominal), safety Malik Hooker (knee), cornerback Pierre Desir (hamstring)
What to watch: Time of possession
Both of these teams last played the Kansas City Chiefs, and both beat them by controlling the ball for nearly 40 minutes. That will make watching film of each other this week an interesting exercise. But while both teams beat the Chiefs by running the ball, the matchups between them often come down to pass protection. When these division rivals met in last year’s wild-card round, Andrew Luck was the least-sacked quarterback in football while Deshaun Watson was the most sacked, and the Colts sacked Watson three times and beat Houston 21-7. This game is different. Watson has not been sacked in his past two games—the first sackless streak of his pro career. This game will show whether that’s an anomaly or a trend. Watson has three zero-sack games in his pro career. In two of them, he had five touchdowns and a passer rating above 155. The third was last week, when Will Fuller dropped three would-be touchdowns. If Houston keeps Watson clean in this game, Indy may have trouble keeping up.
Injured Offenses Relying on Their Defenses
New Orleans Saints (5-1) @ Chicago Bears (3-2)
Kickoff time: 4:25 p.m. ET
Announcers: Thom Brennaman, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Chicago -3
Key Saints injuries and absences: Quarterback Drew Brees (thumb), running back Alvin Kamara (knee/ankle), tight end Jared Cook (ankle)
Key Bears injuries and absences: Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky (shoulder), defensive tackle Akiem Hicks (elbow)
What to watch: Defense
This is the lowest over/under for a Saints game since 2006. That was the first year Drew Brees and Sean Payton were together in New Orleans, and long before Drew Brees was Drew Brees or Sean Payton was Sean Payton. Payton has had countless tricks up his sleeves since taking the job, but perhaps his best has been adapting without Brees this year. This game will be a defensive battle and their toughest test this season.
The Bears will be without defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, a key defender who does dirty work along the interior so Khalil Mack can take the glory as an edge rusher. Without Hicks, this Bears defense may not have the same bite.
The Bears offense isn’t healthy either. Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky is expected to start his first game since dislocating his shoulder against the Vikings three weeks ago. (He will play on Sunday with a shoulder harness.) Ditto for the Saints offense, which will either have a hobbled Alvin Kamara or not have him at all.
Back in My Day, These Teams Cared About Defense
Baltimore Ravens (4-2) @ Seattle Seahawks (5-1)
Kickoff time: 4:25 p.m. ET
Announcers: Dick Stockton, Ronde Barber, Mark Schlereth, Jennifer Hale (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Seattle -4
Key Ravens injuries and absences: Receiver Marquise Brown (ankle), left tackle Ronnie Stanley (knee), cornerback Jimmy Smith (knee), cornerback Maurice Canady (thigh), cornerback Tavon Young (neck), cornerback Iman Marshall (undisclosed), safety Tony Jefferson (knee)
Key Seahawks injuries and absences: Tight end Will Dissly (Achilles), tackle Duane Brown (biceps), guard D.J. Fluker (hamstring), linebacker K.J. Wright (knee), safety Bradley McDougald (back)
What to watch: Russell Wilson and Lamar Jackson
For years, the Ravens and Seahawks were elite defensive squads, but this over/under point total is the second highest of the week. These teams revolve around their offenses. The Ravens have won every game in which their defense has not allowed four touchdowns. Russell Wilson still hasn’t thrown an interception (though Ravens safety and former Seahawk Earl Thomas will look to change that) and would likely win MVP if the season ended today.
Neither team has the formidable defense that recently defined the franchise. Seattle’s D will get a boost this week with defensive tackle Jarran Reed returning from a suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. His 10.5 sacks last year were second most on the team to defensive end Frank Clark, who was traded to the Chiefs this offseason. The Ravens also added reinforcements this week by trading for L.A.’s Marcus Peters, and look no further than their list of injured cornerbacks for the reason.
Rivalries That Aren’t Really Rivalries but Create Enough Conflict for the Pregame Show
Arizona Cardinals (2-3-1) @ New York Giants (2-4)
Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Announcers: Kenny Albert, Greg Olsen, Lindsay Czarniak (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Giants -3
Key Cardinals injuries and absences: Running back David Johnson (ankle), defensive end Zach Allen (neck), receiver Christian Kirk (ankle)
Key Giants injuries and absences: Receiver Sterling Shepard (concussion)
What to watch: Kyler Murray and Daniel Jones
Kyler Murray has lost more games with the Cardinals this year than the last four seasons he has started at quarterback combined. In high school, he went 42-0 in three years while winning three Texas state championships and the Gatorade Football Player of the Year his senior season (he also played in a high school stadium with a capacity of 18,000 people, on par with the Chargers’ 27,000). In college, Murray won the Heisman Trophy and went 12-2 before losing in the College Football Playoff to Alabama. This year, the Cardinals are 2-3-1, but Murray is already showing signs of improvement. In Murray’s first four games, he had five total touchdowns and four interceptions and took 20 sacks, but in his past two games he has four scores and no turnovers and has taken just one sack.
Then there is Daniel Jones, who was taken five spots after Murray in this year’s draft. That is where their similarities end. Jones started hot but went cold against the Vikings and Patriots, who boast two of the league’s best defenses. Now Jones will face the Cardinals, who have one of the worst. The return of star cornerback Patrick Peterson from a six-game suspension for performance enhancing drugs could change that, but it won’t be as impactful as the likely returns of running back Saquon Barkley and tight end Evan Engram will be for the Giants offense.
San Francisco 49ers (5-0) @ Washington Redskins (1-5)
Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Announcers: Chris Myers, Daryl Johnston, Laura Okmin (sideline reporter)
Opening line: San Francisco -9.5
Key 49ers injuries and absences: Left tackle Joe Staley (leg), right tackle Mike McGlinchey (knee), fullback Kyle Juszczyk (knee), tight end George Kittle (groin), receiver Deebo Samuel (groin), cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon (foot)
Key Washington injuries and absences: Quarterback Case Keenum (right shoulder/foot), cornerback Josh Norman (thigh/hand), tight end Vernon Davis (concussion), running back Adrian Peterson (quad)
What to watch: Kyle Shanahan vs. Washington’s coaching staff
These teams both wear red and gold but insist on a fancy name for the red. (The 49ers call it scarlet. Washington calls it burgundy.) That is where the similarities end. San Francisco is soaring this season. A deep and creative offense combined with a ferocious pass rush has propelled the 49ers to a 5-0 start. Meanwhile, at the Legion of Doom, Washington is once again the most dysfunctional team in pro football. Jay Gruden has been fired. Their best offensive player, left tackle Trent Williams, has not reported to the team because of how the medical staff handled a potentially cancerous growth on his head. Team president Bruce Allen has botched both situations by saying the team won’t evaluate head-coaching candidates yet and won’t trade Williams.
Ironically, Washington has let three current NFL head coaches leave its offensive staff this decade: L.A.’s Sean McVay, Green Bay’s Matt LaFleur, and San Francisco’s Kyle Shanahan. The last of the bunch will return to FedEx Field on Sunday. Shanahan built the offense that made Robert Griffin III the most sensational rookie quarterback in 2012 but told reporters this week he has moved on from his Washington tenure. When asked about his favorite part of working for Washington, Kyle said he enjoyed working for his father, Mike Shanahan, and other good coaches and players. Then Shanahan was asked about the worst part of working in Washington.
Eight-Figure Ad Campaigns
Oakland Raiders (3-2) @ Green Bay Packers (5-1)
Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Announcers: Jim Nantz, Tony Romo, Tracy Wolfson (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Green Bay -7
Key Raiders injuries and absences: Receiver Tyrell Williams (foot), left tackle Trent Brown (calf), defensive end Arden Key (knee)
Key Packers injuries and absences: Receiver Davante Adams (toe), receiver Geronimo Allison (concussion/chest), receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling (ankle/knee), tight end Jimmy Graham (ankle)
What to watch: Tony Romo’s Corona commercials vs. Aaron Rodgers’s State Farm commercials
Tony Romo grew up in Wisconsin. He has a hard time hiding this when he announces Packers games. He has the best insight into the Dallas Cowboys, but his most pure enthusiasm is when Aaron Rodgers does Aaron Rodgers things. Considering how many of the Packers’ top pass catchers will either miss this game or play hurt, this game figures to have a lot of Rodgers moments.
Teams Who Have Been Neutered by the Patriots
Los Angeles Rams (3-3) @ Atlanta Falcons (1-5)
Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Announcers: Sam Rosen, Charles Davis, Pam Oliver (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Rams -4
Key Rams injuries and absences: Running back Todd Gurley (quad), running back Malcom Brown (ankle), linebacker Clay Matthews (jaw), cornerback Aqib Talib (ribs), cornerback Marcus Peters (traded), safety John Johnson III (shoulder)
Key Falcons injuries and absences: Receiver Julio Jones (hip), cornerback Desmond Trufant (toe)
What to watch: Jalen Ramsey’s debut overshadow Jared Goff
Atlanta is 19-21, including the playoffs, since its collapse against the Patriots in the Super Bowl three seasons ago. The Rams are trying to avoid a similar fate. On Tuesday they sent two first-round picks to Jacksonville for cornerback Jalen Ramsey, the most draft capital ever traded for a cornerback. The Rams’ problem hasn’t been the defense, however, but Jared Goff, who may have peaked in the Rams’ epic 54-51 MNF win over the Chiefs last season. Here are Goff’s numbers from when McVay arrived through the Chiefs game (Week 1 of 2017 to Week 11 of 2018, including playoffs):
- 27 games
- 55 passing touchdowns
- 13 interceptions
- 14 fumbles
- 52 sacks
- 64 percent completion on 903 passes
- 281.9 yards per game
- 8.4 yards per pass attempt
And here are Goff’s numbers since the Chiefs game (Week 11 of 2018 through Week 6 of 2019, including playoffs):
- 14 games
- 14 passing touchdowns
- 15 interceptions
- 14 fumbles
- 26 sacks
- 59.8 percent completion on 532 attempts
- 255.7 yards per game
- 6.7 yards per attempt
The decline is inarguable. In half as many games, Goff has more interceptions, the same amount of fumbles, and a quarter of the passing touchdowns. A major part is L.A.’s deteriorating offensive line, but its line may get a temporary reprieve this week against Atlanta. The Falcons are tied with the Dolphins for the fewest sacks (five) in the NFL. They’re also the only team with fewer sacks than games played (six). Perhaps Goff will play better this week if he isn’t pressured, but don’t confuse a good game against the league’s worst pass rush with a bounceback.
Miami Dolphins (0-5) @ Buffalo Bills (4-1)
Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Announcers: Andrew Catalon, James Lofton
Opening line: Buffalo -15.5
Key Dolphins injuries and absences: Safety Reshad Jones (chest), quarterback Josh Rosen (groin), cornerback Xavien Howard (knee)
Key Bills injuries and absences: Quarterback Josh Allen (hand), wide receiver John Brown (groin), running back Devin Singletary (hamstring)
What to watch: Brian Flores vs. Frank Gore.
September 2003 was a long time ago. David Blaine was hanging in a plastic box over the Thames in London. The Ellen DeGeneres Show premiered. Marvin Lewis coached his first game for the Cincinnati Bengals. The no. 1 song in America was “Shake Ya Tailfeather.” Most importantly, current Dolphins head coach Brian Flores and the Boston College Eagles played Frank Gore and the University of Miami Hurricanes. The Sun-Sentinel’s Safid Deen went back and unearthed plays from the game.
Brian Flores was modest today. He actually did light up Frank Gore back in the days (UM vs. Boston College in 2003) pic.twitter.com/CGfbWEa1LC— Safid Deen (@Safid_Deen) October 16, 2019
Ok, B-Flo!— Safid Deen (@Safid_Deen) October 17, 2019
Brian Flores with a great open-field tackle on Frank Gore here in the second quarter. Listen to the commentator at the end... pic.twitter.com/lXVvSch9Xe
The entire thread is fun. Flores might play for the Dolphins before the season is over. Frank Gore is immortal.
Los Angeles Chargers (2-4) @ Tennessee Titans (2-4)
Kickoff time: 4:05 p.m. ET
Announcers: Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts, Evan Washburn (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Tennessee -1
Key Chargers injuries and absences: Safety Derwin James (foot), safety Nasir Adderley (hamstring), defensive end Melvin Ingram III (hamstring), kicker Michael Badgley (groin), center Mike Pouncey (neck)
Key Titans injuries and absences: Tackle Jack Conklin (ankle), defensive end Cameron Wake (hamstring), linebacker Jayon Brown (groin)
What to watch: Sadness
Both of these teams had pathetic showings last week that punctuated a terrible month. The Titans were shut out 16-0 by Denver one week after Buffalo held them to just one touchdown. The Titans benched 2015 no. 2 pick Marcus Mariota for quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who will start this game; Mariota’s future in Tennessee is likely over after this season. The Chargers had an even worse week. Their Sunday Night Football game was the most embarrassing home crowd of their humiliating Los Angeles tenure. Then they fell behind 24-0. They may be the only team in football (and perhaps pro sports) relieved to be playing on the road.
Jacksonville Jaguars (2-4) @ Cincinnati Bengals (0-6)
Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Announcers: Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon, Jay Feely (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Jacksonville -3
Key Jaguars injuries and absences: Tight end Geoff Swaim (concussion/ankle)
Key Bengals injuries and absences: Receiver A.J. Green (ankle), cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (knee), cornerback William Jackson III (shoulder), defensive end Carlos Dunlap (knee), defensive end Carl Lawson (hamstring), guard John Miller (groin)
What to watch: Not Jalen Ramsey
The Jaguars traded their best player on Tuesday, though he had not been playing for weeks while jostling for a trade. The next-biggest name to be on the market could be Bengals receiver A.J. Green, who could be dealt ahead of the trade deadline later this month.
Monday Night Football
New England Patriots (6-0) @ New York Jets (1-4)
Kickoff time: 8:15 p.m. ET
Announcers: Joe Tessitore, Booger McFarland, Lisa Salters (sideline reporter)
Opening line: New England -9.5
Key Patriots injuries and absences: Receiver Phillip Dorsett II (hamstring), running back Rex Burkhead (foot), tight end Matt LaCosse (knee), Julian Edelman (chest), Josh Gordon (knee/ankle)
Key Jets injuries and absences: Linebacker C.J. Mosley (groin), tight end Chris Herndon (hamstring), tackle Kelvin Beachum (ankle)
What to watch: Sam Darnold
When these teams met a month ago, the Patriots were favored by a historic 22.5 points. Third-string quarterback Luke Falk was making his first career start in Foxborough, so it wasn’t exactly surprising. These teams meet in the Meadowlands more than a month later, and this Jets team is far more competitive with Sam Darnold back from mono. It sounds silly to think the Jets have a chance. New England has scored the most points and allowed the fewest through six weeks. But believe it or not, this is the second-best team the Patriots have played in the past five weeks, behind Buffalo but ahead of Miami, the Darnold-less Jets, Washington, and the Giants. Blitz-happy defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will have to be judicious sending the house against the league’s wisest quarterback. Darnold will need to avoid turnovers at all costs against a Patriots defense that has broken fantasy football. Now that everyone has gotten their jokes out about Darnold and the team, the Jets have the chance to make everyone take them seriously on Monday night.
Byes: Carolina Panthers, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers