There is a lot of good football left this season, but not much of it will happen on Sunday. Six teams are on bye this week: New England, Houston, Philadelphia, Jacksonville, Denver, and, mercifully, Washington. The remaining teams aren’t playing any Sunday games that jump off of the page. Three 1 p.m. ET games feature a first-place team against a last-place team. Another three games pit a third-place team against a last-place team. The best matchup on the early slate might be Buffalo at Cleveland, which tells you everything you need to know.
But if will be worth fighting through these Sunday scaries to make it to Monday Night Football. The Seattle Seahawks play their undefeated division rival San Francisco 49ers on Monday in what is undoubtedly the best game of the week and has game-of-the-season potential. This column usually ends with Monday Night Football, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Let’s dive into the best game of the Week 10 slate, starting with the last one this week.
Seattle Seahawks (7-2) @ San Francisco 49ers (8-0)
Kickoff time: 8:15 p.m. ET
Announcers: Joe Tessitore, Booger McFarland, Lisa Salters (sideline reporter)
Opening line: San Francisco -6
Key Seahawks injuries and absences: Tight end Will Dissly (Achilles), center Justin Britt (torn ACL), defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson (oblique), cornerback Quandre Diggs (hamstring), safety Tedric Thompson (shoulder)
Key 49ers injuries and absences: Tight end George Kittle (knee/ankle), left tackle Joe Staley (leg), right tackle Mike McGlinchey (knee), fullback Kyle Juszczyk (knee), kicker Robbie Gould (quad), defensive end Dee Ford (quad), linebacker Kwon Alexander (pectoral), cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon (foot/quad)
What to watch: The game of the season (so far)
Russell Wilson disappears from pockets like David Blaine, but escaping from Nick Bosa and the rest of this 49ers defense will be the most difficult trick he’s ever tried (even harder than when Blaine put that rod through his hand in front of Will Smith and Kanye West). The 49ers pressure opposing quarterbacks more than any other team (31.8 percent of dropbacks). They do that despite having the third-lowest blitz rate in football. The 49ers consistently get pressure with four pass rushers, a quirk of having five former first-round picks on their defensive line, and it creates havoc for opposing quarterbacks. But Wilson was born in havoc. Molded by it. He never saw a clean pocket until he transferred to Wisconsin in 2011, and by then he had already learned how to scramble indefinitely until a receiver got open.
Watching Wilson trying to maintain his telekinetic connection with Tyler Lockett while Bosa chases him will be the highlight of the game—unless Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll wants to try to establish the run against the 49ers. They’d be better off establishing the lead with their passing game, because San Francisco doesn’t give leads back.
The 49ers offense is designed to bleed the clock. San Francisco is tops in the league in rushing attempts per game (38), second in rushing yards per game (171), and tied for first in rushing touchdowns (13). It helps that they have the deepest running back group in football with Tevin Coleman (who scored four touchdowns two weeks ago), Matt Breida (who recorded the fastest speed by an in-game ball carrier in the past two seasons according to NFL’s Next Gen Stats), and Raheem Mostert (who leads all qualifying running backs in rushing yards per attempt). When every running back who steps in succeeds, the credit goes to the man designing the offense and calling the plays.
As good as the 49ers have been under head coach Kyle Shanahan, they are about to get reinforcements. San Francisco has not had left tackle Joe Staley since Week 2. Right tackle Mike McGlinchey and fullback Kyle Juszczyk have been out since Week 5. All three may return this week. That the 49ers stayed undefeated with tackles Justin Skule, a sixth-rounder out of Vanderbilt, and Daniel Brunskill, who was playing for the AAF’s San Diego Fleet earlier this year, speaks to Shanahan’s coaching abilities.
Meanwhile, Seattle’s defense is the worst its been in years. The Seahawks pressure opposing quarterbacks on 16.5 percent of dropbacks, the second-lowest rate in the league and almost half as often as San Francisco. Even if defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and linebacker Bobby Wagner can stifle San Francisco’s running game for stretches, the 49ers play-action game is lethal. Jimmy Garoppolo is one of seven quarterbacks who throws more than 30 percent of his passes out of play-action fakes, and he’ll have plenty of opportunities to hit throws that Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston made (and some he missed) when he threw for 335 yards and two touchdowns against the Seahawks last week. Anyone who’s ever played Madden might recognize Levels Y Sail burning the Seahawks this week. The best chance Seattle has of winning this game is for Wilson to start doing some magic tricks.
Kansas City Chiefs (6-3) @ Tennessee Titans (4-5)
Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Announcers: Jim Nantz, Tony Romo, Tracy Wolfson (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Kansas City -3
Key Chiefs injuries and absences: Quarterback Patrick Mahomes (knee), left tackle Eric Fisher (groin), guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (ankle), defensive end Frank Clark (neck), defensive tackle Chris Jones (groin)
Key Titans injuries and absences: Receiver Corey Davis (hip), tight end Delanie Walker (ankle), center Ben Jones (concussion), defensive tackle Jurrell Casey (Shoulder), outside linebacker Harold Landry III (shoulder), cornerback Malcolm Butler (wrist)
What to watch: Derrick Henry vs. the Chiefs run defense
Patrick Mahomes is back at practice but not a lock to start this week against Tennessee. Even if Mahomes doesn’t return, the Chiefs offense can still make big plays with Matt Moore. In the two weeks without Mahomes, the Chiefs had eight pass plays of 20 or more yards, tied for fifth most in the league, according to Sharp Football Stats. The Titans defense under head coach Mike Vrabel limits big plays on the ground, with the lowest percentage of explosive runs allowed per carry in the league over the past month (4 percent), but in that time they’ve been around the league average allowing big pass plays (9 percent). Titans cornerback Malcolm Butler was placed on injured reserve with a wrist injury this week, complicating Tennessee’s ability to defend Kansas City’s deep receiving corps.
But while the Chiefs will try for big plays, expect the Titans to salivate at the chance to ground and pound against the Chiefs defense. The Colts and Texans already beat the Chiefs by holding the ball for nearly 40 minutes in their respective games, and Tennessee could become the third AFC South team to follow that path. The Chiefs allows the fifth-most yards per carry (4.8) to opposing rushers. Kansas City is getting thinner by the week at defensive end, where defensive tackle Chris Jones filled in last week. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has played surprisingly well in place of Marcus Mariota, but expect a lot of Derrick Henry to keep whoever plays quarterback for KC off the field.
Carolina Panthers (5-3) @ Green Bay Packers (7-2)
Kickoff time: 4:25 p.m. ET
Announcers: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Green Bay -7
Key Panthers injuries and absences: Quarterback Cam Newton (foot), receiver Curtis Samuel (hamstring), tackle Greg Little (concussion), defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (knee), safety Eric Reid (ankle)
Key Packers injuries and absences: Receiver Davante Adams (toe), cornerback Kevin King (groin), safety Adrian Amos (hamstring)
What to watch: Kyle Allen (hand the ball to Christian McCaffrey)
Cam Newton is out for the season and potentially out of Carolina after this year. That leaves the team in the hands of Kyle Allen, and Allen will give the ball to McCaffrey in this game. While the Packers have an above-average pass defense, their run defense is the 26th-most efficient, per Football Outsiders. McCaffrey is second among all qualifying running backs with 5.3 yards per carry, and the Packers are tied for the sixth-most yards per carry allowed (4.7). The best way to neutralize Green Bay pass rushers Za’Darius and Preston Smith on the edge will be to run Christian McCaffrey right past them.
Los Angeles Rams (5-3) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (4-4)
Kickoff time: 4:25 p.m. ET
Announcers: Chris Myers, Daryl Johnston, Laura Okmin (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Rams -3.5
Key Rams injuries and absences: Receiver Brandin Cooks (concussion), outside linebacker Clay Matthews (jaw)
Key Steelers injuries and absences: Running back James Conner (shoulder), running back Benny Snell Jr. (knee), running back Trey Edmunds (ribs), fullback Roosevelt Nix (knee), guard Ramon Foster (concussion)
What to watch: Jared Goff against Pittsburgh’s pass rush
Both teams have a roughly 1-in-2 chance of making the playoffs with a win and a roughly 1-in-4 chance of making the playoffs with a loss, according to ESPN’s FPI projections, making this one of the most consequential games of the week. The Steelers overcame a 1-4 start with three straight wins to claw their way back to .500. They’ve done it with defense. They and the 49ers are the only two teams that pressure opposing quarterbacks on more than 30 percent of dropbacks, and the Steelers have the fifth-most sacks in the league with 29. Pass rusher T.J. Watt has 7.5 sacks and is on pace to break his career best of 13.0 set last season, and fellow outside linebacker Bud Dupree has already tied his career high with six. Pittsburgh is the eighth-most blitz-happy team, and the Rams have perhaps the worst interior line in football, so Jared Goff could be running from pressure all afternoon. The Rams may not be able to turn to their running game. Todd Gurley has not had more than 51 rushing yards since Week 2. On the other side of the ball, the Steelers allow sacks on a league-low 3 percent of dropbacks. If the Steelers get to Goff and protect Mason Rudolph, they’ll likely be firmly back in the playoff hunt.
Arizona Cardinals (3-5-1) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-6)
Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Announcers: Thom Brennaman, Chris Spielman, Shannon Spake (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Tampa Bay -5.5
Key Cardinals injuries and absences: Running back Chase Edmonds (hamstring), offensive lineman Justin Murray (knee), outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (hamstring)
Key Buccaneers injuries and absences: Right tackle Demar Dotson (hamstring), guard Ali Marpet (ankle), pass rusher Carl Nassib (groin), pass rusher Anthony Nelson (hamstring), cornerback Carlton Davis (hip)
What to watch: Bruce Arians reunite with the Cardinals
Less than two years after Bruce Arians retired as the head coach of the Cardinals, he hosts his former team as the coach in Tampa Bay. In classic Arians fashion, this game should be a shootout. It has the highest over/under of the week at 54. Both of these offenses prefer to pass, and both defenses are weaker against the pass than the run. The Cardinals have the fifth-least efficient pass defense, and the Buccaneers have not one, but two players in the top five in receiving yards in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.
A Three-Team Teaser So Obvious One Must Be a Trap Game
Baltimore Ravens (6-2) @ Cincinnati Bengals (0-8)
Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Announcers: Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon, Jay Feely (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Baltimore -10
Key Ravens injuries and absences: Left tackle Ronnie Stanley (knee), guard Marshal Yanda (illness), safety Tony Jefferson (torn ACL)
Key Bengals injuries and absences: Quarterback Andy Dalton (benched), receiver A.J. Green (ankle), cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (knee)
What to watch: Ryan Finley navigate the Ravens secondary
Last week the Ravens handed the Patriots perhaps their worst loss since Bill Belichick’s “We’re on to Cincinnati” press conference in 2014, but now it’s Baltimore who is on to Cincinnati. The game has all the makings of a blowout, and that’s before remembering the Bengals benched Andy Dalton for Ryan Finley, a fourth-round rookie out of NC State. Star receiver A.J. Green, who was expected to play for the first time this year, said on Thursday he probably won’t. That’s delightful news for safety Earl Thomas and the rest of Baltimore’s secondary. Hopefully the Bengals spent their bye week wisely.
Atlanta Falcons (1-7) @ New Orleans Saints (7-1)
Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Announcers: Kevin Burkhardt, Charles Davis, Pam Oliver (sideline reporter)
Opening line: New Orleans -13
Key Falcons injuries and absences: Quarterback Matt Ryan (ankle)
Key Saints injuries and absences: Running back Alvin Kamara (knee/ankle), tight end Jared Cook (ankle)
What to watch: A preview of Thanksgiving’s prime-time matchup
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and Saints running back Alvin Kamara are both expected to return in this game. Both of their teams kept chugging along like they hadn’t left. The Saints are on a six-game winning streak and the Falcons are on a six-game losing streak, and both of those streaks are likely to continue. This is the most points the Saints have been favored by against Atlanta in Pro-Football-Reference’s database, which goes back to 1978.
It’s unlikely that the Falcons will put any pressure on Drew Brees. They have the fewest sacks in the league (seven), and the Saints allow a sack on just 4 percent of dropbacks, the fifth-lowest rate in the league. It’s also unlikely that this matchup puts any pressure on fans to watch when they play on Thanksgiving. Perhaps the NFL knows most people will just fall asleep with the game on.
Miami Dolphins (1-7) @ Indianapolis Colts (5-3)
Kickoff time: 4:05 p.m. ET
Announcers: Greg Gumbel, Trent Green, Melanie Collins (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Indianapolis -15.5
Key Dolphins injuries and absences: Receiver Preston Williams (torn ACL), center Daniel Kilgore (knee), offensive lineman Evan Boehm (hip), defensive tackle Christian Wilkins (toe), cornerback Xavien Howard (knee), cornerback Aqib Talib (ribs), safety Reshad Jones (chest)
Key Colts injuries and absences: Quarterback Jacoby Brissett (knee), receiver T.Y. Hilton (calf), receiver Parris Campbell (hand), center Ryan Kelly (burner), cornerback Pierre Desir (hamstring), safety Malik Hooker (knee)
What to watch: Ryan Fitzpatrick ruin every three-team teaser
Jacoby Brissett injured his knee against Pittsburgh last week but has practiced multiple times this week. If he can’t go, capable backup Brian Hoyer will start. The Colts will be without T.Y. Hilton, who is out for a few weeks with a calf injury, and rookie receiver Parris Campbell, who might be out the rest of the season. Still, the Colts have enough options to pass on the Dolphins. But Miami could put up a fight. As ESPN’s Cameron Wolfe noted, the Dolphins scored two touchdowns in their first 19 quarters, but once Ryan Fitzpatrick came in during the fourth quarter of Week 6, Miami has 10 touchdowns in its past 13 quarters.
New York Giants (2-7) “@” New York Jets (1-7)
Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Announcers: Kenny Albert, Ronde Barber, Lindsay Czarniak (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Jets -1.5
Key Giants injuries and absences: Tight end Evan Engram (foot), receiver Sterling Shepard (concussion), center Jon Halapio (hamstring), right tackle Mike Remmers (back)
Key Jets injuries and absences: Running back Le’Veon Bell (knee/ankle), center Ryan Kalil (knee), linebacker C.J. Mosley (groin), cornerback Trumaine Johnson (ankles), defensive end Leonard Williams (traded to Giants)
What to watch: A rock fight for bragging rights over a metal husk in a New Jersey wasteland
Beating each other is all these teams have left. They both lost to Buffalo in September and then let Josh Allen dunk on them by saying the Bills were the only team in New York. Then everything got worse. The Giants lead the league in turnovers and Daniel Jones is already tied for the fourth-most interceptions in the league (eight) despite starting just seven games. The only player with more picks in fewer games is Sam Darnold, who leads an offense that is dead last in points, yards, and first downs. Every hope New York fans once held has fallen, every ounce of optimism drained, competitive fire smoldered to dying embers. The only positive left for Giants/Jets fans is being able to say, “Well, at least we are not as bad as the [Jets/Giants].” One of these teams will prove that on Sunday. The other’s fan base will have to admit all is lost.
Buffalo Bills (6-2) @ Cleveland Browns (2-6)
Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Announcers: Andrew Catalon, James Lofton, Amanda Balionis (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Cleveland -2.5
Key Bills injuries and absences: Cornerback Kevin Johnson (knee), safety Kurt Coleman (hamstring)
Key Browns injuries and absences: Tight end David Njoku (wrist), tight end Ricky Seals-Jones (knee), linebacker Christian Kirksey (chest), defensive end Olivier Vernon (knee), safety Eric Murray (knee)
What to watch: Whether this line moves
Once upon a time this—not Giants-Jets—would have been the saddest matchup of Sunday afternoon. No longer. The Bills, not the Browns, are the moribund franchise that turned themselves around in 2019. Buffalo’s defense under head coach Sean McDermott has flourished this season while the Browns offense has floundered, which is what makes this game’s line curious. Buffalo is 3-0 on the road and the Browns are 0-3 at home. Apparently there are still so many pro-Browns bettors that oddsmakers have to move the lines sharply to draw even money on both sides. If you believe in the Bills, take advantage.
Detroit Lions (3-4-1) @ Chicago Bears (3-5)
Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Announcers: Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts, Evan Washburn (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Chicago -3.5
Key Lions injuries and absences: Interior lineman Graham Glasgow (back), guard Joe Dahl (ankle), defensive lineman Da’Shawn Hand (ankle), defensive tackle Mike Daniels (foot), defensive back Tracy Walker (knee)
Key Bears injuries and absences: Nose tackle Eddie Goldman (thigh), defensive tackle Akiem Hicks (elbow), guard Kyle Long (hip)
What to watch: Which team comes in last place in the NFC North
Chicago had 9 yards in the first half last week. Nine. It was worse at the two-minute warning, when Mitchell Trubisky’s 12 dropbacks had lost 11 yards. That is abominable. The Bears went from worst to first in the NFC North last season, but losing this week could bring them back to the bottom of the pack in 2019.
Sunday Night Football
Minnesota Vikings (6-3) @ Dallas Cowboys (5-3)
Kickoff time: 8:20 p.m. ET
Announcers: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Dallas -3
Key Vikings injuries and absences: Receiver Adam Thielen (hamstring), fullback C.J. Ham (ankle), cornerback Trae Waynes (ankle)
Key Cowboys injuries and absences: Receiver Amari Cooper (knee/ankle), left tackle Tyron Smith (ankle), right tackle La’el Collins (knee), tackle Cameron Fleming (calf), linebacker Leighton Vander Esch (neck), linebacker Sean Lee (pectoral), safety Jeff Heath (shoulder/knee)
What to watch: Elite offenses (really!)
Secretly, these are two of the best offenses in football. The Cowboys have the most efficient offense in football in yards per play (6.7) and per Football Outsiders (no. 1 in DVOA). Since Week 5, Kirk Cousins is second in passing yards (1,481) and touchdowns (13) and first in passer rating (127.1), yards per pass attempt (9.6), and adjusted yards per attempt (11.0) among quarterbacks who have started more than one game. Relatedly, the Vikings have the second-most points in that span and the third-best point differential after the 49ers and Patriots. Nobody ever counted Kirk Cousins vs. Dak Prescott as exciting, but Sunday Night Football could change our minds.
On bye: New England, Houston, Philadelphia, Jacksonville, Denver, and Washington.