For the second week in a row, the COVID-19 pandemic has muddled the NFL calendar. Almost two dozen Titans players and staff members have tested positive for coronavirus in the past two weeks, which caused Tennessee’s Week 4 game against the Steelers to be postponed as well as the team’s upcoming matchup against the Bills, which has moved to Tuesday. The Patriots, meanwhile, have had two players test positive—one last Friday and one on Tuesday—and any more could postpone their game against the Broncos. The NFL continues to recommend standard safety protocols of quarantining and social distancing, even within the teams themselves, but the time delay between confirmed cases in New England exposes the fact that the NFL’s rigid schedule of game days, practices, and travel doesn’t leave room to account for the virus’s incubation period. So far the league continues to press on amid uncertainty, but things may have to change—and fast—in the near future.
Football is still on the calendar (for now, anyway). A quarter of the way through the season, there are six undefeated teams left: the Bills, Chiefs, Packers, and Seahawks, who are all 4-0, plus the Titans and Steelers, who are 3-0 after their game was postponed last week (Tennessee may not be undefeated much longer if it’s forced to forfeit this week—more on that later). There are also four winless teams: the Texans and Falcons, who had Super Bowl aspirations, and the Giants and Jets, who don’t have any aspirations at all. On to a strange Week 5 in what is clearly going to be the most bizarre NFL season ever.
Byes: Green Bay, Detroit
Las Vegas Raiders (2-2) @ Kansas City Chiefs (4-0)
Time: 1:00 p.m. ET
Opening point spread: Chiefs -11.5
By the end of his career, Patrick Mahomes could have almost as much money as Raiders owner Mark Davis. Which makes sense, because Mahomes basically already owns the Raiders. In four games against them, Mahomes’s Chiefs are 4-0, and the QB has thrown 11 touchdown passes and one interception. During last year’s matchup, Mahomes threw four touchdown passes in the second quarter alone, the shortest of which went 27 yards. Vegas has just four sacks through four weeks this season, so it is unlikely they will put much pressure on Mahomes in this matchup. Kansas City also has the fastest skill group in the NFL, while the Raiders’ defenders have missed almost 12 tackles per game, more than every team except the Jets. The Chiefs are 4-0 for the fourth straight year this season—a first in NFL history—and they look primed to reach 5-0 this week.
That is, assuming the game is played. Raiders defensive tackle Maurice Hurst entered COVID-19 protocols this week, according to ESPN. Kansas City fans are also holding their breath because Mahomes was seen hugging Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore after their game on Monday night, and two days later Gilmore entered COVID protocols. So far, Mahomes has continued to receive negative tests, and he’ll be tested again on Friday along with the rest of the Chiefs.
Carolina Panthers (2-2) @ Atlanta Falcons (0-4)
Time: 1:00 p.m. ET
Opening point spread: Falcons -3.5
Somewhere between two weeks and two seasons ago, Falcons head coach Dan Quinn ran out of excuses to keep his job. Atlanta is 0-4 for the first time since 1999, and the team blew back-to-back games where it had a greater than 99 percent chance of victory. A loss to the Panthers, who were expected to be in contention for the no. 1 pick this season, would put the Falcons in contention for the top pick instead. Humiliating barely covers it.
Receiver Julio Jones has been hobbled with a hamstring injury, and Atlanta’s defensive backs are banged up too, but injuries are not an excuse to piss away big leads. Either the Falcons win this game or Quinn will be gone soon.
Arizona Cardinals (2-2) @ New York Jets (0-4)
Time: 1:00 p.m. ET
Opening point spread: Cardinals -8.5
Joe Flacco will start this game for New York as Sam Darnold is out after separating his throwing shoulder. New York has lost its last 11 games with a backup quarterback, and this contest shouldn’t be any different—the league’s second-worst offense is being piloted by a quarterback who has barely practiced due to a neck injury.
“It’s funny,” Flacco told reporters this week. “The four plays that I ran [on Thursday Night Football] were the first four plays that I’ve heard from [Gase] ever called in the huddle.”
Not only is the Jets offense abysmal, but their defense leads the NFL in missed tackles. That group could be just what the Cardinals need this week, as Kyler Murray’s rushing highlights and DeAndre Hopkins’s stats have hidden a poor start to the season for Arizona.
Philadelphia Eagles (1-2-1) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (3-0)
Time: 1:00 p.m. ET
Opening point spread: Steelers -7
Pittsburgh has had a strange ride. The Ben Roethlisberger reunion tour was postponed last week after the Titans recorded multiple COVID-19 cases, and Pittsburgh was forced to take a bye week in Week 4. Steelers players were upset that they paid the price for what was going on in Tennessee, but the traditional idea of fairness in sports does not apply this year.
The Eagles already understand that fairness is long gone after cycling through three starting left tackles, three left guards, four right guards, and two right tackles since June. Major zoinks. On Sunday, that offensive line will be facing Defensive Player of the Year candidate T.J. Watt, who is tied with Aaron Donald for the league lead in quarterback hits despite playing just three games. Watt leads a Steelers defense that:
- blitzes more often than any other NFL team
- gets pressures more often than any other team
- has the second-most sacks in the NFL through four weeks (15) despite playing just three games.
They have racked up those stats by playing three bad offensive lines—Giants, Broncos, and Texans—but at this point, the Eagles unit might be worse. Worst of all, quarterback Carson Wentz coleads the NFL in turnover-worthy plays, according to Pro Football Focus.
Los Angeles Rams (3-1) @ Washington Football Team (1-3)
Time: 1:00 p.m. ET
Opening point spread: Rams -9.5
Washington coach Ron Rivera has benched quarterback Dwayne Haskins for Kyle Allen, who played for Rivera when both were in Carolina. Haskins has played better this season than his abysmal rookie year, but he’s struggled to read defenses and understand situational gameplay thus far. He’s only 23 years old and one of the least experienced players in the NFL (he started just one season in college). But Washington will soon need to decide whether Haskins is The Guy or if the team should target one of the top college quarterback options—like Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State’s Justin Fields—in next year’s draft. Rivera was not part of the organization when the team drafted Haskins, and he is not beholden to prop up Haskins as a franchise player.
This week, Rivera might be sparing Haskins from an abysmal matchup. Kyle Allen will start, and he will spend his time fleeing from Aaron Donald, who figures to shred Washington’s patchy offensive line.
Cincinnati Bengals (1-2-1) @ Baltimore Ravens (3-1)
Time: 1:00 p.m. ET
Opening point spread: Ravens -13
Somehow reigning MVP Lamar Jackson is a month younger than Cincinnati rookie quarterback Joe Burrow. Considering their youth and current trajectories, these two figure to have a rich rivalry. Jackson has not lost to the Bengals as a starter, with a 3-0 record in three games against Cincinnati, the last of which was a 49-13 demolition where Jackson put on the move of the season.
The Ravens are favored by almost two touchdowns, but Jackson has missed two consecutive practices for the first time in his career with a knee injury. It’s hard to see the full-strength Ravens blowing this game, but a hobbled Jackson could give the Bengals an opening.
Jacksonville Jaguars (1-3) @ Houston Texans (0-4)
Time: 1:00 p.m. ET
Opening point spread: Texans -6.5
Ron Swanson once said, “Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.” That advice is pretty apt.
Texans coach/GM Bill O’Brien was fired this week for being lackluster in his coaching, and for being the worst general manager in franchise history. O’Brien accrued so much responsibility over his years in Houston that he began to do everything poorly. He made so many baffling moves in recent years—trading DeAndre Hopkins for a second-rounder, trading a second-rounder for Brandin Cooks, and tossing around first-round picks with reckless abandon—that it became clear he was cutting off Houston’s nose to save the team’s face, and then cutting off the ear to save the nose. Now it’s time for O’Brien to Van Gogh.
Wish bad on no man.— Deandre Hopkins (@DeAndreHopkins) October 6, 2020
The post–Bill O’Brien era for the Houston Texans begins on Sunday. Interim head coach Romeo Crennel has taken over, and Deshaun Watson is reportedly going to be more involved in the game plan. We’ll see whether that leads to a different style of play.
New York Giants (0-4) @ Dallas Cowboys (1-3)
Time: 4:25 p.m. ET
Opening point spread: Cowboys -11
Over/Under on times Tony Romo guesses Jason Garrett’s play-call: 17.5
Put this in prime time. Plan your weekend around it. Follow all the NFL meme accounts and scroll through them on Sunday afternoon, when Giants offensive coordinator Jason Garrett makes his return to Dallas. Is this Sunday’s best game? No. Is it Sunday’s funniest game? Unquestionably. Through four games, Garrett’s offense has scored just three touchdowns and just 47 points, both league lows. Odell Beckham Jr. had as many touchdowns on Sunday as the Giants do all season.
The only squad as bad as the Giants offense is the Jets defense. But if we don’t count the Jets, the next worse is the Cowboys defense, which has allowed a league-high 146 points in four weeks and just let up 49 to the Cleveland Browns. The Giants offense versus the Cowboys defense is the league’s most stoppable force meeting the most moveable object. Whichever side prevails, the fact that Jason Garrett will be on one of them makes this must-watch TV—or at least must-meme TV.
Indianapolis Colts (3-1) @ Cleveland Browns (3-1)
Time: 4:25 p.m. ET
Opening point spread: Colts -2.5
This is a real test for Baker Mayfield. Last week, the Browns carved up the Cowboys for 49 points, but Mayfield somehow managed just 165 passing yards. Instead, Cleveland racked up 307 rushing yards, the most for any NFL team in the past two seasons. But while Dallas’s defense has been one of the league’s dullest through four weeks, Indy’s defense has been one of the sharpest. The team hasn’t allowed more than 11 points since Week 1, and defensive tackle DeForest Buckner is the best defensive tackle in the league not named Aaron Donald. How Mayfield performs against the Colts defense will show how good this Browns offense really is.
Miami Dolphins (1-3) @ San Francisco 49ers (2-2)
Time: 4:05 p.m. ET
Opening point spread: San Francisco -8.5
Miami is still playing quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick despite drafting Alabama sensation Tua Tagovailoa no. 5 overall in April. While Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert, drafted first and sixth, respectively, are already starting for the Bengals and Chargers, Tagovailoa is still riding the bench. He ended his 2019 season at Bama with a major hip injury that derailed his offseason preparation, but the Dolphins will eventually turn to him. He is the most important Miami Dolphin since Dan Marino. The wait won’t be much longer.
Sunday Night Football
Minnesota Vikings (1-3) @ Seattle Seahawks (4-0)
Time: 8:20 p.m. ET
Opening point spread: Seahawks -9
Russell Wilson and Kirk Cousins are both bland off the field, but while Kirk is still bland on the field, Russ is perhaps the most exciting player in football to watch. The undefeated Seahawks are finally and unabashedly Russ’s team, and this game might provide him with a prime-time shredding showcase. Minnesota’s defense is struggling this year, and it will have a hard time matching up with Seattle’s deep receiving group of Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf, and David Moore. But the Seahawks defense is almost as bad as their offense is good, and Minnesota’s offense is slowly getting out of bed after hitting snooze for the first three weeks of the season. Rookie receiver Justin Jefferson already looks like a vet. Only two receivers in the past 30 years have more receiving yards than Jefferson has through his first four career games, part of the growing trend of rookie receivers contributing early. After last week’s Sunday Night Football snooze fest between Philly and the 49ers, this could be an espresso.
Monday Night Football
Denver Broncos (1-3) @ New England Patriots (2-2)
Time: 5:05 p.m. ET
Opening point spread: Patriots -10
We are a long way from when Broncos vs. Patriots meant Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady. This time around, New England will play either Brian Hoyer or Jarrett Stidham at quarterback since Cam Newton is on the COVID-19 list; Denver will play either starter Drew Lock, who could return from injury, or backup Brett Rypien, who could rise from obscurity. Oh, have you never heard of Brett Rypien? That’s OK, because his own head coach Vic Fangio called him by the wrong name last week.
As if the quarterback situation wasn’t enough, this game could also potentially be moved if any more New England players test positive for COVID-19 this weekend.
Los Angeles Chargers (1-3) @ New Orleans Saints (2-2)
Time: 8:15 p.m. ET
Opening point spread: Saints -7.5
This game will feature Justin Herbert and his hairband in prime time. The young Chargers quarterback, drafted sixth in April from the University of Oregon, is officially the starter after three strong performances in relief of Tyrod Taylor, who suffered a chest injury when a team doctor accidentally punctured his lung during a pregame injection. Read that again.
Herbert was drafted so high and has played so well that the Chargers had no choice but to make him the starter. The Saints will be one of the toughest matchups of his career. New Orleans’s defense has not played well so far, but a date with the Chargers and their turnstile offensive line could fix that. It is unclear if Michael Thomas will return from his high ankle sprain in time for this game, but running back Alvin Kamara has held down the offense in the interim.
Tuesday Night Football (?!)
Buffalo Bills (4-0) @ Tennessee Titans (3-0)
Time: 6:00 p.m. ET
Opening point spread: Titans -6.5
After more Titans tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, this game has tentatively been moved to Tuesday—though whether it stays there remains to be seen. The NFL is reportedly exploring options to postpone the contest if more cases are confirmed, or potentially force the Titans to forfeit as punishment for not following the league’s protective guidelines.