It is Week 10. Yes, we are already in the double digits. If that isn’t weird enough, this week’s pro football is competing for your attention with The Masters. Subsequently, the NFL has pushed games to later time slots on Sunday. There are five games in the 1 p.m. ET window compared to six games in the 4 p.m. ET window. None of the 1 p.m. games are particularly intriguing. The NFL is offering us the Lions in that slot, but knows we will choose Tiger. The golf is expected to end by 3 p.m. ET Sunday, allowing people switching between channels to see the fourth quarter of the early games undisturbed, and then get to the good games in the later window, beginning with a matchup of two of the NFL’s rising stars.
Byes: Cowboys, Chiefs, Falcons, Cowboys.
Game of the Week
Buffalo Bills (7-2) @ Arizona Cardinals (5-3)
Time: 4:05 p.m. ET
Opening point spread: Cardinals -2.5
Over/under: 49.5 (now 56)
Kyler Murray, so hot right now. For a quarterback in an air-raid offense, Murray has been gashing opponents on the ground. He leads all players in rushing yards per attempt by a full yard. Murray is tied for the third-most rushing touchdowns (eight) behind only Dalvin Cook and Todd Gurley and has rushed for more first downs than all but five running backs. His moves are ridiculous, and he has been key to keeping Cardinals drives alive. On the other side of the ball is Bills quarterback Josh Allen, who is having the best season of his career and helping the Bills fight for their first AFC East title since before Allen was born.
Each of these teams traded for a star receiver on March 16 that made their current playoff pushes possible. Arizona traded for Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins, and hours later the Bills traded for Minnesota’s Stefon Diggs. Both moves look brilliant eight months later. Diggs leads the NFL in catches and receiving yards, and Hopkins ranks third in receiving yards per game and coleads all wide receivers in first downs. How these teams defend these no. 1 receiving options will matter. Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White would be slated to shadow Hopkins, but White is questionable with an ankle injury. Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson could also shadow Diggs, setting up a matchup of each team’s best defender vs. their star receiver. But those matchups lose significance if quarterbacks can extend plays with their legs, and both Allen and Murray excel at that. Buffalo handled Seattle’s Russell Wilson well last week, but corralling Murray is even harder than the notoriously slippery Wilson. Whoever figures out how to keep the opposing quarterback in the pocket—or just bring them down—will have the advantage. Sometimes pockets aren’t enough protection.
Philadelphia Eagles (3-4-1) @ New York Giants (2-7)
Time: 1:00 p.m. ET
Opening point spread: Eagles -3.5
The Giants have not beaten the Eagles since 2016, but if they can win on Sunday, they are firmly in the playoff race. A Giants win would give them a 3-7 record compared to Philadelphia’s 3-5-1 record, which would ... uh ... how do you calculate standings when one team has one tie and also has played one fewer game? No one wants to do Bryson DeChambeau math to figure out the NFC East standings. Whatever the case, this division remains wide open.
Houston Texans (2-6) @ Cleveland Browns (5-3)
Time: 1:00 p.m. ET
Opening point spread: Browns -2.5
Cleveland running back Nick Chubb may return from injured reserve this week after he hurt his knee in Week 4. Chubb still leads the NFL in rushes of 20-plus yards this season despite not playing the last five weeks. The Browns are the second-best run-blocking team in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus, and their blocking could get a big boost if starting guard Wyatt Teller returns after missing the last three games with a calf injury. Cleveland’s rushing reinforcements would arrive against Houston, who has one of the five worst run defenses per Football Outsiders.
Jacksonville Jaguars (1-7) @ Green Bay Packers (6-2)
Time: 1:00 p.m. ET
Opening point spread: Packers -13.5
Aaron Rodgers vs. Jake Luton, and Rodgers couldn’t even get the full 14-point spread. Just another sign of disrespect. Green Bay has had a dozen starters miss multiple games this season, though that shouldn’t affect them against a hapless Jaguars team that is in contention for the no. 1 pick in next year’s draft. Jacksonville has turned to Luton at quarterback after pseudo-benching Gardner Minshew (who officially has a thumb injury). Last week Luton looked impressive and more aggressive than Minshew did in the first half of the season. It helped that Luton’s second career pass was a 73-yard touchdown to receiver D.J. Chark. Luton will need a few more of those to keep up with Rodgers, who is an MVP candidate.
But forget the Jags going to their second quarterback; Jacksonville is onto their sixth kicker this season. The team has already cycled through Josh Lambo, Brandon Wright, Aldrick Rosas, Stephen Hauschka, and Jon Brown, and now turns to Chase McLaughlin, who was previously on Minnesota’s practice squad. Packers kicker Mason Crosby should feel just as disrespected by the point spread.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-3) @ Carolina Panthers (3-6)
Time: 1:00 p.m. ET
Opening point spread: Bucs -6
The Buccaneers are coming off a shellacking. Their 38-3 loss to the Saints on Monday Night Football was the worst of Tom Brady’s career, and their game plan was wrecked so thoroughly that the Bucs ran the ball just five times, the fewest rushing attempts ever in an NFL game (and one of those “runs” was a kneel down by backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert). Worse, Tampa Bay’s defensive coordinator Todd Bowles got away from the defensive game plan that worked so well for the first two months of the season. Tampa Bay blitzed less against New Orleans, and Saints quarterback Drew Brees subsequently dissected the squad’s zone defense.
Carolina’s offense will be without Christian McCaffrey, who returned from his high-ankle sprain last week but injured his shoulder. But even without McCaffrey, they could have an advantage in this game. Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater started five games for the Saints last season in relief of Drew Brees, so they will be paying a lot of attention to what Brees and the Saints did last week. Meanwhile, the Bucs would be wise to just forget their plan last week altogether.
Washington Football Team (2-6) @ Detroit Lions (3-5)
Time: 1:00 p.m. ET
Opening point spread: Lions -4
Alex Smith is starting this game, but beyond that there isn’t much reason to tune in.
Los Angeles Chargers (2-6) @ Miami Dolphins (5-3)
Time: 4:05 p.m. ET
Opening point spread: Dolphins -1.5
Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa and L.A.’s Justin Herbert, the fifth and sixth picks in this year’s draft, lead their teams against one another for the first time on Sunday. Tagovailoa was meh in his debut two weeks ago but was in the zone beating Arizona last week. Meanwhile, Herbert looks like the favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year after throwing 17 touchdowns to just five interceptions in his first seven games despite injuries to many of his surrounding offensive players. The issue for the Chargers (for the 16th year in a row) has been winning close games. The Chargers have blown leads this season of 21 points, 17 points (twice), and 11 points. L.A. has lost on the last play of the game in three of their six losses this season, and that doesn’t include fumbling a hook and ladder that might have been a walkoff win against Carolina in Week 3.
“I think we’ve lost every way that you can possibly lose,” Anthony Lynn told reporters after last week. “Hopefully, that’s over and we can get on a winning streak.”
That streak could begin against Miami, who placed running back Myles Gaskin on injured reserve last week, receiver Preston Williams on injured reserve this week, and starting defenders Kyle Van Noy and Christian Wilkins on the COVID-19 list this week. That does not include the five Dolphins assistant coaches who missed last week’s game due to COVID-19 protocols.
Seattle Seahawks (6-2) @ Los Angeles Rams (5-3)
Time: 4:25 p.m. ET
Opening point spread: Seahawks -2
They say age before beauty, but Pete Carroll keeps losing to Sean McVay (McVay is 4-2 against the Seahawks). This matchup between McVay, the NFL’s youngest head coach, and Carroll, the NFL’s oldest head coach, may test McVay’s mettle.
Seattle’s pass defense is legendarily bad. They are giving up the most pass yards ever through eight games. In fact, they’ve already given up the most passing yards ever though nine games even though Seattle has only played eight games. Even amid an offensive explosion, the Seahawks defense is getting blown to smithereens. Some of that is due to the Seahawks scoring so much that teams have to pass on them to catch up. “We’ve seen so many passes in the fourth quarter of games,” Carroll told The Athletic. “We’ve seen just way more throwing than we’re used to seeing. We’ve been ahead a lot, so we’ve had a lot of opponents in catch-up mode.”
But it’s not just the fourth quarter. The Seahawks pass defense was attacked by Buffalo last week from the coin toss. The Bills threw 24 times and ran just once in the first 28 minutes according to The Athletic’s Mike Sando, the most pass-heavy attack in at least the last 20 years (and likely in NFL history). That shows good coaching from the Bills. Sun Tzu said to attack weaknesses, and the Seahawks are historically weak in the air, while Seattle’s running defense is strong. This presents a real tactical IQ test for Sean McVay. Will he attack Seattle’s obviously inept pass defense or blindly stick to his beliefs in balance? If the Rams come out running and struggle to put points on the board, we may need to strip McVay of his genius title.
Denver Broncos (3-5) @ Las Vegas Raiders (5-3)
Time: 4:05 p.m. ET
Opening point spread: Raiders -4
Vegas has not made headlines this year (other than for violating COVID-19 protocols), but they sneakily are on track to make the playoffs for just the second time since 2002. Quarterback Derek Carr is on pace for the best season of his career with just two interceptions halfway through the season. But while the Raiders aren’t turning the ball over, they aren’t forcing takeaways, either. Vegas has just nine sacks this season, second lowest in the NFL, and is subsequently tied with Houston for the fewest takeaways this season (five).
San Francisco 49ers (4-5) @ New Orleans Saints (6-2)
Time: 4:25 p.m. ET
Opening point spread: Saints -6.5
A year ago this matchup was one of the best of the regular season. Now it’s just sad. The 49ers are so banged up that the team is barely recognizable, and they reached a new low last week when they were gored by Green Bay on Thursday Night Football in a game in which Richie James (?) was their leading receiver. They should fare better this week with rookie receiver Brandon Aiyuk and left tackle Trent Williams expected back after being placed on the COVID-19 list as close contacts. But the 49ers are running into a Saints team that is peaking. They just took apart the Bucs like a cheap IKEA set, and the 49ers’ game-day roster is much worse than Tampa Bay’s. Last year, the Saints scored four touchdowns on their first four drives against the 49ers, which feels like it could happen again. But in that game the 49ers actually went into halftime with a 28-27 lead. That feels less possible.
Cincinnati Bengals (2-5-1) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (8-0)
Time: 4:25 p.m. ET
Opening point spread: Steelers -10
Clichés rarely summarize teams, but Pittsburgh has earned its reputation for playing up to or down to their opponents. Last week, the Steelers nearly lost to a Dallas team led by fourth-string quarterback Garrett Gilbert after being two-touchdown favorites. Now they enter this game as 8-0 for the first time in Steelers history, but with little confidence from their fan base that they can capture the top seed in the conference. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger injured both knees last week, allowing Steelers fans to cross off another box in Pittsburgh’s 2020 bingo card.
This game will be a solid litmus test for the Steelers. The Bengals are one of the worst pass-protecting teams in the NFL, and rookie quarterback Joe Burrow is tied for the second-most sacks this season in large part because the Bengals are always passing to catch up. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, has the league’s best pass rush, led by defensive linemen T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward, and Stephon Tuitt. Even with a diminished Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh should be able to win this game without worry, especially if Bengals running back Joe Mixon misses this game. But in true Steelers fashion, they might sweat it out.
Baltimore Ravens (6-2) @ New England Patriots (3-5)
Time: 8:20 p.m. ET
Opening point spread: Ravens -6.5
This was a great matchup for just about any of the previous 20 years, but now it feels lopsided. The Ravens are far from playing their best football, but even Baltimore’s worst might be able to beat these Patriots. New England’s offense is inert, their defense is soft, and their once-sound fundamentals have soured. The front seven can’t set the edge and is not physical. This was exposed when the 49ers ran for 197 yards a month ago, and it could be gashed again when Baltimore comes to town this weekend. Remember, the Ravens wrecked the Patriots last year when New England was fielding a defense among the best in league history. But half of those Patriots starters aren’t on this 2020 team. These Patriots very nearly lost to the New York Jets this week, which should tell you everything you need to know about the team this season. New England’s only hope is to stop the Ravens from taking an early lead and then hope they can control the game on the ground. But hope isn’t a plan, and even if it was, the Pats don’t have any hopes on offense.
Monday Night Football
Minnesota Vikings (3-5) @ Chicago Bears (5-4)
Time: 8:15 p.m. ET
Opening point spread: Bears -2 (now Vikings -2.5)
This football game is about the lies we tell ourselves. The Bears lied to themselves about Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles being good quarterbacks. The Vikings lied to themselves about Kirk Cousins getting them over the hump. All of us who watch this game on Monday night will be lying to ourselves that we have nothing better to do with our time. This Monday Night Football game could be an opportunity for an honest reckoning with reality. Instead the Bears are going to win on a last-second field goal and insist we take them seriously as a Super Bowl contender (we won’t). If we were to list the interesting things about this game, here’s what we get:
- Dalvin Cook.
- Khalil Mack. What’s he up to these days?
- Is Allen Robinson still mad at his quarterback? (Yes.)
- Justin Jefferson. What a season!
That’s the list. The Bears are frauds who were called frauds when they were 5-1 and now could enter next week’s bye at 5-5. Minnesota hedged on their season when they traded Yannick Ngakoue to Baltimore, though they have since won two games, unexpectedly putting themselves back in the playoff race (technically, though not spiritually). These are two teams that had a real shot to knock the Packers from their perpetual perch atop the NFC North but ended up getting Dikembe Mutombo-ed. If this game was on Sunday afternoon, we could ignore it and watch the Masters. Instead, let’s just lie to ourselves, pretend everything is all right, and watch some football.