Four teams—the Detroit Lions, Tennessee Titans, Las Vegas Raiders, and Houston Texans—get Week 6 off. But we’ve still got two huge matchups on the slate as the Dallas Cowboys travel to Philadelphia to take on the undefeated Eagles, while the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs square off in a rematch of last year’s playoff classic.
Lines are from FanDuel. Stats are from TruMedia/Pro Football Focus unless otherwise noted. On to the picks!
Week 5 record: 7-8-1
Season record: 43-35-2
Washington Commanders at Chicago Bears (-1)
Washington coach Ron Rivera was asked this week about the difference between the Commanders and the other NFC East teams. He pointed to the quarterback position and then had to clarify his comment to the whole team. Quarterback is an issue for the Commanders, but Rivera is the one who makes the personnel decisions. He’s also a defensive-minded head coach, and Washington is 24th in expected points added (EPA) per drive since the start of the 2021 season.
As for the Bears, quarterback Justin Fields showed some flashes as his team battled back against the Vikings before eventually losing last week. Chicago’s defense gave up 29 first downs and 429 yards in that game.
We know we’re going to get bad Carson Wentz at some point. But the flashes of good Carson Wentz could mean some explosive plays downfield. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but give me Washington.
The pick: Commanders (+1)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Pittsburgh Steelers (+8.5)
The Steelers never had a chance last week at Buffalo. It was 31-3 at halftime, and they looked completely outmanned. The defense is just pedestrian (or maybe flat-out bad?) without T.J. Watt on the field.
On the other side of the ball, Pittsburgh’s scheme doesn’t do the quarterback any favors, and the Steelers’ run game ranks 26th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric. The Bucs, meanwhile, are talented and well-coached. They’re going to make life hard on rookie QB Kenny Pickett.
It doesn’t feel great to take the Bucs right now. They let the Falcons back in the game last week and failed to cover despite getting out to a 21-0 lead. But even their “B-game” should theoretically be enough for a double-digit win here.
The pick: Bucs (-8.5)
Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts (-1.5)
The Jaguars are coming off of a brutal loss in Houston. They became the only team in the past four years to produce 400-plus yards of offense and score six points or fewer.
As for the Colts, their offense currently ranks 32nd in EPA per drive. Statistically, they’re worse than the Panthers! Just a complete disaster.
These two teams met in Week 2, and the Jaguars dominated in a 24-0 win. Jacksonville is better than it’s shown the past two weeks. They sweep the season series.
The pick: Jaguars (+1.5)
Cincinnati Bengals at New Orleans Saints (+1.5)
The Bengals had a disastrous red zone sequence Sunday night against the Ravens. It included an ugly version of the Philly Special that lost 12 yards and a horribly executed shovel pass on fourth down. Still, I thought Cincinnati’s run game showed signs of life, and I like how its defense has been playing.
The Saints leaned on Taysom Hill during their win over the Seahawks, and that might have to be the case again on Sunday. Wide receivers Michael Thomas, Jarvis Landry and Chris Olave all missed practice Wednesday. The Saints could be without cornerback Marshon Lattimore (abdomen injury) on defense. No Lattimore against Ja’Marr Chase would make me nervous if I were a Saints fan. The Bengals are 2-3, but I don’t think they’re going away.
The pick: Bengals (-1.5)
New York Jets at Green Bay Packers (-7)
Through five weeks, the Packers’ defense ranks 23rd in defensive DVOA. Defensive coordinator Joe Barry is taking heat, and I think that’s fair. On paper, that’s not the 23rd-most talented defense. You can blame execution all you want, but the way I see it, the standard job description for an NFL coach is almost literally as simple as “get your players to execute.” Offensively, Aaron Rodgers was 0-for-6 against the Giants on passes that traveled 20 yards or more downfield, and the Packers don’t seem to have good enough players to run Matt LaFleur and Rodgers’s ideal offense.
Jets fans, meanwhile, are feeling cautiously optimistic. The team has won two in a row, and its rookie class performed well last week. Cornerback Sauce Gardner has been fantastic, and running back Breece Hall had 197 yards from scrimmage in Week 5.
It’s uncomfortable to bank on the Packers to cover spreads like this, given their issues on defense. But they’re at home, coming off of a loss, and I think their offense will be able to do enough.
The pick: Packers (-7)
New England Patriots at Cleveland Browns (-2.5)
It’s been pretty shocking to see how well the Browns offense has performed in five games with Jacoby Brissett as the starting quarterback. They are second in EPA per drive, sixth in success rate, and fourth in DVOA. The defense? Well, that’s another story. They’re 30th in DVOA.
The Patriots are coming off of a game in which they shut out the Lions and ran for 176 yards. New England is quietly lurking. After this game, they get the Bears, the Jets twice, and the Colts.
I see two evenly-matched teams who both want to run the ball. That could shrink the total number of possessions and lead to a close game. I’ll take the points.
The pick: Patriots (+2.5)
Minnesota Vikings at Miami Dolphins (+3.5)
I was set to take the Dolphins here, but then I saw this tweet:
Tyreek Hill and the Dolphins team captains decided to take the ping-pong table out of the locker room.— Cameron Wolfe (@CameronWolfe) October 12, 2022
Mike McDaniel said players decided they wanted more time investment for preparation on Sunday so they did something about it. Ping-pong table was a new addition this year.
Ping-pong is good. Breaking up the monotony of practices, workouts, and meetings is good. Less ping-pong is never the answer—not just in football, but in life.
The Dolphins are expected to once again go with rookie Skylar Thompson at quarterback (Mike McDaniel said that if Teddy Bridgewater clears concussion protocol by the end of the week, he would be active as the backup). This Vikings defense has been bad, and it’d be no surprise to see McDaniel scheme up a couple of explosive plays here. But Minnesota’s offense has moved the ball pretty consistently this year. They rank third in success rate behind only the Chiefs and the Bills. I like the Vikings.
The pick: Vikings (-3.5)
Baltimore Ravens at New York Giants (+6)
It can sometimes be hard to measure good coaching. But boiled down to the simplest terms, you want someone who can do more with less. That’s what we saw with head coach Brian Daboll and defensive coordinator Wink Martindale in London against the Packers. The Giants were without their top four wide receivers, Daniel Jones was dealing with an ankle injury, and Saquon Barkley left the game briefly. The Packers defense is one of the most talented in the NFL. Yet the Giants scored on five straight possessions in the heart of the game. Defensively, they stayed aggressive and held the Packers offense without a point in the second half. It was the best single-game coaching performance we’ve seen all season.
As for the Ravens, they’re 3-2, and in both of their losses, they were either leading or tied with 15 seconds left. They’re starting to get healthier. Running back J.K. Dobbins looked good last week, and left tackle Ronnie Stanley returned.
Martindale knows Lamar Jackson’s strengths and weaknesses well, having spent the previous four seasons as Baltimore’s defensive coordinator. The Ravens know Martindale’s blitz schemes well, too. I see a competitive game, but the Giants’ pass catchers are going to have a tough time winning their one-on-one matchups against corners Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters.
The pick: Ravens (-6)
San Francisco 49ers at Atlanta Falcons (+5.5)
The Falcons have been one of the most undervalued teams by the betting markets this season. They’re the only team that’s 5-0 against the spread. That’s true greatness! Atlanta stormed back from a 21-0 deficit against the Bucs last week and had a chance to steal that game. The absurd Grady Jarrett roughing the passer penalty was a real game changer in a high-leverage spot. If that doesn’t get called, the Bucs have to punt, and the Falcons get the ball back with a chance to take the lead with a touchdown.
The 49ers dismantled the Panthers, but the injuries are adding up. Their entire starting defensive line missed practice on Wednesday. The Falcons can run the ball. I think they keep this one competitive.
The pick: Falcons (+5.5)
Carolina Panthers at Los Angeles Rams (-10)
The case for a Rams turnaround:
1. They are currently turning the ball over on 23.5 percent of their offensive possessions. That’s the worst mark in the NFL. Only one team in the previous 20 years went through an entire season with a turnover rate that high (congratulations to the 2006 Oakland Raiders!). The turnovers pretty much have to come down, and whenever they do, it’s going to make a big difference.
2. They’ve already played the Bills, 49ers and Cowboys—three of the best defenses in the NFL. It will get at least a little easier from here.
3. Sean McVay is a problem solver. He’s produced a top-10 offense four times in five seasons as an NFL head coach.
4. This isn’t going to be what their offense looks like the rest of the way. They can make a move (or 12!) before the trade deadline to add talent.
I’m not saying they’re a juggernaut. I’m just saying I’m not ready to write the Rams off yet, although the injuries on the offensive line are obviously concerning.
The Panthers, meanwhile, fired Matt Rhule, and sometimes teams get a bump after something like that happens. I wouldn’t be surprised if Carolina kept this one close, but the Rams get a late touchdown for the cover.
The pick: Rams (-10)
Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks (+3)
The Cardinals continue to look like a disorganized team. Last week, with the game on the line, Kyler Murray slid just short of the first-down marker. It was announced as a first down in the stadium. Murray spiked the ball on what was actually third-and-1 to bring up fourth down, and the Cardinals (using a backup kicker) missed the potential game-tying field goal. Murray made some plays as he always does, but he also left a number of throws on the field.
The Seahawks lost starting running back Rashaad Penny for the season and will now lean on rookie Kenneth Walker III. Quarterback Geno Smith continues to play well—he dropped some absolute dimes last week in Seattle’s loss to the Saints. In what can only be described as the shocker of the year, the Seahawks rank first in offensive DVOA through five weeks.
The Seahawks’ defensive issues make me nervous, but they’ve been the better-coached team this season.
The pick: Seahawks (+3)
Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs (+2.5)
There are very few matchups on the NFL regular season schedule that come with the possibility of: This could be the best game we see all year. Last year’s playoff game between these two teams was one of the greatest games of all time (that’s not hyperbole!). Now we get a 4-1 Bills team that leads the NFL with a +91 point differential against a 4-1 Chiefs team whose only loss was a game it gave away against the Colts.
Whenever the Bills offense has struggled in the past couple of years, it’s felt like O-line issues have been the reason. We know that Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is going to be aggressive. The Chiefs aren’t going to stop the Bills consistently (Buffalo’s offense is fourth in EPA per drive), so the focus instead will be on producing enough negative plays (sacks, turnovers) to stay competitive.
On the other side of the ball, Buffalo’s pass rush could give Kansas City a lot of problems. The Bills are blitzing at the lowest rate in the NFL. They have the formula to beat Mahomes: produce pressure with four and drop seven into coverage. Still, that’s easier said than done. The Chiefs are first in the NFL in EPA per drive.
These two quarterbacks are tied for the NFL lead in EPA per play. According to TruMedia’s database, this is the first time that Mahomes has ever been an underdog at home. He’s been an underdog just eight times total in his career as a starter. The Chiefs are 7-0-1 against the spread in those games. In a coin-flip game, I’ll take the points with Kansas City.
The pick: Chiefs (+2.5)
Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles (-6)
With the game tied at 17 last week, the Eagles put together a 17-play, 70-yard drive against the Cardinals and kicked what turned out to be the game-winning field goal. They moved from their own 25 to the Arizona 34 without passing the ball. Instead, they used eight straight runs. The drive reinforced the notion that an elite offensive line is at the heart of the Eagles’ 5-0 start.
The Cowboys defense, meanwhile, continues to dominate. Dallas has not allowed more than 19 points in a game this season, and they’ve faced good quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Joe Burrow, and Matthew Stafford during that stretch. The idea that Cooper Rush is the reason for the Cowboys’ success is off base. Don’t get me wrong, Rush has performed admirably—especially for a backup. But in the last four weeks with Rush as the starter, the Cowboys offense ranks 18th in EPA per drive and 26th in success rate. Rush has made some excellent throws in high-leverage situations, but mostly he’s being asked not to lose the game, and he hasn’t.
There’s a scenario here in which the Eagles offense hits on explosive plays, and they steamroll the Cowboys. There’s another scenario in which Dallas forces turnovers, consistently pressures Jalen Hurts, and pulls off the upset. I’m picking something in between: Eagles win, but it comes down to the wire.
The pick: Cowboys (+6)
Denver Broncos at Los Angeles Chargers (-4.5)
The good news for the Chargers: Their run game came alive last week. They ran for 238 yards and put up 465 yards of total offense in their win over the Browns. The bad news for the Chargers: Their run defense was a disaster. They gave up 213 yards rushing and 443 yards of offense.
As for the Broncos, their Thursday night game against the Colts was as bad of a loss as we’ve seen all year. They look completely lost. The Broncos offense ranks 29th in success rate, and we learned after that game that Russell Wilson is dealing with a shoulder injury.
It’s Nathaniel Hackett vs. Brandon Staley on Monday night. The only thing I’m sure of is that there will be a coaching decision (or 12) that will lead every national sports talk show on Tuesday morning.
As for the pick, I can’t believe that the Broncos offense is going to continue to be this bad, and I like their defense enough to take the points.
The pick: Broncos (+4.5)