Week 6’s slate is filled with enticing matchups: New Orleans visiting New England, Green Bay battling Baltimore, Washington and Dallas renewing their rivalry … yet the one question that’s on everyone’s mind:
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Can Jacksonville cover the 26.5-point spread?
If the Jags can pull off this endeavor, it just might be the franchise’s proudest moment, right behind this.
Cincinnati Bengals (3-2) at Buffalo Bills (2-3)
The lowdown: The Who-Deys have traveled a circuitous route to 3-2. Cincinnati has knocked off perennial powerhouses in Green Bay, New England and Pittsburgh, yet fumbled away a winnable game in the Windy City and looked lethargic against the Browns. Andy Dalton’s stability, or lack thereof, will dictate which side of the spectrum the Bengals fall this Sunday.
Speaking of volatility, Thad Lewis is starting for the Bills! For those not familiar with the football stylings of Lewis, the 25-year-old hails from Duke and has been cut by the Lions, Rams and Browns. On the bright side, he’s not Jeff Tuel.
With EJ Manuel sidelined, envision a heightened workload for C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson against a solid Bengals front seven.
Key injuries: CIN CB Leon Hall — Hamstring (Questionable), CIN DE Michael Johnson — Concussion (Questionable); BUF S Jairus Byrd — Foot (Probable), BUF QB EJ Manuel — Knee (Out)
Line: Cincinnati -8, 48.5 points
Fantasy impact: As opponents have made shutting down A.J. Green their leading prerogative, Cincinnati’s complementary pieces will become more vital to its offensive fruition. In this regard, rookie tight end Tyler Eifert should see increased action. Buffalo is stout over the middle, but Eifert is coming off his best game of his young career (five catches, 53 yards), and should see further assimilation in Week 6.
TV: CBS — 1 p.m. ET
The Bills win if… Spiller and Jackson control the clock, Dalton continues his rich man’s Matt Schaub impersonation.
The Bengals win if… You do realize THAD LEWIS is the Bills’ starting QB, right?
Prediction: Bengals 23, Bills 17
Detroit Lions (3-2) at Cleveland Browns (3-2)
The lowdown: Both teams rock winning records, a proposition that seemed far-fetched six weeks ago. Unfortunately, Brandon Weeden is back and Calvin Johnson is a game-time decision, meaning this might not be the most aesthetically-pleasing of watches.
Not to say this game is without its spotlights. The Cleveland defense is holding adversaries to 18.8 points per game thanks to an unyielding secondary (207.6 pass yards per contest, fourth-lowest in the AFC). This flies in direct antagonism to Matthew Stafford and the Lions air assault, a company that’s posting over 290 yards per outing. Even if Johnson is unable to suit up, Detroit has more than enough ammo to replicate such feats.
Key injuries: DET WR Calvin Johnson — Knee (Questionable); CLE QB Brian Hoyer — Knee (Out), CLE LB Quentin Groves — Ankle (Questionable)
Line: Detroit -2.5, 44 points
Fantasy impact: If Johnson can’t go, fantasy owners should look the way of Ryan Broyles. The second-year man has burned owners since returning from injury, hauling in a meager five receptions on the season. Nevertheless, coordinator Scott Linehan proclaimed Broyles is ready to be activated on full-time duty versus the snap-count confinement he’s faced the past three weeks. As a flex or WR3, Broyles has potential.
TV: FOX — 1 p.m. ET
The Lions win if… The Detroit defensive line hassles Weeden, Reggie Bush is a factor is receiving arena.
The Browns win if… Willis McGahee goes nuts on defense giving up 124.6 rushing yards per game, Stafford struggles without Johnson.
Prediction: Lions 24, Browns 23
Oakland Raiders (2-3) at Kansas City Chiefs (5-0)
The lowdown: At first glance, this game may have the markings of a blowout, but the Raiders proved last week in their win against the Chargers that they are far from a pushover.
Alex Smith and Andy Reid are credited for this franchise’s turnaround, and the duo certainly deserves a share of the accolades, specifically Smith’s steady hand under center. However, the true foundation for Kansas City has been the backfield virtuosity of Jamaal Charles (397 rushing yards, 250 receiving yards) and a defense that’s suffocating challengers to a league-low 11.6 points per contest. At the risk of sounding delirious, it’s a combo that could translate to a prosperous playoff run.
As for the Raiders, Darren McFadden is back, but the real news is the release of Matt Flynn. Most are making fun at Flynn’s expense, but he has pulled in $15 million from 30 minutes of work TWO YEARS AGO! Man’s a hero in my book.
Fantasy impact: On paper, Smith seems like a must-start against a Raiders team that ranks in the bottom third in pass defense, and the Kansas City QB has put up respectable passing yards the past three weeks. Alas, the Chiefs will likely strike against the Raiders on the ground, riding on the back of Charles with a little Knile Davis worked in. Smith is an adequate choice in two-quarterback formats, but the matchup alone will not facilitate a big day for his owners.
TV: CBS – 1 p.m. ET
The Raiders win if… McFadden shakes off the rust, Smith has his first shaky start.
The Chiefs win if… Charles takes care of business, KC defense indulges itself on Oakland front line.
Prediction: Chiefs 30, Raiders 21
Carolina Panthers (1-3) at Minnesota Vikings (1-3)
Matt Cassel gets the start after leading the Vikings to a 34-27 victory over the Steelers in London. He won’t dazzle in the box score, though he’s more than capable of inserting a sense of consistency in the Minnesota offense, a posture that’s visibly absent under Christian Ponder. Given the dominance of Peterson, dependability is all the Vikings need to be dangerous with the ball.
Minnesota’s woes are not restricted to the quarterback position. The Vikings resistance is ceding over 30 points per game (fourth-highest in the NFL), most of which is an upshot from a weakened secondary. Deprived of Antonio Winfield, Minnesota is giving up 326 yards per game through the air, third-most in the league. It’s a weakness Cam Newton and the Panthers hope to exploit. Of course, as Newton is averaging just 192 passing yards per outing, Minnesota is probably viewing this matchup as a respite.
Key injuries: CAR TE Greg Olsen — Foot (Questionable); MIN DT Kevin Williams — Knee (Probable)
Line: Minnesota -1, 44 points
Fantasy impact: DeAngelo Williams has shown signs of rejuvenation, averaging over 4.5 yards per carry with Jonathan Stewart on the sidelines. Started in just 47 percent of FOXSports.com fantasy leagues, this could be Williams’ last chance to shine, as Stewart is close to returning. The Vikings are decent against the run, but as a flex play, Williams is worth the risk.
TV: FOX – 1 p.m. ET
The Panthers win if… Newton preys on Minnesota secondary, Cassel fails to replicate last game’s success.
The Vikings win if… Minnesota front seven makes Newton uncomfortable, Jerome Simpson and Greg Jennings penetrate a Carolina defense holding opponents to 209 passing yards per game.
Prediction: Vikings 24, Panthers 13
Pittsburgh Steelers (0-4) at New York Jets (3-2)
The lowdown: The 3-2 Steelers visit the winless Je…wait, what? REALLY? Hmm, ok, let’s try that again…
The 3-2 JETS welcome the winless STEELERS to the Meadowlands. Granted, New York’s three victories have come against clubs with a collective 3-11 record, yet few would have envisioned Gang Green possessing a winning mark in October. Geno Smith has been sporadic, but strong showings by running back Bilal Powell and the Jets defense (299 total yards per game, second-lowest in the league) have enabled New York to stay afloat.
Pittsburgh’s offensive line has been the lightning rod for the Steelers’ misfortunes, and while they haven’t been a paragon of balance, the front unit is far from the weak link. The Steelers rank 25th in rush defense, the receiving corps has been unable to fill the void of the departed Mike Wallace. However, not all is gloomy in the Steel City. Le’Veon Bell flashed talent in London, and the Steelers secondary, in spite of its age, is a potent group. This is a team with enough talent to be a challenging foe the rest of the fall.
Key injuries: PIT WR Markus Wheaton — Finger (Out); NYJ CB Antonio Cromartie — Hip (Probable), NYJ WR Santonio Holmes — Hamstring (Questionable)
Line: New York -2, 41 points
Fantasy impact: Last season’s knee injury has not curbed Heath Miller in his return to the gridiron. Miller played in almost every offensive snap in Pittsburgh’s last game and finished with six catches for 70 yards. The Jets have not been kind to tight ends, but Miller is quickly becoming a de facto No. 1 target for Ben Roethlisberger, making the Steelers TE a must-play in all formats.
TV: CBS – 1 p.m. ET
The Jets win if… New York defense prolongs Pittsburgh’s offensive struggles, Smith stays relatively poised.
The Steelers win if… Big Ben rights the ship, Troy Polamalu lays the smackdown on Geno.
Prediction: Steelers 17, Jets 10
Philadelphia Eagles (2-3) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-4)
The lowdown: The Eagles will likely turn to Nick Foles as Michael Vick deals with a hamstring injury. On paper, it seems like an auspicious matchup, but the Buccaneers defense has been one of the better detachments in the NFC, giving up a scant 17.5 points per game. The focus should be on Philadelphia’s league-best 186 rushing yards versus Tampa’s top-10 rush defense, but Vick’s absence takes a dent into this terrain storm. Look for Philly and Foles to utilize a dink-and-dunk approach.
Foles’ counterpart will be rookie Mike Glennon. The rookie gets his second professional start against a Philadelphia defense surrendering the second-most yards in the NFL. Glennon’s debut could be described as so-so at best, and it’s unlikely he’s the antidote to the Bucs’ troubles. On a positive note, if Tampa’s dilemmas persist, we might have a full-fledge mutiny against Greg Schiano. Good times!
Key injuries: PHI QB Michael Vick — Hamstring (Questionable); PHI LB Connor Barwin — Knee (Probable); TB S Dashon Goldson — Foot (Questionable), TB S Mark Barron — Hamstring (Probable)
Line: Philadelphia -2, 45.5 points
Fantasy impact: I hear your qualms over Glennon, baby birds, but it’s not like Josh Freeman was lighting it up. Besides, Jackson was the beneficiary of a team-high 11 looks from Glennon in the signal caller’s debut against the Cardinals. Coming off a bye, assume progress in the rapport between Glennon and Jackson, one that should render decent production for the wideout versus a broke Eagles secondary.
TV: FOX – 1 p.m. ET
The Eagles win if… LeSean McCoy keeps up his impressive early-season performance, Glennon’s turnover problems linger.
The Buccaneers win if… DeSean Jackson is stranded on Revis Island, the Bucs revolt against Schiano like the West Canaan Coyotes against Bud Kilmer.
Prediction: Eagles 28, Buccaneers 20
Green Bay Packers (2-2) at Baltimore Ravens (3-2)
The lowdown: Green Bay’s offense remains a high-octane charge, evidenced in 453.3 total yards and 29.5 points per game. It is affairs on the other side of the ball that have hampered the Cheeseheads in the first quarter of the season, as the defense stands at 20th in yards surrendered. Worse, stalwart linebacker Clay Matthews will be out for the next month. If the Packers hope to turn their fortunes around, fortifying a secondary giving up 288.8 yards per game is a necessity.
Baltimore’s 3-2 record doesn’t properly illustrate the team’s roller coaster ride. Joe Flacco has not translated his postseason triumph into regular-season aplomb, Ray Rice hasn’t been right (2.9 yards per rush) and the team has walked into some off-the-field issues. (In a related note, if Bryant McKinnie asks you to party, stay away.) But don’t bury the Ravens just yet. Rice is getting healthy, and despite losing Ed Reed, Ray Lewis and Paul Kruger, Baltimore’s front seven has kept the Ravens relevant on defense. Stopping Aaron Rodgers is a bridge too far, but putting the muzzle on Eddie Lacy will go a ways in limiting Green Bay’s scoreboard damage.
Key injuries: GB LB Clay Matthews — Thumb (Out), GB CB Jarrett Bush — Hamstring (Questionable); BAL DT Haloti Ngata — Hip (Questionable)
Line: Green Bay -2, 48.5 points
Fantasy impact: Bernard Pierce was a popular pick-up when Rice dealt with a hip issue, but with Rice handling a full workload against the Dolphins in Week 5, Pierce, owned in 40 percent of leagues, is nothing more than a handcuff option. Even in this regard, better replacement options exist.
TV: FOX – 1 p.m. EST
The Packers win if… Lacy can muster an adequate harvest, Flacco’s Mr. Hyde persona surfaces.
The Ravens win if… Rice bounces back from rough start, “Sweat Pea” isn’t trending Sunday morning.
Prediction: Packers 31, Ravens 27
St. Louis Rams (2-3) at Houston Texans (2-3)
The lowdown: Our nation is obsessed with football. Starting quarterback is the most prestigious position in athletics. Bearing these sentiments in mind, I think we can all agree that we can do better than Matt Schaub versus Sam Bradford.
In the face of Schaub’s tribulations, it’s easy to paint an ominous forecast for the Texans. Conversely, the foundation’s in place for a long playoff run. Houston’s allowing a league-low in passing and total yards, and Arian Foster and Ben Tate provide a dynamic one-two backfield punch. Schaub merely needs to be pedestrian to put the Texans back into the postseason conversation.
The Rams defense is better than its early display, and its receiving corps is fairly deep. Unfortunately, a questionable offensive line, lack of a lead dog in the backfield and Bradford’s, ahem, Bradfordness, keeps this franchise from accomplishing much of substance.
Key injuries: STL CB Cortland Finnegan — Thigh (Questionable); HOU WR Andre Johnson — Shin (Questionable) HOU LB Brian Cushing — Knee (Probable)
Line: Houston -8.5, 43 points
Fantasy impact: Owen Daniels is out for at least six weeks, bestowing starting status to Garrett Graham. Not easy to put conviction in Schaub, but Graham did bring in five receptions for 69 yards and a score two weeks ago and should see plenty of targets in his direction. Graham deserves the nod in deeper leagues this week.
TV: FOX – 1 p.m. ET
The Texans win if… Foster and Tate make Schaub a moot point, Texans defense overpowers St. Louis line.
The Rams win if… You hear chants of “T.J. YATES!” from the crowd.
Prediction: Texans 21, Rams 14
Jacksonville Jaguars (0-5) at Denver Broncos (5-0)
The lowdown: Since everyone is discussing this matchup in a farcical matter, part of me thinks this will be a more contested game than believed. Not saying the Jags will pull off the upset, just that, the few junctures where annihilations are predicted in the NFL, they rarely come to fruition. I mean, you have to think there’s an amount of pride on the line. Those cats have to be sick of hearing the “Could the Jaguars hang with Alabama?” and “How historically bad is this team?” debates. They have playmakers in Maurice-Jones Drew, Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts, and coach Gus Bradley is a respected name in the coaching ranks. Hey, maybe this team CAN pull off the shocker.
(Remembers Chad Henne is the Jacksonville quarterback …)
Fantasy impact: In theory, could be garbage-time galore at Mile High. If such a situation comes to pass, Shorts and Blackmon could be benefactors from 50-plus pass attempts. (Get it? “Come to pass,” football … thank you, thank you.)
TV: CBS – 4:05 p.m. ET
The Broncos win if… C’mon.
The Jaguars win if… For real, if Jacksonville wins, gather your loved ones and head to a bunker.
Prediction: Broncos 35, Jaguars 14
Tennessee Titans (3-2) at Seattle Seahawks (4-1)
The lowdown: It may be October, but the season’s still in an embryonic state, meaning fraudulent records are commonplace. While I’m sure most view Tennessee’s 3-2 mark in this perspective, there’s nothing aberrational concerning the Titans defense. Though deficient of household names, Tennessee’s allowance of 19 points and 321 total yards per game (both top-10 rankings) attest that this squad is the real deal.
Regrettably for those in Nashville, Jake Locker’s injury has impeded the progression of the offense. Ryan Fitzpatrick is a serviceable backup, but expecting the Bearded Bomber to upend the Seahawks in the Emerald City is a far-fetched proposition. With the game’s best defense in tow, a sound running game and a masterful game manager in Russell Wilson (swear, that’s a compliment), the Seahawks have the ingredients to be playing in New Jersey in February. I suppose there’s concern on the team’s performance on the road, yet if they continue their destruction through the NFC, they may be able to surpass that obstacle entirely.
Key injuries: SEA RB Marshawn Lynch — Hip (Questionable/Expected to start), SEA FB Spencer Ware — Ankle (Out); TEN Shonn Greene — Knee (Out)
Line: Seattle -14.5, 40.5 points
Fantasy impact: Marshawn Lynch is anticipated to play through a hip ailment, but if the Seahawks jump ahead early, expect to see doses of Robert Turbin. Although he hasn’t siphoned as many carries as previously thought, Turbin possesses the durability for heavy-duty work. He won’t amaze you with explosiveness, but if you’re seeking a gamble in deeper formats, give Turbin a whirl.
TV: CBS – 4:05 p.m. ET
The Seahawks win if… Chris Johnson is suppressed, Wilson runs an effective game.
The Titans win if… Fitzpatrick has one of those magical games that caused Buffalo to give him that ridiculous $59 million deal in 2011. Remember that? Now he’s backing up Locker in 2013. More like Buffa-woe! (rimshot)
Prediction: Seahawks 27, Titans 9
Arizona Cardinals (3-2) at San Francisco 49ers (3-2)
The lowdown: San Francisco is rolling with a battered roster, and Arizona has won three of its past four contests. Easy to picture the Niners inflicting carnage, but don’t be surprised if this NFC West tilt proves to be a titanic struggle.
Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu highlight a feast-or-famine secondary that turns in its share of highlights, yet Arizona’s backbone on defense is its rush opposition. The Cardinals are relinquishing just 79 ground yards per contest, third-lowest in the NFL. This feat is especially impressive when factoring in the absence of All-Pro Daryl Washington, who missed the first four games due to suspension. Washington was a beast in return last week, racking up nine tackles, two sacks and a pick, making Arizona just as dangerous as division counterparts San Francisco and Seattle on D.
The Niners will put Arizona’s worth to the test with their rushing attack, one that’s delivering 140.2 yards per game (sixth-highest in the league). The sun may be setting on his career, but Frank Gore has demonstrated he has plenty of gas left in the tank, with 316 yards in his last three outings. Coupled with the soil prowess of Colin Kaepernick, the 49ers have plenty of ammo in the arsenal to combat Arizona’s toughness.
Key injuries: ARI WR Larry Fitzgerald — Hamstring (Probable); SF DT Justin Smith — Shoulder (Questionable), SF LB Patrick Willis — Groin (Questionable)
Line: San Francisco -11.5, 41.5 points
Fantasy impact: Since his prosperous season opener, Boldin has 13 receptions for 185 yards and a touchdown. Don’t picture his luck turning around this weekend, with the Cardinals keeping adversaries under wraps this fall.
TV: FOX – 4:25 p.m. ET
The 49ers win if… Gore keeps the good times going, the Niners defense causes the Carson Palmer “Man, I should have stayed retired” face.
The Cardinals win if… Kaepernick is forced into ill-advised pass forays, the Cardinals rushing game improves its pitiful production of 81 yards per game.
Prediction: 49ers 26, Cardinals 17
New Orleans Saints (5-0) at New England Patriots (4-1)
The lowdown: Historically, a Saints-Patriots match-up would be a fireworks affair. Tom Brady and Drew Brees have commanded some of the highest-scoring offenses in NFL history, and though each squad’s resistance could have been described as “opportunistic” at varying points, generally the units ranked in the bottom third in total defense.
This fall has been a different tale. New England is surrendering 14 points per game, second-best in the NFL. New Orleans, under new coordinator Rob Ryan, is not far behind, handing over just 14.6 points per contest. Such suffocation makes it easy to see why each roster enters atop its respective division.
Key injuries: NE TE Rob Gronkowski — Back/Forearm (Questionable), NE RB Stevan Ridley — Knee (Questionable/Expected to play); NO WR Lance Moore — Wrist (Questionable), NO RB Mark Ingram — Toe (Out)
Line: New England -2.5, 50.5 points
Fantasy impact: In the season opener, Kenny Stills posted an 86-yard day, including a 67-yard reception. Alas, Stills has also submitted two goose eggs and has a tendency to drift on routes. As Lance Moore battles a wrist injury, Stills will continue to see opportunities to contribute, and his speed and deep-ball dexterity make him a breakout threat.
TV: FOX – 4:25 p.m. ET
The Patriots win if… The New England backfield can take heat off Brady, Pats defense employs a bend-but-don’t-break philosophy, Jimmy Graham misses the team flight.
The Saints win if… Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles take advantage of Patriots depleted front seven.
Prediction: Saints 30, Patriots 21
Washington Redskins (1-3) at Dallas Cowboys (2-3)
The lowdown: God bless him, only Tony Romo could toss for 500 yards and five touchdowns and STILL be considered a goat. His Washington colleague, Robert Griffin III, has also been a target of scrutiny this season.
While the performance of both signal callers is up for dissection, it’s the exploits of each team’s defense, or lack thereof, that have correlated to losing records. Washington is granting a league-high 440.5 total yards, and Dallas is close behind with a concession of 409.2 yards. The Cowboys have been significantly better against the rush, but both have been porous versus sky assaults. Griffin’s recovery from knee surgery will remain under the spotlight, and I’m sure we have another nine “Is Romo an ELITE quarterback?” discourses in our future. Nevertheless, whichever defense proves its merit will decide the destiny of this ball game.
Key injuries: DAL WR Miles Austin — Probable (Hamstring); WAS RB Alfred Morris — Ribs (Probable)
Line: Dallas -5.5 points, 52.5 points
Fantasy impact: Alfred Morris will suit up, but bruised ribs is a precarious matter for running backs. Don’t be surprised if Morris sees abbreviated time, bequeathing action to Roy Helu. I wouldn’t necessarily endorse Helu as a starter this week; however, if he’s available on your waiver wire, pick him up in two winks of a coal miner’s eye.
TV: NBC – 8:30 p.m. ET
The Cowboys win if… DeMarco Murray goes nuts on susceptible Washington front seven, Griffin’s mobility remains hampered.
The Redskins win if… Griffin’s accuracy improves, Romo self-destructs in the fourth. Again.
Prediction: Redskins 33, Cowboys 30. On the bright side, 2-4 could still be leading the division, Cowboys fans!
Indianapolis Colts (4-1) at San Diego Chargers (2-3)
The lowdown: Andrew Luck may be the new face of the franchise, yet it’s been the Indianapolis running game and defense that has propelled the Colts to a 4-1 start. The team’s Achilles’ heel a season ago, the Colts defense is allowing a measly 15.8 points per game, fifth-lowest in the NFL. Whereas in 2012 Luck and company had to go to the air due to the defense’s deficits, this parsimony has translated to more action on the ground for the Colts offense, seen in 142 rushing yards per game. This all-around deftness has transformed Indianapolis into a dark horse Super Bowl pick.
The Chargers were figured for dead by most pundits heading into the season, and though Kanas City and Denver have left the rest of the division in their wake, San Diego has asserted itself as a challenging task. After consecutive subpar campaigns, Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates have rejuvenated into their former Pro-Bowl selves. Danny Woodhead has given a dormant backfield some life, and San Diego’s defense is better than its ranking states. If the Chargers hope to knock off the Colts, their secondary, which has been torched in the early going, will need to limit the damage.
Key injuries: IND S LaRon Landry — Ankle (Out); SD RB Ryan Mathews — Concussion (Probable)
Line: Indianapolis -1.5, 50 points
Fantasy impact: The Indianapolis defense has been good, but I have a feeling that Rivers puts up some numbers. If better options exist, keep the Colts on the pine.
TV: ESPN – 8:30 p.m. ET
The Colts win if… Trent Richardson improves on his pedestrian output, Luck tears up San Diego secondary.
The Colts win if… The Rivers revival continues, Chargers backfield can keep Luck off the field.