We’re closing in on the end of the bye weeks. Divisional races are heating up. The playoff pushes begin now. With some great games on tap for this Sunday, it could go a long way in separating the contenders from the pretenders. Let’s dive in.

Dallas at Detroit

Tough losses for both teams last week. Dallas played a great game against Minnesota that was down to the wire, and lost due to baffling coaching decisions. Dak Prescott continued his excellent year, against a solid defense. The Lions’ defense held up well against the Bears, but overcoming the absence of Matthew Stafford was too much. Stafford is likely going to miss this game as well.

The hope for Detroit is to be able to run the ball against a suspect Dallas defense and to control the ball. The Lions’ defense will not be able to keep pace with a hot Dallas offense and could get shredded. That will be too much for the Lions to overcome again.

Jacksonville at Indianapolis

The return of Nick Foles! Both of these teams are firmly in the Wild Card hunt and somehow the AFC South race. Indy has heavily stumbled recently. Not having Jacoby Brissett matters against the Steelers. Being unable to do anything on offense against the Dolphins, however, even with Brian Hoyer, is concerning. Brissett will be back this week.

The key matchup will be the Jaguars’ pass rush against the Colts’ O-line. If the Colts can control the ball, they’ll have the advantage. Even then, Adam Vinatieri has been a problem, and that could cost the Colts again. It will also be interesting to see how Foles looks in his first action since Week 1. If he comes out and plays well, the Jags’ offense could overwhelm the Colts’ defense.

Buffalo at Miami

The Bills have started trending in the wrong direction. They have feasted against weak competition, but even with that in their favor, they have not been anything remarkable. Their game with the Browns went to the end, but they could not move the ball efficiently on offense. Meanwhile, Miami now has the longest winning streak in the AFC East! The Dolphins have been far more competent than earlier in the year and have played better than a host of other teams.

Miami almost stole a game against the Bills a few weeks ago. They are in position to do that again. The Dolphins still have the tank prerogatives, but the bottom is getting cluttered. Buffalo needs to stay on pace with the other AFC Wild Card hopefuls, but their recent trends are not assuring.

Denver at Minnesota

The Vikings played an excellent game against the Cowboys in every facet. The running game is perhaps the strongest in the league right now. Minnesota has been excellent at home as well. Denver will still be starting Brandon Allen. Denver just does not have the horses to hang in a game against the Vikings. Plus, this is a low expectations game, so there is no pressure for Kirk Cousins to fold under.

New Orleans at Tampa Bay

The Saints’ loss to Atlanta last week is by far the most shocking result of the season so far. They didn’t just lose, they never led. The Saints failed to score a touchdown for the third time this year. They now head to Tampa to take on the frisky Bucs. NFC South games are strange. The Bucs were handled easily by the Saints in the first meeting, but Tampa has improved since then.

This one should be high scoring. Tampa has thrown the ball all over their opponents recently. The Saints’ offense has looked somewhat iffy in the games with Drew Brees back too, coupled with concerns on the Saints’ offensive front. The Bucs’ run defense remains excellent as well. This one could come down to turnovers, and that is where it gets away from Tampa. They do not have the capacity to survive multiple dumb Winston mistakes. The Saints will have to lean on Brees, but it’s unclear if he’s totally up to that so soon after returning from injury.

New York Jets at Washington

By far, the worst game of the week. It should be entertaining just based on ineptitude on both sides. Neither squad has any playoff hopes, but both have coaches with a lot of questions around them. The Redskins should not actually retain Bill Callahan, but it would be on brand. Washington’s defense is actually fairly competent, which could give the inconsistent Jets’ offense big problems. Sam Darnold will need to rely on Le’Veon Bell and Jamison Crowder.

On the other side, Jamal Adams is a one man wrecking crew, and could make life miserable for Dwayne Haskins, just as he did for Daniel Jones. It will also be interesting to see how Washington handles splitting carries for Adrian Peterson and Derrius Guice. Haskins has not played well this year, but this is the type of matchup where he could gain some confidence. For the Jets, an embarrassing or lackluster performance against a weak team could push the team to move on from Adam Gase after the season.

Atlanta at Carolina

As said, Atlanta pulled off the upset of the year last week. Dan Quinn handed off defensive play calling, and the team seemed to respond. Matt Ryan returning helped a lot as well. The Panthers suffered a tough loss, but played the Packers well.

Carolina needs a win to stay in the NFC hunt, which is absolutely brutal. A team may need 11 wins to sniff a Wild Card. The Panthers still have two games against the Saints as well. Atlanta does not have much to play for. At this point, losing may be in their best interest for draft position. But, if Dan Quinn can keep his team competitive and win more unexpected games, he may save his job.

Houston at Baltimore

Baltimore is rolling unlike any other team. Lamar Jackson is red hot. They head to Houston to take on the Texans. These two teams are in position to get a bye, but both need to win this to attain that objective. The Ravens’ defense has emerged of late. Having that offense on the other side helps greatly.

This is the exact type of game the Texans go into unprepared. The head coach mismatch of John Harbaugh versus Bill O’Brien is huge here. The Houston defense was able to smother the Jaguars in their last game, but they will be unable to contain the Ravens’ attack. Deshaun Watson will have to be superhuman for the Texans to win this one, but the Ravens will lay a ton of pressure on him, and the Texans will end up having to play from behind, leading to errant throws for Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey to capitalize on.

Arizona at San Francisco

San Francisco suffered its first loss this season in a game of the year candidate to the rival Seahawks. The Niners powered through injuries to their two most important skill players. The return of Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey may have come a bit early, as both seemed rusty. The Niners let up a lot of pressure, and could not get the ground game going. Jimmy Garroppolo looked unsettled in the pocket as well. The Cardinals played a tough game against the Bucs, but the defense could not hold up against the Bucs.

This is a critical game for the Niners, as a loss would drop them from the 1 seed to the 5. That is a drastic contrast in position. Further, the Niners have important games against the Packers and Saints on the horizon. This all said, the Niners’ defense still played fantastically, and kept them in the game. These teams just played two weeks ago, and this kind of turn around poses an interesting matchup. The Cardinals have proven a tough opponent this season, but a road game to Santa Clara, and against that defense, leaves it at advantage Niners.

Cincinnati at Oakland

The Bengals are now in the driver’s seat for the number one pick. Oakland has played excellent recently. This game is a huge mismatch all over. Ryan Finley’s first career start went okay, all things considered. Oakland’s defense has been opportunistic recently, and the Bengals’ offensive line is weak. Even before that, the Bengals have perhaps the worst defense in the league. The Raiders’ offense is incredibly efficient, and they should have a field day running the ball.

New England at Philadelphia

An excellent game. Fans on each side may have written this one off to the Pats, but this is the type of game the Eagles get locked in for. The Patriots are susceptible to the run game, and the Eagles have gotten that rolling as of late. Their run defense has also remained excellent and could force the Patriots into being one dimensional. This said, the Patriots’ pass defense is still excellent. If they force enough mistakes, they could take the Eagles off script.

This is a huge test for both sides. New England still has the top AFC seed over the Ravens, but do not have the head-to-head advantage. The Eagles need to keep pace with the Cowboys in the NFC East. For the Eagles to triumph, they need their secondary to continue its recent play, but that is a tough ask against Tom Brady.

Chicago at Los Angeles Rams

I hope everyone enjoys bad offense! This one is going to be ugly, and not in the way it was last year. Both offenses were far more competent than their current iterations. Chicago finally ended its month-long skid, and took down the Lions, but that was hardly impressive. The Rams came off their bye, and could not do anything against a top tier Steelers defense.

Chicago’s offense has at least showed signs of improvement from earlier parts of the season, but there is no consistency. It’s only getting worse for the Rams, who will not have their starting right tackle, as well as center Brian Allen, who is lost for the year. Offenses aside, both of these teams sport extremely strong defenses. The difference will come down to turnovers. For all the grief of Chicago, they have done well at avoiding those mistakes. The Rams, mainly Jared Goff, have struggled with that. Losing two starting O-linemen against the Bears is not going to go well. If the Bears force turnovers and put Mitch Trubiksy and Co in a position to do less, they should head out of LA with a win. One last factor is the fact Chicago fans travel well, and Rams’ home crowds have been lacking this year.

The Picks:

  • Dallas
  • Jacksonville
  • Miami
  • Minnesota
  • Tampa Bay
  • New York
  • Atlanta
  • Baltimore
  • San Francisco
  • Oakland
  • Philadelphia
  • Chicago