Essentials - Week 9
November 4, 2018
By Tony Mejia
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Detroit at Minnesota (-5/48.5), 1 p.m. ET, FOX: The NFC North is packed so tightly that all four teams are separated by a single game due to the Packers and Vikings having tied, making this one vital to both. New Lions head coach Matt Patricia won his divisional debut at home against Green Bay and will be on the road for his next two tests in the “Black and Blue” since a visit to Soldier Field is on tap next week. Detroit comes off a 28-14 home loss to Seattle where it scored a season-low 14 points, sputtering in the red zone when it mattered most. Golden Tate led the team in targets and was subsequently traded to Philadelphia earlier this week, ending his five-year run and leaving Marvin Jones, Jr. and Kenny Golladay to even larger roles in the Matthew Stafford-led offense. Rookie RB Kerryon Johnson should be heavily featured against a Vikings defense that got carved up by the Saints last Sunday night and will be looking to get back on track.
Minnesota should have safety Andrew Sendejo (groin) back but lists corner Xavier Rhodes as a game-time decision due to an ankle tweak and are thin with quality depth at that spot after losing first-round pick Mike Hughes to a torn-ACL in mid-October. Linebacker Anthony Barr remains out, so a defense that gave up their second 30-point game of the season and has been susceptible to big plays may be shorthanded. WR Stefon Diggs isn’t expected to play due to injured ribs, which will test how effective Adam Thielen can be without another top target to deflect attention from him. The Lions are likely to have corner Darius Slay (knee) in the mix and could have Ziggy Ansah back for the first time since he suffered a Week 1 shoulder injury if he’s able to make it through pre-game warmups. Vikings second-year RB Dalvin Cook should play on a pitch count but will help ease the burden of missing Diggs and keeps Latavius Murray fresher. Detroit has won three of four games against Minnesota. All have been one-possession games.
Kansas City (-8/52) at Cleveland, 1 p.m. ET, CBS: With head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley out, the Baker Mayfield-led Browns offense is under new leadership. Freddie Kitchens, who has never called plays at the college or pro level, will be in charge of getting an offense that hasn’t enjoyed a lot of success of late. He’ll have to work around a steady wind and figures to be at a disadvantage with veteran Andy Reid doing his thing with better weapons on the other side. Mayfield does get a break in that he likeoy won’t have to deal with top pass rusher Justin Houston, who returned to practice but isn’t expected to play. Same goes for safety Eric Berry.
Mayfield may be working without one of his favorite targets since rookie speedster Antonio Callaway will test his knee pre-game to try and participate. Slot WR Rashard Higgins is also dealing with a balky knee, while center J.C. Tretter is trying to work his way back from a high ankle sprain. It remains to be seen how aggressive either of these teams will be given the weather, but to his credit, Patrick Mahomes has done some of his best work on the road since the Chiefs are averaging 36.8 points away from Arrowhead. The key to it all, WR Tyreek Hill, whose speed compromises defenses by stretching them out, is playing through a groin issue. He’s been great on the road, scoring six of his seven TDs in opposing stadiums.
Pittsburgh at Baltimore (-2/46.5), 1 p.m. ET, CBS: The Steelers saw their three-game winning streak over the Ravens snapped in Week 4, scoring a season-low 14 points and converting on just two of 12 third downs while rushing for only 19 yards. James Conner only got nine carries, so if you’re looking for something that should be different in this second meeting, that’s where you should start. With Le’Veon Bell still away, Conner remains Pittsburgh’s top option out of the backfield and has touched it at least 23 times in each of the past three games, amassing 526 total yards while rushing for a pair of TDs in each of the contests. Pittsburgh has averaged 34 points since last seeing Baltimore, winning all three times to move back ahead in the AFC North.
The Ravens rank 22nd against the run and second in the NFL against the pass, so seeing Ben Roethlisberger drop back 47 times like he did in the first game would be curious. He’s wearing a splint on his left index finger, but since it’s not his throwing hand, that shouldn’t factor in much. Only tackle Marcus Gilbert’s status is in doubt on the offensive side of the ball and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him miss a second straight game. Weather in Baltimore won’t be an issue, surprising this time of year, so we should see Joe Flacco test a secondary that he torched for 363 yards on Sept. 30, especially with corners Artie Burns and Coty Sensabaugh attempting to make it back from injuries. Baltimore will have RB Alex Collins (foot) available for his normal share of carries but both tackles, Ronnie Stanley (ankle) and James Hurst (back), have been ruled out. Rookie Orlando Brown Jr. and second-year undrafted free agent Jermaine Eluemunor will start against a Pittsburgh defense that ranks second with 24 sacks. Baltimore last swept the Steelers in 2015 and have also pulled that off in ’06 and ’11.
Tampa Bay at Carolina (-6/54.5), 1 p.m. ET, CBS: The Bucs get back DT Gerald McCoy and DE Vinny Curry, so we’ll see whether any rust has developed as they return from leg injuries. Considering how well Cam Newton has played over the past month-plus, they won’t have much of a grace period. The Panthers star has thrown 13 TD passes since failing to do so in Week 1 and has run for 43 or more yards in each of the last three games to help compensate for a shoulder injury. He won’t have Torrey Smith due to a knee injury but has demonstrated improved chemistry with rookie D.J. Moore, who averaged 18.4 yards every time he touched the ball last week. Versatile RB Christian McCaffrey ran for a score and caught a pass for one last week, pulling that off for just the second time in his pro career. The Panthers are seeking their first three-game winning streak of the season, which would match last season’s longest run.
Tampa Bay has turned the offense back to Ryan Fitzpatrick after he led a comeback from an 18-point deficit in Cincinnati last week. Jameis Winston, currently a turnover machine, will serve as the backup. Center Evan Smith will be absent due to a hip issue, so we’ll see if that affects the timing of the Bucs offense, which will also be bolstered by Mike Evans gutting it out through a knee injury after coming off the injury report on Friday. Carolina’s defense is as healthy as it has been all season. The Panthers have won eight of 10 in this series, sweeping in ’17 and from ’13-’15.
N.Y. Jets (-3/41) at Miami, 1 p.m. ET, FOX: Considering both of these teams are already on the outside looking in as far as the AFC playoff picture is concerned, this is a must-win as the second half of the season begins. It’s therefore not ideal that Miami will again be without starting QB Ryan Tannehill, who remains bothered by shoulder trouble. Brock Osweiler is back at the controls for a fourth straight start and hasn’t been the culprit in the most recent Dolphins setbacks since the defense has given up 33.4 points over the last five games. The Dolphins secondary was set to be as healthy as it had been in mix before CB Cordrea Tankersley tore is ACL this week, so the shuffling continues. New York rookie QB Sam Darnold threw for 334 yards in Miami’s 20-12 Week 2 win at Met Life Stadium but is far more seasoned and should get back top WRs Robby Anderson (ankle) and Quincy Enunwa (hip). The Dolphins won’t get WR Kenny Stills (groin) back, so DeVante Parker should play a big role again.
Both teams may have to deal with less than ideal field conditions after last night’s UM-Duke game that featured play in a torrential downpour. The team that handles the adversity best and is able to wrap up on tackles should persevere here and it remains to be seen if weather is a concern today since rain storms could stick around until just after kickoff before dissipating. South Florida weather can be tricky to predict. Miami is looking for a second sweep of the Jets in three seasons and would move above .500 despite a tumultuous few months if they hold serve at home, where they come in 3-1. The Jets have dropped three straight road games following their Week 1 rout of the Lions, averaging just 13 points in the setbacks.
Atlanta at Washington (-2/47.5), 1 p.m. ET, FOX: The NFC East-leading ‘Skins got bad news since standout tackle Trent Williams won’t play for about a month. WR Paul Richardson will be out there, but pass-catching RB Chris Thompson and WR Jamison Crowder will miss another game as their injury-riddled seasons continue. A defense that has really stepped up in surrendering just 14.3 points over this current three-game winning streak must again rise up against a Falcons attack that has topped 30 in five of eight and features Matt Ryan working with most everyone with the exception of RB Devonta Freeman, who was placed on IR last month. WR Mohamed Sanu, dealing with a hip injury, will be out there for Atlanta.
As a result, Washington’s secondary must be on high alert and will have some moving parts to be aware of with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix expected to be available after coming over from Green Bay and versatile Montae Nicholson scheduled to play through a hip concern. With the Alex Smith-led passing attack compromised by injuries, the importance of Adrian Peterson can’t be overstated, so we’ll see if 33-year-old Adrian Peterson can build on last week’s 149-yard outburst against the Giants despite nursing a shoulder injury. The Falcons haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher all season and rank sixth in the NFL against the run.
Chicago (-10/37.5) at Buffalo, 1 p.m. ET, FOX: Khalil Mack is unlikely to play against the lowly Bills, though he’s expected to test out his ankle prior to kickoff to see if he can go. The Bears probably don’t need him to contain a Bills attack led by interception-happy QB Nathan Peterman, whose presence means it could be Christmas for Bears defensive backs. Peterman has been picked off twice in each of his two starts and is just as likely to connect with Prince Amukamara as he is LeSean McCoy.
Buffalo’s best bet is continuing to be stingy against the run and coaxing Mitch Trubisky into mistakes, so we could see a conservative game plan in place for the Bears. Chicago isn’t likely to have top WR Allen Robinson in the mix due to a groin injury, which could mean more work for Taylor Gabriel and promising rookie Antony “Pig” Miller. It’s going to be a rainy, windy day at Soldier Field, but both teams are used to playing in inclement weather.
Houston at Denver (-1/46), 4:05 p.m. ET, CBS: Demariyus Thomas is likely to be in the starting lineup for the Texans opposite top target DeAndre Hopkins. It’s a unique situation for the long-time Bronco who will likely see his name in the team’s Ring of Honor at some point next decade, but Denver is attempting to get younger and rebuild on the run to try and make the most of a season that has hit the skids once again under Vance Joseph. Although Chris Harris will be roaming the defensive backfield for the Broncos, Thomas won’t see many of the guys he’s toiled against in practices all these years since CB Bradley Roby and safety Darian Stewart are out and Aqib Talib is now with the Rams. Safety Su’a Cravens and LB Shane Ray will both be out there for Denver despite knee injuries.
Even though the calendar has turned to November, snow won’t factor in today as a mild day is expected, weather-wise. That should help Thomas in his attempt to find chemistry with QB Deshaun Watson immediately. Expect him to draw targets since he was brought in to replace Will Fuller, who was lost for the season with a torn ACL. Slot receiver Keke Coutee (hamstring) is sidelined as well, but Houston still has plenty of weapons to try and punish a defense that ranks 22nd in total yardage allowed. Jadeveon Clowney (groin) is expected to suit up, but Houston’s defense may have to overcome the absence of corners Johnathan Joseph (ankle), Aaron Colvin (ankle).
L.A. Chargers at Seattle (-1/48), 4:05 p.m. ET, CBS: The fact the two games below are also going off takes a little of the shine from this one, but it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if this competes for game of the day when all is said and done. Both teams have won four of five, come in on winning streaks and would make the playoffs if they were to have started today. Although the defense features a significant roster turnover, Seattle has been stingy in giving up 14 or fewer points in four of five and gets LB K.J. Wright and safety Bradley McDougald back. The outlier in their recent defensive run came against the Rams, so their performance doesn’t appear to be a fluke. With D.J. Fluker in, the offense is healthy and sees Chris Carson coming off a 100-yard game in the win in Detroit.
These are the last two teams to win in London. The Chargers followed up Seattle’s shutout win over the Raiders by edging the Titans, surviving when they foiled a two-point conversion after allowing Tennessee to march down the field in the closing minute. Surviving made for a happy transition into its bye week for L.A., which comes out fresher but still without top pass-rusher Joey Bosa. Melvin Gordon was able to heal up his hamstring and should play here, so this is a fantastic test for a defense that ranks 10th in the NFL against the pass and the run and come in third in the league in turnovers forced. It’s Seattle, so yes, rain could factor in. The teams haven’t played since 2014.
L.A. Rams (-1.5/57) at New Orleans, 4:25 p.m. ET, FOX: - With one loss between them, it’s easy to forecast this being a Championship Game preview. It’s just one game in early November for our purposes though, so this entails figuring out what team is most likely to bring it in a game both teams ultimately just want to come out of as healthy and confident as they are going in. L.A. is perfect on the road and the Saints’ lone loss came at the Superdome, so it’s not like you can look to that as a way to handicap. This will be the Rams’ first trip inside a dome in 2018, but they should adjust nicely and won their only game underneath a closed surface in ’17, beating Arizona 32-16.
Last season’s meeting in late November produced a 26-20 Rams win at the Coliseum in a game that featured four Greg Zuerlein field goals and a pair of Alvin Kamara highlight TDs. The Rams have better defensive personnel, but Drew Brees has done a tremendous job picking and choosing how best to deploy all his weapons. Sunday night’s impressive win in Minnesota featured him throwing for a season-low 120 yards and taking what was there. Kamara was sick earlier in the week but practiced Friday and should be fine. The total here opened as high (59) as we’ve seen this season, depending on both teams to approach their averages since each come in at roughly 33 points per game. It’s since been bet down.
Rams DE Marcus Davenport is out due to turf toe, but for the most part, both teams are healthy. This will be a great test for both defenses and an opportunity for L.A. to flex some muscle by contributing to a win over Drew Brees after holding off Aaron Rodgers. Riding the under seems like the right play, but common sense only goes so far if you’re sticking your hand into a snake’s cage and hoping the likes of Brees and Jared Goff don’t bite. I’m staying away and only putting in a side play.
Green Bay at New England (-5.5/56.5), 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC: As great as it is that Michael Jordan is cutting promos to hype up Rodgers vs. Tom Brady and the fact this meeting may carry historical significance if it ends up being the final one, they’re just the two biggest pieces of tonight’s big puzzle. New England may not have Rob Gronkowski due to a bad back and lists top RB Sony Michel as questionable with a knee issue, so Brady isn’t likely to have his full arsenal of weapons. Josh Gordon has emerged but isn’t at 100 percent due to a troublesome hamstring, while speedster Cordarrelle Patterson is experiencing neck pain. WR Julian Edelman is fine and a lot of the issues on New England’s injury report are Bill Belichick doing his thing before a big game, but there are a few legitimate concerns to be mindful of.
Kansas City failed to beat the Patriots at Foxboro, so this is the perfect challenge for Rodgers on the heels of frustratingly falling short of handing the Rams their first loss. The Packers have their offensive line back intact and have Randall Cobb in the receiving corps. Geronimo Allison won’t play, but Marquez Valdes-Scantling has emerged as a reliable weapon and should fill in. There’s not going to be a lot of wind tonight, but temperatures should dip into the mid-30’s as two quarterbacks who are used to thriving in cold weather look to one-up one another. Rodgers leads Brady 1-0 in head-to-head meetings.
Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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