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Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 14:02 PM

Essentials - Week 5

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Sunday

Baltimore (-3/45.5) at Cleveland, 1 p.m. ET, CBS: The Browns are undefeated in Cleveland, something we haven’t been able to say about them entering a third home game since 2004. One of those games ended in a tie and they’re still looking up at most of the division, but progress is progress. One of the teams atop the AFC North are these Ravens, who have been among the NFL’s stingiest out of the gate, surrendering 16.2 while averaging over 30, giving them the conference’s largest point differential, second only to the Rams. Joe Flacco is averaging over 300 passing yards per game after tossing for 363 in last Sunday night’s win over the Steelers, looking rejuvenated by the addition of Robert Griffin III and Lamar Jackson.

Former Ravens backup Tyrod Taylor was expected to start this game opposite his ex-mates but lost his gig a couple weeks ago after being banged up by the Jets. Rookie Baker Mayfield took the reins, led a comeback win to end years of suffering and doesn’t figure to be handing the job back to Taylor, barring injury, any time soon. If not for a controversial call that took away what would’ve been a game-clinching fourth down out in Oakland, the Browns would be 2-0 on Mayfield’s watch. He’s got the locals excited, so Baltimore will look to keep the crowd from becoming a factor as they try to win a sixth straight game in this series. The Browns last beat the Ravens at home in 2013 and have won only two of the last 20 meetings against their divisional oppressors. Cleveland woke up to thunderstorms and may see rain be a factor all afternoon. The Ravens are relatively healthy and get CB Jimmy Smith back from suspension. The Browns have cleared WR Jarvis Landry, who has been dealing with a knee issue.

Jacksonville at Kansas City (-3/49), 1 p.m. ET, CBS: Significant drama has surfaced to make this juicy matchup even spicier, but weather is likely to play a huge role with thunderstorms potentially part of the equation all afternoon. Jaguars star corner Jalen Ramsey went to the well early on the off-field mind game work he attempts to put in before games begin, and it’s not like he’s run into many situations where he bites off more than he can chew. Tyreek Hill has averaged over 50 yards per game on touchdown grabs over his careers and is second in the NFL in yards per target, so he’ll test Ramsey vertically with his speed and might wind up playing decoy to open the middle of the field for tight end Travis Kelce, RB Kareem Hunt and fellow WR Sammy Watkins, who has been cleared to play after aggravating a hamstring injury last week.




Jacksonville RB Leonard Fournette wasn’t as fortunate, unable to return from the injury he reaggravated last week in a 31-12 rout of the Jets. T.J. Yeldon has proven to be a capable replacement and polarizing QB Blake Bortles has stepped up when he’s had to in his absence, putting together his best outings in games without the franchise back. This will be the team’s first road game since a 20-15 Week 1 win at the Giants. They were 4-4 SU and ATS last season but won in Pittsburgh in the playoffs and then covered in New England, so they’ve shown up on the road when it’s mattered most. Jacksonville’s defense is surrendering an NFL-low 14 points per game while Kansas City is averaging a league-high 36.25 points, so this is going to be a tremendous battle of wills. Chiefs DE Dee Ford, the team’s top pass-rusher was listed as questionable, while safety Eric Berry is doubtful.

Tennessee (-5.5/40) at Buffalo, 1 p.m. ET, CBS: The Titans are one of the NFL’s surprise 3-1 teams, sporting a point differential of just 75-73 and utilizing some smoke and mirrors to produce their success since they’ve managed to overcome Marcus Mariota being well below 100 percent due to an elbow injury that has prevented him from slinging it downfield effectively, turning him into a game manager. The defense has played well enough to justify that strategy but must overcome the absence of starting safety Kenny Vaccaro (elbow) and LB Wesley Woodyard (shoulder). The combination of new head coach Mike Vrabel and veteran coordinator Dean Pees should spell trouble for rookie QB Josh Allen, but it remains to be seen whether the loss of key personnel can be overcome on the road.

Allen crashed and burned after a dominant performance against the Vikings, losing in Green Bay 22-0 in a performance where he managed a QBR of 5.1, the third-worst showing in the NFL so far. Backup Nathan Peterman’s Week 1 disaster remains the lowlight, so the rookie appears to be in no danger of losing the gig he wrestled away. Allen threw for one score and was picked off twice in a 31-20 loss to the Chargers in his only home game to date and will have RB LeSean McCoy, WR Kelvin Benjamin and TE Charles Clay available to him after all dealt with injuries throughout September. Safeties Micah Hyde (groin) and Rafael Bush (shoulder) are each nursing injuries that have them listed as questionable, so Buffalo may have to overcome a vulnerable secondary to pull off an upset here. Rain is likely to be part of the equation, so this one could get sloppy.

N.Y. Giants at Carolina (-6.5/43.5), 1 p.m. ET, FOX: Cam Newton and the Panthers were off last weekend, so they’ll look to benefit from an early break on their bodies against a Giants team that underachieved significantly in September and arrives in Charlotte banged up. Offensive line help arrived for Carolina in the form of newly acquired tackle Marshall Newhouse and the return of guard Trai Turner from concussion protocol, so the team is optimistic that it is in the best shape up front than it has been since losing tackle Daryl Williams at the onset of training camp.

New York’s offensive line issues have been well-documented, compounded this season by the loss of center Jon Halapaio to an ankle injury. Eli Manning doesn’t need any help performing below expectations, but he’s certainly gotten it from a unit that has largely been pushed around. Odell Beckham, Jr. and rookie Saquon Barkley have big-play ability but haven’t gotten enough chances due to the mess up front and under center. The Giants defense played well despite the absence of top pass-rusher Olivier Vernon, but the bottom fell out last week against Alvin Kamara and the Saints in the fourth-quarter of a 33-18 loss. Vernon remains out against the Panthers, but LB Connor Barwin and CB Eli Apple are healthy enough to do battle against an offense likely to ride the legs of Newton and Christian McCaffrey, who can of course burn you via the short passing game. Weather issues aren’t expected here.

Denver (PK/42.5) at N.Y. Jets, 1 p.m. ET, CBS: The Broncos have been a dreadful road team of late, losing 10 of 11 and failing to cover in any of those setbacks, which includes a 27-14 in their only regular-season team outside Denver thus far, a 27-14 loss in Baltimore. They’ll be out of their time zone, which is worth remembering since they’ve also dropped their last six “early” games under Vance Joseph, whose seat is getting awfully warm. He’ll have to overcome a short-week situation here too, coming off a disappointing 27-23 loss to the Chiefs at Mile-High. QB Case Keenum’s honeymoon is over too, a reminder of how fickle the NFL can be since this team opened 2-0 after divisional home wins against the Seahawks and Raiders.

The Jets are hoping to reverse a recent lack of success against a Broncos team they haven’t beaten since 2010 after suffering a 23-0 loss in Denver last season. This is only the third meeting between these teams at Met Life Stadium and the first since 2002, when starting QB Sam Darnold was all of five. The rookie has found life difficult following an exciting Monday night debut Detroit, failing to produce more than 17 points in losses to the Dolphins, Browns and Jaguars. Von Miller and Co. figure to get after him, so it’s a plus that preferred target Quincy Enunwa will play despite a hip issue. The Jets will have corner Morris Claiborne out there too, but will be without fellow starter Trumaine Johnson and list safety Marcus Maye as a game-time decision.

Atlanta at Pittsburgh (-3/58), 1 p.m. ET, FOX: Only the Bucs and Raiders have given up more points per game than the depleted Falcons, who have seen their season sabotaged by injuries on that side of the ball and a schedule that has offered no sympathy in the form of a reprieve. After losing two starters in a season-opening loss in Philly, the Falcons have been carved up by Cam Newton, Drew Brees and Andy Dalton at home in their dome. The Steelers are up next, and even though Le’Veon Bell remains away, the Steelers still have plenty of weapons to inflict damage with. Vic Beasley will try to play through an ankle injury, but DE Derrick Shelby and corner Justin Bethel join DT Grady Jarrett , LB Deion Jones and safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen as observers. DE Takkarist McKinley was disruptive in his return last week, so Atlanta’s hope is that he and Beasley will be able to generate enough pressure that the team doesn’t have to blitz and leave itself vulnerable to Ben Roethlisberger’s arm and vision.

Antonio Brown has complained about not getting the ball enough downfield, so look for he and Juju Smith-Schuster to try and work deeper routes against a compromised group. The Falcons have surrendered an average of 37 points in their last three losses, while Pittsburgh was shut down last week, scoring just 14 against Baltimore. The Steelers also lost a 42-37 shootout against Kansas City in the home opener, so they’ll be looking to snap a run of seven straight games where they’ve failed to win and cover the spread, a stretch that dates back to Nov. 16 of last season. Their last outright win came in the 2017 regular season finale against the Browns last New Year’s Eve. The ‘over’ has prevailed in seven of the last nine at Heinz Field and three of the four games both teams have played this season, so it’s not surprising to see this as the highest-scoring total of the day by far.

Green Bay (PK/51) at Detroit, 1 p.m. ET, FOX: The Lions have had a favorable schedule, playing a Jets team starting a rookie QB, a young 49ers team riddled with injures and the disjointed Cowboys. They lost to all three but somehow managed to destroy the Patriots, making New England look as bad as we’ve seen them over the past few years. The Lions are a riddle as they greet the Packers for their NFC North opener. They’ve got talent across the board but tend to be their own worst enemy. It won’t help matters that top pass-rusher Ziggy Ansah won’t be around to try and harass Aaron Rodgers, who has settled in despite playing through a sore knee and has managed despite an inability to move as fluidly as he’s accustomed to.

The Lions won’t have corner Quandre Diggs or guard T.J. Lang either, which definitely makes them vulnerable against a Packers defense that comes off blanking Buffalo but is looking for their first road victory of the season. WR Davante Adams has been cleared to play and should be a factor, but Randall Cobb won’t be able to play through a hamstring issue and Geronimo Allison will be a game-time decision after not practicing Saturday since he’s in concussion protocol. Rookie corner Jaire Alexander, who has quickly emerged as one of the NFL’s top newcomers, will attempt to play through a groin issue and is someone else whose availability must be monitored. It wouldn’t be surprising to see young RBs Kerryon Johnson and Aaron Jones play huge roles here, which could impact the over run these teams are on against one another, having topped the posted total in five straight. The Lions are looking for their third consecutive win over Green Bay, something that hasn’t occurred in this one-sided series since 1991.

Miami at Cincinnati (-6/48.5), 1 p.m. ET, CBS: Who had this one as a battle of division leaders when the season started? The Dolphins failed miserably in their attempt to put their foot on New England’s throat last week and now hit the road again looking for better results against resurgent Cincinnati. Dalton is playing the best football of his career, while counterpart Ryan Tannehill comes off the second-worst showing from a QB this season in last week’s loss. Miami has been able to hit big plays via the passing games in spurts thus far but seeks out consistency and more involvement for RB Kenyan Drake, who was expected to play a much larger role than he has to date, losing carries to veteran Frank Gore last week. The offense will be forced to deal with a Bengals defense that should be rejuvenated by the return of emotional leader Vontaze Burfict, who has served his four-game suspension.

The Bengals also get back top RB Joe Mixon, who missed time with a knee injury but is back at the right time since Giovani Bernard was injured last week. TE Tyler Eifert was lost for the season in Atlanta and speedster John Ross aggravated a knee injury that will keep him out this week, so other pieces will have to step up around A.J. Green and emerging fellow wideout Tyler Boyd. Miami will be missing Cameron Wake off its defensive front and may not have back DE Andre Branch back either. WR DeVante Parker missed last week’s game with a quad issue and is also likely to be a game-time decision as the Dolphins continue to be riddled with injuries throughout all of their position groups.

Oakland at L.A. Chargers (-5/52.5), 4:05 p.m. ET, CBS: Jon Gruden picked up his first victory since returning to the sideline courtesy of a Derek Carr-commanded comeback against Cleveland last week, but anyone who watched that game saw how close the Raiders came to slipping to 0-4. We’ll see if returning from the brink invigorates this group, especially since x-factor Amari Cooper warmed up down the stretch alongside TE Jared Cook as the offense opened up. With the Chargers still missing Joey Bosa, Carr should have time to inflict damage, although he will have to deal with DE Corey Liuget, who is returning from suspension and offers an immediate upgrade from what L.A. has been featuring up front.

Philip Rivers’ protection is up in the air since tackle Russell Okung hasn’t practiced and is questionable with a groin injury. With fellow tackle Joe Barksdale still out, the Chargers would love to see Okung out there to keep a Raiders pass rush that has been non-existent from finding life. This is a swing game for L.A. which doesn’t enjoy much of a homefield advantage in Carson and will likely have to deal with a large contingent of Raiders fans. A win puts them over .500 and firmly on the road to playoff contention, while a loss drags them back with the also-rans in the AFC West, so we’ll get to see whether this group has some killer instinct to them. The Chargers have rolled to wins in 21 of the last 29 games against Oakland.

Arizona at San Francisco (-3.5/40), 4:25 p.m. ET, FOX: - Young quarterbacks take center stage in this battle of two of the NFL’s worst teams, a 49ers squad that lost Jimmy Garoppolo for the season and a Cards squad that has gotten off to a nightmare start under first-year head coach Steve Wilks. Arizona is winless and already had to deviate from the original plan of letting rookie Josh Rosen watch and learn from veteran Sam Bradford. As the only 0-4 team in the NFL, Arizona is unquestionably the league’s disappointment, averaging just over nine points per game. Rosen did pick up the team’s level, which led to last week’s decent showing in a 20-17 loss to Seattle.

The Niners got a solid showing from backup QB C.J. Beathard in last week’s 29-27 loss to the Rams but they were behind most of the afternoon and saw multiple offensive linemen injured. That should give you pause if you’re looking to fade the lone winless team on sight. Center Weston Richburg, tackle Joe Staley and first-round pick Mike McGlinchey are dealing with knee injuries that may keep all out of this one, though Staley is the least likely to play and the rookie should suit up. Running back Matt Breida has been upgraded to probable despite concerns over his shoulder, but promising young WR Dante Pettis is out against and speedster Marquise Goodwin is questionable. Safety Jimmie Ward’s status is similarly in doubt due to a hamstring issue, but Richard Sherman’s calf ailment has healed sufficiently for him to play. Can the Cardinals take advantage of all the injuries? Rosen will have Larry Fitzgerald (hamstring) in the mix and has seen RB David Johnson improve every week as the rust has been worked off.

Minnesota at Philadelphia (-3/47), 4:25 p.m. ET, FOX: This rematch of last year’s lopsided NFC Championship features two different starting quarterbacks than the ones who took the field in January. Former ‘Skin Kirk Cousins is very familiar with the Eagles but lost both times he ran into last year’s group following a season sweep in ’16. He’s had an up-and-down start to his Vikings tenure, so all eyes will be on how he handles leading a new group in a hostile atmosphere he knows well. Offensive line has been a major obstacle for the Vikes, but he should have every starter in place for this test against a talented Eagles front seven. Dalvin Cook has been dealing with a hamstring issue all season and is doubtful to be able to be out there. Latavius Murray should get the bulk of the carries as a result, but hasn’t been as productive as the second-year back out of FSU, which means we’ll likely see Minnesota lean on Cousins and the aerial attack more.

The Eagles have been involved in one tight game after another. All four September contests were decided by six points or fewer, so this is a big swing game for Philly when you consider that their level of competition hasn’t exactly been the cream of the crop. Fletcher Cox has been upgraded to probable despite ankle soreness but Halti Ngata is questionable and pass-rusher Derek Barnett is listed as doubtful, so the Eagles may be thin on numbers in an area that’s typically a strength. Not having versatile backs Darren Sproles (out) and Corey Clement (questionable) available hasn’t helped Carson Wentz develop much of a rhythm, but this will be the healthiest that top target Alshon Jeffery feels entering a game this season. The Eagles are perfect at home thus far and have won 11 of 12 straight up at Lincoln Financial Field. The under is 6-1 in Philly’s last seven home games, including wins over Atlanta and Indianapolis this season where opponents have averaged just 14 points.

L.A. Rams (-7.5/50) at Seattle, 4:25 p.m. ET, FOX: There’s been little to slow down the Rams thus far, but Mother Nature is about take her shot at ending L.A.’s run of 30-plus scoring games that has seen them improve on their tally from the week prior. After a 38-31 win two Thursdays ago to open Week 4, L.A. has had plenty of time to prepare for the new-look Seahawks defense as they attempt to put the clamps on the NFC West by moving four games up on everyone in the division when you include the tiebreaker they would hold.

With apologies to Seahawks defenders like UCF alums Shaquem and Shaquil Griffin, the cold wet rain that is expected to fall in Seattle may provide a bigger assist than anything else, especially since LB K.J. Wright is doubtful to return from the knee injury that has kept him out the past few weeks. Safety Earl Thomas was lost for the season, LB Mychal Kendrick was solely a temporary band-aid, already serving an indefinite suspension. Pass-rushers Frank Clark and Rasheem Green are questionable, while speedy Dion Jordan should play for a depleted group that will have to keep Todd Gurley from getting going since he’s taken a backseat to the Jared Goff-led passing game of late. The Rams hung a 42-7 beating on the Seahawks at CenturyLInk Field last season after being held to just 10 points in their lowest-scoring performance of the season at home on an early October day just like this one. If history repeats itself, I’d expect weather to play a large role. The Seahawks will have Chris Carson in the mix, so look for them to try to control possession regardless of the elements. L.A. comes in healthier than most of the NFL’s teams, though kicker Greg Zuerlein remains out.

Dallas at Houston (-3/45), 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC: Although neither one of the Lone Star state’s teams has stood out this season, the Cowboys and Texans squaring off makes for a compelling Sunday night matchup due to the desperation involved. Houston fortunate last week, blowing a second-half lead in Indianapolis and putting itself in jeopardy of an OT loss -- then a tie – before Colts head coach Frank Reich graciously lost on a gamble that allowed them emerge with their first victory of the season. Back home after disappointing in the opener with a loss to the Giants, look for Deshaun Watson to have finally worked enough the rust off to trust in this game against a depleted Cowboys squad that has managed to open 2-2 despite suspect offensive line play, a struggling passing game and the absence of defensive catalyst Sean Lee. Avoiding a 1-4 start should have Bill O’Brien pulling out all the stops in front of what should be a wild crowd set to drown out Dallas fans. The Texans will have WRs Will Fuller and Keke Coutee available to help offset the absence of top RB Lamar Miller, who is considered doubtful to play. Alfred Blue will get the bulk of the carries, but expect Watson and the passing game to handle the bulk of the load offensively.

The Cowboys got out of Detroit with a win thanks to a last-second field goal and pieced together a sharper-looking offense than we’ve seen from them to date. Ezekiel Elliott (knee) and Tavon Austin (shoulder) will both be in the mix to try and help Dak Prescott build on the success and avoid Houston’s feared pass rushers by getting the ball out quickly and moving the pocket. A revamped offensive line is a major question mark and center Travis Frederick isn’t coming back anytime soon after landing on IR last night, so escaping H-Town with a win and a record above .500 would be an immense accomplishment that will keep the naysayers from sprinkling dirt on beleaguered head coach Jason Garrett for at least another week.


Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA or e-mail him at [email protected]

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