Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:56 AM
Sunday's Essentials - Week 5
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Ravens(-3/44) at Steelers, 1 p.m. ET, CBS: This rivalry will have a different feel this season with Joe Flacco now in Denver and Ben Roethlisberger sidelined, but the hatred remains the same. With the Browns replacing the Bengals as a contender, there again doesn’t appear to be enough room in the AFC for both teams to be successful. In opening October against one another, they’ll get a much better idea of where exactly they stand as October opens. The Ravens have dropped consecutive games after opening 2-0 following wins over two of the NFL’s worst teams and the Steelers dominated winless Cincinnati at home on Monday night, so it’s difficult to say with certainty exactly how good these teams are. My expectation is that today’s winner will be the only team who will still have a shot at a playoff berth when they finish the regular season against one another in Baltimore on Dec. 29.
Baltimore leads the NFL in total offense and rushing, but those numbers are inflated by the 59 points they hung on pitiful Miami in Week 1. Last week’s loss to Cleveland saw Jackson throw his first two interceptions of the season. Considering we’re expected to see showers throughout this game, it’s worth knowing that the Steelers are going to be able to better align their defense against the run given the weather conditions. Pittsburgh has struggled to stop the run and will look to control possession with RB James Conner now expected to play without limitations after dealing with an ankle sprain. Top WR Juju Smith-Schuster is a game-time decision with a toe injury and fullback Roosevelt Nix is out. His ability to create space for Conner has been missed and could be a difference-maker in this type of contest. Tight end Vance McDonald hasn’t practiced all week and may miss another game. Nick Vannett, who did a nice job after being signed last week, could be in line for another heavy workload. The Ravens remain without corner Jimmy Smith after losing him in Week 1.
Bears (-6.5/40) vs. Raiders, 1 p.m. ET, FOX: For the first time in 2019, we’ve got some European weather to monitor with this Khalil Mack Bowl taking place in London. The game will be the first NFL game at the brand new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, which opened in April. While rain is in the forecast throughout the day, conditions are expected to be dry and windy as Mack looks to wreak havoc against the team that dealt him to the Bears prior to the start of the 2018 season. Expect Mack to introduce himself to rookie Josh Jacobs, the player selected with one of the first-round picks Oakland got from Chicago, but it’s QB Derek Carr likely to bear the brunt of the impact against the league’s most dominant defensive player. Mack has made no secret of having the game circled on his calendar for months and comes in looking to add to his tally of 4.5 sacks and four forced fumbles.
Mack has 17 sacks to his credit with the Bears, while Oakland’s entire team has racked up a combined 18 since his departure, ranking dead last in the NFL in that category over the last year-plus. He’ll try and build on a great game in last week’s win at Indianapolis as the Raiders play the third of five straight games away from Oakland, which will again test their quarterback’s ability to get comfortable in an unfamiliar stadium after struggling over the past two seasons. He’s been able to establish TE Derrick Waller as his go-to receiver, which is important since Tyrell Williams has been listed as questionable this week. He should play, but could be limited, which may put his streak of scoring every game in jeopardy. For Chicago, QB Chase Daniel will in place of Mitchell Trubisky, who remains sidelined by a shoulder injury. With rookie DE Clelin Ferrell potentially out, Daniel should have ample time to throw given the Raiders’ struggles generating pressure since moving on from Mack. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict, the defensive leader of the Oakland defense, is back home after being suspended for the rest of the season for his latest helmet-to-helmet hit. He’s appealed but didn’t travel overseas.
Cardinals at Bengals (-3/46.5), 1 p.m. ET, FOX: Kyler Murray looks for his first victory as a pro as he takes the field for only his second road start on the heels of his least effective game in a 27-10 loss to Seattle last Sunday. The No. 1 pick of the ’19 Draft has thrown for four scores and been picked off four times, but what is most alarming is that he’s been sacked 20 times. With the offensive line playing poorly, Patrick Peterson still suspended until mid-month and a new coaching staff trying to figure things out, it’s not surprising that the Cards are on the verge of the franchise’s worst start in 33 years.
The Bengals have been even worse, coming off a horrendous effort at Pittsburgh in which Andy Dalton had no time to throw. Cincinnati’s only home game to date ended in a 41-17 loss to the 49ers, so Zac Taylor hasn’t made a great first impression considering his team went the entire first month without holding a lead of over three points and trailing the majority of the time. This is likely to be the final time the Bengals are favored until December encounters with the Jets and Dolphins, so it’s important they get off to a strong start in order to avoid the franchise’s first losing streak since 2010. At this rate, the fan base is going to start longing for the days of Marvin Lewis by next week and planning a statue by Thanksgiving. Hopefully they’ll have AJ Green back by then, but the All-Pro receiver is again out for this one. WR John Ross is also out due to a shoulder injury, while the Cardinals will be missing a key playmaker in WR Christian Kirk and will be on their third right tackle. Cincy lost DE Kerry Wynn on Monday night. Arizona lists Terrell Suggs as a game-time decision. Rain may play a role in the second half.
Jaguars at Panthers (-3/40), 1 p.m. ET, CBS: Gardner Minshew was masterful in last week’s second half, helping the Jaguars rally past the Broncos by setting up Josh Lambo’s game-winning field goal with a 60-yard drive over the final 1:32. The rookie sixth-round pick has now won consecutive starts and has impressed everyone with his poise. We’ll see if he’s able to continue making his case for keeping the gig when Nick Foles ultimately returns from a broken collarbone next month. Minshew played two seasons in Greenville at East Carolina, roughly 250 miles from Charlotte, before transferring to Washington State. The Panthers are hoping to spoil his return as they seek out their own three-game winning streak behind a backup QB, having ridden Cam Newton’s replacement, Kyle Allen, to road wins over the Cardinals and Texans. Carolina is attempting to end a five-game losing streak at Bank of America Stadium, having last won on Nov. 4 in Week 9 of last season against the Bucs.
Allen won’t have to deal with Jags’ standout corner Jalen Ramsey, who has been ruled out by back trouble. That increases his chances of maintaining an interception-free resume as a pro. He hasn’t lost in his three starts and has made good use of all his weapons, most notably Christian McCaffrey, in running the show for Norv Turner. This will be his debut at home outside of preseason contests, so he’s looking to continue impressing and has prioritized holding on to the football better since he’s fumbled every time he’s been sacked thus far. The Panthers have lost DT Kawann Short up front but will have Gerald McCoy in place to try and help make up for his production.
Vikings (-5.5/43.5) at Giants, 1 p.m. ET, FOX: After victories over Tampa Bay and Washington, rookie Daniel Jones will face his biggest challenge with the Vikings defense coming in for a visit. Saquon Barkley won’t be able to make it back from his high ankle sprain despite remarkable progress, so Wayne Gallman, Jr. hopes to duplicate his production after yielding 118 total yards and two touchdowns in his first start. TE Evan Engram and WR Sterling Sharp have produced, and Jones will add WR Golden Tate to the mix after he’s served out his four-game suspension.
The Vikings have played well enough to be 4-0 considering they’ve surrendered 15.8 points per game but Kirk Cousins has been a disaster, angering teammates Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen with his lack of production. Outside of the Redskins, the quarterbacks the Giants have seen have largely thrived. That includes Josh Allen, who threw for 253 yards and a score while running for another. If Cousins can’t find a rhythm here, head coach Mike Zimmer may have to consider his options despite the fact backup Sean Mannion has limited experience with the team. Windy conditions could limit the offense, while rain is also a possibility late in the afternoon.
Patriots (-16/42) at Redskins, 1 p.m. ET, CBS: Colt McCoy will make his debut for the Redskins against a Patriots defense that leads the NFL in fewest points allowed and hasn’t surrendered a passing touchdown all season. The 33-year-old made two starts last season and will be appearing in just his 11th regular-season game with Washington over his six seasons, finally feeling healthy enough to return from a broken right fibula that didn’t heal as quickly as anticipated. For head coach Jay Gruden, this should be the beginning of his last stand as he looks to tighten a tenuous grip on his job as head coach considering things with rookie first-round pick Dwayne Haskins haven’t gotten off to a promising start. Rookie WR Terry McLaurin, who has quickly emerged as the Redskins’ top offensive weapon, is a game-time decision due to a hamstring strain.
Clear conditions should help aid a bounceback opportunity for Tom Brady, who was intercepted and threw for just 150 yards in last week’s 16-10 win over the Bills. Julian Edelman (chest) is likely a game-time call, while tight end Benjamin Watson has been ruled out. Josh Gordon was removed from the injury report and could be poised for a big day against the Washington secondary. With Rex Burkhead out, RBs Sony Michel and James White will also likely receive more snaps. New England’s defense will be missing safety Patrick Chung and list top LB Dont’a Hightower as a game-time decision. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski was placed on IR with a hip injury so Mike Nugent will see his first action.
Jets at Eagles (-14/43.5), 1 p.m. ET, CBS: Sam Darnold is getting closer to a return from mono and should be back within the next few weeks, but he won’t take the field in Philly to try and help the Jets avoid a 15th loss in their last 18 road games. Luke Falk will again start following New York’s bye week after helping produce just 105 yards of total offense in a 30-14 loss at Foxboro two weeks ago. The Patriots loaded up against LeVeon Bell, who has his team’s only offensive touchdown on a TD reception in Week 1, so the expectation is that the Eagles will follow suit. The Jets will be starting a pair of new guards. Defensively, New York will again be without top LB C.J. Mosley but does get back DT Quinnen Williams.
Deep threat DeSean Jackson remains out for Philadelphia, but with potentially windy conditions and a chance of showers, the Eagles will probably rely on the ground game and Carson Wentz’s ability to move the chains via Zach Ertz and the now healthy Alshon Jeffery and Dallas Goedert. Center Jason Kelce will play after the birth of a son and tackle Jason Peters is also cleared to go, which makes this a great opportunity for RBs Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders to break through with big games. Running the ball effectively will be the key to covering this lopsided spread since the Eagles will be looking to keep Falk from finding a rhythm the way the Pats managed to.
Bucs at Saints (-3/46), 1 p.m. ET, FOX: The Saints are looking for a second straight 4-1 start, which is something they haven’t managed in back-to-back years in their entire 52-year existence. It’s been impressive to see the team rally around the defense without Drew Brees in last week’s win over. Teddy Bridgewater and Taysom Hill have done a nice job allowing Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas to carry the offense. New Orleans’ defense scored in the win at Seattle and held the Cowboys to 12 points last week.
The Bucs have scored 30.8 points and are off to the best offensive start in franchise history, so Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich have to be commended. Considering Jameis Winston’s season started so dreadfully in a turnover-filled home loss against the 49ers, Tampa is right to be excited about the progress of their former No. 1 pick as he attempts to finally reach the playoffs after leading the Bucs to just one winning season over his first four frustrating years. If the offense does its part, the defense should be able to put together a solid effort since LBs Devin White and Shauquil Barrett join DBs Ryan Smith and Jamel Dean back in the fold.
Falcons at Texans (-4/49.5), 1:05 p.m. ET, FOX: The Texans have had a terrible time protecting Deshaun Watson, while DeAndre Hopkins hasn’t caught a touchdown pass since the opener. Center Zach Fulton is back to anchor the offensive line. Safety Deshaun Gipson and corner Lonnie Johnson are both questionable, so keep an eye on this situation given how much the secondary should be tested by Matt Ryan and Atlanta’s receiving corps.
Slow starts have been one factor the Falcons’ brutal start, so another tough opening quarter against the Texans could spell the end for head coach Dan Quinn. Atlanta has been outscored 38-10 over the opening 15 minutes of their first four games this season, trailing by 17 or more at the break in all three of their losses. If TE Ertz hadn’t come up inches short on a fourth-down conversion in Week 2 in the closing stages of their 24-20 win over Philly, the Falcons would likely be winless.
Bills (-3/38.5) at Titans, 1:05 p.m. ET, CBS: Buffalo QB Josh Allen cleared concussion protocol and will start under center ahead of Matt Barkley as he looks to bounce back from a dreadful start against New England last week. Allen threw three picks before being knocked out of the 16-10 loss in the fourth quarter but will be facing a secondary that held him to just 82 passing yards last season. Buffalo still managed to beat the Titans 13-12 on a game-winning field goal at the final gun in one of Tennessee’s costliest losses in preventing it from reaching the playoffs.
Thunderstorms could be in the mix in Nashville, so scoring might be affected if the skies open and get involved. Tennessee is expected to play DE Cameron Wake despite a lack of practice time this week. Tennessee could be the most improved team in football this week due to the return of left tackle Taylor Lewan from a four-game suspension. Marcus Mariota should have a lot more time to make plays with improved offensive line play and has developed chemistry with rookie WR A.J. Brown, who debuted with a 100-yard game in the Week 1 upset of Cleveland and fueled last week’s win in Atlanta with a pair of scores.
Broncos at Chargers (-5.5/44.5) , 4:05 p.m. ET, CBS: Melvin Gordon is going to debut after not playing last week in Miami, but he’s expected to split carries with Austin Ekeler. Philip Rivers now has another playmaker to work with in keeping defenses from keying on WR Keenan Allen. Denver still hasn’t won despite leading both their home games until the final play, losing by two points on a successful last-second field goal each time. The Broncos did get solid play from Joe Flacco last week and have looked better on offense of late as Courtland Sutton and Noah Fant have emerged more consistently. With Bradley Chubb lost for the season, Vic Fangio is likely going to have to let coordinate Rich Scangarello open things up more. The Chargers could be without Melvin Ingram, who is dealing with a hamstring injury, so a defense already compromised by losing safety Derwin James for the season might be vulnerable.
Packers at Cowboys (-3.5/47), 4:25 p.m. ET, FOX: WR Davante Adams and RB Jamaal Williams have been ruled out so the Packers are going to need Aaron Rodgers to be at his improvisational best on the road in Dallas. He should have tackle Bryan Buluaga in the mix after he left Green Bay’s last game with a shoulder injury. The Cowboys aren’t as fortunate since Tyron Smith has already been ruled out, forcing some shuffling up front. Dallas’ other tackle, RT La’el Collins is listed as questionable and won’t be at 100 percent. We’ll see if the threat of Ezekiel Elliott and Kellen Moore’s playcalling can overcome what should be a disadvantage up front. Given time, Dak Prescott should have some excellent options to throw to since Randall Cobb will be engaged against his former team and Michael Gallup is going to be back in action next to top target Amari Cooper. Green Bay has some depth-related issues in the secondary with CB Kevin King questionable and Tony Brown out. Safeties Adrian Amos and Will Redmond have been cleared to play. DT Montravius Adams and LBs Kyler Fackrell and Oren Burks are all questionable, so if the Packers can get them back, they’ll be in good shape to try and keep the Cowboys from finding a rhythm. Green Bay has won seven of the last eight regular-season meetings dating back to 2009 and now owns a 19-17 edge in the all-time series.
Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA