Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:56 AM

Sunday's Essentials - Week 6

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Panthers (-2.5/47.5) vs. Buccaneers, 9:30 p.m. ET, NFLN: The Raiders stunned the Bears in Tottenham Hotspur Stadium’s maiden NFL voyage last week. This NFC South showdown ensures we won’t see a major upset but we’ll hopefully get another exciting, competitive game. Tampa Bay is giving up a true home game here as they they attempt to sweep the season series from the Panthers, having taken advantage of a rough second half from Cam Newton to post a 20-14 Week 2 Thursday night win. Christian McCaffrey was denied a go-ahead touchdown at the 1-yard line late in that game but hasn’t been stopped effectively since, posting over 180 yards in three consecutive games, which includes a 237-yard, three-touchdown effort in last week’s win over Jacksonville.

Kyle Allen has benefited from McCaffrey’s brilliance in being able to settle in and comes in 3-0 in place of Newton. Jameis Winston has thrown for 969 yards and nine touchdowns against just two interceptions over the past three games since beating Carolina but has only gotten top receiver Mike Evans on track in one of Tampa’s five games to date. Evans failed to catch a pass and was only targeted three times in last week’s loss in New Orleans, so Winston is going to go out of his way to ensure he gets going early. Mother Nature will also have to supply permission for Evans to truly get involved since rain is expected in North London throughout most of the contest. Carolina has had to do some reshuffling on both sides of the ball with guard Trai Turner still sidelined and DT Kawann Short going down for the season. Tampa also has offensive line issues to mask but got good news in that NFL sack leader Shaquil Barrett (9) is expected to play through an oblique injury.

Bengals at Ravens (-11/48.5), 1 p.m. ET, CBS: Since opening with that 59-10 rout in Miami, the Ravens haven’t covered a single spread. Last week’s OT win at the Steelers ended in a push ATS and snapped a two-game losing streak after surrendering 73 combined points in falling against the Chiefs and Browns. With games against the Seahawks and Patriots scheduled the next two weeks, it’s important that they don’t overlook the winless Bengals as they visit on what’s expected to be a cloudy day in Baltimore. The ‘over’ is 4-1 on the season in Baltimore games as Lamar Jackson and the offense have continued producing, helping average 32.2 points per game for the season.

Cincinnati scored a season-high 23 points in falling at home against Kyler Murray-led Arizona last week. That number matches the Ravens’ lowest-scoring output of the season. Zac Taylor’s offense has struggled to take shape and has clearly missed the presence of top WR A.J. Green, who will remain out in Week 6. Offensive line play has been a hinderance that could resurface in Baltimore since veteran tackle Andre Smith has been ruled out in addition to Cordy Glenn (concussion), who hasn’t played in nearly two months. Andy Dalton will have to rely on the screen game while picking his spots on when to take shots downfield considering he isn’t likely to get a lot of protection. Ravens rookie WR Marquise “Hollywood” Brown has been ruled out with an ankle issue while safety Tony Jefferson was ruled out the rest of the season after tearing his ACL last week. Cincy is going to be thin up front with Carlos Dunlap, Kerry Winn and Ryan Glasnow all ruled out.

Seahawks at Browns (PK/46.5), 1 p.m. ET, FOX: There will be some wind gusts for Russell Wilson and Baker Mayfield to deal with, but sunny weather means both should settle in as they attempt to produce in a matchup that ranks among Sunday’s most highly anticipated games. Seattle has scored 27 or more points in four straight but must overcome issues up front against a Myles Garrett-led pass rush since tackle Duane Brown (biceps) isn’t expected to play and guards D.J. Fluker and Ethan Pocic have already been ruled out. Wilson will likely be forced into buying time for his receivers and will have the benefit of RB Chris Carson lining up beside him despite limited participation in practice this past week due to shoulder trouble. Seattle has won and covered in both road games, but the Browns represent a step up in caliber of competition from the Steelers and Cardinals.

Mayfield and the Cleveland offense looked terrible on Monday night, scoring just three points in a 31-3 loss to San Francisco, the team’s second setback by 28 or more points this season. The Browns’ defense will again be without top corner Denzel Ward and impact rookie Greedy Williams, leaving the team vulnerable in the back if Wilson is successful in buying time to throw. Mayfield is looking to find a rhythm with Odell Beckham, Jr. and Jarvis Landry since he comes in completing just 55.9 percent of passes and a league-high eight interceptions. Head coach Freddie Kitchens still has the support of a fan base that’s hoping for the best, but if the production doesn’t pick up -- the Browns have scored just 13 points apiece in both home losses thus far – expect the Dawg Pound to start turning against him.

Texans at Chiefs (-4/55), 1 p.m. ET, CBS: Patrick Mahomes made the decision early in the week that he’d be fine for this one after in-game ankle injuries limited his mobility in contributing to last Sunday night’s upset loss to Indianapolis, but we’re about to find out just how much mobility has been restored. WR Tyreek Hill is hoping to return from a collarbone injury suffered in the season opener, which would really help Mahomes since WR Sammy Watkins has been ruled out with a hamstring issue and offensive line play has been a concern.

Conditions for a shootout between Mahomes and Deshaun Watson, picked 10th and 12th in the 2017 NFL draft, look good. Minimal wind will be present and temperatures will be in the low 60s at Arrowhead, as the Texans look to build on a 53-point outburst in beating the Falcons last week. Houston has performed well on the road, covering in losing at the gun in New Orleans in the season’s opening Monday night game while winning outright at the Chargers three weeks ago. Will Fuller stepped up last week as defenses continue to focus on DeAndre Hopkins, while TE Jordan Akins has also flashed. New addition Kenny Stills is hoping to return from a hamstring injury and will be a game-time decision. The Chiefs are hoping to bounce back from their lowest-scoring output since November of 2017, before Mahomes took over Alex Smith.

Saints at Jaguars (-2.5/42.5), 1 p.m. ET, CBS: All eyes are on the availability of Saints star WR Alvin Kamara, who made the trip to Jacksonville despite an ankle injury and is expected to play. He’s made life easier on QBs Teddy Bridgewater and Taysom Hill, so if he’s unable to go, the Jaguars would offer tremendous value as a slight favorite. Following home wins over the Cowboys and Bucs in which the defense made sizeable contributions, Sean Payton is hoping that Bridgewater can return to his home state and build off becoming the first Saints’ QB not named Drew Brees to throw four touchdown passes in last week’s 31-24 conquest of Tampa Bay. His task will be made more difficult if Jalen Ramsey follows through on his intent to play, returning from back pain that intensified after he requested a trade and expressed his displeasure with the organization.

The offense has unexpectedly become the focal point for Jacksonville due to the emergence of rookie QB Gardner Minshew and top target D.J. Chark, not to mention the fact a slimmer, more explosive Leonard Fournette has had some impressive performances. Minshew is dealing with a groin issue but will play, hoping to foster a new connection with a tight end since the productive James O’Shaughnessy tore his ACL. He was leading the Jags in red-zone targets. Backup tight end Josh Oliver is also out, so Jacksonville is really thin at that spot. Conditions will be clear in North Florida with temperatures in the mid-to-high 80’s expected.

Eagles at Vikings (-3.5/44.5), 1 p.m. ET, FOX: The loser of this game will find themselves unexpectedly 3-3, so this should be a physical, competitive affair between two of the more highly-regarded teams in the wide open NFC. Carson Wentz has produced three games of 30 or more points despite injuries to multiple key receivers, so he should be fine without DeSean Jackson back. Trusted RB Darren Sproles is also going to be sidelined, which means more work for Jordan Howard and rookie Miles Sanders, both of whom have made strides of late.

Philadelphia has had issues with its secondary, which gives Kirk Cousins an opportunity to prove he can handle the challenge of performing well in this type of game. Cousins has really struggled against teams with winning records and was called the weak link of the Vikes’ offense this week by Eagles LB Zack Brown. He’ll have Adam Thielen in the mix after connecting with him seven times for 130 yards and two scores last week and needs to continue to keep Stefon Diggs happy in order to help alleviate concerns over his early-season struggles. Philadelphia wants to keep Dalvin Cook from creating manageable second and third downs for Cousins’ and the offense, so expect the playcalling on first to be the x-factor in this one since the Eagles have excelled against the run thus far.

Redskins (-4/42.5) at Dolphins, 1 p.m. ET, FOX: This brutal matchup between winless teams features teams that have also managed to be 1-8 against the spread despite the benefit of large numbers placed by bookmakers hoping to land some action against substantial favorites. The ‘Skins dumped Jay Gruden, putting Bill Callahan back in the spotlight as the interim coach. The difference between these two organizations seems to be that ownership wants to win while the Dolphins are happily tanking for Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa, the top prize in this upcoming draft.

Callahan is expected to bench QB Colt McCoy, last week’s starter, in favor of Case Keenum and rookie Dwayne Haskins. Washington has been outscored 57-10 in losses to the Giants and Patriots the past few weeks, so picking up a demoralized group with a coaching change and the opportunity to hit the reset button should produce early results. I’d ride the visitors in a first-half bet here against a Miami squad that has been outscored 163-26 thus far. The Dolphins are coming off a bye week, their first under new head coach Brian Flores, but remain banged-up. Injuries to safety Reshad Jones and a number of corners could against leave Miami compromised in the secondary. Plenty of emply seats are expected in Miami Gardens.

49ers at Rams (-3/50.5), 4:05 p.m. ET, FOX: The Rams will look to survive without Todd Gurley available, which means Malcolm Brown will be elevated into a workhorse role and rookie Darrell Henderson should step into Brown’s change-of-pace role. Coming off consecutive losses to Tampa Bay and Seattle in which they’ve surrendered 85 points, replacing their running back may be the least of L.A.’s concerns as the unbeaten 49ers visit the Coliseum. Getting increased consistency from Jared Goff and improving a defensive effort that has surrendered eight touchdown passes over the past two games probably take priority if they’re going to slow down a Niners team that probably won’t be an underdog again for the rest of the month.

Jimmy Garoppolo got through his first game without an interception this season in Monday’s rout of the Browns, so he’ll look to put together back-to-back turnover-free games. Top target George Kittle, the key to many things that the Niners do on the offensive side of the ball, is expected to play despite being limited by a groin injury in practices and likely won’t be at 100 percent. Right tackle Matt McGlinchey will be out a few weeks with a knee issued and fullback Kyle Juszczyk is also sidelined, so Kyle Shanahan will have to go back to the drawing board for many of his blocking schemes and won’t have many preferred plays available.

Falcons at Cardinals (-2.5/52.5), 4:05 p.m. ET, FOX: Dan Quinn got the dreaded vote of confidence from owner Arthur Blank last weekend after the Falcons’ ugly loss to the Texans, so there’s no question that the pressure is on him to yield results or immediately or risk failing getting out of this month with his job. Since blowing a 28-3 lead in Super Bowl LI, Atlanta has gone 18-19 in regular-season games and enters this contest in Glendale favored regardless considering the Cardinals are still on the ground floor of Kliff Kingsbury’s rebuilding project while the Falcons are supposed to be a finished product. We’re going to see if that ends up with a new meaning in that they’re finished under Quinn once this one is over.

Kyler Murray and the Cardinals are coming of the first win of the Kingsbury era after holding on in Cincinnati. This will be the last game the Cardinals will play without suspended corner Patrick Peterson, which could spell trouble since Matt Ryan does have options out there since Arizona will likely have no choice but to shade coverage to Julio Jones with their top corner availability, which could mean big days for Mohamed Sanu or Calvin Ridley. The Falcons went from Houston to Arizona and have spent significant time together hoping to foster a better connection, so this is a big game for them. Arizona starts a pair of rookies in the back and has ranked near the bottom in most pass defense categories without its most talented player.

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA

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