NFL picks, predictions Week 5: Who will win Sunday games, Monday Night

By The Sports Xchange
NFL picks, predictions Week 5: Who will win Sunday games, Monday Night
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady returns this week from his four game Deflategate suspension. Photo by Gary C. Caskey/UPI | License Photo

New England Patriots (3-1) vs. Cleveland Browns (0-4)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland. TV -- CBS, Greg Gumbel, Trent Green, Jamie Erdahl


SERIES HISTORY: 23rd regular-season meeting. Browns lead the all-time series 12-10. Bill Belichick has seen both sides of this series, first leading the Browns to a 4-2 mark against the Patriots, including a Cleveland playoff win over Bill Parcells' New England squad after the 1994 season. Belichick has a 5-2 mark for the Patriots against his former squad, with both losses coming in trips to the Dawg Pound. The Browns 34-14 win in 2010 under Eric Mangini was a huge upset, and Cleveland came up just short of a surprise victory in the Patriots 27-26 win in Foxborough in the most recent meeting in 2013.


KEYS TO THE GAME: The focus of NFL followers will be on Patriots QB Tom Brady in his return from four-game banishment over the over-inflated, deflate-gate debacle. There are murmurs that Brady will take out his frustrations on opponents. Really? Ya mean he will play better as a 38-year old who sat out a quarter of the season? Truth is, the Pats should be able to beat the Browns regardless of who is at quarterback.

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That said, coach Hue Jackson has the Browns playing competitive football and this game is as big on the radar on an entire roster of players seeking validation as it is for Brady coming back. The Browns can't come up with coverage disguises Brady hasn't seen, so they must win the line of scrimmage to pull an upset. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton will keep a rotation going to keep his line fresh.

The Browns' pass protection improved over the last two weeks. That might allow rookie QB Cody Kessler to throw deep -- something he did not do against the Redskins.


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--Browns NT Danny Shelton vs. Patriots RB LeGarrette Blount. Big, bad Blount trails only the Browns' Isaiah Crowell among AFC rushers. Shelton can play a significant role in keeping his teammate on top even if he doesn't pile up tackles. Shelton will have a successful day if he clears blockers so the linebackers can make the tackles.


--Browns WR Terrelle Pryor vs. Patriots CB Malcolm Butler. Improbable highlight matchup of one-time starting NFL quarterback vs. former undrafted free agent who starred as rookie in Super Bowl. Pryor earned the respect of teams around the league in just his first full year as a wide receiver. This time he must beat Butler with his speed down the right side. Pryor at 6-foot-4 has a five-inch height advantage, but Butler, in his fifth season, has experience on his side. Butler has 19 passes defensed since 2015, most on team.


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--Out: RB Brandon Bolden (knee), QB Jacoby Brissett (right thumb), LB Shea McClellin (concussion)

--Questionable: RB LeGarrette Blount (hip), T Marcus Cannon (calf), WR Julian Edelman (foot), LB Jonathan Freeny (shoulder), QB Jimmy Garoppolo (right shoulder), TE Rob Gronkowski (hamstring), LB Dont'a Hightower (knee), G Joe Thuney (shoulder), DT Vincent Valentine (back)


--Out: WR Corey Coleman (hand), TE Seth DeValve (knee), C Cameron Erving (chest, lung), QB Josh McCown (left shoulder), C Austin Reiter (knee), TE Randall Telfer (ankle)


--Questionable: S Ibraheim Campbell (hamstring), DE Carl Nassib (hand), CB Tramon Williams (shoulder)

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Browns CB Jamar Taylor -- He intercepted a pass in each of the last two games and can expect Brady to test him early. Taylor was a 2013 second-round draft pick by the Miami Dolphins who was acquired by the Browns during the 2016 draft. That means Brady prepared for him six times over the last three seasons.

FAST FACTS: Pats QB Brady is 5-1 in career starts vs. Browns; he passed for 418 yards in the most recent meeting. ... Pats RB LeGarrette Blount won AFC Offensive Player of Month for September. He ranks third in the NFL with 352 rush yards, and he is tied for third with four rushing TDs. ... Browns RB Isiah Crowell ranks second in the NFL with 386 rushing yards. He ran for 331 yards (110.3 per game) and three TDs in his past three at home.

PREDICTION: It would make the Browns' season to get an upset while the nation is watching the return of Tom Brady. That would make a great story after the game, but there is no realistic reason to predict that before they play.


OUR PICK: Patriots, 35-21

--Frank Cooney

Philadelphia Eagles (3-0) vs. Detroit Lions (1-4)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Ford Field, Detroit. TV -- FOX, Thom Brennaman, Charles Davis, Chris Spielman, Peter Schrager

SERIES HISTORY: 33rd regular-season meeting. Eagles lead the series, 16-14-2. The Lions beat the Eagles last Thanksgiving, 45-14, but have lost seven of nine in the series overall. The most historic meeting between the teams was in 1995, when the Eagles beat the Lions in the playoffs, 58-37. The Lions threw six interceptions in the game, including two that were returned for touchdowns.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Eagles rookie QB Carson Wentz has been one of the best storylines through the first four weeks of the NFL season, throwing five touchdown passes without an interception in the Eagles' 3-0 start. But the Lions are determined to make Wentz win or lose the game this week. Philadelphia has averaged 32 rushing plays in its first three games, and the Lions want to make the Eagles a one-dimensional offense. If the Lions can do that, perhaps they can get their so-so pass rush going.


The Lions have struggled to run the ball since Ameer Abdullah's injury. They need to protect QB Matthew Stafford against coach Jim Schwartz' aggressive defense, and that starts with nullifying LB Fletcher Cox in the middle. If that happens, then they can turn the game over to WR Marvin Jones downfield.


--Lions DE Devin Taylor vs. Eagles RT Lane Johnson. The Lions have four sacks over the last two weeks, but they haven't been able to generate any real pass rush with Ziggy Ansah (ankle) sidelined. Taylor, in particular, has been quiet since his 1.5-sack game against the Tennessee Titans. This week, he has a tough test against Johnson, who's expected to play while he awaits a decision on the appeal of his 10-game suspension for violating the league's policy on performance enhancing drugs.

--Eagles CB Leodis McKelvin vs. Lions WR Marvin Jones. Matthew Stafford threw five touchdown passes as the Lions had their way with the Eagles last Thanksgiving, but he has a much taller task this year against a revamped secondary. Jones is second in the NFL with 482 yards receiving, and he's been the Lions' only real threat at receiver with Golden Tate struggling. McKelvin hasn't played since Week 1 because of a hamstring injury but is expected back on Sunday.




--Questionable: DT Bennie Logan (calf)


--Out: DE Ezekiel Ansah (ankle), TE Eric Ebron (ankle, knee), LB DeAndre Levy (quadriceps, knee)

--Doubtful: RB Dwayne Washington (ankle)

--Questionable: S Don Carey (ribs), WR Marvin Jones (foot), S Tavon Wilson (neck)

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Eagles TE Trey Burton -- The Eagles are expected to use a lot of three-tight end sets Sunday featuring Zach Ertz, who missed two games with a rib injury, Brent Celek and Burton. Burton, a former college wide receiver and quarterback, had five catches and a touchdown in the Eagles' Week 2 win over Chicago. Ertz is a proven weapon, but if the Lions are caught in a base defense they will have trouble covering these talented catchers.

FAST FACTS: Eagles DE Brandon Graham aims for a fourth consecutive game with a sack. ... Philadelphia DE Vinny Curry had two sacks in the teams' last meeting. ... Lions QB Matthew Stafford passed for 337 yards, five TDs and a 137.8 rating in the last meeting. He recorded a 100-plus rating in three of his past four home games. ... Detroit RB Theo Riddick had five receptions for 62 yards and one TD in the last meeting.


PREDICTION: Kid Carson is tough to bet against, for those foolish enough to bet.

OUR PICK: Eagles, 21-14

--Frank Cooney


KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis. TV -- FOX, Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews

SERIES HISTORY: 42nd regular season meeting. Colts lead series, 22-19. The Colts have never beaten Chicago in Indianapolis (0-2 at Hoosier/RCA Dome and 0-1 at Lucas Oil Stadium). The Bears won six of the last eight meetings, including post-season. Chicago won the last two regular-season games, posting a 29-13 win at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sept. 7, 2008 and later notching a 41-21 victory at Soldier Field on Sept. 9, 2012. Indianapolis' last win in the regular-season (41-10) occurred on Nov. 21, 2004 at Soldier Field. The two franchises met in Super Bowl XLI with the Colts coming away with a 29-17 win at Miami's Dolphin Stadium as former QB Peyton Manning completed 25-of-38 passes for 247 yards and a TD to earn game MVP honors. The Colts are 11-9 as a franchise against Chicago in home games and 11-10 on the road.


KEYS TO THE GAME: Bears backup QB Brian Hoyer was excellent for a second consecutive start last week while Jay Cutler (thumb) watched, and head coach John Fox sounds content keeping it that way. Hoyer is completing 69.1 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and no interceptions, and this week he stares down a Colts' defense allowing more than 7.5 yards per reception with only one interception in four games. The Bears liked what they saw from rookie first-time starter Jordan Howard last week and his powerful style fits Fox's preferred run-first approach.

The Bears could do even more running with second-year WR Kevin White headed back to injured reserve, although injuries in the secondary make the Colts' defensive backfield an inviting target. One touchdown and two field goals is all the Colts have mustered in the first quarter, continuing a theme of slow starts under coach Chuck Pagano. QB Andrew Luck, sacked six times last week in London by the Jaguars, suffers behind a below-average front five again and is nursing a sore shoulder. Being hit 32 times, sacked 15 this season, Luck still managed to completed 103 of-166 passes for 1,147 yards and eight TDs, but a man can take only so much.


Chicago is not fully healthy on defense and although the Bears held the pass-happy Detroit Lions in check last week, Luck has the weapons to have a huge day.


--Bears CB Jacoby Glenn, who had his first career interception last week, vs. Colts WR Ty Hilton, who has been targeted 44 times. In passing situations -- which should be most of the game against the Colts -- Glenn has played and Bryce Callahan has moved inside to nickel. Glenn has been a safer option than Deiondre' Hall, who has been feast or famine. Glenn is rangy but may not have the closing speed to stay downfield with Hilton. He'll have to get help. Hilton has been targeted more than twice as much as any other Colts receiver, so it's a bit like Alshon Jeffery has been with the Bears. The Bears have to make Luck prove that he can beat them with other receivers, so getting either safety Adrian Amos or Harold Jones-Quartey over the top to provide Glenn with help is critical.

--Bears LT Charles Leno Jr., who is coming off his best game of the season, vs. Colts OLB Robert Mathis, who has no sacks this season. At age 35, it's possible Mathis could finally be showing his age. Leno had a strong day as a run blocker against the Lions as some of Jordan Howard's best runs came to his side. And Ferguson's pass blocking, a question much of last year, has been steady when it's kept simple -- he suffers when the blitz comes to his side making responsibilities more complicated. Mathis had two sacks in his last game against the Bears four years ago.




--Out: WR Kevin White (ankle)

--Doubtful: QB Jay Cutler (right thumb), DT Eddie Goldman (ankle), CB Deiondre' Hall (ankle), RB Jeremy Langford (ankle)

--Questionable: DE Jonathan Bullard (shoulder), RB Ka'Deem Carey (hamstring), LB Leonard Floyd (calf), WR Alshon Jeffery (knee), LB Nick Kwiatkoski (elbow), T Charles Leon (illness), CB Sherrick McManis (hamstring), TE Zach Miller (ribs), CB Tracy Porter (knee), WR Eddie Royal (calf), G Josh Sitton (shoulder), LB Danny Trevathan (thumb), LB Willie Young (knee)


--Out: C Jonotthan Harrison (illness), WR Donte Moncrief (shoulder)

--Questionable: CB Darius Butler (hamstring), T Denzelle Good (back), LB Robert Mathis (foot), T Joe Reitz (back), RB Robert Turbin (wrist, shoulder)

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Colts OLB Akeem Ayers -- The former Titans, Patriots and Rams linebacker will be asked to give Indianapolis quality minutes as he steps in as Robert Mathis' rotational backup as rush outside linebacker. With Trent Cole on injured reserve (back), Ayers will be needed to help provide pass rush help for a defense that continues to struggle. He has five total tackles in limited playing during his four games this year.


FAST FACTS: Bears QB Brian Hoyer passed for 302 yards, two TDs and a 120.1 rating last week. ... Nifty Bears WR/PR Eddie Royal had seven receptions for 111 yards and a TD in Week 4. ... The Colts have allowed 375 hits on QB Andrew Luck from 2012-16, the most in the NFL. ... Indianapolis has 12 touchdowns on 13 red-zone possessions. ... The Colts have allowed an AFC-worst 125 points this season.

PREDICTION: The Colts are cornered and need to show home crowd they remember how to win.

OUR PICK: Colts, 28-14

--Frank Cooney

Tennessee Titans (1-3) vs. Miami Dolphins (1-3)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Fla. TV -- CBS, Andrew Catalon, Steve Tasker, Steve Beuerlein

SERIES HISTORY: 25th regular-season meeting. Miami leads, 19-5. Miami hammered the Titans, 38-10, last seson. The game was an emotional boost for Miami as interim coach Dan Campbell, in his first game taking over for fired Joe Philbin, rallied the team with his hard-as-nails approach to football. The Dolphins showed swag for the first time in a long time.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Hurricane Matthew, which could make landfall in South Florida late Thursday night, could impact the game in some way, whether a change in practice, venue or time. The NFL is monitoring the situation and, so far, there are no plans to move or reschedule the game.


"Our biggest thing is just making sure everybody's being smart," Miami coach Adam Gase said. "We want the safety of our players and our staff and the people in our building to make sure that everybody is doing the right thing, making sure they're putting themselves in a position to where we get everybody back safe and sound. The Dolphins planned on giving players the day off Thursday even before the hurricane threat."

The Dolphins offense, meanwhile, is little more than a light breeze. Miami, tied for 29th in rushing yards per game (77.8), must get its running game going. Arian Foster (hamstring) will miss his third consecutive game so the duties will be left to the unproven foursome of Kenyan Drake, Jay Ajayi, Damien Williams and Isaiah Pead in some form or fashion.

The Dolphins remain unbalanced offensively with 138 passes compared to 74 rushing attempts, but with center Mike Pouncey (hip) back in the lineup they should help. Better balance on the offensive attack figures to make Miami better at third down conversions (26.7 percent, last in the NFL), too.


Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill was sacked five times in the team's Week 4 loss to Cincinnati. Since his debut in 2012, Tannehill was sacked five or more time in 13 games, the most of any quarterback in the league.

Last week, the Titans fell to the Texans, 27-20, after yielding 359 total net yards to Houston at NRG Stadium (244 in the air and 115 on the ground). Tennessee has now allowed 300 or more yards in a franchise-record tying 13 straight games, and has gone 3-10 in those games.


--Dolphins' third-down offense vs. Titans' defense. Miami has blamed many of its offensive woes on its inability to convert third downs (26.7 percent, last in NFL). The Dolphins struggle on pass protection (11 sacks allowed, tied for 7th-worst) and on the ground (77.8 yards per game, 29th in NFL). That means they must overcome their patterns to show progress.

--Dolphins' pass rush vs. Tennessee QB Marcus Mariota. Miami's 10 sacks are tied for ninth in the NFL. But the pass rush hasn't yet taken over a game. DEs Cam Wake (1.0 sack) and Mario Williams (1.0 sack) haven't yet flexed their muscle. DT Ndamukong Suh (1.5 sacks) has been impressive but more against the run than the pass. Miami's blitz packages haven't yet been effective as many teams have utilized three-step drops to minimize the pass rush risk. Miami must find a way to make its best asset a factor.




--Out: CB Cody Riggs (hamstring), S Da'Norris Searcy (ankle), DT Al Woods (calf)

--Questionable: TE Jace Amaro (shoulder)


--Out: TE Jordan Cameron (concussion), CB Xavien Howard (knee), LB Koa Misi (neck); RB Arian Foster

--Questionable: T Branden Albert (ankle, illness), LB Jelani Jenkins (groin), C Mike Pouncey (hip), G Anthony Steen (ankle)

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Dolphins CB Byron Maxwell -- After being torched by Browns QB-turned-WR Terrelle Pryor, Maxwell was benched in favor of second-year CB Tony Lippett against Cincinnati. That the plan didn't work well. Bengals WR A.J. Green had 10 receptions for 173 yards on Lippett and rookie CB Xavien Howard. On Wednesday Howard Howard didn't practice because of a sore knee. Coach Adam Gase clearly wasn't happy with Maxwell but he is clearly a better player than Lippett. It's an interesting dilemma for Gase.

FAST FACTS: Titans RB DeMarco Murray leads Tennessee with 19 receptions. He is the only running back who leads his team in receptions this season, and he could become the first Titan to do so since Chris Johnson (44) in 2010. ... Miami has been outscored 59-23 in the first half of its four games this season and trailed at halftime in each game.


PREDICTION: In a game between two teams that lose more than their share, not sure if we are picking who we expect to win or who we expect to lose.

OUR PICK: Titans, 21-17

--Frank Cooney


KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore. TV -- FOX, Sam Rosen, Daryl Johnston, Laura Okmin

SERIES HISTORY: Sixth meeting for teams that are virtually neighborhood rivals. The Ravens lead the all-time series against the Redskins, 3-2, with four of the previous five games taking place at Washington. In the most recent meeting on December 9, 2012, the Redskins scored a touchdown with just 29 seconds remaining to send the game to overtime, when a Kai Forbath field goal lifted Washington to a 31-28 victory.

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Redskins are hurting on defense and should have a rough time with Ravens QB Joe Flacco. There's no guarantee that Donte Whitmer will be ready to contribute right away at safety and cornerback Bashaud Breeland is out the second week in a row. Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger dominated Washington in the season opener in part by staying away from cornerback Josh Norman. New York's Eli Manning had similar success.


The Ravens are coming off their first loss of 2016. Oakland edged them at Baltimore last week, 28-27. It was the 18th time in their last 20 games that the Ravens played a game that was decided by eight points or fewer. And over that span, the average final margin of all 20 games has been just 6.15 points.

By going 21-for-27 last week, Redskins QB Kirk Cousins improved his career completion percentage to 65.3 (65.304), inching ahead of Peyton Manning (65.299) and Tony Romo (65.251) for the fourth-highest mark in NFL history among quarterbacks with at least 1,000 attempts.

Ravens QB Joe Flacco completed 32 of 52 passes in Week 4, but the Ravens are now 0-5 in Flacco's career when he makes at least 52 attempts, as well as 0-7 when he completes at least 32 passes. Flacco has connected on just one pass that gained at least 25 yards over his last two starts.


--Ravens WR Steve Smith, who has a team-high 24 catches and 37 targets at age 37, vs. Redskins cornerback Josh Norman, who has an interception, a forced fumble and eight passes defended in four games.


--Redskins LT Trent Williams, a four-time Pro Bowler who is off to another fine start in 2016, vs. Ravens OLB Terrell Suggs, who has a team-high three sacks in his comeback year at age 33 from a torn Achilles tendon.



--Out: CB Bashaud Breeland (ankle), S Su'a Cravens (concussion), WR Josh Doctson (Achilles), CB Dashaun Phillips (hamstring)

--Questionable: LB Ryan Kerrigan (elbow), G Shawn Lauvao (ankle)


--Doubtful: T Ronnie Stanley (foot)

--Questionable: RB Kenneth Dixon (knee), WR Devin Hester (thigh), CB Sheldon Price (thigh)

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Redskins PK Dustin Hopkins -- He already earned NFC special-teams player of the week and month honors this season. He nailed a 49-yard field goal in the win over Cleveland on Sunday and is now 12-for-12 on the season. Hopkins helped Washington weather red zone struggles early this season (36.8 percent, 29th overall). He hasn't missed an extra point, either. Hopkins has made all four of his field goals taken beyond 40 yards, but has yet to attempt one past the 50.

FAST FACTS: Washington must find a way to get off the field on third down. Opponents are converting third downs at a 57.5 clip, worst in the league by far -- a whopping 10 percentage points behind No. 31 Detroit (47 percent). ... Ravens RB Terrance West is coming off his finest game as a pro, rushing a career-high 113 yards against the Raiders last week. It was his first 100-yard performance since making his NFL debut with exactly 100 rushing yards in Week 1 of 2014. West also established career highs last week with six rushing first downs and four carries that gained at least 10 yards.


PREDICTION: After a close loss to the visiting Raiders last week, the Ravens should be rude hosts to their next-door neighbor.

OUR PICK: Ravens, 38-17

--Frank Cooney

Houston Texans (3-1) AT Minnesota Vikings (4-0)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis. TV -- CBS, Spero Dedes, Solomon Wilcots

SERIES HISTORY: 4th regular-season meeting. Vikings lead series, 3-0. Vikings are 1-0 at home with a 28-21 win in 2008 at the Metrodome.

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Texans hold a two-game lead in the AFC South entering Week 5 but Houston was demolished in Week 3 at New England when it was last on the road, and draws the NFL's stingiest defense this week. The Vikings have a plus-10 turnover differential and allow only 12.5 points per game (second in the NFL) thanks to a consistently strong defense.

Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler steps into the lair of a Vikings' defense holding opposing quarterbacks to a collective QB rating of 67.6. Vikings QB Sam Bradford ranks third in the league in passer rating (105.6) and completion percentage (69.5) despite being in town barely one month.


The plan is simple, but has been perfectly executed: Stop the run, attack the quarterback, don't make mistakes on offense and control field position with special teams. That plan has won the Vikings four games so far. Although the Vikings' league-leading pass rush (15 sacks) didn't sack Eli Manning on Monday night, it still played a significant role in disrupting the Giants' rhythm on offense.

The Giants used short drops and quick throws, and Manning looked rushed the whole game and never got on track with Odell Beckham Jr., who was held to a career-low 23 yards receiving.


--Vikings CB Xavier Rhodes vs. Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins: Yes, rookie Will Fuller is getting a lot of attention as the new receiver/returner in Houston. Last year, when Hopkins caught 111 balls for 1,521 yards and 11 touchdowns, he had only two games in which he was targeted fewer than nine times. This year, he's been targeted fewer than nine times in three of four games. He's the more polished and experience route runner, so don't be surprised if Rhodes, the big corner with a confident swag, shadows him. Rhodes was the primary defender when the Vikings held the Giants' Odell Beckham Jr. to a career-low 23 yards receiving on Monday night.


--Vikings RB Jerick McKinnon vs. Texans ILB Bernardrick McKinney: McKinney leads Houston in tackles with 38. The Vikings went into Monday night averaging a league-worst 51 yards per game rushing with a league-worst 2.1 average per carry. But the Giants gave them some favorable run looks and the Vikings were able to surpass 100 yards (104) for the first time this season.

McKinnon is a small runner, but deceptively powerful with a thick lower body. He likes to run between the tackles and is able to slip through cracks. McKinney needs to fill those cracks quickly.



--Out: TE Stephen Anderson (hamstring), RB Jonathan Grimes (ankle)

--Questionable: T Duane Brown (knee), CB Kareem Jackson (hamstring)


--Out: DT Sharrif Floyd (knee), TE David Morgan (knee), T Andre Smith (elbow)

--Doubtful: WR Stefon Diggs (groin), TE Rhett Ellison (knee)

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph -- He has caught one touchdown in each of the three games he's played with Bradford at quarterback, and behind Stefon Diggs is operating as Minnesota's No. 2 receiver. With 25 career touchdown catches, Rudolph needs four more to surpass Steve Jordan's team record


FAST FACTS: Over the past 15 seasons, Texans WR Will Fuller is one of only four rookies to have both a touchdown reception and a punt-return touchdown in the same game. ... The Vikings are 4-0 for the first time since 2009.

PREDICTION: Minnesota quickly assembled a bullying defense, and based on Houston's showing at New England two weeks ago, the Vikings have the edge as long as the offense remains mistake-free.

OUR PICK: Vikings, 23-17

--Jeff Reynolds.

New York Jets (1-3) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (3-1)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Heinz Field, Pittsburgh. TV -- CBS, Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts, Evan Washburn

SERIES HISTORY: 23rd regular-season meeting. Steelers lead series, 17-5. Steelers are 9-1 at home against the Jets, including a 24-19 victory in the 2011 AFC Championship Game at Heinz Field. The Jets' only victory in Pittsburgh came one month before that title game on Dec. 19, 2010.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Jets QB Ryan Fitzpatrick has tossed nine interceptions over the past two games, and that was despite being very cautious at the outset of last week's game against the Steelers. While the Jets need Fitzpatrick to reign in the turnovers, they also can't afford for him to be timid in pulling the trigger. Pittsburgh enters with the fourth-ranked defense while giving up an average of 316.5 passing yards per game, and Fitzpatrick will have to keep pace with the Steelers' high octane offense. Opponents are averaging 4.0 yards per carry against Pittsburgh, but the Jets' ability to remain competitive lies directly with Fitzpatrick moving the ball through the air while avoiding picks. And he continues to work against a stacked deck with wide receivers Eric Decker and Jalin Marshall still sitting out practice midweek due to shoulder injuries.


Just as concerning to the Jets is their secondary, which continues to suffer communication and assignment breakdowns, with several receivers roaming free downfield against Seattle. Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has already thrown 11 touchdown passes and will pick apart the Jets' secondary if given the time, especially with cornerback Darrelle Revis (hamstring) questionable. That puts a big onus on New York's defensive line to dominate the trenches. The Steelers have struggled to run theball at times this season, although Le'Veon Bell is back from suspension and on fresh legs. The Jets enter with the league's second-best run defense and must be able to get after Big Ben on long passing downs.


--Steelers OLBs Arthur Moats/Jarvis Jones vs. Jets RB Matt Forte: Forte leads the Jets with 288 yards on 81 carries, but his value is just as important in the passing game as he has teamed with backup Bilal Powell for 26 receptions for 186 yards. They are important safety nets for Fitzpatrick and can help serve to slow down the Steelers' pressure schemes that were so effective in last week's blowout of Kansas City. Jones is questionable with an ankle injury.


--Steelers LG B.J. Finney vs. Jets NT Steve McClendon: Finney is expected to get his second consecutive start with Ramon Foster still recovering from a chest injury. The former undrafted rookie and practice squad member played solidly against Kansas City last week. McClendon signed with the Jets this offseason after spending his first six seasons with the Steelers. He has a pair of sacks through four games and will team with RDE Muhammad Wilkerson in attempting to exploit Finney's inexperience.



--Out: TE Braedon Bowman (knee), WR Eric Decker (shoulder), QB Bryce Petty (right shoulder), G Brian Winters (concussion)

--Doubtful: WR Jalin Marshall (shoulder), CB Darrelle Revis (hamstring)

--Questionable: WR Quincy Enunwa (knee)


--Out: CB Justin Gilbert (knee), T Marcus Gilbert (ankle), S Robert Golden (hamstring), CB Senquez Golson (foot), T Ryan Harris (shin), RB Roosevelt Nix (back), WR Eli Rogers (toe), LB Ryan Shazier (knee), C Cody Wallace (knee)

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Jets WR Quincy Enunwa -- Quick, who leads the Jets in receptions? That would be Enunwa, whose 23 catches for 243 yards is well ahead of Brandon Marshall's 16 catches. The 6-2, 225-pound third-year player is a versatile athlete the Jets even use as a tight end in some packages.


FAST FACTS: Jets QB Ryan Fitzpatrick is on pace to throw 40 interceptions for the season. The NFL single-season record is 42, set by George Blanda in 1962. ... Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger has thrown 18 touchdown passes in his past five home games and aims for his sixth consecutive home game with at least three touchdown passes. Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Dan Marino, Blanda and Tom Brady are the only quarterbacks to throw five-plus touchdown passes at least five times in a career.

PREDICTION: Ben Roethlisberger has been nearly unstoppable in his past six home games, and this sets up as a scary matchup for the Jets' 27th-ranked pass defense that could be minus Darrelle Revis. And Ryan Fitzpatrick being asked to go punch for punch in a shootout is a dangerous concept right now.

OUR PICK: Steelers, 34-23

--Derek Harper

Atlanta Falcons (3-1) vs. Denver Broncos (4-0)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET, Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver. TV -- FOX, Chris Myers, John Lynch, Pam Oliver


SERIES HISTORY: 14th regular-season meeting. Broncos lead series, 8-5. Falcons have won two of the past three. Most historic meeting between these two teams was on Jan. 31, 1999, when John Elway's MVP performance in his final game before retirement as a player powered the Broncos to a 34-19 win in Super Bowl XXXIII, giving them back-to-back world championships.

KEYS TO THE GAME: This is the litmus test many are pointing to for the Falcons' offense, which enters the game leading the league in scoring, total yards and passing yards. Oh, and sports a two-headed ground attack averaging 124.5 yards per game. Quarterback Matt Ryan appears very comfortable in Year 2 in coordinator Kyle Shanahan's scheme, bolstered by veteran additions to the offensive line and receiving corps. It's up to Denver's fourth-ranked defense to shut down RBs Devonte Freeman and Tevin Coleman and then knock Ryan out of that comfort zone. The challenge for the Broncos is Ryan has a bevy of options to play catch with at all three levels of the field.

Broncos QB Trevor Siemian will be out of this game as he recovers from a sprained left non-throwing shoulder. Rookie Paxton Lynch will get the call in his absence. It doesn't seem to matter too much who the Broncos put behind center, so long as they avoid turnovers Denver continues to move the ball. The includes pushing the ball vertically more often the past two weeks with teams daring them to throw. Atlanta's glaring weakness is a pass defense that lacks a consistent rush or strong coverage outside of Pro Bowler Dezmond Trufant. Robert Alford, who is trying to hold off C.J. Wilson on the other side, will be a popular target.



--Falcons WR Julio Jones vs. Broncos CB Aqib Talib. When the Saints double-teamed Julio Jones two weeks ago, he was limited to one catch while Ryan spread the ball to eight other wide receivers. Carolina opted to go man-to-man on Jones, and all he did was rack up 300 receiving yards. Talib has three interceptions already and the Broncos like to leave their cornerbacks on an island, although whoever is on Jones could receive safety help after Denver was burned by Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown for 16 catches f or 189 yards and two scores last December.

--Falcons MLB Deion Jones vs. Broncos RBs C.J. Anderson/Devontae Booker. Atlanta's hard-hitting rookie has made an early impact, tying with safety Kemal Ishmael for the team lead in tackles with 30 and knocking Panthers quarterback Cam Newton into the concussion protocol with a jarring hit at the goal line last week. Anderson leads the Broncos with three touchdown runs but is averaging just 3.5 yards per carry, while Booker enters with a 4.0-yard average.



--Out: LB De'Vondre Campbell (ankle), LB Deion Jones (ankle), LB Paul Worrilow (groin)



--Out: LB DeMarcus Ware (forearm), CB Kayvon Webster (hamstring); QB Trevor Siemian (shoulder)

--Questionable: TE Virgil Green (calf), S Shiloh Keo (knee), T Donald Stephenson (calf)

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Broncos DE Derek Wolfe -- With 2.5 sacks against Tampa Bay, Wolfe ran his total to four through four games, and now has 10 sacks in his last 11 games (including postseason) dating back to last year. He has posted at least a half sack in 11 of his past 14 games, an impressive accomplishment for a three- and five-technique defensive end in a 3-4 alignment, and has shown no signs of missing Malik Jackson, his defensive-line partner who signed with the Jaguars in the offseason.

FAST FACTS: Falcons DE Dwight Freeney has eihgt sacks in his past eight games. ... In 19 career games against the NFC, Broncos OLB Von Miller has 20 sacks and six forced fumbles. ... The Broncos lead the NFL with a plus-39 scoring margin in the fourth quarter this season.

PREDICTION: Atlanta's offense has the feel of an unstoppable locomotive as the Falcons enter averaging 38 points per game, while Denver doesn't know which one of its inexperienced quarterbacks will be behind center. However, Atlanta is traditionally a different animal on the road, much less against the league's most feared pass rushing unit that can quickly create short fields for its offense.


OUR PICK: Broncos, 26-23

--Derek Harper

Cincinnati Bengals (2-2) vs. Dallas Cowboys (3-1)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas. TV -- CBS, Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Tracy Wolfson

SERIES HISTORY: 12th regular-season meeting. Cowboys lead series, 7-4, including 5-1 as the home team. The Bengals haven't beaten the Cowboys in Dallas since a 38-24 win in 1988.

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Bengals are No. 9 in total defense, but with MLB Vontaze Burfict back from a three-game suspension, the Cowboys anticipate colliding with a rugged bunch on Sunday afternoon. Invited by coach Marvin Lewis to get the "big boy pads" on, Cincinnati will gear up to stop rookie RB Ezekiel Elliott and force rookie QB Dak Prescott to win the game. That strategy would be cinched if Cowboys WR Dez Bryant (knee) sits a second consecutive game.

Prescott has 132 pass attempts without an interception in four games but Brice Butler and Terrance Williams can't replace Bryant. Cincinnati needs to convert touchdowns in the red zone, not field goals, which has been the result of nine of the team's 13 trips inside the opponents' 20-yard line this season. It would help to get TE Tyler Eifert (13 touchdowns last season) back on the field, but he missed the first four games with an ankle injury and has been ruled out for Sunday.


The Bengals have moved the ball between the 20s as well as any team in the NFL, but with running game slumping, Cincinnati is struggling to find the end zone. Defensively, the Bengals need to control Cowboys TE Jason Witten, especially on third down which Dallas has converted 50 percent of the time. The Bengals also can't afford a big game from Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott. If the Bengals can convert red zone trips into TDs and limit big plays by Elliott, it should be a close game at AT&T Stadium.


--Cowboys FB Keith Smith vs. Bengals LB Vontaze Burfict. Burfict is a tackling machine who hits with a vengeance. Smith is all too familiar with that game. Smith has made a successful transition from linebacker. He has also shown a nice touch when asked to carry the ball in short-yardage situations or catch it out of the backfield. He has gained a first down on all four of his touches.

--Cowboys CB Morris Claiborne vs. Bengals WR A.J. Green. Claiborne is having the best season. He leads the league in lowest completion percentage against. But he will have his toughest challenge in terms of size and speed against Green, who has 32 catches for 468 yards and two touchdowns in three games.




--Out: TE Tyler Eifert (back, ankle)

--Doubtful: WR James Wright (hamstring)

--Questionable: G Clint Boling (shoulder), RB Rex Burkhead (hamstring), T Jake Fisher (back)


--Out: DE David Irving (concussion), QB Tony Romo (back)

--Questionable: K David Bailey (back), WR Dez Bryant (knee), DE Jack Crawford (shoulder), RB Lance Dunbar (knee), LB Andrew Gachkar (neck), T Chaz Green (foot), LB Mark Nzeocha (Achilles), CB Orlando Scandrick (both hamstrings), T Tyron Smith (back)

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Bengals DE Will Clarke -- He came into training camp looking to earn snaps, at least enough to open up a spot for him on the 53-man roster. The West Virginia product has done much more than that through four games. Clarke has five tackles and three sacks, and he's played well enough to not just become a regular part of the rotation but a guy who opposing defenses must account for.

FAST FACTS: Dallas RB Ezekiel Elliott leads the NFL with 140 yards after initial contact. ... The Bengals are playing at AT&T Stadium for the first time. ... Cincinnati has allowed TD passes of 74, 55, and 41 yards the past two weeks.


PREDICTION: The game in the trenches rates as a back-alley brawl by NFL standards, and the Cowboys can win if they control the ball and time of possession. Falling behind the Bengals, who have far superior personnel up front to the 49ers, would be more than Dallas' rookie backfield can overcome.

OUR PICK: Bengals, 28-21

--Jeff Reynolds

Buffalo Bills (2-2) vs. Los Angeles Rams (3-1)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. TV -- CBS, Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon, Scott Kaplan

SERIES HISTORY: 12th regular-season meeting. Bills lead series 6-5. Buffalo has not played the Rams in Los Angeles since 1983, and that game was played at Anaheim Stadium, a 41-17 Rams victory. The Bills' last visit to the Coliseum was for a 1992 game against the Los Angeles Raiders.

KEYS TO THE GAME: New Bills offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn faces his stiffest test to date in devising ways to protect QB Tyrod Taylor from the Rams' deep and aggressive front four. The first critical component is RB LeSean McCoy having early success on the ground and contributing in the screen game to take some of the bite out of that pass rush. Second is taking advantage of his legs, as Taylor is second on the Bills with 140 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. His ability to get to the edge and/or keep plays alive is an X-factor. WR Robert Woods and TE Charles Clay combined for 12 receptions last week with Sammy Watkins sidelined. They must continue to produce as the Rams' 23rd-ranked secondary will give up yards ... when the quarterback has time.


QB Case Keenum has steadied the Rams' offense, but it's hardly prolific. Teams are stacking the box to contain RB Todd Gurley and make Keenum move the ball with his arm. WR Tavon Austin is dangerous with the ball in his hands, but most of his touches come near the line of scrimmage, while Keenum continues to work with bigger bodies in Kenny Britt and Brian Quick downfield. The Bills have rebounded from an ugly loss to the Jets to play improved defense, including shutting out rookie QB Jacoby Brissett and the Patriots last week. CBs Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby have shown good form of late and will look to jump on a few of Keenum's heavy diet of slant passes.


--Bills interior line vs. Rams DT Aaron Donald. Donald has ascended to the very top of the best defensive player conversation, especially now that Houston's JJ Watt is likely done for the season. He is a disruptive force in the middle against both the run and the pass, and Bills C Eric Wood and OGs John Miller and Richie Incognito will have to find a way to keep him out of the backfield. The good news for the Bills is that RB LeSean McCoy is adept at cutting and bouncing runs to the outside, so perhaps he'll be able to avoid Donald should he gain penetration.


--Bills WLB Preston Brown vs. Rams RB Todd Gurley. Despite his 2.6-yard average per carry, everyone recognizes Gurley's importance to the Rams' offense. Understated, however, has been Brown's contribution to Buffalo's defensive improvement. His 52 tackles is the most by a player through the first four weeks of a season since Washington's London Fletcher in 2009, and he was recognized as the AFC Defensive Player of the Month after getting in on a career-high 18 tackles against New England last week.



--Out: T Cyrus Kouandjio (ankle), C Patrick Lewis (knee), WR Greg Salas (groin), CB Corey White (shoulder)

--Questionable: TE Charles Clay (knee), DT Marcell Dareus (hamstring), RB Jerome Felton (back), CB Stephon Gilmore (ankle), T Cordy Glenn (ankle), RB LeSean McCoy (hand), S Jonathan Meeks (foot)


--Questionable: WR Kenny Britt (thigh), DT Michael Brockers (hip), RB Benny Cunningham (thigh), S Cody Davis (groin), DE Williams Hayes (ankle), DE Robert Quinn (shoulder)

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Bills DT Marcell Dareus -- Dareus returns from his four-game suspension and while Corbin Bryant may start for at least one more week, coach Rex Ryan made it clear Dareus will play against the Rams.


FAST FACTS: The Bills have lost six consecutive games on the West Coast dating back to 2004, when they defeated San Francisco and Seattle. ... Buffalo's Tyrod Taylor is one of two NFL quarterbacks with a passer rating of 95.0 or higher (96.6) and at least 700 rushing yards (708) since the start of the 2015 season. ... Rams QB Case Keenum has won five of his past seven starts.

PREDICTION: The Bills haven't won on the West Coast in 12 years. Not only is it a long haul, but the Rams sport the league's most physical defense, with the wild card in a close game being Los Angeles' excellent special teams units.

OUR PICK: Rams, 16-13

--Derek Harper

San Diego Chargers (1-3) vs. Oakland Raiders (3-1)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, Oakland Coliseum. TV -- CBS, Tom McCarthy, Adam Archuleta

SERIES HISTORY: 113th regular-season meeting between original AFL rivals. The Raiders lead this historic series, 60-50-2. The Raiders, like the rest of the AFC West, had their way with the Chargers last season, winning both games. That's a far cry than when the Chargers won 13 straight, a span in the 2000s which included Raiders-killer Marty Schottenheimer coaching and LaDainian Tomlinson torturing his favorite foe. The Chargers still curse losing to the Raiders in the 1980 AFC title game, denying Dan Fouts and the rest of a dynamite team a shot at a Super Bowl. And then there was the Raiders' rule-changing Holy Roller victory, starring QB Ken Stabler's sleight-of-hand. And then, well on and on.


KEYS TO THE GAME: Getting down to basics, the key to this game for San Diego will be to run the ball against a Raiders defense that is less than stout up the middle and not all that great at tackling overall. The Raiders improved after giving up more than 500 yards per game the first two weeks, but there was a lot to improve. The Chargers have an excellent running back in Melvin Gordon, although his fumble last week allowed New Orleans to get a 35-34 comeback win.

The Raiders would probably prefer to shorten the game, too, which means they should test their running game. All that intended running aside, this game could easily feature a shootout between one of the best young gunslingers in the league and one of the best senior QBs playing this season. Oakland's Derek Carr is threatening old team passing records and San Diego's Philip Rivers, perhaps the most under-appreciated QB in the NFL, already broke most marks in his storied franchise. Since 2008, Rivers' 35,869 yards passing are second-most in NFL. He is shooting for third consecutive 300-yard passing game and has 97.9 rating in the last nine meetings with Oakland.



--The Chargers' secondary, which is thin because of injuries, vs. the passing game featuring quarterback Derek Carr and outside threats Armani Cooper and Michael Crabtree. Cornerback Brandon Flowers has been out because of a concussion and it's difficult counting on him for four quarters if fit on Sunday. Jason Verrett (knee) might be out for the season, leaving a secondary which missed safety Eric Weddle to start the season, is having difficulty getting experience on the field. Previously Jahleel Addae was lost because of a broken clavicle. So asking the likes of Craig Mager and Pierre Desir to keep up might be much. Secondary needs help from a pass rush to slow receivers.

--Running back Melvin Gordon of the Chargers vs. a Raiders run defense ranked last in the AFC. Gordon's fumble on Sunday fueled the New Orleans Saints' unlikely comeback. The Chargers must turn the page and keep giving the ball to Gordon, who has rushed for six touchdowns this season, with regularity against a unit which has shown holes on the ground. The key is can the Chargers run-block behind a line which is repeatedly shuffling players? But hogging the ball on the ground can keep Philip Rivers from what the Raiders defense does best -- pester quarterbacks. Gordon's stay in doghouse must be brief because the Chargers need to run the ball on Sunday.




--Out: S Jahleel Addae (collarbone), LB Nick Dzubnar (knee), CB Brandon Flowers (concussion)

--Questionable: T Joe Barksdale (foot), T King Dunlap (illness), TE Antonio Gates (hamstring), CB Craig Mager (shoulder), LB Denzel Perryman (shoulder)


--Out: S Nate Allen (quadricep), RB Latavius Murray (toe), T Menelik Watson (calf)

--Questionable: T Austin Howard (ankle), RB Taiwan Jones (knee), T Matt McCants (knee), LB Malcolm Smith (quadriceps), TE Clive Walford (knee)

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Raiders P Marquette King -- QB Derek Carr, among others, gives King much of the credit for the Raiders' 3-1 start this season. In the tradition of Oakland Hall of Fame punter Ray Guy, King is tied for third in the NFL through four games with an average exactly 50 yards per punt, with a net of 41.5. His longest punt covered 72 yards and only three of his kicks have gone for touchbacks. Not only that, he has pinned opponents inside the 20-yard-line on 11 occasions. King must push quarterback Philip Rivers and the Chargers offensive deep in their own territory to help out a defense that has struggled, but played better in a victory over Joe Flacco and the Ravens last week in Baltimore.


"He's been huge," Carr said. "We've been in some backed-up situations where we get pinned back, and he'll completely flip the field with a punt, put it out of bounds at the 10."

FAST FACTS: The Chargers have blown three fourth-quarter leads this season, running their total to an NFL-high eight since 2015. ... San Diego has not won in its past 11 games against AFC West teams. ... In four games, Raiders QB Derek Carr has passed for 1,066 yards, nine touchdowns and only one interception, projecting to 4,264 yards, 36 touchdowns and four interceptions over a full season. He has been sacked only twice. ... The Raiders are 3-1 for the first time since 2002, when they went all the way to Super Bowl XXXVII before losing to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. ... The Raiders have driven 90-plus yards for touchdowns in four games this season, equaling their total from last season.

PREDICTION: Coach Jack Del Rio has the Raiders playing better than they have in years. Oakland has been able to overcome several injuries along the offensive line by plugging in the next man up, while the Chargers have been hit by multiple injuries across the board. However, QB Philip Rivers has played some of the best games in his career against the Raiders, so Oakland is wary of the wounded Chargers.


OUR PICK: Raiders, 31-20

--Tom LaMarre

New York Giants (2-2) vs. Green Bay Packers (2-1)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET, Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wis. TV -- NBC, Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya

SERIES HISTORY: 53rd regular-season meeting. Packers lead series, 27-23-2. Starting with a stunning 37-20 victory at heavily favored Green Bay in the divisional round of the playoffs during the 2011 season, the Giants have won the last three games. The two most recent matchups were played in New Jersey with the Giants' winning 38-10 in 2012 and 27-13 in 2013. The Packers won the last regular-season matchup at Lambeau Field by a score of 45-17 in 2010. The Giants have three of the last four games at Green Bay, including a 23-20 overtime thriller in the NFC Championship during the 2007 season.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Giants QB Eli Manning hasn't thrown the ball well in his frequent matchups with the Packers. His completion percentage was no higher than 57.5 percent in five of the seven games going back to 2007. Yet, Manning and the Giants won four of the seven games. A common denominator on those occasions when New York prevailed is the Packers failed to pressure the unflappable Manning into many mistakes. He threw zero interceptions in two of those triumphs and had only one in each of the other two wins. What's more, Green Bay sacked Manning a total of just eight times in the four games -- and half of them came when the teams last met in 2013. So, longtime defensive coordinator Dom Capers must find a way to get the 35-year-old Manning unhinged. Otherwise, it could be another long night for a porous Packers pass defense that must contend with a terrific trio of receivers in Odell Beckham Jr., Victor Cruz and rookie Sterling Shepard. Manning was at the controls of three of the Giants' five 300-yard passing games against the Packers.


If Green Bay can't follow the rival Minnesota Vikings' lead in slowing New York's potent passing attack, Aaron Rodgers and his crew of receivers will have to be up to the task in a potential prime-time shootout. The Packers should be able to exploit a Giants secondary that is decimated by injury. Running the football figures to take a backseat for Green Bay, given that the Giants are allowing an average of only 84 yards per game on the ground.


--Packers RT Bryan Bulaga and left tackle David Bakhtiari vs. Giants DLE Jason Pierre-Paul and DRE Olivier Vernon. The steady play of Bulaga and Bakhtiari in the early going has been integral to keeping quarterback Aaron Rodgers mostly clean. Interestingly, Pierre-Paul has zero sacks in five games against the Packers. However, Pierre-Paul cemented the Giants' 27-13 home win over Green Bay in the teams' most recent meeting in 2013 by intercepting a pass from backup quarterback Scott Tolzien and returning it 24 yards for a late touchdown. The Packers' lone encounter with Vernon resulted in 1 1/2 sacks of Rodgers when the new Giant was playing with the Miami Dolphins in 2014.


--Packers secondary vs. Giants wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr., Victor Cruz and Sterling Shepard. The advantage goes to the Giants against a Green Bay defense that is among the worst in the league against the pass, allowing an average of more than 300 yards per game. What's more, Green Bay could be without top cornerback Sam Shields for a third straight game because of a concussion. Cruz has been a thorn in the Packers' side in the past with a pair of 100-yard games, including eight receptions for 110 yards in the teams' last meeting in 2013, a 27-13 Giants win in New Jersey.



--Out: S Nat Berhe (concussion), TE Larry Donnell (concussion), T Marshall Newhouse (calf), S Darian Thompson (foot)

--Questionable: CB Eli Apple (hamstring), RB Rashad Jennings (thumb), CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (groin)


--Out: TE Jared Cook (ankle), CB Sam Shields (concussion)

--Questionable: Damarious Randall (groin)

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: TE Richard Rodgers -- Rodgers gets another chance to be the primary tight end in the offense with Jared Cook (ankle) out indefinitely. Cook, touted as a big-play target down the middle, has only six catches for 53 yards. Richard Rodgers made his first start of the season in that game. Yet, he hasn't been productive with only five receptions for 56 yards and a touchdown through three games. Just a season ago, Rodgers flourished with 58 catches for 510 yards and eight touchdowns


FAST FACTS: The Packers are 8-2 in their first game after the bye week on Mike McCarthy's watch since 2006, including six wins in the past seven post-bye games. ... There is a one-point differential between the Packers and the New York Giants in their 52 meetings during the regular season. The Giants have scored 924 points to Green Bay's 923.

PREDICTION: A shootout could be coming if the Packers can hold up their end of the bargain, and with all eyes on Odell Beckham Jr., the Giants should have space to operate in the middle of the field.

OUR PICK: Giants, 30-27

--Jeff Reynolds

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-3) vs. Carolina Panthers (1-3)

KICKOFF: Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET, at Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C. TV -- ESPN, Sean McDonough, Jon Gruden, Lisa Salters

SERIES HISTORY: 32nd regular-season meeting. Panthers lead series, 20-11. Carolina has won six straight and eight out of the past 10.

KEYS TO THE GAME: The answer to the question of what is wrong with the Panthers begins with their defense. It is debatable how direct of an effect the loss of All-Pro CB Josh Norman is making, but the fact is Carolina isn't generating consistent pressure and the overwhelmed coverage unit is getting torched. That includes allowing 78 percent completions over the past six quarters. Bucs QB Jameis Winston continues to struggle with turnovers as he has eight touchdown passes to go with his eight interceptions, but he also has a super-sized receiving corps that will stress Carolina's secondary. He may not replicate the 503 yards Atlanta's Matt Ryan dropped on the Panthers last week, but Winston must exploit Carolina's glaring weakness, especially with Doug Martin likely to be sidelined again by a hamstring injury.


The Panthers will be without QB Cam Newton, who remains in the concussion protocol. Backup Derek Anderson is plenty familiar with Tampa Bay, having led Carolina to a pair of victories over the Bucs in 2014. The Panthers have had their own issues with a sputtering ground game with Jonathan Stewart also missing the past two games due to a hamstring injury and he is due to miss this game. Cameron Artis-Payne and Fozzy Whittaker will again combine to replace Stewart. Tampa Bay ranks 31st in points allowed, but has held opponents to an average of 3.3 yards per carry. The main problem has been the lack of turnovers as the Bucs enter minus-9 in that department. Carolina desperately wants to get its power ground game back untracked as the passing game is clearly not ready to shoulder the load.


--Panthers CB James Bradberry vs. Bucs WR Mike Evans. Bradberry, a rookie out of Samford, has been a popular target for opposing quarterbacks in the post-Norman era. And he comes another big challenge, literally, in the 6-5, 231-pound Evans, who leads the Bucs with 26 catches for 360 yards and three touchdowns. Norman limited Evans to nine catches on 25 targets for 144 yards in three meetings.


--Panthers TE Greg Olsen vs. Bucs LB Kwon Alexander. Olsen leads NFL tight ends with 335 receiving yards and has had a ton of success against Tampa in his career. However, Alexander leads the Bucs with 38 tackles and in two games last season, Alexander and company limited Olsen to just a pair of receptions in each contest.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Bucs TE Cameron Brate -- As Austin Seferian-Jenkins slid down the depth chart and then off the roster following a DUI, Brate has quietly emerged as a reliable target for Winston. He is third on the team with 16 catches for 159 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including 10-113-2 combined over the past two weeks.

FAST FACTS: Tampa Bay's Gerald McCoy leads all NFL defensive tackles with 28 sacks since 2012. ... Panthers QB Derek Anderson completed 49 of 74 passes for 507 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in leading two victories over Tampa Bay in Cam Newton's place in 2014.

PREDICTION: The Panthers have one of the better backup quarterback situations in the league with Derek Anderson, and the reigning NFC champs have their backs firmly against the wall at 1-3 entering a divisional home game. Jameis Winston is still turning the ball over far too often and lacks the consistent ground game he needs help from to beat quality opponents on the road.


OUR PICK: Panthers, 27-20

--Derek Harper

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