San Francisco 49ers (1-4) at Buffalo Bills (3-2)
SERIES HISTORY: 12th regular-season meeting. 49ers lead series, 6-5. The teams have met every fourth year since 2004, with the 49ers going 2-1 over that stretch. The 49ers prevailed both in the last meeting at home (45-3 in 2012) and at Buffalo (10-3 in 2008). The Bills' last win in the series was 41-7 at San Francisco in 2004. The clubs have never met in the playoffs.
KEYS TO THE GAME: 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick now must stand up for himself after the national anthem as coach Chip Kelly decided to start the controversial veteran of good and bad times with San Francisco.
The change comes after Blaine Gabbert led the 49ers to a 1-4 start while ranking 28th in passing yards (890), 26th in completion percentage (58.0), 22nd in touchdown passes (five) and 30th in quarterback rating (69.6). Kelly is concerned about changing the team's direction as he eyes home games against Tampa Bay and New Orleans sandwiching a bye in the next three weeks.
"There's a lot of great things this offense does and allows the quarterback to do," Kaepernick said of the offense coach Kelly imported from Oregon (via Philadelphia). "It's similar to things I've done in college, and that makes me feel very comfortable in it."
After early-season reports he was on the hot seat, Bills coach Rex Ryan is aware that three straight wins only buy time in the NFL and doesn't guarantee anything.
"We've won three games in a row, but we haven't won four games in a row," Ryan said. "We need to focus on this opponent, and we will. If we lose, it's not going to have anything to with the fact that we overlooked somebody. That's not happening here, we're not good enough to overlook anybody, let alone the 49ers."
A key to the Bills' turnaround is their defensive play in the red zone, where they were inefficient last year. Now they are second in the NFL after allowing only six touchdowns on 16 trips, a 37 percent rate. Only Carolina is better at 33.3 percent.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--49ers QB Colin Kaepernick vs. Bills OLB Lorenzo Alexander. Kaepernick has fresh legs, and chances are he's going to be able to show them off with Alexander in pursuit. The Buffalo pass-rushing specialist already has a league-high seven sacks, and now he gets to set his sights on a first-time starter in a new system.
--Bills RB LeSean McCoy vs. 49ers ILB Nick Bellore. Bellore started in place of injured NaVorro Bowman last week and led the team with 11 tackles. That's the good news. He spent most of the day chasing Arizona Cardinals back David Johnson, who ran circles around the San Francisco defense. Enter McCoy, who has rushed for 330 yards in the last three weeks, helping produce three straight wins. There's no reason to deviate from that approach this week.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: 49ers WR Torrey Smith. Colin Kaepernick might have a lot of doubters even among his teammates, but Smith is not one of them. The speedy veteran has been as underutilized as any wideout in the NFL this season, something he might blame on Blaine Gabbert's lack of a strong arm for deep passes. Smith is hoping those long sprints down the field this week might prove fruitful with Kaepernick capable of throwing as far as the wideout can run.
INJURY REPORT: San Francisco -- Out: CB Jimmie Ward (quadriceps). Questionable: LB Ahmad Brooks (groin), DT DeForest Buckner (foot), DT Glenn Dorsey (knee), S Jaquiski Tartt (quadricep). Buffalo -- Doubtful: DT Marcell Dareus (hamstring). Questionable: LB Zach Brown (foot), DT Corbin Bryant (ankle), TE Charles Clay (knee), T Cordy Glenn (ankle), T Cyrus Kouandjio (ankle), C Patrick Lewis (knee), P Colton Schmidt (right quadricep), CB Corey White (shoulder), S Aaron Williams (ankle).
FAST FACTS: 49ers are literally stealing points, scoring on every takeaway this season. Their 45 points off takeaways are third in the league behind Arizona (47) and Denver (46). ... RB Carlos Hyde tallied 114 scrimmage yards (78 rush, 36 receiving) and a TD last week and is tied NFL lead with six rushing TDs. ... Bills QB Tyrod Taylor seeks his fourth win in a row vs. the NFC. Since 2015, he is one of two NFL QBs with 95-plus (96.6) and 700-plus rushing yards (736). ... Buffalo is averaging 178.3 rush yards per game in the past three. RB LeSean McCoy has a TD in three of four games vs. San Francisco and is the only NFL player with 7,000 rushing (7,497) and 2,000 receiving (2,361) yards since 2010.
PREDICTION: Considering the disparity in records, this should be an easy call, but Kaepernick's presence could unhinge the Bills' defense to some degree.
OUR PICK: Bills, 34-21.
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Soldier Field, Chicago. TV: CBS, Andrew Catalon, Steve Tasker, Steve Beuerlein.
SERIES HISTORY: 7th meeting. Chicago leads series, 4-2. Teams have met three times in the last 14 years. Jaguars have lost two of three games at home and in Chicago. Last win in Chicago was in 1998, 24-23. Three of the four losses to the Bears have been by 13 points or more, including a 41-3 pounding in the last meeting, Oct. 7, 2012.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Even with more than 500 yards at Indianapolis last week, the Bears fell short. There's no blaming QB Brian Hoyer, who has a QB rating of 108.5 and zero interceptions in three starts since Jay Cutler (thumb) was injured. The emergence of rookie RB Jordan Howard has helped his cause and made for a more cohesive offensive line. Howard is averaging 5.8 yards per carry and 10.2 yards per catch (12 receptions, 122 yards). The Jaguars held three of their first four opponents to less than 3.9 yards per carry.
Interceptions -- six in four games -- are still the albatross blocking Blake Bortles' rise to stardom. But Bortles is held back without a strong runner to share the backfield like Howard. That's made the Jaguars' offense more predictable, and especially in critical situations. Jacksonville has converted a lowly 28.3 percent of third downs and averages 3.5 yards per carry collectively. The Bears have given up 118.4 yards per game, and Jacksonville could find daylight if play-caller Greg Olson remains persistent.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Bears OLB Willie Young vs. Jaguars RT Jermey Parnell. Parnell, who received a $32 million deal in free agency last year after starting nine games with Dallas, is a mauler at 325 pounds. Young had a career-high three sacks last week. His speed gives him an edge with outside rush. Inside, Young will wind up being thrown around. Last week he got away with some inside rushes against a smaller offensive line. Young is not exactly stout against the run, but the Jaguars hadn't run with any effectiveness behind Parnell or anywhere else until they ran on the Colts in a victory in London.
--Bears TE Zach Miller vs. LB Myles Jack. Although injured starter Dan Skuta (hip) is expected to be healthy enough to play, Jack will remain in the spot after making four tackles and a pass breakup last week. Covering Miller is a chore for any linebacker. Teams normally are bringing up a safety to handle it or going with a combination scheme that allows for a nickel or safety assisting the linebacker.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Bears RT Bobby Massie. In the passing game, Massie has lived down to his advance billing. The free agent acquisition has been average as a run blocker. Massie last week committed the holding penalty that bogged down the Bears' final drive. It eventually left them facing fourth-and-long. With rookie Cody Whitehair at center and inexperienced Charles Leno Jr. at left tackle, the Bears can ill afford a veteran making silly mistakes on the line. Massie has to rebound in a big way.
INJURY REPORT: Jacksonville -- Questionable: RB Corey Grant (toe), WR Rashad Greene (Achilles), TE Neal Sterling (foot). Chicago -- Out: CB Deiondre' Hall (ankle). Doubtful: QB Jay Cutler (right thumb), DT Eddie Goldman (ankle), RB Jeremy Langford (ankle). Questionable: LB Sam Acho (ribs), CB Bryce Callahan (hamstring), RB Ka'Deem Carey (hamstring), LB Leonard Floyd (calf), LB Jerrell Freeman (wrist), WR Alshon Jeffery (hamstring), G Kyle Long (shoulder), T Bobby Massie (ankle), TE Zach Miller (ribs), CB Tracy Porter (knee), WR Eddie Royal (calf), G Josh Sitton (shoulder), LB Willie Young (knee, elbow).
FAST FACTS: In nine regular-season starts with the Texans last season, Hoyer had 13 turnovers (six fumbles). ... Jaguars WR Allen Robinson has 21 receptions, but was the intended receiver on 41 passes in the first four games. Robinson has 15 TD catches in his last 16 games. Teammate Allen Hurns has 15 catches on 27 targets.
PREDICTION: There will be room to run for the Jaguars' against Chicago's struggling run defense and if QB Blake Bortles avoids giveaways, the Jaguars can put together a winning streak for coach Gus Bradley.
OUR PICK: Jaguars, 28-21.
SERIES HISTORY: 84th regular-season meeting. Rams lead series, 43-39-1. The Rams beat the Lions 21-14 last December, when the Rams were still in St. Louis. One great finish in the series happened in the 2012 season opener, when Matthew Stafford threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Smith with 10 seconds left to give the Lions a 27-23 victory.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Surprising second-year pass rusher Kerry Hyder is fifth in the NFL with 5.0 sacks this season, but the Lions have missed defensive end Ziggy Ansah as a constant force up front. Rams RB Todd Gurley's offensive line has been leaky, and Gurley has been hit behind the line of scrimmage regularly. The Lions are second to the Minnesota Vikings with 22 "stuffs" on running plays. Detroit gives up just 89.8 rushing yards per game in 2016, but that group takes a hit this week with NT Haloti Ngata (shoulder) out. And in last season's meeting, Gurley averaged 8.8 yards per carry, gaining 140 yards with two touchdowns on 16 carries against the Lions.
If the Lions can lasso Gurley, the game falls to the throwing arm of Case Keenum. He's been sacked 12 times but only two quarterbacks -- Matt Ryan (Falcons) and Philip Rivers (Chargers) -- have more 25-plus-yard pass plays than Keenum's 13. The Lions are vulnerable when pressure doesn't heat up the pocket.
The Lions are limited offensively as they scrape to generate a running game. Theo Riddick is averaging 4.33 yards on first-down rushing attempts but he's also been hit in the backfield on six of those 27 carries. The limited production leads to QB Matt Stafford putting the ball in the air on early downs. The Rams mug outside receivers in press coverage but with size-speed mismatch Marvin Jones (27 receptions, 19.2 yards per catch), Stafford is not shy about throwing 50-50 balls when his front wall collapses.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Lions LT Taylor Decker vs. Rams DE Robert Quinn. With so much attention on Donald, the Lions can't forget about Rams' defensive ends Quinn and William Hayes. Both players missed last week's loss to the Buffalo Bills with injuries, but Quinn in particular is a top-flight pass rusher if he's on the field. Decker, a rookie, has allowed four sacks so far this season and will likely get plenty of one-on-one work Sunday.
--Rams WR Tavon Austin vs. Lions CB Darius Slay. Slay was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week after he forced two turnovers in the final three minutes of the Lions win over the Eagles. This week, Slay has a tough matchup in the electric Tavon Austin. With Case Keenum at quarterback, the Rams aren't great at pushing the ball downfield, but they do try to get the ball in Austin's hands through bubble screens, handoffs and every other way imaginable.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Rams CB E.J. Gaines. With Trumaine Johnson likely out this week, E.J. Gaines will slide over into the lead director chair and draw coverage responsibilities of the Lions top receiver. Gaines missed the first three games of this year - and all of last year - with foot and leg injuries but has played well in his first two games back. But that was opposite the Rams best CB in Johnson. Now Gaines moves up in the pecking order.
INJURY REPORT: Los Angeles -- Out: CB Trumaine Johnson (ankle). Questionable: DT Michael Brockers (hip), DE William Hayes (ankle), WR Brian Quick (calf), DE Robert Quinn (shoulder), G Cody Wichmann (ankle). Detroit -- Out: TE Eric Ebron (knee, ankle), LB DeAndre Levy (knee, quadriceps), DT Haloti Ngata (shoulder), RB Theo Reddick (ankle). Questionable: DE Ezekiel Ansah (ankle), WR Anquan Boldin (ankle), S Don Carey (ribs), DT A'Shawn Robinson (shoulder), G Laken Tomlinson (neck), RB Dwayne Washington (ankle), G Larry Warford (hip).
FAST FACTS: Riddick leads NFL running backs with 10 TD receptions since 2014. ... Ansah has 6.5 sacks in his past six home games. ... Rams LB Mark Barron has at least eight tackles in four consecutive games and 11 tackles in last year's meeting.
PREDICTION: The Rams are capable of devouring one-dimensional offenses even if their vaunted defensive line is not 100 percent healthy. The Lions must generate a ground game or Matt Stafford will pay the price.
OUR PICK: Rams, 22-16.
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Fla. TV: CBS, Spero Dedes, Solomon Wilcots, Chris Fischer.
SERIES HISTORY: 23rd regular-season meeting. Steelers lead the series, 12-10. The Dolphins won the most recent meeting, 34-28, at Heinz Field in 2013, but the Steelers won five consecutive before that. They've met in the playoffs three times, with the Dolphins winning the most recent playoff game in 1984. That was a 45-28 victory over the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game, which was the last time the Dolphins advanced to the Super Bowl.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Everyone knows how dangerous the Ben Roethlisberger-led Steelers passing game is, but the concern for the Dolphins begins with the ground game. Miami is allowing an NFL-high average of 150.8 rushing yards per game, which the coaching staff blames on poor gap control and tackling - two issues that plagued the team last season. The Dolphins have invested heavily in their defensive line, but if RBs Le'Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams are having their way in the ground game, the Dolphins will be at Big Ben's mercy.
The Dolphins have been equally inconsistent on the offensive side of the ball. To put it in coach Adam Gase's words, they have been "inept." Gase wants to use the passing game to set up the run, but the offensive line has been unable to protected QB Ryan Tannehill (17 sacks), and he in turn has continued to struggle to read defenses. The Steelers enter with the league's 30th-ranked passing game, but their 3-4 scheme will cause Tannehill issues if Miami can't establish some sort of ground game and ease the pass rush. The Dolphins are averaging just 72.4 rushing yards per game, 31st in the NFL, while the Steelers are allowing just 77.0 rushing yards per game. Miami must attempt to run the ball early, especially with Steelers DL Cam Heyward (hamstring) out and ILB Ryan Shazier (knee) questionable.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger vs. Dolphins secondary. Big Ben has set a franchise record with 15 touchdown passes through five games. The Dolphins rank 16th in passing yards allowed per game (250.2) and continue to juggle their coverage unit. Byron Maxwell lost his starting job, but rookie Xavien Howard is out with a knee injury and the team claimed former Carolina starter Bene Benwikere off waivers this week.
--Steelers defensive line vs. Dolphins offensive line. Miami cut linemen Dallas Thomas, Billy Turner and Jamil Douglas on Tuesday -- a sign of just how porous the protection for Tannehill has been. And 2014 first-round pick RT Ja'Wuan James has allowed at least four sacks over the past four games. LT Branden Albert and LG Laremy Tunsil, who missed last week's game after reportedly injuring his ankle during a fall in the shower, should play, but the issues across Miami's offensive line remain widespread.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Steelers TE Jesse James. Pittsburgh signed Ladarius Green to presumably fill the void created by Heath Miller's retirement, but it has been the second-year player James who has flourished with Green sidelined by ankle and head injuries. James has 18 receptions for 126 yards and three touchdowns. Only Brown has more touchdowns for the Steelers, and only Brown and fellow wideout Sammie Coates have been targeted more often.
INJURY REPORT: Pittsburgh -- Out: T Marcus Gilbert (ankle), DE Cameron Heyward (hamstring), LB Ryan Shazier (knee), S Shamarko Thomas (groin), C Cody Wallace (knee), WR Markus Wheaton (shoulder). Questionable: WR Sammie Coates (finger). Miami -- Out: TE Jordan Cameron (concussion), CB Xavien Howard (knee). Questionable: S Isa Abdul-Quddus (knee), RB Arian Foster (hamstring), WR Jakeem Grant (ankle), TE MarQueis Gary (calf), LB Jelani Jenkins (groin), S Reshad Jones (groin), G Anthony Steen (ankle), T Laremy Tunsil (ankle)
FAST FACTS: Steelers second-year WR Sammie Coast has a catch of 40-plus yards in every game this season. The franchise record is six, held by Mike Wallace. ... The only contributing members remaining from the Dolphins' 2013 draft class are linebacker Jelani Jenkins and tight end Dion Sims, a pair of fourth-round picks.
PREDICTION: Outside of a major egg in a 34-3 Week 3 loss at Philadelphia, the Steelers have displayed dominating form with a high-octane offense that the Dolphins will be hard-pressed to contain. Meanwhile, Miami cut three rotational offensive linemen this week in a sign that new head coach Adam Gase, who called his unit "inept," realizes major personnel changes are needed in order to be competitive.
OUR PICK: Steelers, 37-26.
SERIES HISTORY: 25th regular-season meeting. Patriots lead series, 15-9. New England is 9-2 all-time against the Bengals at home, including a 43-17 win in 2014. The series dates to the old American Football League with the inaugural game played at Fenway Park in 1968 when Cincinnati was an expansion franchise.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Bengals have not won at New England since 1986. The Patriots won nine of 11 meetings at home. For Cincinnati, winning at Gillette Stadium in Pats QB Tom Brady's home debut this season will be a major challenge, especially following a loss at Dallas. But the Bengals must respond because falling to 2-4 would put Cincinnati in dire straits in terms of contending in the AFC North and reaching the postseason for a sixth consecutive season.
Bengals QB Andy Dalton has been sacked 17 times through five games, perhaps the most telling statistic outlining the Bengals' struggles on the offensive line.
Conversely, Brady threw for 406 yards to lead the Patriots to a 33-13 win last Sunday afternoon in his return from the four-game Deflategate suspension. It was a classic New England passing attack that earned Brady AFC Player of the Week honors (his 27th such honor) as the 39-year-old made it clear that he still shows no signs of aging despite his delayed 2016 debut.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Patriots CB Malcolm Butler vs. Bengals WR A.J. Green. Butler, who intercepted two passes in the Super Bowl in 2014, likely will spend a lot of time covering Green, who has 36 catches for 518 yards and two touchdowns this season. Butler has 19 PD since 2015, most on team.
--Patriots TE Martellus Bennett vs. Cincinnati's linebackers and secondary. Rob Gronkowski is a household name, but Bennett gives the Pats an almost unstoppable one-two punch. Marty, as he is called, leads the team with 314 receiving yards and four touchdowns.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Bengals WR Brandon LaFell. This former Patriots standout missed most of the preseason with a hand injury, but appears to be comfortable in his new offense. Through five games, LaFell has 21 catches for 276 yards and two touchdowns, on pace to have the finest season since 2011 by any Bengals receiver not named A.J. Green. LaFell was signed in the offseason to provide veteran cover for Green following the departures of free agents Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu. The Bengals don't expect LaFell to return to his 2014 form (74 catches, 953 yards, 7 TDs for Patriots), but, coming off an injury-riddled 2015 campaign, he looks better each week.
INJURY REPORT: Cincinnati -- Out: TE Tyler Eifert (back, ankle). New England -- Out: LB Jonathan Freeny (shoulder), TE Greg Scruggs (knee). Questionable: TE Martellus Bennett (ankle), RB LeGarrette Blount (hip), RB Brandon Bolden (knee), T Marcus Cannon (calf), LB Jamie Collins (hip), WR Julian Edelman (foot), QB Jimmy Garoppolo (right shoulder), TE Rob Gronkowski (hamstring, illness), LB Shea McClellin (concussion), WR Malcolm Mitchell (hamstring), G Joe Thuney (shoulder), DT Vincent Valentine (back)
FAST FACTS: Cincinnati won 10 straight games when Dalton had a rating of 100 or better, but that streak ended when the Bengals lost at Dallas (38-14) despite Dalton's 104.6 passer rating. ... The Bengals went 17 consecutive games without allowing a 100-yard rusher before the Cowboys' Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 134 yards. ... Brady has 195 wins (regular and post-season) as a starter, trailing only Brett Favre (199) and Peyton Manning (200) for most in NFL history. ... RB Le Garrette Blount is tied for 3rd in NFL with 5 TDs rushing and ranks 4th in AFC with 389 yards rushing.
PREDICTION: Brady's home opener in wake of Deflategate debacle is probably not good for any visiting team.
OUR PICK: Patriots, 28-17.
SERIES HISTORY: 43rd regular-season meeting. Panthers lead series, 23-19. The Panthers have held the upper hand in the series since the Saints swept both matchups in 2010 and '11. Carolina took both games in 2012 and again in 2015 and the teams split in the two seasons in between, giving the Panthers six wins in the past eight meetings -- winning three times in their last four visits to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Even though the Panthers went 15-1 in the regular season a year ago, the Saints kept both games close in losing 27-22 in Charlotte on Sept. 27 and 41-38 in the rematch on Dec. 6 in the Superdome.
KEYS TO THE GAME: This is a huge game for two franchises who expect to have more than one win apiece at this time, especially the Panthers as they seek some respect to follow up last season's trip to the Super Bowl.
After missing one game with a concussion, Panthers' QB Cam Newton, returns to action and needs to show he can also return to the form that made him the NFL's MVP last season. To do that, he will need to assure himself playing time by being aware of how to avoid big hits.
Although he creates some of his own problems, Newton's safety will not be helped by the absence of OT Michael Oher, although Mr. Blind Side's presence has not been worthy of another Hollywood movie, either.
The Saints didn't have a great day offensively in their last game before their bye, but they did two things necessary to pull out a 35-34 win over the San Diego Chargers. They ran the ball more efficiently than in their first three games and took advantage of two Chargers fumbles in the final seven minutes, turning both into touchdowns.
While the Saints need a healthy dose of RB Mark Ingram against the Panthers, QB Drew Brees must also get his team back on track through the air and attack a young secondary that gave up some plays late in a 17-14 loss to the Tampa Bay Bucs on Monday night.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Panthers TE Greg Olsen vs. Saints secondary. There's no doubt that the Saints are concerned about this matchup because Olsen has crushed them in their last three meetings. Last season, he made it look way too easy in posting a pair of 100-yard receiving games, grabbing 17 passes for 263 yards and a pair of TDs after having 10 catches for 72 yards with one score in their second matchup in 2014. Keeping him under 100 yards could be a key to the Saints' chances.
--Saints RB Mark Ingram vs. Panthers front seven. While the Saints haven't had much success running the ball this season, they'll have to do a better job this week. The Saints are tied for 28th with just 81.8 yards per game, but Ingram could be a key with his ability to pound the ball inside -- a strength of the Panthers defense because of the presence of middle linebacker Luke Kuechly. A few good runs through the middle could open things up for the passing game.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Saints CB Ken Crawley. An undrafted free agent from Colorado, Crawley turned some heads in training camp and then was forced into the lineup when Delvin Breaux fractured his fibula in the season opener and P.J. Williams a week later suffered a concussion that sent him to injured reserve. Crawley has made some mistakes here and there, but he has held his own while playing 88 percent of the snaps in the first four games. Coach Sean Payton has been impressed by what he has seen so far, saying he likes that the game isn't "too big" for his improving rookie.
INJURY REPORT: Carolina -- Out: CB James Bradberry (foot), DT Vernon Butler (ankle), CB Robert McClain (hamstring), T Michael Oher (concussion), DT Paul Soliai (foot). Questionable: WR Kelvin Benjamin (knee), DE Charles Johnson (quadricep), QB Cam Newton (concussion), RB Jonathan Stewart (hamstring). New Orleans -- T Terron Armstead (knee), CB Delvin Breaux (fibula), LB Dannell Ellerbe (quadricep). Questionable: TE Josh Hill (ankle), C Senio Kelemete (hamstring), DE Paul Kruger (back), LB James Laurinaitis (quadricep).
FAST FACTS: Panthers QB Cam Newton accounted for 12 touchdowns in his last three games against the Saints. Newton threw only one interception while tossing 10 touchdowns and rushing for two more scores ion those wins. ... RB Cameron Artis-Payne rushed for career-high 85 yards, two TDs last week. ... With 49,824 career passing yards for the Saints, Drew Brees needs 176 to become the sixth quarterback in NFL history to accumulate at least 50,000 with a single team. Brees' 207 passing yards in Week 4 were his fewest in any game since he managed only 147 at Seattle on Dec. 2, 2013. ... Saints coach Sean Payton is 1-2 at home in games against NFC South opponents since the start of the 2014 season. In their first division home game this season, the Saints dropped a 45-32 decision to the Atlanta.
PREDICTION: Cam seems to do well in the Superdome and he needs an MVP-type performance now to save the season.
OUR PICK: Panthers, 32-16.
SERIES HISTORY: Fifth regular-season meeting. Ravens lead the series, 3-1. The Giants beat visiting Baltimore 30-10 on Nov. 16, 2008, for their sole victory in the series. The most memorable matchup between the two teams occurred in Super Bowl XXXV when Baltimore ran away with its first championship, 34-7.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Ravens coach John Harbaugh fired offensive coordinator Marc Trestman on Monday and replaced him with veteran offensive coach Marty Mornhinweg. The expectation is Mornhinweg will be more balanced in attempting to get RBs Terrance West, Kenneth Dixon and Buck Allen established to set up vertical shots downfield. The Giants have just four sacks on the season and Ravens QB Joe Flacco said he anticipates Baltimore will attempt to stretch the field more. However, that requires the offensive line holding up. Flacco has been sacked 11 times and is averaging just 5.9 yards per pass attempt as he has consistently resorted to check-down options.
The Giants' offensive strength is clearly their passing game, with QB Eli Manning completing a combined 65 passes to Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard and Victor Cruz through five games. Problem is, he has been sacked nine times and thrown four interceptions while the Giants have amassed a minus-seven turnover ratio because New York struggles to run the ball. Rashad Jennings (thumb) is attempting to return after missing three games, but the Giants rank 27th in rushing while the Ravens allow just 3.6 yards per carry. Manning has a big edge when he looks at one-on-one matchups downfield, but will he have the time to find those advantages?
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Ravens TE Dennis Pitta vs. Giants S Landon Collins: Recovered from a pair of potentially career-ending hip injury, Pitta leads the Ravens with 28 receptions. He has shown the ability to get downfield and threaten the seam, which is even more critical with WRs Steve Smith (ankle) and Mike Wallace (ribs) both dealing with injuries.
--Ravens OLB Terrell Suggs vs. Giants LT Ereck Flowers: Flowers is healthy in his second season, but continues to struggle with lapses in technique. Few pass rushers are better equipped to expose poor technique than Suggs, who has returned from an Achilles injury to lead the Ravens with 4.0 sacks.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Giants CB Janoris Jenkins. The former St. Louis Rams starter needs to be a lockdown presence with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (groin) and rookie Eli Apple (groin/hamstring) seemingly longshots to play. Who he focuses on could depend on the availability of Smith and/or Wallace.
FAST FACTS: All five of the Ravens' games this season have been decided by eight points or less. ... The Giants have forced an NFL-high 56 fumbles at home since 2010.
INJURY REPORT: Baltimore -- Out: LB Elvis Dumervil (foot). Doubtful: WR Devin Hester (thigh), LB C.J. Mosley (thigh), WR Steve Smith (ankle), T Ronnie Stanley (foot), G Marshal Yanda (shoulder). Questionable: S Kendrick Lewis (thigh), LB Albert McClellan (calf), T Rick Wagner (thigh), WR Mike Wallace (chest), CB Shareece Wright (back). New York Giants -- Out: S Nat Berhe (concussion), T Marshall Newhouse (calf), S Darian Thompson (foot). Questionable: CB Eli Apple (groin), WR Dwayne Harris (toe), RB Rashad Jennings (thumb), LB Devon Kennard (concussion), DE Jason Pierre-Paul (groin), CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (groin).
PREDICTION: The Ravens live on the edge, with every game this season decided by eight points or less. They have changed offensive coordinators and will take more shots downfield - provided they can protect Flacco - but the fact is the Ravens lack the firepower to pull away from teams. The Giants, meanwhile, struggle to run the ball and face far too many long passing situations. In a game dictated by turnovers and field position, the Giants' minus-seven turnover margin is a major concern.
OUR PICK: Ravens, 23-20.
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Nissan Stadium, Nashville, Tenn. TV: CBS, Tom McCarthy, Adam Archuleta.
SERIES HISTORY: 64th meeting. Browns lead series, 35-28. The Browns have a better record against the Oilers/Titans on the road (16-15) than at home (19-13). They have won three of the last four games played in Nashville.
KEYS TO THE GAME: In some ways, the Browns are a bit of a mirror image of the Titans. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton had that same role with the Titans the past two years, so the style on defense is similar.
Offensively, both teams prefer to run the football, something the Browns probably will want to do even more, given their shaky quarterback situation due to injuries. Look for the Titans to use some exotic blitzes to try to confuse rookie Cody Kessler.
The Titans have to like what they saw last week with DeMarco Murray's rushing and Marcus Mariota's improved decision-making. Look for them to try to control the clock as much as they can, hoping to get a lead early and force the Browns to throw to catch up.
The Browns' top priority has to be to slow the Titans' ground game. Even though Mariota threw three touchdown passes, the Titans beat the Dolphins by controlling the clock and churning out 235 rushing yards. The Titans held the ball for 36 minutes. The Browns have little chance to win if the same thing happens. It might force them to put strong safety Ibraheim Campbell in the box.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Titans TE Delanie Walker vs. Browns LB Demario Davis. Davis is the Browns' best coverage linebacker. Walker has 16 catches for 225 yards and two touchdowns. Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota could be looking for Walker since Patriots quarterback Tom Brady threw three touchdown passes to tight end Martellus Bennett last week.
--Titans OLB Brian Orakpo vs. Browns RT Austin Pasztor. Orakpo leads the Titans with six sacks. The Browns might give Pasztor some tight end help. Pasztor has to do everything he can to avoid holding penalties.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Browns RB Isaiah Crowell averaged 6.5 yards a carry through the first four games but managed just 22 yards on 13 carries (1.7 average) against the Patriots. The Browns need a strong running game to keep the Titans from mounting a relentless pass rush against whoever starts at quarterback.
INJURY REPORT: Cleveland -- Out: G Joel Bitonio (foot), WR Corey Coleman (hand), TE Seth DeValve (knee), QB Josh McCown (left shoulder), TE Randall Telfer (ankle). Questionable: TE Gary Barnidge (forearm, hip), DE Xavier Cooper (shoulder), CB Joe Haden (groin), CB Tramon Williams (shoulder). Tennessee -- Out: DT Al Woods (calf). Questionable: CB Cody Riggs (hamstring).
FAST FACTS: Cleveland RB Isaiah Crowell ranks third in the AFC with 416 rushing yards. He has six rushing TDs in his past nine games. ... Browns OT Joe Thomas is the only lineman in NFL history to be selected to the Pro Bowl in each of his first nine seasons. He has started all 149 games in his career. ... Titans QB Marcus Mariota passed for two TDs in his only career start vs. Cleveland. He threw for three TDs and ran for one last week. ... Since 2013, Titans RB DeMarco Murray leads the NFL with 31 rushing TDs and is second with 4,129 yards. ... Titans LB Brian Orakpo has six sacks in his past four games and is aiming for his fifth game in a row with a sack. He had two last week.
PREDICTION: The Titans haven't fared well against the Browns in recent years, but Orakpo should help flip that script against the QB-troubled visitors.
OUR PICK: Titans, 24-14.
SERIES HISTORY: 162nd meeting. Redskins lead series, 83-73-5. Washington swept the Eagles last season, including a win that clinched the NFC East title Dec. 26 in Philadelphia.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Eagles are averaging the fifth most rushing attempts in the league (29.1 per game). But they are expected to lean on the run even more Sunday with a rookie -- Halapoulivaati Vaitai -- making his first start at right tackle. The Eagles want to stay balanced offensively and not let the Redskins' pass rushers, primarily Ryan Kerrigan, tee off on Vaitai.
Rookie quarterback Carson Wentz has received the majority of the attention for the Eagles. And with good reason. Washington must be ready for a mobile player who can make things happen on the run. That's not been its strong suit in recent years.
But the Redskins might also want to take a look at that revamped Philadelphia defense. The Eagles rank second in points allowed, fourth in third-down percentage and eighth in yards per play. They have been equally good against the run and the pass and did something Washington could not: Stop Pittsburgh's powerful offense; Philadelphia beat the Steelers 34-3 at home. Pittsburgh won at FedEx Field 38-16.
The Redskins could be without one of their top offensive players, tight end Jordan Reed (concussion).
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Eagles DT Fletcher Cox vs. Washington RG Brandon Scherff. Cox has a team-high four sacks and a forced fumble. He had two sacks in the last meeting. Scherff, the No. 5 pick in the 2015 draft, is off to a solid start in his second season.
--Eagles WR Jordan Matthews vs. Redskins CB Josh Norman. Matthews has six catches greater than 20 yards and two touchdown receptions. Norman needed a shot in his wrist to return to last week's game vs. Baltimore.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: CB Ron Brooks will have one of his toughest assignments of the season. The Redskins' Jamison Crowder is one of the league's better slot receivers. He had 59 catches last season and already has 21 this year. Brooks and the Eagles' defense have given up just three touchdown passes this season.
INJURY REPORT: Philadelphia -- Questionable: DT Fletcher Cox (ankle), CB Leodis McKelvin (hamstring). Washington -- Out: WR Josh Doctson (Achilles). Questionable: CB Bashaud Breeland (ankle), S Su'a Cravens (concussion), CB Dashaun Phillips (hamstring), TE Jordan Reed (concussion)
FAST FACTS: Washington QB Kirk Cousins threw for 365 yards and four TDs in a 38-24 win over the Eagles in December. TE Jordan Reed caught nine passes for 129 yards and two TDs. Cousins is averaging 360.7 yards per game, with eight TDs and one interception, in three meetings. ... Redskins WR Pierre Garcon caught a TD pass last week and is looking for his third straight game with a TD vs. Philadelphia. ... Eagles QB Carson Wentz has been very efficient, with a passer rating of at least 100 in three of his four games. He threw for 238 yards and two TDs last week. ... Eagles WR Jordan Matthews caught six passes for 104 yards and a TD in the last meeting.
PREDICTION: Cox and the Eagles' defense have been backing Wentz's steady play, which could help overcome Cousins and company, especially if Reed is out.
OUR PICK: Eagles, 24-20.
SERIES HISTORY: 112th regular-season meeting between these original members of the American Football League. The Chiefs lead the series, 58-51-2. Last season the Chiefs swept the Raiders, winning 34-20 in Oakland and then 23-17 in Kansas City. Under Andy Reid, the Chiefs are 5-1 against the Raiders. In the last 16 seasons (2000-15), the Chiefs have an 18-14 edge, and they are 10-6 at Oakland since the 2000 season.
KEYS TO THE GAME: With Latavius Murray still hobbling with a toe injury, the Raiders are likely a pass-first offense with Derek Carr spreading the ball to his wideouts and running backs, then hoping to set up DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard with surprise traps and draws that can be sprung for big yardage.
Carr's talents notwithstanding, the Raiders' rushing game has fallen off over the last two weeks. In their first three games, with a relatively healthy Murray, they averaged 148.3 yards on the ground (second in the league), and 5.86 yards per carry, the best mark in the NFL. In their last two games, the Raiders averaged only 75.5 rushing yards per game (25th in NFL) and 3.43 yards per carry (22nd). Additionally, they scored five rushing touchdowns in their first three games, compared to just one in the last two.
Defensively, the Raiders, beaten deep early and often by San Diego's Philip Rivers, have no such fear facing Alex Smith's mediocre arm. Even if he does launch one deep, Smith has WR Jeremy Maclin as a lone threat to take the top off a defense. So watch the Raiders crowd the box, stop the run and make quick tackles on Smith's short throws.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Raiders WRs Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree vs. Chiefs CB Marcus Peters. An Oakland high school product, Peters is coming home as a rehabilitated star after personal issues ruined his college career. He became a draft steal, albeit No. 22 overall in 2016, and intercepted eight passes as a rookie -- one of those in Oakland in a 34-20 win over the Raiders. Derek Carr has a habit of going after the other team's top corner, and he will do it with both Cooper and Crabtree. Crabtree had a pair of touchdowns against the Chiefs last season and caught eight passes for 79 yards. Cooper had four catches for 69 yards in the first meeting and only two for 20 in the second when he was hobbling with a foot injury.
--Chiefs TE Travis Kelce vs. Raiders SS Karl Joseph. Kelce is the guy that better-safe-than-sorry quarterback Alex Smith looks to when he wants a high percentage play with minimal risk. The middle of the Raiders defense has had its issues, including a 58-yard pass last week to San Diego rookie tight end Hunter Henry and a short touchdown pass to Antonio Gates. Joseph, a 5-foot-10, 207-pound rookie, is giving up considerable size to every tight end he faces but has a pit bull mentality,
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: RT Vadal Alexander. A seventh-round draft pick from LSU may be the surprise answer to the question of who will assume the role of right tackle. Menelik Watson held the job coming out of training camp -- winning out over last season's starter, Austin Howard. But Watson has already been hurt twice and his injury history is problematic. Howard came in briefly when Alexander tweaked an ankle against San Diego and got pushed around until Alexander was asked to return.
FAST FACTS: The average score difference in the last 32 games between the Chiefs and Raiders (2000-15) is 1.5 points. Kansas City scored 672 points, while Oakland totaled 623. ... Raiders QB Derek Carr threw two TDs vs. San Diego, extending his streak of throwing at least one TD pass to 11 games. Only three Raiders had streaks of at least 11 games -- Daryle Lamonica (3 times, including a franchise-record 25 games between 1968 and 1970), Ken Stabler (twice) and Rich Gannon (19 games, 2001-2002).
INJURY REPORT: Kansas City -- None. Oakland -- Out: G Vadal Alexander (ankle), RB Latavius Murray (toe), T Menelik Watson (calf). Questionable: S Nate Allen (quadricep), G Jon Feliciano (calf), RB Taiwan Jones (knee), T Matt McCants (knee), LB Malcolm Smith (quadriceps), TE Clive Walford (knee).
PREDICTION: The Chiefs are historically heartbreakers for the Raiders in a series that goes back to the beginning of the old AFL. Oakland's frustrations are so old they still give nightmares to retired Hall of Fame coach John Madden. During one game at Kansas City, the Chiefs were scoring with such regularity that their horse mascot, Warpaint, was getting tired. After the game, Madden said, "We damned near killed Warpaint." But the Chiefs won't have Warpaint at Oakland Sunday.
OUR PICK: Raiders, 38-30.
SERIES HISTORY: 27th regular-season meeting. Packers lead series, 14-12. Green Bay has won the last five meetings, dating back to 2009, and with a victory Sunday can match its longest winning streak in the series. Those six straight wins came in the teams' first six meetings from 1960 to 1968, highlighted by the Packers' back-to-back NFL Championship triumphs during the 1966 and '67 seasons -- the latter a 21-17 victory in the famous Ice Bowl at Lambeau Field. All but one of the games in the Packers' current win streak against the Cowboys came in Green Bay. The Packers prevailed 28-7 at Lambeau last December, 11 months after they hung on for a 26-21 win over the Cowboys there in the divisional round of the playoffs.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Nineteen quarterbacks have more explosive passing plays (25-plus yards) this season than Aaron Rodgers (six), which is the vital information used in nitpicking the Packers' offensive performance to date. Rodgers tied for the NFL lead with 39 explosive pass plays last season. He is averaging 6.3 yards per attempt (28th in the NFL) and completing 56.1 percent of his passes. Those aren't the customary numbers from Green Bay's perennial MVP contender, but signs of a breakout emerged last week, and the Cowboys' zone-based defense has its soft spots. With WR Randall Cobb stepping up, the Cowboys are challenged to match up across the three-WR formation the Packers roll out.
Defense has been the star of the show for the Packers, leading the NFL in run defense (42.8 yards per game) with an underrated wave of front seven defenders. The challenge this week is containing rookie RB Ezekiel Elliott, who leads the NFL in rushing by 85 yards over former Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray (Titans). Elliott averages 5.01 yards per rush and 109.2 yards per game for the Cowboys, and Dallas used two tight ends more with Dez Bryant (knee) idle. That alignment sets the Cowboys up to contend with the Packers 1-2 punch off the edge. OLB Nick Perry is living in the opponents' backfield and sidekick Clay Matthews can terrorize rookie QB Dak Prescott if he hangs in the pocket too long.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Packers WR Jordy Nelson vs. Cowboys CB Morris Claiborne. The Packers' passing game has sputtered at times this season but Jordy Nelson has come back strong to make plays. He has just 21 catches through four games but has scored five touchdowns. Claiborne has been Dallas's best defender and has yet to give up a touchdown pass this season. He will need to keep Nelson in check.
--Packers defensive front vs. Cowboys offensive line. Dallas has long been synonymous with strong offensive-line play. That reputation has merely been amplified a month into this season with the Cowboys' leading the NFL with an average of 155.2 rushing yards per game and ranking second in total offense. What's more, rookie quarterback Dak Prescott's impressive start to the season as the fill-in for the injured Tony Romo has included being sacked only seven times in five games. Green Bay counters with a highly productive defense. The Packers are No. 1 in the league for stopping the run with a microscopic average of 42.8 yards allowed per game. They have generated 14 sacks in four games, with all but two of those takedowns coming from linemen and linebackers.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Cowboys CB Anthony Brown has been a huge surprise as a rookie sixth-round pick from Purdue. He has filled in admirably for the injured Orlando Scandrick as the slot corner and has not looked out of place. He is actually more physical than Scandrick. He will be tested this week by Green Bay's Randall Cobb, who is quick and strong in the middle of the field.
INJURY REPORT: Dallas -- Out: T Chaz Green (foot), QB Tony Romo (back), CB Orlando Scandrick (hamstring, hamstring). Questionable: K Dan Bailey (back), WR Dez Bryant (knee), CB Morris Claiborne (ankle), RB Lance Dunbar (knee), DE David Irving (concussion), DT Terrell McClain (shoulder), T Tryon Smith (back), LB Kyle Wilber (neck), WR Terrance Williams (shoulder), TE Jason Witten (chest). Green Bay -- Out: S Chris Banjo (hamstring), TE Jared Cook (ankle), CB Sam Shields (concussion). Questionable: RB Eddie Lacy (ankle), CB Damarious Randall (groin), RB James Starks (knee).
FAST FACTS: RB Ezekiel Elliott is gaining 10-plus yards on 11 percent of his rushing attempts. ... The Cowboys were 1 of 11 on third down at Green Bay last season. Elliott has gained an NFL-leading 31 first downs. ... A Cowboys win would give them a 5-1 record for the 14th time in franchise history, the last coming in 2014. It would also give them five straight wins, their longest streak since winning six straight in 2014. ... The Cowboys have yet to allow a 100-yard rusher or 100-yard receiver through the first five games.
PREDICTION: Green Bay's brand of keep-away demands precision from Aaron Rodgers and, while Dallas' defense has been game for all challenges this season, the secondary will be overmatched if the Packers' machine starts churning out first downs. The Cowboys have a winning formula and should have a chance to win in the fourth quarter.
OUR PICK: Packers, 27-22.
SERIES HISTORY: 15th regular-season meeting. Seahawks lead the series, 9-5. The Seahawks won the last meeting, 33-10, on Nov. 10, 2013. The Falcons have won the last two games played in Seattle, a 30-28 win in 2011 and 34-18 in 2010.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Falcons enter the game ranked first in points (35.0), total yards (457.4) and passing yards (333.4) per game, and seventh in rushing at 124.0 yards per game. QB Matt Ryan leads the NFL with 1,740 passing yards and 10.4 yards per completion, along with 26 completions of 20-plus yards and 10 of 40-plus. Translation? He is highly comfortable in Year 2 under coordinator Kyle Shanahan and has a wealth of receivers to distribute the ball to. Seattle's vaunted defense, meanwhile, works best when the front four is able to stop the run and the zone pass defense generates turnovers. Atlanta's offensive line is the weak point, and the question will be whether Seattle can pressure Ryan into mistakes. But the zone can be vulnerable to underneath routes, and Falcons RBs Devonte Freeman and Tevin Coleman could prove a challenge for LBs Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright to keep tabs on.
After scuffling out of the gate, the Seahawks found their offensive stride in convincing victories over San Francisco and the New York Jets before a bye week that allowed quarterback Russell Wilson to rest sprains to his right ankle and left knee. While RB Christine Michael has flashed as the lead back with Thomas Rawls (leg) sidelined, this is now an offense that uses the pass to set up the run. Even with limited mobility the past two games, Wilson was effective from the pocket, in no small part due to TE Jimmy Graham showing to be close to full strength. The way to cripple the Seahawks' offense is to stop the run and crash the edges of a suspect offensive line, but getting after the passer is one of the Falcons' biggest weaknesses. Atlanta does enter allowing an average of 98.6 rushing yards per game, so stuffing the run and testing Wilson's mobility remains the key.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Falcons WR Julio Jones vs. Seahawks CB Richard Sherman. Sherman doesn't always shadow the opposing team's top receiver, but he has done so with more regularity the past two seasons, including Week 4 against the Jets' Brandon Marshall -- a battle that included some early struggles for Sherman before a game-turning interception and game-sealing pick. Most teams have chosen to double-team Jones, but the Panthers gambled in man coverage and got toasted for 300 yards in Week 4. The Seahawks have been coy in their plan, but expect Jones and Sherman to see plenty of one-on-one time. The only time they have faced each other was in the 2012 playoffs where Jones caught six passes for 59 yards. However, Sherman was not exclusively on Jones in that meeting.
--Falcons linebackers/safeties vs. Seahawks TE Jimmy Graham. After limited snaps to open the season while recovering from knee surgery, Graham has posted consecutive 100-yard games while making several outstanding catches as he continues to build chemistry with Wilson. Carolina's Greg Olson, New Orleans' Coby Fleener and Oakland's Clive Walford combined for 19 catches, 235 yards and three touchdowns over a three-game stretch against Atlanta.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Seahawks RB C.J. Spiller. Signed just days before the Week 4 victory over the Jets, Spiller contributed immediately as a return man and on 15 percent of the team's offensive snaps. With a bye week to get better acclimated to the Seahawks' scheme, Spiller should be even more involved in the game plan.
INJURY REPORT: Atlanta -- Out: LB Paul Worrilow (groin). Seattle -- Out: DE Quinton Jefferson (thumb), RB Thomas Rawls (fibula). Questionable: S Kam Chancellor (groin), DE Frank Clark (hamstring), RB C.J. Prosise (wrist), DT Garrison Smith (oblique).
FAST FACTS: Falcons OLB Vic Beasley has 8.5 career sacks, including 3.5 to go along with two forced fumbles at Denver last week. ... Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin has a touchdown catch in five consecutive home games.
PREDICTION: The Falcons' offense feels unstoppable at the moment with so many versatile weapons, but don't underestimate being on the road for two weeks without returning home and facing one of the league's premier defenses in what is forecast to be very wet conditions. Atlanta's defense remains a potential Achilles' heel, and the Seahawks have had a week off to rest and game-plan.
OUR PICK: Seahawks, 31-27.
SERIES HISTORY: 29th regular-season meeting. Colts lead series, 23-5. Indianapolis has won six of the past seven, including a 27-20 decision at Reliant/NRG Stadium on Oct. 8, 2015. The Colts lost at home, 16-10, in December. It was the first road win for the Texans in the series. Indianapolis is 13-1 against the Texans at home and 10-4 away. Six of the last nine meetings have been decided by a touchdown or less, including the previous four.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Indianapolis got off to a fast start on offense in last week's home field win over the Chicago Bears. The Colts will need more of the same against Houston. The Colts had success with the up-tempo scheme in recent weeks and most likely will use it against the Texans.
While the running game has been inconsistent this season, Indianapolis will need a strong performance at Houston.
Defensively, the Colts need to find some way to get pressure on Houston quarterback Brock Osweiler. Finding a pass rush continues to be a major issue for Indianapolis, so defensive coordinator Ted Monachino will need to dial up a blitz package or two in order to help his defensive unit.
The Texans will try to tilt their coverage to contain T.Y. Hilton. They will try to exploit a bad Colts offensive line.
Offensively, they want to get DeAndre Hopkins more involved and also establish the run with Lamar Miller.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins vs. Colts CB Vontae Davis. Hopkins has just 10 catches for 116 yards and a touchdown over the past three games. He didn't catch a pass until the third quarter against the Vikings. Davis is a tough, fast cornerback who has had success containing Hopkins in the past.
--Colts QB Andrew Luck vs. Texans CBs Kareem Jackson/Johnathan Joseph. Luck will be returning home to Houston, where he starred in high school. He is 5-1 against the Texans, throwing for 1,385 yards and 14 touchdowns, with three interceptions. This season, he has completed 64 percent for 1,469 yards, 10 touchdowns and three interceptions. The Texans rank first in the NFL in pass defense, allowing just 181 yards per game.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: DE Jadeveon Clowney leads the NFL with eight tackles for losses, tying a career-high. He also has two sacks and is emerging as a disruptive force operating out of a three-point stance after converting from outside linebacker.
INJURY REPORT: Indianapolis -- Out: C Jonotthan Harrison (illness), DT Zach Kerr (ankle), WR Donte Moncrief (shoulder). Questionable: WR Quan Bray (shin), CB Darius Butler (hand), WR T.Y. Hilton (hip), CB Patrick Robinson (knee, hip). Houston -- Out: G Jeff Allen (concussion), TE Stephen Anderson (hamstring), S Quintin Demps (calf), RB Jonathan Grimes (ankle), LB Brian Peters (quadricep). Questionable: WR Will Fuller (hamstring), CB Kareem Jackson (hamstring), T Derek Newton (ankle).
FAST FACTS: Colts RB Frank Gore rushed for 98 yards and a score in the last game at Houston. He has 12,368 career rushing yards, ninth in league history (he just passed Jim Brown). ... Colts WR T.Y. Hilton has 21 catches for 432 yards and four TDs in his past three games at Houston. ... Colts LB Robert Mathis has eight sacks and four forced fumbles in the past 11 meetings. ... Houston RB Lamar Miller aims for his third game in a row vs. Indianapolis with a rushing TD. He has 453 scrimmage yards in five games with Houston. ... Houston LB Whitney Mercilus has 10 sacks in his past seven games.
PREDICTION: The Texans broke a six-game losing streak to the Colts in December, but that was with Luck injured. No such luck this time for Houston.
OUR PICK: Colts, 31-24.
New York Jets (1-4) at Arizona Cardinals (2-3)
SERIES HISTORY: 9th regular season meeting, Jets lead series 6-2. The Jets won the most recent meeting between the teams on Dec. 2, 2012, when QB Greg McElroy enjoyed his finest moment as a pro by relieving Mark Sanchez in the third quarter and directing the game's lone touchdown drive -- which he capped with his only NFL touchdown pass, a 1-yard strike to TE Jeff Cumberland -- to lead the Jets to a 7-6 win at MetLife Stadium. The Jets have won the last six games in the series dating back to 1978.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Jets can't afford to fall behind early and put the game on the right shoulder of QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. A fast start that includes an early score or two is pivotal in allowing RBs Matt Forte and Bilal Powell to remain an integral part of the play-calling. The Cardinals allow 4.6 yards per carry and 118.2 yards per game, so the opportunity is there if the Jets' offensive line is able to control the trenches. A big factor could prove to be the availability/effectiveness of C Nick Mangold, who is trying to return from a knee injury.
The Cardinals have had three extra days of rest since a Thursday night victory over the 49ers, and part of that time was dedicate to dissecting why the offense has yet to fully click this season. QB Carson Palmer returns from a one-game absence due to a concussion, but faces questions about why he has underthrown several receivers this season and why the Cardinals' vaunted vertical passing game hasn't been as effective thus far.
The Jets' beleaguered secondary could prove the Firestarter, as the Jets enter with the league's 31st-ranked secondary and a slew of long completions allowed. Former Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles returns to Arizona as the Jets' head coach, but he doesn't have the personnel needed to shut down Palmer & Co. He'll likely sink the safeties in an attempt to limit the vertical passing game, but that just opens room underneath for versatile RB David Johnson and WR Larry Fitzgerald, who does more of his damage closer to the line of scrimmage these days.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Jets WR Brandon Marshall vs. Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson: Like he did with Seattle's Richard Sherman two weeks ago, Marshall can expect shadow coverage from the All-Pro Peterson. Marshall is Fitzpatrick's favorite target but coverage has been more difficult since Eric Decker was lost to a shoulder injury. That means Quincy Enunwa, Jalin Marshall and Robby Anderson must win their individual battles.
--Jets NT Steve McClendon/DE Leonard Williams vs. Cardinals LG John Wetzel: A tough assignment for Wetzel in his first career start. He held up well enough in relief of Mike Iupati (ankle) against the 49ers last week, but the Jets' stout defensive line is a different deal. He'll likely receive some help from LT Jared Veldheer and C A.Q. Shipley, but that has an impact on the overall blocking schemes.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Jets CB Darryl Roberts. The former practice squad player has an opportunity to carve out a significant role with Darrelle Revis (hamstring) seemingly on the downside of his stellar career and Marcus Williams appearing to be better suited as role player.
FAST FACTS: The Jets are 31-51-1 all-time in games played in the Mountain or Western time zones, but they are 2-0 at Arizona. ... The Cardinals enter with 18 sacks, the second-most in the NFL this season and the fifth-most in franchise history through five games.
PREDICTION: Bowles played for Arians at Temple in the 1980s, but this is not a case of the student getting the better of the teacher. The Cardinals are seeking to revive their vertical passing game, and the Jets' overmatched secondary is the perfect tonic. And just the threat alone creates space for dynamic RB David Johnson to do his damage underneath - so long as the Cardinals' backup offensive guards are able to adequately protect Palmer.
OUR PICK: Cardinals, 33-26.