We’re previewing the Week 6 NFL slate with score predictions for each game from our Nation reporters, what to watch for in fantasy, Football Power Index projections from ESPN Stats & Information, and much more.
Point spread: CIN -2.5 | Matchup quality: 68.5 (of 100)
Jeremy Fowler’s pick: The Steelers found three things in last week’s blowout of Atlanta — an improved defense, the Ben Roethlisberger-Antonio Brown connection and their overall edge. Bunch those factors with a five-game winning streak in Paul Brown Stadium, and the Steelers should get their first divisional win. Steelers 27, Bengals 21
Katherine Terrell’s pick: The Bengals have lost the past six meetings to the Steelers, so recent history would say to not pick Cincinnati. However, most of the team from the 2015 playoff game that began the losing streak is gone, and in its place is a team that averages 30.6 points per game. While the Bengals don’t match up well against the Steelers’ defensive line or running back James Conner, they have a turnover-forcing defense and an offense that can keep pace. Bengals 27, Steelers 24
FPI win projection: CIN, 52.9 percent. This is only the fifth time (playoffs included) since the start of the 2008 season that the Bengals have been FPI favorites against Pittsburgh. But they are only 1-4 in those games with the lone win coming in 2013.
What to watch for in fantasy: The Steelers have a secondary lacking in depth, a weakness that Andy Dalton can exploit — and exploit he will, considering his remarkably good chemistry with slot man Tyler Boyd to date. Read more.
Point spread: MIN -10.5 | Matchup quality: 45.4 (of 100)
Josh Weinfuss’ pick: The Cardinals’ offense is ranked last or second-to-last in the league in 11 categories. While the Vikings don’t have a great defense, it will be enough to slow down rookie Josh Rosen and the Arizona offense. Arizona boasts the 31st-ranked rushing offense while the Vikings have the 13th-ranked rushing defense. The way Kirk Cousins has been playing — fifth in the league in completion percentage, second in yards and seventh in touchdowns — the Cardinals might find themselves abandoning the run by the second half. Vikings 31, Cardinals 17
Courtney Cronin’s pick: The explosive numbers Cousins, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs have put up in the first five weeks show the Vikings can rely on their passing game to carry them where the running game won’t. Against the 31st-ranked rushing defense, Minnesota might look to tee up the run if Dalvin Cook is healthy enough to carry the load. Even if he isn’t, the Vikings can still rely on their screen game to generate yards and move the offense downfield quickly against a defense that allows 391 yards per game. Vikings 23, Cardinals 18
FPI win projection: MIN, 84.4 percent. The last time the Vikings were an 80-plus percent favorite was when they were upset by the Bills and their rookie QB in Week 3. Could the Cardinals make it two big upsets in the span of three weeks?
What to watch for in fantasy: The Vikings have had an exceedingly difficult time keeping opposing tight ends in check, and Ricky Seals-Jones has been routinely getting looks on deeper throws. His 10.6-yard average depth of target is fifth-highest among tight ends. Read more.
In case you missed it: The philosophical pass-rusher: Weatherly filling void for Vikings … Cousins is at his best when pressure is cranked up … Rosen a favorite among teammates, who say ‘he’s not weird’
Steve Young sees Jameis Winston’s return going well after a bye week against a bad Falcons defense in Week 6.
Point spread: ATL -3.5 | Matchup quality: 45.2 (of 100)
Jenna Laine’s pick: Through four games, the Bucs have given up 445.8 yards of offense per game, while the Falcons’ 55 percent third-down conversion percentage is worst in the league. The Bucs are giving up 34.8 points a game, the most in the league, with Falcons right behind them at 32.6. The difference is that in spite of their early hiccups, the Falcons have averaged 30 points a game the past two weeks. That’s a big question mark for Tampa Bay with Jameis Winston starting his first game coming off suspension. Falcons 34, Bucs 28
Vaughn McClure’s pick: The Falcons are on a three-game losing streak but have won three straight over the Buccaneers, averaging 33.7 points in those wins. At home this season, the Falcons are averaging 34.7 points per game and are 11-of-13 in the red zone. So even if the depleted defense struggles some against Winston and the Bucs’ explosive weapons, expect Matt Ryan and the offense to put up enough points to break the skid. Falcons 42, Bucs 28
FPI win projection: ATL, 65.1 percent. Expect both QBs to light it up on Sunday. The Buccaneers have allowed the highest opposing Total QBR of any team this year with an 83.3, and Atlanta has allowed the third worst at 64.6.
What to watch for in fantasy: In Keanu Neal‘s first two seasons, the Falcons’ defense allowed a completion rate of 64.9 percent. Without Neal this season, that number is up to 69.8 percent. Don’t be surprised to see Jameis Winston to post more than 300 yards and multiple scores. Read more.
Point spread: WSH -1 | Matchup quality: 43.4 (of 100)
David Newton’s pick: The Panthers are getting back their defensive leader (Thomas Davis) and offensive leader (Greg Olsen). As quarterback Cam Newton said, “The band is back together.” The emotional boost from that and Washington coming off a Monday night loss should give Carolina an edge, even on the road. That Newton has a career record of 4-0 with a passer rating of 115.4 against Washington also bodes well for Carolina. Panthers 31, Redskins 21
John Keim’s pick: There’s no reason after Monday night to expect Washington to win at home vs. a good team. Washington struggles after a win under coach Jay Gruden, so the loss to New Orleans was predictable. But they’re 14-6-1 under him after a loss in the past three years. And quarterback Alex Smith is 9-4 after a loss since 2011, when he’s coming off a game where his passer rating is 69 or below — as it was Monday. This is a defining game for Washington. Redskins 24, Panthers 23
FPI win projection: WSH, 55.0 percent. If the Redskins want any chance to make the playoffs in a wide-open NFC East, a win over Carolina would go a long way. The Redskins are slight favorites with FPI over the next two weeks, but after that, they are just favored to win two of their final 10 games.
Point spread: HOU -8.5 | Matchup quality: 41.3 (of 100)
Mike Rodak’s pick: The Texans have blitzed opposing quarterbacks the eighth most this season, which spells trouble for rookie Josh Allen, who has an NFL-worst 1.6 passer rating and 21.9 completion percentage when facing pressure. The Bills tried to mask that weakness in a win last Sunday over Tennessee by running the ball on the highest percentage of plays of any NFL team this season, but that will be a taller task against a Texans defense that is fourth-best against the run. Texans 20, Bills 7
Sarah Barshop’s pick: Houston’s defense has shown improvement — especially in the secondary — the past two weeks and has a good chance to take a step forward on Sunday against the Bills’ league-worst passing offense. The Bills are averaging just 121.8 passing yards per game and have allowed an NFL-leading 22 sacks this season, an area in which this defense should be able take advantage. Texans 21, Bills 14
FPI win projection: HOU, 78.2 percent. The Bills’ offensive efficiency is currently 16.9, the lowest in the league this season. Only four teams have posted a lower offensive efficiency in a full season since tracking began in 2006, and none have since 2012.
What to watch for in fantasy: Expect Tre’Davious White to be glued to DeAndre Hopkins on most of his Week 6 routes. Hopkins should be downgraded, and look for Will Fuller V (vs. Phillip Gaines) and Keke Coutee (vs. Taron Johnson) to pick up the slack. Read more.
In case you missed it: Bills win a throwback, but eventually Allen must throw … Despite no early picks, Texans draft class making early impact … Watson says he’s fine to play Sunday despite weeks of hard hits
Steve Young thinks the tough Chargers defense will give Baker Mayfield a tough day if he is not patient.
Point spread: LAC -1 | Matchup quality: 40.3 (of 100)
Eric D. Williams’ pick: The Chargers likely will get back tackles Russell Okung (groin) and Joe Barksdale (knee) this week, so Philip Rivers should have adequate protection against an improved Cleveland front four to make plays down the field. Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams likes to bring pressure, but Rivers has a league-best 110.1 passer rating when pressured. Defensively, the Bolts will do enough to limit Baker Mayfield and a Browns offense that has allowed 21 sacks through five games, second most in the league. Chargers 24, Browns 20
Pat McManamon’s pick: There’s no doubting the excellence of Rivers, who has completed 70 percent of his passes with 13 touchdowns and only two interceptions. The Browns’ defense leads the league with 15 forced turnovers, though, so something may have to give. It will give in favor of the Browns. Browns 20, Chargers 17
FPI win projection: LAC, 59.8 percent. A Chargers win coupled with a Chiefs loss can open up the division race. Should that happen, the Chargers would move up to an 18 percent chance to take the AFC West. FPI currently gives them a 12 percent chance.
In case you missed it: James showing traits of an elite safety … How fatherhood made Allen a better player … Resetting AFC North: Browns contenders? … Browns ‘not bad’? Mayfield believed from the start
Point spread: SEA -3 | Matchup quality: 39.5 (of 100)
Paul Gutierrez’s pick: Since Week 3, Seattle has run the ball better than any team (a league-high 474 rushing yards), has zero turnovers and has six takeaways on defense. That’s a good reason to like the Seahawks’ chances against the Raiders. Oakland is 28th in run defense, and Derek Carr has thrown the most interceptions (eight). The Seahawks shouldn’t have much trouble coming home from London with a win and a 3-3 record heading into their bye. Seahawks 27, Raiders 17
Brady Henderson’s pick: The Raiders have the fewest QB pressures in the league with Pro Football Focus crediting Oakland with 46. The Raiders are also tied for last in the NFL with the Giants with six sacks. So how do the Raiders figure to contain the ultra-elusive Russell Wilson at Wembley Stadium? It will be a long day for Oakland if Wilson runs wild, but former teammate Bruce Irvin should know a thing or two about Wilson’s tendencies. Still, if Marshawn Lynch does not run it in from the 1-yard line late for a Raiders win, then Sebastian Janikowski will kick a field goal at the final gun to lift Seattle, right? Seahawks 19, Raiders 17
FPI win projection: SEA, 65.7 percent. Seattle may already be too far behind the Rams to worry about the NFC West, but it is still in the thick of the race for a wild-card slot. A win would get Seattle to a 42 percent chance, while a loss drops them to 23 percent.
What to watch for in fantasy: The Raiders have allowed at least 26 rushing attempts in four of their five games. Assuming the Seahawks hit that mark, you can predict at least 10 rushes for Mike Davis, making him a good bet for at least 45 rushing yards. Read more.
In case you missed it: Seahawks’ run game is rolling, but where’s first-rounder Penny? … Red-eye Raiders: No need for acclimation in Gruden’s travel plans … What’s with not Marshawn Lynch the ball at the 1-yard line?
Point spread: CHI -3 | Matchup quality: 34.6 (of 100)
Jeff Dickerson’s pick: The Dolphins are in desperation mode after losing two straight, but they are going to have a hard time moving the ball against the Bears’ defense, which leads the league in fewest rushing yards allowed (64.0 per game). The Bears also average 4.5 sacks per game — best in the NFL. The Dolphins have injuries on their offensive line, and Ryan Tannehill struggles with ball security. Look for the Bears to win three in a row for the first time since the start of the 2013 season. Bears 27, Dolphins 17
Cameron Wolfe’s pick: Miami hasn’t lost at home yet, but there isn’t much reason for confidence that it will keep the streak going. It’s going to be a nightmare holding off Khalil Mack and the Bears’ front, and the Dolphins’ banged-up line will force them to rely on their short passing game. Tannehill has led Miami to just 10 points over his past 21 drives (two games), and it’s going to be even tougher against arguably the NFL’s best defense. Bears 20, Dolphins 13
FPI win projection: CHI, 63.7 percent. Not only do the Bears have the most efficient defense thus far, they are doing it without having to blitz to get sacks. The Bears have the lowest rate of sending five or more pass-rushers while sacking the opposing QB on over 11 percent of dropbacks.
What to watch for in fantasy: It should be tough sledding for Kenyan Drake against the Bears’ defense, which ranks first in KC Joyner’s GBR (27.1), GBYPA (6.2) and GBP (1.7) metrics and in rush defense. Read more.
In case you missed it: Trubisky: Bears teammates won’t let him play without arm sleeve … More than mediocre? Dolphins’ offense makes it hard to believe … Hurting Dolphins trying to piece together plan for Mack
Darren Woodson and Tedy Bruschi agree that Sam Darnold’s Jets will get the best of Andrew Luck’s Colts on Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
Point spread: NYJ -2.5 | Matchup quality: 29.2 (of 100)
Mike Wells’ pick: The Jets are coming off a 344-yard rushing performance against Denver in Week 5. The Colts are 18th in the NFL in stopping the run, giving up 106.8 yards a game. Andrew Luck heads into Sunday leading the NFL in passing attempts (245) and completions (163). The Colts have had a chance to win each game in the fourth quarter in all four losses this season. This will be a close one, too, with the Colts finding a way to pull it out. Colts 34, Jets 30
Rich Cimini’s pick: The Jets are trying to win back-to-back games for the first time since last October. Robby Anderson says this game “will define us as a team.” Translation: They’re in trouble if they can’t beat a 1-4 team at home. The Jets should prevail as long as rookie Sam Darnold remains patient against the Colts’ Tampa 2 defense. Jets 24, Colts 23
FPI win projection: IND, 50.4 percent. After Week 3, Luck’s average pass was traveling just under 5.5 yards downfield, but in his past two games, it has jumped up to 8.4 yards, much closer to his career average of 8.6 yards.
What to watch for in fantasy: The Colts’ defense has the 12th-highest pressure rate and sixth-highest sack rate in the league. Darnold has completed just 42 percent of his passes with a paltry 1.55 yards per dropback when pressured, rates that rank well below league average. This makes the Colts D/ST an intriguing Week 6 streamer. Read more.
In case you missed it: Shoulder problem? Luck letting it rip at record pace … Anderson opens up to Darnold … and gets open (twice) … St. Patrick’s Day blockbuster looks like win for Jets — and Colts … Anderson living large as ‘Goose’ mystery widens
Point spread: LAR -7 | Matchup quality: 65.4 (of 100)
Lindsey Thiry’s pick: The Rams anticipate their starting offense will be intact, with receivers Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp expected to clear concussion protocol and play against the Broncos. But the Rams’ playbook — and their explosive offense averaging 34.6 points per game — could still be altered in Denver, with freezing temperatures and snow showers in the forecast. Rams 28, Broncos 14
Jeff Legwold’s pick: For a defense that just surrendered 323 yards rushing and 34 points to the Jets, this might not be the matchup the Broncos were hoping for. But as coach Vance Joseph put it: “Nobody’s stopped them and now it’s our turn to try.” The Rams lead the league in total offense, are third in scoring offense and haven’t been held to fewer than 33 points in a game all season. If Von Miller and the defense don’t have their best effort of the season and the offense can’t hold the ball, this one could get ugly. Rams 31, Broncos 23
FPI win projection: LAR, 76.8 percent. The Rams have the highest offensive efficiency (93.9) by any team through five games in a season since our tracking began in 2006. And the Denver defense is not what it once was after a tough start to the season, ranking 27th in the league in defensive efficiency.
What to watch for in fantasy: The Rams rank 28th in both GBYPA (8.7) and GBP (3.9), and rank 21st in KC Joyner’s run-defense grades. The Broncos have the fourth-most favorable run-blocking matchup in Week 6, so rate Phillip Lindsay as an RB2 and Royce Freeman as a very good flex option. Read more.
Darren Woodson and Tedy Bruschi see the Ravens leaning on their defense to lead them to a win over the Tennessee Titans.
Point spread: BAL -2.5 | Matchup quality: 59.8 (of 100)
Jamison Hensley’s pick: The Ravens’ defense is going to show former coordinator Dean Pees, now on the Titans’ sidelines, that it’s just as strong without him. This is a lopsided matchup with Baltimore and the NFL’s top-scoring defense going against the Titans, who are averaging 16 offensive points per game (third worst in the NFL). Ravens 20, Titans 9
Turron Davenport’s pick: The Titans are a much better team at Nissan Stadium, having won 12 of the past 13 home games. All of their games this season have been decided by seven points or fewer. Tennessee has to find a way to keep Joe Flacco and John Brown from connecting on deep shots. Both teams are solid defensively, so expect another close game with the Titans coming out on top in a field goal fest. Titans 17, Ravens 12
FPI win projection: BAL, 57.1 percent. This game could be a defensive struggle, as the Ravens and Titans have allowed the second- and third-lowest Total QBR in the league this season. However, the Ravens are the favorite are ranked 17th in offensive efficiency compared with 31st for the Titans.
What to watch for in fantasy: Receivers aligned across from Malcolm Butler have posted a league-high 94 fantasy points. It has been a rough start to Michael Crabtree‘s time in Baltimore, but a 21 percent target share and this matchup keeps him in the WR3 discussion. Read more.
In case you missed it: Can Ravens win with Flacco throwing 700 passes this year? … Harbaugh hints at going running back by committee … ‘Old man’ Dean Pees at home in Nashville working with former pupil
Point spread: JAX -3 | Matchup quality: 56.4 (of 100)
Mike DiRocco’s pick: This is a good matchup for the Jaguars’ defense, because Dak Prescott has struggled throwing the ball, surpassing 200 yards only seven times in the past 13 games and failing to throw for a TD in seven games over that span. Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye should have little trouble with the Cowboys’ receivers, so the Jags can sell out to stop Ezekiel Elliott. Jaguars 13, Cowboys 7
Todd Archer’s pick: First one to six points wins? That’s somewhat of a joke, but points will be at a premium Sunday and not because these teams feature strong defenses. They also have flawed offenses, too. The Cowboys can’t make enough plays in the passing game to score, while the Jaguars won’t have Leonard Fournette, and quarterback Blake Bortles is befuddling. The Cowboys have been a different team at home, winning both games in part because of big plays in the passing game such as 64-yarder to Tavon Austin against Giants and a 38-yarder to Ezekiel Elliott against Detroit. The Jaguars’ defense, however, is better than those of New York and Detroit. Jaguars 20, Cowboys 13
FPI win projection: DAL, 56.1 percent. With no Fournette, the Jaguars will once again go as Bortles goes. Not surprisingly, Bortles has posted an 81 Total QBR in the Jaguars’ three wins this season and a 21 Total QBR in their two losses.
What to watch for in fantasy: Bortles has posted his highest yards per dropback (10.5) and highest QBR (93.3) when targeting Dede Westbrook among the team’s wideouts. Dallas has struggled to contain receivers so far, ceding 14.3 yards per reception to them (sixth most in the league). Read more.
In case you missed it: Jaguars’ task on Sunday pretty clear: Stop Elliott … No Zeke? No Ramsey? What if 2016 draft fell differently for Cowboys, Jags? … New Jaguars RB Charles ideal relief for Yeldon … Garrett’s future in Dallas on the line as patience wanes
Point spread: NE -3.5 | Matchup quality: 72.1 (of 100)
Adam Teicher’s pick: The Chiefs scored 83 points in their past two regular-season matchups with the Patriots, and now with Patrick Mahomes have even more offensive capability. They also know how to defend Tom Brady, who has one touchdown pass, two interceptions and a passer rating of 66.1 in those two games. Look for these trends to continue. Chiefs 33, Patriots 28
Mike Reiss’ pick: History says the Patriots should be in a good place, as under-25 starting quarterbacks are a combined 0-23 on the road in the regular season against New England since 2001. Tom Brady (41) is 18 years, 45 days older than Patrick Mahomes (23), which according to Elias Sports Bureau research makes this the largest age difference between opposing starting quarterbacks since Matt Hasselbeck faced Jameis Winston in 2015 (they were 18 years, 103 days apart). The Patriots should be able to move the ball and score points on the Chiefs’ defense. Patriots 41, Chiefs 27
FPI win projection: NE, 66.6 percent. This game has the highest FPI matchup quality of the week and could go a long way toward determining who gets the top AFC seed in the playoffs. The Chiefs currently have a 51 percent chance to earn the top seed, and that would increase to 71 percent with a win on Sunday, according to FPI. A Patriots win would increase their chances from 18 percent to 26 percent, while a loss would drop them to just 3 percent.
What to watch for in fantasy: Bill Belichick will use the Pats’ newfound blocking prowess to ruthlessly exploit the Chiefs’ rushing defense, which ranks 32nd in rushing yards allowed before first defensive contact (YBCT, 3.4), GBR (55.6) and GBP (4.6). That’s good news for Sony Michel and James White. Read more.
In case you missed it: ‘Turbo Andy’ got his guy: Inside the Reid-Mahomes masterpiece … How the Chiefs and Patriots have brought college offenses to the NFL … Gronk 2.0? Kelce doesn’t see it that way … It’s Michel’s time to shine as Patriots running back
Tedy Bruschi and Darren Woodson both see Aaron Rodgers and the Packers taking care of the 49ers without Jimmy Garoppolo.
MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL
Point spread: GB -9.5 | Matchup quality: 47.0 (of 100)
Nick Wagoner’s pick: The banged-up 49ers are again hard to project because of their many injury issues, and a road trip to face Aaron Rodgers doesn’t look like the cure to what ails them. Rodgers has not lost in his past nine home starts, completing 67.7 percent of his passes for 2,470 yards and 22 touchdowns with just three interceptions as he prepares to go against a 49ers defense with a league-low three takeaways. Without some big plays from the defense, all signs point toward the Niners extending their league-high October losing streak to 12. Packers 31, 49ers 17
Rob Demovsky’s pick: The Packers have their bye next week followed by a brutal stretch that includes games at the Rams and Patriots and then at the Seahawks and Vikings sandwiched around a home game against the Dolphins. They needed last week’s game at the Lions and started so slowly on offense that they didn’t get it. They’re aiming for a fast start against a struggling 49ers team to make themselves feel better. This could be the complete offensive game they’re looking for. Packers 37, 49ers 17
FPI win projection: GB, 78.6 percent. The 49ers rank in the bottom half of the league in offensive, defensive and special teams efficiency this season, and they are ranked second worst in the NFL in overall efficiency as a result.