Houston Texans @ Jacksonville Jaguars
Did you know the AFC South is the only division in which every team has a record of .500 or better? Every divisional game is tough and crucial. Another year in Texas and another season ending injury to star, J.J. Watt. As a result the offense must shoulder more of the load. Watson and company look ready to do just that boasting the 4th most YPG in the league. As if pressure from the standings wasn’t enough Garner Minshew now faces pressure from the impending return of injured QB, Nick Foles. Minshew stats are on par with the best in the league. And he’s been successful despite the Jags’ defense regressing from a top D in 2018 to the middle of the pack in 2019.
Washington Redskins @ Buffalo Bills
The Redskins are vastly improved since head coach, Jay Gruden, was fired. If you saw last week’s game against the Vikings (who are one of the NFC’s best) the gap between the teams wasn’t large at all. If the ‘Skins had a QB then they could develop into professional monkey wrench slingers. But that is a big “if” as the QB position has been a problem all season. The Bills have looked shaky in the last 2 weeks at home. They barely edged the winless Dolphins and lost to the Eagles. If this team aspires to be among the elite in the AFC then they need to start winning games decisively especially when playing a significantly inferior opponent.
Tennessee Titans @ Carolina Panthers
Games such as this are one of the things that makes the NFL great. Both teams are led by a backup QB. Both are desperate to win and remain in the race for the postseason. Everyone knows about Ryan Tannehill. But Cody Parkey (of Chicago Bears infamy) has quietly brought not only stability, but reliability to the Titans kicking game. This change has been just as important to TN’s recent success. The Panthers have determined superstar QB, Cam Newton, is not fully healed from his injury. So for now the team will continue to start Kyle Allen. After losing one of the most lopsided games of the NFL the Panthers once again seek to prove they belong in the post-season discussion.
Minnesota Vikings @ Kansas City Chiefs
Titans Ever On game of the week! Most are unaware just how good the Vikings have been in 2019. They are 3rd in the NFL in YPG on offense while 5th in YPG allowed on defense. No other team ranks in the top 5 of both categories! A win on the road, in a tough environment, against an AFC powerhouse would bring the Vikings recognition. KC’s injured QB, Patrick Mahomes, is arguably the league’s most exciting player. But the Chiefs offense is still dangerous without him (who has not yet been ruled out from playing). Scoring points has never been an issue for coach Andy Reid’s teams. The Chiefs need to find a way to stop the run. They are 30th in YPG allowed on defense. The Vikings RB, Dalvin Cook, could be the key to this game.
New York Jets @ Miami Dolphins
The airplane in NY has been reduced from a Jet to a sputtering, single prop engine belching dark smoke. Sam Darnold has regressed. Le’Veon Bell looks like a shell of his former self, the coaching has been poor, etc. The Jets simply want to see improvement from every member of the team/staff. The harsh truth is that the Dolphins are playing for 2020. If that wasn’t already obvious then their “trade” for injured CB Talib (who will probably never play a snap for Miami due to his injury) made it so. The transaction was nothing more than a means for the ‘Phins to move up in the 2020 draft.
Chicago Bears @ Philadelphia Eagles
There was heartbreak in Chicago last week when a potential game winning FG sailed wide of the mark. Sound familiar? With the memories of 2018 still fresh coach Matt Nagy had no excuse to manage the end of the game the way he did. He did not put his players (especially the kicker) in the best position for success and again the price was a win. QB Mitchell Trubisky is a good running QB. He and the staff should be intentional about running the ball. In 2018 he was a legit threat to tuck and go averaging over 6 yards per carry while amassing nearly 500 yards. By comparison Trubisky has only 9 total rushes in 2019! The Eagles have one of the easier second half schedules for 2019. They will play the Dolphins, Giants (twice), and Redskins. While their primary rival for the division, the Dallas Cowboys, must play the Vikings, Lions, Patriots, Rams, Bills, and Eagles! Unlike his counterpart coach Doug Peterson has proven he can guide his team through diversity. If the Eagles can emerge victorious then they should have an excellent chance to win their division based on their favorable schedule.
Indianapolis Colts @ Pittsburgh Steelers
The Colts proved they could win ugly last week in Denver. They are disciplined and well-coached. Surprisingly the only chink in their armor has been Adam Vinatieri who is having his worst season statistically. With 9 games left in 2019 Vinatieri has missed 4 XP equaling his career high for an entire season. Yet Vinatieri has been at his best when the pressure is the highest. He has come through when it matters most. Still I wonder if this will become an issue as the season develops? The Steelers have won 3 of their last 4. But those wins came against the Bengals, Chargers, and Dolphins who have a combined total of 3 wins. A win in this game and the Steelers will be 4-4. And a .500 record might be enough for a wild card in the AFC. This game could be a turning point for their season.
Detroit Lions @ Oakland Raiders
The Lions ended their 3-game skid last week by beating the Giants. The team needs to rediscover their confidence, belief, and swagger. The offense has scored 30+ points in 3 of the last 4 games. But the defense has not held their own. When the Raiders have lost this season they have lost big! Until last week when the team could not hold their 4th quarter lead and lost by 3. Derek Carr has returned to form and is on pace for one of if not the best season of his career. Expect and aerial assault on the score board from both teams.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Seattle Seahawks
Tampa Bay has played well against many of the top teams in the NFL. If the team could get out of their own way then they might go somewhere. But as long as they remain near the bottom of the league in turnovers and penalties that will not happen. The temptation is there for the Seahawks to look past the Bucs to next week’s game against divisional rival, the 49ers. The coaching staff and team captains are responsible to see that does not happen. The defense must reestablish themselves as they have fallen to 23rd in the NFL in YPG allowed.
Cleveland Browns @ Denver Broncos
In many ways one could argue that the Browns were just as good as their opposition, the Patriots, last week. The difference was that the Browns continued to self distrust from turnovers and penalties (many of which could have been avoided). However, all is not lost. The Browns remaining schedule includes the Broncos, Steelers (twice), Bengals (twice), Dolphins, and Cardinals. But the Browns must clean up their game regardless of the competition. The revolving door at QB has spun so much over the past few years in Denver that it’s threatening to fly off the hinges! The latest to get a crack at QB will be Brandon Allen who will start in place of the injured Joe Flacco. The timing of this injury does raise eyebrows as Flacco made some unflattering comments about the coaching staff following last week’s loss.
Green Bay Packers @ Los Angeles Chargers
Remember when there were concerns about the relationship between new head coach, Matt LaFluer, and franchise star QB, Aaron Rodgers? While winning often fixes everything in professional sports if you watch the 2 interact now it appears they have developed a genuine rapport. In fact, I’m pretty sure I saw a FaceTime video of the pair all smiles while frolicking on the practice field listening to Nillson’s chorus “let me tell you ‘bout my best friend” (ok, this is might be factually untrue). The Chargers won last week, but it some ways it seemed like a loss. And many in the organization felt the same as Offensive Coordinator, Ken Whisenhunt, was fired shortly thereafter. Whether this move will improve the team’s performance or merely provide a scapegoat remains to be seen.
New England Patriots @ Baltimore Ravens
I am extremely interested in this game. To date the Patriots have played just one team with a record of .500 or better in 2019 (if you forgot it was the Bills). This week they go on the road and faceoff against a dynamic QB. Regardless of the competition the Pats are very good. But this game and those that follow will reveal precisely how good. The Ravens are brimming with confidence after their win on the road against Seattle. And they should be. Watching Lamar Jackson run from the QB position reminds me of one of the best rushing QB’s ever, Michael Vick. But Jackson is almost equally as dangerous with his arm which was not true of Vic.
Dallas Cowboys @ New York Giants
The Cowboys face the possibility that they are not as good as everyone thought. But when you look at the talent on their roster that should not be the case. Last week the team got back on track by winning an important divisional game against the Eagles. The Cowboys must take care of business when facing inferior teams such as the Giants. Before the season began the Giants were projected to be among the NFL’s worst. They overachieved winning 2 of their first 4 games, but have since lost 4 in a row. The Giants are near the bottom of the league in YPG and PPG both on offense and defense. And yet they have several exciting, young players who are capable of posting a big performance on any given Sunday.