Jacksonville Jaguars (2-8) at Buffalo Bills (5-5)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, New Era Field, Orchard Park, N.Y. TV: CBS, Andrew Catalon, Steve Tasker, Steve Beuerlein.
SERIES HISTORY: 14th regular-season meeting. Bills lead series, 7-6. The teams met last year in London in a memorable game in which the Bills fell behind 27-3 in the first half, came back to take a 31-27 lead and then lost on a late touchdown after a controversial pass interference penalty on Nickell Robey-Coleman. The last time the Bills hosted the Jaguars was in 2012, a 34-18 Buffalo victory.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Running back LeSean McCoy and wide receiver Sammy Watkins are undeniably the Bills’ most talented and dynamic players on offense, and both could be on the field together for the first time since Week 2.
McCoy suffered a thumb injury in Buffalo’s 16-12 victory over Cincinnati and underwent surgery Sunday night. On Wednesday he was on the practice field with his thumb in a protective wrap. Coach Rex Ryan said he likes McCoy’s chances of playing against the Jaguars.
Watkins has not played since Week 2, and the Bills need him. He underwent offseason foot surgery and missed the offseason program and most of training camp. But he played in Buffalo’s first two games, catching six passes for 63 yards, before going on IR.
Jacksonville would like to run the ball against the Bills defense, which hasn’t had a lot of success stopping opponent’s ground attacks. But, since the Jaguars don’t even have a rusher among the league’s top 19 runners (compared to Buffalo’s three), that may not be the road to a win.
It leaves the Jaguars counting on QB Blake Bortles’ passing talents, which have been spotty, at best. Neither team has had a lot of success in stopping the run, so that might give the Jaguars hope. They will have a new starter in the offensive line in Chris Reed at left guard, his second appearance opening with the first string.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
–Bills RB LeSean McCoy vs. Jaguars LBs Paul Posluszny and Telvin Smith. McCoy suffered a dislocated thumb in the first half of last Sunday’s game against Cincinnati and didn’t play in the second half. He had surgery Sunday night and was on the practice field Wednesday. He is seventh in the NFL with 716 yards rushing, and his 5.2 yards per carry are second-highest among backs with more than 60 attempts. But the Jaguars have been stout in stopping ground attacks this season and last week held Detroit to just 14 yards on the ground.
–Jaguars wide receivers vs. Bills cornerbacks. Jacksonville has a talented group in Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee, but with QB Blake Bortles struggling so much this year, they haven’t produced. The Bills’ secondary was challenged last week by coach Rex Ryan to step it up, and they played very well in helping Buffalo win in Cincinnati. Now, CBs Stephon Gilmore, Ronald Darby and Kevon Seymour have to build on that performance. If they can shut down Bortles, it will be a long day for the Jaguars.
PREDICTION: This game may not win any awards for style, but the athleticism of the Bills’ skill players should win the day.
OUR PICK: Bills, 31-17.
San Francisco 49ers (1-9) at Miami Dolphins (6-4)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Hard Rock Stadium, Miami. TV: FOX, Thom Brennaman, Charles Davis, Chris Spielman, Holly Sonders.
SERIES HISTORY: 12th regular-season meeting. Dolphins lead series, 6-5. The 49ers will be looking for their first win at Miami in 21 years (Nov. 20, 1995), one that if secured would even the series. The 49ers won the most recent matchup of the squads, 27-13 at home on Dec. 9, 2012. The most famous head-to-head in the series occurred in Super Bowl XIX in Palo Alto, Calif., with the 49ers prevailing 38-16.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Coach Chip Kelly reiterated this week that his club is a run-first team, so you can bet Carlos Hyde will get first crack at denting a Miami defense that has allowed the fifth-most rushing yards in the league this season. The Los Angeles Rams seemed to have that same game plan last week, and it resulted in an early 24-yard touchdown run by Todd Gurley. But the Dolphins toughened up after that, limiting Gurley to 76 yards and holding the Rams without another touchdown.
Miami wants to impose its physical mentality on San Francisco offensively by running the ball with Jay Ajayi and controlling the clock.
Even with three offensive starters missing last week against the Los Angeles Rams the Dolphins found a way to run the ball effectively (98 yards, 5.2 yards per carry).
Defensively, Miami wants to stop the San Francisco running game and use its defensive front, led by end Cam Wake and tackle Ndamukong Suh, to harass 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
49ers QB Colin Kaepernick vs. Dolphins DE Cameron Wake. If the Dolphins are able to shut down Carlos Hyde like they did Todd Gurley last week, it’ll be up to Kaepernick to do some damage with outside runs. Marcus Mariota (60 rushing yards and a touchdown) and Tyrod Taylor (a rushing score) were able to have success running on Miami this season.
Dolphins WR DeVante Parker vs. 49ers CB Rashard Robinson. The 49ers will be without their top cover corner, Jimmie Ward, this week, so you know where the bull’s-eye will be on their defense: rookie replacement Robinson. His task is no easy one. He’ll have to deal with Parker, who is coming off two big games and appears to be fulfilling his predraft promise.
PREDICTION: These teams are streaking in opposite directions, and it’s tough to see the 49ers rising up against the suddenly gritty Dolphins.
OUR PICK: Dolphins, 30-20.
New England Patriots (8-2) at New York Jets (3-7)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J. TV: CBS, Greg Gumbel, Trent Green, Jamie Erdahl.
SERIES HISTORY: 112th regular-season meeting. The Patriots lead the series, 57-53-1. New England and New York have a storied rivalry that dates to the first season of the AFL in 1960. From players like Curtis Martin and Darrelle Revis bouncing between the teams to Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick‘s jumping between sidelines, the soap opera has often surpassed the on-field drama. New England has had the upper hand in recent years, winning eight of the last 10. The most recent battle was New York’s 26-20 overtime win last December.
KEYS TO THE GAME: New York’s strength on defense is a front that’s one of the best against the run in the league. But teams have certainly been able to throw on the Jets, who have not had a consistent pass rush and are fading in the back end as Darrelle Revis ages. Tom Brady should be able to attack New York with quick passes and his usual efficient throws in the middle of the field. Even with Rob Gronkowskidealing with a chest injury, Brady has tight end Martellus Bennett, receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, and backs James White and Dion Lewis with which to spread out New York.
LeGarrette Blount will almost certainly be a secondary plan off attack against the big Jets front. Assuming the New England line can get adequate pass protection and deal with the wide variety of blitzes that are sure to come from Todd Bowles’ defense, Brady and the passing game will challenge the Jets in the back end.
The Jets have rushed for 139 yards or more and averaged better than four yards a carry in each of the last four games. The Patriots have allowed more than four yards a carry on the ground in three of the last four, and the unit will likely be playing without suspended DT Alan Branch, which won’t help the front. DC Matt Patricia’s group must find a way to set the edge and tackle better to keep Matt Forte and Bilal Powell from balancing out an offensive attack that has scored 23 or more points in three straight.
When the ball is in the air or on the ground, New England has been able to take advantage of late. The Patriots have focused on improved hustle and getting more bodies around the football. This may be another week, building off last week in San Francisco, where Patricia dials up a few more blitzes to force Ryan Fitzpatrick into mistakes.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
–Jets QB Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. Patriots FS Devin McCourty. New England has gone three straight games without a turnover for the first time in more than a decade. New York has the third-most giveaways in the NFL, thanks in part to Fitzpatrick’s 13 interceptions. McCourty is the Pro Bowl leader in the back end and has made it clear he and other top New England defenders must play better. A unit that’s due for some big plays should get some chances against a quarterback who can make big plays for both teams.
–Patriots QB Tom Brady vs. Jets DE Leonard Williams. Brady (knee) missed two days worth of practices and is listed as questionable but he continues to amaze with his play, including his much-improved mobility and ability to make plays on the run. In many ways that has been necessary for the Patriots’ offensive success in recent weeks. Williams has been New York’s most productive pass rusher in his second season. Brady and his offensive line must overcome a talented Jets front that probably will need to control the game to pull off the upset. Williams is a big part of that, one of the few Jets able to get to the quarterback with any consistency.
PREDICTION: The Patriots have felt right at home on the road, and they have a decided advantage at quarterback.
OUR PICK: Patriots, 31-17.
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