1 p.m. ET (CBS) | Paul Brown Stadium (Cincinnati)
This is a tricky first start for Bengals rookie Ryan Finley, even if A.J. Green returns from injury this week. (UPDATE: Green told reporters Thursday that he actually won’t play this week, as his injured ankle swelled up Wednesday.) While Finley did a nice job completing 7-yard passes in the preseason, he has to face a Ravens defense that was able to fool Tom Brady multiple times last week with blitz packages. Baltimore’s secondary is also much improved with Marcus Peters on board, Jimmy Smith back and Earl Thomas rounding into form. Oh, and the Bengals have to slow down a historically good rushing attackwhose best game of the season came just four weeks ago … against these Bengals.
1 p.m. ET (CBS) | FirstEnergy Stadium (Cleveland)
This was the hardest game of the week to pick. Watching Baker Mayfield hesitate before targeting open receivers and failing to connect on routine throws is painful. He’s having the rookie season he bypassed last year, struggling to maintain his usual bravado during the first real rough patch he’s experienced on the field since his freshman year at Texas Tech. If only he had Josh Allen‘s fortune. The 6-2 Bills have won a lot of close games against the league’s worst teams and carry underlying statistics that suggest they could easily be 2-6 with different circumstances. Buffalo’s overall efficiency and estimated wins total both rank just below the Browns, according to Football Outsiders, suggesting that a market correction is coming soon. For the sake of Baker’s postgame outfit, here’s to it happening this week.
1 p.m. ET (CBS) | Soldier Field (Chicago)
Lions fans are obsessed with coach Matt Patricia’s refusal to blitz, which is like picking on Baker Mayfield for his undershirt. (Sure, that’s an issue, but it’s one small part of a larger mess.) Luckily, Patricia’s sagging defense faces a quarterback this week in Mitchell Trubisky who generates his own pressure by refusing to throw to open receivers. Another battle of weaknesses will occur when the Lions try to run on a suddenly porous Bears rush defense. In a coin-flip game between two desperate teams stuck in the NFL’s middle, I’ll always lean to the quarterback with five legitimate receiving options who doesn’t need to watch the TV copy of games to remember to have fun.
1 p.m. ET (FOX) | MetLife Stadium (East Rutherford, N.J.)
The good news for Giants and Jets fans is that they should feel better about their young quarterbacks after Sunday. Sam Darnold has started the majority of games for a historically bad offense, but the team’s inability to identify pressure should be less of a problem against a Giants front that rarely applies any. Daniel Jones matches his “ooh”-worthy plays each week with an equal number of turnovers, but he’s facing a Jets defense that has started to buckle under the weight of this miserable season. Jones, who is nine days older than Darnold, appears to be a bit further ahead of his cross-stadium counterpart, in part because he has the better coach, offensive line and weapons around him. It’s not exactly Namath-Tarkenton in New Haven, but it’s all this once-proud football city has for now.
1 p.m. ET (CBS) | Nissan Stadium (Nashville, Tenn.)
Beating the Vikings with Matt Mooreshould let the rest of the Chiefs know this team has championship-level talent, if they didn’t know it already. The offense’s ability to move the ball without Patrick Mahomes proved it wasn’t just a one-man show, with Tyreek Hill ready to take over this stretch run. The team’s attack has come into focus with Sammy Watkins back as the No. 2 wideout and Damien Williams as the clear No. 1 back, while Chris Jones is back for a quietly improving defense. Led by the safety tandem of Tyrann Mathieu and Juan Thornhill, K.C. has shown it’s capable of slowing limited opposing offenses. That’s all the Chiefs need, and limited is exactly what the Titans‘ offense remains. It hasn’t progressed since the Mike Mularkey-led playoff win over the Alex Smith Chiefs that helped usher in the Mahomes era in Kansas City. Twenty-two months can feel like a lifetime in the NFL.
1 p.m. ET (FOX) | Raymond James Stadium (Tampa, Fla.)
Every team that faces this Bucs defense has a choice to make: Bang your head against the wall (Vita Vea) and Football Outsiders’ top-ranked rush defense or forgo balance to throw like wild against the 26th-most-efficient pass defense. When even Seattle’s Brian Schottenheimer calls for 43 throws, the choice is obvious. Unfortunately for Kliff Kingsbury, the Cardinals‘ running game — with David Johnson returning alongside Kenyan Drake — is the strength of the team. I don’t yet trust Kyler Murray to keep up in a shootout, especially with Jameis Winston playing his best ball of the season for a 2-6 Bucs team that is better than its record indicates.
1 p.m. ET (FOX) | Mercedes-Benz Superdome (New Orleans)
I’ve called Falcons–Saints the NFL’s best current rivalry for years, but it’s probably time to retire that designation until the next Falcons regime takes over. Atlanta made a few cosmetic changes at kicker and punter during its bye week, and Matt Ryan is on track to return from an ankle injury, but fixing the defense will be an offseason job. It’s not hyperbole to say this is the most complete Saints team of the Sean Payton era, while the Falcons need to win three more games just to avoid one of the franchise’s worst seasons since Marion Campbell and Jim Hanifan coached up a Chris Miller-led squad in 1989. If you are a Falcons fan familiar with those names, my sympathies are with you during this difficult time.
4:05 p.m. ET (CBS) | Lucas Oil Stadium (Indianapolis)
The Dolphins have been a far more competitive team in the four weeks since their bye. Normal bad rather than historically bad. Ryan Fitzpatrick is performing like the second-best quarterback in the AFC East, while Brian Flores’ defense is showing flashes. Fitz’s degree of difficulty, however, went up yet another notch this week after losing his top receiver, Preston Williams (torn ACL), and his top running back, Mark Walton (suspension). In short: It’s time for the Coltsto win their first game by more than a score, whether Jacoby Brissett or a frisky Brian Hoyer starts at quarterback. If Indy’s offensive line is half as good as its reputation, the unit should grind this Miami defensive front into submission.
UPDATE: The Colts announced on Saturday that Brissett (knee) will be out Sunday.
4:25 p.m. ET (FOX) | Heinz Field (Pittsburgh)
There’s a lot to love about this Steelers defense, but the struggles of linebackers Devin Bush and Mark Barron in coverage will be hard for Los Angeles coach Sean McVay to ignore. The Rams‘ passing game lives up the seams, and they did a nice job playing up-tempo before their bye, while adding explosiveness to their backfield by giving rookie Darrell Henderson more snaps. Not that it will be easy for the Rams to move the ball Sunday. There are few front-seven trios better than T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward and Bud Dupree at the moment, and Minkah Fitzpatrick made Chris Wesseling’s Midseason All-Pro Team. The Steelers‘ defense ranks second in takeaways, and Pittsburgh would be a title contender if Ben Roethlisberger were healthy, but it’s hard to beat playoff-caliber competition while trying to hide a starting quarterback. Super Bowl XIV revenge game, here we come!
4:25 p.m. ET (FOX) | Lambeau Field (Green Bay, Wis.)
Green Bay’s trip to Los Angeles was so uninspired on all fronts that I’m tempted to pretend it never happened. Davante Adams will surely get comfortable again soon, while tackles Bryan Bulaga and David Bakhtiari aren’t going to get beat that often very often. Mike Pettine’s struggling defense is the bigger concern. Heading into Week 10, Green Bay ranked 31st in yards-per-play allowed since Week 4 despite excellent health, plenty of talent and a veteran coach. Normally, I’d expect Pettine to pick on a first-year starting quarterback like Kyle Allen, but Allen responded well when Norv Turner took off his training wheels in last week’s win over the Titans. After starting the season with the mantra “We’ve got a defense,” Rodgers may have to get used to winning shootouts for a while.
8:20 p.m. ET (NBC) | AT&T Stadium (Arlington, Texas)
It took all of one half of Kirk Cousins‘ hot streak slowing down for Vikings coach Mike Zimmer to growl to FOX’s Pam Oliver about getting his running backs the ball more. The strategy mostly worked, but Minnesota’s offense is streaky like its quarterback and not the same without Adam Thielen on the field. Dalvin Cook has made the Vikings‘ offensive line look better than it is all year, while Ezekiel Elliott is now running much better and gets great support from Dallas. Peak DeMarcus Lawrence is also back, and Michael Bennett is already making a difference for the Cowboys‘ defensive line. I’d be tempted to pick the Vikings if the game were in Minnesota, but a Cowboys team that is now deeper than the opposition is a tough team to pick against.
MONDAY, NOV. 11
8:15 p.m. ET (ESPN) | Levi’s Stadium (Santa Clara, Calif.)
Despite letting Russell Wilson throw 43 passes a week ago against Tampa, Pete Carroll and Brian Schottenheimer don’t need an excuse to go run-heavy with their game script. It might even make some sense this week. The 49ers‘ pass defense is so good that its underrated secondary — namely, Richard Sherman — should be asking for its share of the credit soon along with the team’s defensive line. Seahawks fans remember these sorts of intoxicating debates well from the not-so-distant past, when Sherman played for the last good Seahawks defense. Carroll’s pride and joy is the worst unit in this game, and it’s not particularly close, making it tough to pick a road upset even when Russell Wilson is playing this far out of his skull.