Buffalo Bills (4-2) at Miami Dolphins (2-4)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Hard Rock Stadium. TV: CBS, Tom McCarthy, Adam Archuleta, Kevin Manuel
SERIES HISTORY: 101st regular season meeting. Miami leads, 57-42-1. Buffalo won the last meeting, 33-17. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins had eight receptions for 168 yards, and Karlos Williams (110 yards rushing) and LeSean McCoy (112 yards) crushed the Dolphins defense. The Bills swept the two games last season, have won four of the last five and are 6-2 against Miami in the last four years.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Bills coach Rex Ryan called his offense “boring” this week, but it wasn’t a shot at the unit. Buffalo arrives in South Florida with the league’s top-ranked ground game and a plus-eight turnover margin. That is a winning formula, even if the passing game ranks 31st and lacks any real pop minus injured wideout Sammie Watkins. QB Tyrod Taylor has thrown only two picks on the season and relies on moving the chains in short-yardage situations. The Bills are more than happy to play a field position game, which puts the onus on Miami’s run defense to flip the script. However, McCoy left Wednesday’s practice with a tight hamstring, leaving his status uncertain and Mike Gillislee as the potential lead back Sunday.
The Dolphins’ passing game has yet to get untracked under new coach Adam Gase, but the much-maligned offensive line did clear the way for RB Jay Ajayi to rush for more than 200 yards against Pittsburgh last week. With QB Ryan Tannehill entering with seven interceptions against six touchdowns as he has been sacked 17 times (despite none last week), Miami might have to beat Buffalo at its own game. The Bills are allowing only 17.2 points per game and enter with six interceptions on the season.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
–Bills ground game vs. Dolphins run defense. Miami allowed “only” 128 rushing yards to Pittsburgh, which is well below the average of 147.0 yards per game the Dolphins are giving up on average per game to rank 31st in the NFL. The defensive front tends to struggle with maintaining gap integrity, which is exactly what McCoy is adept at exploiting. Buffalo enters the game leading the league in rushing, paced by McCoy’s 587 yards. Gillislee is averaging 6.8 yards with a pair of touchdowns on 17 carries, with Jonathan Williams and Reggie Bush factoring into the mix if McCoy is out.
–Dolphins offensive line vs. Bills defensive line. Buffalo has been more physical in the trenches in winning six of the past seven meetings. Miami rushed for a season-high 222 yards last week while not allowing a sack of Tannehill with the front five showing more cohesion. DT Marcell Dareus (hamstring) still hasn’t made his season debut, but would provide even more depth to an already strong unit if he’s able to get in on a handful of snaps.
PREDICTION: McCoy’s status will be a significant factor, but the Bills have a capable group of backups and this is a difficult matchup for a Miami team that needs to prove last week’s strong effort by Ajayi and the run defense wasn’t the aberration the season stats would indicate.
OUR PICK: Bills, 19-17.
Baltimore Ravens (3-3) at New York Jets (1-5)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, MetLife Stadium. TV: CBS, Ian Eagle, Rich Gannon, Evan Washburn
SERIES HISTORY: 10th regular-season meeting. Ravens lead series, 8-1.
KEYS TO THE GAME: After a brutal run of injuries in 2015, the Ravens again find themselves shorthanded as they attempt to stop a three-game losing streak against a desperate opponent making a quarterback change while riding a four-game skid.
Quarterback Joe Flacco has a “right shoulder issue,” according to coach Jim Harbaugh, who said it’s “my belief he’ll be out there.” If not, it will be Ryan Mallett, who brings a similarly big arm with limited mobility. Either can challenge the Jets’ beleaguered secondary in the vertical passing game. But then there is the makeshift offensive line, the ankle injury that sidelined Steve Smith Sr. last week and the 34 penalties the offense has committed through the first six games. It’s a complicated mix, even against the Jets, who do boast a strong line that leads the way for a run defense allowing only 3.4 yards per carry.
That’s the same mark for the Ravens’ top-ranked run defense allowing an average of just 69.7 yards per game. As the Jets make the switch behind center to Geno Smith, getting production out of the gate from RB Matt Forte figures to be critical. Then again, there’s a Baltimore pass defense that could be without its most feared pass rusher in Terrell Suggs (biceps) and is dealing with a slew of injuries in the secondary. The Jets are minus-11 in turnover differential, and Geno Smith’s ability to hold onto the quarterback job likely hinges on at least not building that number.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
–Jets ILB David Harris/Erin Henderson vs. Ravens TE Dennis Pitta. Harris, who missed his first game since 2008 on Monday, was seen at practice Wednesday. Even though his coverage skills have slipped, the Jets will need Harris to try and contain Pitta, the most reliable option in the Ravens’ short passing game. Harris is a better option than Henderson, whose missed open-field tackle on Cardinals RB David Johnson‘s 58-yard touchdown run Monday was the lowest light of a dim night for the Jets.
–Ravens secondary vs. Jets WR Brandon Marshall. Marshall has 27 catches for 433 yards and two touchdowns despite uneven quarterback play and little in the way of other proven playmakers in the passing game. The Ravens gave up 222 yards to Odell Beckham last week, and hope CB Jimmy Smith can play after leaving that game with a concussion. Baltimore’s secondary is also dealing with injuries to Tavon Young (undisclosed), Jerraud Powers (groin) and Shareece Wright (hamstring). Their status is also uncertain. Baltimore could move safety Lardarius Webb back to his original position at corner for experience
PREDICTION: The Ravens have dropped three consecutive games and are dealing with key injuries on both sides of the ball. The Jets have dropped four straight and are making a desperate quarterback change. Coin flip to the Jets, who get a bit of a spark from the change under center while the Ravens try to cope with their latest slew of injuries.
OUR PICK: Jets, 20-16.
New England Patriots (5-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (4-2)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, Heinz Field. TV: CBS, Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Tracy Wolfson.
SERIES HISTORY: 25th regular-season meeting. Steelers lead series, 14-10, but the Patriots have won five of the past seven, including the 2015 season opener in New England. The Steelers are 10-6 in regular-season games in Pittsburgh, but the Steelers are 1-2 at home against the Patriots in the playoffs, including two losses in AFC championship games following the 2001 and 2004 seasons.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Numbers don’t matter for the Pittsburgh Steelers — this is not the same scheme without Ben Roethlisberger at the controls. Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams become the lead dogs for the Steelers, who will pound on first and second down while occasionally unleashing Landry Jones in a play-action attack.
Bell said the key to this week is finding some success in the first quarter, which will not only fuel the Heinz Field faithful but breed confidence in Jones.
“I think he has a lot of good things that he can bring to the table,” Bell said. “We’ve just got to, as a whole entire offense, help him out and get him comfortable and get him confident in himself, and that’s when he really will start striking.”
Coverage of elite tight ends remains a weak spot for the Steelers’ defense, and that’s a downer considering the stats Martellus Bennett and All-Pro Rob Gronkowski are capable of stamping on this defense.
Head coach Mike Tomlin said the Steelers are not locking in on stopping QB Tom Brady, who has 782 yards and seven touchdowns in two games since his suspension ended. That’s because the Steelers’ run defense was overwhelmed last week and a familiar face, RB LeGarrette Blount, represents the type of powerful, downhill back that has dented the Steelers’ defense.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
–Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler vs. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Butler’s first game as defensive coordinator was against Brady and the Patriots and it did not go well. Brady was 25 for 32 for 288 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions in a 28-21 Patriots win in last year’s season opener. Butler has been a part of Steelers’ staffs that have done better against Brady. In 2011, the Patriots scored just 17 points in a loss at Heinz Field. In that game, the Steelers sacked Brady five times and limited the Patriots to 213 total yards. Butler will need to coax more out of his pass rushers if he’s going to limit Brady again. The Steelers have just eight sacks in the first six games.
–Steelers offensive line vs. Patriots defensive line. The Steelers will look to lean on their veteran offensive line with backup Landry Jones getting the start, and they might have some success against a Patriots team that ranks 28th in the league in rush defense. The Steelers have invested lots of money in long-term contracts for center Maurkice Pouncey, guard David DeCastro and tackle Marcus Gilbert, and they’ll get their chance to earn this week in what should be a run-heavy game plan.
PREDICTION: With Ben Roethlisberger the Steelers might warrant the favorite label, but without him, this isn’t a fair fight. The Steelers will need every break to stay with a driven Tom Brady and the juggernaut Patriots’ offense.
OUR PICK: Patriots, 31-20.