1 p.m. ET (CBS) | New Era Field (Orchard Park, N.Y.)
I’d love to see the Bills lean on Josh Allen‘s running more often, like they did against the Dolphins. The strategy exposes Allen’s tendency to fumble, but using his legs is what he does best, and he knows how to sell the hell out of a play fake. The Bills will need every yard they can get against a scrappy Broncosdefense — and a Denver offense that is finding an identity under Brandon Allen. The team is leaning more on Noah Fant and Tim Patrick, and the recent promotion of Phillip Lindsay to clear lead back was overdue. I like his matchup against a mediocre Bills rush defense. This wouldn’t be nearly the upset that the records indicate.
1 p.m. ET (FOX) | Soldier Field (Chicago)
It’s a bad sign for Mitchell Trubisky‘s future that his status doesn’t move the needle when trying to predict this outcome. Whether it’s Mitchell or Chase Daniel, I don’t trust Chicago to make explosive playseven against one of the worst defenses in football. However, I do trust the Bears‘ defense to force a few turnovers against a Giants offense that has given the ball away more than any team in football except Tampa. The return of Sterling Shepard could boost Daniel Jones‘ numbers, but this painful Bears season figures to provide one last dose of false hope, at least until Thanksgiving.
1 p.m. ET (CBS) | Paul Brown Stadium (Cincinnati)
The drama surrounding Mason Rudolph following Pittsburgh’s loss in Cleveland overshadowed Rudolph playing one of the worst games by any starting quarterback all season. He’s ranked second-to-last among qualifiers in both QBR and Pro Football Focus’ grading system and looks unlikely to have JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner available for him Sunday. The Steelers‘ defense is good enough to beat a team prioritizing evaluation at quarterback over winning, but I can’t think of a QB matchup all season I’d want to watch less than this one.
1 p.m. ET (FOX) | FirstEnergy Stadium (Cleveland)
The Dolphins were reminded last week how slim the margins of their November resurgence truly are. The loss of Preston Williams and the lack of a running game forces Ryan Fitzpatrick to spin magic weekly behind a terrible offensive line, while the defense is hoping for scheme to outweigh talent. That’s dangerous against a Browns team whose talent is starting to show up on both sides of the ball, with Baker Mayfield navigating the pocket and making better decisions by the week. Despite the suspension absences of Myles Garrett and Larry Ogunjobi on Sunday, the Browns have too much juice to lose this game — even if they take their usual detours on the way to a win.
1 p.m. ET (FOX) | Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Atlanta)
The Falcons just outscored the best two teams in the NFC South 55-12 on the road, so their unlikely escape from the division basement Sunday should be no problem. A suddenly frisky Atlanta front is bound to force Jameis Winston into mistakes, and the Falcons‘ secondary looks nearly whole again, with Desmond Trufant back to balling. The Bucs are a study in the limited usefulness of a great run defense, giving up at least 27 points for eight straight games, tying the NFL record. Any team led by Matt Ryandoesn’t need an excuse to pass like crazy.
1 p.m. ET (CBS) | Mercedes-Benz Superdome (New Orleans)
It’s almost Thanksgiving, and the Saints‘ top-five defense — led by Defensive Player of the Year candidate Cameron Jordan and sneaky standout Eli Apple — is ranked higher in efficiency than its offense. This is a good problem to have. Perhaps the struggles of Drew Brees to throw a deep out will hurt New Orleans against tougher competition, but Ron Rivera’s defense is no longer special. Like Tom Brady, Brees is playing to his defense by taking advantage of great field position and limiting turnovers — the Saints have the fewest in the league, with just six in 10 games. More importantly, Alvin Kamara finally running in full flow last week is a huge development for a stretch run with home-field advantage in sight. The Kamara vs. Christian McCaffrey matchup isn’t a fair fight because of the Panthers‘ quarterback and rush defense.
1 p.m. ET (FOX) | Lincoln Financial Field (Philadelphia)
The toughest game to pick this week is Part II of Russell Wilson‘s brutal closing argument to win his first MVP. He’s in the midst of four straight games against top-eight defenses (per Football Outsiders measurements) and must close the regular season with a rematch against the 49ers. The Eagles‘ recent improvements on defense have coincided with the offense further retreating into its shell, reduced to relying on Jordan Matthews like it’s 2015. While I want to see the status of Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson and Seahawkswideout Tyler Lockett, I’m always inclined to pick the better offense in a coin-flip game. Carson Wentz is still searching for that signature drive this season, while Wilson pulls one off nearly every week.
1 p.m. ET (FOX) | FedExField (Landover, Md.)
Dwayne Haskins has made a few throws in each of his starts that hint at better days to come, although it’s a mystery if he’ll fit with the next coaching staff. Then again, you don’t need a first-round pedigree to make eye-opening plays. Jeff Driskel has made his share in two starts and could make Bears-Lions a sneaky-fun Thanksgiving appetizer if Matthew Stafford isn’t back from the broken bones in his back. Keep an eye on Lions defensive end Trey Flowers‘ status here. He’s been earning his big contract over the last month, but if he misses this game following a concussion, then Haskins should have all day to sit in the pocket and show off his talents.
1 p.m. ET (CBS) | MetLife Stadium (East Rutherford, N.J.)
It was nice to be reminded last week what Sam Darnold looks like with pass protection. In addition to limiting the second-year passer’s deep shots, Adam Gase’s increased use of Darnold throwing on the run has helped, an approach that should work against a Raiders team lacking a consistent pass rush. Jon Gruden’s overachieving offense has come back down to earth over the last two weeks, and Oakland has been living dangerously with a 6-1 record in one-score games. That’s the type of good fortune that is difficult to maintain over an entire season, and this Jets defense is playing with the energy of Gregg Williams after a trip to the barbershop.
4:05 p.m. ET (CBS) | Nissan Stadium (Nashville, Tenn.)
Pity the 4:05 pm ET tilt slotted by itself against Cowboys-Patriots. While few people will watch Nick Folesvs. Ryan Tannehill, I’d expect a lot more offense Sunday than we saw when Marcus Mariota took on Gardner Minshew during a rainy TNF game back in Week 3. Derrick Henry should eat up a Jaguarsdefense soft against the run, a reminder that the Titans more closely resemble the style of team Jaguarsexecutive Tom Coughlin wants. Run, stop the run, get to 9-7 and all that jazz. Even though last week wasn’t pretty for Jacksonville, I’d still roll with pass deep and sack the quarterback for a team identity, and that’s the one the Jaguars should do well with Foles at the helm. If that doesn’t work, Jags owner Shad Khan may look for another visionary entirely in six weeks.
4:25 p.m. ET (FOX) | Gillette Stadium (Foxborough, Mass.)
Tom Brady wasn’t just playing damage control by saying the Patriots play to their defense. The 42-year-old throws passes away and clearly limits risk-taking, helping the team rank fourth in fewest turnovers. Ranked 30th in yards per carry, the Patriots call plays trying not to lose the game for their excellent defense. It’s hard to expect that approach to change with Phillip Dorsettand Mohamed Sanu dealing with new injuries and rookie N’Keal Harry unlikely to be ready to be a true No. 2 receiver.
The increased aggressiveness shown by Jason Garrett last week in leaning on the passing game was a welcome sign, and the Cowboys are smart to keep youngsters Michael Gallup and Tony Pollard heavily involved. The top-ranked Patriots defense is in the midst of playing the three best offenses in football (Baltimore, Dallas, Kansas City) over a five-game stretch, and I believe this secondary can be up to the challenge, especially if the Cowboys are without right tackle La’el Collins. In a game likely to be decided by situational football, I still trust the team coached by Bill Belichick over a Garrett-led squad in Foxborough. The talent disparity makes it tough, though.
8:20 p.m. ET (NBC) | Levi’s Stadium (Santa Clara, Calif.)
George Kittle‘s extended absence doesn’t just take away Jimmy Garoppolo‘s top target. The 49ers‘ zone-running game has collapsed without Kittle in the lineup, partly because Ross Dwelley isn’t clearing the way like Kittle does. No team has done a better job overcoming injuries than the 49ers, but it’s hard to ignore the quality of players out of practice Wednesday: Kittle, Emmanuel Sanders, Joe Staley, Dee Ford, Deebo Samuel and Robbie Gould. The Packers, meanwhile, may be the healthiest team in the NFL and are coming off their bye. The 49ers‘ front will be the toughest test yet for a strong Green Bay offensive line, but it’s hard to see even Kyle Shanahan cooking up enough plays to outscore Aaron Rodgers, unless at least some of his pass catchers get right. Continuing the theme of the week, though, the game-day inactives list in this one could flip the pick.
MONDAY, NOV. 25
8:15 p.m. ET (ESPN) | Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (Los Angeles)
Upcoming matchups against the Ravens, Seahawks and Cowboys will prove if the Rams‘ recent defensive dominance was the product of the Jalen Ramsey trade or just the schedule. The improved Baltimore defense, meanwhile, is a test that few offensive lines or quarterbacks can solve. The health and veteran know-how in the Ravens secondary has allowed coordinator Wink Martindale to get exotic up front and confuse quality quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Deshaun Watson. Look for L.A. to lean heavily on Todd Gurley, even with Brandin Cooks expected to return to the lineup. The Rams are now the team trying to limit possessions, lean on their defense and keep it close against 2019’s “It team.” They need an upset on Monday night, or a playoff push gets awfully difficult.