N.F.L. Week 6 Picks: Chiefs Over Steelers; Packers Over Vikings

In a blowout loss to Tennessee in Week 2, Bortles threw two interceptions, and the defense allowed rushing touchdowns to three different players. In a 3-point loss to the Jets in Week 4, Bortles limited himself to one pick, but the defense made up for that by letting Bilal Powell look like the second-coming of Barry Sanders. The veteran backup ran for 163 yards with an average of 7.8 yards a carry. In his other four games, he ran for a combined 77 yards, averaging 2.6 yards a carry.

So where does that leave Jacksonville in a matchup against the much-improved Rams (3-2)? It very likely depends on how stubbornly Los Angeles plans to focus on passing. Jared Goff’s future is bright, and the Rams’ defense is capable of exploiting Bortles’ myriad weaknesses, but if Los Angeles wants a win on the road, it needs to take Jacksonville’s secondary out of the equation and run the ball early and often with Todd Gurley. If it doesn’t, Jaguars fans may want to learn a new term: winning streak. Pick: Jaguars

Steelers at Chiefs, 4:25 p.m., CBS

Line: Chiefs by 4.5

Alex Smith probably never saw Colin Kaepernick as an immediate threat to his job in San Francisco back in 2012. But Smith, the quarterback of the Chiefs (5-0), may have learned a thing or two from being shoved aside in favor of a shiny new object. His rebirth as the gunslinging leader of the best team in the N.F.L. was immediately preceded by Kansas City’s drafting of a shiny new object named Patrick Mahomes.

Mahomes is clearly the quarterback of the team’s future, but to watch Smith this season is to see a man totally reborn on the field. He throws downfield with confidence, he smiles more, he uses his legs to create opportunities as a runner and as a passer, and he may finally have shed the “game manager” label. He also has thrown 11 touchdowns, no interceptions, and has had a passer rating in excess of 100 in each of his five starts.

The combination of Smith, Kareem Hunt and Tyreek Hill has made Kansas City a juggernaut. There is just as much offensive talent on the Steelers (3-2) but that team has been out of sync all season, and a pass-first strategy against a top-ranked pass defense last week — a strategy that resulted in five interceptions — would not seem to indicate they are on the path back to greatness.

Things could swing wildly in this game, and Travis Kelce probably being out with a concussion doesn’t help, but with Smith deftly avoiding mistakes, and Hunt easily capable of exploiting the Steelers’ weak front-seven, there is little reason to believe they can’t get to 6-0. Pick: Chiefs

Packers at Vikings, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Packers by 3

The pieces are all there for the Vikings (3-2) to be a top team. Their defensive line can dominate games, their secondary is top-notch and Sam Bradford showed in Week 1 that he can stretch the field with Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Unfortunately, Bradford cannot seem to stay on the field, Diggs is working his way through an injury and Dalvin Cook is out for the season. Minnesota, while still a team that can cause a lot of problems for opponents, is probably not one that can shut down Aaron Rodgers and the Packers (4-1), especially if Aaron Jones’s emergence at running back over the last two weeks isn’t just a blip. Pick: Packers

Eagles at Panthers, 8:25 p.m. (Thursday), CBS and NFL Network

Line: Panthers by 3.5

The Eagles (4-1) are a fairly well-balanced team, but their main flaw is pass defense, and that is bad news when they are going on the road to face Cam Newton and the Panthers (4-1). Newton has thrown for more than 300 yards in consecutive weeks and has not slowed down at all without Greg Olsen, the injured tight end who served as Carolina’s safety valve on offense for so long. Philadelphia may give the Panthers’ defense more trouble than they have encountered at any point this season, but barring a miraculous effort from a secondary that has the Eagles ranked 29th in the N.F.L. in passing yards allowed a game, this is Carolina’s game to lose. Pick: Panthers

Second-Tier Games

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Golden Tate of the Lions was ruled down inside the 1-yard line on this catch in Week 3, accounting for one of his team’s two losses. The Lions, with slightly more luck, could easily be 5-0.

Credit
Paul Sancya/Associated Press

Lions at Saints, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Saints by 5

The Lions (3-2) would very likely be 5-0 if Golden Tate had made it a few more inches in Week 3 and the defense had made one more stop in Week 5. A loss is a loss, but it is worth remembering when trying to predict Detroit’s performances that they have either won or been on the verge of victory every week. The Saints (2-2) have looked improved in their last two games, and trading away Adrian Peterson is probably a good move for team morale, but even at home they are just not as scary as they once were, and even if they can beat the Lions, they most likely cannot manage a 5-point spread. Pick: Lions

Dolphins at Falcons, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Falcons by 11.5

Early bye weeks may seem like a disadvantage, but for the Falcons (3-1) the timing could not have been better. They are expected to get Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu back from injuries, and with a little luck could also see the return of Vic Beasley Jr., Ryan Schraeder and Ricardo Allen. Getting back your top two wide receivers, your most dominant pass-rusher, your starting right tackle and your starting free safety is bound to brighten the spirits of a team that is still reeling from a Week 4 loss to Buffalo. Miami’s defense will make Atlanta work for that big point spread, but Jones’s return should do the trick. Pick: Falcons

Patriots at Jets, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Patriots by 9.5

The Jets (3-2) are, without equivocation, far better than anyone expected. They are more capable on offense and more stingy on defense. They are by no means a postseason contender, but they have been playing at or near mediocre all season and that is light years ahead of where anyone expected them to be. A soft schedule has helped, but their 23-20 victory over the Jaguars is especially impressive when you consider how well Jacksonville has played against teams of higher regard. The Patriots (3-2), however, are not a team that can be beaten with a little pluck and a lot of luck. To beat New England you need talent — lots of it — and the Jets are still lacking there. Pick: Patriots

Browns at Texans, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Texans by 9.5

The Texans (2-3) will play the rest of the season without two of the team’s best defenders, but they still go into the game against the Browns (0-5) as big favorites. That is less about the quality of the Browns as it is a testament to how much respect the Texans’ rookie quarterback, Deshaun Watson, is already getting. He threw four touchdown passes two weeks ago and five last week. He probably will not throw six against Cleveland, but then again, he might. Pick: Texans

Giants at Broncos, 8:30 p.m., NBC

Line: Broncos by 11.5

The Giants (0-5) already know they will go the remainder of the season without Odell Beckham Jr. (fractured ankle), Dwayne Harris (fractured foot) and Brandon Marshall (officially a sprained ankle, though he said on Instagram that he had season-ending surgery). Going into a road game against the heavily-favored Broncos (3-1), they also have Sterling Shepard in a walking boot. It may be time to get creative, and there is a Dancing With the Stars contestant, and recent Hall of Fame finalist, ready if they need him.

Pick: Broncos

Bottom-Tier Games

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Mitchell Trubisky, center, seems like a keeper for the Chicago Bears. The rest of the offense (beyond Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen) is decidedly more expendable.

Credit
Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

Bears at Ravens, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Ravens by 6.5

You would never guess it based on the box score, but Chicago’s rookie quarterback, Mitchell Trubisky, looked great in his N.F.L. debut on Monday. The problem for the Bears (1-4) is that none of their receivers can catch. It does not seem likely that they learned to catch over the last few days, so the Ravens (3-2) could add yet another win against a terrible team to their résumé, alongside the ones they got against Cincinnati, Cleveland and the Derek Carr-less Raiders. Pick: Ravens

49ers at Redskins, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Redskins by 9.5

The 49ers (0-5) are a rather dramatic combination of bad and unlucky. It is not that they have necessarily deserved a win, but losing by 3 points or less for four consecutive weeks seems rather cruel. Those narrow margins should make people a little nervous about the large point spread in this game, but Kirk Cousins of the Redskins (2-2) may want to show off a little against one of the teams that could pursue him in free agency this off-season. Pick: Redskins

Buccaneers at Cardinals, 4:05 p.m., Fox

Line: Buccaneers by 2.5

Adrian Peterson was not happy with his playing time in New Orleans, but considering the sad state of Arizona’s offensive line, he may also not like being on the field for the Cardinals (2-3). Peterson is probably an upgrade from the remnants of Chris Johnson, but the Cardinals have averaged 2.6 yards a carry behind their beat-up line, and it will not get any easier against the Buccaneers (2-2), a team ranked eighth in the N.F.L. in run defense. Pick: Buccaneers

Chargers at Raiders, 4:25 p.m., CBS

Line: N/A

Coach Jack Del Rio expects Derek Carr to be back at quarterback for the Raiders (2-3) and even with a broken bone in his back he represents and enormous improvement over E.J. Manuel. The Chargers (1-4) came back to beat the (winless) Giants last week, but winning on the road against a team that isn’t as bad as its record suggests does not seem likely. Pick: Raiders

Monday’s Matchup

Colts at Titans, 8:30 p.m. (Monday), ESPN

Line: N/A

When a star quarterback is out, teams generally lean on unimpressive veteran backups and hope for the best. That is the strategy that led to the Titans (2-3) losing to Miami last week, as Matt Cassel was incapable of filling Marcus Mariota’s shoes. The Colts (2-3) went in the other direction when they needed to fill in for Andrew Luck, trading for an intriguing youngster, Jacoby Brissett. He has rewarded the team with two wins in three weeks, and could potentially get them to .500 this week. Pick: Colts (if Cassel starts), Titans (if Mariota starts)

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