NFL Week 6 Predictions: Our Picks Against the Spread – The New York Times

The N.F.L. was desperately hoping that its issues with the coronavirus were behind it. The Titans made their triumphant return to the field, the Patriots were getting their players back and the weekend’s slate of games seemed far more stable on Wednesday than it was at the same time last week.

Of course, just as things seemed to be settling down, it all started to unravel. The Atlanta Falcons had a player and a staff member test positive, forcing the team to work remotely on Thursday. The Colts closed their facility after multiple positive tests on Friday, only to announce that all of the tests were false positives. The Patriots, after at least one more positive result, canceled Friday’s practice and the Jaguars, after having a practice squad player test positive, closed their team’s facilities on Saturday.

But the games, to this point, remain on track. So here is a look at N.F.L. Week 6, with all picks made against the point spread. We will update as necessary — or, rather, continue to update — if things change.

Last week’s record: 9-5

Overall record: 43-33-1

Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Steelers -3.5 | Total: 51

The rivalry between the Browns (4-1) and the Steelers (4-0) is so fierce, and can be so ugly, that it continued last year even though Cleveland was irrelevant and Pittsburgh was without its franchise quarterback. A fight that ended with Myles Garrett hitting Mason Rudolph with his own helmet is one of the more disturbing chapters of the feud, but there’s reason to believe these teams should be less angry this weekend: Both are on four-game winning streaks.

The Steelers’ latest win came courtesy of the shocking emergence of Chase Claypool, a rookie wide receiver who had been gaining Ben Roethlisberger’s notice in practice before exploding for four touchdowns in last week’s game — which had been done by only two other rookie receivers. It’s too soon to make any definitive judgments, but in a small sample, Claypool looked a lot like Martavis Bryant, though with fewer off-field concerns.

For the Browns, it has been a team effort on offense. Baker Mayfield has been solid (if not spectacular), wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry have played well (and shown off their throwing arms) and Kareem Hunt did a good job filling in for the starting running back Nick Chubb last game.

Pittsburgh seems overdue for a smothering effort on defense, but if these teams play the way they have in recent weeks, this could turn into a last-team-with-the-ball-wins shootout. Pick: Browns +3.5

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Credit…Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

Kansas City Chiefs at Buffalo Bills, 5 p.m. Monday, Fox and NFL Network

Line: Off | Total: Off

Moved from Thursday as a result of Buffalo’s playing Tennessee on Tuesday, this is a rare Monday game that won’t be in prime time. But with both teams coming off their first loss of the season, it will be worth tuning in early to see what happens.

Last week against Las Vegas, the Chiefs (4-1) fell prey to the trap of “playing down to the competition.” The Bills (4-1) were simply demolished by Tennessee. Those results should motivate both teams, which could lead to a lot of yardage and points.

Buffalo may want to feature the running game more than usual to exploit Kansas City’s weakness defending it, and Patrick Mahomes can probably exploit a Bills secondary that has been reeling. The Chiefs, when motivated, can beat absolutely anyone, so Buffalo might be in trouble. Pick: Chiefs

Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers, 8:20 p.m., NBC

Line: Rams -3.5 | Total: 50.5

The winds shift rapidly in the hypercompetitive N.F.C. West, where the Rams (4-1) were a Super Bowl team in 2018 and off the map in 2019, and the 49ers (2-3) brought up the rear in 2018 and then went to the Super Bowl in 2019. They’ve shifted again, with Los Angeles getting off to a nice start, particularly on offense, while San Francisco has been overwhelmed by injury and disappointment.

It makes sense for the Rams to be favored, even on the road, but it might be getting ahead of things to assume San Francisco’s embarrassing loss to Miami last week was anything more complicated than Jimmy Garoppolo being unsteady on his injured ankle and the team’s defense being speed-bagged by a team that has more offense than you’d guess.

Garoppolo has had another week to get his ankle right, Raheem Mostert is healthy and the 49ers can pick up huge chunks of yardage after the catch thanks to the hard running of Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle. Cornerback Richard Sherman remains out, which complicates things on defense, but this game could easily go San Francisco’s way. If the 49ers falter, it might be time to admit that this is not their year. Pick: 49ers +3.5

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Credit…Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Green Bay Packers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 4:25 p.m., Fox

Line: Packers -1.5 | Total: 54.5

“Thursday Night Football” is often a sloppy mess, but the Buccaneers (3-2) took that concept to the next level when Tom Brady lost track of downs in the waning moments of last week’s shocking loss to Chicago. Such a monumental lapse of concentration can probably be written off as a fluke for a six-time Super Bowl winner, but Brady will have to be at his peak to keep up with Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Jones and the Packers (4-0).

Green Bay is returning after an early bye week, which could be seen as a burden: The team had offensive momentum from Weeks 1 to 4 and will now have to play 12 weeks in a row. But the bye also appears to have allowed Packers wide receiver Davante Adams to return to full health, which opens up their offense considerably. Pick: Packers -1.5

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Credit…Rob Carr/Getty Images

Baltimore Ravens at Philadelphia Eagles, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Ravens -7.5 | Total: 47

A defining characteristic of the Ravens (4-1) is that they do not take games off. Facing a bad team? That’s just an opportunity to run for 200 yards and put up 30-plus points. And the team’s defense gets in on the same act. That’s all terrible news for the Eagles (1-3-1), who have a crowded injury report and aren’t a particularly good team when healthy. It’s worth noting for future weeks that Lamar Jackson’s passing, while still effective, has taken a dip from last season’s M.V.P.-level efficiency. That probably won’t matter on Sunday, but it might when the team comes out of its bye to face Pittsburgh in Week 8. Pick: Ravens -7.5

Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans, 1 p.m. CBS

Line: Off | Total: Off

It was nice to see the Texans (1-4) again. The team had been missing in action for the first four weeks, but under Romeo Crennel, who has taken over as interim coach, it looked rejuvenated — with a large caveat that the win came over the Jaguars. Houston might get whiplash from going from the A.F.C. South’s worst team (Jacksonville) to its best one (Tennessee). The Titans (4-0) ended a 16-day layoff by demolishing the highly regarded Bills, and will look to stay perfect by picking up another win at home. Their defense might give quarterback Deshaun Watson another huge day, but their offense can make up for that. Pick: Titans

Cincinnati Bengals at Indianapolis Colts, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Colts -7.5 | Total: 46.5

Baltimore rather rudely reminded Joe Burrow that he was still a rookie as the Bengals (1-3-1) managed just 3 points in last week’s blowout. The bad news for Burrow is that the Colts (3-2), under normal circumstances, are not much more fun to play against than the Ravens. The combination of Indianapolis’s being forced to close its practice facility on Friday, and the star linebacker Darius Leonard not being expected to play because of a groin injury, makes a case for this game being more of a tossup than originally predicted. But the Colts should be expected to win — provided the game is played. Pick: Bengals +7.5

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Credit…Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Jets at Miami Dolphins, 4:05 p.m., CBS

Line: Dolphins -8.5 | Total: 47

Sam Darnold is not ready to return from a shoulder injury, which means the Jets (0-5) will start Joe Flacco at quarterback and Frank Gore at running back. That’s a fitting tribute to the 2012 season’s Super Bowl, but not an ideal situation for a game in 2020. Regardless, Le’Veon Bell’s release appears to have left Gore, 37, locked in at starting running back, which defies all reason. We’re certain he’ll retire before getting the 1,176 rushing yards he needs to pass Walter Payton for second on the N.F.L.’s career rushing list — right?

The Dolphins (2-3), meanwhile, will probably win this game no matter what. But the enormous point spread will be justified only if the good version of Ryan Fitzpatrick shows up. And the bad version is probably itching to come out after last week’s stunner against San Francisco. Pick: Jets +8.5

Denver Broncos at New England Patriots, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Off | Total: Off

This game being pushed off by a week led to a cascade of schedule changes, complicated the rest of the season for these two teams and contributed to the belief that the N.F.L. was losing its grip on its bubble-less existence during a pandemic. It certainly didn’t help that view that the Patriots were forced to cancel Friday’s practice because of at least one more positive test result.

While the Patriots’ practice facility was open on Saturday, and everything appeared on track for the game, Denver Coach Vic Fangio acknowledged that things can always change.

“We are under the assumption and understanding that this game is going to go off on time,” Fangio told reporters. “Anything that happens otherwise will happen when it happens.”

But if you limit your view to the action on the field, the delay could make for a better game than could have been played last week. Drew Lock has been practicing for the Broncos (1-3), which should be a mild upgrade from Brett Rypien at quarterback. And the Patriots (2-2) activated Cam Newton from the Reserve/Covid-19 list, which will be an immeasurable improvement over Jarrett Stidham or Brian Hoyer provided Newton is well enough to start. New England also removed cornerback Stephon Gilmore from the list, so the Patriots are essentially back to full strength. Pick: Patriots

Chicago Bears at Carolina Panthers, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Panthers -2.5 | Total: 44

Expecting the Bears (4-1) to make sense is foolish. The team has had extended periods of total incompetence, but has managed to ride a combination of good timing, a weak schedule, erratic production and luck to one of the best records in the N.F.L. Last week, they escalated things by using their sorcery to beat a fairly decent team (Tampa Bay) in Chicago, but now they’ll be on the road against the Panthers (3-2), who aren’t perfect but shouldn’t be underestimated, even with running back Christian McCaffrey expected to miss at least one more game. Pick: Panthers -2.5

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Credit…Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

Atlanta Falcons at Minnesota Vikings, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Vikings -3.5 | Total: 54.5

Despite one player having a confirmed positive test for coronavirus, Atlanta is proceeding as if the game will happen, even as the team worked remotely on Thursday just to be safe. The team reopened its training facility on Friday.

As for the actual football, the Falcons (0-5) are probably longing for the weeks when they ran up big leads but then collapsed. Since then, they’ve simply been bad for entire games. The team’s incompetence led to Coach Dan Quinn’s firing, and while a new coach can sometimes give a team a bounce, going into Minnesota to face the Vikings (1-4) will not be any fun for Atlanta’s struggling defense. Running back Dalvin Cook is unlikely to play after a groin injury in Week 5, but this figured to be a pass-heavy game regardless. Pick: Vikings -3.5

Detroit Lions at Jacksonville Jaguars, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Lions -3.5 | Total: 54

There could be a lot of points in this game. A lot. Both teams have explosive passing games, credible running attacks and horrible defenses, which might make for some nifty highlights even if the calories are entirely empty. The Lions (1-3) are coming off a bye and have a clean injury report, while the Jaguars (1-4) are coming off four straight losses, only two of which were close. But things will probably come down to which team makes a mistake at the wrong time. Fantasy football players will want to start Jacksonville’s James Robinson, as Detroit allows an average of 170.3 rushing yards a game. Pick: Jaguars +3.5

Washington Football Team at Giants, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Giants -3 | Total: 43

Alex Smith provided a feel-good story by returning to the field, but the veteran quarterback was clearly limited, which is why the Footballers (1-4) are expected to start Kyle Allen this weekend. It would be an exaggeration to say Allen offers more upside, but he’s a bit more solid than Smith at this point, and the team has apparently given up on Dwayne Haskins. Washington has the superior record, but the Giants (0-5) are the favorite in this game for a reason. They’ve played fairly close games against the Cowboys and the Rams in the last two weeks, and might be able to put up a fair amount of points against Washington. The state of New Jersey could finally get its first win of the season. Pick: Giants -3

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Credit…Brandon Wade/Associated Press

Arizona Cardinals at Dallas Cowboys, 8:15 p.m., ESPN

Line: Cardinals -2.5 | Total: 54.5

These teams are coming off wins, but the Cardinals (3-2) can’t be too excited about trouncing the awful Jets, and the Cowboys (2-3) had their win against the lowly Giants (and potentially their entire season) spoiled by the gruesome injury to quarterback Dak Prescott. Playing the remainder of the season without Prescott and left tackle Tyron Smith makes Dallas a less explosive offensive team, but being an underdog at home to an inconsistent team like Arizona doesn’t feel right, either.

The Cowboys still have an accomplished backup in Andy Dalton, who has a ridiculous collection of wide receivers to choose from plus running back Ezekiel Elliott, so there’s every reason to believe Dallas can be a middling team or better (which in the N.F.C. East could put them in the playoffs). Pick: Cowboys +2.5

A quick primer for those who are not familiar with betting lines: Favorites are listed next to a negative number that represents how many points they must win by to cover the spread. Steelers -3.5, for example, means that Pittsburgh must beat Cleveland by at least 4 points for its backers to win their bet. Gamblers can also bet on the total score, or whether the teams’ combined score in the game is over or under a preselected number of points.

Bye weeks: Las Vegas, New Orleans, Los Angeles (Chargers), Seattle

All times are Eastern.