Preview: Packers at Seahawks

The Green Bay Packers have been making fans of the home team happy this season, as they are 4-0-1 at Lambeau Field and, well, 0-4 everywhere else. The Packers look to put an end to their road woes on Thursday as they travel to the Pacific Northwest to face the Seattle Seahawks, who begin a stretch of five home games in the next seven weeks.

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“I like our chances at home, but we’ve got to win some road games or we’re going to be at home in January — for good,” said Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who tossed two touchdown passes to Davante Adams in Sunday’s 31-12 romp over Miami. The two-time NFL Most Valuable Player has thrown 10 scoring strikes against zero interceptions in the last five weeks overall and has seven TD passes without getting picked off in his last two Thursday games. Seattle has answered winning four of five by dropping two hotly contested matchups versus the Los Angeles contingents. Russell Wilson tossed three touchdown passes in a 36-31 setback at the Rams on Sunday heading into his return to CenturyLink Field, where he has 13 scoring strikes against one interception in his last six games.

TV: 8:20 p.m. ET, FOX, NFL Network. LINE: Seahawks -2.5. O/U: 49

ABOUT THE PACKERS (4-4-1): Affectionately known as the “other” Aaron, running back Aaron Jones is making his presence felt after rushing for 306 yards and three touchdowns in his last three games — including a career-high 145 yards with two scores on a season-high 15 carries against the Dolphins. “He’s a great player. We just need to continue to give him more opportunities,” Rodgers said of the 23-year-old Jones, who aims to exploit the Seahawks’ rush defense that has been gashed for 5.0 yards per carry this season. A promising ground attack could create more opportunities for Adams, whose 31 touchdown receptions since 2016 are tied for the most in the league.

ABOUT THE SEAHAWKS (4-5): Seattle appears to be getting healthier as running back Chris Carson (hip), right guard D.J. Fluker (calf) and strong safety Bradley McDougal (knee) are in line to be available for Thursday’s game. Carson rejoins a backfield that saw first-round rookie Rashaad Penny rush for a career-best 108 yards and a touchdown against the Rams while fellow running back Mike Davis had his first career receiving score. “It’s a good group, it’s a good problem. Not a great problem for the running backs, but it’s good for us and we’ll try to make the most of it,” coach Pete Carroll told reporters ahead of facing a Packers defense that has surrendered at least 123 rushing yards in each of the last four weeks.


1. Seattle WR Tyler Lockett has a touchdown reception in seven of nine games this season.

2. Packers TE Jimmy Graham has just six catches for 90 yards in his last three contests heading into a tilt with the Seahawks, with whom he collected 18 touchdowns in three seasons.

3. Seattle LB Bobby Wagner has recorded back-to-back 13-tackle performances and has 29 tackles in his past three home games.

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Preview: Panthers at Steelers

After beginning their winning streak versus one Keystone State representative, the Carolina Panthers bid for their fourth straight victory against another on Thursday when they invade Heinz Field to face the Pittsburgh Steelers. Cam Newton led three fourth-quarter touchdown drives to upend defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia on Oct. 21 before tossing two more scoring strikes in wins over Baltimore and Tampa Bay.

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“Listen, we may not necessarily be the best team in the league, but we’re damn sure going to be the best team when we play. That’s all that matters,” Newton said. The 2015 NFL Most Valuable Player has thrown at least two touchdown passes in seven consecutive games, and he’d set a franchise record should he repeat the feat versus Pittsburgh. Steelers running back James Conner also can scribble his name among the franchise’s elite should he rush for 100-plus yards in his fifth consecutive game — joining Pro Football Hall of Famers Franco Harris and Jerome Bettis. The 23-year-old Conner has amassed a staggering 689 yards on 108 touches (88 carries, 20 receptions) over his last four games, including 163 yards (107 rushing, 56 receiving) in Pittsburgh’s 23-16 win over arch-rival Baltimore on Sunday.

TV: 8:20 p.m. ET, FOX, NFL Network. LINE: Steelers -4. O/U: 51.5

ABOUT THE PANTHERS (6-2): The elusive Christian McCaffrey can give Conner a run for his money after totaling 157 scrimmage yards (79 rushing, 78 receiving) in Sunday’s 42-28 win over Tampa Bay. “He is an athletic, dynamic football player who just makes plays for us,” coach Ron Rivera said of the 22-year-old McCaffrey, who also found the end zone twice for the second week in a row after scoring one touchdown in his previous six games. Tight end Greg Olsen made a twisting one-handed catch versus the Buccaneers to reel in a scoring strike for the third straight outing. Star linebacker Luke Kuechly leads the team with 64 tackles in 2018 and had a club-best 14 in the last meeting with Pittsburgh, albeit in a 37-19 setback in September 2014.

ABOUT THE STEELERS (5-2-1): Ben Roethlisberger says he’s not a fan of Thursday games, and he let his listeners know why on his weekly radio show this week. “I’m sure the fans like (Thursday night games); they like seeing football as often as they can,” the 36-year-old Roethlisberger said. “Players? (Sighs) It’s like, ‘Oh here we go, short week, especially after a Baltimore game where you’re physically beat up.'” Roethlisberger has thrown seven touchdowns without an interception in his last two Thursday contests while Antonio Brown has reeled in three scoring strikes in each of his last two such tilts. The 30-year-old Brown has flourished during games on other days as well, collecting eight touchdowns in his last six games overall as well as finding the end zone on two occasions to go along with 10 catches in his last encounter with Carolina.


1. Pittsburgh WR JuJu Smith-Schuster leads the team in receptions (53), receiving yards (672) and 20-plus-yard catches (nine).

2. Rivera said he is optimistic that C Ryan Kalil (ankle) will play versus the Steelers despite failing to practice on Tuesday.

3. Pittsburgh lost its first-ever encounter with Carolina before winning the last five in the series.

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Preview: Titans at Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys and Tennessee Titans each have the luxury of playing in mediocre divisions, but both teams are in danger of falling too far back in their respective conference playoff pictures with another loss. The Titans and Cowboys also share the similarities of owning identical 3-4 records while coming off a loss and a bye heading into Monday night’s clash in Dallas.

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The game will mark the Cowboys debut of wide receiver Amari Cooper, who was acquired from Oakland for a first-round draft pick to put some juice in Dallas’ struggling offense. “He’s electrifying. He’s one of those guys you hold your breath every time he catches the ball,” running back Ezekiel Elliott told reporters regarding Cooper. “He’s a great addition to this offense and I’m excited.” The bye week couldn’t come soon enough for Tennessee, which followed a three-game winning streak by scoring a total of 31 points during a three-game slide that includes a pair of one-point defeats. “It’s our fault, you know what I’m saying?” Titans Pro Bowl safety Kevin Byard told reporters. “We’re not doing the right things to win these games, and we have to find ways to turn that around.”

TV: 8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN. LINE: Cowboys -5.5. O/U: 40.5

ABOUT THE TITANS (3-4): Marcus Mariota injured his elbow in the season opener and has been dealing with numbness in his throwing hand, but he finally was able to discard the glove he’s been wearing since getting hurt. That, and the loss the of tight end Delanie Walker to a season-ending injury in Week 1, has contributed to Mariota’s woes – he has thrown three touchdown passes and five interceptions while being held to 129 yards or fewer in four of his six games. The running back tandem of Dion Lewis and Derrick Henry also has struggled, although Lewis gained 155 yards from scrimmage in Tennessee’s last contest. The Titans rank 19th in the league against the run, permitting 112.3 yards per game.

ABOUT THE COWBOYS (3-4): The offseason departures of Dez Bryant and Jason Witten has grounded Dallas’ aerial attack, prompting the move to bring in Cooper to jump-start a passing offense ranked 29th in the NFL (183.1 yards). Whether Cooper is the answer for Dak Prescott remains to be seen – the former No. 4 overall pick had 48 receptions and seven touchdowns last season while recording 22 catches and one score for the Raiders this year before the trade. The Cowboys have the league’s fourth-ranked ground game thanks to Elliott, who is second in the NFL in rushing with 619 yards and has three 100-yard performances. Dallas ranks third overall in total defense (313.7) and against the pass (217.4).


1. Dallas (17.6) and Tennessee (18.1) rank second and third, respectively, in the NFL in points allowed.

2. Mariota has thrown 24 TD passes and seven interceptions in his last 12 games versus NFC opponents.

3. Cowboys DE Demarcus Lawrence has registered seven sacks in his last five home contests.

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Preview: Raiders at 49ers

The Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers each harbored lofty aspirations of franchise-changing seasons entering 2018, but the Bay Area rivals are mired in downward spirals in what has become a battle of attrition for both teams. When the Raiders visit the 49ers on Thursday night, the most noteworthy similarity is the number of wins by each club: one.

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“This is going to fun for the fans and fun for both teams,” said Oakland coach Jon Gruden, who was lured back to the Raiders’ sideline with the hope of bringing back the team’s glory days. Instead, the Raiders traded away both their best player (Khalil Mack) and arguably their top offensive talent (Amari Cooper), and have been increasingly non-competitive during a three-game slide, losing by an average of 18 points. Injuries have victimized the 49ers, who lost their starting quarterback (Jimmy Garoppolo) and top running back (Jerick McKinnon) to season-ending torn ACLs and have dropped an NFL-worst six games in a row — with the last three on the road coming by a combined eight points. “We’re fighting,” San Francisco cornerback Richard Sherman said. “Unfortunately we’re not getting the results. These have been some of the toughest losses I’ve seen.”

TV: 8:20 p.m. ET, FOX, NFL Network. LINE: 49ers -3. O/U: 46

ABOUT THE RAIDERS (1-6): Despite rumors of more moves at Tuesday’s trade deadline, Oakland opted to stand pat, although cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie announced his retirement on Instagram. Derek Carr registered a season-high 136.6 passer rating in last week’s 42-28 loss to Indianapolis, throwing for three touchdown passes before the Raiders were torched for 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter. Doug Martin rushed for 72 yards in place of an injured Marshawn Lynch and tight end Jared Cook continued his stellar season with four catches for 74 yards and a score. Mack’s loss has killed the pass rush, which has an NFL-low 7.0 sacks.

ABOUT THE 49ERS (1-7): Its losing streak aside, San Francisco has a major injury concern as quarterback C.J. Beathard was unable to practice Tuesday due to a sore right wrist. “We feel C.J. would be good if we were playing on Sunday but it’s going to be a test for Thursday and we probably won’t know until then,” said 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, who would go with undrafted free agent Nick Mullens if Beathard can’t go. The one reliable offensive option for San Francisco is tight end George Kittle, who has a team-high 37 receptions and at least five in six of eight games. The 49ers are surrendering 262.5 yards passing and have posted only two interceptions.


1. The 49ers rank 28th and Raiders 31st in points allowed with 29.5 and 31.1, respectively.

2. Kittle and Cook are third and fourth, respectively, among tight ends in yardage with 584 and 474.

3. Carr has thrown for 901 yards in his last three road games.

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Preview: Patriots at Bills

Letdown, anyone? That could be the biggest obstacle for the resurgent New England Patriots as they head to western New York on Monday night to play the reeling Buffalo Bills. The Patriots have dominated the rivalry against the Bills, who have scored the fewest points in football, are down to their third quarterback and could be without their best offensive player.

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The Patriots have rebounded from a slow start to rip off four consecutive victories, moving to their accustomed spot at the top of the AFC East after winning slugfests over Kansas City and Chicago the past two weeks. “It’s always tough with them up there,” New England coach Bill Belichick said of playing in Buffalo. “We know that. I mean, we know it’s going to be tough. We talked about it but talking about it is the easy part. It’ll be dealing with it Monday night that will be the hard part.” The Bills must find a way to solve future Hall of Famer Tom Brady, who owns a staggering 28-3 mark against the Bills — the most by any quarterback against another opponent. Buffalo has been limited to 13 points or fewer in five of its seven games and could be without starting running back LeSean McCoy, who remained in the league’s concussion protocol on Friday.

TV: 8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN. LINE: Patriots -14. O/U: 44

ABOUT THE PATRIOTS (5-2): Brady rebounded from a 133-yard effort in a loss at Detroit in Week 3 to guide New England to four wins in a row, posting a passer rating of 102-plus in each of the past three victories. Brady likely will be without rookie running back Sony Michel, who rushed for 316 yards and four touchdowns in a three-game span before suffering a knee injury in last week’s 38-31 victory at Chicago. The return of Julian Edelman from suspension and addition of Josh Gordon has bolstered a passing game that hopes to have tight end Rob Gronkowski back after he sat out a week ago. New England ranks 25th overall in total defense (389.9 yards) and against the pass (275.9).

ABOUT THE BILLS (2-5): Rookie quarterback Josh Allen is injured and Nathan Peterman has been benched, so Derek Anderson will hope for improvement against New England after a shaky season debut in which he threw for 175 yards and was intercepted three times. “They’ve got a good defense,” said Anderson. “They’ve got a good scheme to try and take away guys and who they think are going to be our biggest threats and take away the things that we do well.” Not only is McCoy’s status up in the air, but backup running back Chris Ivory was limited in practice Thursday and Friday after hurting his hamstring on Wednesday. Buffalo’s defense has exelled against the pass, allowing 210.1 yards per game.


1. Brady has 16 touchdowns and two interceptions in his last six games at Buffalo.

2. McCoy has at least 100 yards from scrimmage in five straight games against New England.

3. Gronkowski has 12 touchdowns in 13 games versus the Bills.

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Preview: Saints at Vikings

The New Orleans Saints will not soon forget their last visit to Minnesota, a game that ended in one of the most dramatic finishes in league history and denied them a trip to the NFC Championship Game. The Saints have a chance for a little payback in a rematch against the Vikings, taking a five-game winning streak into Sunday night’s matchup.

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New Orleans coach Sean Payton attempted to play down the revenge angle from last season’s “Minneapolis Miracle” — when Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs scored on a 61-yard touchdown pass as time expired for a stunning 29-24 victory. “It wasn’t like there was bad blood when the game was over or anything like that,” Payton said. “Two teams fought hard and made a play at the end that ended up costing us the game. … This is a new team playing this ‘18 season and for different reasons.” Minnesota has overcome a slow start to rattle off three consecutive wins to move atop a tightly bunched NFC North, but is understandably wary of Saints quarterback Drew Brees. “This guy’s amazing,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “I always thought when you talk about Hall of Fame quarterbacks, obviously he’s going to be one, but he’s very cerebral, accurate.”

TV: 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC. LINE: Pick. O/U: 52

ABOUT THE SAINTS (5-1): Brees reached a pair of major milestones this season, becoming the NFL’s all-time leading passer and the third quarterback to throw for 500 touchdowns. Brees has 13 scoring passes and zero interceptions for a league-leading passer rating (121.6) and has a special connection with wide receiver Michael Thomas, who is tied for third in the league with 53 catches for 588 yards and four touchdowns. Running back Alvin Kamara is a dangerous two-way threat for New Orleans, rushing for 363 yards and six scores while adding 40 catches and a touchdown. The Saints, who have the league’s top-ranked rushing defense (72.3 yards), acquired cornerback Eli Apple from the Giants this week.

ABOUT THE VIKINGS (4-2-1): Dalvin Cook has missed much of the season but Minnesota finally got its ground game untracked over the past two games as Latavius Murray rushed for 224 yards and all three of his touchdowns. That has taken some of the onus off quarterback Kirk Cousins, but it hasn’t prevented wide receiver Adam Thielen from joining Charley Hennigan as the only players in league history to have at least 100 yards in each of the first seven games of the season. Thielen, the league leader in yards (822) and catches (67), and Diggs (48 receptions) provide a 1-2 punch for Cousins, who has thrown for 14 TDs and three interceptions. Minnesota’s defense ranks 16th against the pass (256.1 yards).


1. Cousins has passed for 646 yards and seven TDs in two meetings against New Orleans.

2. Brees has nine touchdown passes and zero interceptions in his last four games against Minnesota.

3. Vikings DE Danielle Hunter is tied for the NFL lead with 8.0 sacks.

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Preview: Dolphins at Texans

The Houston Texans have turned their fortunes around, answering a season-opening three-game losing skid that landed them in the cellar of the AFC South with four straight wins that catapulted them to the top of the division. The torrid Texans bid to continue their winning ways on Thursday when they welcome a familiar face in Brock Osweiler and the visiting Miami Dolphins to NRG Stadium.

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“He ain’t here no more, so I don’t really care for him. We didn’t win a lot with him,” Pro Bowl defensive end Jadeveon Clowney told the Houston Chronicle of Osweiler, who lasted just one season with the Texans despite signing a four-year, $72 million contract in May 2016. The 6-foot-7, 240-pound Osweiler has fared much better in Miami with 619 yards passing and five touchdowns in two starts in place of the injured Ryan Tannehill. “No emotion. This really is just another game, but it’s the most important one because it’s the next one,” Osweiler said of facing the Texans. An aggressive and opportunistic defense has been a major reason for Houston’s ascent, as the club has yielded just 36 points in its last three games while recording three fumble recoveries and as many interceptions — including one for a touchdown — in its last two.

TV: 8:20 p.m. ET, FOX, NFL Network. LINE: Texans -7.5. O/U: 44.5

ABOUT THE DOLPHINS (4-3): Trade rumors began to circle as former first-round pick DeVante Parker was made a surprise inactive in Sunday’s 32-21 setback to Detroit, but injuries to fellow wideouts Albert Wilson (hip) and Kenny Stills (groin) have made it an easy decision for Adam Gase. “We don’t have any more receivers, so I’m sure he’s going to play,” Gase said of the 25-year-old Parker, who claims he’s 100 percent healthy after being hampered by a quadriceps injury. Danny Amendola led the team with six catches for 84 yards and a touchdown versus the Lions. Kenyan Drake found the end zone for the first time since Sept. 16 and has 15 catches in his last three games.

ABOUT THE TEXANS (4-3): Lamar Miller, who recorded his first 100-yard performance since the 2016 season in Sunday’s 20-7 win over Jacksonville, shared his reasoning of opting against re-signing with his hometown team and inking a four-year, $26 million contract with the Texans in 2016. “They offered me to come back,” the 27-year-old Miller told the Houston Chronicle. “I just felt like Houston at the time was a winning organization. They were giving me an opportunity to showcase my skill set. I don’t regret anything. I love it here in Houston.” Miller will face a Dolphins rush defense that was gashed for 248 yards by the Lions. Deshaun Watson overcame a bruised lung and injured ribs to throw a touchdown pass last week.


1. Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins didn’t take too kindly to Miami CB Xavien Howard claiming he “likes to push off a lot,” so much so that the two-time Pro Bowl wideout offered the following response: “Who’s Xavien Howard?”

2. Dolphins DE Cameron Wake recorded two sacks and two forced fumbles in last meeting with the Texans.

3. Houston has won seven of eight encounters overall with Miami, including all four at home.

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Preview: Giants at Falcons

Quarterback Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons withstood a late comeback to end a three-game slide last weekend in what may have been a season-saving victory. That’s pretty much the same position the reeling New York Giants and the much-maligned Eli Manning find themselves in when they head to Atlanta to take on the Falcons on Monday Night Football.

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One season after finishing 3-13 and winding up with prize running back Saquon Barkley with the No. 2 pick in the NFL Draft, New York is off to a 1-5 start amid growing cries that Manning needs to be yanked from the starting lineup. “I know he’s the punching bag right now,” Giants co-owner John Mara told reporters earlier this week. “But a lot of guys need to play better when you’re 1-5.” Atlanta has plenty of issues of its own — namely injuries — but still has Ryan and favorite target Julio Jones, the subject of pregame hype with New York’s Odell Beckham Jr. on the opposite sideline. “In our league today, there are a handful of receivers who garner that special attention,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “It just so happens that two of them are matched up this week. They are different players, but really effective in their own right.”

TV: 8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN. LINE: Falcons -4. O/U: 54

ABOUT THE GIANTS (1-5): Barkley has lived up to his pre-draft hype, rushing for 130 yards and a touchdown and catching nine balls for 99 yards in a 34-13 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Oct. 11. Barkley has a chance to make history against the Falcons and join Kansas City’s Kareem Hunt as the only players to pile up at least 100 yards from scrimmage in seven consecutive games to begin their career. Manning continues to have trouble connected with Beckham and has averaged 6.5 yards or fewer per pass attempt in four of six games. New York’s defense has allowed 27 points per game and is tied for last in the league with 7.0 sacks.

ABOUT THE FALCONS (2-4): Ryan is third in the NFL with 1,956 passing yards and has 12 touchdowns and zero interceptions over the past four games after throwing for 340 yards and three scores in last week’s win over Tampa Bay. Jones had 10 catches for 144 yards against the Buccaneers and is second in the league with 708 yards, but he has yet to find the end zone after scoring only three touchdowns in 2017. With Devanta Freeman going on injured reserve following groin surgery this week, Tevin Coleman and rookie Ito Smith will share the load in the backfield. Atlanta is 30th in total defense (417.2 yards) and 31 in points allowed (32.0).


1. Ryan has an NFL-best 1,432 yards and 128.2 passer rating since Week 3.

2. Giants TE Evan Engram is expected to return after sitting out the last three games.

3. Falcons DE Takk McKinley has 4.5 sacks in the last five games.

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Can the Vikings recover from Sunday’s historic collapse?

The Minnesota Vikings enter this Thursday night’s matchup against the undefeated Los Angeles Rams as heavy underdogs. But they shouldn’t be discouraged; after all, this team knows firsthand how quickly the tables can turn in the NFL.

Just last week, the Vikings, as 17-point favorites, were embarrassed by the Buffalo Bills at home. It was the first time since 1995 (span of 47 games) where a team favored by that large a margin wound up losing an NFL game. The last time it happened, the Dallas Cowboys fell to the Washington Redskins in the same year they wound up winning the Super Bowl. So for Vikings fans still thinking the team can go a few steps further than last year’s NFC Championship Game, there’s hope.

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They’ll run up against a Rams team looking every bit like the Super Bowl contender they were envisioned to be at the start of the season. The only undefeated team left in the NFC, the league’s third-best offense is riding high behind the play of their No. 1 draft pick, quarterback Jared Goff. He and running back Todd Gurley have formed the most dynamic young offensive duo at those positions since Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott electrified the Cowboys two years ago.

Can the Rams keep their early-season momentum going? Or will the Vikings’ defense deliver after a dreadful performance at home?

Minnesota at Los Angeles

Kickoff: Thursday, Sept. 27 at 8:20 p.m. ET

TV: FOX/NFL Network

Spread: Rams -6.5

Three Things to Watch

1. The free agent signee vs. the homegrown young star

Jared Goff has simply continued to improve each week with the Rams. His yards per attempt ranks fourth in the NFL (9.3) while his QB rating (111.1) ranks sixth. While flashy Patrick Mahomes has dominated defenses with the Chiefs, throwing 13 touchdown passes without an interception, Goff has diversified his game. The third-year pro can slide easily between a game plan of deep throws and simple screens; he’s also good at managing the offense when Gurley gets hot. Goff hasn’t had a game with more than one interception since Oct. 8, 2017 against Seattle. He’s not going to cost you the game and doesn’t get enough pub beside fellow 2016 draftee Carson Wentz.

Cousins, meanwhile had an impressive early 2018 with the Vikings wiped out against the Bills. He fumbled on the team’s first two possessions and now has three for the season; that’s tied for fourth in the NFL, which is not what this team paid millions for. By the time he was able to go an entire series without turning the ball over, the Vikings trailed 17-0 and were down for the count. The performance might arguably have been the worst of his career.

Now, Cousins is anxious to put that loss behind him along with the rest of the Vikings. Their quick turnaround may be a good thing; there’s no time to dwell on the litany of mistakes that cost them Sunday. Going throw-for-throw against Goff, if Cousins is at his best, will be a must-watch, top-tier matchup.

2. Can the Vikings’ run defense stop Todd Gurley?

It’s been a weird start for one of the NFL’s best defenses. Through three games, the Vikings haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher but are still at 105.3 yards allowed per game, only 14th best in the league. (Last year, they were second.)

Those yards have come against some inferior rushing competition: Matt Breida, Chris Ivory and Jamaal Williams aren’t exactly household names. Now, a group that hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher since mid-December against Carolina is facing one of the most explosive backs in the league. Gurley’s four touchdowns through three games is tied for the NFL lead and he remains the Rams’ most dangerous threat on offense. What’s more, one could argue he hasn’t even been at his best so far, averaging just 4.1 yards per carry. There’s plenty of room for improvement and if he pierces the Vikings’ defense early, watch out. He’s due for a 70-yard explosive run.

3. Nuts and bolts

The Vikings, like many teams this season, have suffered through placekicking problems. After Daniel Carlson blew a game-winning opportunity against Green Bay, he was replaced by longtime Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey. But Bailey has yet to be tested in the clutch; the Bills blowout kept him on the sideline without a field goal attempt.

The Rams aren’t in great shape either. Greg Zuerlein, coming off his first All-Pro season, has been sidelined with a groin injury the last two weeks. Replacement Sam Ficken has just two made field goals in his career and has yet to connect in 2018. A close game could come down to some white-knuckle moments for fans when these two get out on the field.

One area where the Rams have excelled is turnovers. They have just three giveaways this season, producing a plus-three turnover margin compared to the Vikings’ minus-one. The Rams just have so many offensive weapons, from deep threats Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp to Goff to Gurley to possession receiver Robert Woods. None of them make many mistakes and they just keeping marching down the field on defenses. Only the Saints and Chiefs have scored more points this season than the Rams (102). Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer tends to call a more conservative game plan and that will be tested if the Rams make this a track meet by scoring 30-plus points.

Final Analysis

The Vikings are eager to put Sunday behind them. But a short week against the Rams, who didn’t have to leave LA after an intracity battle against the Chargers, is a tough opponent. The young Rams are eager to knock off a potential playoff rival, earning the head-to-head victory for tiebreaking purposes and establishing themselves as the unquestioned leader of the NFC.

Consider that with a win, the Rams could be three games ahead after four weeks in a NFC West that already has two wounded teams: the 49ers sans Jimmy Garoppolo and a winless, 0-3 Arizona Cardinals team starting rookie Josh Rosen. The division would appear firmly within their grasp with one of the NFL’s easiest schedules looming. It wouldn’t be outrageous to say they’d have a commanding edge on the conference’s top seed after just four games.

The Vikings, meanwhile, need Cousins to step up. But even his A game might not be enough playing against an offense with many more weapons. This time, the Vikings will watch their own glass slipper break.

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A quarterback change for Cleveland could lead to more opportunities for Duke Johnson

Week 3’s Daily Fantasy Football (DFS) picks produced another week in the green, albeit barely, but profit is profit. Kenyan Drake was the weakest link of all of the picks while Julio Jones’ trademark lack of touchdowns was exacerbated by rookie Calvin Ridley’s breakout performance.

For Week 4 we have some decent game score projections, although not as high as last week, but it still is a solid week to try some game stacks.

Bengals at Falcons with a game total of 51

Saints at Giants with a game total of 50

Browns at Raiders with a game total of 45

These games should have loads of fantasy goodness so I would consider getting players from these games as much as possible.

So, now that my synopsis is out of the way let’s get into my Week 4 DFS Picks shall we?

Teams on bye: Carolina, Washington

Week 4 Core Plays

These will be my top plays for the Sunday-Monday slate of games. These are players who I will try to have in as many lineups of mine as possible. If I can, I will use three or all four in one lineup. A reminder that for cash games going with an elite quarterback is typically recommended. If you go value at quarterback he MUST meet value for your loaded lineup to be worth it.

QB: Deshaun Watson, Houston at Indianapolis

Watson has had a nice few weeks after his rocky Week 1 start in his return from a torn ACL. If the youngster can reduce his mistakes and continue throwing the ball to his two amazingly talented wide receivers (DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller) to put together 300-yard passing games then he will become a must-start fantasy QB once again. This week is one of those where he is facing an appealing defense, as the Colts are allowing more than 240 yards per game through the air. Tom Brady is poised for a better matchup (vs. Miami), but he is more expensive. Watson also has more mobility which results in more possibility to score some points on the ground (yards, TDs).

RB: Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas vs. Detroit 

Elliott is tied for the league lead in rushing with 274 yards through three weeks. This week he faces a defense that has been getting shredded on the ground so far this season. Elliott is getting fed the ball plenty and that should continue. Zeke’s price is right given the volume, and there’s added upside of getting some red-zone carries this week. The concern is that the Lions get ahead early, but the Cowboys need Elliott too much to remove him entirely from the game plan, even when playing from behind.

WR: Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants vs. Saints

The Saints are a high-flying and high-scoring offense, but on the other side they have one of the worst pass defenses in the league this season, allowing a whopping 246 yards through the air in the early going. Beckham has yet to find the end zone this season, but he is averaging 10 targets per game and the production with those has been there. Beckham’s breakout game is coming and this is the week it could happen. This could be a trap week where a teammate like Sterling Shephard has the big game (a la Calvin Ridley last week). I think Beckham is worth the price though this week. If Beckham feels too risky for cash contests, go ahead and pay up for Michael Thomas this week.

WR: Jarvis Landry, Cleveland at Oakland

Landry will have an entire week to continue developing a connection with his new starting quarterback, Baker Mayfield. Landry should be the focal point of the passing game and Mayfield’s top target. I would fully expect Landry to keep seeing 15-plus targets as he has twice this year already, and Mayfield showed last Thursday night that he’s pretty accurate with his throws. Yes it’s an incredibly small sample size, but the early signs are very promising. If this continues, expect better numbers from Landry.

TE: Eric Ebron, Indianapolis vs. Houston

Ebron has already developed a nice rapport with Andrew Luck, something that has been helped by Jack Doyle’s injury issues. Ebron already has caught two touchdown passes in three games compared to four in 16 games with Detroit last season. Drops are still an issue (five catches on 11 targets thus far), but as long as Doyle is out/limited, the volume should be there, especially in the red zone. All of that and he’s available at a fair price too.

Value Plays of the Week

QB: Josh Allen, Buffalo at Green Bay

Allen had a spectacular debut against the Vikings in what was one of the most surprising upsets in recent memory. Allen looked poised, mobile and most importantly, accurate. He also had plenty of catchable balls dropped by Kelvin Benjamin. Green Bay’s defense is not better than Minnesota’s, even given the struggles the Vikings had last week. Allen will not likely duplicate his Week 3 production, these still are the Bills, but he should be able to meet value in relation to his cheap price, especially if Buffalo falls behind early (as expected). In GPP using Allen and loading up at WR or RB is not a terrible idea.

RB: Duke Johnson, Cleveland at Oakland

Johnson has not been involved nearly as much as fantasy owners had hoped this season. Carlos Hyde is taking the feature back role and, well, running with it. This week though I can certainly see a back like Johnson being utilized more as a safety valve with Baker Mayfield taking over at quarterback. This price means Johnson only needs to get to eight points to double his value. There hasn’t been much foreshadowing this year for Johnson, but at this price I am taking a leap of faith.

WR: Sterling Shepard, New York Giants vs. Saints

Remember I mentioned a potential Calvin Ridley-esque performance happening in this game because of the presence of Odell Beckham Jr.? Well, why not cover our bases with this receiver stack this week? If you have more money to spend you also could add Eli Manning and make it a full stack. For all of the reasons I mentioned earlier Shepard is a nice play as well.

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Two of the NFL’s most explosive offenses in the early going face off in Tampa to wrap up Week 3

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers have had much different starts to the 2018 season. Seeing that sentence isn’t much of a surprise, except everyone thought it would be for a very different reason.

The Bucs are off to a perfect 2-0 start after beating the New Orleans Saints and the reigning Super Bowl champs, the Philadelphia Eagles, during the first two weeks. Considering they were expected to finish with one of the worst records in the NFL, that’s as good of a start as one could ask.

On the other hand, the Steelers are winless after two weeks. They tied the Cleveland Browns in Week 1, and then proceeded to lose a 42-37 shootout against the Kansas City Chiefs last Sunday.

Now, the Steelers are traveling to Tampa Bay to try to avoid falling into a 0-2-1 hole while quieting some of the off-field noise that has dominated the early headlines.

Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay

Kickoff: Monday, Sept. 24 at 8:15 p.m. ET


Spread: Tampa Bay -1

Three Things to Watch

1. Can Ryan Fitzpatrick keep it up?

Fitzpatrick will turn 36 years old in November. He’s been in the NFL for 14 years, but he’s never started a season the way he has in 2018.

In two starts, the Harvard product has thrown for 819 yards and eight touchdowns while completing an eye-popping 78.7 percent (48 of 61) of his passes. Fitzpatrick has been the main reason for Tampa Bay’s 2-0 start, but there are people who wonder if he can keep up this level of play.

Jameis Winston is eligible to return from his three-game suspension following Monday night’s matchup against the Steelers. If Fitzpatrick can remain productive, it may be difficult for Winston to reclaim the starting job.

2. Antonio Brown after his comments last week

The Steelers have already been dealing with the absence of Le’Veon Bell. The star running back is still looking for a massive payday after emerging as one of the top players at his position, and it’s unclear how long his holdout with last.

As if that wasn’t enough, there seems to be growing frustration coming from the team’s other star skill position player Brown due to the 0-1-1 start to the season. That frustration even led to a tweet from Brown requesting a trade after last week’s loss.

Pittsburgh isn’t known for being a dysfunctional franchise, but the off-the-field issues don’t seem to be going away anytime soon.

3. James Conner’s emergence as the lead back

Speaking of Bell, his replacement has put up good numbers, while struggling in some other areas. The second-year running back out of Pittsburgh has already exceeded last year’s rushing totals in the first two weeks of this season.

The 6-foot-1, 233-pound bruiser has 257 total yards (152 rushing, 105 receiving) to go along with three rushing touchdowns. But Conner has really struggled as a pass protector. According to Pro Football Focus, he has a 27.5 grade in that area through the first two weeks. That ranks him near the bottom.

There have been reports surfacing that the Steelers are listening to trade offers for Bell, which could mean they’re starting to view Conner as a long-term replacement. He’ll need to continue to prove that against the Buccaneers, though.

Final Analysis

The high level of play from Tampa Bay’s offense must come to an end eventually, right? Sure, but it may not be this week after seeing the struggles from Pittsburgh’s defense to start the season. The good news is the Steelers will welcome cornerback Joe Haden back into the starting lineup after he missed last week’s game due to a hamstring injury.

Another factor that could play a significant factor in this game is Ben Roethlisberger’s struggles on the road. The team can’t afford to put him in a position where he has to win a shootout away from Heinz Field. Roethlisberger did well with his 60 pass attempts last week (452 yards and three touchdowns), but will he see similar results on the road? That’s doubtful.

Expecting 79 combined points like last week would be foolish, but the over (54 points) still looks appealing. If Fitzpatrick can continue to play at an MVP-caliber level, Tampa Bay should do enough to pull out a close home victory.

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Pats look to bounce back against familiar foe

For teams that face each other only once every four years, the Patriots and Lions actually know each other pretty well entering Sunday night’s game. After all, Detroit head coach Matt Patricia learned from New England head coach Bill Belichick as his defensive coordinator for the last six seasons.

That experience perhaps gives Patricia a leg up on other coaches facing New England; but it certainly means that Belichick and Tom Brady have a pretty good idea what to expect from Patricia. And no one tailors their game plan to their opponent better than the Patriots.

The Patriots have won seven of the 11 all-time meetings with the Lions, and have won the last four in the series, all since Brady took over as New England’s quarterback. In fact, the Lions’ last win, on Nov. 23, 2000, actually marked Brady’s NFL debut. He went 1-for-3 for 6 yards mopping up in a 34–9 loss.

New England at Detroit

Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 23 at 8:20 p.m. ET


Spread: Patriots -7

Three Things to Watch

1. How the Pats attack Patricia’s defense

When in New England, Patricia’s defenses generally gave up yards but not points. In a small sample of two games in Detroit, it’s been the opposite, as the Lions rank 31st in points allowed but 17th in yards allowed. They’ve also been gashed by opponents on the ground to the tune of 179.5 yards per game, worst in the NFL. Can the Patriots, who prefer to have Brady throwing the ball and average just 3.5 yards per rush, take advantage of that? Or will they stick to what they do best and possibly put Brady in harm’s way against a pass rush that has eight sacks, third in the NFL through two games? We’ll see, but it won’t help the Lions if cornerback Darius Slay can’t play after leaving last week’s game with a concussion.

2. Which Matthew Stafford will we get?

After throwing four interceptions against the Jets in the season opener, the Detroit quarterback bounced back with a big game at San Francisco (34-of-53, 347 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs). Stafford has cut down on the interceptions over the last two seasons, so odds are the opener was just a rough night and not a sign of things to come. But he has little experience facing Belichick’s defenses, having played only one game against New England in his career. It wasn’t pretty, either: 18-of-46 for 264 yards and one interception in a 34–9 loss in 2014.

3. Josh Gordon’s New England debut

Belichick and the Pats have a long history of trying to turn other teams’ trash into treasure. Sometimes it works (Randy Moss, Corey Dillon)… sometimes it doesn’t (Kellen Winslow, Chad Johnson). Can the legendary (mythical?) Patriot Way get Gordon back on track? Since leading the NFL with 1,646 receiving yards (in just 14 games) in 2013, Gordon has played in just 11 games due to substance abuse problems. When he showed up late for work last week complaining of a hamstring injury, the Browns had had enough and traded him to New England for a fifth-round pick. Now he’s supposedly healthy and ready to go. He could be a big weapon for Brady, but he’s five years removed from being a reliable target. Time will tell.

Final Analysis

There’s more pressure here on the Lions to avoid an 0–3 start than there is on the Patriots; even stumbling out of the gate 1–2 would hardly hurt their playoff chances in the weak AFC East. But always hard to bet on New England to lose two in a row, especially if Detroit’s secondary is shorthanded without Darius Slay.

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New York Jets vs. Cleveland Browns Preview

People were likely snickering as soon as they saw it on the NFL’s primetime schedule: Week 3, Jets at Browns. Typical Thursday night snoozer. The team that so many said could go winless last season against the team that actually did go winless.

And even now there’s not much to get excited about, right? The Browns still haven’t won, although they have scared the Saints and bungled a winnable game into a tie against the Steelers. The Jets won their opener in Detroit, but it’s hard to be impressed given how bad the Lions look. And they wasted a strong defensive performance in a loss last week, a familiar theme from a year ago.

Still… are we sure these teams can’t be good? The Jets turn the ball over a lot, not unexpected for a team starting a rookie quarterback, but they also take it away and rank fifth in total defense. The Browns could be 2–0 if not for kicker Zane Gonzalez, who was waived after missing two field goals and two PATs in a three-point loss to the Saints on Sunday after having the potential game-winning kick blocked in overtime against the Steelers in Week 1.

New York at Cleveland

Kickoff: Thursday, Sept. 20 at 8:20 p.m. ET

TV: NFL Network

Spread: Browns -3

Three Things to Watch

1. Riding the rookie roller-coaster

Sam Darnold hasn’t been perfect in his first two NFL starts, but he has been exciting. He bounced back in the season opener after throwing a pick-six on his first NFL play. He threw for 334 yards against the Dolphins last week but tossed a costly interception early and got the Jets into the end zone only once. He’ll have his hands full with a Browns defense that kept Drew Brees in check last week and forced six turnovers against the Steelers in the opener, including three interceptions of Ben Roethlisberger.

2. The Browns’ defense might be for real… if it’s healthy

Granted, Cleveland gave up a ton of yards in Week 1 to the Steelers, but the six turnovers made up for it. The Browns followed that up by holding Brees and the Saints to 275 yards in the Superdome. No team held New Orleans under 300 yards anywhere last season. In fact, you have to go back to 2012 to find a game in which the Saints didn’t gain at least 300 yards at home. So they could give a rookie passer fits… if they are at full strength, which is unlikely. Four starters — including both cornerbacks — are questionable for the Jets game, and on a short week it’s a safe bet they won’t all be active. Life becomes easier for Darnold if corners Denzel Ward and Damarious Randall can’t go.

3. Tyrod Taylor is who we thought he was

He’s uncharacteristically thrown interceptions in each of his first two games as a Brown, but Taylor otherwise is doing pretty much what he always has done as a starting quarterback. He takes a few more sacks than you’d like (10 through two games) but he also extends drives and drives defenses crazy with his legs (103 yards on 8.6 ypc and a touchdown so far this season). How long will that be enough to hold off top overall pick Baker Mayfield? A win would help, because the longer Cleveland is winless the sooner it will look to the future. Taylor usually found success against the Jets as a starter for the Bills (three wins in five starts with eight TDs and two INTs), but again, the formula for his success was familiar: He’s 3–0 against the Jets when his defense allows 17 or fewer points. It’s a safe bet the interceptions will disappear, but will he win enough games to delay the Baker Mayfield era?

Final Analysis

Despite the hints that these teams might be on the rise, they’re not there yet. Also, the Jets opened the season on a Monday night, meaning this is their third game in 11 days. In addition to the physical challenges, that’s a lot to throw at a rookie quarterback. This could swing the other way if none of the banged-up starters on the Browns’ defense can go, but we’ll take the home team to finally get in the win column.

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