Week 6 NFL odds, picks: Steelers beat Bengals to get back in playoff race; Browns outlast Chargers
The Bengals are one of the NFL's best teams but the Steelers have been their kryptonite in recent years
It's Steelers-Bengals Week, y'all. Recent history favors Pittsburgh, which has won the last six meetings, but Cincinnati is playing some of its best football in several years. And if the Bengals find a way to win on Sunday afternoon, they'll move to 5-1, their best start since 2015, when they bolted to an 8-0 start. A win will also put them three games up on the Steelers, whose playoff hopes will be immeasurably more difficult should they fall to 2-3-1.
We'll talk about all Week 6 games in our picks below.
LAST WEEK: 9-6
OVERALL RECORD: 45-31-2
Pittsburgh at Cincinnati
Line: Bengals -2.5
The Bengals have a case for being one of the best teams in football. They look a lot like the 2015 team that was poised to win its first playoff game in the Marvin Lewis era and then Andy Dalton went down with a late-season thumb injury. The 2017 version has Dalton again playing well, thanks to an improved offensive line, and playmakers A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd and Joe Mixon. And Vontaze Burfict returns just in time to face a Steelers team he has terrorized over the years. That said, Pittsburgh leads the all-time series 62-35, has won the last six matchups, and nine of the last 10. They're also coming off their best game of the season, demolishing the Falcons, 41-17, and sacking Matt Ryan six times. If the Steelers defense plays like that in Cincinnati, they'll be tough to beat. Unfortunately, that Falcons game was the aberration; the Steelers' D has been regularly torched over the first month of the season and the Bengals are certainly capable of running up the score. But Ben Roethlisberger, who has been both great and hard to watch this season, looked sharp last Sunday and Antonio Brown, who has had a quiet start to 2018, scored two touchdowns and surpassed 100 receiving yards for the first time. On paper, the Bengals are the better team but until they prove they're mentally tougher than the Steelers, Pittsburgh remains the favorite.
Pick: Steelers 41, Bengals 38
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Philadelphia at N.Y. Giants
Line: Eagles -3
Neither team has played well this season though it's fair to say few teams have performed as poorly as the Giants through the first five weeks. After dominating for much of 2017, the Eagles' offensive line has been a surprising liability thus far, which hasn't helped Carson Wentz ease his way back into the lineup after recovering from ACL surgery. In fact, the offense has sputtered to below replacement-level and the team announced this week that Jay Ajayi is done for the season after tearing his ACL. That said, Philadelphia is still better than the assemblage of players unironically referring to themselves as Giants. Hours before last Sunday's loss to the Panthers, Odell Beckham Jr. said publicly what everyone was thinking: Eli Manning at 37 may not be the answer at quarterback and the team might want to start making contingency plans. Unfortunately, the Giants didn't draft a quarterback with the No. 2 pick last spring but all signs point to them having another selection near the top of the 2019 draft where they almost have to take a quarterback. But with no immediate relief in site, New York drops its fifth game of the season while Philly gets to .500.
Pick: Eagles 24, Giants 13
Arizona at Minnesota
Line: Vikings -10.5
If first-year coach Steve Wilks has a plan, it's not obvious to us. He continues to misuse David Johnson, refuses to play former first-round pick Deone Bucannon, and he waited until the final two minutes of a close Week 3 game against the Bears to give rookie quarterback Josh Rosen his first regular-season action. Taken together, the Cardinals are 1-4, the lone win coming Sunday against a 49ers team ravaged by injuries. The Vikings, meanwhile, appear to be finding their form. After tying the Packers (in a game they should've lost) and then getting trounced at home by the Bills, Minnesota bounced back with a road victory over the Eagles. Kirk Cousins looked worth every penny of his $85 million guaranteed deal, completing all manner of contested throws for 301 yards and a 109.6 passer rating. Unless the Cards can replicate what the Bills did in Week 3, they'll likely head back to Arizona with loss No. 5.
Pick: Vikings 30, Cardinals 12
Carolina at Washington
Line: Redskins -1
Before the season we suggested that Alex Smith might be a dark-horse candidate for MVP honors. After Derrius Guice was lost for the season to injury we dropped it because if we learned anything from last year's team it's that a one-dimensional offense isn't feasible. But Adrian Peterson has been surprisingly good and through three weeks, Smith efficiently helped the Redskins to a 2-1 record. But after the bye, he had his Blake Bortles "hold my beer" outing, and had one of his worst performances in recent memory.
Carolina is 3-1, and just beat the Giants, though they needed a 63-yard field goal late in the game to do it. Washington is a better team than New York but you wonder if the Saints drubbing will fester, exposing other issues causing the whole thing to unravel by Halloween.
Pick: Panthers 28, Redskins 24
Chicago at Miami
Line: Bears -3
Through three weeks, the Dolphins were not only 3-0 but they were the NFL' s second-best team, according to Football Outsiders' metrics, ahead of the Chiefs and behind only the Rams. Then they were embarrassed by the Patriots. And last week they went to Cincinnati, where they had a 17-point lead late in the third quarter only to get outscored 27-0. The Bears are coming off their bye and at 3-1 are off to their best start since 2013, the last year they didn't have a losing record (they were 8-8). And while Chicago's defense has been dominant, the key to their sustained success lies with second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. If he can be efficient in the pocket, the Bears will be tough to beat. If he makes silly mistakes, the Bears will struggle.
Pick: Bears 20, Miami 17
Indianapolis at N.Y. Jets
Line: Jets -2.5
The Colts have lost three straight but unlike a year ago, there are glimpses that things are slowly getting better. Andrew Luck can, in fact, make all the throws, and the defense, which features rookie second-rounder Darius Leonard, is a top-10 unit, according to Football Outsiders. The Jets thumped the Broncos last week and while there's no way they rush for 323 yards again anytime soon, Sam Darnold appears to have found a reliable deep threat in Robby Anderson. Neither Indy nor New York is a playoff team in 2018 but they're two organizations headed in the right direction for 2019.
Pick: Jets 21, Colts 20
Seattle at Oakland (in London)
Line: Seattle -3
We'd like to apologize to the Seahawks; before the season we pegged them as the NFC West's worst team, partly because they blew up the Legion of Boom, and partly because they refused to address the offensive line. But not only has this team been competitive, they're 2-3, almost beat the Rams last week, and currently sit along in second place in the division. The Raiders, meanwhile, are exactly who we thought they were. They eked out an overtime win against the Browns in Week 4 but are 0-4 in their other games. Yes, Derek Carr is completing 71 percent of his passes but he's also good for 2-3 "Wait, what?!" moments a game. And oh, the Raiders desperately need a pass rusher, which we all knew would be the case as soon as they shipped Khalil Mack to the Bears.
Pick: Seahawks 24, Raiders 20
Buffalo at Houston
Line: Texans -8.5
Sean McDermott is our quarter-pole Coach of the Year. No man has done more with less; the Bills demolished the Vikings on the road in Week 3 and on Sunday outlasted the Titans. And they've managed it all with an overwhelmed rookie quarterback and no real downfield threat. The Texans are at the other end of the spectrum, underachieving nearly every week. They beat the Cowboys on Sunday night but that was as much about Dallas trying desperately to lose as it was about Houston wanting to win. Coach Bill O'Brien has to be a better play-caller, and that includes putting second-year quarterback Deshaun Watson in positions to succeed -- while avoiding the huge hits he was continually subjected to against the Cowboys.
Pick: Bills 14, Texans 13
L.A. Chargers at Cleveland
Line: Chargers -1
Playing the Raiders can make any team look good so maybe we should temper our enthusiasm for the Chargers, who also have wins over the Bills and 49ers. Plus, prior to the 2018 season, when the Browns quit losing every game they took part in, their previous win, way back in December 2016, came in Cleveland against the ... San Diego Chargers. The Browns just beat the Ravens in overtime and Baker Mayfield continues to prove he was worthy of the first-overall selection. Cleveland's young tenacious defense also gets better every week and there's a decent chance this organization could win two-straight for the first time since 2014, back when Mike Pettine was the coach, Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel were the quarterbacks, and Andrew Hawkins was the leading receiver.
Pick: Browns 20, Chargers 19
Tampa Bay at Atlanta
Line: Falcons -3.5
The over-under in this game could open at 100 and that might be too low. There should be no shortage of offense and no visible signs of defense for two of the NFC's worst teams. That sounds weird to say; before the season just about everybody pegged the Falcons to make a deep playoff run and the Bucs started 2-0 with red-hot Ryan Fitzpatrick under center. But Tampa Bay was embarrassed at home by the Steelers and steamrolled by the Bears a week later in a game that saw Mitchell Trubisky through six (SIX!) touchdowns. The Bucs added Vinny Curry and Jason Pierre-Paul in the offseason, and while the pass rush has gone from nonexistent to well below replacement-level, the Falcons have been decimated by injuries; four defensive starters won't play and a fifth, pass rusher Takk McKinley could be out too. Still, as long as Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman, Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley are upright, Atlanta will have no trouble lighting up the scoreboard.
Pick: Falcons 40, Buccaneers 31
L.A. Rams at Denver
Line: Rams -7
The Broncos gave up 323 rushing yards last week to the Jets. Isaiah Crowell ran for 219 yards and Bilal Powell added another 99, while rookie quarterback Sam Darnold finished just 10 of 22, though he threw three touchdowns -- two to Robby Anderson and another to Terrelle Pryor -- in a game New York won by 18 points. The overarching takeaway: No one has ever confused the Jets offense for the Rams offense, which is the most efficient in football. Unless the Broncos can fix everything that went wrong in New York, this could make for a long afternoon, especially as Case Keenum and the offense continues to struggle to find some continuity.
Pick: Rams 38, Broncos 14
Baltimore at Tennessee
Line: Ravens -3
These two teams combined to score 21 points last week; the Ravens lost in overtime to the Browns and the Titans lost to the Bills. Incidentally, both teams were also coming off their most complete games of the season; Baltimore had manhandled the Steelers in Pittsburgh while the Titans beat the Eagles in overtime in one of Marcus Mariota's best games. Now the question becomes: Which teams will show up on Sunday? First-year coach Mike Vrabel has gotten more out of this Titans team than we ever expected while Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco finally finds himself in a balanced offense that includes Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead. Going back to 2005, Baltimore and Tennessee have faced off seven times with each team winning every other matchup. If the pattern holds, the Titans are up.
Pick: Titans 14, Ravens 13
Jacksonville at Dallas
Line: Jaguars -3
This is how Blake Bortles' Sunday afternoon went:
Even Benny Hill can't believe an NFL quarterback could be that bad but that clip is a microcosm of Bortles' career. Some good, a whole lotta bad. Lucky for the Jaguars, they still have one of the league's best defenses and are facing a punchless offense coached by a man who seems uninterested in winning. We're exaggerating; of course Jason Garrett wants to win, it's just that some of his in-game decisions suggest otherwise. There's a chance these two offenses stumble their way through the game on Sunday with the Jags' defense proving to be the difference.
Pick: Jaguars 20, Cowboys 13
Kansas City at New England
Line: Patriots -3.5
We know that Andy Reid is amazing after the bye (he's 16-2 in his career) but he's also 2-1 against the Patriots since coming to Kansas City. That's not nearly as impressive but still noteworthy because Bill Belichick was 5-1 against the Chiefs pre-Reid, and doesn't have a losing record against any of the other 30 teams since he came to New England in 2000. The Chiefs are the NFL's second-best team behind the Rams and feature the second-best offense. The defense, however, is among the league's worst. The question becomes whether Kansas City's high-scoring offense can overcome any defensive shortcomings. The Patriots, meanwhile, seemed to have rebounded from their slow start, winning back-to-back games against the Dolphins and Colts. But the Chiefs will be their toughest test to date and it could come down to whether Tom Brady can outduel Patrick Mahomes, which to date no other opposing quarterback has been able to do. The Chiefs' trap game was supposed to be against the Broncos two weeks ago. Didn't happen. And it won't happen on Sunday night either; this will be a statement game for Mahomes and the Chiefs.
Pick: Chiefs 41, Patriots 35
San Francisco at Green Bay
Line: Packers -9.5
Man, this game looked a lot more attractive six weeks ago. With Jimmy Garoppolo out for the year, it's C.J. Beathard leading the offense. San Francisco has lost three straight and it'll almost certainly be four after traveling to Green Bay. Yes, Aaron Rodgers looks out of sorts, at least by Aaron Rodgers' standards but we're hard-pressed to envision a situation where the 49ers find a way to win in Lambeau Field.
Pick: Packers 27, 49ers 14
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