TSN Football Expert Chris Schultz returns with his weekly NFL picks every Thursday.
Locks of the Week
Buffalo (-3) vs. Tampa Bay
A number of factors should favour the Bills when they welcome the Buccaneers to New Era Field on Sunday. None of them is more significant than the status of Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston, who is listed as questionable with an injury to his throwing shoulder. Tampa Bay ranks second in the NFL in passing yards per game, but their offence will look much different if Ryan Fitzpatrick starts in place of Winston. Buffalo owns the league’s top-ranked scoring defence and should have an even greater edge if Fitzpatrick is in. Meanwhile, the Bills have had an extra week to prepare for the Buccaneers following their bye. Tyrod Taylor has been held to under 200 passing yards in three of Buffalo’s five games this season, but he could have wide receiver Jordan Matthews back in the lineup. The Bills will also lean heavily on running back LeSean McCoy against a Tampa Bay defence that gave up 134 yards and two touchdowns to Adrian Peterson in a 38-33 loss to the Arizona Cardinals last week. Buffalo will win and cover at home.
Kansas City (-3) @ Oakland
I hate to break the rule and take a road team on a short week, but I can’t help but bet the Chiefs to win on Thursday Night Football. Kansas City hasn’t lost back-to-back games under head coach Andy Reid since Weeks 5 and 6 of the 2015 season. I’m predicting they bounce back from last week’s 19-13 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Oakland improved its defence with the addition of NaVorro Bowman, but even if he makes it in to the lineup against the Chiefs his impact will be limited just days after he signed with the team. The Raiders have bigger concerns on offence, with Derek Carr less than three weeks removed from a potentially serious back injury. Carr has lost each of his five starts against Kansas City and was held to just 171 passing yards in last week’s 17-16 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. The Chiefs need to do a better job in pass protection and continue to feed rookie running back Kareem Hunt in order to maximize their efficiency on offence. Kansas City will win and cover on the road to extend their lead atop the AFC standings.
Atlanta (+3.5) @ New England
The emotional carryover for the Falcons following last year’s Super Bowl loss to New England will be talked about a lot this week. That said, I don’t expect it to be a major factor in the outcome of this game. Matt Ryan has already thrown one fewer interception (six) than he did all of last season (seven). He will need to avoid those costly mistakes and take full advantage of a favourable matchup against the NFL’s worst pass defence on Sunday. All six quarterbacks the Patriots have faced have thrown for over 300 yards, so the opportunity is there for Ryan to deliver his best performance of the season. One concern that has carried over from Atlanta’s Super Bowl loss is their terrible second-half play – they’ve been outscored by 32 points over the final two quarters this season. New England has looked vulnerable in back-to-back wins over the Buccaneers and New York Jets, so it isn’t unrealistic to expect the Falcons to go in to Gillette Stadium and earn a measure of redemption with a win. At the very least, Atlanta should be able to cover as a 3.5-point underdog on the road.
Philadelphia (-4) vs. Washington
A year ago, the Eagles opened the season 3-0, but lost nine of their next 11 and finished 7-9. Early-season success is a definite positive but maintaining that level of success throughout the year is the most difficult thing to do in the NFL. Philadelphia’s key to success has been its efficiency on offence and ability to control the time of possession. The Eagles lead the league with an average of 34 minutes and 24 seconds of possession time per game. It will be interesting to see how they fare against a Redskins team that ranks fifth in that department with a 31:51 average time of possession. The Eagles scored 30 points against Washington in a Week 1 road win. They should be able to at least match that total at home against a Redskins defence that will be without top cornerback Josh Norman. Philadelphia will win and cover at home.
Cincinnati (+5.5) @ Pittsburgh
It’s been a rollercoaster season for the Steelers, including notable wins over Kansas City and the Baltimore Ravens as well as tough losses to the Chicago Bears and Jacksonville Jaguars. Pittsburgh bounced back in a big way with an impressive win over the undefeated Chiefs last Sunday, but their inconsistency from one week to the next is cause for concern. The Bengals are coming off back-to-back wins and have an opportunity to make a statement on the road against a divisional opponent. Andy Dalton and company will have had a full two weeks to prepare for this matchup following their bye. Cincinnati should be able to keep this game close and cover on the road.
Baltimore (+5.5) @ Minnesota
Last week’s 27-24 overtime loss at home to rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and the Bears could be a major red flag about where the Ravens season is headed. Baltimore scored two special-teams touchdowns and Justin Tucker kicked three field goals, but the Ravens offence failed to find the end zone. Meanwhile, their defence was torched for 231 yards on the ground. It won’t be easy to bounce back at Minnesota, but Baltimore is 2-1 on the road this season and should be motivated to deliver a better effort following last week’s disappointment. The Ravens cover as 5.5-point underdogs on the road.
Arizona (+3.5) vs Los Angeles Rams (in London)
It’s incredible how big of an immediate impact running back Adrian Peterson had on the Arizona offence in his debut. Peterson ran for 134 yards and two touchdowns in a 38-33 win over the Buccaneers. Peterson’s physical running style also forced the Tampa Bay safeties to cheat towards the line of scrimmage, which helped open up the passing game as Carson Palmer threw for 283 yards and three touchdowns. Peterson’s presence will keep the pressure on the Rams secondary this week as they will be forced to respect his ability in the Arizona backfield. This is a divisional game but neither team will have a home advantage in London. I’ll take the Cardinals to cover in what should be a close game.
Tennessee (-5.5) @ Cleveland
The Browns will go back to rookie DeShone Kizer at the quarterback position this week after Kevin Hogan’s run as the starter lasted just one game. While Kizer has struggled, Cleveland’s lack of a legitimate rushing attack has made things that much more difficult on the first-year passer. Meanwhile, the Titans offence features a physical rushing attack with running backs DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry, which has helped take some of the pressure off of quarterback Marcus Mariota. Mariota will need his left tackle Taylor Lewan to step up and help protect him from rookie defensive end Myles Garrett, who has three sacks in his first two games. Titans win and cover on the road.
Green Bay (+5.5) vs. New Orleans
How big of a loss is Aaron Rodgers for the Packers? Green Bay went from a 5.5-point favourite at home with Rodgers to a 5.5-point underdog without him. Can Brett Hundley do for the Packers what Case Keenum has done for the Vikings? It won’t be easy opposite Drew Brees this Sunday. The Saints defence has been dramatically better in recent weeks and New Orleans will be tough to beat if they play to their potential on both sides of the football. That said, I expect Hundley to be better than he looked a week ago after a full week of practice as the starter. The Packers might not win this game but they should keep it close and find a way to cover at home.
Jacksonville (-3) @ Indianapolis
Jacksonville has alternated wins and losses in each of the first six weeks of the 2017 season. The Jaguars are coming off a 27-17 loss to the Los Angeles Rams, so if that trend continues they should be in line for a win. Rookie running back Leonard Fournette has been outstanding but he is dealing with an ankle injury so his status for Sunday is questionable. Jacksonville has lost four in a row at Indianapolis so they will be motivated to end that slide. Andrew Luck’s absence means that the Jaguars will have a legitimate shot to win as long as Fournette is good to go. Factor in one of the more underrated defences in the NFL and Jacksonville should be able to win and cover on the road this week.
Risky At Best
San Francisco (+6) vs. Dallas
The Cowboys get a huge boost with running back Ezekiel Elliott available for Sunday’s game in San Francisco. However, Dallas will need to be careful in a potential trap game this week. The 49ers are 0-6 but each of their last five losses has been by three points or less. San Francisco is desperate for a win and they could get a boost of their own with rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard set to make his first NFL start. Beathard nearly led the 49ers to a comeback win after taking over for veteran Brian Hoyer in last week’s 26-24 loss to Washington. San Francisco might not get its first win this week, but at the very least Beathard should be able to keep this game close.
Carolina (-3) @ Chicago
The Bears are coming off an impressive road win at Baltimore with Trubisky under centre. However, Trubisky finished with only eight completions for 113 yards and a touchdown in the win as Chicago relied heavily on its rushing attack and defence. The Bears will face a much tougher test against Cam Newton and the Panthers this week. Carolina is coming off a 28-23 loss to the Eagles on Thursday Night Football, where Newton attempted 52 passes. The Panthers need to establish an effective run game in order to take some of the pressure off of their star quarterback. Carolina’s defence will make it tough on the rookie Trubisky while Newton and company score enough points to win and cover on the road.
New York Jets (+3) @ Miami
Both AFC East teams should be confident heading into this week but for different reasons. The Dolphins are coming off back-to-back wins to climb back to .500, including an impressive 20-17 victory over the defending NFC champion Falcons on the road last week. Meanwhile, the Jets are also 3-3 after what should count as a moral victory considering they nearly upset the Patriots in a 24-17 loss. Miami has found ways to win close games despite poor play from quarterback Jay Cutler. It’s hard to trust that trend continuing in a tough divisional game against the same Jets team that beat the Dolphins 20-6 at home back in Week 3. I’ll take the points and bet on New York to cover.
Seattle (-5) @ New York Giants
The Giants were one of the biggest surprises of Week 6 after marching in to Denver and beating the Broncos 23-10 on Sunday Night Football without Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall and Sterling Shepard. That victory will serve as a warning to the Seahawks, who can’t afford a letdown coming off a bye this week. Seattle’s Legion of Boom defence is capable of shutting down Manning and company on the road. It will be on Russell Wilson and the Seahawks offence to take advantage and lead them to the win. After an extra week to prepare, the Seattle offence will score just enough to win and cover in New York.
Los Angeles Chargers (-1) vs. Denver
The Broncos were on the other side of that Sunday Night Football loss as they had no answer for the injury-riddled Giants. Denver’s offence needs to be better after averaging just 14.0 points per game over its last three contests. The Chargers have lost each of their first three games at the StubHub Center where they don’t really benefit from a home-field advantage. Phillip Rivers is one of the most competitive quarterbacks in football and he will be motivated for this divisional showdown after back-to-back wins over the Giants and Raiders. Los Angeles has held opponents to under 200 passing yards on four different occasions this season. If they can do it again this week, the Chargers should be able to win and cover at home in this AFC West showdown.Chris Schultz has been a mainstay on CFL ON TSN since 1998. Schultz played left tackle for the Dallas Cowboys from 1983-1986, when he came to the CFL and played nine seasons with the Toronto Argonauts, winning the Grey Cup in 1991.