TSN Football Expert Chris Schultz returns with his weekly NFL picks every Thursday.
Locks of the week
Detroit (+5) @ New Orleans
Matthew Stafford’s health will be a concern against New Orleans as he continues to deal with lingering injuries to his ankle and thigh. Stafford has been sacked 18 times this season, so the Lions need to do a better job protecting their quarterback. Despite the consistent pressure, Stafford hasn’t turned the ball over – he has thrown 172 passes since his last interception. The Saints averaged 27.0 points per game in back-to-back wins over the Carolina Panthers and Miami Dolphins and should be rested coming off their bye week. This should be a high-scoring game with Stafford and Drew Brees doing battle. While New Orleans has been better on the defensive side of the football it’s too early to forget them giving up 555 yards and 36 points in a Week 2 loss to the New England Patriots. Stafford has been excellent in the fourth quarter, so I’ll bet on him and the Lions to at least keep it close on the road against the Saints this week.
Kansas City (-4.5) vs. Pittsburgh
Kansas City’s offence is a well-oiled machine that is at its absolute best playing in front of its home fans at Arrowhead Stadium. Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh offence has struggled in recent weeks and has been at its worst on the road. The collective confidence of this Steelers team took a hit in last week’s loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Now they have to travel to face the NFL’s lone remaining undefeated team. Chiefs’ rookie running back Kareem Hunt leads the league with 775 yards from scrimmage. Quarterback Alex Smith has thrown 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions. Andy Reid’s offence is extremely sophisticated in terms of play design and his best players have done an excellent job in their execution. Kansas City has just one turnover this season, which happened on the very first play of their first drive in a Week 1 win over the New England Patriots. The Chiefs will protect the football and should score enough points to win and cover at home.
Los Angeles Rams (+2.5) @ Jacksonville
The fact that this game was scheduled for 4:05 p.m. ET instead of 1 p.m. ET should offer the Rams a slight reprieve as they’re travelling from the west coast. Jacksonville’s defence leads the NFL with 15 takeaways this season, including five interceptions in last week’s win over the Steelers. The Jaguars will present a variety of challenges for second-year quarterback Jared Goff. Avoiding turnovers will be the key for the Los Angeles offence. The Rams will lean heavily on running back Todd Gurley, who ranks second in the NFL behind only Hunt with 646 yards from scrimmage this season. Jacksonville has a powerful running back of its own in rookie Leonard Fournette, but the concern is its run defence. The Jaguars have allowed a league-worst 5.4 yards per carry to opposing running backs this season. Expect Gurley to have a big game on the road in a Rams win.
Denver (-9.5) vs. New York Giants
Things have gone from bad to worse in a hurry for the Giants as they lost wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall and Dwayne Harris to season-ending injuries in last week’s loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. Sterling Shepard won’t need surgery but there is no timetable for his return. New York could also be without centre Weston Richburg. Meanwhile, this week’s matchup is absolutely brutal for the Giants offence as they are forced to go up against Denver’s “No Fly Zone” defence. The Broncos are coming off a bye week, so they should be at their best. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Denver ran away with this one in a potential blowout win at home.
Carolina (-3) vs. Philadelphia
This is one of the better Thursday Night Football matchups in some time as both teams are 4-1 heading in to Week 6. Cam Newton has completed 77.4 per cent of his passes for 671 yards and six touchdowns in back-to-back wins over the Patriots and Lions. Wide receivers Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess give Newton a couple of big targets in the passing game, while tight end Ed Dickson is coming off a career-high 175 receiving yards in last week’s win over Detroit. Meanwhile, rookie running back Christian McCaffrey is an excellent option to run and catch the football out of the backfield. Newton will maximize the weapons at his disposal and win the quarterback matchup versus Carson Wentz. Carolina will also have home-field advantage, which is even more important on a short week. Take the Panthers to win and cover at home.
Green Bay (-3) @ Minnesota
Packers rookie running back Aaron Jones proved he could step up in place of the injured Ty Montgomery when he ran for 125 yards and a touchdown in last week’s win over the Dallas Cowboys. Montgomery practised on Wednesday but might not play on Sunday, which means Green Bay will need another strong performance out of Jones against a much better defence in Minnesota. Packers tackle David Bakhtiari could be back to help protect quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who delivered another memorable game-winning drive last week versus Dallas. Meanwhile, Vikings quarterback Case Keenum has completed 64.5 per cent of his passes for 895 yards and four touchdowns and he hasn’t thrown an interception yet. However, this will be Keenum’s toughest test so far. Green Bay should win and cover in Minnesota.
Atlanta (-9.5) vs Miami
Atlanta is coming off its bye week following a home loss to the Buffalo Bills. The Falcons offence should bounce back following a disappointing performance. Meanwhile, Miami’s offence remains a work in progress with Jay Cutler under centre. Cutler was just 12-of-26 for 92 yards with a touchdown and an interception in last week’s win over the Tennessee Titans. The Dolphins will have a tough time keeping up with Matt Ryan and Atlanta this week.
New York Jets (+9.5) vs. New England
The Patriots escaped with a close win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday Night Football last week. There are some major concerns that will follow them to New York on Sunday. Tom Brady didn’t participate in practice on Wednesday as he continues to deal with an injury to his non-throwing shoulder. Brady is on pace to be hit 102 times this season, so the top priority for New England has to be to protect him. Tight end Rob Gronkowski also missed practice with a thigh injury and could be limited on Sunday. If defensive ends Leonard Williams and Muhammad Wilkerson bring their best they could keep Brady from getting in to a rhythm. The Jets have surprised with three straight wins and they should be able to at least keep this divisional game close at home.
San Francisco (+9.5) @ Washington
Washington is coming off its bye week to play a San Francisco team that is still looking for its first win of the season. There has been a lot of speculation that quarterback Kirk Cousins could reunite with his former offensive coordinator and current 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan when he becomes a free agent after this season. San Francisco could make a strong impression on Cousins by making life difficult for him this week. The 49ers have lost five straight to open the year but each of their last four losses have been by three points or fewer, including back-to-back overtime defeats at the hands of the Arizona Cardinals and Indianapolis Colts. No Josh Norman for Washington could be a key reason San Francisco is able to keep this game close. The 49ers might not end their winless start to the year but they should be able to at least cover on the road.
Risky at best
Baltimore (-6) vs. Chicago
The Ravens bounced back with a big win over the Oakland Raiders last week. However, Oakland was without starting quarterback Derek Carr and E.J. Manuel really struggled. Chicago has finally made the move to rookie Mitch Trubisky at quarterback. While he looked good in a loss to Minnesota, this will be an even tougher test on the road in a hostile environment. Baltimore wins and covers at home.
Cleveland (+10) vs. Houston
There’s a lot of pressure on the Browns to pick up their first win, which is why Kevin Hogan replaced rookie DeShone Kizer in last week’s loss to the Jets. Meanwhile, there is a lot of pressure on the Texans to respond following last week’s loss to Kansas City. Houston won’t have J.J. Watt or Whitney Mercilus, who both suffered season-ending injuries in the loss to the Chiefs. The Texans will have a much tougher time contending without two of their best defensive players the rest of the way. The Browns are 0-5 but the three of those losses have been by just three points. The NFL’s youngest team will keep this game close at home.
Arizona (+2.5) vs. Tampa Bay
The Cardinals made headlines this week with the acquisition of running back Adrian Peterson from New Orleans. Arizona has averaged a league-low 2.6 yards per carry this season, so Peterson will have every opportunity to make a difference. Meanwhile, running back Doug Martin returned to the Buccaneers lineup last week when he averaged 5.7 yards per carry while running for 74 yards and a score against the Patriots. I’ll take Peterson and the Cardinals to win and cover at home.
Oakland (-3) vs. Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers picked up their first win since Nov. 27 of last year when they beat the Giants last week. That ended a streak of nine straight losses. Los Angeles will have a difficult time getting back in the win column this week if Carr is back under center for Oakland. The Raiders need wide receiver Amari Cooper to step up for an offence that has to be firing on all cylinders if Oakland is going to keep up with Denver and Kansas in the AFC West. If Carr returns, the Raiders will win and cover. It could be a much different story for Oakland if they are forced to stick with Manuel this Sunday.
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.