N.F.L. Picks: Packers Over Cowboys, and Patriots Over Buccaneers

N.F.L. Picks: Packers Over Cowboys, and Patriots Over Buccaneers


Among the surprising statistics in Hunt’s breakout season is the amount of space he creates before he is touched. He has averaged 4.15 yards before contact, according to Sportradar, which not only makes him first in the N.F.L., but the figure is also more than double the leaguewide average (1.94) over the last three seasons. His average has been aided tremendously by 69- and 58-yard touchdown runs in which he was not touched, but he has exceeded the league average in that statistic on 34 of his 68 carries, with 14 runs in which he went 6 or more yards before contact. And he has done most of that behind a banged-up offensive line playing without its starting center, Mitch Morse.

Houston tends to surprise in big moments, and Hunt is bound to cool off at some point. But, at least this week, the only undefeated team left in the N.F.L. is likely to stay that way. Pick: Chiefs

Panthers at Lions, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Lions by 2.5

Cam Newton should have spent the week talking about how he and the Panthers (3-1) had their way with the New England Patriots in Week 4, but his decision to mock a female reporter at a news conference created yet another distraction for the player and the team. How the emotional Newton will react to this self-imposed turmoil is unknown, but the situation came just as he finally looked healthy, throwing and running with confidence against New England.

The Lions (3-1) should pose an interesting test. They can put up points in a hurry, but can also frustrate opposing quarterbacks. Detroit’s lone loss came in a nail-biter against the Atlanta Falcons, with the team falling inches short of victory on a catch in the closing seconds. The talent is there for both teams to shine, but with the game in Detroit, the edge goes to the Lions. Pick: Lions

Packers at Cowboys, 4:25 p.m., Fox

Line: Cowboys by 2

The revamped Green Bay secondary has gotten only one real test, which came in Week 2 against Atlanta. The test did not go well, leading to the Packers’ lone loss of the season. Wins against Cincinnati and Chicago are nice, of course, but they do not give much indication of what the Packers (3-1) can do against a balanced team like Dallas.

In a Week 4 loss to Los Angeles, the Cowboys (2-2) picked up where they left off in the second half of their Week 3 win over Arizona, scoring touchdowns on three consecutive drives. The second half was a different story, as the Rams tightened and Dallas’s offense disappeared. Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott are talented enough to bounce back and put up points against Green Bay, but short of DeMarcus Lawrence, the Cowboys have relatively few defensive players who can intimidate Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ offense. Pick: Packers

Seahawks at Rams, 4:05 p.m., CBS

Line: Rams by 1.5

The Rams (3-1) have established a cohesive offensive strategy: Give the ball to Todd Gurley as often as possible. The third-year running back is averaging career highs in carries per game, rushing yards per game, receptions per game and receiving yards per game, and he leads Los Angeles in each of those categories. The bruising runner even showed off his receiving skills last week. Jared Goff saw him streaking down the middle of the field to take advantage of a safety’s having cheated toward the line of scrimmage and hit him for a sensational 53-yard catch-and-run. With all of the attention on Gurley, both as a runner and a receiver, Goff has time to find opportunities for Cooper Kupp and Sammy Watkins.

Whether that offensive strategy can work against the Seahawks (2-2) is an open question, but Seattle certainly seems vulnerable despite a blowout win over the woeful Indianapolis Colts last week. Before that victory, Seattle had gone 1-2, with the win coming against the rebuilding San Francisco 49ers. The Seahawks have allowed an ugly 134 yards a game on the ground, and that softness up front should be enticing for Gurley.

If the Rams’ Wade Phillips-designed defense can play the way it did in the second half last week against Dallas, Los Angeles can take a commanding division lead. Pick: Rams

Second-Tier Games

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The Jacksonville Jaguars have the worst run defense in the N.F.L., and after spending last week chasing Elijah McGuire, above, and Bilal Powell of the Jets, they will probably do the same this week against Le’Veon Bell of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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Al Bello/Getty Images

Jaguars at Steelers, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Steelers by 8

The Jaguars (2-2) have been maddeningly inconsistent, but a pattern has emerged in the form of having the best pass defense and the worst run defense in the N.F.L. The Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger is struggling to produce in the passing game, but conveniently for Pittsburgh (3-1), running back Le’Veon Bell appears to have shaken off a preseason slump. Add all of that up and Pittsburgh is likely to run the ball early and often against Jacksonville’s soft front seven, with Bell using his patience and speed to exploit any and all weaknesses. Pick: Steelers

Patriots at Buccaneers, 8:25 p.m., CBS (Thursday)

Line: Patriots by 6

Any criticism of the Patriots (2-2) should exclude Tom Brady, who at 40 is still at his efficient best. The same cannot be said for New England’s defense, which has been mostly inept this season, allowing an average of 32 points a game. The Patriots always seem to be one Bill Belichick adjustment away from figuring things out, and Jameis Winston, the third-year quarterback of the Buccaneers (2-1), can be forgiven if he is focusing on New England’s good rather than the team’s bad.

“Getting a chance to witness greatness in front of us, Tom Brady coming into town, that gets you pumped up, definitely,” Winston told reporters. “I’m thinking: What am I going to say to him when I see him and meet him?” Pick: Patriots

Cardinals at Eagles, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Eagles by 6.5

Even without Fletcher Cox (calf injury), the Eagles (3-1) should be able to put plenty of pressure on Carson Palmer. When that happens, it can lead to bad things for the Cardinals (2-2), as Palmer has been turning the ball over way too much. When the Eagles have the ball, they will have to contend with Arizona’s opportunistic secondary. That could frustrate Carson Wentz, but with this game in Philadelphia, and with Arizona’s wins this season against Indianapolis and San Francisco, there is little reason to expect an upset. Pick: Eagles

Bills at Bengals, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Bengals by 3

To the delight of Buffalo’s loyal fan base, the Bills (3-1) have rolled to a fast start. They were considered basement dwellers entering the season, but their record cannot be explained away as facing bad opponents, as two of their wins came against Denver and Atlanta. Their defense might actually be as good as it has looked thus far, but there is reason to believe Buffalo has played over its head, while the Bengals (1-3) have underperformed. Pick: Bengals

Ravens at Raiders, 4:05 p.m., CBS

Line: Raiders by 2.5

Two weeks ago, the Raiders (2-2) looked incredible, and were off to the franchise’s first 2-0 start since 2002. But with Derek Carr sustaining a fracture in his back last week and Marshawn Lynch’s comeback tour running out of momentum, Oakland fans can be forgiven for letting some pessimism creep in. Oakland’s status as a contender is almost entirely dependent on how quickly and how well Carr can come back from his injury, but a win at home over the Ravens (2-2) seems possible even with E. J. Manuel replacing him. The Raiders’ situation certainly feels like one that Al Davis, the team’s longtime owner, would have tried to fix by signing Colin Kaepernick. Pick: Raiders

Titans at Dolphins, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: N/A

The Dolphins (1-2) are averaging 8.5 points a game. They have only two touchdowns in three games and appear to be in total disarray. Their best chance for a win has less to do with their quarterback, Jay Cutler, than it does with whoever is playing quarterback for the Titans (2-2). Marcus Mariota will almost assuredly tear Miami apart if he is healthy enough to play, but if the Titans are forced to turn to Matt Cassel, the game, which is Miami’s home opener, could be considerably closer. Pick: Titans

Bottom-Tier Games

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Chicago Bears fans haven been clamoring for the team to use Mitchell Trubisky, the team’s rookie quarterback, and they will get their wish on Monday night against the Minnesota Vikings.

Credit
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Vikings at Bears, 8:30 p.m., ESPN (Monday)

Line: N/A

The Vikings (2-2) are still not sure who will be at quarterback, but they know Dalvin Cook, the talented rookie running back, will not be around. Cook, the 2017 second-round pick, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and is out for the season. Latavius Murray is expected to replace him. The Bears (1-3) will generate some excitement with Mitchell Trubisky’s first start at quarterback, but Minnesota’s secondary is a rough assignment for a rookie. Pick: Vikings

Jets at Browns, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Browns by 1

The Jets (2-2) are on a two-game winning streak, but they are slight underdogs against a winless team. While neither team can claim to be ready for prime time (even 1 p.m. may be too late in the day), Cleveland will at least get a boost from the debut of Myles Garrett, the defensive end drafted No. 1 over all by the Browns (0-4) this year. Combine that with the Jets having two fluky wins in a row and it feels as if it is Cleveland’s turn to harm its 2018 draft position with a win. Pick: Browns

49ers at Colts, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Colts by 1.5

Frank Gore is San Francisco’s career leader in rushing yards, but for the first time, he will be facing the 49ers (0-4) as a member of the Colts (1-3). Gore may no longer be the same player he once was — his average of 47.8 rushing yards a game is his lowest mark since his rookie season — but with 4 yards he will pass Eric Dickerson for seventh on the career rushing list. Every player ahead of Gore on the list is a Hall of Famer, as are six of the seven players below him. Pick: Colts

Chargers at Giants, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Giants by 3.5

No team wants to be winless after four weeks, and playoff hopes for the Chargers (0-4) and the Giants (0-4) are likely all but abandoned. A closer look, though, reveals Los Angeles has lost by 3 or fewer points in three of four games and the Giants have done the same thing twice. With a little more luck — especially in the kicking game for the Chargers — either team could be 2-2 or 3-1. That being said, both teams have been dreadful on offense, and this game could be ugly. Pick: Giants.



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