The Week 6 NFL schedule is stacked with great matchups. Our NFL Nation reporters bring us the keys to every game, a bold prediction for each matchup and final score picks.
Additionally, ESPN Stats & Information provides a stat to know for each game, and the Football Power Index (FPI) goes inside the numbers with a matchup rating (on a scale of 1 to 100) and a game projection. ESPN Fantasy‘s Kyle Soppe and ESPN Chalk‘s Dave Bearman hand out helpful nuggets as well. It’s all here to help get you ready for a loaded weekend of NFL football.
1 p.m. ET | CBS
Matchup rating: 67.2 | Spread: BAL -7.5 (47)
What to watch for: Opposing tight ends have racked up 32 catches for 323 yards and five touchdowns through five games against the Eagles, with much of that damage coming against a struggling linebacking corps. Enter Baltimore’s Mark Andrews, who is tied for third in the NFL with five receiving scores. — Tim McManus
Bold prediction: Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson will throw at least four TD passes. Jackson, last season’s NFL leader in touchdown passes, hasn’t thrown for more than three in a game since his MVP season. But the Eagles have allowed 10 touchdown passes this season, and only five teams have given up more. — Jamison Hensley
Stat to know: Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz currently has a 53.1 Total QBR this season (25th in the NFL) and a league-leading nine interceptions. No Eagles QB has led the NFL in picks over a full season since the 1970 merger.
What to know for fantasy: Jackson had just one game last season with fewer than 19 fantasy points. But he has been under 19 fantasy points in three of his past four games. See Week 6 rankings.
Betting nugget: Jackson is 8-0 outright and 6-0-2 against the spread (ATS) in his career as a road favorite. Read more.
Hensley’s pick: Ravens 31, Eagles 23
McManus’ pick: Ravens 33, Eagles 20
FPI prediction: BAL, 73.5% (by an average of 8.6 points)
Matchup must-reads: D is the new MVP: Ravens’ D upstaging Jackson … From QB play to his contract, a look at what’s ailing Eagles’ Ertz … Eagles cleared to host limited fans at home games … “Biggest” Eagles fan sends well-wishes after Prescott’s injury
1 p.m. ET | CBS
Matchup rating: 61.2 | Spread: PIT -3.5 (51)
What to watch for: After adequately controlling the run game in their first three games, the Steelers saw Miles Sanders and the Eagles exploit some of the weaknesses opened up by their aggressive blitzing. They’ll have to stop the rush better to be successful against a hot Browns team. Even though Nick Chubb will be out, the Browns have an solid ground game with Kareem Hunt — and quarterback Baker Mayfield‘s mobility makes him a running threat, too. — Brooke Pryor
Bold prediction: Steelers wide receiver Chase Claypool will catch two more touchdowns, rewarding fantasy owners who added him after his four-TD outburst last weekend. — Jake Trotter
Stat to know: The Browns have four consecutive wins for the first time since 2009, but they have not won five straight since 1994, when Bill Belichick was the head coach. One reason for the string of victories: Mayfield has tossed two touchdown passes in all of those four wins, his longest multi-TD streak since five straight games back in 2018.
What to know for fantasy: Cleveland’s Hunt has been a top-27 RB in 11 of 13 games since joining the Browns. He caught 11 of 13 targets for 65 yards and a touchdown in his two games against the Steelers last season. See Week 6 rankings.
Betting nugget: All four of Cleveland’s wins have gone over the total, and the team covered in the past three. Read more.
Trotter’s pick: Steelers 28, Browns 24
Pryor’s pick: Steelers 30, Browns 27
FPI prediction: PIT, 57.0% (by an average of 2.5 points)
Matchup must-reads: Hurting Browns QB Mayfield still plans to face Steelers … Browns vs. Steelers: Behind the turnarounds, return of Garrett and what win means … Browns’ Garrett playing at elite level going into Steelers rematch … Steelers coach Mike Tomlin focused on facing Browns, not Garrett … Steelers’ Roethlisberger “proud” of Smith-Schuster’s selflessness
1 p.m. ET | CBS
Matchup rating: 50.3 | Spread: TEN -3 (53.5)
What to watch for: The Titans will be creative in finding ways to pressure Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson. Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel was very aggressive last time out, sending defensive backs on the blitz. The Titans will also have Jeffery Simmons back to team up with Jadeveon Clowney on the inside, with Vic Beasley Jr. and Harold Landry III coming off the edge in their NASCAR package. They’ll have to be disciplined and keep Watson from extending plays and finding his speedy receivers down the field. — Turron Davenport
Bold prediction: Titans defensive lineman Clowney will get his first sack of the season against his former team. Clowney didn’t get to face the Texans after they traded him to the Seahawks just before the 2019 season. His former defensive coordinator, Texans interim head coach Romeo Crennel, called the former No. 1 overall pick “a very disruptive player” adding, “I expect a great game from him, and he’s going to try to play his best.” Watson has already been sacked 17 times, which is the third most in the NFL. — Sarah Barshop
Stat to know: With Ryan Tannehill starting at quarterback, the Titans are now 11-3 (.714) and have averaged 30.4 points per game. That’s the best win percentage (minimum 10 starts) and most team points per game for a Titans/Oilers QB since the 1970 merger.
Betting nugget: Tennessee is 3-11 ATS in games that follow fewer than six days’ rest since the start of the 2013 season. Read more.
Barshop’s pick: Titans 31, Texans 21
Davenport’s pick: Titans 34, Texans 20
FPI prediction: TEN, 61.8% (by an average of 4.2 points)
Matchup must-reads: Cooks enjoys a breakthrough with Watson … Titans have been dominating in the red zone behind Tannehill … McKinney expected out for season … Unhappy LB Correa traded by Titans to Jaguars … Texans hire search firm to assist GM search
1 p.m. ET | Fox
Matchup rating: 48.5 | Spread: MIN -3.5 (54.5)
What to watch for: What does an 0-5 team look like with a new coaching staff but a season likely past the point of being salvaged? Do the Falcons uncover a new identity or form of motivation to rattle off a series of wins under interim coach Raheem Morris? The scheme might not change, but what kind of stops does Atlanta pull out against a Vikings team scratching to keep its playoff hopes alive? — Courtney Cronin
Bold prediction: Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan will throw three touchdown passes, tripling his total from the past three weeks combined. But it won’t be enough, as Vikings running back Alexander Mattison does his best Dalvin Cook impersonation with more than 100 rushing yards and two scores of his own. — Mike Triplett
Stat to know: Atlanta wide receiver Calvin Ridley has an NFL-high four 100-yard receiving games this season.
What to know for fantasy: After throwing four touchdown passes on 36 attempts in Week 2 against the Cowboys, Ryan has just one touchdown toss over the past three weeks (114 attempts). Over that stretch, Ryan is QB24 in total points, just 0.5 points ahead of a struggling Sam Darnold, who missed Week 5. See Week 6 rankings.
Betting nugget: Minnesota is 23-10-1 ATS at home over the past five seasons, the best mark in the NFL. Read more.
Triplett’s pick: Vikings 33, Falcons 27
Cronin’s pick: Vikings 30, Falcons 27
FPI prediction: MIN, 62.8% (by an average of 4.5 points)
Matchup must-reads: Falcons shut down facility after positive coronavirus test … Vikings’ Mattison ready to step in for injured Cook … Teacher, coach, No. 1 receiver: Vikings’ Thielen relishing new roles
1 p.m. ET | Fox
Matchup rating: 42.2 | Spread: CAR -2.5 (44)
What to watch for: This game is all about pressure. Can the Panthers, who have not allowed a sack in two straight games, keep quarterback Teddy Bridgewater clean against Chicago’s Akiem Hicks and Khalil Mack, who have 3.5 sacks each? And can the Panthers muster a pass rush with defensive end Brian Burns (concussion) doubtful and tackle Kawann Short now out for the season with a shoulder injury? — David Newton
Bold prediction: Bears rookie tight end Cole Kmet will catch at least five passes and one touchdown. Chicago’s second-round pick (No. 43 overall) out of Notre Dame, Kmet has just one reception for 12 yards though five games. Quarterback Nick Foles attempted 42 passes in Week 5, but Kmet finished the game with zero targets and played just 21 of 63 offensive snaps. That has to change. The Bears have too much invested in Kmet for him to be a bystander, so look for Foles to target the rookie early and somewhat often on Sunday. — Jeff Dickerson
Stat to know: Panthers wide receiver Robby Anderson now has three 100-yard receiving games through five games this season. He had three such games all of last season with the Jets.
What to know for fantasy: Carolina running back Mike Davis has a 15-yard rush, a 10-yard reception and at least five receptions in three straight games. Christian McCaffrey did not have such a streak last season. See Week 6 rankings.
Betting nugget: Carolina is 3-0 both straight up and ATS in its past three games. Read more.
Dickerson’s pick: Panthers 17, Bears 16
Newton’s pick: Panthers 24, Bears 20
FPI prediction: CAR, 54.3% (by an average of 1.5 points)
Matchup must-reads: Bears stun Brady … McCaffrey doesn’t have to rush back for Panthers … Can Foles shed relief pitcher rep? … Panthers’ Short to have season-ending shoulder surgery … How COVID-19 put everything on the line for Panthers’ Reed
Mike Clay feels good about David Montgomery’s volume this season, and against a bad run defense in Carolina, he believes Montgomery can maintain his fantasy productivity.
1 p.m. ET | CBS
Matchup rating: 41.8 | Spread: NE -9.5 (46.5)
What to watch for: The Patriots totaled more than 200 rushing yards in each of their first two home games, and if they hit the mark again Sunday, they would match the 1976 and 1978 teams as the only ones to rush for 200 or more in three consecutive games. Quarterback Cam Newton‘s return, and his rushing prowess, will stress the Broncos’ defense. — Mike Reiss
Bold prediction: The Broncos will force two turnovers. Why? Well … because they’re really, really due. And if they don’t, this game could get ugly. The Broncos have been one of the league’s worst in takeaways this season — one interception and one fumble recovery in four games — but the Patriots are tied for eighth in giveaways with seven. — Jeff Legwold
Stat to know: Newton posted a Total QBR of 73 in the Patriots’ first two games of the season. But then the quarterback play hit a snag, as Newton, Brian Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham combined to post a Total QBR of 28 in the past two outings. That was the worst team QBR in the league combined in Weeks 3 and 4.
Betting nugget: Pats coach Bill Belichick is 23-11 ATS at home as a favorite over the past five seasons. Read more.
Legwold’s pick: Patriots 24, Broncos 17
Reiss’ pick: Patriots 30, Broncos 13
FPI prediction: NE, 63.6% (by an average of 4.8 points)
Matchup must-reads: “A student of everything”: What a 26-year-old Bill Belichick learned as a Broncos assistant … Patriots’ Newton comes off COVID-19 list … Broncos coach Fangio forced to take more risks on defense … Broncos RB Gordon cited for DUI
1 p.m. ET | Fox
Matchup rating: 37.3 | Spread: IND -7.5 (46.5)
What to watch for: Keep an eye on the Colts’ pass rush against Bengals QB Joe Burrow. One of the things the Colts, who have the NFL’s No. 1-ranked defense, have struggled with this season has been getting to the quarterback; they’re tied for 15th in the league in sacks (11). But leave it to the Bengals to come along at just at the right time. Burrow has been sacked a league-high 22 times through five weeks. — Mike Wells
Bold prediction: The Colts will have a plus-five sack differential. The matchup in pass protection is heavily tilted toward the Colts. Indianapolis protects the quarterback well, and the Bengals are depleted on the defensive line. On the flip side, Burrow has been sacked more than any other QB in the NFL. — Ben Baby
Stat to know: Colts quarterback Philip Rivers has thrown four passing touchdowns this season, the fewest through his team’s first five games of a season in his career. His low through six games is seven (2007 and 2011). Rivers has also gone under 250 passing yards in four straight; he hasn’t done so in five straight since 2013-14.
What to know for fantasy: Bengals running back Joe Mixon is on pace for 384 touches this season, a number that only Ezekiel Elliott, Le’Veon Bell, Christian McCaffrey and Derrick Henry have hit since 2015. See Week 6 rankings.
Betting nugget: Indianapolis is 6-3 ATS as a home favorite since the start of last season, tied for the second-best cover percentage over that span. Read more.
Baby’s pick: Colts 23, Bengals 14
Wells’ pick: Colts 27, Bengals 17
FPI prediction: IND, 67.6% (by an average of 6.3 points)
Matchup must-reads: Inability to keep Burrow upright is problem Bengals must fix quickly … Colts sticking with Rivers at QB despite turnover trouble … Bengals lose Reader for season with quad injury … Rivers’ turnovers responsible for nine points in Colts’ loss
1 p.m. ET | Fox
Matchup rating: 14.8 | Spread: DET -3.5 (54)
What to watch for: Look for Jaguars running back James Robinson to carry the ball more than 20 times. Jacksonville offensive coordinator Jay Gruden admitted he has abandoned the run way too soon in each of the Jaguars’ past two games, so expect him to commit to Robinson pretty heavily against the Lions. And it makes sense because the Lions are giving up an NFL-worst 170.3 yards per game rushing. — Mike DiRocco
Bold prediction: Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford will look like the quarterback he was last season, throwing for 330 yards and three touchdowns, in a game that will still come down to the final possession due to Detroit’s poor defense against Gardner Minshew — who will also throw for 300 yards and two scores. — Michael Rothstein
Stat to know: Minshew needs 235 passing yards to have the most ever by a Jaguars QB through six games. He can also join Mark Brunell (1999) as the only players in Jaguars history with three straight 300-yard passing games.
What to know for fantasy: Robinson has at least 17 touches in every game this season, totaling at least 90 yards in four of those five games. See Week 6 rankings.
Betting nugget: Detroit is 7-1 ATS coming off a bye since the start of the 2012 season. Read more.
Rothstein’s pick: Lions 27, Jaguars 24
DiRocco’s pick: Lions 28, Jaguars 20
FPI prediction: DET, 60.2% (by an average of 3.6 points)
Matchup must-reads: What’s wrong with Stafford’s feet? … Titans deal unhappy LB Correa to Jaguars … Jaguars to use fifth kicker of season in Brown … Jaguars among NFL teams using silver to fight COVID-19
1 p.m. ET | Fox
Matchup rating: 9.0 | Spread: NYG -2.5 (43)
What to watch for: We get Washington defensive end Chase Young up against Giants left tackle Andrew Thomas — the No. 2 overall pick from April matched against the struggling No. 4 overall selection. It’s been a rough start for Thomas, as he’s ranked 61st out of 68 tackles in pass-block win rate (79.4%), an ESPN metric powered by NFL Next Gen Stats. Young, meanwhile, flashed his form early before missing some time with a groin injury. He returned last weekend and should be both close to 100 percent and a handful for Thomas off the edge. — Jordan Raanan
Bold prediction: Washington defensive end Montez Sweat will take advantage of a weak New York offensive line and beat right tackle Cameron Fleming for a sack/fumble that leads to a deciding touchdown for Washington. Furthermore, Washington will record four sacks to break a three-game skid against the Giants. It ranks fifth in sacks with 15, but eight occurred in the opener. Against this line, Washington’s pass rush will get healthy. — John Keim
Stat to know: The Giants are last in the NFL in rushing, with just 79.0 yards per game. But Washington is second to last at 81.4 rushing yards per game.
What to know for fantasy: In Weeks 2-4, Giants wide receiver Darius Slayton totaled 134 yards on nine catches. In Week 5, he racked up 129 yards on eight catches against a divisional foe in the Cowboys. In Week 6, he gets another NFC East rival that has been routinely challenged deep down field by opponents. See Week 6 rankings.
Betting nugget: In the past 35 seasons, when a team with an 0-5 or worse record is favored, the under is 12-6. Read more.
Keim’s pick: Washington 21, Giants 20
Raanan’s pick: Giants 23, Washington 22
FPI prediction: WSH, 52.7% (by an average of 1 points)
Matchup must-reads: Resetting Washington’s QB situation: What’s next for Allen, Smith and Haskins … Giants’ Jones continues to be haunted by last-minute failures … Smith favored to win comeback player award … Giants lose LB Carter for season with ruptured Achilles
Mike Clay believes that Washington’s No. 1 WR Terry McLaurin will have his hands full on Sunday when he is likely shadowed by CB James Bradberry.
4:05 p.m. ET | CBS
Matchup rating: 28.7 | Spread: MIA -9.5 (47)
What to watch for: The Dolphins are favored for the first time in 21 games (December 2018) and favored by more than a touchdown for the first time since November 2016. They haven’t won back-to-back games by double digits since 2015, before the Brian Flores and Adam Gase eras in Miami, while the Jets have lost every game this season by at least nine points. Something has got to give! — Cameron Wolfe
Bold prediction: The Jets won’t convert more than five third downs. They’re 28th in third-down percentage, and the Miami defense is seventh. This will mean a long day for QB Joe Flacco, whose undefeated record against Miami (6-0) will be history. — Rich Cimini
Stat to know: The Jets have started 0-6 only once in franchise history: 1996. That team finished 1-15. As of now, the Jets have a league-high 43.6% chance to get the top pick in 2021 NFL draft, according to FPI.
Betting nugget: Miami is 4-0 ATS against the Jets since the start of the 2018 season. Read more.
Cimini’s pick: Dolphins 31, Jets 13
Wolfe’s pick: Dolphins 30, Jets 17
FPI prediction: MIA, 73.5% (by an average of 8.6 points)
Matchup must-reads: How Bell ouster affects Jets’ locker room and future cap … Dolphins’ Howard, Jones show potential to be top CB duo … Jets to again start Flacco at QB; Gase to still call plays … Source: Dolphins’ Godchaux has biceps tear … Bell’s ugly ending with Jets raises serious questions
4:25 p.m. ET | Fox
Matchup rating: 85.0 | Spread: GB -1.5 (54.5)
What to watch for: The Bucs are hopeful that Tom Brady can get back some of his weapons, such as wide receiver Chris Godwin and running back Leonard Fournette, along with a healthier Scotty Miller and Mike Evans. But the big question is how they’ll replace 347-pound defensive tackle Vita Vea, who was a key reason why the Buccaneers have had the league’s top-ranked rushing defense over the past two years, and why their pass rush has improved to be among the best. Who will try to rattle Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers now? — Jenna Laine
Bold prediction: The Packers’ defense will finally make a stand. Aaron Rodgers & Co. have carried the team to a 4-0 start, but after a bye week to figure out what has gone wrong, Mike Pettine’s defense will find a way to come up big. Look for the Smiths (Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith) to have success against the statuesque Brady, and Kenny Clark‘s return will help a run defense that so far has allowed nearly 5 yards per carry. — Rob Demovsky
Stat to know: The Packers’ 93.3 offensive efficiency is the second highest through four team games since 2008 (95 by the Rams in 2018). And per the Elias Sport Bureau, Green Bay now has four consecutive games scoring at least 30 points with zero turnovers, tied for the second-longest streak in NFL history (2010 Patriots, seven straight).
Betting nugget: Green Bay is 4-0 ATS, making it the only undefeated team ATS left this season. Read more.
Demovsky’s pick: Packers 27, Buccaneers 24
Laine’s pick: Buccaneers 31, Packers 27
FPI prediction: TB, 53.0% (by an average of 1.1 points)
Matchup must-reads: One night in Atlanta 10 years ago, Rodgers became a star … Brady pokes fun at himself while congratulating LeBron … Brady’s fourth-down gaffe joins list of other interesting errors with time and turnovers
8:20 p.m. ET | NBC
Matchup rating: 81.8 | Spread: LAR -3.5 (51.5)
What to watch for: The 49ers’ struggling offensive line gets its toughest test yet with Aaron Donald & Co. coming to town. The Rams are tied for the NFL lead with 20 sacks, and the Niners have allowed 18, fourth most in the league. Donald is capable of wrecking games by himself, and the Niners’ interior line has been of particular concern. If San Francisco can’t get it figured out in a hurry, it could be another long night. — Nick Wagoner
Bold prediction: Donald will turn in his third multi-sack performance of the season. The defensive tackle is coming off a four-sack performance and will continue to wreak havoc in the backfield against the 49ers, whom he has 11.5 career sacks against. — Lindsey Thiry
Stat to know: Rams quarterback Jared Goff has a 70% completion percentage in three consecutive road games, the second-longest streak in Rams history (Kurt Warner, five).
What to know for fantasy: Los Angeles running back Darrell Henderson has three games with at least 14 touches this season. He has rushed for a score in all three of those games, and he even caught a touchdown last weekend at Washington. See Week 6 rankings.
Betting nugget: San Francisco is 0-3 ATS and straight up at home this season. The Niners’ only two wins have come at MetLife Stadium (defeating the Giants and Jets). Read more.
Thiry’s pick: Rams 28, 49ers 24
Wagoner’s pick: Rams 30, 49ers 27
FPI prediction: LAR, 53.0% (by an average of 1.1 points)
Matchup must-reads: Rams’ Sean McVay remains a football junkie even as he attempts to step back … How Kyle Shanahan has kept the 49ers from falling apart … Rams have a sack party in Washington as they prepare for NFC West … 49ers CB Sherman suffers setback in recovery from calf injury … 49ers QB Garoppolo practices, on track to start
Monday, 5 p.m. ET | Fox/NFL
Matchup rating: 85.5 | Spread: KC -3.5 (57.5)
What to watch for: Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs is averaging a career-high 101.8 yards per game in 2020, good for second in the NFL. The Chiefs, on the other hand, have allowed two 100-yard receivers through five games this season. Look for quarterback Josh Allen and Buffalo offensive coordinator Brian Daboll to push that number to three come Monday. — Marcel Louis-Jacques
Bold prediction: Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire will again become a prominent part of the Chiefs’ offense and will score his first touchdown since Week 1. While he might not have a huge game against Buffalo’s rushing defense, the Chiefs will feature him more than they did last weekend against the Raiders. when he had 10 carries and three catches. The Chiefs abandoned their running game far too early against Las Vegas and won’t make that mistake two weeks in a row, particularly with Sammy Watkins out of the lineup. — Adam Teicher
Stat to know: Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes began his 2018 MVP season by completing 64% of his passes for 1,513 yards, 14 touchdowns, two interceptions and an 86.1 Total QBR through five games. That stat line isn’t too far from what Allen has done through five games this season: 69% passing, 1,589 yards, 14 touchdowns, three interceptions and an 85.2 Total QBR.
What to know for fantasy: Mahomes has 235 passing yards, 20 rushing yards and multiple passing scores in four straight games. He is the first quarterback with a streak like that since Aaron Rodgers in 2016. See Week 6 rankings.
Betting nugget: Kansas City is 7-1-1 ATS in Monday games under Andy Reid, and 4-0-1 ATS on Monday night with Mahomes at quarterback. Read more.
Teicher’s pick: Chiefs 31, Bills 27
Louis-Jacques’ pick: Chiefs 38, Bills 34
FPI prediction: KC, 67.5% (by an average of 6.2 points)
Matchup must-reads: Mathieu is changing the game … Missing starters evident in Bills’ humbling loss on national stage … Source: Hamstring injury could sideline Chiefs WR Watkins a couple of games … Biggest surprises for every AFC team thus far in the 2020 season
What to watch for: Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray is 6-0 all time at AT&T Stadium. He went 5-0 while at Allen High School, including three state championships, and 1-0 with Oklahoma, winning the Big 12 championship. The Cowboys are well aware of what he means to Arizona’s offense. “He has a unique skill set. He’s so quick and explosive, and he can get the ball out of his hand very quickly,” Dallas coach Mike McCarthy said. “Obviously he can make any throw, he can hit all the quadrants of the field, and he’s leading the league in rushing as quarterbacks. So I think that in itself tells you the stress that he puts on your defense … He’s a dynamic player and he’s definitely the centerpiece of that offense.” — Todd Archer
Bold prediction: Murray will throw for 350 yards and run for another 100 in a reminder to everyone in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex that he’s a legend there for a reason. — Josh Weinfuss
Stat to know: The Cowboys have 11 turnovers this season, tied for most in the NFL. But the Cardinals have only three takeaways, tied for the third fewest.
Betting nugget: Arizona is the only team in the NFL to see all five of its games go under the total. Read more.
Weinfuss’ pick: Cardinals 34, Cowboys 24
Archer’s pick: Cardinals 33, Cowboys 31
FPI prediction: ARI, 54.3% (by an average of 1.5 points)
Matchup must-reads: Cardinals LB Jones to have season-ending surgery … Even without Prescott, Cowboys say plan stays the same on offense … Hopkins credits Murray, Cardinals’ playcalling for hot start … Could Dak still get $100 million? NFL execs, coaches weigh in on QB’s future
Cloud9 to promote Fudge to starting lineup, Reignover to head coach
Cloud9 will make changes to its League of Legends Championship Series roster, promoting Academy top laner Ibrahim “Fudge” Allami to the main lineup and coach Kim “Reignover” Yeu-jin to the head coach position, league sources told ESPN.
Fudge will replace Eric “Licorice” Ritchie, who will become available for buyout ahead of the 2020-21 League of Legends free agency period, which begins Nov. 16 at 7 p.m. ET. One of the best top laners in North America, Licorice should have high demand in the buyout market depending on how Cloud9 prices his contract amid financial concerns from some esports teams due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on the American economy.
The move comes after Riot Games closed the Oceanic Pro League — Fudge’s home region — meaning that players from that region will no longer count as interregional movement policy import players. Cloud9’s two import slots are currently filled by mid laner Yasin “Nisqy” Dinçer and Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen.
In his debut season in North America Academy, Fudge helped Cloud9 Academy to a first place finish in the league. Before coming to North America, Fudge competed with Australian team MAMMOTH, who took first in the 2019 OPL Summer Split and qualified for the 2019 League of Legends World Championship. While in Europe for the world championship, scrimaging international teams, the MAMMOTH players impressed scouts and coaches alike. Fudge and AD carry Calvin “K1ng” Truong both received contracts to join Cloud9 Academy, while mid laner Stephen “Triple” Li moved to FlyQuest Academy and support Mitchell “Destiny” Shaw became the starter for League European Championship team Origen.
Fudge’s promotion marks the end of Licorice’s time as the starting top laner for Cloud9, a tenure which began in Nov. 2017 after the departure of Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong to Team Liquid. On Cloud9, Licorice competed at the 2018 and 2019 world championships and this season, won the 2020 LCS Spring Split. However, towards the end of the season, Cloud9 failed to make it through the playoffs and for the first time in organization history, they did not qualify for the world championship.
Following the end of their season, the team parted ways with head coach Bok “Reapered” Han-gyu, who served in that role for four and a half seasons. Reignover — who famously played for Fnatic and Immortals as a jungler — joined Cloud9 as a coach in May 2019 after retiring from competing.
Nebraska QB Martinez keeps starting job vs. OSU
Martinez, who had a record-setting freshman season in 2018 for Nebraska but struggled at times in 2019, will take the first snaps after competing with redshirt freshman Luke McCaffrey in the preseason. Frost repeatedly praised McCaffrey on Monday, saying Nebraska feels like it has “two first-string quarterbacks” entering the season. Martinez’s experience, with 21 career starts and 5,817 yards of total offense, made the difference in the decision.
“If Luke had already been playing and we had the same camp, it probably would have been Luke,” Frost said. “We feel we have the luxury of two starters.”
Martinez on Sunday was named a team captain for the second straight year. His passing numbers dropped from 2018 to 2019, when he had 1,956 yards with 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions, while his rushing production remained steady from his freshman to sophomore seasons.
Frost also repeatedly praised Ohio State for aligning with Nebraska to get the Big Ten season started after the league initially postponed the fall season Aug. 11 because of concerns surrounding COVID-19. Ohio State, Nebraska and Iowa were the three schools that initially voted to proceed with the season, and Ohio State and Nebraska were most vocal about finding a way to play this fall.
“I’ve got to give most of the credit for this to Ohio State,” Frost said. “We might have been one of the sounding gongs in this, we’re saying we want to play, and I don’t think it would have gone down without their doctor taking the lead, figuring out a way to present it to the presidents to get football back.”
Ohio State team physician Dr. Jim Borchers co-chaired the medical subcommittee of the Big Ten’s return-to-competition task force, which presented plans to the league’s presidents and chancellors in advance of their decision to go forward with the season. Frost also spoke extensively with Buckeyes coach Ryan Day about how to get back on the field.
“It’s strange where you find allies,” he said.
Frost said he didn’t think it was a coincidence that the Big Ten had Nebraska open with Ohio State in the revised fall schedule. Nebraska has division crossover games with both Ohio State and No. 8 Penn State, leading athletic director Bill Moos to express frustration about the difficulty of the Cornhuskers’ schedule.
Examining Pickford’s escape for Van Dijk tackle, Barcelona and Real woe pre-Clasico
A weekend full of big derbies delivered plenty of talking points, from Liverpool‘s costly 2-2 draw at Everton that saw Virgil van Dijk seriously injured (and Jordan Pickford unpunished), to AC Milan‘s win over rivals Inter thanks to a certain Zlatan Ibrahimovic. There were also sub-par performances from Barcelona and Real Madrid ahead of the Clasico, woe for Juventus ahead of the Champions League group stage Matchday 1, concern around Man United and a Tottenham collapse that will have Jose Mourinho fuming.
It’s Monday, and Gab Marcotti reacts to the biggest moments in the sport of football from the past week.
Jump to: VAR lets Pickford off | Milan humble Inter | Aguero’s transgression | Griezmann should lead Barca attack | Dortmund need Haaland back-up | Real have many issues | Solskjaer shows guts with Man United | Juve shouldn’t panic about Pirlo | Spurs should focus on positives | Bayern bounce back vs. Bielefeld | Chelsea are not a team yet | Napoli prove doubters wrong vs. Atalanta | Leipzig’s attacking depth
Why didn’t VAR rule on Pickford’s horror tackle?
The top-of-the-table, 2-2 clash between Merseyside rivals Everton and Liverpool ended up being overshadowed by VAR decisions and, above all, Virgil Van Dijk’s horrendous cruciate injury, which will likely see him out until the Euros at the earliest. The fact that Jordan Pickford remained on the pitch is difficult for many to understand — including Liverpool, which is why they asked the Premier League for an explanation. Let’s hope that those in charge take this opportunity for some transparency here, something that gives us a better understanding of what the rules are and how they are applied.
Liverpool weren’t awarded a penalty because Van Dijk was offside at the time of the collision with Pickford. It wasn’t immediately obvious, but VAR confirmed this and, while it was tight, that part is indisputable.
What’s less easy to understand is why no action was taken against Pickford. Referee Michael Oliver — who, lest we forget, is supposed to be one of the English game’s top two or three officials — evidently felt that while it might have been a foul (but not a punishable foul, since Van Dijk was offside), it did not warrant a yellow or red card. Fine. Or, rather, not fine, because in my opinion he got it badly wrong, but hey: referees make mistakes with the naked eye in real time.
Yet the person in the VAR seat, David Coote, had the benefit of replays. His first job was to determine whether Van Dijk was offside, and that must have taken some time. After that, he was called to decide whether Oliver made a mistake in not awarding a red to Pickford. Sticking strictly to the protocol — and I’m engaging in speculation here, because we’ve have had no explanation — you assume he might have personally felt that it was worthy of a yellow card. But since VARs aren’t allowed to intervene in yellow card situations, he possibly felt there was nothing he could do.
What we don’t know, and may never know, is the conversation between Coote and Oliver. Oliver is a star and Coote a relative no-name, but they’re on the same team. You would hope that Coote would have had the confidence to feel empowered to tell Oliver: “Michael, you’re sure you had a clear view of it? Looks pretty nasty to me. Maybe you should take another look.”
If that’s what happened and Oliver waved him off, then we have to accept it. If Coote simply stuck to the letter of the law and told himself “that’s no worse than a yellow, I can’t make him do an on-field review” well, I’m not sure that’s in the spirit of VAR at all.
Everything is magnified here, of course, by the fact that it was early in the game — the fifth minute — and Pickford is a goalkeeper. A sending-off at that stage radically changes the match. It shouldn’t have come into the reckoning, but referees are human too. However you feel about it, the PGMOL (Professional Game Match Officials Board, the group that is responsible for referees in English football) could do themselves a favour by releasing the transcripts of the conversation between Coote and Oliver, if only to help people understand. And, perhaps, to ensure situations like these do not arise again.
What we do know, in the meantime, is that Pickford won’t face retrospective action. This was always going to be the case. In these situations, the FA simply doubles down, unless referee have missed the incident entirely.
Regardless of the Pickford decision (or non-decision), I think Liverpool deserved the three points. Not because of the late VAR offside that struck off what would have been Jordan Henderson‘s winner, which was as much down to Pickford’s mistake than anything else. But simply because over the 90 minutes, Liverpool shaded it in terms of chances created and conceded.
Frank Leboeuf considers the impact on Liverpool if Virgil van Dijk is indeed set to miss several months.
That said, credit to Everton. This is not a deep squad, particularly in certain positions, and the fact that they’re still top in the second half of October speaks volumes about the work Carlo Ancelotti and his staff have done.
What next for Liverpool? Obviously you’re not going to find somebody who will fill Van Dijk’s shoes — we’re talking about a guy who started every single league game in the last two seasons. In the short-term, you imagine Klopp will go with some combination of Joe Gomez, Fabinho and Joel Matip at the back, but it seems obvious that they will need to bring in an extra body in January, even it means going out on a limb financially.
This Liverpool side are a team built to win now, not in two or three years. There are a whole bunch of players who are in their late 20s and once you go with the “all-in” approach, you need to stick with it, so it makes sense to seek help in the transfers market. If you can get a long-term asset, go for it. If not, there’s nothing wrong, at this stage, to think short-term: a veteran player to tide you over.
What’s unthinkable is believing you can get through to the end of the season with two central defenders and recycled midfielder.
Milan out-think rivals Inter in big derby win
Gab Marcotti marvels at 39-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s performance in Milan’s 2-1 derby win over Inter.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s performance in the Milan derby powered the Rossoneri to the top of the Serie A table. I wrote about his performance in their 2-1 win on Saturday, so let’s not dwell on him too much here. Rather, it’s worth praising Stefano Pioli for putting the right pieces around Zlatan to help mask his deficiencies and maximise his strengths. Using Rafael Leao to pin back Achraf Hakimi, and setting up the back line to withstand Inter’s second-half onslaught were moves that made all the difference on the night.
As for Inter, Antonio Conte is right to say they had chances to equalize or even win, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Inter we saw hasn’t yet found the right balance. Playing two strikers with wing-backs like Ivan Perisic and Hakimi — the former is a recycled winger, the latter is basically an adjunct attacker — isn’t a plug-and-play exercise. It requires a lot of tactical work, on the training pitch — exactly what Conte is known for — except with no real preseason and very little time to train in a congested season, he hasn’t yet had the opportunity to do it.
You wonder, therefore, why Conte doesn’t keep things simpler. Aleksandar Kolarov in a back three isn’t necessarily a bad choice, but when he’s asked to cover for Perisic and recover inside? Yeah, it won’t come natural to him straight away. Christian Eriksen as a No.10 may be unsustainable with this set-up, so why not play him as one of the three-man midfield, a role that isn’t entirely new to him? (Regarding Eriksen, I still can’t shake the feeling that there aren’t some inherent preconceptions about him and his lack of emotion and histrionics, which are so at odds with Conte’s approach.)
Aguero shouldn’t have put his hands on Massey-Ellis
Having worked side-by-side for several years, it was perhaps inevitable that Mikel Arteta and Pep Guardiola would each try to throw curveballs in an effort to catch the other off-guard.
Arteta’s new-look Arsenal included Willian as some sort of “false nine” with Nicolas Pepe and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang out wide. Guardiola and Man City countered with Nathan Ake at left-back, Joao Cancelo in some sort of hybrid wing-back role and, late in the game, Raheem Sterling through the middle with Sergio Aguero. It was hard to figure out on TV, but the impression was that City deserved the 1-0 win and, perhaps, Arteta engaged in a bit of overthinking.
The other big talking point was Aguero putting his arm on/around assistant referee Sian Massey-Ellis after disputing a call. It was an awkward, uncomfortable moment that Guardiola tried to minimise after the game, saying “Sergio is the nicest person I ever met in my life. Look for problems in other situations, not in this one.”
Let’s be clear here. Nobody is saying Aguero is an ogre and yes, there is no rule that says you can’t touch a referee or assistant. It’s a case-by-case situation and, perhaps, that didn’t warrant a booking. But, equally, those who say it’s no big deal because it happens a lot and if that had been a male assistant instead of a female assistant, we wouldn’t be talking about it, are missing the point.
Massey-Ellis is not a male assistant. She is a woman with a role in a sport whose conventions and rules were written and defined by men for virtually all of its 150-year history. And there are thousands of years of conventions in male-female power relations that predate this and can’t be ignored.
I am neither a woman nor an assistant referee, and I’m in no position to judge whether and to what degree Massey-Ellis was made uncomfortable here. Nor is it fair for me, or anyone else, to put her in a position where she has to speak for every female match official (let alone every woman) out there.
But what is undeniable is that you can’t pretend gender isn’t part of the story here and part of what made many so uncomfortable. Hopefully Aguero and others have picked up on this and will learn from it.
Griezmann deserves a shot up front for Barcelona
Ale Moreno believes Barcelona players checked out mentally after falling behind Getafe in the 1-0 loss.
Barcelona knew they were going to get a rough ride against Getafe because, well, everybody does. Frenkie de Jong gave up the penalty that Jaime Mata converted for the only game’s only goal. Against sides coached by Javier Bordalas, you either reply with muscle or with skill and speed. Ronald Koeman went for the latter, starting 17-year-old Pedri behind the striker, 19-year-old U.S. international Sergino Dest at left-back in place of the injured Jordi Alba, and giving Ousmane Dembele his umpteenth mulligan down the left.
– Barca ratings: Griezmann 5/10, Dest 7/10 in loss
It didn’t quite work out. Pedri did well, but Messi — possibly because of his intercontinental travels for Argentina‘s World Cup qualifiers — was subdued. Dembele offered little and, yes, the talking point — again — was Antoine Griezmann, given more licence up front, but, again, wasting opportunities.
The pieces don’t fit together like they should, but at this stage, you may as well give Griezmann a clear run up front. It’s not dissimilar to what he did at Atletico Madrid over the past few years (albeit in as one member of a two-person attack). Either that, or bench him entirely. At this stage, the endless chatter — with even France manager Didier Deschamps piping up too — isn’t helping anyone.
Will lack of Haaland back-up hurt Dortmund’s title hopes?
Jan Aage Fjortoft praises the Borussia Dortmund hierarchy for having so much faith in Gio Reyna.
After an international break and with a Champions League game against Lazio coming up, Lucien Favre did some heavy rotating against Hoffenheim — Marco Reus, Erling Haaland, Raphael Guerreiro and Jude Bellingham all started on the bench — and for a while, Borussia Dortmund looked flat. Things picked up once he sent on the cavalry (the aforementioned quartet) after the hour mark, and it was Haaland who set up Reus’ winner with 15 minutes to go. (It was his first Bundesliga goal in nearly a year.)
Hoffenheim are a tough nut to crack, and some squad rotation given the brutal grind of the 2020-21 campaign makes sense. But while Dortmund are stacked with options in midfield and out wide (and can probably reinvent midfielders as central defenders in a back three), what’s evident is that there is no back-up for Haaland. Julian Brandt gave it a go, and it simply didn’t work. He obviously can’t play up front the way Haaland does it, but readjusting the team to suit his skill-set doesn’t quite work either.
It’s something for Dortmund to address in January.
Madrid’s issues run much deeper than lack of goals
Gab Marcotti and Julien Laurens wonder which El Clasico rival suffered the worse defeat over the weekend.
Not a fan of citing attitude or body language or other intangibles to explain away defeats and poor performances, but Real Madrid‘s game against Cadiz must be an exception. Whatever happened pregame, they clearly weren’t mentally prepared on the pitch and fully deserved the 1-0 loss to their newly promoted opponents.
Real ratings: Isco 4/10, Marcelo 5/10 in defeat
Zinedine Zidane clearly tried to shake them up with four changes at half-time and a shift in formation, but nothing worked. Other than Karim Benzema (who hit the woodwork) and, again, Thibaut Courtois, there was very little to cheer. It’s the worst possible preparation ahead of the return of the Champions League and next weekend’s Clasico. Sergio Ramos going off injured doesn’t help either.
Until now, Real Madrid’s main issue was lack of goals. On Saturday, it went deeper than that.
Solskjaer’s gutsy moves pay off in Man United’s win
Frank Leboeuf believes Manchester United won’t be able to function without Bruno Fernandes on the pitch.
Say this for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: he’s got guts. In the hyper-pressure, instant-reaction world of football, he had two weeks to stew over the 6-1 humiliation at the hands of Tottenham. And he returned to face Newcastle with his captain, Harry Maguire, publicly pilloried for his red card while on England duty.
Man United ratings: Rashford 9/10 in late victory
Solskjaer not only started Maguire, but he also left Paul Pogba and Donny van de Beek on the bench alongside new signing Alex Telles, and stuck Daniel James in the front three. When United went a goal down, you feared another humiliation, possibly one Solskjaer might not survive. Instead, the side kept their cool and pressed on, even after Bruno Fernandes missed a penalty, reaping a deserved three points thanks to three late goals.
It doesn’t mean Solskjaer is the right man for this job or that he’ll turn things around at United. It does mean that, for now at least, his self-belief and confidence are unshaken. And that’s important.
Juve shouldn’t panic about Pirlo after Crotone draw
Gab Marcotti feels 10-man Juventus did enough to earn the win against bottom side Crotone.
Juventus drawing 1-1 with Crotone — a team that had lost every game prior to this weekend — will inevitably lead the knee-jerk brigade to question Andrea Pirlo and his decisions and, perhaps, lament the fact that this would have never happened under Max Allegri or Antonio Conte. (It probably wouldn’t have happened under the version of Maurizio Sarri we saw last year, either.)
Stream replay: Juventus vs. Crotone (U.S.)
Leaving aside the obvious — Juventus did more than enough to win the game, hitting the post and having a goal scratched off by a very marginal offside, and playing without at least five starters while also being reduced to 10 men when Federico Chiesa was sent off — folks are missing the point.
Pirlo has been given licence to take this club into an entirely new direction: tactically, philosophically and materially, hence why there were so many youngsters out there (including a debutant in Mattia Portanova). It’s a choice in part dictated by necessity (the balance sheet is what it is, aka not good), and in part by a desire to do things differently and experiment.
After years of being domestically successful and hugely conservative (on the pitch), Juventus are trying to do things differently. It may or may not be the right choice, and Pirlo may or may not be the right man to deliver change. But at the very least, understand what he’s trying to do, and give him time to do it.
Tottenham, Mourinho should focus on positives
Jurgen Klinsmann explains why this Premier League season will continue to be a “rollercoaster” of surprises.
I can imagine Jose Mourinho views dropping two points when you’re 3-0 up with less than 10 minutes to go as some sort of cardinal sin for any football manager to commit. Managing a lead when your side are playing well and you have a team packed with expert counterattackers who thrive on wide open spaces should be entirely second nature. So while he put on a brave face after Manuel Lanzini‘s screamer held Spurs to a 3-3 draw Sunday, he must have been seething inside.
That’s understandable, but it shouldn’t detract from the way Tottenham played. And having been hard on Mourinho all those times his teams played poorly and won, the least I can do is point out when they played well and were unlucky.
Forget the cliche about “making your own luck.” When a weird own goal and a goal-of-the-season contender are what ultimately cost you points, you can’t really legislate for that. Best to take the positives, because there were plenty, starting with Harry Kane‘s performance and his ability to be at once, creator and finisher.
Bayern back to form vs. Bielefeld
Shaka Hislop praises Thomas Muller and Robert Lewandowski’s consistency despite their advance age.
Newly-promoted Arminia Bielefeld were designated sacrificial lambs against Bayern and they followed the script. Hansi Flick’s crew won, 4-1, with Thomas Mueller and Robert Lewandowski bagging two goals each. (For those keeping score at home, that’s now 41 goals in his last 35 Bundesliga appearances for Lewandowski. Write your own captions.)
Stream replay: Arminia Bielefeld vs. Bayern Munich (U.S.)
We had written about the lack of depth at the club and — presto! — Bayern addressed it with a late, late shopping spree that yielded a right-back (Bouna Sarr), a central midfielder (Marc Roca), a winger (Douglas Costa) and a striker (Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting). The folks upstairs are listening.
Chelsea have quality but are not a team (yet)
Chelsea were held to a 3-3 draw at home by Southampton in a game that seemed to encapsulate all the cliches about Frank Lampard‘s side. Kepa Arrizabalaga (replacing the injured Edouard Mendy) was poor, and he and Kurt Zouma gifted the opposition a goal. Defensively, the club switched off at key moments. N’Golo Kante looks anything but happy. Kai Havertz is hugely gifted, but still very raw. You could tell it was Christian Pulisic‘s first game back.
Going forward, there’s enough quality to paper over most cracks, but this is still a tactically imbalanced side that is nowhere near as good as the sum of its parts. There’s plenty of work for Frank Lampard to do and Saturday did nothing to dispel the impression that, for all the quality, the pieces don’t fit together as they should.
Napoli show they’re Serie A title contenders vs. Atalanta
Having added depth and quality, Atalanta are legitimate title contenders in Serie A this season. That Napoli demolished them 4-1 is a credit to many, but their coach Rino Gattuso stands out for me. Given their high risk/high reward approach, Atalanta will always concede opportunities, but it’s up to you to identify them and target them and Gattuso did it wonderfully, unleashing Mattia Politano, Giovanni Di Lorenzo and Chucky Lozano down the flanks. So much for those who thought he was just a shouty motivator.
Gattuso also deserves credit for regenerating and relaunching a number of players who struggled last season. Lozano was on his way out and is now the club’s top goalscorer. Kostas Manolas is back to the lustre of his Roma days, and Victor Osimhen looks as if he’s been playing in this side all his life. Gattuso has tons of depth too.
They too are legitimate title contenders, make no mistake about it.
Leipzig show attacking depth vs. Augsburg
Leipzig won away to Augsburg, 2-0, to remain top of the Bundesliga. Julian Nagelsmann approached the game like he did the previous week, with a de facto striker-less front trio made up of Dani Olmo, Christopher Nkunku and Emil Forsberg.
I’m not sure how much more of this we’ll see, and not just because of the investment in Alexander Sorloth and Hee-Chan Hwang over the summer, but because Leipzig’s second goal came thanks to a proper striker (albeit not a prolific one). Yussuf Poulsen came on and nailed a volley reminiscent of Marco Van Basten at Euro 88.
Goals aren’t the problem for this team, and Nagelsmann now has three serviceable center-forwards. Expect one of them to play most weeks.
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