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Guide to every NFL game: Picks, matchup nuggets, more

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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.

Let’s get into the full Week 6 slate, including a showdown between Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.

Jump to a matchup:
BAL-PHI | CLE-PIT | HOU-TEN
ATL-MIN | CHI-CAR | DEN-NE
CIN-IND | DET-JAX | WSH-NYG
NYJ-MIA | GB-TB | LAR-SF
KC-BUF | ARI-DAL

Bye: LV, NO, LAC, SEA

1 p.m. ET | CBS
Matchup rating:
67.2 | Spread: BAL -7.5 (47.5)

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 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.

Injuries: Ravens | Eagles

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 JacksonFrom QB play to his contract, a look at what’s ailing Eagles’ ErtzEagles 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 (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 a 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 his five straight games back in 2018.

Injuries: Browns | Steelers

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 SteelersBrowns vs. Steelers: Behind the turnarounds, return of Garrett and what win meansBrowns’ Garrett playing at elite level going into Steelers rematchSteelers coach Mike Tomlin focused on facing Browns, not GarrettSteelers’ Roethlisberger “proud” of Smith-Schuster’s selflessness


1 p.m. ET | CBS
Matchup rating:
50.3 | Spread: TEN -3.5 (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, third most in the NFL. — Sarah Barshop

Stat to know: With Ryan Tannehill starting at quarterback, the Titans are 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.

Injuries: Texans | Titans

What to know for fantasy: In his first season without DeAndre Hopkins, Watson is on pace to set new career highs in both passing touchdowns and passing yards. See Week 6 rankings.

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 WatsonTitans have been dominating in the red zone behind TannehillMcKinney expected out for seasonUnhappy LB Correa traded by Titans to JaguarsTexans hire search firm to assist GM search


1 p.m. ET | Fox
Matchup rating:
48.5 | Spread: MIN -4 (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.

Injuries: Falcons | Vikings

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 testVikings’ Mattison ready to step in for injured CookTeacher, coach, No. 1 receiver: Vikings’ Thielen relishing new roles


1 p.m. ET | Fox
Matchup rating:
42.2 | Spread: CAR -1.5 (44.5)

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.

Injuries: Bears | Panthers

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 BradyMcCaffrey doesn’t have to rush back for PanthersCan Foles shed relief pitcher rep?Panthers’ Short to have season-ending shoulder surgeryHow COVID-19 put everything on the line for Panthers’ Reed

play

2:01

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 (45)

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.

Injuries: Broncos | Patriots

What to know for fantasy: When he gets at least 15 touches, Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay has averaged 15.6 fantasy points per game over his career. See Week 6 rankings.

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 assistantPatriots’ Newton comes off COVID-19 listBroncos coach Fangio forced to take more risks on defenseBroncos RB Gordon cited for DUI


1 p.m. ET | Fox
Matchup rating:
37.3 | Spread: IND -8 (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 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.

Injuries: Bengals | Colts

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 quicklyColts sticking with Rivers at QB despite turnover troubleBengals lose Reader for season with quad injuryRivers’ turnovers responsible for nine points in Colts’ loss


1 p.m. ET | Fox
Matchup rating:
14.8 | Spread: DET -3 (55)

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.

Injuries: Lions | Jaguars

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 JaguarsJaguars to use fifth kicker of season in BrownJaguars among NFL teams using silver to fight COVID-19


1 p.m. ET | Fox
Matchup rating:
9.0 | Spread: NYG -3 (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 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.

Injuries: Washington | Giants

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 the 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 point)

Matchup must-reads: Resetting Washington’s QB situation: What’s next for Allen, Smith and HaskinsGiants’ Jones continues to be haunted by last-minute failuresSmith favored to win comeback player awardGiants lose LB Carter for season with ruptured Achilles

play

1:26

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 -10 (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 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, in 1996. That team finished 1-15. As of now, the Jets have a league-high 43.6% chance to get the top pick in the 2021 NFL draft, according to FPI.

Injuries: Jets | Dolphins

What to know for fantasy: Miami quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has scored at least 21 fantasy points in four straight games, the longest streak of his career. See Week 6 rankings.

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 capDolphins’ Howard, Jones show potential to be top CB duoJets to again start Flacco at QB; Gase to still call playsSource: Dolphins’ Godchaux has biceps tearBell’s ugly ending with Jets raises serious questions


4:25 p.m. ET | Fox
Matchup rating:
85.0 | Spread: GB -1.5 (55)

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 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).

Injuries: Packers | Buccaneers

What to know for fantasy: Tampa Bay running back Ronald Jones is the only player in the NFL this season with multiple games of 100 rushing yards and five targets. See Week 6 rankings.

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 starBrady pokes fun at himself while congratulating LeBronBrady’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 rate in three consecutive road games, the second-longest streak in Rams history (Kurt Warner, five).

Injuries: Rams | 49ers

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 backHow Kyle Shanahan has kept the 49ers from falling apartRams have a sack party in Washington as they prepare for NFC West49ers CB Sherman suffers setback in recovery from calf injury49ers QB Garoppolo practices, on track to start


Monday, 5 p.m. ET | Fox/NFL
Matchup rating:
85.5 | Spread: KC -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.

Injuries: Chiefs | Bills

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 gameMissing starters evident in Bills’ humbling loss on national stageSource: Hamstring injury could sideline Chiefs WR Watkins a couple of gamesBiggest surprises for every AFC team thus far in the 2020 season


Monday, 8:15 p.m. ET | ESPN
Matchup rating:
37.4 | Spread: ARI -1.5 (55)

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.

Injuries: Cardinals | Cowboys

What to know for fantasy: Cardinals running back Chase Edmonds has 6.8 more points this season than Kenyan Drake … on 54 fewer touches. See Week 6 rankings.

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 surgeryEven without Prescott, Cowboys say plan stays the same on offenseHopkins credits Murray, Cardinals’ playcalling for hot startCould Dak still get $100 million? NFL execs, coaches weigh in on QB’s future

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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home

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On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

Stream FC Daily on ESPN+
– 2020 MLS Playoffs: Who’s in, schedule and more
– MLS on ESPN+: Stream LIVE games and replays (U.S. only)

Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”

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Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.

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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment

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The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.

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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls

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With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

What election stories need to get more coverage | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast

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