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Guide to every Week 7 game: Picks, matchup nuggets, more



The Week 7 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 7 slate, including a battle of AFC undefeated teams.

Jump to a matchup:

Thursday: PHI 22, NYG 21

1 p.m. ET | CBS
Matchup rating:
72.5 | Spread: PIT -1.5 (50.5)

What to watch for: Tennessee running back Derrick Henry‘s 588 yards on the ground leads all rushers. The Steelers’ run defense is second in the NFL, allowing 66 yards per game despite rarely loading the box to stop the run. Tennessee’s play-action passing game has produced big plays this season, so the difference will come down to how well quarterback Ryan Tannehill can keep the Titans’ offense on schedule against a Pittsburgh defense blitzing 60% of the time when teams use play-action against it. — Turron Davenport

Bold prediction: Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster will have two touchdowns. Smith-Schuster has been quiet the past two games with even distribution in the passing game. But with Chase Claypool breaking out and defenses taking notice, that could free up some room for Smith-Schuster to get free and score for the first time since Week 3. — Brooke Pryor

Stat to know: The Titans’ offense has used play-action at the second-highest rate in the NFL since the start of 2019, and an NFL-high 47% of its passing yards in that span have come on play-action. Since Tannehill became the Titans’ starter in Week 7 last season, his 92.1 QBR and 12.2 yards per attempt on play-action lead all NFL QBs, and his 15 TDs is tied with Kirk Cousins for the most in the NFL. But Pittsburgh’s defense has been exceptional defending play-action, allowing the lowest QBR (38.9) and completion rate (57%) since the start of last season.

Injuries: Steelers | Titans

What to know for fantasy: Henry, fresh off 212 rushing yards against the Texans, faces a Steelers defense that has yet to allow more than 80 rushing yards to any single player and is allowing the second-fewest fantasy points per game to RBs this season (16.5). See Week 7 rankings.

Betting nugget: In the Super Bowl era, when teams that are 4-0 or better square off, the underdog is 10-4 against the spread (ATS). Read more.

Pryor’s pick: Steelers 27, Titans 24
Davenport’s pick: Titans 28, Steelers 24
FPI prediction: PIT, 52.0% (by an average of 0.8 points)

Matchup must-reads: Steelers’ Spillane gets chance to show he belongs against former teamSteelers’ Roethlisberger, Titans’ Tannehill silence doubters by winningTitans’ offense cruising behind Henry, but Steelers pose challengeSource: Titans face fine as NFL ends virus audit

1 p.m. ET | Fox
Matchup rating:
57.9 | Spread: NO -7.5 (51)

What to watch for: No one expected this veteran Saints team to be just a half-game up on a Panthers squad that was overhauled from top to bottom this offseason. So as much as the Saints love seeing their old friend Teddy Bridgewater succeed, they would love to flex their muscles on him by finally playing their most complete game of the season. The Saints are hoping to reboot after the bye — and it would help greatly if wide receiver Michael Thomas is able to return from ankle and hamstring injuries (he didn’t practice on Thursday). — Mike Triplett

Bold prediction: Bridgewater throws for more than 350 yards and four touchdowns against his old mates. Opposing quarterbacks have passed for 15 touchdowns to only three interceptions against the porous New Orleans defense, and Bridgewater knows that defense inside and out after spending the past two seasons with the Saints. — David Newton

Stat to know: Saints running back Alvin Kamara has four straight games of 100-plus scrimmage yards, the longest active streak in the NFL. He also leads all running backs in receiving yards this season with 395, 186 more than any other RB. Since 1950, there have been only three backs with 450-plus receiving yards in a team’s first six games of a season: Timmy Brown in 1965 (510), Paul Hofer in 1980 (467) and Marshall Faulk in 2000 (462).

Injuries: Panthers | Saints

What to know for fantasy: Saints quarterback Drew Brees was a top-eight quarterback in both matchups with the Panthers last season, amassing 564 passing yards and six touchdowns in the process. See Week 7 rankings.

Betting nugget: Bridgewater is 18-4 ATS and 12-10 outright in his career as an underdog, including 2-2 straight up and ATS this season. Bridgewater is also 14-2 ATS as a road ‘dog in his career. Read more.

Newton’s pick: Panthers 33, Saints 30
Triplett’s pick: Saints 30, Panthers 23
FPI prediction: NO, 69.9% (by an average of 7.1 points)

Matchup must-reads: Brown finally showing why Panthers made him seventh overall pickSaints need more from Lattimore, JordanPanthers place K Slye on reserve/COVID-19 listSaints end Thomas’ discipline; can play if healthyBridgewater becoming to Panthers what Brees is to SaintsSaints given go-ahead to have fans starting Sunday

1 p.m. ET | Fox
Matchup rating:
56.3 | Spread: GB -3.5 (57)

What to watch for: Can the Texans’ run defense rebound from a terrible performance against Derrick Henry and the Titans? Packers running back Aaron Jones has scored at least one touchdown in five consecutive games, which is tied for the longest active streak in the NFL, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information. — Sarah Barshop

Bold prediction: Jones’ streak of consecutive games with a touchdown will end at five, but quarterback Aaron Rodgers will more than make up for it. It won’t be a six-TD game like his only previous career start in Houston (in 2012), but look for Rodgers to get back on track after the abysmal showing at Tampa Bay last weekend. — Rob Demovsky

Stat to know: Texans running back David Johnson has 350 rushing yards and three rushing scores this season, more than he had in all of the 2019 season. But he is still currently sitting at 25 straight games without a 100-yard rushing outing.

Injuries: Packers | Texans

What to know for fantasy: Jones has been a top-15 running back in all five of his games this season, and after the Henry experience last weekend, the Texans are allowing the third-most points to fantasy running backs this season. See Week 7 rankings.

Betting nugget: Green Bay has covered five consecutive games following a loss (3-0 ATS under coach Matt LaFleur). Read more.

Demovsky’s pick: Packers 31, Texans 24
Barshop’s pick: Packers 35, Texans 31
FPI prediction: GB, 57.9% (by an average of 2.8 points)

Matchup must-reads: Karaoke, trivia and frat parties: Tales of Rodgers’ inner weirdnessFor Texans to win in 2020, it likely will have to be a shootoutBarnes, Love continue their role reversals with Packers“One out of five” dud games doesn’t define 4-1 Packers to Rodgers

1 p.m. ET | Fox
Matchup rating:
36.8 | Spread: ATL -2 (55)

What to watch for: Which Todd Gurley will the Falcons get this weekend: the Week 5 version, when he had 121 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries against the Panthers, or the Week 6 version, when he averaged 2.4 yards per carry against the Vikings? The Lions are allowing 145 rushing yards per game (the fourth most in the NFL), which according to ESPN Stats & Information research is the team’s most since allowing 172.1 when it went 0-16 in 2008. — Sarah Barshop

Bold prediction: In a game between two teams that have spent most of the season losing fourth-quarter leads, both squads will end up doing it again, with wild swings during the final 15 minutes and a last-second, game-winning field goal. Would you expect anything less from Atlanta and Detroit? Their two most recent matchups ended with a 10-second runoff and then a delay of game penalty that allowed Matt Prater to take a second attempt at a field goal. — Michael Rothstein

Stat to know: Lions running back D’Andre Swift has 6.9 yards per touch this season, best among rookie backs. He also leads the Lions with four touchdowns from scrimmage.

Injuries: Lions | Falcons

What to know for fantasy: Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is averaging 28 fantasy points per game this season when he has a fully healthy Julio Jones, up from 10.3 when his star wide receiver was hampered/inactive. See Week 7 rankings.

Betting nugget: Atlanta is 5-10 ATS as a home favorite since the start of the 2018 season. Read more.

Rothstein’s pick: Lions 31, Falcons 30
Barshop’s pick: Falcons 30, Lions 27
FPI prediction: ATL, 59.1% (by an average of 3.2 points)

Matchup must-reads: Life bonds started from football: Ryan and Stafford’s friendshipFalcons’ Morris is auditioning to earn another head-coaching jobSwift had a breakout against Jacksonville — and the rookie needs more of it



Mike Clay expects Marvin Jones Jr. to have a good day against Atlanta, which has one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL.

1 p.m. ET | CBS
Matchup rating:
28.7 | Spread: BUF -12 (45)

What to watch for: The Jets hope to have their full complement of wide receivers on the field for the first time, as rookie Denzel Mims is poised to make his NFL debut. Quarterback Sam Darnold is a question mark because of a shoulder injury. But if he starts, he will have plenty of speed on the outside with Mims and Breshad Perriman. — Rich Cimini

Bold prediction: The Bills won’t call this a “get right” game, but I will. Not only does quarterback Josh Allen eclipse 320 passing yards, but Buffalo’s defense will hold the Jets under 250 yards of total offense. — Marcel Louis-Jacques

Stat to know: The Jets’ minus-110 point differential is the second worst in franchise history through six games of a season (minus-122 in 1976). The team’s worst mark through seven games also came in ’76, when New York was outscored by 142. Will Buffalo surpass 32 points in this one?

Injuries: Bills | Jets

What to know for fantasy: Allen was QB3 in Week 1 when these teams first met but is coming off his worst performance of the season on Monday night (QB17). See Week 7 rankings.

Betting nugget: The Jets are 0-6 ATS this season. That’s two short of the longest winless streak to start a season against the spread over the past 20 seasons. The 2003 Raiders failed to cover in each of their first eight games of the season. Read more.

Louis-Jacques’ pick: Bills 28, Jets 10
Cimini’s pick: Bills 24, Jets 9
FPI prediction: BUF, 74.6% (by an average of 9 points)

Matchup must-reads: Bills’ Allen vs. winning teams: “Staying patient” is keyJets’ Darnold practices with hopes QB can startBills release former starting guard SpainBlast from past: ’96 Jets (1-15) say current team “shouldn’t be this bad”Projected 2021 NFL draft order: Jets are favorite for No. 1

1 p.m. ET | CBS
Matchup rating: 27.3 | Spread: CLE -3 (50.5)

What to watch for: The Browns were dominant in the first meeting between these teams, though they came away with only a five-point win. While the Bengals have improved since then, especially in run defense, the Browns still have the top rushing attack in the NFL, even without running back Nick Chubb. — Ben Baby

Bold prediction: Cleveland defensive end Myles Garrett will sack Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow and force him to fumble for a second time this season, once again setting up a crucial late Browns touchdown. — Jake Trotter

Stat to know: Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. is averaging career lows in targets per game (6.7), catches per game (3.8), receiving yards (53.2), yards after the catch per reception (1.96) and percentage of routes targeted (23.5%). And his yards after the catch per reception ranks 86th out of 92 qualified wide receivers this season.

Injuries: Browns | Bengals

What to know for fantasy: Cleveland running back Kareem Hunt is averaging 19 fantasy points in victories this season (including 24.1 in the Week 2 win over Cincinnati), way up from 9.9 in losses. See Week 7 rankings.

Betting nugget: Cincinnati is 4-0 ATS in its past four games following a loss, dating back to last season. Read more.

Trotter’s pick: Browns 30, Bengals 28
Baby’s pick: Browns 27, Bengals 21
FPI prediction: CLE, 55.1% (by an average of 1.8 points)

Matchup must-reads: Stefanski: If healthy, Mayfield is Browns’ starterBengals’ Green happy to “feel like my old self again”Why Burrow’s deep struggles shouldn’t be concern for Bengals

1 p.m. ET | Fox
Matchup rating:
15.5 | Spread: WSH -1 (46)

What to watch for: It will be all eyes on Washington’s defensive line versus Dallas’ offensive line. The Cowboys might have backups across the board, depending on guard Zack Martin‘s health. And Washington’s strength remains its line, though after combining for seven sacks in the opener, this group has recorded only six in the past five weeks. Sunday is a chance for it to get healthy. And with Dallas likely paying close attention to edge rushers Montez Sweat and Chase Young, the interior could have a bigger day. — John Keim

Bold prediction: The Cowboys will intercept a Kyle Allen pass. He has been intercepted at least once in nine of his past 11 starts after not getting picked off in the first five starts of his career. So far this season, the Cowboys have one interception — Chidobe Awuzie intercepted Jared Goff in the third quarter of the season opener. They have gone 158 pass attempts since without a pick. That has to change, and Allen has shown the tendency to throw it to the other team. — Todd Archer

Stat to know: Washington wide receiver Terry McLaurin has 56 targets this season, tied for fifth in the league. And he has accounted for 37% of Washington’s receiving yards, the second-highest mark in the NFL after DeAndre Hopkins (40%).

Injuries: Cowboys | Washington

What to know for fantasy: Very quietly, Washington running back J.D. McKissic has improved his weekly positional rank each week this season and was the 12th-best running back in Week 6. See Week 7 rankings.

Betting nugget: Since the start of the 2017 season, Dallas is 15-4 ATS against the NFC East. Read more.

Archer’s pick: Cowboys 12, Washington 9
Keim’s pick: Washington 21, Cowboys 20
FPI prediction: WSH, 58.2% (by an average of 2.9 points)

Matchup must-reads: Six games in, McCarthy facing key juncture of Cowboys’ tenureRivera gambling his moves will pay off for WashingtonCowboys’ Elliott says there’s no one thing that will fix fumbling woes“Pretty good chance” Washington Football Team remains in 2021, says team presidentA four-win NFC East champ? How it could happen, plus predictions from our staffWashington’s Allen shows flashes, but must shake inconsistency

4:05 p.m. ET | Fox
Matchup rating:
79.1 | Spread: TB -4 (51.5)

What to watch for: Who, exactly, will be playing offensive line for the Raiders, whose entire starting O-line is on the COVID-19 list after right tackle Trent Brown tested positive this week? If it’s a bunch of backups, pity Raiders quarterback Derek Carr against Tampa Bay, which has the second-most sacks in the NFL with 22. Yeah, this has the makings of a familiar disaster for the Raiders — think Super Bowl XXXVII. — Paul Gutierrez

Bold prediction: Tampa Bay running back Ronald Jones will have 100 yards rushing, and the offense as a whole will score four times. The Bucs have scored the second-most points in the NFL this season and face a Raiders defense that has given up 30 or more points in four of five games. With almost all of Tom Brady‘s receiving weapons returning to health — most notably Chris Godwin — these numbers aren’t too much to ask from this group, although the Tampa Bay defense, like last weekend, will likely be the real difference-maker. — Jenna Laine

Stat to know: The Buccaneers allow a league-low 282.0 yards per game, have the best pass-rush win rate (55%) in the NFL, blitz at the second-highest rate (41%) and give up the fewest rush yards per game (64.3).

Injuries: Buccaneers | Raiders

What to know for fantasy: Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans has a total of four catches and 14 yards in the three games in which Godwin has been active. See Week 7 rankings.

Betting nugget: The over is 5-0 in Las Vegas games this season. Read more.

Laine’s pick: Buccaneers 38, Raiders 28
Gutierrez’s pick: Buccaneers 48, Raiders 21
FPI prediction: TB, 56.2% (by an average of 2.2 points)

Matchup must-reads: What Brady’s jerseys have meant to him and lessons he’s learned along the wayRaiders’ Jacobs becoming better all-around back under Allen’s tutelageCarr, MVP candidate? A Raiders bye-week progress report

4:25 p.m. ET | CBS
Matchup rating:
74.3 | Spread: KC -10 (46)

What to watch for: Will the Broncos make rushing yards matter? The best, and perhaps only, defense against Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is keeping the ball away from him. The idea that you can pound away to win can be a tough sell, but the Chiefs have not defended the run well much of the season. They’ve allowed at least 144 rushing yards four times and over 180 yards twice — but have lost just one of those games. Snow could be in the forecast, and the Broncos’ best chance to win will be a run game paired with some play-action shots down the field. — Jeff Legwold

Bold prediction: The Broncos will score multiple touchdowns. OK, that might not sound like a bold prediction, but they haven’t scored even one in their past seven quarters against the Chiefs. — Adam Teicher

Stat to know: Mahomes has had multiple passing touchdowns in each of the first six games of the season, making him the first Chief in history to do so.

Injuries: Chiefs | Broncos

What to know for fantasy: What will Chiefs running back Le’Veon Bell‘s impact be? Clyde Edwards-Helaire is RB16 on a per-game basis thus far, and if he loses 20% of his value to Bell, he’d fall to RB26. See Week 7 rankings.

Betting nugget: Denver is 4-1 ATS as an underdog this season. Read more.

Teicher’s pick: Chiefs 31, Broncos 23
Legwold’s pick: Chiefs 27, Broncos 22
FPI prediction: KC, 75.9% (by an average of 9.6 points)

Matchup must-reads: Chiefs can’t wait to add Bell to a loaded offensive lineupWhy Broncos’ Lock needs to learn to play it safe sometimesWhy have the Chiefs pumped the brakes on Hardman?Much-maligned Broncos tackle Bolles is … good now?



Marcus Spears breaks down the best defensive strategy for a chance at shutting down Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs.

4:25 p.m. ET | CBS
Matchup rating:
72.9 | Spread: NE -1.5 (44)

What to watch for: The Patriots have turned the ball over seven times in their past two games, both losses. The 49ers have created just six takeaways all season. If the Patriots continue to be sloppy with the football, they could be looking at back-to-back regular-season home losses for the first time since the 2008 season. — Mike Reiss

Bold prediction: New England quarterback Cam Newton will rush for 90-plus yards. Believe it or not, Newton has only four such games in his career and hasn’t hit the 90-yard mark since 2017. But the 49ers have struggled to contain mobile quarterbacks, allowing 231 rushing yards to QBs so far this season, most in the NFL. — Nick Wagoner

Stat to know: 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is averaging 7.4 yards per attempt this season (18th in the NFL), down from 8.4 in 2019 (third).

Injuries: 49ers | Patriots

What to know for fantasy: Is Julian Edelman overrated in fantasy? The most recent time the Pats wideout finished as a top-60 wide receiver was Week 2. See Week 7 rankings.

Betting nugget: New England is 41-16 ATS following a loss since the start of the 2003 season and is 52-27 ATS after a loss under coach Bill Belichick. Read more.

Wagoner’s pick: Patriots 24, 49ers 20
Reiss’ pick: Patriots 23, 49ers 20
FPI prediction: NE, 50.3% (by an average of 0.2 points)

Matchup must-reads: Garoppolo has questions to answer three years after tradeAnalytics supported Belichick going for 2 in Patriots’ defeatBelichick effusive in praise for “great” TE KittlePatriots QB Newton says “no need to press the panic button” after loss to Broncos

4:25 p.m. ET | CBS
Matchup rating:
25.3 | Spread: LAC -7.5 (49)

What to watch for: It’s Justin Herbert vs. Gardner Minshew — if Minshew plays, that is. He might be benched in favor of Mike Glennon. Herbert recalled facing Minshew in college, when he was at Oregon and Minshew was under center for Washington State. It’s an interesting battle of rookie QBs. Per research by the Elias Sports Bureau, Herbert needs 285 passing yards to have the fifth most in a player’s first five career games. And Minshew is coming off five consecutive games with 40-plus pass attempts, the longest streak in Jaguars history. — Shelley Smith

Bold prediction: The Jaguars will tie an NFL record by allowing the Chargers to score 30-plus points. That would mark the sixth consecutive game in a single season in which they’ve allowed 30 points. The Chargers have scored 58 points in their past two games, and as Herbert gets more comfortable, he’ll thrive against a Jaguars defense that struggles to rush the passer. — Mike DiRocco

Stat to know: Jacksonville running back James Robinson has 569 yards and four touchdowns from scrimmage this season, both second among rookies (TDs is tied for second).

Injuries: Jaguars | Chargers

What to know for fantasy: Dak Prescott was the only quarterback to outscore Herbert in Weeks 4-5 (the Chargers were on bye last weekend). See Week 7 rankings.

Betting nugget: Anthony Lynn is 5-14-1 ATS as a home favorite since becoming the Chargers’ coach in 2017. Read more.

DiRocco’s pick: Chargers 35, Jaguars 18
Smith’s pick: Chargers 27, Jaguars 14
FPI prediction: LAC, 71.7% (by an average of 7.8 points)

Matchup must-reads: Jaguars’ Marrone won’t rule out sitting MinshewYoung Chargers hope bye week helps them blast off under HerbertMarrone: No plans to fire DC WashBye week shift might be a (rare) good break for the ChargersAaron Lynch ending retirement to join Jaguars

8:20 p.m. ET | NBC
Matchup rating:
78 | Spread: SEA -3.5 (56)

What to watch for: Cardinals linebacker Dennis Gardeck didn’t have a sack last weekend after posting two in Week 5 in his defensive debut. Watch for him to be a consistent presence in the Cardinals’ pass rush and get a sack of Seattle’s Russell Wilson. — Josh Weinfuss

Bold prediction: Something ridiculous will happen. It usually does when the Seahawks play at State Farm Stadium. There was the inexplicable 6-6 tie in 2016, the Thursday night game in 2017 in which the Legion of Boom came undone with injuries to Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor, and then the 2018 game in which Earl Thomas flipped the bird as he was carted off. Oh yeah, it’s also where Malcolm Butler picked off Wilson to rip a second straight Super Bowl out of the Seahawks’ hands. So what’s next? How about Wilson leading another game-winning drive and hitting No. 3 tight end Jacob Hollister for the decisive touchdown? — Brady Henderson

Stat to know: Wilson’s 19 passing TDs are second most for a player through a team’s first five games in NFL history. He needs three to tie the record for the most through a team’s first six games (Peyton Manning, 22 in 2013). On the other side, Arizona QB Kyler Murray has five games this season with a passing TD and a rushing TD, the most by any player through the first six games of a season in NFL history. He would be the first player ever with six such games through a team’s first seven games of a season.

Injuries: Seahawks | Cardinals

What to know for fantasy: Don’t forget how much potential these Seattle wide receivers have. In each of the first three weeks this season, both DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett were top-20 performers at the position. See Week 7 rankings.

Betting nugget: The Cardinals are the only team to have every game go under this season. Read more.

Henderson’s pick: Seahawks 31, Cardinals 27
Weinfuss’ pick: Seahawks 24, Cardinals 21
FPI prediction: SEA, 58.0% (by an average of 2.8 points)

Matchup must-reads: Seahawks OC Schottenheimer getting bird’s-eye view of Wilson’s brillianceDrake motivated by momDefense leaking, Wilson cooking: Five numbers on Seahawks’ 5-0 startWhy Cardinals’ Hopkins honors Vesey on his helmet



Mike Clay notes that Arizona had DK Metcalf’s number in his rookie season and speculates that CB Patrick Peterson could shadow Metcalf this Sunday.

Monday, 8:15 p.m. ET | ESPN
Matchup rating:
60.9 | Spread: LAR -6 (45)

What to watch for: The Rams have defensive tackle Aaron Donald and the Bears have edge rusher Khalil Mack. So it should come as no surprise that these teams each boast a stout defense, with the Rams allowing an average of 19 points per game to the Bears’ 19.3. However, the Rams have an edge on offense, scoring an average of four more points per game than the Bears. — Lindsey Thiry

Bold prediction: Donald will sack Bears quarterback Nick Foles three times. The interior of the Bears’ offensive line is suspect, especially after starting left guard James Daniels went on injured reserve with a torn pectoral muscle. Last weekend, Foles took some big hits because of faulty protection but managed to get rid of the football. The 31-year-old veteran quarterback will not be as lucky on Monday night versus Donald, who is the league’s premier defensive lineman. — Jeff Dickerson

Stat to know: This is the fifth time in the past 30 years that the Bears have started 5-1 or better (2012, 2006, 2001 and 1990). They made the playoffs in all but one of those seasons (2012).

Injuries: Bears | Rams

What to know for fantasy: Chicago running back David Montgomery has 11 catches in the two games following Tarik Cohen’s injury. He had nine in four games with Cohen in the mix. See Week 7 rankings.

Betting nugget: Chicago is 4-1 both straight up and ATS as an underdog this season. With another upset victory this weekend, Chicago could join the 2004 Jaguars and 1999 Lions as the only teams with five upset victories within their first seven games of a season in the Super Bowl era. Read more.

Dickerson’s pick: Rams 20, Bears 18
Thiry’s pick: Rams 21, Bears 14
FPI prediction: LAR, 70.0% (by an average of 7.2 points)

Matchup must-reads: Nagy’s 5-1 Bears are “fired up” — like it or notRams out to prove Week 6 clunker was a fluke versus Bears


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



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.”



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



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



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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