New Orleans (-1.5) @ Houston
Power rankings: New Orleans 13, Houston 28
Keys to the game, when the Saints have the ball:
The Texans defense has defied expectations this season, showcasing surprising efficiency and claiming the 15th spot in EPA/play rankings. Their secondary has been the cornerstone of the defense, even in the absence of players like Derek Stingley Jr (3rd overall pick in 2022, on IR with a hamstring injury) and Shaq Griffin (recovering from a calf injury). CB Steven Nelson, at 30 years young and on his 4th team, has displayed an elite performance, limiting opposing quarterbacks to a mere 54.2 passer rating when targeted, along with securing 2 interceptions and 2 pass breakups.
CB Grayland Arnold, an undrafted free agent from the class of 2020, has stepped into a significant role for the first time this season and impressively handled coverage duties in the slot. The return of Shaq Griffin further bolsters their secondary. Not to be overlooked, the safety duo of Jimmie Ward and Jalen Pitre has shown remarkable cohesion, helping maintain defensive stability. Despite their current success, some doubts remain regarding the sustainability of this level of performance due to the lack of established pedigree.
Michael Thomas, Chris Olave, and Alvin Kamara are poised to present a stern test to the Texans' secondary. Quarterback Derek Carr is likely to enjoy a relatively clean pocket, capitalizing on the Texans' limited pass rush success this season, aside from standout rookie Will Anderson Jr. The Texans have struggled to apply pressure, and their scheme isn't helping, as they rank dead last in blitz rate (16.5%).
When the Texans have the ball:
In a season that's seen notable rookie CJ Stroud make waves as the Texans' starting quarterback, he's certainly been a standout story. Stroud's debut has been nothing short of impressive, immediately stepping into the QB1 role and making history by breaking the record for pass attempts to start a career without an interception. Texans fans have every reason to celebrate his stellar performance, though a closer look at the numbers reveals a more nuanced tale.
While Stroud has avoided interceptions, it's worth acknowledging that he has had five turnover-worthy plays (PFF), highlighting that the interception streak doesn't tell the entire story. Additionally, he ranks 32nd in deep passing rate (20+ yards), but is still completing just 61.3% of his passes. His overall performance places him 16th in PFF grades and 14th in ESPN's total QBR metric, perfectly placing him as a mid-tier quarterback. Nothing more, nothing less.
However, Stroud faces significant challenges in this matchup. The first being injuries to his weaponry, with both WR Tank Dell (concussion) and Robert Woods (ribs) listed as questionable. Dell is expected to miss baring a miracle clearance from concussion protocol while Woods is likely to play. That leaves Nico Collins as the only competent receiver, but Collins has been fantastic this season - he's caught 25 balls for 467 yards and 3 touchdowns, good for a PFF grade of 87.6 that ranks 5th best among wide receivers.
The other challenge for Stroud is the matchup, facing a Saints defense which ranks an impressive 3rd in EPA/play. While the Saints haven't excelled in pass rush, ranking 25th in pressure rate, they do possess key pass rushers in Cam Jordan and Carl Granderson, who are expected to make their presence felt. Moreover, the Saints' secondary is poised to handle the Texans' depleted receiving corps adeptly.
In this anticipated matchup, the chess game between Stroud and the Saints' defense will be a critical factor in determining the outcome, making for an exciting battle on the gridiron.
Philadelphia @ NY Jets (+7.0)
Power rankings: Philly 4, Jets 19
Keys to the game, when Philly has the ball:
This side of the game should be a blast to watch. The Eagles have one of the best offenses in football, ranking 6th in offensive EPA/play. They have the best offensive line in the NFL, a strong receiving trio in AJ Brown, Devonta Smith, and Dallas Goedert, and a strong running game - led by D'Andre Swift. Meanwhile, Jalen Hurts has picked off where he left off last year - currently completing 67.3% of his passes and gaining 7.5 yards per attempt, good for a 76.5 PFF grade. The Jets will combat the Eagles with a strong defensive line that generates pressure 15th most often in the NFL (32%) despite blitzing 31st most often (17.2%). The leader of the pack is DT Quinnen Williams, a 6'3 303 pound mammoth of a human being that is a force in both the pass and run game, with edge rushers Bryce Huff (26 pressures) and John Franklin-Myers (22) chipping in as well. If there's a weakness on the Eagles offensive line, it's with RG Sua Opeta, an area Williams could potentially take advantage of. Quincy Williams and CJ Mosley are one of the better linebacker duos in football, while the Jets also have one of the stronger secondaries in football, led by CBs Sauce Gardner, DJ Reed, and S Jordan Whitehead. This is about as fun as a matchup as it gets.
When the Jets have the ball:
The other side, not so much. Zach Wilson has put together decent performances in his last two games, but it's far too early for us to draw any conclusions about him breaking out. He was rightfully the 2nd overall pick in the 2021 draft, but he still has issues dealing with pressure, and that could be a major issue in this game. The Jets continue to deal with injuries along their offensive line, most recently losing Alijah Vera-Tucker to an Achilles injury. That leaves the Jets with all sorts of holes up front, and the Eagles have one of the better defensive lines in the NFL. The good news is rookie DT Jalen Carter, who is currently tied with Aaron Donald for most pressures by a tackle (23), is going to miss with an ankle injury. Even still, Josh Sweat, Haason Reddick, Fletcher Cox, and Brandon Graham should be more than enough to take on the Jets line. In the secondary, although the Eagles will be without CB Darius Slay (knee), there should be plenty to take on the Jets receivers.
Dallas @ LA Chargers (+2.0)
Power rankings: Dallas 8, LA Chargers 9
Keys to the game, when Dallas has the ball:
The Cowboys offense is currently 11th in EPA/play, led by one of the better offensive lines in football, a strong running game, and production from the slot (CeeDee Lamb) and tight end (Jake Ferguson). The outside receivers, Michael Gallup and Brandin Cooks, have both been struggling, and we'd assume they'll eventually figure things out given their reputation as dependable receivers. The Chargers defense, on the other hand, is struggling, ranking 25th in EPA/play. They're been without DE Joey Bosa (toe), who is expected to miss after not practicing Thursday/Friday. That leaves Khalil Mack as the only competent pass rusher, while both linebackers and the secondary (save for Assante Samuel Jr) continue to struggle.
The Chargers offense is another story, ranking 4th in EPA/play. They're up against a Cowboys defense that has one of the strongest pass rush in all of football, currently generating pressure at a rate of 41.2%, 2nd best in the league. However, the Chargers offensive line is strong and should be up to the task. The pressure from Dallas mostly comes from Micah Parsons (29 pressures) and DeMarcus Lawrence (17), both of whom primarily work off the edge. LT Rashawn Slater is one of the better lineman in football, but RT Trey Pikins III could struggle. The skill position players are still trying to figure things out post Mike Williams ACL injury, but at the bare minimum Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler provide reliable targets for Justin Herbert. Natuarlly, the Chargers eventually want Quentin Johnston, the 22nd overall pick in this years draft, to step up, but for now he's behind Josh Palmer in the pecking order. The Cowboys secondary has been solid this season, even without Trevon Diggs (ACL) - Stephon Gilmore, DaRon Bland, and slot man Jourdan Lewis are all playing well.