Jacksonville (+2.0) @ Indianapolis
Power rankings: Jacksonville 18, Indianapolis 25
Spread thoughts: Since the model has run, the line has moved to 1.5.
Keys to the game: It's impossible to describe the Jaguars offense without the word mediocre. Trevor Lawrence has improved from his rookie season, but a horrendous game against a very good Eagles defense in week 4 has tarnished his short sophomore season. It is worth noting that he played well against the Colts in week 2, completing 83.3% of his passes and gaining 7.8 yards per attempt without committing any turnovers. When Lawrence has played well, it's typically been against an unblitzed, clean pocket. That's good news for this matchup since the Colts rank 26th in blitz rate (19.1%) and will be without one of their better pass rushers, Kwity Paye (ankle). DT DeForest Buckner is one of the better pass rushing interior defenders in the NFL, however, and could take advantage of the Jaguars weak interior offensive line. The Colts have also had to play most of the season without Shaquille Leonard, who is one of the better linebackers in football. Leonard had back surgery in the offseason that prevented him from starting the season, then suffered a concussion week 4 that caused him to miss last week. Leonard missed practice on Wednesday as well, though it is certainly possible that he clears concussion protocol prior to Sunday. The Jaguars receivers (Christian Kirk, Marvin Jones, Zay Jones, and Evan Engram) does not represent the scariest group in the league, but neither does the Colts secondary, which ranks 21st in pass defense DVOA. It is worth nothing that CB Stephon Gilmore is back to his pro bowl form, allowing just a 67.4 passer rating into his coverage. The Jaguars will most likely struggle running the ball, as they rank 27th in rush defense DVOA, while the Colts rank 2nd in DVOA against the run.
The Colts offense has been the worst in football, ranking dead last in DVOA in a league where Panthers, Bears, and Texans exist. Matt Ryan is 33/35 in PFF grades and has yet to put together a single good game. The offensive line has been one of the worst in football and could be without C Ryan Kelly (hip). Their star running back, Jonathan Taylor, missed last week after suffering an ankle injury week 4 and isn't practicing to start the week. Michael Pittman has emerged as a true number 1 receiver and rookie Alec Pierce looks like he could be a potential steal, but it's not nearly enough to make up for all the bad. Meanwhile, the Jaguars defense has athletes all over the field, including Josh Allen, who's 21 pressures rank him 9th in the NFL. Allen will mostly line up against rookie LT Bernhard Raimann, who gave up 5 pressures and committed 4 penalties last week. The Jaguars rank 10th in the NFL in pressure rate, and therefore shouldn't have any issue getting to Ryan. 27th overall selection LB Devin Lloyd has also been a menace in the run game and as a pass rusher. The secondary doesn't have any big names, but have plenty of depth that has performed well throughout the season. Simply put, the Jags should have an advantage on this side of the ball.
Minnesota @ Miami (+3.0)
Power rankings: Minnesota 12, Miami 16
Spread thoughts: The Vikings are now 3.5 point favorites due to the Dolphins QB injury news.
Keys to the game: The Vikings offense is solid across the board, featuring Kirk Cousins, an above average offensive line, Justin Jefferson, and Dalvin Cook. They're facing a Dolphins defense that ranks 29th in defensive DVOA, but is almost certainly better than said ranking. The Dolphins play an aggressive defense, filled with lots of man coverage and blitzes. Their pass rush, even without the blitz, is a force -- but they excel at getting pressure off the edge (Melvin Ingram III, Jaelan Phillips, and Emmanuel Ogbah), which is exactly where the strength of the Vikings offensive line is. It's also worth noting that Kirk Cousins has been horrendous this season vs the blitz, averaging just 4.2 yards per attempt when teams send 6 or more pass rushers, but that hasn't always been the case for his career. This all comes down to the Dolphins ability to generate pressure, because with Xavien Howard nursing a groin injury and Byron Jones out, Jefferson and Adam Thielen should have an advantage against the Dolphins secondary. Miami has at least been far better against the run (7th in DVOA), which lines up well with their above average defensive line.
When we first put together our power rankings and made our spread picks, it appeared Teddy Bridgewater would be the starting quarterback. Bridgewater is in the concussion protocol after an injury suffered last week, but it was reported early that he wasn't experiencing any symptoms, leading us to believe he would pass said protocols. That could still happen, but it appears the Dolphins are going to exercise caution after the Tua Tagovailoa debacle and start rookie 7th rounder Skylar Thompson. Even as a 5th year starter, Thompson didn't light things up at Kansas State, and he gained 5.0 yards per attempt and completed 57.6% of his passes in relief duty last week. Simply put, Thompson is a replacement-level quarterback at best. There was also some concern over Tyreek Hill's foot injury last week, but his full participation in Wednesday's practice suggest he's good to go. Jaylen Waddle is also dealing with a groin injury, but he also practiced in full. Another big injury question comes down to LT Terron Armstead, who is nursing a toe injury and was forced to come out of last week's game after just 8 snaps. The Dolphins offensive line turns into a pass blocking disaster without him, and the Vikings have a serviceable pass rush (Danielle Hunter, Dalvin Tomlinson, Preston Smith). The Dolphins receivers should win against the Vikings secondary, as everyone outside of Cameron Dantzler has struggled this season. The Vikings defense has struggled this season, both against the pass (26th in DVOA) and the run (23rd). Miami will likely need to run the ball often, but they're gaining just 3.9 yards per attempt and rank 15th in rush offense DVOA.
Cincinnati @ New Orleans (+2.0)
Power rankings: Cincinnati 9, New Orleans 13
Spread thoughts: This line is sticking at 2.
Keys to the game: The Bengals offense has struggled this season, ranking 25th in DVOA. Joe Burrow simply hasn't come close to his play that we've seen in either his rookie or sophomore years -- he ranks 23rd in PFF grades, 21st in DYAR, and 19th in ESPN's QBR. Meanwhile, the offensive line that the Bengals overhauled this offseason has struggled. They're also dealing with injuries, including LT Jonah Williams (knee) and WR Tee Higgins (ankle). The safe bet is on them eventually turning it around, but this offense is in trouble. The Saints don't blitz much, but their front 7 is superior to the Bengals line, which should give them an advantage in the trenches, both in the pass game and run game. Cincy's best hope is J'Marr Chase against the Saints struggling corners. Even their lockdown corner Marshon Lattimore is having a tough season, evident by his 55.7 PFF coverage grade, and is also dealing with an abdomen injury.
The biggest question for the Saints is who is going to play quarterback. My best guess is Jameis Winston will return, as he's logged back to back limited sessions. Either way, Andy Dalton isn't a major drop off from Winston, and this is why Vegas isn't worried about posting spreads. If/when Winston is named the start, I don't expect the line to change. What's more concerning is the injuries to the Saints receiving core, as Chris Olave (concussion), Mike Thomas (foot), and Jarvis Landry (ankle) all dealing with injuries. Olave looks like he'll clear protocol in time, but Thomas and Landry seem unlikely to play. This could turn into a tough matchup against a solid Bengals secondary. In the trenches, the Saints have a solid offensive line, but DE Trey Hendrickson has been a pass rushing machine -- racking up 19 pressures in his last 3 games. Hendrickson will mostly line up against Saints LT James Hurts, who is the weaker of the two tackles. The Bengals defense has been solid against the pass (7th in DVOA) and the run (11th) this season.