Pittsburgh (+7.0) @ Miami
Power rankings: Pittsburgh 24, Miami 15
Spread thoughts: This line has moved away from the model. The Steelers are now 7.5 point dogs. Take the bet.
Keys to the game: As one would expect when starting either a rookie quarterback or Mitch Tribusky, Steelers offense has been bad this season, ranking 24th in offensive DVOA. Kenny Pickett suffered a concussion last week, but has since cleared protocol and is in line to start. The results thus far haven't bad been for Pickett, who is completing 66.3% of his passes (2.3% above expectation) and gaining 6.2 yards per attempt, good for a 62.7 PFF grade. The concern for Steelers bettors is the battle in the trenches -- although the Steelers offensive line has improved from a season ago, they are still mediocre at best. The Dolphins have a pair of solid pass rushers (mainly Jaelan Phillips and Melvin Ingram), but generate pressure via a blitz-heavy scheme. Pickett was notorious for holding onto the ball for extended periods of time in college and is averaging 2.8 seconds to throw as a pro, which is a bit faster than his college days, but still on the slow end. The matchup advantage for the Steelers comes from their receiving core vs the Dolphins banged up secondary, which is still missing CB Byron Jones and just sent CB Nik Needham to IR. CB Xavien Howard returned last week from a groin injury, but clearly isn't playing the level of football we've come to expect. A blitz heavy scheme relies on the secondary holding up in coverage, and Miami simply hasn't been able to do that, which has led to a pass defense DVOA that ranks 31st in the league. The Dolphins defense has been much better against the run, where they rank 7th in DVOA. Given that the Steelers are 31st in rush offense DVOA, it's hard to imagine Pittsburgh having a ton of success on the ground.
Tua Tagovailoa is set to return as the Dolphins QB since sustaining a scary head injury in week 4 against the Bengals. Prior to the injury, Tua was having his best season as a 3rd year pro, ranking 6th in PFF grades. Given the combination of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, it isn't a surprise to see the offense firing when healthy, but they still have their issues. The offensive line, despite adding LT Terron Armstead and C Connor Williams in the offseason, has reverted back to disastrous levels. Armstead is battling a toe injury and missed last week. He should be healthy enough to return this week, where I'm sure he'll return to his normal elite level of play. The rest of the offensive line is another story, in particular LG Liam Eichenberg and RT Greg Little. The Steelers pass rush isn't anywhere near as dangerous without TJ Watt, but Cameron Heyward is still one of the best interior pass rushers in football. Heyward will see plenty of Eichenberg, which should result in Eichenberg seeing plenty of the sky as Heyward runs over him. 3rd year defensive end Alex Highsmith has also emerged as a serviceable pass rusher, but he plays almost exclusively on the right where he'll likely be neutralized by Armstead. If Pittsburgh elects to move him to the other side against Little, I'd expect him to routinely win that matchup. The big problem is going to be Hill and Waddle vs the Steelers secondary. CB Cam Sutton (hamstring), CB Ahkello Witherspoon (hamstring), CB Levi Wallace (concussion), and S Minkah Fitzpatrick (knee) have all battled injuries. It does appear that all will play with the exception of Sutton, but it's fair to wonder how close to 100% they'll be against one of the most dangerous receiving combinations in football.
Chicago @ New England (-8.0)
Power rankings: Chicago 31, New England 12
Spread thoughts: This line is sticking at 8.
Keys to the game: There really isn't any sugar coating how bad the Bears offense has been this season. Justin Fields is 34th of 37 qualifiers in PFF grades. He's fumbled 7 times total this season, including at least 1 in every game except week 1. He's under pressure on an absurd 50.3% of dropbacks, which we can blame both the offensive line and Fields's average time to throw of 3.42 seconds, which is easily the slowest in the league. The receivers have also been inconsistent (including Darnell Mooney, who looked like a potential star just a season ago). The best part of this offense is the run game, which ranks 22nd in DVOA. Meanwhile, the Patriots defense ranks 7th in DVOA. Matthew Judon and Deatrich Wise Jr lead an above-average pass rush. The secondary has performed much better than expected, thanks to the emergence of 4th round rookie of Jack Jones, and could get a boost if CB Jon Jones can return from an ankle injury. Against the pass, the Patriots are 3rd in EPA/play and 6th in DVOA. They've been far worse against the run (26th in DVOA), which gives Chicago one out if they want to pull off the upset -- in particular, Fields needs to use his speed as a rushing threat.
We aren't quite sure who is going to start at quarterback for New England, but signs seem to point to Mac Jones returning from a high ankle sprain. Bailey Zappe has done a fine job as a 4th round rookie, but he did against the Browns (31st in defensive DVOA) and Lions (32nd) while the Patriots protected him with lots of running, play-action, and short passes. Regardless of who starts, they'll have plenty of time to throw behind an elite offensive line up against the worst pass rush in football (the Bears are a distant last by pressure rate). The Bears also have a poor secondary -- in particular rookie slot corner Kyler Gordon, who is allowing a 122.1 passer rating into his coverage. Gordon will be primarily on Jakobi Meyers, who leads the Patriots in receptions and yards despite missing two games. The Patriots receiving core is far from elite, but there's enough decent options where they should have no issue winning in this matchup. The Patriots also have an advantage on the ground against a Bears run defense that ranks 27th in DVOA.