Arizona @ Minnesota (-3.5)
Power rankings: Arizona 24, Minnesota 11
Spread updates: The line is sticking at 3.5.
Keys to the game: The Cardinals offense has been less than impressive this season, ranking 24th in DVOA (including 28th throwing the ball), due in large part to Kyler Murray's post contract season. Murray ranks 23rd in PFF passing grades, averaging just 5.4 yards per attempt and completing 65.6% of his passes, which is 2.2% below expectation. Murray did have his best of the season last week against the Saints, which is far more in line with what we'd come to expect from him over the past two seasons. Which Kyler Murray shows up will be the deciding factor in if Arizona can turn things around. As for the rest of the offense, the line is mediocre at best and missing two starters, with C Rodney Hudson (knee) and LG Max Garcia (shoulder) both being ruled out. The result is the line is significantly stronger at the tackle positions than the interior, but I don't expect the Vikings pass rush to be able to take advantage. Despite a few big names (Danielle Hunter and Za'Darius Smith), the Vikings pass rush is below average in pressure rate. DeAndre Hopkins, Rondale Moore, and Zach Ertz will be up against a Vikings secondary that has looked far better in recent weeks -- S Harrison Smith is now healthy, CB Patrick Peterson is playing his best football in several years, and CB Cameron Danzler is one of the more underrated cornerbacks in football. It's an intriguing matchup -- both sides are 24th in DVOA with a bunch of names on paper that would lead you to believe that they're underperforming.
The Vikings offense is 14th in DVOA, but they should have an advantage against a Cardinals defense that ranks 21st. Kirk Cousins is having another fine season, where he ranks 8th in PFF grades. The offensive line is solid -- especially at the tackle spots -- and are up against a Cardinals pass rush that ranks 26th in pressure rate despite blitzing more often than any team not named the Giants. Cousins's stats against the blitz have been more volatile than bitcoin -- he seemingly switches off every other season between performing at God-tier levels and poor performances. Cousins's PFF grades against the blitz since 2019: 84.8, 59.4, 90.9, 50.4 Your guess is as good as mine in terms of who will show up. My best guess is he'll have success given the skill position matchups -- the Cardinals have one of the worst secondaries in football, and Cousins has Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. The run game should be a far more even matchup -- Minnesota has an effective ground game led by Dalvin Cook, and the Cardinals run defense is 6th in DVOA.
New England @ NY Jets (+1.5)
Power rankings: New England 15, NY Jets 16
Spread updates: The line has moved slightly away from the model. The Patriots are now 2.5 point favorites.
Keys to the game: The Patriots offense (23rd in DVOA) is going back to Mac Jones, a wise decision as he's objectively the better quarterback. I won't get too deep into how Bailey Zappe's performances were artificially inflated due to scheme (i.e., high play-action rates, short passes, early-down running) and opponent (the Lions are 31st in defensive DVOA and the Browns are 28th), but it's worth pointing out that his high efficiency wasn't going to continue. It's also true that Mac Jones is recovering from a high ankle sprain and hasn't been good since midway through his rookie year, leaving us with the conclusion that the Patriots don't have a good quarterback on their roster right now (key word: right now. I don't pretend to be able to project how players will develop in coming years). They could also be dealing with pressure from the Jets pass rush that ranks 6th in pressure rate despite a blitz rate that ranks 31st in the league. The Patriots do have an elite offensive line, but they'll be without C David Andrews (concussion). 29th overall selection LG Cole Strange has performed admirably -- particularly in pass protection, but he and backup C James Ferentz will have their work cutout for them against Quinnen Williams, who has turned into one of the better interior pass rushers in football. The Patriots receivers are a collection of good-but-not-great players and are up against a rising Jets secondary that is arguably top 5 in football. 4th overall selection CB Sauce Gardner and DJ Reed are a strong combination at corner while Jordan Whitehead and Lamarcus Joyner is a strong safety tandem. The Jets defense is 10th in DVOA and have several matchup advantages over New England.
The Jets offense is hindered by poor quarterback play and an offensive line that is badly banged up and underperforming. The newest casualty to the line is
Alijah Vera-Tucker, who suffered a torn triceps injury last week that will end his season. AVT was the 14th overall selection in 2021 -- one spot ahead of Mac Jones -- who has moved from LG to RT due to injuries. The Jets have already had 9 different offensive lineman this season, which has turned a line that looked solid on paper heading into the season into one of the worst in football. They'll be going against a Patriots pass rush that is above average in pressure rate, led by Matthew Judon and Deatrich Wise Jr. The Patriots will be without DT Christian Barmore (knee), but they still have a decisive advantage in the trencehs. This could be disastrous against Wilson who has demonstrated that he cannot handle pressure in the NFL -- Wilson has a 23.0 PFF grade, completing 16.1% of his passes and gaining 1.7 yards per attempt (these are real numbers, I triple checked) on 42 pressured dropbacks. Last year, Wilson had a 31.0 PFF grade under pressure on 171 dropbacks. It's clear that he isn't recognizing pressure pre-snap and isn't reacting to it well. It'll continue to be a storyline as Wilson's career progresses. The Jets will also be without WR Corey Davis (knee) and are up against a Patriots secondary that has played very well this season and rank 5th in pass defense DVOA. New England has been far worse against the run (28th in DVOA), although the Jets will be without RB Breece Hall (ACL). The Jets have done well in the run game (11th in DVOA), but Hall and AVT injuries will certainly set that back.
Tennessee (-2.5) @ Houston
Power rankings: Tennessee 20, Houston 32
Spread update: This line is sticking at 2.5.
Keys to the game: QB Ryan Tannehill (ankle/illness) is officially questionable after suffering an ankle injury last week. When we made the power rankings last Tuesday, it seemed like that he would play based on the fact that he was able to return to the game (even if he did a lot of hand offs after returning). Things looked great on Thursday when Tannehill returned to practice, but then he did not practice Friday and was subsequently slapped with the questionable tag. Even still, I expect Tannehill to suit up and play -- the docs over at sicscore.com give Tannehill an injury score of 86 (out of 100) and have similar expectations. If he can't go, Malik Willis -- the 86th overall selection in the 2022 draft out of Liberty -- will get the nod. Willis can be best described as having elite physical tools -- both arm strength and as a rushing threat -- but he's too raw as a passer to be an early contributor. It's also not an ideal scenario for a rookie given the rest of the offense -- the line is performing poorly and they do not have a legit receiving threat outside of Robert Woods. Derrick Henry is naturally one of the best running backs in football, but he's hindered by an offensive line that is dead last in average yards per carry before contact (0.6). The Texans defense does have a decent set of pass rushers (Jerry Hughes, Mario Addison, and Maliek Collins), but still ranks below average in pressure rate. Further, Collins is questionable with a chest injury after not practicing all week. In the secondary, 3rd overall selection Derek Stingley is struggling badly, but veterans Desmond King and Steven Nelson are holding up well. Even still, there's enough weaknesses on this defense that can be taken advantage of. The Texans are 30th in defensive DVOA, ranking 24th against the pass and dead last against the run. Even with the performance of the offensive line, Henry should have his way here.
Davis Mills is having a fine season, ranking 14th in PFF grades while completing 63.8% of his passes and gaining 6.5 yards per attempt. The problem is the offense isn't nearly deep enough to complete -- the offensive line has holes (the tackles are good, the interior is really bad) and there's only one legit receiving threat (Brandin Cooks). WR Nico Collins looks like he could be a decent enough player, but he missed practice all week and is questionable (groin). Rookie RB Dameon Pierce looks excellent thus far, but as usual, running backs alone cannot overcome a bad environment. In total, the Texans are 27th in offensive DVOA (27 pass, 25 run). The Titans defense is above average in pressure rate, but the true concern for the Texans will be DT Jeffery Simmons vs the interior of the Texans line. Simmons's 24 pressures at 5th among all interior pass rushers this season -- this truly could be an example of one man simply taking over. It isn't just Simmons and the pass rush either -- Tennessee is 3rd in rush defense DVOA. The secondary may be mediocre (the young guys are struggling), but there's enough there to cover Cooks and nobody else.