NFL Week 6 Picks: Against the Spread
With parity running rampant in the NFL this season (just look at the AFC South), Week 6 can help weed out the playoff contenders and pretenders.
No division leader has more than a one-game lead in the standings, and the NFC East and AFC South have at least three teams tied for first place.
For the first time since 1970, there were no undefeated teams past Week 5 (the Colts knocked off the 3-0 Chiefs at home last week), further muddling an already-confusing playoff picture.
Despite only three intra-divisional games slated for this week, including a Tennessee-Jacksonville Monday night showdown, there are plenty of intriguing matchups on tap for the week. New England-Baltimore, Colts-Skins, and Jets-Broncos all have game of the week potential, as each team is fighting for the top spot in their respective divisions and looking for a leg up down the stretch.
Hard to miss a potential Michael Vick-Atlanta battle, although the former Falcon remains questionable for the game, with both teams unable to afford a loss against an NFC rival, and potential Wild Card suitor.
Exciting games are abound, and we will make them more exciting by picking winners according to the spread in Week 6.
San Diego (-8.5) At St. Louis
The Chargers will look to bounce back against a depleted Rams team.
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After a dreadful 34-27 loss to Oakland last week, the Chargers will look to make quick work of St. Louis and finally garner an easy win.
Although they were trounced by the Lions in Week 5, the Rams have showed signs of improvement this year, led by rookie Sam Bradford.
The Chargers are the superior team in this matchup,as they trot out a better team on both sides of the ball. Even though Bradford has looked solid, the loss of go-to receiver Mark Clayton, the third Rams WR to hit injured reserve this season is a huge blow to an underrated offense.
This game will come down to turnovers and special teams, two facets of the game that San Diego does not excel in.
With a league-leading three touchdowns allowed on special teams, the Chargers have one of the league's worst coverage units, a product of depleted depth because of a plethora of injuries.
Th Chargers lead the NFL in another dubious statistics: fumbles lost. With nine lost fumbles (12 total) on the year, San Diego's fumbles have been drive-killers and a main reason why they sit at 2-3. The Rams are No.1 in the league in forcing fumbles with twelve on the season (recovering six) as they look to harass the Chargers into a few mistakes Sunday.
Prediction: The Rams lose by a TD, despite a solid showing from Bradford. Rams
Houston (-4.5) Vs. Kansas City
With both teams coming off of double digit losses, both teams will be seeing red come Sunday.
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Suffering its first defeat of the season last week, the Kansas City Chiefs will be looking to bounce back against an explosive Texans team.
Just as the Giants showed last Sunday, Houston's success flows through their running game, and if stopped the Texans offense will sputter.
Sitting 0-8 against the spread versus team's that allow 90 rushing yards or less under HC Gary Kubiak, the Chiefs will look to slow own Arian Foster with their sixth-ranked run defense. Combined with an underrated pass defense, which kept Peyton Manning in check last week, the Chiefs have the defensive capability to stop Houston on offense.
The X-factor in this game will be Matt Cassel, as he plays against the league's worst pass defense in Houston. Reliant on winning the field position game, the Chiefs will have a hard time moving the ball on the ground against a Houston team that allows only 76.2 yards/game in that capacity. This is where Cassel, ineffective so far this season, comes into play.
After allowing Hakeem Nicks to dominate the game lat week, KC will look to involve under-achieving wideout Dwayne Bowe in the offensive gameplan. If he can put together his immense talent, at least for one game, then he can give Cassel a viable option down the field.
Prediction: Helped by special teams success, Kansas City covers the spread this week.
New England (-3) Vs. Baltimore
In a battle of two AFC juggernauts, the Pats will need to find offense from a collection of new faces.
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With the Randy Moss situation in their rearview mirror, New England is hell-bent to show the NFL that it can still be a Super Bowl contender despite losing a Hall of Fame wide receiver.
The Ravens, who are 8-2-1 in their last 11 games as 3-point dogs, will look to shut down the Pats quick-hit passing offense and force New England to run the ball, where they rank 21st in the league.
For the Patriots to stop an almost-there Baltimore offense, they must control Ray Rice between the tackles and in the passing game. In his first truly impressive game so far this season, Rice ran for 133 yards and two touchdowns, as the Ravens reached 30 points for the first time in '10.
Prediction: A difficult game to judge because of the intangibles that Brady brings to the table, the Ravens win the game outright in a hard-fought contest.
New Orleans (-4.5) At Tampa Bay
The Saints look to rebound from an embarrassing loss to an inferior Arizona Cardinals team in Week 5.
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The Saints are caught in a whirlwind of expectation, injury, and ineffectiveness. Don't look for them to recover against a young Bucs team in Week 6.
Devoid of any backfield threat, the Saints have become a one-dimensional offense at this point. Facing the 5th-best passing defense in the league surely won't help the Saints and Drew Brees when they try to win the game through the air on Sunday.
Dealing with a multitude of injuries on defense, especially at safety where Roman Harper and Pierson Prioleau have missed time (not to mention Darren Sharper's absence all season), the Saints will look to stop Josh Freeman, who has done his best Big Ben impression in the wake of the Steeler QB's suspension, and a middling Tampa offense.
Turnovers will be a crucial statistic in this game with Tampa at a solid +5 differential, compared to a Saints team that is in the red in that category at -1.
Prediction: While the Saints will probably come out victorious, their recent struggles and playing away keep this game close all the way through. Bucs.
Philadelphia (-3) Vs. Atlanta
A game-time decision, Vick will hope to play against his former team, the Atlanta Falcons.
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The biggest question that Andy Reid's Eagles face heading into Sunday's game against Atlanta is the whether or not Michael Vick will be able to play.
More of a vertical offense with Vick under center, Philadelphia needs this win to keep pace with the Giants and Redskins atop the NFC East.
For the Falcons, the formula is simple: run the ball.
Led by the 2nd-best rushing offense in the league, the Falcons have exploited teams on the ground with a combination of Michael Turner and Jason Snelling.
Prediction: Matt Ryan, Falcons play against Vick-less Eagles and win the game outright. Falcons.
NY Giants (-10) Vs. Detroit
Hakeem Nicks and the NY Giants look to dominate the Detroit Lions on Sunday afternoon.
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After a momentous drubbing of the Houston last week, the New York Giants need to be wary of a letdown against the Detroit Lions.
Even without opening day starter Matthew Stafford, the Lions offense ranks sixth in the NFL in scoring. Led by former 49ers starter Shaun Hill, the passing attack has generated success behind the likes of Calvin Johnson and Jahvid Best.
The Giants finally showed that they could beat an elite team, as they pressured Matt Schaub all day and rendered Arian Foster useless in the running game. On offense, Hakeem Nicks and Eli Manning showed outstanding chemistry, especially in the red zone where they connected for two scores (with Nicks dropping a third).
Prediction: The Giants are due to be brought back down to Earth, but not Sunday against the Lions. Giants
Chicago (-7) Vs. Seattle
The Bears look to take control of the NFC North with a win against the Seahawks.
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Despite starting at -2, the line has jumped to -7 amid reports that Jay Cutler will return.
Cutler's comeback spares Bears fans of watching the immortal Todd Collins, who registered one of the worst statistical games (4 INTs, 6.2 QB rating) in quarterback history. There could be no better week for Cutler to get back in groove facing a Seahawks team that ranks dead last in passing yards allowed.
To help facilitate success, the Seahawks need to win the turnover battle and control the flow of the game. Matt Hasselback will try and develop a rhythm early and often with a receiving core looking to make up for the loss of Deion Branch.
Prediction: While Seattle's linebackers will give Cutler fits in the intermediate passing game, Chicago's pass rush will be the X-Factor. Bears.
Green Bay (-6.5) Vs. Miami
Injuries to Aaron Rodgers and Jermichael Finley have hurt Green Bay's chances this Week against Miami.
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With Aaron Rodgers' status up in the air for this week, the -6.5 line could see a dramatic move by week's end.
The loss of Rodgers could end up crippling a Packers offense that has already seen Pro Bowl tight end Jermichael Finley go down with a hamstring injury that could put him out 8-12 weeks. Facing a Dolphins pass defense ranked 4th in the NFL, Green Bay may need to rely on Brandon Jackson, who has contributed very little to the running game since taking over as the starter.
Coming off of their bye, Miami is looking for vengeance against the Packers, after an embarrassing 30-point loss at home against New England in Week 4. Chad Henne is improving each week, but Miami still needs to get Ronnie Brown and the Dolphin run game back on track before they can truly be successful.
Prediction: No matter if Rodgers starts or not, Miami will keep this game close, and could even take advantage of the Packers late-game woes and squeak out a win.
Pittsburgh (-13.5) Vs. Cleveland
With Big Ben back, the Steelers will look to crush their divisional rivals.
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Big Ben is back, just in time for the meat of the Steelers' schedule.
A home return for Roethlisberger following a bye seems to be the recipe for success, especially since the Browns pass defense is barely hovering around mediocre. Pittsburgh will give the Browns a heavy dose of Rashard Mendenhall, who is averaging 102.8 Yds/G, good for third in the league.
Cleveland will counter with Peyton Hillis, who despite a poor performance last week has potential to succeed in this one. While the Steelers' defense does rank 1st against the run, the Browns' offensive line anchors a better-than-advertised running game.
Prediction: Cleveland can't keep up with the Steelers, as Pittsburgh wins big in Roethlisberger's return.
NY Jets (-3) At Denver
The Jets look to continue their recent run of success against the Denver Broncos Sunday.
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The Jets need to stay focused against the Denver Broncos if they want to head to into their bye week on a four-game winning streak.
New York has been able to control games with a ever-improving combination of LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene on the ground, and Mark Sanchez's turnover-free year. The pass defense, hindered by a not-yet 100% Darrelle Revis, will be under pressure this week against a No. 2 ranked aerial offense led by gunslinger Kyle Orton.
Despite no semblance of a running game, the Broncos generate points through their timing-based passing attack. Orton has clicked with his entire receiving core, especially stud wideout Brandon Lloyd, and the offense's success relies on his back. The Broncos defense has been hit with key injuries in both the secondary (where Brian Dawkins and Andre Goodman are out) and along the defensive line with Robert Ayers now out.
Prediction: The Jets feats on the Broncos' D and lack of running game, turning this into a blowout late.
San Francisco (-6.5) Vs. Oakland
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No one needs a win more than the San Francisco 49ers. Just don't look for these new-look Oakland Raiders to lay down easy.
Jason Campbell is the would-be starter if incumbent Bruce Gradkowski can't go on Sunday. No matter who seem to be starting, the Raiders are improving each week on offense, especially in the passing game. Zach Miller and Louis Murphy have emerged as top receiving threats and their presence has helped complement a Raiders' rushing attack ranked 8th in league.
The 49ers' season hangs in the balance Sunday, as they need a huge performance from an under-achieving defense. San Francisco' offense has to pick up the pace and perform the way it did during their fourth quarter comeback last week. The NIners' offensive line needs to give Alex Smith the ability to put the ball in his playmakers hands, like Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis.
Prediction: Niners and Raiders play a tight game decided by late-game gaffes on both sides. Raiders.
Minnesota (-1.5) Vs. Dallas
A high-powered matchup featuring two underachieving teams, both of which are in need of a victory.
Brett Favre's elbow tendinitis may force him to end his ironman streak of consecutive games, but on a smaller scale his absence will hurt the vertical passing game that the Vikings relied on last week. Dallas' defense hasn't looked like its usually dominant self, but their pass rush has the ability to change the course of games.
The Cowboys need to continue to run the ball effectively to keep their offense from becoming one-dimensional. Defensively, Wade Phillips' group needs to recover from a poor performance against the Titans last week and break out from its early-season funk.
Prediction: Favre's status should keep you alert to the line, but the Cowboys should handle a Vikings team in desperate times.
Indianapolis (-3) At Washington
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The resiliency of the Washington Redskins will test the Colts this Sunday in an impact game for both teams.
What the Redskins lack in talent, they make up for in character, evidenced by their two overtimes victories this year. Donavan McNabb hasn't always made it look pretty, especially in the red zone, but he is a proven winner.
The Colts and Skins' running games should be non-factors, with neither teams' offenses very effective running it.
The pass defense of the Redskins should become a whipping post for Peyton all game. Manning looked out of rhythm last week against a tough Chiefs' secondary, but seems poised to break out this week.
Prediction: An early dogfight turns ugly as game winds down. Colts.
Tennessee (-3) At Jacksonville
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The Monday night game this week pits the Jags and Titans in a divisional matchup that could have playoff implications.
Coming off of a great offensive showing in Dallas last week, Tennessee will lean heavily on Chris Johnson for production, with a nice side of Vince Young's playmaking ability. The defense will key on Maurice Jones-Drew, forcing David Garrard to beat them through the air.
The Jaguars will look to make it three straight wins this week, as their success in the red zone remains one of the team's biggest strength. Behind MJD, who has yet to really break out this year, the Jags will look to dictate their will in the game.
Prediction: In a tight battle between divisional foes, Tennessee squeaks out a victory behind CJ.
Jesse Paguaga is a regular contributor to Baseball Digest. He writes as an intern on the Bleacher Report website. Jesse writes for Gotham Baseball, along with Gotham Hoops and Gotham Gridiron. He can be reached at Paguaga@usc.edu and can be found on Facebook and on Twitter http://twitter.com/#!/@jpags77