Kansas City and Buffalo get a long-awaited rematch of last season’s best N.F.L. game before the Eagles and Cowboys fight for the top of the N.F.C. East.
Coaches stole some of the spotlight from players in Week 5 with aggressive fourth-down play calls that were second-guessed after those gambles failed to pay off.
The debate in the N.F.L. over “analytics” — the mathematical analysis of data to determine probabilities for in-game decisions — has grown steadily over the past five seasons. Data-driven approaches to play calling have upended a lot of football orthodoxy, particularly with regard to decisions on fourth down. When decisions to forgo a punt or extra point, or try for a touchdown over a field goal don’t work out, as it happened for Brandon Staley, Nathaniel Hackett and Josh McDaniels, the analytics skeptics grow louder.
Football, it is often said, is a game of inches. There is an implication in that axiom that football is a game ultimately determined by numbers and math. So, too, is the point spread. The models that handicappers utilize to set the lines each week are heavily data driven. The vast majority of the public’s approach to beating those lines, however, is not.
There is a reason one of the most efficient fourth-down teams this season is the undefeated Philadelphia Eagles. And there is a reason the house always wins. Head coaches or sports bettors ignore the math at their own peril.
Last week’s record: 9-7 | Overall: 41-38-1
All times Eastern.
Here’s what you need to know:
Thursday Night’s Game
Washington Commanders (1-4) at Chicago Bears (2-3), 8:15 p.m., Amazon Prime
Line: Bears -0.5 | Total: 38
A matchup of two of the lowest-scoring teams in the N.F.L. yields the lowest-of-the-week total of 38. The Commanders are coming off a four-game losing streak that prompted Coach Ron Rivera on Monday to throw Carson Wentz under the bus for the team’s woes. (He apologized for criticizing his quarterback, who ranks in the top five in passing yards and third in sacks taken.)
The Bears are coming off a loss in Week 5, but it was one that saw Justin Fields have maybe his best performance so far this season. Chicago ranks last in the league in passing yards (583) and attempts (88), but on Sunday, Fields threw for 208 yards and his first passing touchdown since Week 1. Pick: Bears -0.5
Sunday’s Best Games
Buffalo Bills (4-1) at Kansas City (4-1), 4:25 p.m., CBS
Line: Kansas City +3 | Total: 53.5
The week’s marquee matchup is a rematch of last year’s A.F.C. divisional playoff thriller, in which Kansas City managed to force overtime with a final drive with only 13 seconds on the clock and win in overtime. The Bills are favored to win this week, making this Patrick Mahomes’s first career game as a home underdog.
Last week, Buffalo beat up on the Steelers in a lopsided game in which Josh Allen passed for 424 yards, while Kansas City came back from a three score deficit to trump Las Vegas — two very different performances but both confidence builders. This game will have major consequences for home-field advantage in the playoffs and could very well be a preview of the A.F.C. championship game. Pick: Kansas City +3
Dallas Cowboys (4-1) at Philadelphia Eagles (5-0), 8:20 p.m., NBC
Line: Eagles -6 | Total: 42
Cooper Rush didn’t need to do much — just 102 passing yards — to keep the Cowboys unbeaten since Week 1 and win against the Rams last week. Dallas’s formula for going 4-0 without Dak Prescott has relied on running the ball ably and leaning on their monstrous pass rush. As long as they stick to their strengths and protect the ball, there are fewer opportunities for Rush to make mistakes.
The Eagles, however, are not an easy team to play safe against. Last week, Jalen Hurts passed for 239 yards and picked up two rushing touchdowns. Right now, the N.F.C. East is the best division in the N.F.L., and this could be another preview of a big playoff matchup. There has been speculation that Prescott could play on Sunday, but the market as of Wednesday assumed he won’t. If he does, it would most likely move the line a point or two in Dallas’s favor. Pick: Dallas +6
Baltimore Ravens (3-2) at Giants (4-1), 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Giants +5.5 | Total: 45
The Giants were without their top four receivers in a win over the Packers in London and still managed to score on five consecutive possessions, including 17 unanswered points in the second half. The second-best rushing team in the N.F.L. saw quarterback Daniel Jones get in on the act, running for 37 yards on 10 carries. With some of those injured receivers potentially returning this week against the Ravens, Jones could finally throw for a big number against a Baltimore team that is perpetually dealing with injuries to its secondary.
The Ravens enter as favorites after beating the Bengals with a late field goal and riding Lamar Jackson’s M.V.P. and contract campaigns. Pick: Giants +5.5
Sunday’s Other Games
San Francisco 49ers (3-2) at Atlanta Falcons (2-3), 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Falcons +5 | Total: 44.5
This is the second east coast road game in a row for the 49ers, and they arrive in Atlanta as 5-point road favorites. The San Francisco defense has been the team’s strong suit, but a slew of defensive players are on the injured list this week. Most important among them are cornerback Emmanuel Moseley, who tore his anterior cruciate ligament last week, and Nick Bosa, who is questionable with a groin injury.
The Falcons lost to the Buccaneers last week on a questionable roughing the passer call against Grady Jarrett late in the fourth quarter but covered the spread as they have managed to do every week this season. Even without two key defenders, the 49ers should break that streak. Pick: 49ers -5
New England Patriots (2-3) at Cleveland Browns (2-3), 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Browns -3 | Total: 42.5
After losing both the starting quarterback (Mac Jones, out with an ankle injury) and his backup (Brian Hoyer, out with a concussion), last week the Patriots saw top running back Damien Harris leave Week 5’s shutout of the Lions. He’s questionable for Sunday, but New England called up Kevin Harris from the practice squad to pair with Rhamondre Stevenson in the backfield, which has taken pressure off the rookie Bailey Zappe to run the offense.
Fortunately for New England, the Cleveland defense has struggled all year to stop the run. Last week, the Browns allowed the Chargers, who came into the game ranked last in the league in rushing, to hand the ball off to Austin Ekeler for a career high 173 yards. Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney returned to the Browns’ lineup last week, but they may have needed a game to knock the rust off. Pick: Patriots +3
Jets (3-2) at Green Bay Packers (3-2), 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Packers -7 | Total: 45.5
The Jets are perhaps the N.F.L.’s biggest surprise this season, and the team’s confidence showed, putting up 40 points — their highest scoring effort since 2018 — last week against a hobbled Miami team. Despite the Packers losing to the Giants in the season’s biggest upset so far, the look-ahead line had Green Bay as big favorites at 9.5. But money has been coming in on the Jets, and the line has moved to as low as 7 in some spots. Pick: Packers -7
Jacksonville Jaguars (2-3) at Indianapolis Colts (2-2-1), 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Colts -2.5 | Total: 42
When these two teams met in Week 2, Jacksonville’s defense handed Indianapolis a shutout. This week, they meet on the Colt’s turf, and the tables have turned. The Colts are 2.5-point favorites, coming off an ugly win in Denver, while Jacksonville handed the Texans their first win of the season. Despite the loss, the Jaguars put up 422 yards of offense, and their defense held the Texans to only 248. But the Jags never converted in the red zone in three trips, and a penalty at the end of the game by linebacker Travon Walker cost them a game they should have won. The Colts continue to have offensive line issues. Matt Ryan has been sacked 21 times, a tie for the most in the league. Pick: Jaguars +2.5
Minnesota Vikings (4-1) at Miami Dolphins (3-2), 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Dolphins +4.5 | Total: 45.5
The injuries keep piling up for the Dolphins, who have now lost two quarterbacks to concussions. Tyreek Hill has an injured foot, one starting cornerback is out and the other is questionable. The line for the game sat at 3 points as of Wednesday, but that is likely to move once the injury list is finalized.
The Vikings are sitting on a 4-1 record, but a few of those wins involved them struggling mightily against some pretty bad teams. Minnesota has underperformed its market expectation and is 1-4 against the spread. Pick: Dolphins +4.5
Cincinnati Bengals (2-3) at New Orleans Saints (2-3), 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Saints +1.5 | Total: 43.5
Saints tight end Taysom Hill ran for three touchdowns and threw for a fourth in a win over the Seahawks last week, and he joined Alvin Kamara with more than 100 rushing yards. But Kamara also led the team with 91 receiving yards on 6 catches, a big uptick from his slow start with Jameis Winston under center this season.
The Bengals’ defense is a far cry from the Seahawks’, however: No opponent has scored more than 23 points, and all three of Cincinnati’s losses have been by a field goal or less. Pick: Bengals -1.5
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-2) at Pittsburgh Steelers (1-4), 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Steelers +8.5 | Total: 44
After Pittsburgh was trounced by the Bills on Sunday, one-way action on Tampa Bay moved the line on this game from 6.5 to as many as 9 points as of Wednesday. Somewhere along the way, there has been buyback on the Steelers, as the line has fluctuated and continues to be priced differently across the market.
Last week, as 14-point underdogs the Steelers failed to cover the largest point spread of the season (and the largest in their team’s history). This week, Pittsburgh doesn’t get nearly that many points, but it may not need them. They’re up against the Buccaneers, who have only passed for seven touchdowns all season. Pick: Steelers +8.5
Carolina Panthers (1-4) at Los Angeles Rams (2-3), 4:05 p.m., Fox
Line: Rams -10.5 | Total: 40.5
Coach Matt Rhule was fired on Monday after the Panthers lost the tenth of their last 11 games. Steve Wilks stepped in as interim coach and immediately fired special teams coach Ed Foley and defensive coordinator Phil Snow, saying he wanted to get a “different approach moving forward.” Wilks will need one. Baker Mayfield is out for the near future with a high ankle sprain leaving P.J. Walker to make his third ever N.F.L. start.
Carolina’s one glimmer of hope lies with Los Angeles’s offensive line, which has been a revolving door all season. Their issues up front have been a major contributor to Matthew Stafford’s back-and-forth duel with Matt Ryan for the dubious honor of the most sacks and turnovers in the league. The Panthers are getting 10.5 points in the biggest spread of the week, and so far the bettors have been eager to take them. Pick: Panthers +10.5
Arizona Cardinals (2-3) at Seattle Seahawks (2-3), 4:05 p.m., Fox
Line: Seahawks +3 | Total: 51
The Seahawks have one of the league’s worst defenses, giving up 30.8 points per game. The Cardinals are better than most of the teams that have rolled over Seattle, but they have yet to win a home game. Arizona enters the game as road favorites against one of the biggest home-field advantages in the N.F.L., a boost that could mean a lot. Pick: Seahawks +3
Monday Night’s Game
Denver Broncos (2-3) at Los Angeles Chargers (3-2), 8:15 p.m., ESPN
Line: Chargers -5.5 | Total: 45.5
Russell Wilson has a partially torn muscle affecting his throwing shoulder but plans to play after getting a plasma injection to relieve pain. But Denver lost at home last week to the Colts in one of the ugliest games of the season, a bad defeat that gives no indication the Broncos can challenge the Chargers, a top-10 scoring team.
But Wilson and company don’t need to win; they merely need to cover. The run-heavy Browns were able to do so last week against the Chargers, who give up more rushing yards per carry (5.8) than any other team in the league. Pick: Broncos +5.5
How Betting Lines Work
A quick primer for those who are not familiar with betting lines: Favorites are listed next to a negative number that represents how many points they must win by to cover the spread. Packers -8.5, for example, means that Green Bay must beat the Giants by at least 9 points for its backers to win their bet. Gamblers can also bet on the total score, which is whether the teams’ combined score in the game is over or under a preselected number of points.
Betting-market data is taken from Action Network’s Public Betting data, and lines are taken from Unabated’s real-time-odds tracker.