NFL Week 6: Key matchups and storylines for all 14 games | NFL News, Rankings and Statistics
Week 5 taught us that all roads run through Buffalo in the AFC, the Los Angeles Chargers aren’t going anywhere and that the Russell Wilson-less Seahawks are in trouble in the NFC West. Another week brings new lessons to be learned, even if there isn’t much to glean for those in England who have been gifted with a matchup between the 1-4 Miami Dolphins and the 0-5 Jacksonville Jaguars.
These are the key matchups and storylines to monitor for NFL Week 6.
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TB @ PHI | MIA @ JAX | CIN @ DET | KC @ WFT | HOU @ IND | GB @ CHI | LAC @ BAL | LAR @ NYG | MIN @ CAR | ARZ @ CLE | LV @ DEN | DAL @ NE |
SEA @ PIT | BUF @ TEN
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Philadelphia Eagles (+7)
Matchup to watch: WR Mike Evans vs. CB Darius Slay
Making the decision to leave Evans in one-on-one situations has historically been a bad one. He has recorded a league-high 39 receiving touchdowns against single coverage dating back to 2015, and he ranks behind only DeAndre Hopkins in receptions (262) and receiving yards (4,307) on single coverage targets.
PFF’s WR/CB matchup chart projects Evans to see more of Slay than any other Eagles cornerback, and that matchup should be a battle. Slay has yet to allow a reception in single coverage this season on five targets while producing an interception and forcing an incompletion.
Biggest storyline: Teams have stopped trying to run on Tampa Bay
The Buccaneers’ run defense, anchored by Vita Vea in the middle, has been the best in the NFL this season. They’re the only team in the league allowing fewer than three yards per run play (2.8), and teams have simply stopped trying to run the ball on Tampa Bay as a result. The Buccaneers are facing runs on just 23% of their defensive snaps, which is over three percentage points lower than the next closest defense.
That elite unit is a big reason why Miles Sanders‘ rushing prop is set at just 33.5 yards on Thursday night, with PFF showing slight value on the over.
The Over/Under for this game is currently 52.5. PFF Greenline uses exclusive game and player data to make projections on NFL game spreads, moneyline, and over/under.
Miami Dolphins @ Jacksonville Jaguars (+3)
Matchup to watch: QB Trevor Lawrence vs. Dolphins’ blitz
Few defenses have blitzed at a higher rate this season than Brian Flores’ unit in Miami. Their 37% blitz rate through five weeks ranks third in the league, behind only Tampa Bay and Carolina.
That represents an uptick from what Lawrence, who has been blitzed on 22% of his dropbacks entering this week, has seen thus far as a rookie. The first overall pick hasn’t fared all that well against extra rushers, either. He has averaged just 4.8 yards per attempt with a 56.1 passer rating on those dropbacks.
Miami’s blitz being able to get to Lawrence is one reason to back the Dolphins as three points favorite. PFF Greenline shows some value on Miami’s side (-3).
Biggest storyline: How does Tua Tagovailoa look in his return from injury?
The Dolphins’ offense has floundered this season without Tagovailoa. Through five weeks, Miami is averaging just 4.4 yards per play on offense (31st in the league, ahead of only the Bears).
There are no guarantees that Tua’s return drastically improves matters on that side of the ball, but it is important that Miami sees what it has in the second-year quarterback over an extended stretch as the starter. Tagovailoa’s injury halted a massive year for his future prospects with the Dolphins, coming off an underwhelming rookie campaign. The hope for Miami is that the level of comfort he showed in the offense this preseason (75.9 PFF grade) returns.
The Over/Under for this game is currently 47. PFF Greenline uses exclusive game and player data to make projections on NFL game spreads, moneyline, and over/under.
Cincinnati Bengals @ Detroit Lions (+3.5)
Matchup to watch: WR Ja’Marr Chase vs. LT Penei Sewell
Story after story this offseason focused on Cincinnati’s decision at fifth overall in the 2021 NFL Draft between Chase and Sewell. The Bengals opted to reunite Joe Burrow with his top target at LSU, and it would be difficult to find too many fans upset with that decision through five weeks.
Chase already has six catches and four receiving touchdowns on passes 20-plus yards downfield. Those four touchdowns on throws 20 or more yards downfield are already twice the number Cincinnati recorded in the entire 2020 season. Sewell, meanwhile, has earned PFF pass-blocking grades below 40.0 in each of the past three games.
Biggest storyline: the Bengals’ offense needs a change
The Bengals have talent on offense. Burrow is a top-10 graded quarterback, and Cincinnati has one of the better wide receiver trios in the NFL when all three of Chase, Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins are healthy. But head coach Zac Taylor isn’t doing those players any favors schematically with his offensive scheme, as PFF’s Seth Galina outlined this week.
They’re trying to live in a spread world that puts everything on Burrow, ranking among the top-five teams in the league in 11 personnel and empty formation rate this year. And they’re predictable. As Galina wrote, Cincinnati runs the ball 80% of the time when under center, with 60% of those runs being outside zone.
The good news is that all of that probably won’t matter in this matchup against Detroit, but it will matter down the road if it isn’t fixed.
The Over/Under for this game is currently 47.5. PFF Greenline uses exclusive game and player data to make projections on NFL game spreads, moneyline, and over/under.
Kansas City Chiefs @ Washington Football Team (+7)
Matchup to watch: RT Lucas Niang vs. ED Chase Young
Kansas City set out this offseason to make its offensive line a strength of the team. The Chiefs drafted two starters (Creed Humphrey and Trey Smith), traded for one (Orlando Brown Jr.) and made another the highest-paid left guard in the league in free agency (Joe Thuney). The final starter (Niang) is also new to the starting lineup, and he represents half of the Chiefs’ tackle tandem that has struggled at times in pass protection this year.
Niang has allowed 20 pressures through five games, tied for second-most by any right tackle. Young hasn’t quite made the second-year leap that many expected, but he should have the upper hand in this particular matchup.
Biggest storyline: Defense has been the biggest issue in Washington despite the Ryan Fitzpatrick injury
Everyone expected Washington to lean on its defense coming into the year, with Fitzpatrick hopefully adding a spark to the team’s new-look offense. Even with Fitzpatrick going down early in the season, it’s been the Football Team’s defense that has been the larger concern.
Washington’s defense ranks 29th in the league in expected points added (EPA) allowed per play, beating out only the Giants, Jaguars and Texans through five weeks. PFF’s 30th-ranked coverage unit has been the issue, as Washington’s two big free-agent signings in recent years (William Jackson III and Landon Collins) are the two lowest-graded players in their secondary.
The Over/Under for this game is currently 55.5. PFF Greenline uses exclusive game and player data to make projections on NFL game spreads, moneyline, and over/under.
Houston Texans @ Indianapolis Colts (-9.5)
Matchup to watch: WR Michael Pittman Jr. vs. CB Desmond King II
Pittman is fresh off delivering one of the plays of the night against Baltimore on Monday Night Football, and he has become Carson Wentz‘s top target while T.Y. Hilton is sidelined with an injury. Pittman’s 40 targets lead the team, and his 40 targets without a dropped pass is the third-best mark in the NFL.
Pittman doesn’t venture much into the slot where King typically resides, but Houston has deployed King out wide in each of the past two weeks. The result has been the cornerback allowing 169 yards into his coverage over that span after surrendering just 84 across the season’s first three contests.
Biggest storyline: Can Davis Mills build on strong Week 5 performance?
Mills’ performance against Bill Belichick and the Patriots’ defense was one of the more surprising outcomes of last week. His 85.9 PFF grade was the best mark from a rookie quarterback this season.
Mills went 7-of-10 for 211 yards and three touchdowns on throws 10 or more yards downfield in that game against New England. He was just 8-for-20 with zero touchdowns and four interceptions on those throws entering last week. Will we see more of the same here against PFF’s 17th-ranked defense in Indianapolis?
The Over/Under for this game is currently 43. PFF Greenline uses exclusive game and player data to make projections on NFL game spreads, moneyline, and over/under.
Green Bay Packers @ Chicago Bears (+4.5)
Matchup to watch: WR Davante Adams vs. CB Jaylon Johnson
The brilliance of the Aaron Rodgers-to-Adams connection defies logic. Adams is Green Bay’s only receiving threat who opposing defenses have to fear, and he still gets open at will. Adams’ 61 targets are 42 more than any other player on the Packers’ offense. He has been targeted on a league-high 37% of his routes this season.
With at least 50 receiving yards in every game this season, Adams refuses to let defenses remove him from the equation. But Johnson has looked like one of the cornerbacks better equipped to try to do so in his second season out of Utah. He has allowed just nine catches on 23 passes into his coverage through five weeks.
Biggest storyline: Sean Desai’s defense has exceeded expectations so far this season
The Bears’ defense was primed to take a step back in 2021. Kyle Fuller‘s release forced a relative unknown (Kindle Vildor) into the starting lineup outside in a secondary that looked as if it had holes opposing offenses could attack.
Yet, here were are five weeks into the season, and Chicago’s defense ranks sixth in expected points added (EPA) allowed per play. The Bears’ red-zone defense, in particular, has been excellent. No unit has allowed touchdowns at a lower rate this year when drives get into the red zone than Chicago (35%).
The Over/Under for this game is currently 45. PFF Greenline uses exclusive game and player data to make projections on NFL game spreads, moneyline, and over/under.
Los Angeles Chargers @ Baltimore Ravens (-3)
Matchup to watch: Ravens’ rushing attack vs. Chargers’ run defense
The Ravens fielded the NFL’s best rushing offense by a wide margin in each of Lamar Jackson‘s first two seasons as a full-time starter. Baltimore was the only team in the league to average over five yards per designed run play (5.2) across the 2019 and 2020 seasons. That is over a full yard lower through five weeks this year (4.2 yards per run play), but Los Angeles represents a get-right opportunity.
The Chargers have allowed a half-yard more per run play on average (5.5 yards) than any other defense in the league. Their interior defensive line just hasn’t held up, and that could quickly become an issue against even this weakened Baltimore rushing offense.
Biggest storyline: Lamar Jackson and Justin Herbert both look to continue their push for MVP
Jackson (87.1 PFF grade) and Herbert (90.0 PFF grade) represent two of PFF’s five highest-graded passers entering this Week 6 battle of teams jockeying for position in the AFC playoff picture.
That designation is particularly noteworthy for Jackson, who has shown that he should not be viewed as someone who can only win with his legs. He has been excellent as a passer through the first five weeks of the 2021 season, including when playing from behind. As PFF’s Arjun Menon wrote this week, Jackson has an 84.0 passing grade when trailing in 2021, which had been an area of concern in years past.
The Over/Under for this game is currently 52. PFF Greenline uses exclusive game and player data to make projections on NFL game spreads, moneyline, and over/under.
Los Angeles Rams @ New York Giants (+9.5)
Matchup to watch: DI Aaron Donald vs. Giants’ interior offensive line
Some combination of Billy Price, Will Hernandez, Wes Martin and Matt Skura is not well suited to stop any interior pass rush, let alone arguably the best interior pass-rusher of all time.
Donald is leading all interior defensive linemen in total pressures (28) and is tied for the position lead in pass-rush win rate (23%) this season. He is having another typical, otherworldly performance in 2021. That is not what the Giants’ interior offensive line, which collectively ranks 27th in team pass-blocking grade, wants to see.
Biggest storyline: Kadarius Toney has made it difficult for the Giants to keep him on the bench
The start to Toney’s career in New York was far from ideal. The Giants’ first-round selection didn’t play during the preseason, and he recorded just 14 receiving yards across New York’s first three regular-season games. But the past two weeks have been far more encouraging.
Toney’s 4.5 receiving yards per route run since Week 4 (267 yards on 59 routes) leads all players with at least 40 routes run over that two-week span. He’s forced a league-high eight missed tackles after the catch in his past two outings (most in the NFL), highlighting just how elusive he is in the open field. The Giants need that kind of presence in their offense.
The Over/Under for this game is currently 48.5. PFF Greenline uses exclusive game and player data to make projections on NFL game spreads, moneyline, and over/under.
Minnesota Vikings @ Carolina Panthers (+1)
Matchup to watch: QB Sam Darnold vs. Mike Zimmer’s defense
The past two weeks have re-set expectations for Darnold following his hot start to the season. He ranked as PFF’s 11th-highest-graded quarterback during Carolina’s 3-0 start, but the team’s two losses have been accompanied by a 46.7 PFF grade from Darnold (last among qualifying quarterbacks).
Things don’t get any easier against Minnesota. The Vikings rank third in expected points added (EPA) allowed per pass play through five weeks despite legitimate concerns about their secondary and ability to generate a pass rush coming into the season. Darnold can’t afford to add to the five turnover-worthy plays he’s produced over the past two weeks.
Biggest storyline: Both teams need this game with tough upcoming schedules
The Panthers and the Vikings are in the same cluster of teams competing for wild card spots in the NFC. Per PFF’s simulations, the Panthers have the eighth-best chance of making the postseason in the NFC (31%), while the Vikings follow closely behind at 26%. And both teams face an uphill climb the rest of the way.
|Team||Strength of schedule remaining|
Carolina and Minnesota have two of the three hardest schedules in the league for the remainder of the year, making this a sneaky important game that could have playoff implications come the end of the season.
The Over/Under for this game is currently 46. PFF Greenline uses exclusive game and player data to make projections on NFL game spreads, moneyline, and over/under.
Arizona Cardinals @ Cleveland Browns (-3)
Matchup to watch: RG Wyatt Teller vs. DI J.J. Watt
Watt may not have a sack this year, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been disruptive as a pass-rusher. His 23 pressures are fewer than only Aaron Donald among interior defensive linemen, and he is one of just four players at the position with a pass-rush win rate over 20%, joining Donald, Javon Hargrave and Jonathan Allen.
Teller is adequate in pass protection, but his run blocking has been the big driver in the leap he’s made since the start of last season. No guard has earned a positive run-blocking grade on a higher percentage of their snaps than Teller since 2020.
Biggest storyline: Is Arizona able to stop Cleveland on the ground?
The Browns have the most expected points added (EPA) per run play in the NFL through five weeks of the 2021 season. It’s not exactly a surprise how they got to that point. Their offensive line ranks second in unit run-blocking grade, behind only Dallas, and they have two of the 10 best running backs in the league.
The Cardinals’ run defense showed serious issues early in the season. While the unit has improved slightly of late, Arizona still ranks 29th in average yards allowed per run play this year (4.9). Expect Cleveland to press that advantage.
The Over/Under for this game is currently 49.5. PFF Greenline uses exclusive game and player data to make projections on NFL game spreads, moneyline, and over/under.
Las Vegas Raiders @ Denver Broncos (-3.5)
Matchup to watch: WR Hunter Renfrow vs. CB Bryce Callahan
When it’s third or fourth down and the Raiders need a conversion, Renfrow is the man the offense turns to in the passing game, even ahead of tight end Darren Waller. Renfrow’s 14 third- or fourth-down targets this season lead the team, and he has turned those into 13 receptions and eight first downs or touchdowns.
Renfrow should primarily see Callahan against Denver, who is one of the league’s best slot defenders. He has nearly as many pass breakups this season (four) as he does receptions allowed into his coverage (five).
Biggest storyline: Which team is able to end their losing streak?
Two weeks ago, these two teams were atop the AFC West at 3-0. Las Vegas and Denver have since combined to lose four straight. Regression from Derek Carr and Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback is a big reason for those declines.
Carr and Bridgewater combined to average 8.8 yards per attempt and a 107.6 passer rating during their undefeated starts to the season. By comparison, they’ve recorded just 6.1 yards per pass attempt and an 81.2 passer rating over the past two weeks.
The Over/Under for this game is currently 44. PFF Greenline uses exclusive game and player data to make projections on NFL game spreads, moneyline, and over/under.
Dallas Cowboys @ New England Patriots (+3.5)
Matchup to watch: ED Matt Judon vs. RT Terence Steele
A big part of Dallas’ offensive renaissance this season has been the availability of stars Dak Prescott, Tyron Smith and Zack Martin. La’el Collins is the one big name who hasn’t been available while sidelined with a suspension, but Steele has been much improved from the player we saw at that right tackle spot in 2020. He’s raised his PFF grade from 50.3 in 2020 (last at right tackle) to 68.9 so far in 2021 (11th).
Judon has been New England’s best pass-rusher, and he’ll test Steele when lined up on his side. Judon’s 23% pressure rate this season ranks first among qualifying edge rushers through five weeks.
Biggest storyline: Is Dallas’ defense sustainable?
On the surface, Dallas’ defense has been much improved in 2021. The unit ranks 10th in expected points added (EPA) allowed per play through five weeks, but much of that is reliant on the rate at which the team has produced turnovers. The Cowboys’ 12 offensive turnovers forced are second-most in the NFL, behind only Buffalo. Meanwhile, they’ve allowed 6.4 yards per play (30th).
You can point to playing with a lead and garbage time for part of that production allowed, but even when limiting to plays when the game is within one score, Dallas still ranks 25th in yards allowed per play. The question now becomes whether the team can keep producing turnovers at the same rate to offset that.
The Over/Under for this game is currently 51. PFF Greenline uses exclusive game and player data to make projections on NFL game spreads, moneyline, and over/under.
Seattle Seahawks @ Pittsburgh Steelers (-5)
Matchup to watch: QB Geno Smith vs. QB Ben Roethlisberger
The Sunday Night Football slate this year has already given us Matthew Stafford‘s debut in Los Angeles, fantastic finishes in Baltimore and San Francisco, Tom Brady‘s return to Foxboro and the Bills establishing themselves as the AFC favorites. It’s difficult to see this game living up to that bar.
Smith took over for an injured Russell Wilson last week and kept the offense afloat (7.5 yards per pass play), but he went just 1-for-5 on passes 10-plus yards downfield. It’s a big ask for him to fill in for PFF’s second-highest-graded quarterback through five weeks. Roethlisberger, meanwhile, comes into this game with just a 58.4 overall grade, though his 77.1 mark last week against Denver was his highest of the year.
There’s a reason this total is set at only 42.5 points.
Biggest storyline: Steelers’ defense hasn’t been elite again this season because of weakened coverage unit
Pittsburgh has overcome injuries to Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu, along with the loss of Bud Dupree in free agency. The Steelers are still owners of top-five PFF team run-defense and pass-rushing grades this season. A significant drop-off in coverage (27th in PFF team coverage grade) has been the big reason why they have fallen from second in expected points added (EPA) allowed per play last season to 13th in 2021.
Opposing quarterbacks have been able to get rid of the football quickly and effectively against Pittsburgh this year. The Steelers have allowed 899 passing yards on throws in 2.5 seconds or less in 2021, third-most in the NFL.
The Over/Under for this game is currently 42.5. PFF Greenline uses exclusive game and player data to make projections on NFL game spreads, moneyline, and over/under.
Buffalo Bills @ Tennessee Titans (+5.5)
Matchup to watch: RB Derrick henry vs. Bills’ run defense
Henry has already logged 142 rushing attempts this season, nearly 50 more carries than any other player in the NFL. If you can count on anything on a week-to-week basis, it’s that the Titans are going to feed Henry on the ground.
|Team||Snaps with 6 or fewer defenders in box|
The Bills’ run defense has had success this year, but the unit has also leaned toward lighter boxes. They trail only the Rams in defensive snaps with six or fewer players in the box (208). There’s a good chance that philosophy changes against Henry and company.
Biggest storyline: The Bills have established themselves as the AFC’s best team
Buffalo is PFF’s highest-ranked team in the AFC following its decisive victory over Kansas City, worth nearly a touchdown against the point spread over an average team. They’re also the clear favorite to win the AFC East at 93%, per PFF’s simulations.
The biggest difference between this year and last season is the play that Buffalo is getting out of their defense. The Bills are allowing just 4.2 yards per play through five weeks (lowest in the NFL). A big part of that was a favorable schedule early in the year, but the team showed it wasn’t a fluke last week against Kansas City. Buffalo looks like one of the most complete teams in the NFL this season.
The Over/Under for this game is currently 54. PFF Greenline uses exclusive game and player data to make projections on NFL game spreads, moneyline, and over/under.