1. Arizona Cardinals @ CLE
Johnny Manziel may be pressed into starting duty against Arizona with Josh McCown battling a shoulder injury. Whoever gets the nod will have their hands full against a pass defense that has allowed one or zero touchdowns in more than half of their games. They also have forced multiple turnovers in four games and they have scored three DST touchdowns already this young season. The one advantage Manziel would provide over McCown in this game is his legs. The Cardinals aren’t a huge sack producing group, but they did get to pocket-passer, Joe Flacco, three times last week. If McCown plays he will be much more of a sitting duck.
2. New York Jets @ OAK
Oakland has done a tremendous job keeping Derek Carr upright. It won’t matter if he is upright and has all the time in the world if his wide receivers cannot get open against the leagues’ fourth-best pass defense. Normally against such a good pass defense, Oakland would just hand the ball off copiously to Latavius Murray. That won’t work either since the Jets rank first overall against the run. This includes a ridiculous streak of three games where they have given up a total of 109 rushing yards. New York is also averaging 2.5 takeaways per game. That ranks third-best. Ultimately what you should expect here is Oakland struggling to move the ball throughout the game. That should give their kicker some opportunities but that’s about it.
3. Minnesota Vikings @ CHI
Minnesota has certainly had their share of issues winning games on the road. They exorcised some of their demons by defeating the Lions last week. As part of that victory, Minnesota basically decapitated Matthew Stafford behind seven sacks. The Bears have allowed multiple sacks in five of six. They also have turned the ball over 1.5 times per game. These are not good numbers, but the most telling number for the Bears is that they have allowed four DST touchdowns already this season. Meanwhile, Minnesota has scored only one DST touchdown this season, but last year they scored the second-most.
4. St. Louis Rams vs. SF
San Francisco has allowed multiple sacks in each of their last six contests. This includes three games in which they allowed five or more. It doesn’t get any easier against the Rams vaunted pass rush. The Rams are tied for second with 23 sacks. They have four or more sacks in 66% of their contests. You may think that Colin Kaepernick could avoid this pass rush with his legs. That didn’t work last year when the Rams sacked him eight times in Week 9. This pass rush has allowed only one team to throw for multiple touchdowns this season. That won’t make Kaepernick’s job any easier, since he has thrown for multiple touchdowns in only three of seven. Plus he hasn’t even topped 165 passing yards in those other four games.
5. Green Bay Packers @ DEN
In previous years we may have looked forward to a matchup between Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers as a shootout. Rodgers has struggled accruing yards and he will face a stout Denver defense. Manning has had his own share of problems this season. He has led the Broncos to the leagues’ eighth-highest turnover average. His inability to move within the pocket (plus a flimsy offensive line) has led to his being sacked multiple times in four of six contests. This could be a long day for Manning since Green Bay has accrued the second most sacks this year, including 19 over the last four weeks.
6. Houston Texans vs. TEN
The Texans defense was supposed to be premiere this season. Somehow along the way the Texans didn’t get the message. Their takeaways rank third-worst on a per-game basis. Plus they are all the way down in 19th place with a measly 13 sacks. You’d think that J.J. Watt would have that many himself by the halfway point of the season, but alas it is for not. Fortunately for Watt and Company, Tennessee has turned the ball over more than any team not named Detroit. They also are allowing the leagues’ fifth-worst 9.29% sack percentage. Oh yeah, they may also be without their top quarterback, Marcus Mariota for a second straight game. If the Texans’ defense can’t get it done against Tennessee, then you may just want to cut them outright.
7. Denver Broncos vs. GB
Aaron Rodgers is such an incredible quarterback. He continues to throw for multiple touchdowns every week, no matter who he faces. What you may not have noticed is that his passing yardage is slipping this year. He has topped 255 yards only once in six contests. I’m not holding out hope for that trend to improve against a Broncos’ secondary which has allowed only two teams to usurp that mark. They also have allowed multiple passing touchdowns only once all year. This has allowed them to remain tied with the leagues’ fewest passing touchdowns allowed. Rodgers has also been sacked eight times in the last three weeks. He’ll need to keep his head on a swivel to avoid getting mauled by this group of predators. Through their first six games, they have recorded sacks on a league-leading 10.53% of opponents’ passing attempts.
8. Kansas City Chiefs vs. DET (London)
Matthew Stafford may still be seeing stars from his seven-sack outing against Minnesota last week. At the very least, his body will be the worse for wear. Kansas City also has a pretty fierce pass rush led by Tamba Hali and Justin Houston. Only twice this season they have not been able to record multiple sacks. They also have taken advantage of opponents’ mistakes by taking two turnovers to the house for touchdowns. This is important to consider since Detroit is leading the league in giveaways.
9. Seattle Seahawks @ DAL
Seattle is slowly slipping further and further down our defense rankings. This week they get a slight reprieve thanks to facing the mistake-prone, Matt Cassel. So much for Cassel being an improvement over Brandon Weeden, last week he was picked three times. That is more than Weeden allowed in the previous four games combined. It won’t be easier for Cassel versus the Seahawks as they have allowed the leagues’ fourth-fewest passing touchdowns. Perhaps they will improve upon their 19th ranked 1.3 takeaways per game, a figure that Richard Sherman and Company cannot be too proud of.
10. Cincinnati Bengals @ PIT
This ranking would tend to be higher if Landry Jones or Michael Vick was at the helm for the Steelers. However, with the returning Ben Roethlisberger under center, Pittsburgh’s offense should be steadier. Cincinnati has brought eleven sacks over the last three weeks. That said they failed to sack Roethlisberger in either meeting last year. Making matters worse for the Bengals they were blitzed for nearly 900 total yards and 69 points in those two contests. Perhaps the loss of yet another offensive lineman paired with Big Ben’s gimpy knee will lead to better success for the Cincinnati defense.
11. Carolina Panthers vs. IND
Andrew Luck has struggled to get things on track all season long. It won’t be any easier for him this week against a Carolina defense that has allowed the fifth-fewest points overall. Luck has scored six touchdowns over the last two weeks, but on the season he has thrown nine picks in five starts. Carolina ranks seventh in takeaways per game thanks mainly to a ball-hawking secondary led by Josh Norman, who has five takeaways and two pick-sixes already this year. Luck isn’t the Colts only problem, as a whole have turned the ball over 15 times already. There will be a few more on the ticker after this contest.
12. New England Patriots vs. MIA
Miami’s offense has been all duckies and bunnies since the promotion of Dan Campbell to head coach. One big reason why they have performed better is that they have rediscovered their running game in an attempt to balance their offense. They will need to remain at this high level to stay with the juggernaut known as the Patriots. More likely, what will happen is that New England will jump out to a lead and Ryan Tannehill will be forced to throw over and over again. When that happens New England will be able to pin their ears back and put on the all out blitz. That is never a good sign for a team that has surrendered multiple sacks every single week.
13. Baltimore Ravens vs. SD
The Baltimore Ravens have recorded 20 sacks which rank fifth. This is not good news for a San Diego offensive line that has been a revolving door of bodies off the street all season long. Unfortunately for Baltimore, only one team has fewer takeaways than their measly four. Something will need to give in this contest because San Diego is handing out turnovers faster than a Michelin-Star awarded French pastry shop. Only twice all year have they managed to not turn the ball over multiple times, plus they have already allowed three DST touchdowns. Despite their limited number of takeaways, Baltimore does have a pair of defensive touchdowns to go along with all their sacks.
14. New York Giants @ NO
The New York Giants currently rank third in total takeaways on the season and fourth in per game takeaways. This has been buoyed by eight takeaways the last two weeks. They also recorded their second DST touchdown in Week 7. Meanwhile, the Saints have allowed multiple sacks in five of seven games to go along with five turnovers in their last three games.
15. Miami Dolphins @ NE
Miami has five takeaways over the last two weeks with the new coaching regime. Pair that with 10 sacks over that span and you have to assume that the team has managed to achieve addition by subtraction. New England doesn’t really turn the ball over but Brady has been sacked ten times over the last three weeks. Miami will need to bring the heat to keep in this one. If New England jumps out to an early lead it won’t bode as well for Miami as they will be faced with a healthy dose of the LeGarrette Blount bowling ball in the second half.
Atlanta Falcons vs. TB
I’m not exactly a huge fan of Atlanta’s defense. I’m more a fan of whoever gets to face rookie Jameis Winston. It’s not as if Atlanta is useless on defense. They do rank ninth in terms of takeaways per game. They also have a pair of DST touchdowns. They even have good history against Tampa Bay (even though it was against a different quarterback). Last year, Atlanta recorded seven sacks, eight takeaways, and a DST touchdown against the Buccaneers in two meetings.