5 NFL games to watch

By Matt Youmans  (VSiN senior editor) 

VIKINGS-RAMS

Enthusiasm is lacking at the Kirk Cousins Fan Club headquarters this week. No new members are signing up. But, hey, the Buffalo Bills were being mocked as a joke a week ago and look what happened. The Vikings, 17-point favorites, happened to be victims of the NFL’s biggest upset since 1995 in a 27-6 loss to the Bills. Cousins, who lost two fumbles and threw a pick, was outplayed by rookie quarterback Josh Allen. The Minnesota offense failed to cross midfield until the third quarter. On to Los Angeles. It’s a tough bounce-back spot for the Vikings, who head west on a short week in a situation that favors the home team. The Rams rank No. 1 in scoring defense at 12 points per game, but starting cornerbacks Aqib Talib (high ankle sprain) and Marcus Peters (calf strain) will be watching with the cheerleaders. Cousins is catching a break in that regard. He might also get running back Dalvin Cook (hamstring) back, and Cook is needed after the ground attack was nonexistent against the Bills. This will be a battle of wits between Sean McVay and Mike Zimmer. McVay’s offense is no joke, ranking No. 3 at 34 points per game. The maturity of quarterback Jared Goff continues, and Todd Gurley has 62 carries for 255 yards and four touchdowns through three games. The Vikings (1-1-1) have appeared shaky in all three games, so expecting them to rebound is a roll of the dice. But after an embarrassing loss, and with the Rams’ corners out, the road ‘dog should hang tough getting 6½ points.

BROWNS-RAIDERS

Believe it or not, this could be the most intriguing game of the week. Rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield gets his first start for the Browns, who are off an extremely rare win. How will they handle success? That question has not been posed in a long time. And it has been about a decade since Jon Gruden won a game as an NFL coach. Gruden is 0-3, with three fourth-quarter flameouts, in his return to Oakland. Mayfield will swagger into the “Black Hole” after a week of hype. In relief last week, he was 17 of 23 passing for 201 yards to lead Cleveland’s 21-17 comeback victory over the New York Jets. Before everyone gets too excited, remember the Jets are coached by Todd Bowles and Sam Darnold is a mistake-riddled rookie QB. This is a monstrous game for Gruden. The last thing the $100 million man needs, after his trade of defensive superstar Khalil Mack killed morale, is a home loss to the Browns and the clueless Hue Jackson. Cleveland ranks 11th in scoring defense (19.7 points per game) and did a nice job of slowing down Drew Brees in the Superdome two weeks ago. Derek Carr has completed 76.6 percent of his passes — No. 2 in the league behind Brees — but he also has five interceptions. Carr needs to clean up the bad plays, and the Raiders need to find ways to pressure Mayfield into a few rookie mistakes. This game sparked a heated debate and a high-stakes bet between VSiN colleagues Brent Musburger and Jonathan Von Tobel on Monday. The veteran radio voice of the Raiders is supporting the short home favorite. JVT, with his youthful exuberance, is going all-in on the Browns. Which side will you take?

49ERS-CHARGERS

A knee injury has ended Jimmy Garoppolo’s season, and the 49ers’ win total is going under with Garoppolo. San Francisco might have been headed for a losing record anyway. The 49ers are trudging forward with C.J. Beathard, a third-round draft pick from Iowa in 2017. Beathard was a mediocre college quarterback and now ranks among the NFL’s worst starters. The team would be wise to trade for a veteran — how about Teddy Bridgewater or Josh McCown? — but that’s a moot point this week. The sad state of the 49ers is why the Chargers are 10½-point favorites. Philip Rivers fell short of a backdoor cover in a 35-23 loss to the Rams in Week 3. For some strange reason, coach Anthony Lynn sent out the kicker for a 26-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to 12. Lynn is out of his league, and the Chargers’ annual September woes are continuing. Rivers went 0-2 straight up as a home favorite in the first month last year, and he has yet to win a game played in Los Angeles this season. Without defensive end Joey Bosa, the Chargers are not pressuring QBs and allowed Jared Goff to sit in a rocking chair while passing for 354 yards. This is an ugly game, but it will be interesting to see if the Chargers can cash as big favorites. Maybe, just maybe, Beathard will play surprisingly well.

SAINTS-GIANTS

For the fourth week in a row, the Giants look appealing getting points. After a narrow loss to Jacksonville and a pathetic performance in Dallas, the Giants finally showed up on both sides of the ball in a 27-22 win at Houston. Eli Manning hit on 25 of 29 passes for 297 yards and two touchdowns without an interception, rookie Saquon Barkley rushed for 82 yards and a TD and Odell Beckham Jr. had 109 yards on 9 receptions. That’s how the New York offense is supposed to look. The New Orleans defense has been a mess, ranking 30th in yards (421 per game) and last in scoring (34.3). The Saints have played games that totaled 88, 39 and 80 points. The total in this one is 50. The preferred play is the Giants as 3½-point home dogs. Drew Brees has a red-hot hand, completing 80.6 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and no picks. It will be tough to beat Brees, but this is a Saints team that should have started 0-2 at home and now hits the road for a second straight week.

CHIEFS-BRONCOS

The betting public has been wise to roll with Patrick Mahomes, who has 13 touchdown passes and no interceptions in three relatively easy victories. Fading the young gunslinger and expecting him to hit a speed bump was a costly play the past two weeks. Kansas City is No. 1 in scoring at 39.3 points per game. Denver’s defense has been solid against the run, ranking No. 4 by allowing only 77.7 yards per game, but a No. 22 ranking against the pass is a problem. The Broncos are playing soft coverage in the secondary as receivers run free all over the field. It’s up to the Von Miller-led pass rush to put some rare heat on Mahomes. Denver is getting 4½ to 5 points as a Monday night home ‘dog that could be worth a small wager.

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