By Lucas Kochevar
The Ravens might be the biggest threat in the NFL and the Chargers have some soul searching to do. These are a few of the storylines around the league and I still couldn't tell you who the best team is in the league. That's why I labeled the Ravens as the biggest threat. I don't think they're the best team in the NFL, however, they've put together impressive wins along with their most dominant win over the Lions. Lamar Jackson was slow out of the gate but he looked impressive through the air and on the ground. The Lions weren't able to get anything going against the Ravens defense too. The Chargers are a lifeless corpse at 2-4 and I'm not sure how much longer head coach Brandon Staley can hold on. Once he's fired, Justin Herbert will be on his third coach and the question's are starting to mount about the stud young quarterback. I'm a Herbert fan, but it's hard to keep making up excuses for him. He needs to right the ship as a leader with the next coach and win some meaningful games. He's starting to really resemble his Chargers predecessor Phillip Rivers.
Jacksonville Jaguars (-2.5) @ Pittsburgh Steelers
The Jaguars have owned the Steelers as of late and I'm curious to see whether or not this trend continues under the Trevor Lawrence-led Jaguars. I remember the days of Blake Bortles rocking the teal and beating the Steelers in Pittsburgh 45-42. The Jaguars are coming off a mini-bye week after beating the Saints and they've been inconsistently good against their opponents after getting blown out by the Texans. When I say inconsistently good, I mean that they start hot and end slow, but they've snuck out their wins late. The Steelers are starting to find some success, despite offensive coordinator Matt Canada's incompetence. The team in black and gold are coming home after a win in Los Angeles against the Rams.
The Jaguars offense will have their hands full with the Steelers defense. A key to the Jaguars success has been relying on running back Travis Etienne and I think he'll be key in this game in Sunday. Calvin Ridley hasn't quite had a breakout game for Jacksonville so if they could get him going, that would be huge, especially against a rookie corner in Joey Porter Jr. The Steelers also need to continue their offensive success, which includes a heavy dose of George Pickens. Pickens has three straight games of 100-plus yards and he could extend that streak against an opportunistic secondary in Jacksonville. I like the Steelers to win this game and fake out the media as some sort of contender, even though I don't think they provide a threat to the AFC's best. The Jaguars have been playing around with easy games too much and I think a well-coached team like Pittsburgh will expose that.
Cleveland Browns (+3.5) @ Seattle Seahawks
Although Deshaun Watson is out on Sunday, I think this game won't be missing much with him out. The Browns quarterback situation has been a flat out disaster this season and I don't think it'll get any better the rest of the way. Watson wasn't particularly good when he was playing and then the "shoulder" injury happened. It feels a tad convenient, but whatever because P.J. Walker is leading Cleveland to Seattle after a thrilling win over the Colts (we'll get to that later). The Seahawks are coming off a very bland win over the lowly Cardinals. The Browns have an all-time defense, but offensive woes keep them in an unserious category. The Seahawks have a blend of young talent and win-now players, but can't put together consistent performances. The teams are at a fork in the road and this game can be the deciding factor in which path they take.
The Browns defense against Geno Smith will likely decide this game. Smith was paid handsomely in the offseason, but I think he would be the first to tell you he isn't living up to it. They recently started to get rookie Jaxson Smith-Njigba into the offense and he could be an important player to get going for Seattle to make it into the playoffs. In general, the Seattle passing game needs to get back into what it was last season. Myles Garrett could wreck that entire gameplan as he goes against a second year tackle in Charles Cross. The Browns offense will have to scrape by with Walker and Kareem Hunt carrying the offense. They managed to hold it together against the Colts, but I'm very curious how they'll fair with a full weeks worth of prep against them. The uncertainty of that makes me lean towards the Seahawks here, but I also would've picked Seattle to beat the Bengals two weeks ago. I'm skeptical on both teams, but give me Seattle.
Cincinnati Bengals (+3.5) @ San Francisco 49ers
These two teams have Super Bowl aspirations but they both have had a bumpy road so far this season. The 49ers looked like world beaters, but have quickly hit a wall these past two weeks with the Browns and Vikings. I'm not sure why that is exactly, but it's happened. They also run the possibility of missing Brock Purdy this week due to a concussion. If he can't go, Sam Darnold will be in line to start, who looked good in the preseason. The Bengals are coming off a bye week that they desperately needed. It's another week that Burrow's calf can heal and Higgins' ribs can heal. The Bengals started off slow last season and picked it up late, could this be another season of that? I think there's a chance but they have to win this to start that hot streak, especially if Purdy can't go.
The biggest matchup here will be the 49ers defensive line against the Bengals offensive line. The Bengals offensive line has been well-documented as the struggle group and it's tough to see because it's not like the Bengals front office has ignored this group. They've spent big money at the position and they've used draft capital there, but I don't think anyone has lived up to the hype. This could be a big statement game for that group. The 49ers defensive front features monsters in Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead so I think they'll pose problems against the Bengals. The other side of the ball is interesting too because the 49ers have a monster in Trent Williams at left tackle, while the Bengals have good edge guys in Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard. This game will be decided in the trenches as much as it'll be decided by the playmakers. In the end, it'll come down to whether old Joe Burrow can make an appearance and I think that'll happen. I think he'll get the ball out of his hands quick and that'll be enough to steal this game and raise more questions about the 49ers.
LK's Bet of the Week: Minnesota Vikings -1.5 @ Green Bay Packers
The loss from last weeks lock was one of the worst losses I've ever had as the Browns and Colts went over by 37 points. An unbelievable game and shootout from both of these teams. It was awful, but now, we must bounce back. I love this pick with all my heart and I can't believe the spread is this low. The Vikings are coming off their biggest win of the season over the 49ers and the Packers are coming off a terrible loss against the Broncos. These teams feel like they're going in different directions, although if there's ever a chance for Jordan Love to get going it's against this Vikings defense. I don't think that'll be the case and the predictable Packers offense won't be able to keep up with the Vikings. Also Jordan Addison has been a phenomenal rookie receiver and I think he'll score a touchdown to continue his strong rookie season. We will win this bet and get back to .500.
Record on the season: 3-4
Sources: Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images