Raiders vs Chargers

Raiders vs Chargers : One of the hottest teams in the NFL faces one of the most disappointing squads in the league on Sunday when the ascending Los Angeles Chargers travel to Oakland to face the descending Oakland Raiders.

After starting 1-2, the Chargers (6-2) have won five in a row. Two of the wins have come on the road, including last week’s 25-17 victory over the Seattle Seahawks.

“I wouldn’t define what we have done yet as success,” Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said. “We’ve had some weekly success each Sunday that we won but I don’t know that anyone in the locker room feels like, ‘Hey, we’re a successful group.’ We know we got a long way to go. It’s a long season and it truly is one week at a time.”

The Chargers find themselves just one game behind Kansas City in the loss column in the AFC West, and with their only losses coming to the Chiefs and Rams, the Chargers have put themselves in position for success.

Rivers is one of the hottest quarterbacks in the league. He ranks third in the league in passer rating and has thrown 19 touchdown passes with just three interceptions for the season. Although he completed only 50 percent of his passes against Seattle, he had two touchdown passes without a pick.

Rivers’ passing is complemented by the running of Melvin Gordon, who is sixth in the league in rushing and had 113 rushing yards while averaging 7.1 yards per carry in the win over the Seahawks.

That has helped the Chargers rank eighth in the NFL in total offense.

About the only shortcoming on offense was the kicking game, and the Chargers may have solved that. Kicker Caleb Sturgis was released one day after he missed two extra points and a field goal. The Chargers brought Michael Badgley back from the practice squad to do the kicking this week.

Los Angeles should have success moving the ball against Oakland, which ranks 27th in the league in total defense.

The Raiders have lost four in a row and are tied with the New York Giants for the worst record in the NFL at 1-7.

The Chargers beat Oakland 26-10 on Oct. 7, but this game will be on the Raiders’ home field.

“We know Oakland is a tough place to play and it’s going to be a four-quarter football game,” Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn said.

He emphasized that the season is only half over.

“We feel like things are moving in the right direction but we got a lot of games left,” Lynn said. “I like what we are doing right now but we have to find ways to get better, each and every week.”

The Raiders are not getting better. They are coming off their most embarrassing game of the season — a 34-3 loss to a 49ers team that was 1-7 at the time and was starting a quarterback (Nick Mullens) who began the season on the practice squad and was making his NFL debut against Oakland.

Raiders quarterback Derek Carr completed 16 of 21 passes for 171 yards in that game, but he was sacked seven times.

Oakland’s young, injury-plagued offensive line has made things difficult for Carr, who has been sacked 24 times this season. Luckily for Carr and the Raiders, Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa is still sidelined with a knee injury.

“You get an offensive line that’s healthy and playing great, it makes everybody’s job a lot easier,” Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said. “I’m not going to make any excuses. I think Derek is doing some good things. It does make things difficult when you have the amount of injuries that we have had. I just got a nice call from my brother (Redskins head coach Jay Gruden), he lost all his linemen the other day, too. Got eight games left, we have to continue to coach hard and find a way to improve.”

Carr understands the situation.

“We’re having an unprecedented amount of young players having to play,” he said. “That, obviously, makes it a struggle, makes it tougher.”

Carr is completing 72.3 percent of his passes this season, but it hasn’t translated into much offense. The Raiders rank 28th in the NFL in scoring, averaging 17.6 points per game.

To make things worse for the Raiders, running back Marshawn Lynch is on injured reserve and his backup, Doug Martin, is coming off a hip injury.

Martin rushed for 49 yards on 11 carries against the 49ers, but he was limited in practice on Wednesday, and it’s unclear how effective he will be on Sunday.

Cowboys vs Eagles

Cowboys vs Eagles: Wide receiver Golden Tate, who was acquired by the Philadelphia Eagles at the trade deadline, has an idea of what is he walking into when he plays his first game with his new team on Sunday night at Lincoln Financial Field.

The Super Bowl champions are facing the Dallas Cowboys and Tate already knows what that means even though he will be experiencing it for the first time.

“I’ve heard about it on social media,” Tate said this week. “Our fans have expressed their passionate dislike for the Cowboys. It’s going to be a great game. I’m happy that my first game gets to be at home against such an intense opponent.

“I can’t wait to get to Lincoln Financial Field for my first game and play a division opponent. Coach said (earlier in week) we’re right where we want to be, and this is the most important game not just because it’s the next game, but because it’s a division opponent.”

The Eagles are only 4-4 coming off their bye week and trail the Washington Redskins (5-3) in the NFC East, but can take control with three of their next four games in the division.

Tate, who leads the NFL in yards after catch since entering the league out of Notre Dame in 2010, is expected to give quarterback Carson Wentz added help to go with tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert and wideouts Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor.

“He’s a veteran player, he’s been in a couple different systems, so he’s got familiarity with different systems in the league and he can relate it to things that he’s done in the past,” offensive coordinator Mike Groh said when asked about Tate. “We’re trying to look back at things that he’s had a lot of success with and start there.”

The Eagles and Cowboys have split their head-to-head matches in each of the last five seasons, with Wentz leading a 37-9 rout in Dallas before the Cowboys won, 6-0, in Philadelphia later in the season. The teams play again in Dallas on Dec. 9.

Tate already has seen the Cowboys this season with the Lions, when he made eight catches for 132 yards and two touchdowns, as Dallas prevailed, 26-24.

“I think that’s to my advantage,” said Tate, who probably is licking his chops at the thought of facing a Dallas secondary that couldn’t handle him the first time. “They run the same defense, and I’m on a different team with different concepts, so I think that’s to my advantage.”

The Cowboys (3-5) have their own new wide receiver, Amari Cooper, who was acquired from the Oakland Raiders before the trade deadline for a first-round draft choice.

Cooper got off to a good start with the Cowboys, catching five passes for 58 yards and a touchdown from quarterback Dak Prescott in a loss to the Tennessee Titans on Monday night.

However, that seemed to take away from Cole Beasley, the team’s leading receiver, who had only three receptions for 16 yards.

That’s only one problem the Cowboys have to figure out with their offense this week, as the Titans held Ezekiel Elliott to 61 yards rushing, which usually opens things up for Prescott to run the ball, but he had only 11 yards on two carries.

Head coach Jason Garrett indicated that might change if the Eagles stack their defense against Elliott this week.

“If they want to put a lot of guys up in the box and take (Elliott) away, that’s typically when the quarterback runs have come alive,” Garrett said.

With Tennessee slowing down Elliott, Prescott passed for 243 yards and two touchdowns against the Titans, but he also threw an interception and lost a fumble deep in Titans territory, which proved very costly in the 28-14 setback.

And then there’s the Dallas defense, which allowed the Titans to gain 340 yards, 60 more than their average entering the game. Tennessee also converted 78.6 percent of their third downs into first downs.

Part of the problem was that defensive linemen David Irving and Randy Gregory were out because of injuries and the Cowboys didn’t get enough pressure on quarterback Marcus Mariota on third down.

But Dallas goes from facing the 30th-ranked Titans offense at home to playing at Philly against the Eagles, who average 366.9 yards per game.

Unless the Cowboys pick it up on offense, they might not be able to keep up.

Dolphins vs Packers

Dolphins vs Packers : In 2016, the Green Bay Packers were 4-6 when quarterback Aaron Rodgers proclaimed the team was capable of running the table. On cue, the Packers reeled off six consecutive wins to get in the playoffs, then advanced to the NFC Championship Game.

This season, the Packers are 3-4-1 headed into Sunday’s home game against the Miami Dolphins. They are in the middle of a five-game gauntlet of games at the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots, home vs. Miami, then back on the road to face the Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings.

Green Bay lost the first two legs of this pivotal stretch. If it’s going to rebound and make a run at a playoff berth, it will be up to Rodgers to play much better than he did against New England.

While Rodgers has thrown a sizzling 15 touchdown passes vs. one interception, he ranks near the bottom of the league in completion percentage. In a 31-17 loss at New England, Rodgers completed only 24 of 43 passes (55.8 percent). When the offense absolutely needed to score in the fourth quarter, it couldn’t even get to midfield.

“I just feel like we have to play better, consistently, 60 minutes, try to eliminate some of the lulls we’ve been having,” Rodgers said. “We have to play with confidence and play up to the level we’re capable of playing.”

The Dolphins will pose a stiff challenge, even as they go from the heat of Miami to a projected 32-degree day at Lambeau Field. Miami leads the NFL with 15 interceptions. Four of those came in last week’s 13-6 victory over the New York Jets.

“Maybe he’ll change his mind this game,” Dolphins head coach Adam Gase joked of Rodgers’ ability to avoid interceptions.

Gase has a firm grasp of the obvious, and here’s how we know:

“Aaron Rodgers,” Gase said, “is a little different than Sam Darnold.”

Rodgers, of course, is a former Super Bowl MVP and a six-time Pro Bowl quarterback for the Packers. Darnold is the Jets’ rookie first-round pick, a quarterback Miami beat last week with four interceptions.

So … yeah, the Dolphins definitely have a bigger challenge this week.

However, the Packers are coming off their first losing season since 2008, and they are struggling this season with a sub-.500 record and two straight losses.

The bright spot for the Packers is that they are 3-0-1 at home this season. And something else to factor into the equation is that Green Bay was off to a 4-1 start last season before Rodgers got injured.

The Packers went 3-8 the rest of the way, with Rodgers playing in just one game during that stretch.

Rodgers’ completion percentage this year is 60.6 percent, which would be the lowest number of his career since he became a starter in 2008. But he has already passed for 2,542 yards this season, and his touchdown-to-interception ratio is outstanding at 15-1.

Miami ability to force interceptions makes for a fascinating matchup. Also fascinating is the fact that failed ex-Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin returned to Green Bay this year as the Packers’ offensive coordinator.

The Dolphins will surely play close attention to two Packers targets — wide receiver Davante Adams and tight end Jimmy Graham. Adams has caught 19 touchdown passes since the start of 2017. Graham, a former Miami Hurricanes player, has caught 12 TD passes during that same span. However, Graham missed practice on Wednesday due to a knee injury.

When the Dolphins are on offense, they will be without quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who will miss his fifth straight game due to a shoulder injury. Brock Osweiler is 2-2 at quarterback since replacing Tannehill.

For the Packers, who are in third place in the NFC North and 10th place in the NFC, this is practically a must-win game. As head coach Mike McCarthy likes to say, there’s no reason to discuss the playoffs until a team gets win No. 10. For Green Bay to get to 10 wins, it must go 7-1 down the stretch.

“It’s always good to be at home,” McCarthy said. “You have to take care of your home-field advantage. That’s something that’s a great part of our focus this week. Really, the benefits of being at home is the repetition, particularly when you get to the end of the week. You’ve got to make sure you take advantage of that. To play in front of your home crowd, that’s something that we’ve always enjoyed. We also know what’s coming after it, too.”

The Dolphins held the Jets without a touchdown last week, but the challenge against the Packers on Sunday will be much tougher. Miami’s defense may struggle to contain the Green Bay passing game. Offensively, the Dolphins’ beat-up offensive line allowed four sacks last week, and the unit failed to open holes or get anyone into the end zone.

Miami’s offense will likely have to play much better this week to keep up with Rodgers and the Packers.

Patriots vs Titans

Patriots vs Titans : Mike Vrabel gets to face one of his mentors on Sunday when the Tennessee Titans host Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots. The AFC East-leading Patriots (7-2) will be seeking their seventh consecutive victory against the Titans (4-4).

While Vrabel never coached under Belichick, he did play for him for eight years as a linebacker and obviously learned some things while playing for the legendary Patriots coach.

“I can’t deny the fact I played there for eight years and we had a lot of success,” Vrabel said. “Bill was my coach. He traded me to Kansas City, we didn’t talk for a couple months, maybe a year.

“Then we became friends, and I used him as a resource when I started my coaching career, and still talk to him a lot now. This week we’re competitors. We’re always competitors as far as I’m still coaching and so is he. I guess it’s unique from that standpoint.”

The Vrabel connection to the Patriots is one of several with the Titans. There’s general manager Jon Robinson, who was a scout in New England and now heads up the Titans’ front office; defensive coordinator Dean Pees, and cornerbacks Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler, guard Josh Kline and running back Dion Lewis.

Belichick downplayed the connections.

“We have to get ready for everybody,” Belichick said. “We know Kline, and Dion, and Malcolm, and Logan,” he said. “They have a lot of guys on their defense besides them. They all know us, that’s the way it is every week in this league. There are always players that we had or they had. It’s the National Football League.”

But Belichick did speak fondly of Vrabel.

“Mike was a tremendous player. He had great work ethic, and very, very smart,” Belichick said. “He’s like that as a coach on the field. He can handle a lot of responsibility. He is very instinctive of the game, it came easy to him. He’s a really hard working — great condition, he can go all day.

“He took a lot of reps in practice and in the game. He never really needed to come out of the game or practice. He had great stamina. Mike is very passionate for football. He has natural leadership.”

Butler has struggled with the Titans, but Vrabel hasn’t yet shown signs of giving up on the cornerback, even after he gave up two touchdowns last week in a 28-14 victory over the Dallas Cowboys.

“When you play man coverage, you have to look at your man,” Vrabel said. “Malcolm knows that, and we’ve talked about that, and we continue to practice it, we continue to coach it and we try to show it to him.”

Butler addressed his woes on Wednesday.

“I just have to play my game and be more disciplined and do the little things right,” he said. “It’s the little things that are affecting me. I’m trying to make plays when they’re not there, and I’ve got to be more disciplined.”

Butler and the Tennessee defense have the unenviable challenge of trying to slow down Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Two of Brady’s favorite targets are wide receivers Julian Edelman (31 receptions) and Josh Gordon (22 catches since arriving from Cleveland).

Brady prevailed in a dual with Aaron Rodgers last Sunday when the Patriots came away with a 31-17 victory.

Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota completed 21 of 29 passes for 240 yards last week against Dallas as Tennessee ended a three-game losing streak. Mariota threw two touchdown passes and also rushed for another one.

Lions vs Bears

Lions vs Bears : The return of Mack to the lineup could provide a huge lift for the Chicago Bears, getting their elite pass-rushing linebacker healthy in time for a 12-day stretch that will feature three games against NFC North opponents.

Chicago holds a slim half-game edge over Minnesota atop the division as it prepares to host Detroit on Sunday — the first of two matchups against the Lions in 12 days sandwiched around a showdown against the Vikings.

“We’re halfway through the season now and we’ve got three big divisional opponents coming up, and we kind of know where we’re at as a team,” Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky said. “These next three games will tell a lot about who we are and where we’re headed.”

Chicago bounced back from losses to Miami and New England with back-to-back victories over the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills to maintain its hold on first place. It’s the latest the team has been atop the NFC North since 2012.

“First place right now doesn’t matter,” Bears running back Tarik Cohen said. “It’s all about where you finish at the end. So we don’t even feel like we’re in first place.”

Even with Mack sitting out both games, Chicago’s defense dominated the Jets (24-10) and Bills (41-9), holding them to a combined 19 points and not allowing a touchdown in either game until the fourth quarter.

Trubisky has not been needed to do much in the past two wins, throwing for 220 yards against the Jets and a season-low 135 in the rout of Buffalo. That has led to skepticism among the media and fans about whether Trubisky can handle the upcoming three-game stretch, but Bears head coach Matt Nagy wants his quarterback to tune out the noise.

“I think any time you are drafted as a quarterback early and high in the draft, you’re always gonna be critiqued,” Nagy said. “But again, the only thing that he needs to worry about is what I think about him and what people in this building think about him. Everybody’s entitled to their opinion and that’s OK … but as long as he just understands that the only thing that matters is what we think, nothing will affect him.”

Nagy brushed aside the fact that Trubisky struggled with his accuracy against the Jets and Bills, instead giving credit to some “pretty solid defenses.” The No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 draft, Trubisky passed for more than 300 yards in three straight games prior to the last two wins.

“It really doesn’t matter what anybody says on the outside,” Trubisky said. “We’re the ones putting the work in preparing for each game and putting it on the line every Sunday. What everybody has to say about it, they only know so much.”

The Lions (3-5) have tumbled into the division basement after scoring just 19 points in consecutive losses to the Seattle Seahawks and Vikings. Detroit failed to get into the end zone in the 24-9 loss at Minnesota and quarterback Matthew Stafford absorbed a staggering 10 sacks.

“Look, no one likes a game that we had on Sunday. Certainly not a good situation for us there,” Lions head coach Matt Patricia said. “There’s a lot of contributing factors to something like that. But I think again, it’s a full team game, so probably should have done something better all the way around to help everybody because obviously we didn’t win, and that’s the main thing is trying to win.”

Stafford failed to throw for a touchdown pass for the first time this season in Detroit’s first game since trading away wide receiver Golden Tate. The Lions may lean more on the running back tandem of rookie Kerryon Johnson and LeGarrette Blount.

Although Johnson was limited to 37 yards on 12 carries against the Vikings, he has 503 yards rushing through eight games and is on pace to be the franchise’s first 1,000-yard running back since Reggie Bush in 2013.

Chicago’s passing game could receive a boost with the potential return of wide receiver Allen Robinson II, who went through a full practice for the first time since suffering a groin injury in Week 7 against New England that sidelined him the past two games.

Detroit also is expecting a bigger contribution from defensive end Ziggy Ansah, who last week saw his first action since the season opener and recorded one sack while playing 12 snaps.

Falcons vs Browns

Falcons vs Browns : Cleveland’s beleaguered secondary gets a taste of another elite quarterback when the Browns host the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.

The Browns, on a four-game skid, are 2-6-1 and spiraling toward their 11th straight losing season when Matt Ryan and the Falcons come to town.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw two touchdown passes against the Browns on Oct. 28. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes directed an offense that put up 499 yards of offense last Sunday in a 37-21 romp. He threw three touchdown passes and passed for 375 yards.

Ryan is on fire for the Falcons. He threw for 350 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-14 victory over the Redskins last week.

Facing Ryan and dangerous Falcons receivers Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley plus Mohamed Sanu would be a task under normal circumstances, but the Browns are decimated with injuries.

Linebacker Christian Kirksey (hamstring) and cornerback E.J. Gaines (concussion) were placed on injured reserve Wednesday with injuries incurred against the Chiefs last week. Starting cornerback Denzel Ward (hip) was injured playing the Chiefs.

Safety Damarious Randall was inactive against Kansas City because of a groin injury, linebacker Joe Schobert missed his third straight game with a hamstring injury and starting cornerback Terrance Mitchell, on injured reserve (wrist), will miss his sixth straight game Sunday.

Schobert and Randall practiced Wednesday. Ward and linebacker Jamie Collins (ankle) did not practice Wednesday, but interim head coach Gregg Williams is confident both will practice Thursday. Getting Schobert and Randall back should at least slow the bleeding.

“We have another explosive offense coming in here this Sunday,” Randall said Wednesday in the locker room after practice. “They have explosive weapons with Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley and Sanu. They have a nice little running game and a former MVP at quarterback.”

That, coupled with the injuries, is going to make playing man-to-man defense against the talented Falcons receivers difficult, so the Browns will be forced to play more zone defense than usual. Ryan has completions of only six passes of 40 or more yards, but he has 34 completions of 20 or more yards. The Browns’ defensive backs will have to react quickly Sunday or that number for Ryan could increase by five or more.

To make matters worse for the Browns, the Falcons’ beleaguered defense is about to get a boost.

The Falcons signed veteran defensive end Bruce Irvin to boost the team’s waning pass rush and announced that middle linebacker Deion Jones has returned to the practice field.

Irvin signed with the team after being released by the Raiders. He reported to camp and will start on Sunday. Jones isn’t ready for game action, but he’s getting closer.

Quinn was an assistant coach at Seattle when he worked with Irvin and was happy to be reunited with the Georgia native.

“No. 1, it was an opportunity for us to add another pass rusher into our group,” he said. “I’ve had experience with him and (it’s great) to have that familiarity with the scheme and how we want him to play and the style and attitude that we love to rush with.”

Quinn said Irvin would be featured as a pass rusher within the group. The Falcons have only 17 sacks, with Takk McKinley (six) and Jack Crawford (four) the team leaders. Vic Beasley Jr., who led the league in 2016, has one.

Irvin has three sacks this season. He had a career-high eight last year.

“We know the groups that we’re facing and every single chance that we have to add to our pass rush, we certainly are going to,” Quinn said. “We are at our best when we have a big number of guys that we’re going to try to feature in a number of ways like we’ve done over a few years. We’re really pumped to have him here with us.”

Jones was hurt near the end of the season opener, a game that saw him have nine tackles and an interception. The foot injury required surgery and forced him to the injured reserve list.

“We’re really pumped because he’s worked extremely hard to get back, so this is the next step for him, beginning the practice portion of his recovery,” Quinn said. “We’re really fired up to have No. 45 back on the field.”

After scheming for a stationary quarterback in Washington’s Alex Smith, the Falcons face another young mobile guy in Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield. The No. 1 draft pick has started three games and has thrown for 1,768 yards and 10 touchdowns with seven interceptions. He’s been sacked 22 times but rushed for 91 yards when scrambling. In last week’s loss to Kansas City, Mayfield threw for 297 yards and two touchdowns.

“He throws a really good deep ball and he has the confidence to throw it into tight windows,” Quinn said. “He has a quick release. When there is pressure there, it does not take a long time for the ball to get out.”

The Falcons will want to negate the running game, led by former University of Georgia star Nick Chubb, and apply heat to Mayfield.