It’s the midway point of this longest NFL season ever and although we kind of know who the top teams are you can just never tell from one week to the next in this most unpredictable of leagues.
The Bengals were flying after beating up Baltimore but then lost to the Jets, so now need a response as they face divisional foes Cleveland, who have just cut one of the most recognisable wide receivers in Odell Beckham Jr.
There’s been off-field controversy all season for the Las Vegas Raiders to deal with, but they’ve dealt with it all brilliantly and will have to do so again as they head to New York to face the Giants.
Dak Prescott returns for the Dallas Cowboys and could have himself a day against Denver while New England look to make it three in a row as they face the Panthers with both sides sitting on 4-4 and their seasons hanging in the balance.
Let’s check out the best bets from this week’s NFL Red Zone kick-offs.
Burrow 2+ passing TDs & Chase 1+ receiving TDs
Cleveland Browns @ Cincinnati Bengals
Nothing sums up the unpredictable nature of the NFL more than the Cincinnati Bengals dominating Super Bowl contenders Baltimore one week, then losing to the lowly New York Jets the next. Now they face a bounce-back game against divisional rivals Cleveland to restore their momentum.
The Browns also need a response after a disappointing defeat to Pittsburgh last week, when running back Nick Chubb was held to a season-low 61 yards as the best rushing attack in the league was bottled up by the Steelers. That’s a blueprint the Bengals will follow as Browns QB Baker Mayfield is still dealing with a shoulder problem.
Cincy also have a stout rush defence so it’ll be upfront that the Browns will try and win the battle, but the Bengals will have no worries airing it out with QB Joe Burrow currently on a joint team-record streak of three straight games with three TD passes.
Three’s the magic number here for Burrow as he’s thrown three TDs in both games against the Browns last season. Cleveland are also being very welcoming through the air after allowing 17 receiving TDs this season (third-most in the league) so rookie receiver Ja’Marr Chase’s eyes will also be lighting up at those stats.
Chase has more receiving yards in his first eight NFL games than anyone in history bar Harlon Hill (back in 1954!) so it shows just what an incredible debut season he’s having. I like the Bengals as just 2.5-point favourites but like Burrow and Chase to have plenty of joy more.
Raiders to win (-4.5pts)
Las Vegas Raiders @ New York Giants
No team has had to deal with so many off-field distractions for many a year, perhaps ever, than the Las Vegas Raiders – who have seen their head coach Jon Gruden resign in disgrace and this last week releasing top receiver Henry Ruggs after his drink-driving arrest following a fatal car crash.
QB Derek Carr has been through it all and had to act as team spokesman throughout a hugely difficult period, yet he’s not only managed that but kept the team winning games and they’re still 5-2 and well on course for the play-offs.
The Giants should’ve beaten the Chiefs on Monday night and they’ll still be kicking themselves as they enter this game still missing Saquon Barkley and a host of other playmakers in their skill positions.
Their defence kept Patrick Mahomes quiet but the Chiefs made their own mistakes in that game, as they have all season, and with Carr leading the second-best passing attack in the league the Raiders actually bring more problems to solve.
Ruggs is a miss but star tight end Darren Waller should return but don’t be surprised if Carr uses both his tight ends as Foster Moreau really stepped-up last game with Waller out. The Raiders have made winning in adversity their thing this season, and they’ll again respond with a big win in the Big Apple.
Over 3.5 field goals
New England Patriots @ Carolina Panthers
Bill Belichick seems to have the Patriots rolling now with back-to-back wins putting them on 4-4, the same as Sunday’s hosts Carolina after they ended their losing skid with a victory in Atlanta last week.
The Panthers had lost four straight after winning their opening three, but it’s far from plain sailing now as with QB Sam Darnold suffering with concussion PJ Walker should start on Sunday. He’s partial to an error back there and facing a Pats defence that just rattled Justin Herbert last week is far from ideal.
Carolina have a solid defence themselves and they’ll try and stop New England’s rushing attack and force rookie Mac Jones to win what should be a low-scoring defensive battle, with plenty of running football involved.
It’s a tale of two running backs here as Patriots rusher Damien Harris has scored in four straight games and will spearhead the visiting attack, while this game will take on a completely different complexion if Carolina’s star RB Christian McCaffrey can play any part after a hamstring injury.
There shouldn’t be much in this one at all, it looks like one of the lowest-scoring games of the weekend, and there could well be more field goals in this than touchdowns. The Pats have attempted the second-most field goals in the league this season while the Panthers kicked four in their last game.
Dak Prescott 3+ passing TDs
Denver Broncos @ Dallas Cowboys
It’s funny that we still didn’t really take the Cowboys that seriously with Dak Prescott, but winning without him last week really made people sit up and take notice that Dallas are genuine contenders this season.
Winning on the road in Minnesota with backup Cooper Rush under centre was the statement Dallas needed, but now Dak is back and if he is anything like he was before missing a game through injury then even Denver’s decent defence is in trouble.
The Broncos only allow just over 17 points per game but trading away star defender Von Miller will not only hurt production but will also be a kick in the teeth to the confidence of this unit – especially coming up against a flying Dallas attack containing Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb.
Dallas have scored at least 35 points in the last eight home games Prescott has started at QB, and only the Chargers this season have kept him under three TD passes in a game. Lamb and Cooper are proving to be an elite receiving combination and Elliott is running hard and effectively.
Denver’s attack just doesn’t look able to keep pace and their defence may struggle if they go down early on. This looks like a game where Prescott himself can make a statement that he’s back as good as ever.
Waller, Chase & Thielen all to score TDs
Darren Waller is back from injury for the Raiders and with Henry Ruggs cut he’ll be a big focal point for Derek Carr, who is throwing the ball brilliantly and can shred a pretty leaky Giants defence.
Ja’Marr Chase is smashing all kinds of rookie records and after losing to the Jets last week the Bengals will want a response against the Browns. Joe Burrow has thrown three TDs in three straight games and managed it twice against the Browns last season so Chase should get plenty of opportunities.
Baltimore’s secondary was gashed by Cincinnati in their last game and now they face the accurate Kirk Cousins and two elite play-making receivers. Justin Jefferson will get the attention but Adam Thielen has scored in five out of seven games and can do so again against the Ravens.