Predicting NFL games is difficult. The only guarantee is that there will be at least one upset just about every week.
In Week 6, however, five teams are above the fray. These teams have underdog immunity and are locks to put one in the win column.
at Dolphins (1-4)
The Steelers are the top road lock of the week against a dismal Dolphins squad that is only 4-6 at home since the beginning of last season.
There are some caveats here aside from the risk of picking a road team. Every year since 2012, the Steelers have lost to at least one team that finished 5-11 or worse. With the Patriots looming in Week 7, this has trap game written all over it.
However, the Steelers are off to their best start since 2010. That was the last year they made the Super Bowl. This suggests that they have the characteristics of a team that can make a Super Bowl run and not the teams that have been vulnerable to inferior competition in recent years.
Ben Roethlisberger has thrown a league-leading 15 touchdown passes this season. He was sacked just once in last week’s 31-13 win over the Jets and had all kinds of time to throw. Roethlisberger is on pace to have the best season of his career behind the best offensive line he’s had since it included Hall of Fame candidate Alan Faneca.
That doesn’t bode well for a Dolphins defense that has allowed 401 yards per game, 28th in the NFL.
On the other side of the ball, the Dolphins are 29th with 303.8 yards of offense per game, 31st with a 29 percent conversion rate on third down and dead last with an average time of possession of 24:38.
The Dolphins would be the NFL’s only winless team if the Browns hadn’t missed a field goal at the end of regulation in Week 3. If the Steelers have the ball at the end of regulation Sunday, they’ll be taking a knee.
vs. 49ers (1-4)
For the second year in a row, the 49ers have lost four straight after winning a Monday-night opener at home.
It’s funny how the teams the 49ers beat in those openers went on to have decent seasons. They beat the Vikings 20-3 in Week 1 last season and the Vikings made the playoffs. They beat the Rams 28-0 to start this season and the Rams are 3-2.
Those games started at 10:20 p.m on the East Coast, so half the country was asleep and those people probably still don’t believe those games actually happened considering the current state of the 49ers.
Perhaps Colin Kaepernick, who’s replacing Blaine Gabbert as the starting quarterback, can give the 49ers’ 31st-ranked offense a shot in the arm. The Bills, however, have allowed just two touchdown passes this season, second only to the Seahawks. If Kaepernick is thinking of dusting off the read option, the 49ers have allowed 3.5 yards per carry, tied for fifth in the league.
#1 in points on first possession
#2 in turnover margin
#3 in rushing
#4 in sacks
— Buffalo Bills (@buffalobills) October 13, 2016
The Bills have won three straight after losing by six in their first two games. Their point differential of plus-30 is the best among teams who have no better than a 3-2 record. The Bills are second to the unbeaten Vikings with a plus-9 turnover ratio.
Tom Brady or no Tom Brady, the Bills are the only team to beat the Patriots this season. When Sunday’s action wraps up, they’ll have their third win over an NFC West team in the last four games.
vs. Bengals (2-3)
Think Gillette Stadium might be a little amped up when Tom Brady makes his first post-suspension home start?
Not only is Brady back, but Rob Gronkowski is getting healthier every week, and the offseason addition of Martellus Bennett is like another head sprouting from the shoulder of the monster the Patriots have built at the tight end position. Bennett is second on the team with 21 receptions and leads the team with four touchdown catches.
One normally multi-headed aspect of the Patriots’ offense is flowing through one person this season. LeGarrette Blount is eighth in the NFL with 389 rushing yards. The Bengals are allowing a robust 4.4 yards per carry this season.
Cincinnati’s two wins this season have come over the reeling Jets by one point and at home against the hot-mess Dolphins. They trailed 21-0 Sunday at Dallas, their biggest halftime deficit since Week 13 of the 2011 season at Pittsburgh. Ezekiel Elliott gouged the Bengals for 134 yards on 15 carries. Blount can do the same thing if the Patriots get any kind of lead in this game.
The Patriots aren’t the best prescription for the struggling Bengals.
vs. Colts (2-3)
The Texans haven’t beaten the Colts at home since 2012, but they can be counted on to snap that streak on Sunday Night Football.
As one-sided as they were, both of the Texans’ losses this season have been forgivable. They’ve come at New England (27-0) and at Minnesota (31-13).
Meanwhile, the Colts’ 29-23 win at Chicago last week does little to wash out the stink of their loss to Jacksonville in London. Brian Hoyer, the starting quarterback version of a seat filler at the Oscars, threw for a career-high 397 yards against them last week.
Brock Osweiler might be able to look like an actual starting quarterback for a week against the Colts’ 28th-ranked pass defense. Andrew Luck, meanwhile, has to contend with the Texans’ top-ranked pass defense. He’s been sacked 20 times, more than any quarterback in the NFL, and the Texans are tied for seventh with 13 sacks.
Good luck with that, Luck.
Colts are the only team to not rush for 100 yards in 5 games this season.
— Scott Kacsmar (@FO_ScottKacsmar) October 11, 2016
vs. Jets (1-4)
This isn’t an easy season to trust the Cardinals as a lock, but with Carson Palmer out of the concussion protocol they’re a safe bet to beat the Jets Monday night.
The Jets have allowed the highest passer rating (118.6) in the league this season. They’re tied with the Lions for the highest completion percentage allowed (71.7) and they’ve yielded the second-most passing yards per game (303).
Ryan Fitzpatrick has thrown a league-high 10 interceptions and the Cardinals are tied for second in the league with seven picks. Fitzpatrick has been sacked seven times in the last two games and the Cardinals are third in the league with 18 sacks. That’s a tasty number crunch for the Cardinals.
A couple of intangibles also work in the Cardinals’ favor. The Cardinals’ Week 5 game was played on Thursday, so they’ll be coming off an 11-day respite while the Jets will have had the standard seven-day rest. Also, Todd Bowles was the Cardinals’ defensive coordinator before the Jets hired him as head coach in 2015, so it’s teacher vs. student. Usually the teacher wins those matchups.