Commentary

Identifying the best, most important games of NFL Week 6

Updated: October 11, 2017, 3:37 PM ET
By Hank Gargiulo and Seth Walder | ESPN.com

What are the five must-watch NFL games this week? ESPN's matchup quality metric, which utilizes ESPN's Football Power Index to rank games on a 1-100 scale based on the quality of teams and projected closeness of the final score, tells us the top games of Week 6.


1. Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Fox)

Matchup quality: 79 out of 100
FPI win projection: Vikings, 51 percent
FPI playoff leverage: Vikings 26 percent, Packers 17 percent

Sam Bradford's return to the lineup was short-lived, as the Vikings' primary starter was forced to leave before halftime and his status for Sunday is still up in the air. His status will ultimately determine whom FPI favors (albeit ever so slightly) come game time. With Bradford, the Vikings would be slim 52 percent favorites, while if Case Keenum gets the nod, Green Bay would edge just north of 50 percent as the favorite. Either way, FPI projects a coin-toss game.

No matter who is under center for the Vikings, they'll need a win to buoy their chances at winning the NFC North. Should Minnesota win, the Vikings would improve their chances at winning the division to 33 percent, but a loss would drop it to 8 percent. A Packers win would make them 81 percent favorites, while a loss would give them a 50 percent chance.

Aaron Rodgers, Xavier RhodesDan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin via USA TODAY SportsAaron Rodgers and the Packers figure to put on an entertaining display vs. the Vikings.


2. Philadelphia Eagles at Carolina Panthers (Thursday, 8:25 p.m. ET, CBS)

Matchup quality: 73 out of 100
FPI win projection: Panthers, 56 percent
FPI playoff leverage: Panthers 22 percent, Eagles 13 percent

Games in October count just as much as games in December, and with that in mind it isn't too early to start looking at who may end up being the top seed in the NFC. FPI projects the Eagles to take the top seed in the NFC 34 percent of the time with a victory and only 10 percent of the time with a loss. Carolina is projected to earn home-field 23 percent of the time should the Panthers emerge victorious but only 5 percent of the time should they lose.

It will also be a matchup of two of the hotter quarterbacks in the league over the past two weeks. Cam Newton (87.6 Total QBR) and Carson Wentz (83.9) own the third- and fifth-highest Total QBRs in the league over that span.


3. Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS)

Matchup quality: 73 out of 100
FPI win projection: Chiefs, 74 percent
FPI playoff leverage: Steelers 16 percent, Chiefs 1 percent

No, that isn't an error you just read, FPI really has the Chiefs with just a 1 percent difference in making the playoffs based on the result of their game against Pittsburgh. When you are 5-0 and already projected to make the playoffs 99.4 percent of the time, there just isn't much to gain. Kansas City is favored in each of its remaining games this year, including six in which it is a 75 percent or greater favorite. Even if they should stumble at home against Pittsburgh, the Chiefs are likely to rack up enough wins to make the second season.

Pittsburgh has a bit more on the line, though it is still seen as the class of the AFC North by FPI. A Steelers win gets them to 83 percent to make the playoffs and a loss still has them at a favorable 67 percent, as this is the only game on their schedule in which they aren't projected to have at least a 40 percent chance to win.


4. Detroit Lions at New Orleans Saints (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Fox)

Matchup quality: 57 out of 100
FPI win projection: Saints, 68 percent
FPI playoff leverage: Lions 27 percent, Saints 25 percent

Matthew Stafford hasn't chucked it deep a ton this season, but that could change on Sunday.

The Lions have attempted passes with 20 or more air yards on only 8.7 percent of attempts this year, the seventh-lowest rate in the league, but they'll be up against a Saints defense that has allowed the second-highest QBR on such passes. Perhaps the Lions will be spurred on to take advantage of that after seeing Jay Cutler fail to do so in Week 4, when he threw just one such pass and it went incomplete.

Overall, this should be a big production spot for the Lions' offense, as the Saints have the second-worst defense in the league, according to FPI. So why are the Saints favored? Two reasons:

1. FPI very much believes in New Orleans' offense. Even as Drew Brees has aged, it's the same old story with the Saints: a killer offense that is held back by a porous defense.

2. The Saints are not only home, but they are home off of last week's bye. The rest differential works in their favor, and FPI accounts for it.


5. New York Giants at Denver Broncos (Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC)

Matchup quality: 53 out of 100
FPI win projection: Broncos, 72 percent
FPI playoff leverage: Broncos 18 percent, Giants 1 percent

If the Giants were below average in offensive efficiency before, what are they going to do now without (at least) receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall? It could get ugly for New York -- heck, it already is.

It's worth noting here that FPI does have its limitations, and one of those limitations is that it does not explicitly adjust for injuries to non-quarterbacks. Presumably, the Giants' offense will be worse in the coming weeks, and the model will notice and adjust accordingly. But at the moment, it probably is slightly overrating Big Blue's prospects in this game because it doesn't know about the loss of Beckham.

Of course, Beckham's injury and the Giants' offensive line woes have overshadowed the fact that, quietly, their defense has performed below expectation, too. All of FPI's optimism about the Giants stemmed from a belief that their defense would be excellent, but so far, it, like the offense, has been below average in terms of efficiency. FPI hasn't given up on the defense yet -- it still thinks the unit will be 2.2 points better per game than average -- but it's been disappointed so far.


High-leverage game of the week: Los Angeles Rams at Jacksonville Jaguars (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET, Fox)

Matchup quality: 50 out of 100
FPI win projection: Jaguars, 74 percent
FPI playoff leverage: Jaguars 13 percent, Rams 11 percent

Jared Goff faced a tough test last week. It's about to step up a notch.

Goff, who was off to a very strong start to the 2017 season, didn't implode against the Seahawks, but it wasn't all that pretty, either. He posted a Total QBR of 34.6, though the rest of his team played well enough that the Rams nearly pulled off the victory and, frankly, Goff threw a pass that could have been a game-winner.

That was against the Seahawks, who have held opponents to the sixth-lowest Total QBR this season. The Jaguars are league best in the category.

The Rams rank 24th in expected points added per run play this season, which isn't ideal against a Jacksonville offense that is seemingly trying to run its whole offense on the ground.

For more from ESPN Analytics, visit the ESPN Analytics Index

Hank Gargiulo

ESPN Analytics

Seth Walder

ESPN Analytics

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