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Here is how I am handicapping the six games included this week:
Jaguars at Packers (-13.5)
The mismatch here isn’t quarterback vs. quarterback, where future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers is on one side and rookie Jake Luton, in his second career start, is on the other.
It’s the league’s third-best scoring offense (31.6 points per game) against the league’s second-worst scoring defense (30.9 ppg). The Packers can essentially name the score against a Jaguars defense that doesn’t rush the passer or cover particularly well. They should pick a number that includes odd math – say 39 points – and strive to hit it to make things more entertaining.
Temperatures are expected to be in the 40s with possible showers in Green Bay on Sunday morning. The Jaguars are practicing in the sun and 80-degree heat all week. How early will their urgency surface to get back on the plane and head home? Second quarter seems right.
Pick: Packers by 13+
Washington Football Team at Lions (N/A)
Alex Smith will make his first start since Nov. 18, 2018, before the injury that required 17 surgeries and almost required leg amputation. He threw for 325 yards – but three costly interceptions – off the bench last week against the Giants.
Simply put, if Smith trusts his leg to withstand big hits, he is the best quarterback on the team – not benched 2019 first-round pick Dwayne Haskins or the now-injured Kyle Allen. This forced switch might be an unintentional upgrade.
Every Lions game is a roller-coaster and this one feels like it will be chock full of big plays and turnovers. Matthew Stafford (neck) returned to practice Wednesday and is expected to play as the Lions search for their first home win.
Pick: Washington by 1 to 3
Texans at Browns (-3.5)
A bit of a role reversal from the norm as it’s the Browns in playoff contention and the Texans playing out the stretch.
The Browns had a bye week to figure out what their offense looks like without Odell Beckham Jr. It’s easy to say ground-and-pound with Kareem Hunt and the return of Nick Chubb, but that doesn’t work as well without OBJ to take the top off the defense. Unless it’s against the Texans’ weak rushing defense. It’s up to Baker Mayfield not to throw away a win here.
Will Fuller has a touchdown in six straight games — imagine if he stayed healthy and was this effective playing alongside DeAndre Hopkins? — as Deshaun Watson’s new favorite target. Interim coach Romeo Crennel goes back to Cleveland, where he was 24-40 as head coach from 2005-08.
Pick: Browns by 4 to 7
Eagles at Giants (+3.5)
The Giants don’t just lose to the Eagles. They blow big leads and lose in spectacularly gut-wrenching fashion in the final seconds, on long field goals and dropped passes and blown coverages and controversial calls. It’s psychological at this point.
Down 11 to the Giants with five minutes to go earlier this season, the Eagles rallied for their 12th win in the last 13 meetings – and they are in the driver’s seat in the NFC East because of it. The Giants’ last five games have been decided by 10 total points – and no team has played tight games consecutively like that since the 1987 Chicago Bears.
Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz has never lost to the Giants, while Giants quarterback Daniel Jones has lost 16 straight games to opponents other than Washington, whom he has beaten four times during that stretch.
Pick: Eagles by 1 to 3
Buccaneers at Panthers (+4.5)
This is why it’s silly to crown a team as the one to beat in Week 7. The Buccaneers stomped the Packers – then barely snuck by the Giants and were dismantled by the Saints.
With Tom Brady trying to feed the ball to Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski and now Antonio Brown, it’s going to be easy to forget the running game. Must resist temptation. Setting an NFL record for fewest rushing attempts (five) last week against the Saints is embarrassing. So was the most lopsided loss (35 points) of Brady’s career.
The Panthers might be squeezing more out of their roster than any team in the league, but Christian McCaffrey is headed back to the sideline after a one-game return from injury.
Pick: Buccaneers by 8 to 12
Seahawks at Rams (-1.5)
A game that will provide some clarity in the NFC West, where a last-place record would be good for first place in the NFC East.
NFL MVP frontrunner Russell Wilson essentially plays against two defenses every week: The opponent’s and the Seahawks’. Wilson must lead the Seahawks to 30 points – easier to do if top two running backs Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde return from injury this week – in order to give his team a chance to win because he gets no help on the other side of the ball.
The Rams have won four of the past five and averaged 33.6 points per game against a defense that was better then than it is now. Off a bye, coach Sean McVay had an extra week to scheme up easy throws for Jared Goff.
Pick: Rams by 4 to 7
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