Matt Williamson's Prime Time Preview
@WilliamsonNFL previews this week's NFL Prime Time games that you can play along with on the Fanium app.
San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals
Even at home, this will be a very difficult divisional challenge for the upstart Cardinals against an undefeated opponent. In his 49ers debut, Emmanuel Sanders was clearly the top wide receiver and should continue to be used accordingly. But Sanders should see plenty of Patrick Peterson in Arizona. It is George Kittle that is set up to explode on Thursday night against what has clearly been the worst defense against tight ends. Even without Mike McGlinchey and Joe Staley, San Francisco’s offensive line has been exceptional, especially opening massive holes in this running game, but Chandler Jones could present major problems in the passing game. Tevin Coleman has assumed the lead back duties, but as is the Kyle Shanahan way, San Francisco will get several runners carries while looking to lighten the load on Jimmy Garoppolo. The Cardinals might be able to compensate some with scheme, but they are at a tremendous disadvantage against San Francisco’s defensive front. They simply lack talent on their offensive line. Arizona’s passing attack has been far too horizontal of late and that is unlikely to change unless Murray can run around like a chicken with his head cut off to buy time for his receivers to get down the field. That being said, getting Christian Kirk back was big for Arizona’s passing game, who looks as though he will be Murray’s top target going forward. The Cardinals running back situation is in flux, but it will be interesting to see how much Kenyon Drake is used after so recently joining his new team. Kliff Kingsbury’s first season as head coach has gone better than most expected, but this will really be a tough test.
New England Patriots at Baltimore Ravens
Is this the week that the reigning champions actually lose a game? They are going into a very tough environment on a national stage…but the Patriots can handle it. Baltimore is home coming off their bye and should be healthy for the most part. The most interesting thing to watch in this game is how Bill Belichick decides to defend Lamar Jackson. New England will play a lot of man coverage as they always do, but they absolutely must have some sort of spy defender if that is their preferred coverage approach. But what to really look for is what type of pass-rush plan Belichick devises. Jackson is a way better athlete than anyone trying to rush him and he will get out of the pocket and make plays as a runner no matter what, but here is betting that New England keeps him confined to the pocket better than anyone else has to date and forces the second year quarterback to make throws against New England’s supreme secondary. If anyone knows how valuable a dangerous tight end can be, it is Belichick. Expect the Patriots coverage tactics to focus on surrounding Mark Andrews with many defenders. A problem area for Baltimore’s passing attack is it is far too reliant on just Andrews and Marquise Brown, who should be back on the field. One area of Baltimore’s offense that hasn’t gotten the credit it deserves is the offensive line, which is playing great this year. Like the Patriots, Baltimore’s defense is built on the strength of their secondary which is now healthy, deep and vastly talented. Built on blitz and disguised coverage, that is unlikely to work against Tom Brady. However, New England is still searching a bit on this side of the ball and haven’t quite settled in with their overall best approach to playing offense. This may end up being a very low scoring game and it is noteworthy that both these teams excel year after year on special teams more so than any two franchises in the NFL, but the kicker advantage is massively in Baltimore’s favor in what might be a very close game.
Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants
It will be interesting to see how newly acquired Leonard Williams is utilized. It shouldn’t go unnoticed that New York is now very talented with their big men on defense and won’t be pushovers against the Cowboys great offensive line. That battle in the trenches will be one of the headline matchups and will go a long way to see if Dallas can control the pace of the game on the road with Ezekiel Elliott. But even if Elliott isn’t in store for a big day on the ground, this sets up as a huge passing game for Dak Prescott and his wide receivers. Elliott also has a very favorable matchup in the passing game against the Giants linebackers. Sterling Shepard might return for this game, but Darius Slayton has been effective, and the Giants overall do not lack for receiving weapons. However, protection could be a big problem for New York, especially from their offensive tackles against the Cowboys dangerous defensive ends. Don’t expect Daniel Jones to push the ball downfield all that much and it wouldn’t be surprising if he turns the ball over on more than one occasion. If New York is to win this game, it will have to be on the back of Saquon Barkley.