Itching to watch an underdog try to overcome the odds or triumph against adversity? Simply looking to pass the time reading another NFL.com article while stuck in your cube? Marc Sessler offers a bead on six us-against-the-world 'dog scenarios to track entering Week 7 of the 2021 NFL season.
The lines below provided by FanDuel are current as of 8 a.m. ET on Wednesday, Oct. 20 unless otherwise noted below.
THURSDAY, OCT. 21
- WHERE: FirstEnergy Stadium (Cleveland)
- WHEN: 8:20 p.m. ET | FOX, NFL Network, Amazon
- UNDERDOG: Broncos +3
The banged-up Browns are vulnerable. Case Keenum will start after Baker Mayfield's reinjured left shoulder rendered him no-go for TNF. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are out with tweaked calves. Both starting tackles, Jedrick Wills and Jack Conklin, weren't healthy enough to face the Cardinals. Odell Beckham's toiling through a shoulder injury and exciting rookie linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (ankle) just landed on IR. Once a starry 3-1 offensive juggernaut, today's .500 Browns are struggling for air on both sides of the ball. Teddy Bridgewater isn't Justin Herbert or Kyler Murray, but Denver's steady-if-underwhelming starter should find opportunities against a defense fried for 84 points over the past two weeks. The Broncos are no peach -- especially after getting their "butts whooped" by the Raiders, as safety Justin Simmons put it -- but this is a Browns team in need of a bye week (month?), not a hyper-rushed call to action on Thursday night.
SUNDAY, OCT. 24
- WHERE: MetLife Stadium (East Rutherford, N.J.)
- WHEN: 1 p.m. ET | FOX
- UNDERDOG: Giants +3
Cosmic trust in Sam Darnold has tumbled. His late-game heroics against Minnesota were admirable, but the up-and-down passer threw a ghastly pick on the game's first offensive snap -- his sixth in three weeks -- and went into halftime with 60 yards through the air. Carolina's drop-happy wideouts don't help -- Robby Anderson caught three of 11 targets on Sunday -- but that doesn't explain away Darnold hitting just 54.7 percent of his throws during a three-game losing streak. Coach Matt Rhule talked openly Sunday about his Panthers needing to "redefine who we are" on offense. That means focusing on the run and playing around a quarterback who might not be Carolina's starter after this season. The Giants are coming off embarrassing losses to the Cowboys and Rams, but now encounter a Christian McCaffrey-free Panthers club at the right hour. It's anyone's guess who will suit up beside Daniel Jones, but New York's signal-caller showed sparks (watch his tape against the Saints) before Sunday's Rams-inflicted meltdown.
- WHERE: Nissan Stadium (Nashville, Tenn.)
- WHEN: 1 p.m. ET | CBS
- UNDERDOG: Titans +5.5
It is the east, and Derrick Henry is the sun. All things Titan-esque revolve his hurly-burly, load-of-bricks romps through enemy fronts. Buffalo's top-ranked scoring defense couldn't stop him on Monday night -- as Tennessee came into full bloom as an AFC heavy -- so how about the Chiefs? Before Sunday's 31-13 win over Washington, Kansas City's defense "boasted" the eighth-worst defensive DVOA through five games since 1983. The Chiefs desperately need havoc-creating Chris Jones back in the fold, but he alone won't rescue a unit allowing 29-plus points in five of six bouts. Spare me the sky-is-falling rhetoric over Patrick Mahomes throwing the worst pick of his career. His eight interceptions are a talking point, but so are his NFL-best 18 touchdowns. He remains a deity to this typist, but Kansas City is creating chances for upsets with a league-leading 14 giveaways. It's barely fair to paint these butt-kicking Titans as 'dogs in the first place, seeing how they just punched out the mighty Bills on the national stage.
- WHERE: Hard Rock Stadium (Miami Gardens, Fla.)
- WHEN: 1 p.m. ET | FOX
- UNDERDOG: Dolphins +2.5
The Falcons travel to Miami as favorites coming off a bye, while the jet-lagged Dolphins go right back to work after Sunday's ugly loss to the Jaguars in London. Here's what happens next: Miami will be roasted all week by hordes of talking heads. The O-line is a mess, and Tua Tagovailoa does too little under center to help Fin fans forget they passed on Justin Herbert. Tua played well early against Jacksonville, though, despite a flock of wideouts being out of commission. Myles Gaskin is two weeks removed from a career performance, while Jaylen Waddle (10/70/2) and Mike Gesicki (8/115) thrived against the Jags. Hope exists against a Falcons defense giving up more points per game than every team but Washington. Bury Miami as you please, but Atlanta went into its Week 6 bye with the worst total team DVOA league-wide, according to Football Outsiders. Let's not pretend the '89 Niners are waltzing into South Beach.
- WHERE: M&T Bank Stadium (Baltimore)
- WHEN: 1 p.m. ET | CBS
- UNDERDOG: Bengals +6
Tall order? Sure. These Bengals, though, have matured into a watchable outfit with difference makers on both sides of the ball. Fifth overall pick Ja'Marr Chase needed a month at the new job to become a plug-and-play luminary. The hammer-dropping wideout's 553 receiving yards through his first six games are the second-most by any rookie in the modern era. Joe Burrow -- Pro Football Focus' sixth-ranked quarterback -- has tossed as many touchdowns (14) as Justin Herbert and Kyler Murray. Lou Anarumo's defense is allowing the fifth-fewest points league-wide and the eighth-fewest yards on the ground. Linebacker Logan Wilson has emerged as a ballhawk, while free-agent edge Trey Hendrickson (with three sacks in the past two weeks) won hearts by housing Detroit rookie left tackle Penei Sewell, the guy many hoped Cincy would draft over Chase. The Bengals took the Packers to overtime and flat-out demoralized the Lions -- Detroit went scoreless for 51-plus minutes and stalled at 3.7 yards per play -- but can they hang with white-hot Baltimore? Stopping Lamar Jackson is a fool's errand, but today's Bengals aren't scared of a street fight. Said Chase of the team's desire to make life tough on the enemy: "We have to step on people's necks."
- WHERE: Levi's Stadium (Santa Clara, Calif.)
- WHEN: 8:20 p.m. ET | NBC
- UNDERDOG: Colts +4
The Niners were my Super Bowl pick in the NFC. Super Bowl teams don't ride three-game losing streaks into their bye with a laundry list of injuries and less-than-expected juice at quarterback. With Trey Lance nursing a knee sprain, it's back to milquetoast Jimmy Garoppolo. Heart-of-the-offense George Kittle sits on injured reserve. Brandon Aiyuk has vanished. Thirty-six humans have played running back in this offense. The secondary is thin. I qualify as a Kyle Shanahan fanatic, but San Francisco is stuck clawing for wins. The Colts rebounded in fiery fashion with a 31-3 romp of Houston after a Monday night detonation against Baltimore. The Ravens implosion was messy, but Indy's the same team that built a 25-9 fourth-quarter lead before fading. Jonathan Taylor's a bona fide stud in the backfield. Carson Wentz might not delight the senses, but he's tossed six touchdowns over the past three weeks and is still sitting on one pick for the season. This defense plays nasty for stretches at a time. The Colts are imperfect, but covering the spread against these Niners isn't exactly asking them to solve the Kennedy Assassination.