It might feel as though the NFL season has only just begun, but the truth is that most teams are already a quarter of the way through their regular season. Time is running out for the slow starters to rescue their playoff hopes. Likewise, contestants in our Pick Six competition should know that they cannot afford to let the front-runners get out of sight.
That was a lesson heeded by our very own Australian sports editor, Tom Lutz, who was the only person in a field of nearly 300 people to get all six picks correct last week. I trust that you will all join me in offering him a
begrudging and slightly bitter highly enthusiastic round of applause.
Before we get on to this week's picks, I should include the customary reminder that we will be live blogging this weekend's action in our NFL Clockwatch from 1pm ET/6pm BST. We will have the Five Things We Learned round-up on Tuesday, too.
And now it's time for your feature attraction:
Baltimore Ravens @ Miami Dolphins (Sunday 1pm ET/6pm BST)
A match-up between two above-average teams that share the same crucial flaw: neither of them is very good at protecting their quarterback. Baltimore's Joe Flacco drew a lot of criticism for his five interceptions against Buffalo last week, and much of it was merited; when you sign a $120.6m contract, the bar of expectation has to be raised. But he was also hit 12 times in that game, while a non-existent running game did nothing to slow down Buffalo's pass rush. The Ravens at least acknowledged their problem by trading for Jacksonville offensive tackle Eugene Monroe on Thursday. Miami's Ryan Tannehill could be excused for wondering when he might find a little better protection after being sacked a league-high 18 times so far. But I do not see an awful lot between these teams, and Miami are at home.
Dolphins to win
New England Patriots @ Cincinnati Bengals (Sunday 1pm ET/6pm BST)
The Patriots answered some doubters (myself included) by winning what was supposed to be a tough road game in Atlanta, despite the continued absences of Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola. At time of writing, it is still not yet known if those two will make it back into the line-up on Sunday (of the two, Amendola looks more likely) but the Patriots have lost another important player in the meantime, with defensive tackle Vince Wilfork tearing his Achilles during the win over the Falcons. The impact of that injury should not be underestimated; even the New England head coach Bill Belichick acknowledged on Wednesday that "there's no replacing Vince". Cincinnati are 2-0 at home, but lost in Cleveland last week and have struggled to get their passing game going. If Aqib Talib can cover AJ Green as effectively as he did Julio Jones, the Bengals will have a hard time improving in that department.
Patriots to win
Seattle Seahawks @ Indianapolis Colts (Sunday 1pm ET/6pm BST)
This will be billed as Russell Wilson versus Andrew Luck – a face-off between two second-year quarterbacks who each excelled in their rookie year. And while that is undoubtedly an overly-simplistic way to look at things, it is true that each man's success in overcoming certain obstacles could set the tone for how this one pans out. For Wilson the challenge is to find some consistency after an up-and-down start to the season – one in which Seattle have won every game and yet somehow still looked out-of-sync at times, especially on the road. Luck, on the other hand, will need to show that he knows how to pick his spots against the Seahawks' formidable cornerback pairing of Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner. The latter task looks more daunting to me.
Seahawks to win
New Orleans Saints @ Chicago Bears (Sunday 1pm ET/6pm BST)
It has not taken Sean Payton long to turn the Saints back into a contender; since returning from his year-long suspension, the New Orleans head coach is a perfect 4-0. Chicago had been unbeaten themselves through the first three weeks, but came badly unstuck in Detroit. A return home gives them their best chance of turning things around – and they have won all of their last three meetings with the Saints in Chicago – but a defense that is giving up 28.5 points per game will have its hands very full with Drew Brees and co.
Saints to win
Philadelphia Eagles @ New York Giants (Sunday 1pm ET/6pm BST)
Antrel Rolle believes the Giants could win their next 12 games. Right now most Giants fans would settle for just one. An 0-4 start looks bad enough before you even stop to consider the fact that they have lost the last two games by a combined score of 69-7. But the Eagles have not exactly been setting the world alight either, extinguishing talk of Chip Kelly's offense as the NFL's Next Big Thing with three defeats in as many games. After the initial shock of Philadelphia's first-half explosion in Washington, there is a sense that experienced NFL coaches are working out ways to slow the Eagles down. And Tom Coughlin certainly has experience on his side.
Giants to win
Carolina Panthers @ Arizona Cardinals (Sunday 4.05pm ET/9.05pm BST)
When a head coach defines his own team's offense as "putrid", as Arizona's Bruce Arians did this week, then that is probably not a good sign. Much as it was last season, the Cardinals' blocking up front has been a disaster, and it is hard to see how they will get much better in the short term after they traded offensive tackle Levi Brown to Pittsburgh for a conditional draft pick. The Panthers arrive refreshed from a bye week and high on confidence after routing the Giants 38-0 in their previous game. And yet they are still just a 1-2 team right now, and cross-country road trips are not to be taken lightly.
Cardinals to win
And the rest
Here are the rest of this week's games. These are not included in the Pick Six, but feel free to post your picks for these as well. If you do so then please keep them separate from your Pick Six predictions, as it will make life a lot easier when tallying up your scores.
1pm ET/6pm GMT
Detroit Lions @ Green Bay Packers
Kansas City Chiefs @ Tennessee Titans
Jacksonville Jaguars @ St Louis Rams
4.25pm ET/9.25pm BST
Denver Broncos @ Dallas Cowboys
8.30pm ET/Monday 1.30am BST
Houston Texans @ San Francisco 49ers
11.35pm ET/Monday 4.35am BST
San Diego Chargers @ Oakland Raiders
8.30pm ET/Tuesday 1.30am BST
New York Jets @ Atlanta Falcons
Bye weeks: Minnesota Vikings, Pittsburgh Steelers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Washington
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk