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8 things to watch in NFL’s Week 6: Kirk Cousins gets to audition for the 49ers

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The Kirk Cousins Bowl is here, and so is Adrian Peterson’s debut with the Cardinals. And who’s pumped for that exciting (really!) Rams-Jags game?

Washington Redskins vs Los Angeles Rams Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Washington’s contract situation with its starting quarterback is tenuous. The club has steadfastly refused to give Kirk Cousins the big-money, long-term contract he desires, instead locking him in to franchise player designations that keep him from the free agent market on one-year deals. Cousins is making $23.9 million in 2017 and would cost $34.5 million to franchise again next fall or $28.8 million for one year under the transition tag.

That’s prohibitively expensive, even for the ready-to-spend Dan Snyder. If Washington can’t come to a new deal with Cousins — and it has already thrown the quarterback under the bus once in negotiations — he’ll become the top free agent quarterback to hit the open market since Drew Brees.

That’s where San Francisco comes in. The 49ers overhauled their quarterback depth chart in 2017 but tied themselves to short-term, low-risk players like Brian Hoyer and C.J. Beathard in a designed rebuilding year. That sets them up to make a run at Cousins — a player who developed into an above-average starter under the tutelage of current Niners coach Kyle Shanahan.

Shanahan had been linked to a run at his former quarterback even before officially signing on with San Francisco. The first-year head coach gets to see his protege on the gridiron again Sunday -- this time, he and the entire San Francisco front office will be scouting him for more than just defensive purposes.

Earlier this week, Cousins gave the exact kind of cliched responses to questions about his future as you’d imagine. But that won’t stop the speculation from now until free agency.

Rams vs. Jaguars might be THE game to watch Sunday. WTF?

The last time the Rams and Jaguars met was in 2013, when Jacksonville was 0-4 and St. Louis was 1-3. Both teams finished with losing records, and then again in 2014, 2015 and 2016.

But somehow, the Week 6 meeting of Jared Goff and Blake Bortles is a matchup of two teams at 3-2 battling for a spot at the top of their divisions.

The Rams are riding a surprisingly explosive offense with Goff and Todd Gurley leading the way, while the Jaguars are winning with Leonard Fournette and a secondary that is any quarterback’s nightmare.

Oddsmakers expected both teams to finish the 2017 season under .500, and that’s still really possible. Los Angeles hasn’t been great on defense, got shut down offensively by the Seahawks last week, and picked up easy wins over the Colts and 49ers early in the year. And the Jaguars have been laughably inconsistent with a pair of terrible losses.

But 2017 has given more reason for optimism for Rams and Jaguars fans than any season in about a decade. Embrace it.

Deshaun Watson gets to show the Browns what they passed on

The Browns didn’t want Deshaun Watson. They wanted assets.

Cleveland was in tremendous position to select the league’s most exciting rookie quarterback last fall. After drafting pass-rushing freak Myles Garrett with the first-overall pick, Watson was waiting for the league’s most consistent punchline to bring him to Ohio with No. 12.

But just as the Browns had passed up a chance to draft Carson Wentz in 2016 by trading back and acquiring picks, they did the same in 2017. The 12th-overall pick went to Houston in exchange for two first-rounders. Cleveland got Jabrill Peppers and a first-round pick next spring; the Texans got a player who appears to be a cornerstone quarterback.

So while Hue Jackson vacillates between starting DeShone Kizer or Kevin Hogan every week, Houston will trot out Watson, who has accounted for 10 touchdowns in his last two games. The rookie quarterback will have the opportunity to show the Browns exactly what they missed out on when the two teams meet in Houston Sunday, even if Jackson doesn’t want to entertain a Freaky Friday scenario:

In 2016, Wentz took advantage of that chance by lighting up the Browns for 278 passing yards and a pair of touchdowns. In Week 6, Watson could be even more destructive — and serve as a stark reminder of the terrible management that’s forced Cleveland into 28 starting quarterbacks since 1999.

The Patriots and Jets are battling for the AFC East’s top spot (or a share of it)

Fans may have penciled in New England’s Week 6 game against the Jets as an easy victory, but there’s no way Bill Belichick or his staff did. The Jets, even when mired in five-win seasons, always find a way to play the Patriots tough. After a surprising 3-2 start and a share of first place in the AFC East, Sunday’s showdown looks to be no different.

New England has won 10 of its last 12 games against its division rival, but the Jets have found a way to give the defending Super Bowl champions fits. Since 2013, seven of the eight games between these teams have been decided by seven points or fewer. The only blowout was last season’s meaningless Week 16 rout that pushed the Jets closer to the No. 6 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.

The Jets have overdelivered in a season expected to be dedicated to securing the No. 1 pick next spring, but their three-game winning streak came against dismal clubs: the Dolphins, Jaguars, and Browns.

But if history is any indication, they’ll find a way to keep this one close in the fourth quarter.

Speaking of history, a win for the Patriots can separate Tom Brady from two of the greatest players in NFL history. Brady has 186 regular season wins as a professional — tied for most-ever alongside Brett Favre and longtime rival Peyton Manning.

Will the Chiefs get revenge on the Steelers?

The Chiefs are riding higher than any other team in the NFL right now. At 5-0, they’re the only undefeated team remaining and haven’t lost a game since an 18-16 heartbreaker to the Steelers in the playoffs.

The Steelers were the biggest thorn in the Chiefs’ side last year, in fact:

Since that postseason matchup at Arrowhead Stadium, both teams have gone in sorta opposite directions. The Steelers got whooped by the Patriots the following week in the AFC Championship. This season, despite a 3-2 record, they look in disarray. Fresh off a 30-9 WELP-ing against the Jaguars, Pittsburgh’s high-powered offense needs to wake up from its early-season slumber.

While Ben Roethlisberger is coming off a career-worst five-interception game, Alex Smith is playing the best football of his life. The MVP frontrunner hasn’t turned the ball over all season and will put his league-leading 125.8 passer rating on the line against the league’s top-ranked passing defense.

The good news for the slumping Roethlisberger is that he’s 6-0 in games he’s started and finished against the Chiefs, according to ESPN. Last week, the veteran wondered if he was washed up — sarcastically at least, but like in vino veritas, in “losing to the Jags by three touchdowns” veritas.

Le’Veon Bell has also had his way with the Chiefs, rushing for 435 yards in the last three games against them.

This is an important game for both teams. The Steelers are looking for a spark, but the Chiefs want something colder: revenge.

Matt Ryan will rebound this week if history is any indication

Matt Ryan has turned the ball over six times in his last two games. But history suggests he should get back to form this week against the Miami Dolphins.

Pro Football Focus reviewed their ratings for Ryan after a bye over the past five seasons:

Ryan’s stats were otherworldly last season, so his five touchdowns against five interceptions this year look rough by comparison. But both Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu left Atlanta’s Week 4 loss to the Bills with injuries. Starting right tackle Ryan Schraeder was out for two weeks with a concussion. His absence made the inexperience of the Falcons’ new starter at right guard, Wes Schweitzer, all the more apparent.

Schraeder was cleared from the concussion protocol this week, and Jones returned to practice Wednesday.

And even though the Dolphins’ defense isn’t an easy test for this offense, Atlanta is still ranked fourth in the league with 28 points per game and seventh in passing yards per game with 262.5. The Falcons have managed that despite a couple of mistake-prone games from Ryan.

The race for the NFC South is going to be tight this year, with the Panthers bouncing back and the Bucs and Saints flashing plenty of potential. A rebound from Ryan this week will help the Falcons stay in the mix for the top spot.

Adrian Peterson will be pressed to impress in his first game with the Cardinals

Adrian Peterson got his wish after a midseason trade shipped him from a Saints lineup where he was a third-string tailback to a Cardinals one where he’ll take a starring role. However, that might be the only positive from the future Hall of Famer’s move west.

Peterson downgraded significantly in his intra-conference move, trading in New Orleans’ 11th-ranked run blocking unit for a Arizona group currently ranked 24th. While he’ll get more touches, he’ll also see defenders earlier and more often as his holes close up with regularity. That’s something a 24-year-old Peterson could overcome. At 32, he’ll have plenty to prove:

His first game in red and white will come against a stout opponent. Tampa Bay fields the NFL’s eighth-ranked rushing defense and has held opposing tailbacks to a meager 3.4 yards per carry. That would be an upgrade for Peterson — since 2016, he’s accounted for just 2.4 yards per touch.

Will the Saints turn the ball over — or make history?

No NFL team has ever started the first five games of its season without a turnover. Through four games, the New Orleans Saints are 2-2 in the record book — but 0 and 0 when it comes to losing fumbles and interceptions.

The Saints are just one mistake-free game from making league history, and while the chance to make history isn’t lost on the team, they’re treating the turnover battle as seriously as they would any other game.

“It’s a big emphasis,” quarterback Drew Brees said. “We talk about it every game and it’s the No. 1 key to victory every time we go into a game, and that’s if you can take care of the football and end up on the plus side of the turnover ratio, you give yourself a much better chance to win.”

A turnover-free game from Brees would tie the second-longest interception-less streak of his career. He’ll hand the ball off to a running back stable that includes Mark Ingram (two fumbles since 2016, 308 total touches in that span) and Alvin Kamara (zero fumbles in 35 career touches). While the ball appears to be in good hands, history suggests New Orleans’ turnover-free streak will come crashing to a halt Sunday against the Detroit Lions.


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