New Orleans is perhaps the NFL’s biggest conundrum, playing high or low against the competition while awaiting the return of starters like wide receiver Michael Thomas and defensive tackle David Onyemata. The Footballers’ defense (2-2) has also underperformed, although Taylor Heinicke has led two winning records in his last three games. It’s the opposite of the defense-focused formula that led Washington to the playoffs last season. While Washington waits for the unit to wake up, the Saints should keep it close, and with results reversed each week, a victory in New Orleans fits the pattern. To take: Saints -1

the Philadelphia Eagles vs the Carolina Panthers, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Panthers -4 | Total: 45

Running back Christian McCaffrey (hamstring) is out this week, but the Panthers (3-1) may not need him to defeat the Eagles (1-3). Defensively, Carolina added veteran leadership with a trade with New England for cornerback Stephon Gilmore, a four-time Pro Bowl selection. Quarterback Sam Darnold leads the NFL in rushing touchdowns (5) and wide receiver DJ Moore is fourth in receiving yards (398). That flourishing connection could exploit an Eagles defense that saw Kansas City wide receiver Tyreek Hill score three touchdowns last week and is tied for the sixth-highest number of touchdowns allowed (9). The Panthers should be able to cover up easily at home. To take: Panthers -4

Tennessee Titans to Jacksonville Jaguars, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Titans -4 | Total: 48.5

Urban Meyer’s embarrassing week is set to worsen on Sunday if the Titans (2-2) extend Jacksonville’s losing streak (0-4). Jaguars owner Shad Khan addressed the viral video of Meyer having fun with a woman at an Ohio bar this week, saying the coach “needs to earn our trust and respect” because reports suggest that Meyer lost the locker room about a quarter of the way in his debut season. With so much time spent by the organization on this issue, it’s reasonable to assume that less energy has gone into repairing a defense that allows 312.3 passing yards per game, the third-worst hit rate. the league, and which ranks last among sacks (5).

The Titans recover receiver AJ Brown on Sunday, but will still be without Julio Jones. Ryan Tannehill threw for 298 yards without the two in an overtime loss to the Jets last week, so having a target should put Tennessee ahead. Unless Jacksonville completely revamps its defensive ineffectiveness in the span of a distraction-filled week, expect the Titans to win. To take: Titans -4

New England Patriots vs Houston Texans, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Patriots -9 | Total: 39.5

Mac Jones outscored Tom Brady and the Patriots barely lost last week. His consolation prize will be to intimidate the Texans (1-3), who have lost three games in a row. In four weeks, Houston receiver Brandin Cooks has amassed 369 receiving yards while none of his teammates have more than 80. This colossal imbalance makes it easier to defend Houston’s offense. This gap is too small. To take: Patriots -9

Chicago Bears vs. Las Vegas Raiders, 4:05 p.m., CBS

Line: Raiders -5.5 | Total: 48.5

Running back David Montgomery, the league’s fifth forward (309 yards), is expected to miss at least four weeks after spraining his ankle. It won’t help rookie Justin Fields, who coach Matt Nagy says will start quarterback after last week’s win over Detroit, even though veteran Andy Dalton is now in good health. The Bears (2-2) will miss Montgomery as Fields try to pitch against a pass led by Maxx Crosby, who is tied for second in hits in the quarter (13). The Raiders (3-1), who will be motivated after losing their invincibility, should win. To take: Raiders -5.5

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