The Patriots-Saints game is the highlight of week six in the NFL, with other interesting games including Green Bay at Baltimore and Tennessee at Seattle. The NFL schedule makers didn’t do CBS any favors this week; their best game is a matchup between a team that has yet to win a game (Pittsburgh) and a team that was written off before the season began (the Jets) – unless you consider a game where one team is favored by four touchdowns (Denver) over an historically inept team (Jacksonville) to be entertaining.
5-0 New Orleans Saints at 4-1 New England Patriots (late, FOX) ★★★★★
When this game appeared on the schedule last spring, who would have guessed that both teams would feature top-four scoring defenses, but neither would be among the top eight in points scored? The major concern to most Patriot fans for this game is how to stop Jimmy Graham, but perhaps it should be Tommy Kelly’s knee. The best way to limit Drew Brees is with pressure up the middle, but with Vince Wilfork already on Injured Reserve, the Pats defense cannot afford to depend on another backup on their defensive line. Should the Saints offensive line provide him with a solid pocket then this game could resemble the last meeting between these two clubs four years ago, when the Saints crushed the Patriots 38-17.
The Patriots face the unbeaten Saints in Week 6
I would think that the Patriots will bracket Graham with a linebacker (perhaps Dont’a Hightower) and a safety (Steve Gregory). Even though he often lines up in the slot, Marques Colston should draw coverage from Aqib Talib, though the Pats may be best served by constantly mixing up their looks and coverage. None of these matchups are particularly appealing for New England; it becomes a case of pick your poison.
There are some trends that certainly favor the Pats. First off, New England rarely loses back-to-back games. Though only 3-2 in the last two years following a loss, Belichick is 25-5 in his last 30 games following a defeat. Secondly, the Saints perform much better team at home, and are on the road for the second straight week. It is very rare for visiting teams to win consecutive road games, and that becomes even more difficult when playing a better than average opponent. So far this season there have been 17 instances of teams playing back-to-back road games. In only two cases did the road team win both games; one scenario included a victory over hapless Jacksonville, and none of those four road victories were over a team that at that time had a winning record.
However, the 2013 version of the New England Patriots just doesn’t have the horsepower (19.0 points per game, 24th) to keep up in a shootout against a team that has been playing this well defensively (14.6 points per game, 4th).
Pick • Upset Special: Saints 24, Patriots 20 ✘
Saints +2½ ✘
Under 50½ ✘
Result: Patriots 30, Saints 27
2-2 Green Bay Packers at 3-2 Baltimore Ravens (early, FOX) ★★★★
Although Baltimore showed some intestinal fortitude with their much needed victory at Miami last week, they are not out of the weeds yet. The Ravens gave up receptions of 49, 46, 30 and 45 yards against the Dolphins; that was against Ryan Tannehill – what will happen against Aaron Rodgers?
Green Bay has their own pass defense issues. Even though they held Detroit to nine points Sunday, their defense is allowing opponents to throw for 8.4 yards per pass attempt (29th), completing 67% of their passes (25th) and 289 yards per game (26th). With their best pass rusher, Clay Matthews, sidelined with a broken thumb, you know QB Joe Flacco will take his shots downfield to WR Torrey Smith. Baltimore’s offensive line has been porous though, not giving him time; he has been hit 18 times and sacked six times in the last two games. With all else appearing to be about equal, I’ll go with the team with the better quarterback and the vastly superior offense here.
Pick • Packers 30, Ravens 24 ✔
Packers -3 ✘
Over 48½ ✘
Result: Packers 19, Ravens 17
3-2 Tennessee Titans at 4-1 Seattle Seahawks (late, CBS) ★★★★
After consecutive long road trips, Seattle come home to the friendly confines of Century link Field and their 12th man. C Max Unger should be back for Seattle, but LT Russell Okung and RT Breno Giacomini will still be out for the Seahawks. Seattle should have no trouble handling Tennessee’s offense, but those injuries to their offensive line give the Titans a legitimate opportunity. DC Gregg Williams’ unit can cause havoc to opposing offenses and the Seahawks have struggled offensively; they were just 2-12 on 3rd down last week and for the season they have converted just 31% on 3rd down, 28th in the NFL.
The Titans have had a surprising start to the season but face a tough challenge here. A year ago the Titans allowed 29.4 points per game, which was the most in the NFL. If you want to know why Tennessee has improved so much defensively – their defense is now allowing just 19 points per game, 10th best in the league – start with CB Alterraun Verner. The 4th-year pro from UCLA has had 28 passes thrown his way this year; only nine of those passes have been completed, and he has four interceptions. Last week was looking good until Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a couple of 4th quarter interceptions against the Chiefs; now here comes Richard Sherman and crew, looking to avenge last week’s loss to the Colts. The Seahawks lead the NFL with 15 takeaways; Tennessee is in the wrong place at the wrong time. I’m very reluctant to count on a Ryan Fitzpatrick quarterbacked team to do well in Seattle, but I am thinking the Tennessee defense will do just enough to cover the 13½ point spread.
Pick • Seahawks 24, Titans 13 ✔
Titans +13½ ✔
Under 40½ ✔
Result: Seahawks 20, Titans 13
4-1 Indianapolis Colts at 2-3 San Diego Chargers (Monday night, ESPN) ★★★★
Turnovers will be critical (as they always are), and based on what has happened thus far this season the comparison is not at all close. San Diego lost at Oakland last week as they turned the ball over an unforgivable five times to an average defense. The Chargers have turned the ball over ten times (T-23rd) while the Colts defense has ten takeaways (9th); on the other side of the ball Indy has only turned the ball over an NFL 2nd-best four times, and face a San Diego D that has a mere two takeaways (31st).
While the media has focused on the wonderful fantasy football numbers that Philip Rivers is accumulating, not much is being said about the fact that he needs to air it out because the Chargers defense is really bad; aside from not being able to come up with a turnover, they can’t stop the run (4.9 yards per carry, 28th) and they’re not good in the passing game (8.6 yards per pass attempt, 30th) either. Football Outsiders ranks the Charger defense 32nd through week five, dead last is amazingly bad when you stop and consider the current state of some of the other 2012 defenses, such as the Giants, Eagles, Vikings, Rams, and Redskins. Even though this should be a bounce-back game at home for San Diego, I just can’t come up with a solid reason to not choose Indy – despite the long road trip.
Pick • Colts 34, Chargers 24 ✘
Colts -1½ (two units) ✘✘
Over 48 (one unit) ✘
Result: Chargers 19, Colts 9
3-2 Detroit Lions at 3-2 Cleveland Browns (early, FOX) ★★★
Without Calvin Johnson last week the Lions offense ground to a halt, held out of the end zone for 58 minutes by a Green Bay defense that had not previously looked impressive at all; the Packers had allowed 34 points in two of their three previous games. With both starting wide receivers sidelined – Nate Burleson broke his arm in a car accident reaching for his pizza that had slid off the seat – the entire focus was on RB Reggie Bush. He ended up with 44 yards on 13 carries, and 25 yards on four receptions on the six passes thrown his way. That’s only 3.6 yards per play his number was called, and with the exception of one 20-yard run that average plummets to just 2.7. If C.J. cannot play, then the Browns defense (9th-best 18.8 points per game), which is far superior to Green Bay’s, should have no problem bottling up Detroit. QB Matt Stafford was sacked five times last week, and the Cleveland defense ranks third in the NFL with 18 sacks.
The Lions are much better defensively than they were in 2012, in large part because their pass rush is much more consistent. Rookie DE Ezekiel Ansah (3½ sacks) has given the D a big boost, nicely complimenting DT Ndamukong Suh and DT Nick Fairley on the line. QB Brandon Weeden has a tendency to not make decisions quickly enough, which could make that pass rush problematic. When he does have time to throw he should have some success; the Lions secondary is average. WR Josh Gordon (18 receptions for 303 yards in three games) and TE Jordan Cameron (33 receptions, 396 yards, 5 TD) could have a productive day.
Pick • Upset Special: Browns 24, Lions 20 ✘
Browns +3 ✘
Under 45½ ✘
Result: Lions 31, Browns 17
3-2 Cincinnati Bengals at 2-3 Buffalo Bills (early, CBS) ★★★
Three weeks ago the Bengals beat a quality opponent (Green Bay), and followed that up by laying an egg and losing to the Browns. Now they are coming off a victory over the previously undefeated Patriots; after doing what was needed to defeat Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, they face a third-string QB by the name of Thad Lewis. On top of that the status of WR Stevie Johnson (missed practice with a back injury) is unclear. The Bengals defense (17.4 ppg) should have no trouble harassing Lewis, while Giovani Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis should run all over the Buffalo defense that gave up 158 yards rushing to the Patriots and 182 yards rushing to the Jets. I’ll take the good defense over the backup quarterback, thank you.
Pick • Bengals 24, Bills 13 ✔
Bengals -6 (one unit) ✘
Under 42 ✘
Result: Bengals 27, Bills 24
3-2 Arizona Cardinals at 3-2 San Francisco 49ers (late, FOX) ★★★
After giving up 31 points in a loss at New Orleans, the Cardinals defense has responded with a pair of outstanding efforts. The Cardinals have allowed just 16 points in the last two games, both victories; they have not allowed a touchdown in the last seven quarters. The main factor in this game will be their run defense (3.3 yards per carry, 2nd best in the NFL) against a 49er offense that depends heavily on Frank Gore (4.8 yards per carry). San Francisco struggled earlier this season when they depended too heavily on Colin Kaepernick; they need to get their running game in gear in order to succeed.
Offensively the Cardinals just are not getting it done. QB Carson Palmer does not seem to be on the same page as his receivers, and new LT Bradley Sowell needs to do a better job in pass protection. Despite a decent game by rookie RB Andre Ellington last week (52 yards on 7 carries), Arizona once again has no running game and a one-dimensional team will struggle against a 49er defense which is getting healthier every week. Arizona’s offense is averaging 18.2 ppg (28th), 3.5 yards per carry (26th), 6.6 yards per pass attempt (24th) and Palmer is completing only 58.9% of his passes, with five TD against nine interceptions.
Pick • 49ers 27, Cardinals 17 ✔
Cardinals +11 ✘
Over 41½ ✔
Result: 49ers 32, Cardinals 20
1-3 Washington Redskins at 2-3 Dallas Cowboys (Sunday night, NBC) ★★★
The Dallas Cowboys seek to avoid a third consecutive loss and regain control of the NFC East against a Redskins team which has looked nothing at all like last season’s playoff club. Washington’s defense is pitiful, allowing a league-worst 441 yards per game and 9.2 yards per pass attempt, and 28 points per game (28th); their only victory was against Oakland when the Raiders had Matt Flynn at QB.
The Cowboys are coming off a really tough loss, so their psyche may be their own worst enemy here. They are a better team on both sides of the ball and are playing at home; the question to me is whether or not they can regain their focus after losing on the final play of the game to Denver last week. Stopping the losing streak would be huge for the Cowboys, and it would have the added benefit of making the prospects of a return to the post-season for division rival Washington much dimmer.
Pick • Cowboys 34, Redskins 30 ✔
Redskins +5½ ✘
Over 53 (two units) ✘✘
Result: Cowboys 31, Redskins 16
2-3 Oakland Raiders at 5-0 Kansas City Chiefs (early, CBS) ★★
This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Oakland, as they took on $50 million in dead cap money as they finally started thinking long term. However, the Raiders have been surprisingly competitive. Their defense has improved, forcing eight turnovers in the last three games after recording none in the first two games this season. Terrelle Pryor has performed much better than I expected him to as well; he has completed 68% of his passes and has thrown only two interceptions – and none since week one.
Before the season began I summarily dismissed talk about the Chiefs being a playoff team, but here they are at 5-0. RB Jamaal Charles has bounced back nicely, rushing for 397 yards in 2012, 5th most in the NFL. Charles struggled against Oakland in two games last year (14 carries for 14 yards), so you figure he’ll be playing with some added incentive Sunday. The Chiefs defense has been better than anyone could have realistically expected, allowing a league-low 11.6 points per game thanks in large part to an NFL-best 15 takeaways. Kansas City came up with two 4th quarter interceptions to seal the win at Tennessee last week, but their offense struggled mightily: the Chiefs were just 1-12 on third down, and 1-4 in the red zone. WR Donnie Avery (shoulder) and TE Anthony Fasano (knee,ankle) may not be able to play, leaving more of a burden on Charles and WR Dwayne Bowe, who has been relatively quiet (183 yards) in Andy Reid’s ball control offense.
Pick • Chiefs 24, Raiders 17 ✔
Raiders +9½ ✘
Under 41½ ✔
Result: Chiefs 24, Raiders 7
1-3 Carolina Panthers at 1-3 Minnesota Vikings (early, FOX) ★★
Carolina’s defense (14.5 points per game) is vastly superior to Minnesota’s (30.8 ppg), but the Vikings (28.8 ppg) are much more productive on offense than the Panthers (18.5 ppg) are. Carolina is also much better at home (a 38-0 win over the Giants and a 5-point loss to Seattle) than they are away (losses to Buffalo and Arizona), and to make matters worse this is their second straight road game.
The Vikings defense has forced 12 turnovers through first four games, which ranks fourth best in the NFL. Last week QB Cam Newton threw three interceptions, lost a fumble, and his offense failed to score a single touchdown. I’ll go with the home team and Matt Cassel securing another victory – and perhaps a quarterback controversy in Minnesota.
Pick • Vikings 27, Panthers 20 ✘
Vikings -2½ ✘
Over 44 ✔
Result: Panthers 35, Vikings 10
2-3 St. Louis Rams at 2-3 Houston Texans (early, FOX) ★★
Houston has been receiving a ton of unwanted scrutiny nationwide after stumbling to a 2-3 record, and they get a bit of a reprieve with a home game against a horrible Rams team. Their defense is allowing 28.2 ppg (28th), 8.3 yards per pass attempt (28th), a 66% completion rate (24th), 4.5 yards per carry (25th), 126 rushing yards per game (T-27th), 382 total yards per game (23rd), 43% 3rd down conversions (28th), 63% red zone TD percentage (24th), and don’t force turnovers (T-19th). Offensively St. Louis can’t run the ball (3.0 yards per rush, 28th), and they’re mediocre passing the ball (6.1 yards per attempt, 30th); their 2-3 record is a mirage, with a 3-point win over Arizona and a victory over Jacksonville. In the first halves of their two road games this year the Rams have been blown out by a combined score of 41-3. Consider this: St. Louis gave up 20 points at home to an anemic Jacksonville team that had been averaging 7.8 ppg.
Then there are the Texans, who have turned the ball over 11 times; only the Jets and Giants have more giveaways. Houston can move the ball well (6th-best 4.6 yards per carry), but turnovers and red zone inefficiency result in a 26th-ranked 18.6 points per game. Those offensive turnovers are killing the defense, which could lead to a divided locker room; although the Houston D is allowing an NFL-low 260 yards per game, they are tied with Denver for the 8th-most points allowed, 27.8. Still, the Texans defense is overwhelmingly better than the Rams D is; Houston will run all over the Rams for an easy win.
Pick • Texans 31, Rams 14 ✘
Texans -7½ (three units) ✘✘✘
Under 43 ✘
Result: Rams 38, Texans 13
2-3 Philadelphia Eagles at 0-4 Tampa Bay Bucs (early, FOX) ★
The Eagles have an excellent opportunity to win consecutive games for the first time since the first two weeks of the 2012 season. A win against Tampa Bay would actually enable the Eagles to maintain a share of first place in the NFC LEast. Can they handle success, with Nick Foles under center? That really depends on their pass defense, which has looked suspect all year. After a rough start they actually performed well against the Giants down the stretch, picking off Eli Manning three times in the fourth quarter last week.
Coming off a bye Greg Schiano has had two weeks to work with rookie QB Mike Glennon; it won’t be easy for the Eagle defenders to duplicate that productivity against Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams. I would expect Philly to jam the line of scrimmage, focusing on stopping RB Doug Martin and daring Glennon to beat them with his arm. Tampa bay has now lost nine of their last ten games, but unlike the final year under Rahim Moore this team has not given up; three of their losses this year have been by a total of just six points. CB Darrelle Revis should be able to limit WR DeSean Jackson, leaving the rest of the defense to focus on RB LeSean McCoy. I’ll go with the good defense/bad offense at home over the team with the bad defense/good offense on the road.
Pick • Upset Special: Bucs 17, Eagles 14 ✘
Buccaneers +2½ ✘
Under 46 (one unit) ✘
Result: Eagles 31, Bucs 20
0-4 Pittsburgh Steelers at 3-2 New York Jets (early, CBS) ★
The Steelers are off to their worst start since 1968 (two years before they drafted Terry Bradshaw), and appear destined to miss the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1998-2000. The Jets opened as a 2½ point dog Sunday night and were soon moved to +3; by Tuesday the game was a pick ‘em after the Jets upset Atlanta the previous night, and since then it has gone to 2½ the other way. That’s a 4-point swing in less than a day, and a 5½ point movement this week – despite it not being based on any major injury.
Neither defense forces turnovers (Jets 3, Steelers 0) and both turn it over (Jets 12, Steelers 11), but Geno Smith plays much better at home and has improved his ball security (16-20, 3 TD, 0 INT last week). The challenge will be for Rex Ryan to get hi team ready on a short week after an emotional win, against a team that has had two weeks to prepare and has their backs up against the wall.
Even though the Jets are the better team, with a better defense and are playing at home, they’re still inconsistent; I think Pittsburgh plays with a big chip on their shoulder and gets their first win here. To do so though they’ll have to protect Ben Roethlisberger better; even the below average Minnesota defense was able to sack him five times two weeks ago. Ben should rely heavily on an old reliable target, TE Heath Miller. The Jets were unable to defend TE Tony Gonzalez last week; expect Pittsburgh to try and utilize a now-healthy Miller in similar fashion. Since his return to the lineup Miller has caught nine of the 12 passes thrown in his direction, for 105 yards; he had eight catches for 70 yards in Pittsburgh’s last game.
Pick • Upset Special: Steelers 20, Jets 17 ✔
Steelers +2½ ✔
Under 41½ ✔
Result: Steelers 19, Jets 6
0-5 Jacksonville Jaguars at 5-0 Denver Broncos (late, CBS) ★
This matchup makes week one college games between an SEC powerhouse and an obscure directional Division Two team competitive in comparison. The monkey wrench to picking this game could be garbage time touchdown passes to Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts against a very suspect Denver pass defense, and speculating how long John Fox will leave his key starters in the game. Normally I would jump all over an NFL team getting 20+ points, but Jacksonville is so bad I just can’t pull the trigger.
Pick • Broncos 52, Jaguars 21 ✔
Broncos -26½ ✘
Over 53 (four units) Best Play of the Week ✔✔✔✔
Result: Broncos 35, Jaguars 19
Thursday Night: 0-5 New York Giants 3-2 at Chicago Bears ★
I felt Eli Manning’s propensity to turn the ball over, along with the Bears knack for forcing turnovers would make this an easy win for Chicago at home. What I underestimated was how the loss of two starting defensive tackles made the Bears vulnerable to the run – even against a Giants team that had shown no ability to run in the first five games. That is something that could a major obstacle for the Bears going forward, when they play teams with a better rushing attack.
Oh yeah, thanks so much for not kicking a chip-shot field goal early in the first quarter Marc Trestman; that decision was a head-scratcher that could have very well cost his team the game.
Pick • Bears 31, Giants 17 ✔
Bears -7½ (two units) ✘✘
Over 47 ✔
Result: Bears 27, Giants 21
Oklahoma at Texas
Oklahoma leads the Big 12 in points allowed (13.0 ppg) and yards allowed (282 ypg). Conversely, the Texas defense is a sieve: the Longhorns rank next to last in the conference in scoring (28.4 ppg)last in yardage (465 ypg), and last against the run (248 ypg).
Pick • Oklahoma -13½ (two units) ✘✘
Result: Texas 36, Oklahoma 20
Northwestern at Wisconsin
The Huskies nearly knocked off Ohio State, and that has to be an especially deflating loss. Last week Northwestern gave up 248 yards rushing; expect the Badgers to pond the rock and win by double digits.
Pick • Wisconsin -9½ (one unit) ✔
Result: Wisconsin 35, Northwestern 6
Three-Team Teaser: (two units) ✘✘
Broncos-Jaguars over 44 Result: 54 points ✔
Texans +1½ vs St. Louis Result: Rams won by 25 ✘
Raiders +18½ vs Chiefs Result: Chiefs won by 17 ✔
Three-Team Parlay: (two units) ✘✘
Broncos-Jaguars over 53 Result: 54 points ✔
Cowboys-Redskins over 53 Result: 47 points ✘
Oklahoma -13½ vs Texas Result: Texas 36, Oklahoma 20 ✘
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Last week was one of those times I just did not feel particularly resolute about any games, and because of that as you can see I had relatively action on those week five games. Good teams that I normally felt strongly about were on the road, in many cases for the second straight week, and bad teams that I would typically go against were either on a bye or playing each other. Teams that I did feel strongly enough about to place something on had too many other issues to go with more than one unit (e.g., Jets, Cardinals). In retrospect I should have had more than one unit’s worth of faith in Denver and Dallas going over 55½; I placed way too much emphasis on the possibility of the Broncos being overdue for an off game. Calvin Johnson not playing messed up my theory that the Lions and Packers would have a high scoring game (they combined for only two touchdowns), but the real issue was that I did not give enough consideration to the possibility that the Detroit defense (five sacks) was good enough to keep the score low.
Tale Of The Tape
Week 5 Results
Straight Up: 11-3, 79%
Underdogs to win straight up: 4-0, 100%
Against the Spread: 7-7, 50%
ATS picking favorites: 2-3 (0-0, +0)
ATS picking underdogs: 5-4 (1-1, -10)
ATS Confidence Picks: 1-1, 50% (-10)
One Unit Plays ATS: 1-1, -10
Two Unit Plays ATS: none
Three Unit Plays ATS: none
Four Unit Plays ATS: none
Five Unit Plays ATS: none
Over Under Total: 6-8, 43%
Picking Over: 3-3, 50% (1-2, -230)
Picking Under: 3-5, 38% (1-1, +90)
O/U Confidence Picks: 2-3, 40% (-140)
One Unit Plays O/U: 1-2, -120
Two Unit Plays O/U: 1-1, -20
Three Unit Plays O/U: none
Four Unit Plays O/U: none
Five Unit Plays O/U: none
Best Play of the Week: none
2-Team Teasers: none
3-Team Teasers: 1-1, -20
2-Team Parlays: none
3-Team Parlays: none
College Games: none
Week 5 Total: (4-5; 1430 risked; net -170; -11.9% ROI)
Straight Up: 57-20 (74%)
Underdogs to win straight up: 10-5 (67%)
Against the Spread: 40-34-3 (54%)
ATS picking favorites: 21-18-2, 54% (11-8, +480)
ATS picking underdogs: 19-16-1, 54% (7-2, +980)
ATS Confidence Picks: 18-10, 64% (+1460)
One Unit Plays ATS: 10-7, 59% (+230)
Two Unit Plays ATS: 6-2, 75% (+770)
Three Unit Plays ATS: none
Four Unit Plays ATS: 1-1, 50% (-40)
Five Unit Plays ATS: 1-0, 100% (+500)
Over Under Total: 43-34 (56%)
Picking Over: 20-15, 57% (4-4, -270)
Picking Under: 23-19, 55% (10-6, +610)
O/U Confidence Picks: 14-10, 58% (+340)
One Unit Plays O/U: 8-5, 62% (+250)
Two Unit Plays O/U: 5-4, 56% (+120)
Three Unit Plays O/U: 1-1, 50% (-30)
Four Unit Plays O/U: none
Five Unit Plays O/U: none
Best Play of the Week: 3-1, +760
2-Team Teasers: none
3-Team Teasers: 3-2 (3-1, +580)
2-Team Parlays: none
3-Team Parlays: 1-0 (1-0, +600)
College Games: 3-1, +390
(39-22; 10,900 risked; net +3370; +30.9% ROI)
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