Some quick thoughts, insightful analysis and wild guesses on the NFL’s week five games.
Chicago Bears (2-2) at Carolina Panthers (2-2) ★★★★
Early game on FOX; Thom Brennaman, David Diehl
Broadcast in South Carolina, North Carolina, western Virginia, Kentucky, Cincinnati, Dayton, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota
Chicago (23.0 points per game, 18th; 349 yards per game, 20th) has struggled a bit on offense due to the situation with their offensive line. LG Matt Slauson and C Roberto Garza have missed three games, and to add gasoline to the fire wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery have been nicked up as well. Carolina’s defense is reeling as well, allowing 75 points in their last two games. Ironically the big question mark coming into the season was at wide receiver but Kelvin Benjamin – the fourth WR drafted last spring – has quieted that concern. Instead, the supposed strength, at running back, has become a problem, with Cam Newton less than 100% and the Panthers down to Darrin Reaves, Chris Ogbonnaya and Fozzy Whittaker replacing the injured DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert. Luke Kuechly is great, but with Greg Hardy inactive, DE Charles Johnson nursing a hip flexor and DE Frank Alexander suspended, this isn’t the same dominating defense we saw last year.
Pick • Bears 23, Panthers 20
Cleveland Browns (1-2) at Tennessee Titans (1-3) ★★
Early game on CBS; Andrew Catalon, Steve Tasker
Broadcast in Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and northern Mississippi
My first inclination was to simply go against the Titans, who have looked progressively worse after I had thought a couple months ago that they might challenge the Colts for the division title. The Browns on the other hand have defeated the Saints and lost two games on field goals as time expired, but I’m not ready to go all-in with Cleveland; their defense has regressed significantly from last year. The Browns are allowing 428 yards per game (30th in the NFL), 6.4 yards per play (31st), 154 rushing yards per game (29th), 5.2 yards per rush (31st) and 272 passing yards per game (27th). Tennessee has lost three in a row by a combined score of 100-34, but the last two games were on the road against quality opponents (Cincinnati and Indianapolis). This could easily go either way, but I’ll give a very slight lean to the Titans here.
Pick • Titans 27, Browns 24
St. Louis Rams (1-2) at Philadelphia Eagles (3-1) ★★★
Early game on FOX; Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston
Broadcast in Missouri, southern Illinois, West Virginia and Pennsylvania (except Pittsburgh)
My initial thoughts were that Philadelphia was the obvious pick in this game, but after re-watching last week’s game between the Eagles and Niners I have my doubts. Injuries have depleted Philly’s offensive line, and the 49ers simply crushed them up front. Yes, the Eagles only lost by five on the road to a good team – but the offense did not score a single point. Three non-offensive touchdowns is an extreme rarity, and the St. Louis front seven is just as good, if not better than San Francisco’s. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the Rams win this game.
Pick • Eagles 20, Rams 17
Atlanta Falcons (2-2) at New York Giants (2-2) ★★
Early game on FOX; Kevin Burkhardt, John Lynch
Broadcast in New England, eastern New York, New Jersey, DC, eastern Virginia, Miami, West Palm Beach, Georgia, Alabama, Memphis, San Diego and San Francisco
The Giants opened as 2½ point favorites, but based on the focus on the most recent games (Atlanta lost to Minnesota by 13 while the Giants crushed Washington 45-14), it quickly moved up two points. After a horrible game in week one where he looked just as bad as he was in 2013, Eli Manning has settled down with 811 yards passing, 8 touchdowns to three interceptions, and a completion rate above 70% over the least three games. The Atlanta defense is as putrid as it was last year: the Falcons are 29th in points allowed (28.3), 31st in yards allowed (430), 30th in passing yards (276 per game), 31st in yards per pass (8.6) and 28th against the run (154 yards per game). However, the Falcons have rediscovered their offense, with a league-best 44 yards per game and second-best 32.8 points per game. Even though Atlanta is a dome team playing outdoors on the road, I still feel they are the better team. I’m expecting a bounce-back game after last week’s debacle, while the Giants prove that they are not quite as good as they looked last week.
Pick • Falcons 27, Giants 24
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-3) at New Orleans Saints (1-3) ★★★
Early game on FOX; Dick Stockton, Kirk Morrison
Broadcast in Florida (except Miami, West Palm and Jacksonville), Mississippi and Louisiana
Everyone is asking what’s wrong with the Saints, but the only problem thus far has been their schedule. In the Drew Brees era, they are a completely different team at home in comparison to on the road, with probably a larger delta in this regard than any other NFL team. New Orleans opened up with three of their first four games away from cajun country, and lo and behold, they lost all three of those away games. Now they are back at home, playing a Tampa Bay team that will probably have a top-five draft slot next spring. Focus on the teams rather than the final scores of last week’s games, and it’s easy to say that this game shouldn’t be close.
Pick • Saints 35, Bucs 13
Saints -10 (two units)
Houston Texans (3-1) at Dallas Cowboys (3-1) ★★★★
Early game on CBS; Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts
Broadcast in New York (except NYC), Hartford, Springfield, North Carolina (except Charlotte), South Carolina, Georgia, Tampa, Miami, West Palm, Alabama, Mississippi, Michigan, Wisconsin, and everywhere west of the Mississippi (except Colorado and Hawaii)
One year ago the Dallas defense was historically bad, allowing 415 yards and 27 points per game, while at the same time the Texans plummeted from Super Bowl contender to a league-worst 2-14 record. Based on the 2013 season both teams were written off from discussions involving 2014 playoff contenders, but here they both are at 3-1 one quarter of the way through the season – and each club has an early-season contender for MVP. JJ Watt was the difference between a loss and a victory last week, with a crucial pick-six and an incredible nine quarterback knockdowns to defeat the Bills. DeMarco Murray has taken the pressure off Tony Romo – who has done a good job of avoiding turnovers since week one – to do too much, leading the NFL with a whopping 165 yards rushing per game. The Dallas offensive line has done a stellar job of opening up running lanes for Murray, and that could be just enough to neutralize Watt and the Houston defense.
Pick • Cowboys 24, Texans 21
Buffalo Bills (2-2) at Detroit Lions (3-1) ★★★
Early game on FOX; Sam Rosen, Ronde Barber
Broadcast in western New York, Toledo and Michigan
While the switch from E.J. Manuel to Kyle Orton is a positive for Buffalo, it won’t be enough for this road game this week. Detroit’s defense is allowing an NFL 4th-best 15.5 points per game and a league-best 267 yards per game. Buffalo has a good defense too, but the Lions have a much better offense – plus they are playing at home.
Pick • Lions 20, Bills 13
under 44½ (one unit)
Baltimore Ravens (3-1) at Indianapolis Colts (2-2) ★★★★
Early game on CBS; Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon
Broadcast in New England (except Hartford and Springfield), Maryland, DC, eastern Virginia, Fort Myers, Indiana, Illinois and Colorado
Indy started the season losing to two quality teams, then beat two mediocre teams; this game should tell us more about how good they are. I wasn’t expecting much from the Ravens this year, but they have won three straight (including wins over Pittsburgh and Carolina) and are giving up just 15 points per game (second-best in the NFL). Thanks in large part to a rejuvenated running game, Joe Flacco is looking better as a passer this year. The Indy defense was already suspect, and the loss of LaRon Landry can only help the Ravens.
Pick • Colts 31, Ravens 28
over 48½ (one unit)
Pittsburgh Steelers (2-2) at Jacksonville Jaguars (0-4) ★★
Early game on CBS; Spero Dedes, Solomon Wilcots
Broadcast in Pennsylvania (except Philadelphia and Harrisburg), West Virginia, western Virginia, Orlando, Jacksonville and Tallahassee
Pittsburgh’s defense did not look good last week, unable to cover guys like Louis Murphy in their home loss to the lowly Bucs last week. Facing a dreadful Jacksonville team that is once again expected to be without wide receivers Cecil Shorts and Marqise Lee is the perfect remedy.
Pick • Steelers 31, Jaguars 17
Steelers -6 (two units)
Arizona Cardinals (3-0) at Denver Broncos (2-1) ★★★★★
Late game on FOX; Joe Buck, Troy Aikman
Broadcast in Pittsburgh, Ohio (except Dayton and Cincinnati), Jacksonville, Knoxville, Nashville, Indianapolis, Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Nevada, California (except San Diego and San Francisco), Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Hawaii
Arizona’s defense has been somewhat of a surprise thus far, allowing a league-best 316 yards per game and 2nd-best 15 points per game despite injuries and the loss of Karlos Dansby in free agency. Even more surprising is that they have remained undefeated with Drew Stanton as their starting quarterback, stepping in Carson Palmer (bruised nerve in throwing shoulder). After re-watching Arizona’s games, they were somewhat fortunate to have beaten both the Chargers and Giants. Denver gets WLB Danny Trevathan back for this game, which should solidify their defense. I think the Bronco offense will just be a bit too much for the current Arizona defense playing on the road at a loud Mile High Stadium.
Pick • Broncos 31, Cardinals 21
Kansas City Chiefs (2-2) at San Francisco 49ers (2-2) ★★★★
Late game on CBS; Jim Nantz, Phil Simms
Broadcast in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Knoxville, and everywhere west of the Mississippi River (except New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, southern California and Hawaii)
Despite the week four victory over Philadelphia, I’m still not sold on the Niners; much of that can be attributed to an Eagle offensive line that has been hit hard with injuries. Kansas City did not look good in the last half of 2013, and that continued in the first two games of 2014. Is that all in the past, and are they now as good as they have been in the last two weeks – winning by a cumulative total of 75-29? I didn’t think much of KC heading into the season, but now is not the time to be stubborn. At minimum take the Chiefs and the points, with an offense that is clicking against one that has been stagnant.
Pick • Chiefs 27, Niners 23
New York Jets (1-3) at San Diego Chargers (3-1) ★★★★
Late game on CBS; Greg Gumbel, Trent Green
Broadcast in Hawaii, southern California, Wyoming, New Mexico, Florida, Memphis, Nashville, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, DC, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York and New England
The Chargers are 4-0 ATS and 3-1 straight up, while the Jets are 0-4 ATS and 1-3 straight up – and now have to travel across three time zones. What concerns me though is that San Diego has no running game at all without Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead; they are rushing for only 69.5 yards per game (31st in the NFL) and are dead last with an atrocious 2.4 yards per carry. San Diego faces a Jets defense that is the best in the league against the run, averaging a league-best 63.3 yards per game and fourth-best 3.0 yards per rush. That makes the San Diego offense even more one-dimensional than it already is, and Rex Ryan’s defense typically thrives in those situations. I’m tempted to call an upset here, but between Geno Smith, the Jets secondary and the long road trip, I’ll stop short of that and just go with the Jets covering – but finding a way to lose on an ill-timed turnover.
Pick • Chargers 24, Jets 20
Cincinnati Bengals (3-0) at New England Patriots (2-2) ★★★★★
Sunday night game on NBC; Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth
Usually I would say this is perfect timing for a bounce-back game, but I just can’t see that happening when I look at the disparity in talent level between the New England offensive line and the Cincinnati front seven, or between the Bengals running backs and receivers and the counterparts at those positions for the Patriots.
Pick • Bengals 24, Patriots 16
Seattle (2-1) at Washington (1-3) ★★★★
Monday night game on ESPN; Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden
Seattle is well known for having an audacious home field advantage, but they have also become one of the best road teams in the NFL over the lat couple of years. Washington’s defense looked good in their first two games, but that has been exposed to be an illusion based on inferior competition. The Seahawks will overcome the three-time zone travel and win this game easily – though I wish I could have grabbed it when it was 6½.
Pick • Seattle 31, Washington 13
Seahawks -7 (one unit)
Saints (-4), Bears (+9) — one unit
Saints (-10), Seahawks (-7) — one unit
Chiefs (+15), Ravens (+12½), Texans (+15½) — three units
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