NFL Week 6 Picks: Five Games That Will Be Closer Than the Experts Think
Through the first five weeks of the season, the NFL has been topsy-turvy. Both of last year's Super Bowl teams are 3-2, and the Saints have serious questions on the offensive side of the ball.
The Patriots were supposed to be a dominant, offensive team once again with a healthy Brady and an explosive passing game. But now, Randy Moss is gone and the Patriots won their last game against the Dolphins because of defense and special teams.
The Cowboys and Vikings, two teams thought to be contenders in the preseason, are 1-3 and play each other this Sunday. Without Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers have rolled to 3-1 thanks to a dominant defense. It seems only the New York Jets have lived up to their preseason hype.
In a league with this much parity, it's difficult to pick winners, much less blowouts. Let's take a look at five games that will be close, despite the experts' prognostications.
Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers
Consensus: Steelers dominant defense humbles the Browns and Pittsburgh wins going away.
Why it will be closer than expected: This game will be closer than people think for a couple of reasons.
Ben Roethlisberger will likely be just a little bit rusty in his first game back. Despite having a bye week to prepare, Roethlisberger was absent from the team for four weeks prior to his return. He threw during his absence, but timing will still be an issue.
Also, this team will be again searching for an offensive identity. With Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch under center, the Steelers were a running team. With Roethlisberger back, will they revert to the pass-first team of last year, or will they continue to pound the ball with Rashard Mendenhall? Expect some growing pains this week with the Steelers offense.
Cleveland may be starting rookie Colt McCoy against the vaunted Steelers defense, which bodes poorly for the Browns. However, if they can manage to run the ball effectively with a bruising Peyton Hillis, they can hide their deficiency at the QB spot. Look for McCoy to throw short and intermediate passes, his strength at Texas, rather than trying to stretch the field.
Expect a low scoring affair and a narrow Steelers victory.
Prediction: 20-13 Steelers win
San Diego Chargers at St. Louis Rams
Consensus: Behind a dominant passing attack, the Chargers walk all over Sam Bradford and the St. Louis Rams.
Why it will be closer than expected: The Rams are coming off a horrendous game against the Detroit Lions and they have just lost their best wide receiver, Mark Clayton, for the season. Clearly they're destined for a blowout right? Wrong.
San Diego is error prone and keeps teams in games. Will the Rams struggle to contain Philip Rivers and his league leading passing attack? Probably, but Steve Spagnulo is a defensive guy and expect him to devise some strategies to get after the quarterback.
If the Rams can run the ball with Stephen Jackson, expect a close game between these two struggling teams. Bradford won't be great, but he's looked good as a rookie and expect him to bounce back after a rough Week 5.
Prediction: 27-24, San Diego wins despite continued special teams ineptitude and a couple of turnovers.
Tennessee Titans at Jacksonville Jaguars
Consensus: Despite both being 3-2, the Titans are clearly the better team and are poised for a victory.
Why it will be closer than expected: The Titans are coming off a road win against the Cowboys, but upon closer inspection, the 34-27 victory is less impressive than it sounds. A tip-ball interception, three pass interference calls and an excessive celebration penalty which paved the way for an impressive return aided the Titans on three scoring drives. Their last two TDs came on drives of one and six yards.
The Jaguars will load the box to stop Chris Johnson. Vince Young played well last week but has a depleted corps of receivers. If Jacksonville can commit to stopping Johnson, they can effectively hamstring this offense. Stopping CJ is possible—he's had two poor games this season, both losses.
On offense, look for the Jaguars to run the ball quite a bit. The Titans pass defense is spotty, but Garrard is not that accurate, and the Titans pressure the quarterback. Maurice Jones-Drew needs to have a big game to keep CJ and the Titans offense off the field.
Prediction: 28-17, Jaguars win against an up-and-down Tennessee Titans team.
Detroit Lions at NY Giants
Consensus: A hot Giants team will pressure Shaun Hill all day and Manning will shred the Lions secondary en route to a big win.
Why it will be closer than expected: These aren't Matt Millen's Lions. Excluding a 14-point loss to the Vikings, the Lions have lost their other three games by a total of ten points. This team is a couple of plays away from being 2-3 or even 3-2.
To win this game, the Lions must run the ball. The Giants have an elite pass rushing unit and obvious passing situations will be a disaster for the Lions. If there are multiple 3rd-and-longs, expect Hill to get crushed. But if they can move the ball decently with Jahvid Best and Kevin Smith, Hill will have a decent day.
Defensively, the Lions must pressure Eli Manning. Ndamukong Suh has lived up to his billing, and if he can get interior pressure, Manning will be flustered in the pocket. A flustered Manning is a mistake-prone Manning. Pressure will be key.
Prediction: 31-24, Giants win as Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs shred the Lions rush defense.
Indianapolis Colts at Washington Redskins
Consensus: Part quarterback, part magician Peyton Manning will torch the Redskins on Sunday Night Football.
Why it will be closer than expected: All the numbers point to a Peyton Manning passing party. The Redskins are ranked 30th against the pass, and Manning is easily the best quarterback they will face. Coupled with a deficient ground attack, the Colts will throw all day. Right?
Yes, the Colts will throw all day, and Manning will likely rack up big yards. But, Brian Orakpo and the defensive line will be disruptive, and the Redskins have proven their ability to win games and keep it close despite big offensive numbers (see the Cowboys or Texans game).
Offensively, McNabb may struggle to get the ball to his favorite targets, the tight ends, but he should look downfield. The Colts are thin at safety and McNabb should look downfield to Santana Moss or Anthony Armstrong.
As usual, the Colts are weak against the run, and Ryan Torain may be able to exploit this. Not a particularly flashy runner, his physical style has been effective against the Colts in the past. Expect a healthy dose of Torain.
Prediction: 24-20, Redskins pull out the victory. A rocking Fedex field will be too much for the Colts, and the Redskins leave with a shocking upset, and I'll be there to witness.