Week 5 of the NFL season is upon us. One quarter down, three to go.
This is the time when the bye weeks begin and the contenders rise above the pretenders.
There are a few marquee match ups (Jets at Patriots, Saints at Panthers, Packers at Falcons) and a few games that promise to be entertaining (Chargers at Broncos).
All in all, it should be a fun week. And with that, here are the picks.
In a battle of under-achievers, look for the Colts to come away with a win and cover the spread.
The Chiefs don't have much of an offensive punch without Jamal Charles and going against the deadly duo of Dwight Freeney and Rashard Mathis won't do much for QB Matt Cassel's health.
On flip side, the Chiefs are without S Eric Berry and don't have an answer for the Colt's WR Reggie Wayne and RB Joseph Addai. It won't be a pretty game, but in the end look for the Colts to pull out a victory on the strength of their pass rush and the ineptitude of the Chiefs' offense.
The Line: Indianapolis -2.5
The Pick: Indianapolis 24-16
It's a battle of former Eagle QBs in the Mini-Apple.
While you have to think the Vikings and QB Donovan McNabb can't continue to throw away games in which they have a lead forever, I'm not sure the Vikings will get a lead against Arizona.
The Cardinals are coming off a tough loss to the Giants, a game which they should have won (had the officials not botched a call). The Cardinals will look to get back on track and remain in contention in the NFC West.
I'm not going to lie: I'm a fan of the Cardinals. I think they're only going to get better as QB Kevin Kolb and WR Larry Fitzgerald develop more chemistry. Speaking of Fitz, expect him to have a great game against a weak Minnesota secondary.
In the end, the Cardinals win convincingly and Donovan McNabb heads to the bench for the remainder of the season.
The Line: Minnesota -2.5
The Pick: Arizona, 35-17
If last week was a "must-win" for the struggling Philadelphia Eagles, this week is a "must win to save Andy Reid's job". The Bills are a feel-good story and have a lot of upside, but I don't see them pulling this one out at home.
Sooner or later, the pieces are going to click for the Eagles. There are simply too many weapons and too many talented players on the Philadelphia roster for the team not to win some football games. Michael Vick is coming off a career day and will be going against a Buffalo defense that did not look formidable as it surrendered quite a few points to the lowly Bengals last week.
On the defensive side of the ball, look for the Eagles and Juan Castillo to finally start playing man coverage on the outside and utilizing the run blitz. Ryan Fitzpatrick has been good with the ball in his hands thus far, but I don't see him faring well against a hungry Eagles secondary.
The Line: Philadelphia -2.5
The Pick: Philadelphia, 42-24
This game figures to be a battle of running backs, with the Raiders' Darren McFadden squaring off with the Texans' Arian Foster.
The Texans will likely still be without stud WR Andre Johnson, but QB Matt Schaub has been sharp this season and has other weapons. Owen Daniels, Kevin Walker and Jacoby Jones all figure to be involved in the passing attack, along with Arian Foster (who is a very good target out of the backfield).
In the end, the difference will come down to defense. The Raiders are last in the NFL against the run, surrendering a whopping 6.2 YPC. The Texans' pass defense has been exceptional this season and the group is fairly stout against the run to boot.
I'll get to the point: the Texans are going to win this one. The upstart Raiders and Jason Campbell should keep it a close contest all afternoon, but in the end it will be Arian Foster that makes the difference.
The Line: Houston -6
The Pick: Houston 31-24
In an early-season NFC South match up, I'm going to pick a major upset: Cam Newton and the Panthers shock the Saints in Carolina.
Why? Because in three relatively-dry starts, Newton has thrown for over 1,200 yards and racked up 9 TDs. The forecast looks clear, and I don't see the Saints' defense doing what Chicago and Green Bay could not. Beyond that, the Saints don't have an answer in the secondary for the rejuvenated Steve Smith and the one-two punch of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.
On the flip side, the Panthers' defense has been fairly strong against the pass, giving up a little over 200 yards per game. Drew Brees is certainly an elite QB and I believe he'll have a strong outing, but I don't see him putting up the yards or the points necessary to overcome the early offensive rookie of the year pick.
The Line: New Orleans -6.5
The Pick: Carolina 31-28
After a major, come-from-behind upset of the upstart Buffalo Bills in Week 4, I think the Bengals will fall flat in the Florida heat.
Andy Dalton has been a revelation for the Bengals, and while it looks like Cedric Benson will manage to avoid a suspension, I still can't bring myself to take Cincinnati. The Jags are 10th in the NFL against the run (3.8 YPC) and they're 12th against the pass (well, that counts the monsoon game against the Panthers).
The Bengals have been excellent defensively , but I have a lingering feeling that Blaine Gabbert will get it together. He can't be this bad forever. Maurice Jones-Drew will continue to plow through defenses and the Jags' defense will have a big day at home against Andy Dalton.
Well, probably not. But I'm going with it anyway.
The Line: Cincinnati -2.5
The Pick: Jacksonville 17-14
News Flash: The Steelers are overrated.
Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger has a sprained foot, but (for some unknown reason) head coach Mike Tomlin expects him to play. That's a bad idea against a Titans defense that managed to sack Colt McCoy four times in Week 4 and Joe Flacco three times in Week 2, Both of those QBs are protected by better offensive lines than Big Ben.
But what about the Steelers' running game? Well, even if RB Rashard Mendenhall was healthy, I don't think he could get anything going against a stout Tennessee run defense that hasn't allowed more than 70 rushing yards in each of the last three weeks. But Mendenhall's hamstring isn't healthy, so I really, really don't think he'll do anything, if he manages to play.
But there is still hope for the Steelers: their great defense, led by James Harrison and Troy Polamalu, could carry them to victory. Well, Harrison is done for the season and Polamalu looks a step (or two) slower. There's also the small fact that the Steelers have been dreadful against the run, giving up better than 4.9 YPC. Titans All-Pro RB Chris Johnson should be salivating.
Beyond all of that, Titans QB Matt Hasselbeck has been uncharacteristically efficient this season, The only way to really rattle Hasselbeck is to apply pressure, but the Steelers can't do that anymore. They're too old, they're too slow and they're too injured.
The Titans win in a blowout. It's a good thing the other Pennsylvania team is struggling.
The Line: Pittsburgh -3.5
The Pick: Tennessee 35-10
The Giants and the Falcons both have something in common: they both got lucky last week.
While I don't believe the Seahawks will pull out this game, I do think it will be close. Very close. The Justin Tuck-less Giants defense can't stop anyone on the ground, and I don't think Tuck will be giving it a go (he's a game-time decision). Marshawn Lynch is due for a big game, averaging just 3.1 YPC. The inept Giants' run defense could be just what the doctor ordered.
Then there's Seattle QB Tarvaris Jackson, who was the NFL's equivalent of Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde in Week 4. For the first three quarters, Jackson was terrible. Then, down 27-7 against the Falcons, he all of a sudden remembered how to play. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Lynch's breakout performance opens up the passing lanes for Jackson, who continues to remember how to play.
On the other side of the ball, the Giants' offense should continue to produce points on Eli Manning's shoulders. The Seahawks are very good against the run (third in the NFL at 3.1 YPC), but dreadful against the pass.
Still, I don't think the Giants are 9 points better than the Seahawks.
The Line: New York -9.5
The Pick: New York 21-20
This is going to be an ugly, ugly game.
Offensively, the Buccaneers aren't pretty, but they're effective. QB Josh Freeman is usually efficient with the ball and saves his best performances for the fourth quarter while RB LeGarrette Blount knows how to run the football.
The 49ers' run defense is as good as it gets (sorry, LeGarrette), but they've struggled to contain anything resembling a mobile QBs (see Romo, Tony) and they don't know how to cover anyone. Tampa Bay WR Mike Williams and TE Kellen Winslow should have a great days against the worse-than-mediocre San Francisco safeties.
For Alex Smith and the 49ers' offense to be successful, RB Frank Gore needs to be effective. Unfortunately, he will be going up against a Bucs' defense that has surrendered a combined 80 yards rushing to the Colts and Falcons.
Without Gore, the offensive load will fall on the not-so-capable shoulders of QB Alex Smith, who will not be able to get anything going against the Tampa defense. With plenty of third-and-longs likely (thanks to the lack of running game), it will be open season on Smith. And Tampa knows how to get to the QB, recording eight sacks in their previous two contests.
The Line: San Francisco -2.5
The Pick: Tampa Bay, 24-13
Dear Jets Fans: This game will not end well for you.
Mark Sanchez has been dreadful in 2011. Maybe it was the GQ spread, maybe it was the loss of Braylon Edwards or maybe he was just never that good to begin with. My money is on the last one.
In all seriousness, the Patriots' defense may not be elite, but you have to believe Bill Belichick has something special planned for the team that booted the Pats from the 2010 playoffs. Helping Belichick's cause is Sanchez's ineptitude, the Jets' offensive line and the return of Albert Haynesworth.
Remember what I said above about Belichick wanting some payback? Well, the same thing is true for Tom Brady. Even if the Jets could clone Darrelle Revis for this game, I'd still take Brady with the way he's been playing. To top it all off, the Jets have lost LB Bryan Thomas for the season.
There is no way Tom Brady and the Patriots lose this game. Take the points.
The Line: New England -9
The Pick: New England 38-17
On paper, it looks like this game shouldn't be close. QB Phillip Rivers, WR Vincent Jackson and the rest of the high-powered Chargers offense are going against one of the worst defenses in the league (27th in the NFL) vs. the pass.
Fortunately for the Broncos, the Chargers have come down with a case of Iggle-itis. For those unfamiliar with this disorder, the symptoms are these: the offense piles up yards between the 20's, only to take atrocious penalties, commit ghastly turnovers and make bone-headed plays in the red zone.
The prognosis: lots of trips into the red zone, not a lot of points on the scoreboard. Norv Turner and Andy Reid should start a support group.
Since the game is in Denver, look for the Chargers to have the home-field advantage. Kyle Orton will once again start, but everyone in the Mile High City will be wearing a Tebow jersey and shouting obscenities at Orton. Typical.
Take the Broncos. Depending on how bad the Chargers are in the red zone, they might even win.
The Line: San Diego -4
The Pick: San Diego, 32-31
For all of you that just lost a lot of money by listening to me for the past ten slides, here's your chance to make it all back (and keep in mind that I do NOT endorse illegal activity of any kind). Take the Packers. It's a gift from the Vegas gods.
Aaron Rodgers is playing out of his mind. He's completing over 70% of his passes with 9.4 YPA and 12 TDs. That's absurd. The pathetic Falcons' defense doesn't stand a chance of stopping Rodgers. They haven't recorded a sack since Week 1. They gave up 317 yards to Tarvaris Jackson last week. Aaron Rodgers is going to throw for over 400 yards and a three or four more TDs.
On the other side, what happens when a ruthless Dom Capers' defense goes against a porous Falcons' offensive line? Matt Ryan has a bad day. Clay Matthews is going to add to his sack total.
The Line: Green Bay -5.5
The Pick: Green Bay 35-17
This is one Monday Night match up I can't wait to see, mainly because I love watching the Bears lose.
The Matthew Stafford to Megatron connection is unstoppable. Calvin Johnson has 8 TDs in four games, and that's while he's being double and triple covered. Anyone think the Chicago Bears' secondary has an answer? Me neither. Johnson will run right past CB Charles Tillman and all over safety Major Wright, who has been a major liability in coverage. See what I did there?
Mike Martz actually ran the ball last week, which means Matt Forte won't even be able to touch a ball on the sidelines this week. Good luck keeping Jay Cutler vertical with Ndamukong Suh and the rest of the Lions' defensive line after him.
The Lions are for real. They'll prove it to the world on national television Monday night.
The Line: Detroit -5.5
The Pick: Detroit 42-23