NFL Predictions Week 5: Picks for Every Game
We have made it to the bye week in the 2011 NFL season. If you weren't hooked yet, it only gets better from here.
Ready for this week's picks? It's Week 5, and that means six teams have a bye. The Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins, St. Louis Rams and Washington Redskins are all off this week.
Undefeated Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions face tough opponents in primetime this weekend. Will we finally see each team lose?
For those keeping score at home, and I am, last week's picks were 14-2. That's 48-16 on the year.
For more NFL and NFL draft analysis
New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers
When New Orleans Has the Ball:
The New Orleans Saints may have the No. 10 ranked rushing offense in the NFL, but the strength of this team is the passing game. Drew Brees has found a superstar in tight end Jimmy Graham. Look for the Saints to use Graham extensively this weekend against a weakened Carolina Panther linebacker corp.
The Saints would love to run the ball against the two rookies starting at defensive tackle for the Panthers, and they'll have their chances, but this game will come down to who can score more points.
The Panthers will be able to pressure Drew Brees off the edges, that much is a given. Where the battle will be won and lost is on the inside.
When Carolina Has the Ball:
Cam Newton is going to do his damage, no matter what the Saints try to throw at him defensively. The key is not stopping Newton, it's preventing mistakes. The Saints will need to play mistake free on both sides of the ball if they hope to win a shootout against the high-powered Carolina offense.
One match up I see going in favor of Carolina is Steve Smith versus the New Orleans secondary. Smith has been on fire this season, and with two talented tight ends and a loaded backfield to deal with, the Saints will be limited in how they can cover Smith deep.
If Carolina is to have a chance at winning this game, it will come through connections from Newton to Smith.
Prediction: Carolina 42, New Orleans 35
Tennessee Titans at Pittsburgh Steelers
When Tennessee Has the Ball:
The Tennessee Titans are 3-1 because of their balanced offensive approach and the play of Matt Hasselbeck in his first season with the club. Hasselbeck has done a brilliant job getting the ball to Kenny Britt and Nate Washington, and that's what they'll try to do this weekend as Damian Williams fills in for the injured Britt.
Tennessee matches up well against Pittsburgh, but they will need a huge game from their offensive line is they expect to move to 4-1 and get a win over the defending AFC champions.
Pittsburgh will be missing James Harrison on defense, which is enough to favor the Titans alone. When you consider the Steeler defense has been abysmal all season, the loss of Harrison is crippling.
When Pittsburgh Has the Ball:
Ben Roethlisberger may or may not play this weekend, same for Rashard Mendenhall. With those two missing from the backfield the Steelers will struggle mightly. They might even struggle with them.
The Steelers offensive line has been a massive problem, as they cannot get a running game going nor can they pass protect well enough to make something happen downfield. Roethlisberger has always been slow to get rid of the ball, but behind this offensive line that's a health hazard.
Tennessee has an underrated defensive line that will do a great job pressuring the back field and creating turnovers off of pressures. The Titans defense is a clear favorite over the Pittsburgh offense.
Prediction: Tennessee 24, Pittsburgh 13
*Subject to change later in week depending on Roethlisberger's health.
Kansas City Chiefs at Indianapolis Colts
When Kansas City Has the Ball:
I am glad, for once, that I am not the offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs. Could you imagine trying to build a gameplan with this team right now?
The best the Chiefs can do is hope Matt Cassel finds a fire that he's yet to show for more than two quarters this season. If the team gets the Cassel that played the second half against the Vikings, they'll have a chance. Otherwise, the Chiefs will face a steady onslaught of Dwight Freeney all day Sunday.
Freeney and his linemates will have a field day pressuring a horrible Chiefs' offensive line, which will in turn create hurried passes from Cassel, which leads to interceptions.
When Indianapolis Has the Ball:
This has to be the week the Colts offense clicks. The team has been close to a win in each of the past two weeks. Playing at home against an equally bad team, the Colts should get a win this week.
The gameplan should feature a heavy dose of running the famous Colt stretch run off each tackle. The Chiefs defense has been embarrassing against the run this season, especially up front. The Colts may not have the world's best offensive line, but they are good enough to move around the Chiefs.
This is a final reminder to the Colts to not kick to Dexter McCluster or Javier Arenas.
Prediction: Indianapolis 28, Kansas City 24
Philadelphia Eagles at Buffalo Bills
When Philadelphia Has the Ball:
It would seem simple enough, the Philadelphia Eagles have all the talent in the world at the skill positions. Michael Vick at quarterback has three world-class wide receivers, a very good tight end, a Pro Bowl caliber running back and an underrated, athletic fullback.
The problem is up front. Without an offensive line to protect Vick or open holes in the running game, it doesn't matter who your skill players are.
The Eagles will serve witness to the power and speed of the Buffalo Bills' pass rush on Sunday. The Bills should plan to pin their ears back and attack all day.
When Buffalo Has the Ball:
The Bills should have no trouble moving the ball against Philadelphia if they can find a way to contain Jason Babin up front. Babin has been a beast all season, and with him lined up at left end the Bills will need to use a tight end and right tackle Erik Pears to shutdown the Pro Bowler.
Buffalo should be able to dictate the tempo of the game if they can control Babin. Fred Jackson could have a huge day against an Eagle defense that let an injured Frank Gore run for 127 yards.
If Philadelphia is going to win this game they need Nnamdi Asomugha to start earning his paycheck and shutdown Steve Johnson.
Prediction: Buffalo 31, Philadelphia 23
Seattle Seahawks at New York Giants
When Seattle Has the Ball:
Did you know that it is 2,852 miles from Seattle, Washington to New York City? The Seahawks will take one hell of a road trip this weekend, and that alone will cause serious jet lag for a team that's already struggling to put points on the board.
The New York pass rush is coming together as they get healthy, and that's bad news for the Seattle offensive line that has allowed 13 sacks this season and is letting the opposition get to the quarterback in terms of pressures and hits far too often.
Seattle will need quick hits from Tarvaris Jackson if they can hope to counter the aggressive New York pass rush.
When New York Has the Ball:
You look at these two teams on paper and there is absolutely no way the Seattle Seahawks can shutdown the New York Giants.
Seattle has no answer for Eli Manning and his threats at wide receiver. Expect Manning to have a huge day against one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL.
Prediction: New York 42, Seattle 7
Cincinnati Bengals at Jacksonville Jaguars
When Cincinnati Has the Ball:
Andy Dalton and A.J. Green are connecting with consistency, and that's a scary thought for the rest of the NFL.
Dalton will look to hook up with Green and Jermaine Gresham as early as often in this game, putting pressure on the Jacksonville weakness in the secondary. It won't hurt things if Cedric Benson can notch another 100 yard week against the Jaguars defensive front seven.
The Jaguars front seven is their strength, and they'll look to shutdown the inside run and force the Bengals into passing situations. Dalton is young, and he will make mistakes if pressured and knocked around.
When Jacksonville Has the Ball:
The Jaguars will put their own rookie quarterback on the field when Blaine Gabbert takes snaps for them this weekend. Gabbert is entering his third week as the starter, and each week he's getting better. While the Jaguars lack an elite threat at wide receiver, Gabbert does have a Pro Bowl tight end in Marcedes Lewis and a damn fine running back in Maurice Jones-Drew.
The Jaguars should try to take the pressure off Gabbert by establishing the run early. If Jones-Drew can get rolling, the Jaguars can slow down the game and squeeze out a win.
Prediction: Cincinnati 31, Jacksonville 17
Oakland Raiders at Houston Texans
When Oakland Has the Ball:
It's no surprise that Oakland will attempt to get Darren McFadden rolling early in the game. If DMC gets going, Oakland's offense has a chance to move the ball against a Houston Texan defense that has been damn near dominant all season.
Oakland's passing game has been inconsistent, evident last week when Jason Campbell made mistake after mistake. The Texans will want to force the ball into Campbell's hands by loading the box with their 3-4 defense and making McFadden earn his yards. Houston execute sure tackling this week or McFadden and the Raiders will make them pay.
Expect Houston to load up the box with at least one safety, daring Campbell to go deep to his young receivers.
When Houston Has the Ball:
The Texans have managed to score points by the truck loads this season, but can they without Andre Johnson? It looks like Johnson will miss several weeks with a hamstring injury, putting the focus of the offense on Matt Schaub, Arian Foster (if healthy) and Owen Daniels.
Houston is still a superior team, and they can rely on Foster and Ben Tate to run the ball to a victory, but only if Schaub does enough to keep the defense honest.
The Raiders gameplan should be set, knowing Houston will hope to run the ball this weekend. The Raiders are ranked No. 29 against the run, though. That's enough to make Houston a safe bet.
Prediction: Houston 31, Oakland 17
Arizona Cardinals at Minnesota Vikings
When Arizona Has the Ball:
Larry Fitzgerald grew up a fan of the Minnesota Vikings. His dad works as a beat writer covering the team. Much will be made of Fitzgerald's connection to Minnesota, and he'll be psyched for a huge game against his boyhood favorite team.
The Cardinals gameplan should feature big plays dialed up to Fitzgerald early in the game to get him involved, and that will also allow Kevin Kolb to start spreading the ball around once the Vikings commit to double covering Fitz deep. As soon as the Vikings safeties start backing up, the Cardinals can hit them with a heavy dose of Beanie Wells.
The Vikings defensive line is very talented, and they'll be a favorable match up against the Cardinals offensive line. For Minnesota to win they need a complete game from their front four.
When Minnesota Has the Ball:
The Cardinals are ranked No. 15 against the run, and that's having played teams with a much better offensive line than the Vikings can line up. The plan to run Adrian Peterson 30 times may be the best option, but it will not guarantee a win.
Donovan McNabb has taken his share of the blame for the team's four straight losses, and he will need a big game (and a complete game) to quiet those calling for rookie quarterback Christian Ponder.
Arizona will focus on stopping Peterson, gambling that McNabb alone cannot beat them. And that's a safe bet.
Prediction: Arizona 31, Minnesota 20
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at San Francisco 49ers
When Tampa Bay Has the Ball:
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers with Josh Freeman at quarterback have been slow starters, but strong finishers. They won't have that luxury this week against the 3-1 San Francisco 49ers.
The 49ers haven't allowed a 100 yard rusher in 26 straight games, so you can bet the run game won't be a factor for the Buccaneers this weekend. That means Freeman will need to get the ball to Mike Williams, Kellen Winslow and Arrelious Benn. Good luck.
The 49er defense has been aggressive and smart this year. Justin Smith, Patrick Willis and Carlos Rogers are playing as good as any players at their position, giving San Francisco the core on defense to win big games.
When San Francisco Has the Ball:
The 49ers aren't pretty, but they are winning. And that's all that matters.
San Francisco gets it done with a mix of Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, Vernon Davis and steady play from Alex Smith at quarterback. A healthy Gore will be a huge factor this week if he can match his 127 yard output from last week on a bum ankle.
Tampa has been weak against the pass this year in coverage, but their pass rushing skills are off the charts. Against a 49er offensive line that has struggled this year, the Tampa defense line play will be a huge factor.
The difference maker this week will be Vernon Davis. The Buccaneers simply have no one who can cover him.
Prediction: San Francisco 28, Tampa Bay 21
New York Jets at New England Patriots
When New York Has the Ball:
What the hell do you try if you are the New York Jets? The passing game has fallen apart as Mark Sanchez isn't being protected and the lack of an elite receiver opposite Santonio Holmes has made them one dimensional (I remember saying this before the season...).
New York has also struggled to run the ball all season, and that's only been worse since losing center Nick Mangold.
With Mangold out this week, Vince Wilfork will have a career day against the New York defensive line.
When New England Has the Ball:
If the football gods love me, Rex Ryan will match up Darrelle Revis against Wes Welker this week in a match up that would feature the NFL's best cornerback versus the NFL's most productive wide receiver. I'm drooling as I type this.
The Patriots will obviously line up in a spread offense and attack the Jets' secondary with Tom Brady's patented zone passing attack. The key in this game will be the coverage on Welker, but also on the coverage of Rob Gronkowski at tight end.
The Jets have struggled to pressure the quarterback and cover tight ends. Expect a step up in intensity this week against New England, but the Jets look overmatched on paper.
Prediction: New England 42, New York 24
San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos
When San Diego Has the Ball:
Much has been made about the fact that the 3-1 Chargers have only won against teams with one combined win. That's fair, but San Diego can only play who they are scheduled to see. And they are winning.
San Diego is doing well minus Antonio Gates (injury) and with below average play from Philip Rivers. The good news is that the running game by committee approach is working well enough and the wide receivers are playing out of their minds.
Denver has a great one in the making with Von Miller, but the rest of the defense is unremarkable.
When Denver Has the Ball:
It may surprise you, but the San Diego Chargers' defense is ranked No. 6 overall right now. They're doing that without a Top 5 pass rusher and without a Top 10 cornerback. It's solid, all-around play. And it's working.
The Charger defense should have no trouble with a Denver offense that has struggled to find an identity. We could in fact see a quarterback change this week if Kyle Orton continues to struggle.
Denver would love to get Knowshon Moreno going, but against the San Diego front seven that doesn't seem like a possibility.
Prediction: San Diego 38, Denver 13
Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons
When Green Bay Has the Ball:
Maybe you have noticed, but the Green Bay Packers are doing whatever they damn well please offensively this year.
Aaron Rodgers has been ridiculously good, scoring six touchdowns last week in a dominant performance. Rodgers has talent stacked up to the ceiling around him on the offensive line and at the skill positions. What could possibly go wrong for Green Bay? They look like a team of destiny.
If anyone can shutdown the Packers, it's the Falcons. Atlanta has the talent up front and the speed in the back seven to keep up with the Packers. If Ray Edwards and John Abraham can get into the heads of the Green Bay offensive line, the Falcons can keep this game close.
When Atlanta Has the Ball:
The Falcons have been surprisingly inconsistent this season. Where are Roddy White and Julio Jones? Where is Michael Turner?
Atlanta did a better job this weekend in protecting Matt Ryan, but Ryan needs to do a better job getting the ball to his playmakers.
Green Bay has the NFL's best ballhawk at cornerback (Charles Woodson), a crazy good pass rusher (Clay Matthews) and the league's No. 2 rush defense. The Falcons are going to face the best roster they'll see all season this weekend.
Prediction: Green Bay 35, Atlanta 21
Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions
When Chicago Has the Ball:
The Chicago offensive gameplan will be heavy on Matt Forte with delays and counters against a very aggressive Detroit Lions' defensive line.
Forte is one of the best in the game today, even if that's not recognized yet league-wide. Mike Martz will have Forte featured Monday night with a series of counters, draws and misdirections that will attack the holes the Lions defensive line create when they bull rush the offensive line.
Don't rule out screen packages this weekend. Detroit could be very vulnerable to the screen game, as their speedy defensive line is often too eager to get up field, which makes a screen play a very dangerous thing.
When Detroit Has the Ball:
We have had four straight games of health for Matthew Stafford, and that's equaled four straight wins. Keeping Stafford up right again this weekend is the key.
Stafford struggled early last week, but came back to have a strong second half, thanks largely to the man they call Megatron.
Calvin Johnson just might be the best in the game right now (you here that, Cris Carter?), and there is no stopping him when Stafford looks his way.
Chicago has to get to Stafford early and hope the pressure can throw him off his game. If Chicago cannot get to Stafford, this could get ugly.
Prediction: Detroit 35, Chicago 24