NFL Week 5: Every Game Predicted (and Maybe a Couple Surprises)
As we near Week 5, the NFL has begun its degree of separation between the teams still looking for answers and the teams that seem to be clicking. Bye weeks have started this week, giving certain teams the needed rest before the long remaining road ahead of them.
For teams such as Baltimore and Washington, this week should give them time to analyze the good and the bad. On the other end of the spectrum, teams such as the Dolphins and Rams are going to need this week to see what can be salvaged.
Of course, it's only Week 5 and that means there's still 12 weeks to go. The bad teams have time to repair, and the good teams have time to lose their momentum. Since this is the first week that I have published my predictions on Bleacher Report, I'll start my overall record from this week.
Statistics from NFL.com and www.teamrankings.com
Philadelphia Eagles @ Buffalo Bills
Dream Team? More like a Nightmare
The problem with predictions are that they aren't guaranteed and it seems like in football, no matter how well a team plays one week, it's never guaranteed they'll play that well the week after. Too bad Philadelphia and Buffalo are two teams that seemingly have that happen during games themselves.
Both teams went into halftime last Sunday with considerable leads only to give up second-half comebacks to each of their opponents. Philadelphia was leading the 49ers 20-3 at the end of the second quarter but allowed 21 second-half points to them while only scoring three.
Whether it's the offense's fault or the defense's, the team as a whole needs to improve on both sides of the ball late in the game.
Buffalo, before last Sunday, was that team that went down early in the first half before surging to beat Oakland and New England in back-to-back weeks. However, last week was a different story. Buffalo went into halftime with a 17-3 lead over the (supposedly moribund) Bengals before giving up 20, second-half points without scoring more than a field goal as well.
The defense that intercepted Tom Brady four times the week prior seemingly couldn't keep the rookie, Andy Dalton, from leading Cincinnati on multiple scoring drives.
Both teams have (at least) one thing they need to accomplish to avoid a loss this week. The Bills are easy, they just need to keep their defense dialed in and avoid a late-game pitfall when leading. Their offense is still one of the highest-powered in the league that can score points. The Bengals defense just happens to be better than some people will admit.
The Eagles need more than just one thing to win, but the team needs to focus on scoring, specifically in the red zone. So far in 2011, Philly has only scored 38 percent of the time in the red zone and, specifically, last week, they scored less than 30 percent. Their defense needs to tighten up but if they can't score consistently, how can they win consistently?
Buffalo 34, Philadelphia 28
New Orleans Saints @ Carolina Panthers
First Divisional Match-up is a Big Test for the Rookie QB
Cam Newton should have surprised everybody who pays any sort of attention to professional football by this point. He has had one of the best starts for a rookie QB ever. While on pace to beat Peyton Manning's records, he has proven that he has the moxie to lead the Panthers and find ways to win.
This game could turn out to be a fireworks display as both defenses have struggled to stop the pass. However, the Panthers are 31st against the rush and with the Saints combined ground attack, New Orleans could have a career day if given the chance.
Obviously, the Saints rely more on the pass but Matt Forte put up 205 yards against the Panthers last week; Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles could see similar combined numbers.
Steve Smith should see plenty of targets from Newton and will probably be effective, but unless they find ways to run against the Saints (ranked ninth in run defense), the Panthers could struggle to open up the passing game.
Carolina is improving (faster than expected), but it doesn't seem like they have enough to challenge in the NFC South this year, and this is their best chance to beat the Saints in 2011, at home. Most teams find it hard to come out of the Superdome with a win, and it will be no different for Carolina later in the season.
New Orleans 38, Carolina 17
Oakland Raiders @ Houston Texans
Houston Still the Team to Beat in the AFC South
Andre Johnson's hamstring injury surely was scary to Texans fans (just ask Patriots fans), and he should miss up to three weeks, but it shouldn't alarm them. With or without Johnson, the Texans are still a scary good team that can win big games. Houston obviously won't be able to replicate his presence in the passing game but have enough weapons for Matt Schaub to utilize.
Regardless of last week, the Raiders have proven that they aren't a team to take lightly and can be dangerous if not prepared for. Houston understands this and Wade Phillips should have his defense ready to stifle Darren McFadden, forcing Jason Campbell to throw the ball. They still have to keep their eye on the big play, which usually keeps Oakland competitive.
Unfortunately, it wasn't enough for them to beat New England last week, who, statistically, has the worst defense in the NFL and Houston is far from that. Jacoby Jones has enough talent to take over the No. 1 spot and Schaub has a top-flight safety blanket in Owen Daniels. Plus, with a healthy Arian Foster and stalwart Ben Tate, their run-game is hard to stop, too.
Oakland will have chances, but it won't be enough to beat the Texans in Houston, who have a very loud home crowd which is hungry for a playoff berth.
Houston 28, Oakland 10
Kansas City Chiefs @ Indianapolis Colts
Can the Colts find a Way to Win?
If there ever was a team that relied on one player predominantly, it has to be Indianapolis. Cases can be made for other teams, but the Colts are an entirely different team without Peyton Manning.
Don't think so? Explain why they are 0-4 and still haven't found a way to win. The problem is, the Colts never really bolstered their QB depth simply because they've never had to. Of course, at this rate, they might be able to with Andrew Luck next season.
Kerry Collins was a nice experiment but he's well past his prime and Curtis Painter has been the best clipboard holder in the NFL, but the team needs to find a way to win games outside of passing the ball much.
On the flip side, the Chiefs started 2011 as the year's doormat but somehow found a way to turn it around. Granted, the Vikings are probably the true doormat, but nothing can be taken away from KC's win.
Luckily enough for Indy, the team is finding a way to stay close. Kansas City went from being blown out in two consecutive weeks to losing a close game against San Diego and beating the Vikings. This game will be close throughout and should only come down to a touchdown at most.
The key to winning is simply who can outlast whom. If KC can do what they did against Minnesota, they should have no problem against Indy. However, if Indy can keep the pressure on Matt Cassel, they should capitalize on the Chiefs' mistakes.
Indianapolis 27, Kansas City 21
Cincinnati Bengals @ Jacksonville Jaguars
Battle of the Jungle Cats
Andy Dalton may have proven his status this past Sunday as the starting QB for the Bengals as he led his team on a second-half comeback against a much-improved Bills team. He's far from perfect, but he's a solid leader and has brought his ability to win over from TCU. He should entertain a successful NFL career.
There is another rookie that might be even better at his respective position than Dalton has been, and his name is A.J. Green. They may not be Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson yet, but give them enough time together and the rest of the league should watch out.
Regardless of what people think about Dalton and Green, they can't take away what their defense has done in four solid games. They are currently leading the NFL in total yards allowed and showed that against the Bills last week. They didn't allow a passing TD all game and only gave up one rushing TD in the 2nd quarter.
After quickly forgetting a rough first-half by Dalton, the Bengals didn't allow more than three points to the Bills high-powered attack while the rookie QB led the comeback.
The Jaguars start their own rookie QB in Blaine Gabbert and, much like the Bengals, live and die by their defense. They are going to have to force Dalton into passing situations and force mistakes if they want to win this game.
On offense, they are going to have to work hard not to struggle against that defense, but they can't go wrong with Maurice Jones-Drew running the football. He can't do everything himself, so Gabbert has to find a way to make more plays in the passing game or the Bengals will key on stopping the run.
Both teams should have similar game plans and whoever executes it the best should come out on top, even if it's by just a field goal.
Cincinnati 17, Jacksonville 14
Arizona Cardinals @ Minnesota Vikings
Pondering a Change at Quarterback?
The Minnesota Vikings were not expecting this, an early-season dip maybe, but not this. Expecting McNabb to be the savior of the franchise wasn't the goal but he should have been able to steer the offense better than Tarvaris Jackson ever could.
After four straight losses, this team looks as lost as ever and seemingly is going to struggle to find wins all season long. It's probably still too soon to replace McNabb with Christian Ponder, but if things keep going the way they are, it's only a matter of time.
Arizona just can't catch a break lately. Losing three straight games due to last-minute scores, eventually something has got to give. Kevin Kolb has been an effective trigger man and loves his new weapon in Larry Fitzgerald.
The Vikings are going to make life hard for their rushing attack, but as long as the offensive line can keep Kolb on his feet, he should make a few big plays with Fitz and the rest of their passing attack. Besides, if their passing game opens up, firing on all cylinders, it might open up enough holes for Beanie Wells to exploit.
Minnesota, regardless of the QB situation, needs their front seven to wreak havoc against the Cardinals offensive line. Jared Allen and his band of cattle-ropers need to get in Kolb's face to screw up the rhythm he has with Fitzgerald.
If they can do that, it's going to be hard to move the ball against them, relieving some pressure on their offense. If their offense has room on the scoreboard to work, they can wear down the Cardinals defense with a steady attack of Adrian Peterson and short- to mid-range passing.
The Vikings cannot afford to lose a fifth straight game and go 0-5; it's something that just can't happen. McNabb can only deal with so much disappointment before he starts to become vocal. If that happens, the locker room could come crumbling down again and the season probably won't be salvaged.
The Cardinals need the win to stay in the hunt for the weak NFC West. With the success of Cam Newton and Andy Dalton, how much longer can the Vikings deal with McNabb?
Arizona 20, Minnesota 17
Seattle Seahawks @ New York Giants
Will New York Cruz to Victory?
Tarvaris Jackson continues to struggle, and now he has to stare down the Giants' defense. The Seahawks offensive line is going to find it hard to keep Jackson in the pocket and on his feet. They have already allowed 14 sacks in four games, which is good for third worst in the NFL.
Anything's possible, however, and if Jackson can get the ball out quickly to his play-makers, then they might have a shot, a long one if anything.
Eli Manning should have a great day against a Seahawks defense that hasn't been awful but hasn't been able to stop much through the air. If Manning can get into good rhythm early with his receivers, he should have no problem finding open field. Ahmad Bradshaw can't be counted out, either, and he should see some wide-open lanes that he can exploit.
Seattle has kept it close the past couple of weeks, beating Arizona by three and losing to Atlanta by two, so if everything works 100% this week, they could be in it late in the game, but it's hard not to see this game being at least a two-TD deficit, in the Giants' favor.
New York Giants 30, Seattle 14
Tennessee Titans @ Pittsburgh Steelers
The Clash of the Titans
Who saw the Tennessee Titans sitting at 3-1, tied for first place in the AFC South with Houston, after their Week 1 loss to Jacksonville? Matt Hasselbeck has really settled into his job and the veteran QB has helped the Titans beat their last three opponents, including their surprising win against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 2.
Hasselbeck looks poised in the pocket and, even with Kenny Britt injured, has found a connection with his receivers. This is good for Chris Johnson, bad for fantasy owners, because it lifts some of the weight off of his shoulders, creating a much more balanced attack.
The Titans are going to cause much of the same problems the Steelers have been facing all season long. Their defense has been nowhere as good as they are expected to be and now with the possibility of losing James Harrison, it doesn't look like it's getting any better.
Pittsburgh might finally be showing its age on defense and now, their offensive line looks abysmal, too. They've given up 14 sacks so far and haven't really been able to find lanes for their running game to utilize. If Ben Roethlisberger and Rashard Mendenhall miss the game this Sunday, it could turn out to be another long day for Pittsburgh.
However, it's hard to come to a conclusive prediction about this game and it very well could be close. If Big Ben plays, the Steelers can't be discounted, but the Titans provide an intriguing match-up and could shift the balance of power in the AFC.
Tennessee 21, Pittsburgh 17
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ San Francisco 49ers
Can the Niners Handle Some Blount Force Trauma?
The 49ers are quickly proving they are the team to beat in the NFC West, regardless how the weak the division appears to be, and are finding a way to win big games. Alex Smith isn't the greatest quarterback to ever put on the Scarlet and Gold, but he is finding his poise (finally) to lead his team.
It helps to have a supporting cast including Frank Gore, Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree, but football is a team sport, and it takes contributions from everyone to win, especially in comeback fashion like they did against the Eagles last Sunday.
This game is probably going to be decided through the air (like that's surprising) because San Fran has allowed fewer than 75 yards per game and should be able to contain LeGarrette Blount. Of course, Josh Freeman should be able to handle the extra work and target Mike Williams and Kellen Winslow enough times to alleviate some of the pressure.
The Buccaneers are going to have their hands full against Frank Gore as well but should be able to contain him enough to put the ball into Alex Smith's hands.
In years past, having the ball in Smith's hands would have been a good thing for most defenses but Jim Harbaugh's presence has helped Smith improve.
Of course, with Vernon Davis on the team, Smith has a target that has hands like a receiver and is a huge target in the red zone. This is a tough game to call, but Josh Freeman should work some more late-game magic and find a way to win.
Tampa Bay 28, San Francisco 24
San Diego Chargers @ Denver Broncos
Even if it Becomes Tebow-Time, It Won't Nearly be Enough to Save Broncos
The Broncos are coming off a debilitating loss to the Packers and now have another dangerous QB visiting Mile-High Stadium this Sunday. San Diego may be winning close games against teams they should be blowing out, but a win is a win.
Denver is giving up 275 yards through the air per game and now they have Phillip Rivers to worry about this weekend. It's not even just their passing game that the Broncos have to worry about, Ryan Mathews and the rushing attack of the Chargers is becoming just as dangerous. With 102 yards a game on the ground, the Broncos are going to have a lot of problems on their hands.
Kyle Orton is not a imposing QB and the Chargers defense is much better this season than it may appear. They're only allowing 297.8 total yards per game and in the grand new offensive scheme of the NFL (where passing has taken the torch from the running game), it's good enough to be ranked sixth.
With their best WR ranked 26th in the NFL, the Broncos are struggling to put up much in the way of offensive numbers.
Even if the Broncos turn to Tebow, or Brady Quinn (shudder) for that matter, it's not going to be enough to change the team's fortunes for 2011.
San Diego 34, Denver 7
New York Jets @ New England Patriots
The Rivalry Continues
The two teams that were supposed to battle it out for control of the AFC East have struggled to find traction while the Buffalo Bills may have taken the reins.
Both the Jets and the Patriots have made it abundantly clear how to beat each other.
New England has probably one of the worst pass defenses in recent history, giving up 368.8 yards per game, good for last in the league. New York has shown that any team with a decent rushing attack can exploit them, giving up 130.5 yards a game on the ground, good for 27th in the league.
The ironic bit about this game is that each of these two team's offensive strengths are arguably what each team is good at stopping on defense. The Jets still have the second-best passing defense with Darrelle Revis at the forefront, holding teams to less than 200 yards a game through the air.
This should cause the Patriots to focus on utilizing their committee approach at halfback with BenJarvis Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead (if healthy), and probably a good dose of rookie RB Stevan Ridley, who had a decent day against Oakland.
But, being New England, they are going to put the ball in Brady's hands regardless of who's in the secondary. New York needs a big day from exactly that, the secondary because if they fail their assignments, Brady will have another career day.
Wes Welker may not agree, but he can't keep doing everything himself, so the Patriots need Deion Branch or Chad Ochocinco to open up as a clear No. 2. Rob Gronkowski should cause issues for the Jets as well.
The one thing that's necessary for New York to win this game is they need Mark Sanchez to improve immediately. The Patriots defense should present the best opportunity for him to do so. The one thing that will help is if Nick Mangold manages to come back to play this Sunday.
New England 38, New York 17
Green Bay Packers @ Atlanta Falcons
High-Powered Playoff Rematch
This is the playoff rematch everybody's been waiting to see. The last time Green Bay visited the Georgia Dome, Aaron Rodgers had one of the best performances for a QB in the playoffs ever, throwing 31-for-36 with 366 yards and three touchdowns. The Packers' performance as of late would presume an easy win for them this weekend. However, it may not be that simple.
The Packers defense has been something of a surprise this season so far, ranking 31st against the pass and 28th in total defense. Their record is 4-0 but now they face an Atlanta Falcons team that may have found the keys to their offense.
Roddy White and Julio Jones have been relatively quiet this season so far but Tony Gonzalez is a red-zone monster who should get a ton of looks inside the 20. If any game is going to be a high-scoring affair, this is the game.
The one thing that could be the deciding factor is how well Michael Turner plays. The reason being is that the one area of the Green Bay defense that seems to succeed is their front-7 and stopping the run. Judging by their game against Chicago, they have the ability to shut down any of the league's premiere halfbacks.
Atlanta needs to find a way to get into Rodgers' comfort zone and bring him to the turf. Same goes for Green Bay. This game has the makings of one that will be a shootout to end all shootouts. It seems like an upset may be in the making, and the list of undefeated teams could get shorter.
Atlanta 44, Green Bay 38
Chicago Bears @ Detroit Lions
The Torch has been Passed in the NFC North
The Lions were the cute pick in the off-season to possibly have a chance at the playoffs this year. After four straight wins, including two big comebacks, they are proving that they are everything but cute.
Now, in comes another NFC North foe in Chicago, whom the Lions would love to beat and prove that they now deserve respect in their division. It isn't going to be easy, considering Matt Forte compiled 205 yards against the Panthers last week, but the Lions are a much tougher feline.
The Bears should attack them primarily on the ground, but watch out for Forte's ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, too. The Lions have struggled against the run, giving up 113 yards a game on the ground.
Chicago's offensive line is going to be under the microscope during this game and very well could be the deciding factor. They have given up a league-worst 19 sacks already and a staggering 41 QB hits, and Jay Cutler has already proven that when pressured, he makes a lot of mistakes.
The Lions won't have to put as much pressure on Matthew Stafford to rally again if they can keep Forte from breaking big plays and putting Cutler on the ground.
Speaking of Stafford, unless the Bears change something, they are going to give a ton of open field for him and Calvin Johnson to work, which is extremely dangerous. The Bears give up 301.5 yards per game through the air and any broken coverage is going to kill the Bears chances at winning this game.
If that's the case, Johnson could see close to 200 yards in this game and at least 2 touchdowns. Chicago's only hope is that their front-7 puts enough pressure on Stafford to screw up his timing. This is a dire need from the very start of the game if they want to win.
By the end of Monday night, the Lions could very well be the team on top of the NFC North.
Detroit 31, Chicago 27