Picking the Upsets: Keys for Carolina and 4 Other NFL Week 5 Underdogs
The beauty of the NFL is that every Sunday, every team has a chance to win. Any one of the 32 squads can walk in and come out with the victory.
Each week there are certain matchups that, at first glance, appear to have a clear knockout winner and loser, but as teams like Jacksonville or Tennessee have shown before, it's that the clear winner may not be so clear.
With that, let's look at five games and see what keys this week's Davids need to upset ole Goliath.
All game lines from www.bodog.eu
Statistics from NFL.com and ESPN.com
New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers
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Betting Line: NO -7
The Panthers would appear to be the clear underdogs this Sunday against Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints. This is going to be quite the mountain for Carolina to climb, but nothing is impossible and if everything works to perfection, the Panthers could be headed for the upset. Now, that requires a lot of things to go right and a lot of things to go wrong for the Saints, but crazier things have happened.
Contain the Big Play
This is easier to say and much harder to do because, come on, it is the Saints, but if Carolina can avoid giving up too much open field for Brees to work, they could nullify the big play. Of course, this doesn't just include the big pass play, it also means the front seven needs to contain the run at the line of scrimmage without giving up any big holes. This includes keeping an eye on Darren Sproles and avoid allowing him any room to make a play, especially on screens and in special teams.
Get Steve Smith the Ball
Offensively, this is the best way for the Panthers to exploit the Saints. Smith has the second-most yardage for a receiver at the moment with 530 yards. He's also key to making the big play and if the Panthers want to entertain a win, they need some big plays. Smith has 12 plays of 20+ yards (first in NFL) and three plays of 40+ yards (tied for first in NFL). It is imperative to get Smith involved in this game, and early. New Orleans can take away the ability to run the ball but is vulnerable against the pass, and this needs to be taken advantage of.
Convert on 3rd down
This may be one of the biggest issues for the Panthers. They have the playmakers to win some big games but their inability to move the ball effectively is killing them. They're only converting 32.7 percent of their chances right now, and last week they were two of 12 on 3rd-down conversions. If the Panthers can find a way to get the key first down plays, it will keep the Saints' powerful offense off the field.
Seattle Seahawks at New York Giants
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Betting Line: NYG -10
This game has the biggest line for Sunday and the Giants are the clear favorites to win. Seattle will need to dig deep and the defense needs to cause mistakes because the offense isn't powerful enough to control the game themselves. The Seahawks were close to upsetting Atlanta last week and could find it in themselves to do so against New York.
Find a Rushing Attack
This section of their offense has been nothing short of abysmal so far this season, only averaging 67.5 yards per game, but if New York has any defensive weaknesses, it's going to be their rushing defense, which has given up 116.5 yards per game. Tarvaris Jackson is going to have an awful time getting the ball out against them so they will have to find a way to involve their halfbacks more than they have so far this season.
Improve the Pass Rush
The Giants have already given up 11 sacks compared to 16 total from last season, and if the Seahawks want to slow their attack down, they need to throw off Manning's timing. He can get rattled easily, but they have to come out of the gates aggressively and quickly find ways to get at him. If Manning finds his rhythm, he's going to tear apart their weak secondary all day long.
Avoiding Costly Mistakes
Tarvaris Jackson has shown in the past that he can make throws but he has never been consistent enough to win. Seattle brought in Sidney Rice, Jackson's teammate from the Vikings, to try and beef up a weak offense but Jackson has struggled getting the ball down the field. He had a decent day against Atlanta (25 of 38, 319 yards, three TDs and two INTs) but he needs to cut down on costly mistakes. The best chance they have against the Giants is to avoid giving them easy turnovers, and that starts with Jackson.
New York Jets at New England Patriots
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Betting Line: NE -9
It's hard to believe how big the line is in this game (and I'm a Patriots fan) because these two usually play each other very close. The Jets aren't that big of an underdog in this game but we'll go with what Vegas says. The Jets have a good chance to win this Sunday, especially against a pretty depressing New England defense.
Nick Mangold Returns, Offensive Line Immediately Improved
With Mangold back at center, it automatically improves the offensive line, which was pretty awful against the Ravens last Sunday night. That should help The Jets need a better game from Shonn Greene and LaDanian Tomlinson if they want Mark Sanchez to play better because right now, there isn't enough balance. New York thrives on a balanced offensive attack, and without a healthy dose of either the run or the pass they could struggle.
Containing the Tight Ends
Everybody knows about Tom Brady and that he's the one who keeps that offensive machine rolling. The problem with stopping the passing attack is who to cover. New York needs to find a way to shut down Brady's explosive pair of tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez (back from a knee injury). Although it may seem like it, Wes Welker can't do everything on his own and there hasn't been a clear No. 2 receiver. If the Jets can neutralize Gronkowski and Hernandez, Brady might start forcing passes much like he did against Buffalo.
Utilize Short-Passing and Screens to Exploit Weak Linebackers and Secondary
The Patriots seemingly can't tackle, and yes that sounds ridiculous, but against Oakland, on multiple occasions, they had a play stopped in the backfield only to have the ball-carrier break it open for a big play. The Jets can take advantage of the glaring weaknesses in the linebackers (especially with Jerod Mayo hurt) and secondary. Mark Sanchez has issues with his accuracy, and short, quick passes to receivers and halfbacks will help alleviate that.
Oakland Raiders at Houston Texans
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Betting Line: HOU -6
Houston has been on a tear and one of the best teams in the AFC so far this season, and it doesn't look like they'll be stopping anytime soon. There are things that Oakland can do to exploit Houston and come out of Reliant Stadium with a win. It certainly won't be easy because of Houston's ability, but it's hard to underestimate Darren McFadden.
Exploit Andre Johnson's Absence
Losing a No. 1 receiver hurts. Losing a No. 1 receiver of Andre Johnson's capability and talent is excruciating. Houston should survive without Johnson but their passing attack won't be as effective, either. This should allow Oakland to focus more of their efforts on stopping Arian Foster and Ben Tate, which is where Houston is going to do most of their damage on Sunday.
Keep Jason Campbell on His Feet
The Raiders need to keep Campbell up and mobile, because if Houston's defense gets their hands on him repeatedly, the offense is going to struggle mightily. The Raiders have only given up two sacks this season (first in the NFL) and the offensive line has kick-started the league's best rushing attack as well, which leads us to...
Let Darren McFadden Loose
Darren McFadden is the Raiders' most explosive offensive weapon and they need to keep utilizing that. The team has a combined 715 rushing yards already, and with backup Michael Bush, can move the ball on the ground as well or better than anybody. The Texans play tough defense (10th in total yards, 10th in passing) but have given up their fair share in the run game (108.8 yards per game). McFadden should be able to exploit that weakness enough to give Oakland a fair shot to win.
Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons
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Betting Line: GB -6
The last time these two met in Atlanta, it was a 48-24 blowout in the playoffs, in Green Bay's favor. The Falcons would love to end Green Bay's win streak this Sunday night. With Aaron Rodgers playing as well as he has been, it's easy to say that the Packers should win easily. However, the Falcons could find themselves in an offensive shootout and they may have a good chance to upset.
Utilize Roddy White and Julio Jones Effectively
The Falcons have one of the best wideouts in the NFL and one of the most promising rookie receivers. Both can make the big play when called upon, and against Green Bay's weak passing defense (31st in the NFL), they should be able to exploit that. White needs to watch the drops, but if he focuses on his game, he could see a few big plays.
Keep Pace with Packers' Offense
It's going to be difficult, no matter who plays him, to slow down (much less stop) Aaron Rodgers. The Falcons are going to require their offense to avoid easy four-and-outs and keep their playmakers on the field. Michael Turner is going to have issues with the Packers run defense (second in the NFL), but they can't completely ignore him. If they come in with decent balance, they'll be able to score points.
Get in Aaron Rodgers' Face
The Falcons traded for Ray Edwards in the offseason hoping to increase their ability to hit the QB. They've only recorded five so far this season, which is nowhere near the level they'd like it to be at. Atlanta's secondary can't be relied upon to break up every passing play just because of how well Rodgers plays his position, but the Falcons need to find a way into the backfield. If they can't get pressure on the QB, it can be assumed Rodgers might throw for another six TDs.