NFL Picks Week 6: Bleacher Report's Expert Consensus Picks
And then there were...six?
Thanks to victories by all five undefeated teams who played last week (the Carolina Panthers were on a bye) there are six teams entering Week 6 that have yet to lose a game.
It's the latest in the season during the Super Bowl era that many teams have made it without being beaten.
All six of those teams will be in action this week. The surprising Atlanta Falcons open play Thursday night against the reeling New Orleans Saints. The New England Patriots wrap things up on Sunday with a prime-time rematch of last year's AFC title game tilt with the Indianapolis Colts.
And we're going to find out just how good the Panthers really are when they head West to face a desperate Seahawks team in Seattle.
Here's how the NFL National Lead Writers and NFL Analysts at Bleacher Report expect those and the rest of Week 6's action to play out.
Bleacher Report NFL National Lead Writer Matt Miller is pretty good at the whole picking games thing.
Last year, Miller (along with NFL Analyst Brad Gagnon) was the individual runner-up in this little exercise, finishing only a game off the pace. And given the so-so start last year's winner is off to in 2015, it's possible that idiot just got lucky.
That idiot is me, in case you were wondering.
Miller and NFL National Lead Writer Mike Freeman have been jockeying for the overall lead all season long, and thanks to an 11-3 Week 5, it's Miller who stands as king of the mountain right now.
Gary Davenport: NFL Analyst 10-4 (47-31)
Mike Freeman: NFL National Lead Writer 9-5 (52-26)
Brad Gagnon: NFL Analyst 10-4 (47-31)
Matt Miller: NFL National Lead Writer 11-3 (53-25)
Ty Schalter: NFL National Lead Writer 6-8 (41-37)
Brent Sobleski: NFL Analyst 9-5 (49-29)
Mike Tanier: NFL National Lead Writer 10-4 (47-31)
Sean Tomlinson: NFL Analyst 9-5 (47-31)
Consensus: 10-4 (53-25)
Atlanta Falcons (5-0) at New Orleans Saints (1-4)
The Pick: Atlanta Falcons (8-0)
This week's Thursday night affair is a tale of two NFC South teams hurtling in opposite directions.
After downing the Washington Redskins in overtime a week ago, the Atlanta Falcons are riding high. However, Luke Kerr-Dineen of USA Today recently threw a big old bucket of cold water on the hype surrounding the Falcons:
Nowhere are the margins between winning and losing thinner than in the NFL, and it’s tough to be too harsh on a team that’s racking up wins. But suggesting that this Falcons team is anything more than average is a stretch. Their defense — the unyielding problem for the better part of the last six seasons — is still comprised of many of the same players as last season. It’s why the Falcons defense ranks 21st in the league in total defense despite their easy stretch of games.
The Falcons will continue reaping the benefits of an absurdly easy schedule, but the bottom will fall out sooner rather than later. This was and remains a transitional year for the franchise, everything else is just a red herring.
He then wrote that Santa isn't real, which was just mean.
Still, even if the Falcons aren't as good as their record, every voter on our panel picked them to make it to 6-0.
The reason? As Fletcher Mackel of WDSU opined, the New Orleans Saints really are that bad:
So how did we get here? Since hindsight is always 20/20, it's so clear now. Bad drafts, [Sean] Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis spending money like drunken sailors (i.e., bad big-money contracts for veteran players resulting in a dire salary cap situation) and an aging quarterback who's probably not 100 percent healthy and is no longer capable of carrying the team on his back. It doesn't help that the head coach's name has been linked to other NFL jobs.
Given how they played last week in getting destroyed by the Philadelphia Eagles, it's pretty hard to argue with him.
Falcons: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Saints: Going to be a hard season to stomach in the Big Easy.
Washington Redskins (2-3) at New York Jets (3-1)
The Pick: New York Jets (8-0)
The good Lord giveth, and then Kirk Cousins giveth away.
As has plagued him throughout his NFL career, Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins was once again torched by turnovers in Week 5, tossing a pick-six in overtime that...well, throwing a pick-six in overtime usually doesn't end well.
However, as Kevin Kaduk of Yahoo Sports reported, some Washington fans were at least able to drown their sorrows after Cousins tossed the interception against the Falcons:
The ending to Sunday's Atlanta Falcons-Washington Redskins football game was a sad one for D.C. football fans, but those watching the game at a certain bar were able to find a silver lining.
One bar in the city's Adams Morgan neighborhood has been offering free shots for every interception that Kirk Cousins throws this year. That offer came in handy at the game's conclusion as Cousins threw a pick-six to end Washington's upset bid and helped move the Falcons to 5-0.
If our voters are correct, that watering hole might want to consider a revision to policy.
With Cousins and the Redskins set to travel to New York and face one of the league's best secondaries in Darrelle Revis and the Jets, they might just run out of booze.
Redskins: Counting down to Colt McCoy.
Jets: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Arizona Cardinals (4-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (3-2)
The Pick: Arizona Cardinals (7-1)
With the Cincinnati Bengals humming along at 5-0 and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on the shelf, the Pittsburgh Steelers are officially out of margin for error in the AFC North.
That made the Steelers' last-second win against the San Diego Chargers last Monday night huge. But as ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert pointed out, the win very nearly never was thanks to one of the more bizarre officiating gaffes you'll see:
Had (Le'Veon) Bell not scored on that final play, however, the NFL would have had another wild controversy on its hands. For reasons that were not immediately clear, 18 seconds ran off the game clock after a touchback at the start of the Steelers' final possession.
The rundown was visible on ESPN's broadcast graphic, as well as a shot of the Qualcomm Stadium scoreboard as Steelers quarterback Mike Vick jogged onto the field. It was also revealed in the game's official box score, in the possession time and in the time of the Steelers' first play from scrimmage for that series.
Yep, almost 20 seconds ran off the clock without anyone noticing.
The NFL blamed both the clock operator and side judge (the official in charge of keeping the game's time), but the league dodged a bullet given that the error didn't really affect the game's outcome.
Regardless, with the exception of one dissenter, our experts believe the clock will strike midnight for the Steelers Sunday against an Arizona Cardinals squad that has scored over 40 points in three of five games this year.
Cardinals: Davenport, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Kansas City Chiefs (1-4) at Minnesota Vikings (2-2)
The Pick: Minnesota Vikings (8-0)
It hasn't been a good year for the Kansas City Chiefs.
The team's pass defense has been bad. The offensive line has been worse. Last week the Chiefs blew a double-digit lead at home to the Chicago Bears.
And that's only the beginning.
Reid tried to put a positive spin on the disastrous blow:
I talked to Jamaal yesterday, and he was obviously down, but he is positive about coming back, getting himself back. That's where his energy will be directed -- getting through the surgery and getting back to where he can play.
He's an amazing guy that way. He's one of those rare athletes that you have an opportunity to coach. They're genetically and mentally strong, and they can do things most people can't do when it comes to their profession.'
There's another way you can look at it too.
The Chiefs' season was already dead. Charles just tapped the final nail into the coffin.
Chiefs: That's tears to both Charles' ACLs. Ouch.
Vikings: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Cincinnati Bengals (5-0) at Buffalo Bills (3-2)
The Pick: Cincinnati Bengals (7-1)
Break up the Bengals!
After overcoming a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit against the Seattle Seahawks last week, the undefeated Bengals are the talk of the town. However, defensive end Carlos Dunlap told Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer that the team's hot start means very little in the locker room:
It does not mean nothing. We’ve got to win our next football game. I don’t care what our record is right now. We’ve got another opponent coming up and they’re just as important. No matter where we are right now, if we don’t finish, the start won’t be remembered. We’ll be remembered how we wouldn’t finish.
As if the Buffalo Bills wouldn't already have had their hands full with the red-hot Bengals, it appears the team may have to face Cincy without starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who is battling a knee injury. Head coach Rex Ryan told Sal Maiorana of the Democrat and Chronicle that he isn't ready to rule Taylor out, allowing that his quarterback is nowhere near fully healthy:
I can tell you this, he is beat up right now. Like he’s sore, you oughta see him, he is sore. We knew he would be. He hasn’t been 100 percent all season, he’s had an ankle. Even through training camp, we really haven’t seen the 100 percent Tyrod Taylor. We all know he finished the game, but we’ll see. We’ll see how he’s doing. We’ll be looking at him throughout the week and everybody else that we have.
Ryan may not be willing to write Taylor off, but with his Week 6 status up in the air, all of our voters except one went ahead and wrote off the Bills.
Bengals: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Chicago Bears (2-3) at Detroit Lions (0-5)
The Pick: Detroit Lions (5-3)
The last time the Detroit Lions started a season 0-5 was 2008.
Their record to end that season? 0-16. The big doughnut. The worst single-season record in NFL history.
Last week's demolition at the hands of the Arizona Cardinals culminated in the benching of quarterback Matthew Stafford, whose struggles have been caused by more than one factor in 2015, according to Mike Renner of the Washington Post:
The theme of the season for the Lions’ starting quarterback is pressure. It started in the offseason with the external pressure to build upon last year’s playoff berth with a young roster. Then there’s been the internal pressure to carry a whole offense upon his right arm when asked to drop back to pass on 73 percent of snaps, a record pace. And lastly, there’s the physical pressure from opposing defenders that he’s felt on 38.8 percent of his dropbacks, by far the highest rate of his career.
The effect of the combined pressure is obvious, Stafford has cracked.
Head coach Jim Caldwell has already stated that Stafford will start this week's home tilt with the Bears, a game that our writers predict will end in win No. 1 for the Lions this season.
So buck up, Motown!
OK, so 1-5 is still awful. But it beats 0-6.
Bears: Davenport, Freeman, Sobleski
Lions: Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Tanier, Tomlinson
Denver Broncos (5-0) at Cleveland Browns (2-3)
The Pick: Denver Broncos (6-2)
Given all the doubts and questions swirling around the Denver Broncos, you would think the team was 2-3, not 5-0.
However, some of those questions do have merit. The fact is that while the Denver defense has been dominant in 2015, the offense has been anything but. Quarterback Peyton Manning hasn't just looked mortal—he's been average, at best.
In the opinion of ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold, the key to an offensive turnaround for the Broncos could lie in getting the team's lagging run game going:
They are 31st in the league yards per carry (3.3), No. 21 in passing, and if the three touchdowns they have scored on defense this season are removed, then their eight offensive touchdowns would be tied for last in the league.
But [Gary] Kubiak continues to hope that if the team can find some sort of rhythm in the run game -- a cause that would be greatly aided by keeping the same offensive line together for several consecutive weeks -- it would give Manning more room to work in the passing game as well as slow down opposing rushers. Even in Sunday's win over the Oakland Raiders, the Broncos rotated Ryan Harris and Tyler Polumbus at left tackle, just a little over a week after Polumbus was signed.
Enter the Cleveland Browns, who can make just about any ground game look good. Last year, the Browns ranked dead last in the NFL in run defense.
This year the Browns are doing better. They rank 31st, allowing nearly 150 yards per game.
Broncos: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Tanier, Tomlinson
Browns: Schalter, Sobleski
Houston Texans (1-4) at Jacksonville Jaguars (1-4)
The Pick: Jacksonville Jaguars (5-3)
The AFC South...feel the excitement!
Somehow the AFC South has managed to zoom past the NFC Least and wrest away control of the title of the worst division in the NFL. One team is over .500. And the Indianapolis Colts, frankly, wouldn't be 3-2 if they didn't get to feast on the carcasses of the other teams in the division.
Of course, no team in the division better personifies futility than the perpetually putrid Jaguars, who managed to make the Tampa Bay Buccaneers look like a good football team last week.
However, despite once again taking up residence in the division's basement, head coach Gus Bradley insisted to Mike DiRocco of ESPN.com that the team isn't in a rush to make any big changes in the short term:
Coach Gus Bradley said Monday that he’s not firing, demoting or altering duties on the coaching staff. As for possible lineup changes, that’s something the staff will evaluate throughout the week. However, Bradley admitted that even if he feels a change may be warranted, it might not be possible because there just aren’t any viable alternatives.
"You trust people until they prove unreliable, and if they’re unreliable you’ve got to make changes. I agree 100 percent," Bradley said. "The NFL is 'tolerate until you can replace.' That’s for all of us. I think that’s the environment we know that we’re in and the players know we’re in that environment. And the coaches [also know].
"The players need to sense that, but we need to have someone that we can replace them with."
In other words, the Jaguars have no viable alternative but to suck.
And they were picked by our panel to win this week.
Texans: Davenport, Freeman, Miller
Jaguars: Gagnon, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Miami Dolphins (1-3) at Tennessee Titans (1-3)
The Pick: Tennessee Titans (5-3)
The first coaching ax of 2015 fell in Miami, where Joe Philbin was shown the door after a Dolphins team that was labeled a contender by some pitched and lurched its way to a 1-3 start.
The team named Dan Campbell interim head coach, and as ESPN.com's Ashley Fox wrote, Campbell hasn't wasted any time putting his imprint on the Dolphins:
Campbell certainly has embraced this idea already when it comes to his coaching staff. After getting the Dolphins job, Campbell hired veteran coach Al Saunders to be a senior offensive assistant. He also fired defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, replacing him with defensive backs coach Lou Anarumo. To replace Anarumo, Campbell promoted defensive assistant Jeff Burris to assistant defensive backs coach working with the cornerbacks and assigned assistant defensive backs coach Blue Adams to work with the safeties.
The question now is whether any of that will make a difference. The Dolphins offense has sputtered. A front four that looked to be among the NFL's best on paper entering the season has been invisible. So has the team's 32nd-ranked run defense.
Not exactly what Miami was expecting to get when they made Ndamukong Suh the NFL's highest-paid defender.
I don't think they'll fire him, though.
Titans: Davenport, Freeman, Schalter, Tanier, Tomlinson
Dolphins: Gagnon, Miller, Sobleski
Carolina Panthers (4-0) at Seattle Seahawks (2-3)
The Pick: Seattle Seahawks (7-1)
Gut check. Litmus test.
Sunday's big matchup in Seattle is a matter of perspective.
For the 4-0 Panthers, the trip to the Pacific Northwest is a chance to show the rest of the NFL they are for real.
For the 2-3 Seahawks, it's gut-check time. If the Arizona Cardinals are able to win at Pittsburgh earlier in the day, the Seahawks could be left staring at a three-game deficit in the NFC West if they falter.
Forget the division. If they fall to 2-4, making the playoffs at all becomes a real question.
According to Frank Schwab of Yahoo Sports, that isn't the only question facing the Seahawks:
Maybe the Seahawks bounce back, but at this point you have to wonder if something is truly off with this team. The fearful Seahawks defense has had its moments, for sure, but was also that crazy Calvin Johnson play away from blowing second-half leads in four games this season. Andy Dalton might be having a fine season, but it's still alarming that the Seahawks allowed him to put together four scoring drives in the fourth quarter and overtime to overcome a 24-7 lead.
The Seahawks can turn things around and make a Super Bowl. That's what they did last season after three early losses. There's still a lot of talent on the roster. But something seems off about this team. Until further notice, the Seahawks can't be considered contenders anymore. However, they'll always be lurking, just like last year at about this time.
Schwab's right. Something seems "off" about the Seahawks this year. But it's still hard to see Seattle dropping this game at home, at least to most of our pundits.
Seahawks: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
San Diego Chargers (2-3) at Green Bay Packers (5-0)
The Pick: Green Bay Packers (8-0)
So it turns out Aaron Rodgers might just be human after all.
For the first time since December 2, 2012, Rodgers threw an interception at Lambeau Field last week against the St. Louis Rams. In fact, he threw two. And lost a fumble.
According to Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com, it was the first time Rodgers threw multiple picks at home since Week 7—of the 2010 season.
Rodgers took the end of the streak in stride:
It was a lot of fun. Have to start a new one. I figured might as well break the streak with a couple of interceptions today. Yeah, streaks are meant to be broken, so it's fun to put something together like that. But I'm sure someone will come along at some point and put up 600 in row maybe.
Demovsky also believes that Rodgers may actually be playing better than during his MVP season a year ago:
Rodgers lost his most explosive receiver for the season when Jordy Nelson blew out his right knee in the preseason. The next-best deep target, second-year pro Davante Adams, has played a total of three snaps in the past three games because of an ankle injury. Yet Rodgers has been as efficient and accurate as ever. He has completed 70.6 percent of his passes, which is on pace to surpass his best season, in 2011 (when he won his first MVP). Yes, Rodgers still has Randall Cobb, but he has yet to play at 100 percent because of the shoulder injury he suffered in the preseason. Rodgers' other two primary targets are a rookie (Ty Montgomery) and a veteran who has been cut by two teams since the end of last season (James Jones).
It's simple, really. Picking against Rodgers at home is no bueno.
Chargers: This team couldn't beat Mike Vick at home. Rodgers at Lambeau?
Packers: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Baltimore Ravens (1-4) at San Francisco 49ers (1-4)
The Pick: Baltimore Ravens (4-4) ***COIN FLIP***
Super Bowl XLVII feels like a million years ago.
In that game, Baltimore's Joe Flacco finished off one of the greatest postseason runs by a quarterback in NFL history, leading the Ravens to a narrow win over a San Francisco 49ers team led by a young upstart under center in Colin Kaepernick.
Fast forward less than three years, and both teams have fallen completely to pieces.
Kaepernick has regressed to the point that there have been calls for him to be benched in favor of Blaine Gabbert. An injury-ravaged Ravens team has dropped to last place in the AFC North after losing in overtime to the Cleveland Browns last week.
And as Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com reports, a Ravens team long known for its defensive prowess has imploded on that side of the ball:
From Ray Lewis to Ed Reed to Terrell Suggs, the Ravens' defense built a tradition for winning championships, not losing games. Five games into the 2015 season, Baltimore's defense is accepting the blame for the most disappointing season in the eight-year John Harbaugh era.
The blown fourth-quarter leads, the countless missed tackles and the big plays allowed on third downs have turned the Ravens from a respectable defense in 2014 to a bad one this year. A historically bad one.
The last-place Ravens (1-4) have allowed 137 points (average of 27.4), the most they've given up in the first five games of the season.
In a way, it's fitting that this pick was decided by a coin flip.
Right now both teams are equally lousy.
Ravens: Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter
49ers: Davenport, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
New England Patriots (4-0) at Indianapolis Colts (3-2)
The Pick: New England Patriots (8-0)
Last year, the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts met in the AFC Championship Game, a contest that left the Colts on the wrong end of a deflating 45-7 beatdown.
If the way the two teams have played to date is any indication, Sunday night's rematch may be worse.
While the Patriots returned from their Week 4 bye to lay waste to the Cowboys in Dallas, the shorthanded Colts once again struggled to put away a bad AFC South team in the Houston Texans.
However, Sunday's marquee matchup is about much more than just two teams labeled Super Bowl contenders entering 2015. As Dana Hunsinger Benbow of the Indianapolis Star reports, when the Pats and Colts lock horns, it's about faking cancer. And eternal damnation. And...
This is the content contained in the emails and phone calls that have poured in to me in the past month leading up to Sunday's game between the Colts and the Patriots.
One Patriots fan who said he was a doctor claimed Colts coach Chuck Pagano "faked his cancer to get the sympathy calls for his team on the field." Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia in September 2012.
"Tell me. How is he suddenly cured? And so quickly? Tell me that," the man said in a voicemail.
One woman (presumably a Colts fan) left a message saying simply this: "Every single one of those Patriots players are going to hell. They do immoral things every night. They spit in God's face."
Not to rain on the lunacy, but there's a much simpler reason why the Patriots are the unanimous pick of our panel.
They're a better football team.
Patriots: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Colts: Better Luck next time. Get it? Luck? HA! I kill me!
New York Giants (3-2) at Philadelphia Eagles (2-3)
The Pick: New York Giants (7-1)
OK, so the NFC East isn't the slugfest that it normally is in 2015. Well, it sort of is—even if it's more slapfight than slugfest.
Still, that isn't to say there isn't a lot on the line Monday night in Philadelphia. If the Eagles win, then for all the trials and tribulations the team has gone through over the first six weeks of 2015, the fighting Chipsters will be in first place.
Conversely, if the Giants can pull off a fourth straight win, the G-Men will have put the division in a vise grip. A two-game lead on the Eagles. A 1.5-game lead on the reeling Dallas Cowboys.
That's exactly what Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News expects Big Blue to do:
The Eagles may have found their way a little bit with their 39-point, 519-yard explosion against the Saints on Sunday. Then again, the Saints are the worst defensive team in the NFL. But really, both Philadelphia and Washington are too flawed, too erratic to be a threat to run away with the NFC East. The Cowboys are a legitimate threat, but only when Tony Romo and Dez Bryant return.
That likely is still a few weeks away, meaning the Giants — with most of their key pieces in place - have a huge opportunity in front of them against a string of weak teams. Over the next four weeks there’s no excuse for them not to take command of what has definitely become the NFC Least.
With one exception, our writers agree.
Giants: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tomlinson