Bleacher Report's Expert Consensus Week 5 NFL Picks
We're entering the second quarter of the 2018 NFL season, which presents a fine opportunity to reflect on what's been an historically unpredictable campaign to date.
Only 46 percent of Las Vegas favorites have covered (compared to 52 percent in 2017), and only 63 percent of favorites have won outright (compared to 70 percent in 2017). Meanwhile, more than 60 percent of games have been decided by one score (up from 47 percent in 2017), and only 16 percent of games have been decided by three or more scores (down from 27 percent in 2017).
Only two teams have yet to lose. Only one team has yet to win. Last year at this point, there were four winless teams and only one undefeated team.
In other words, it's been a wild month.
Here's where they stand through four weeks (last week's records in parentheses).
1. Brent Sobleski: 30-30-3 (6-8-1)
2. Gary Davenport: 27-33-3 (8-6-1)
3. Brad Gagnon: 26-34-3 (6-8-1)
Consensus picks: 25-35-3 (6-8-1)
They've all had strong weeks, but never at the same time. Will it all come together in Week 5?
Lines based on consensuses at OddsShark as of Wednesday.
Indianapolis Colts (1-3) at New England Patriots (2-2)
The New England Patriots are the only double-digit favorite of the week, which might be a byproduct of the fact that favorites of 10 or more points are just 1-5 against the spread this season.
New England being favored by 10 points even though tight end Rob Gronkowski will likely be limited by an ankle injury indicates how little confidence the betting world has in the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts finally showed signs of life on offense in a Week 4 loss to the Houston Texans, but they now travel to Foxborough on short rest.
Excluding Week 1 Thursday night openers (when both teams are well-rested), the Patriots haven't lost at home on a Thursday since 2008. And in their last two non-Week 1 Thursday nighters at Gillette Stadium, they outscored Houston and the Miami Dolphins by a combined margin of 63-7.
The majority of our experts feel that with top wide receiver Julian Edelman back from suspension, the Pats should have another big Thursday Night Football win in them against a Colts team that won't have several key players, including top wide receiver T.Y. Hilton.
But New England wasn't playing well before crushing the Miami Dolphins in Week 4, and our top picker isn't willing to give up that many points against Andrew Luck and Co.
Davenport: New England (-10)
Gagnon: New England (-10)
Sobleski: Indianapolis (+10)
Consensus: New England (-10)
Score Prediction: New England 30, Indianapolis 17
Jacksonville Jaguars (3-1) at Kansas City Chiefs (4-0)
The league's top-rated scoring offense will host the league's top-rated scoring defense when the Kansas City Chiefs take on the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday at Arrowhead, and the majority of our panelists are siding with the immovable object over the unstoppable force.
"The Chiefs are smoking hot on offense," Davenport said. "But they are also a little banged up, and the defense has been whatever comes three notches after woeful. I think the Jaguars can control the tempo of this game and win it outright, but even if they don't, it's going to be close enough that I'll take the points."
Gagnon agrees, noting that the Chiefs are due for a "back-to-earth" experience on a short week following an high-energy Monday night comeback in Denver. Kansas City didn't emerge unscathed from that win against the Broncos, as wide receiver Sammy Watkins and pass-rusher Dee Ford suffered hamstring and groin injuries, respectively.
The Jags won't have top running back Leonard Fournette, but his absence didn't hurt them in a Week 2 victory over the Patriots, and that again might not matter against a weak Kansas City D. T.J. Yeldon has performed well in Fournette's place, and the stout Jacksonville defense has surrendered only 21 points over the past two weeks combined.
That's why we're leaning in that direction, but Sobleski is a strong dissenting voice. He isn't turning away from a 4-0 team at home with a mere three points on its side.
Davenport: Jacksonville (+3)
Gagnon: Jacksonville (+3)
Sobleski: Kansas City (-3)
Consensus: Jacksonville (+3)
Score Prediction: Jacksonville 21, Kansas City 20
Tennessee Titans (3-1) at Buffalo Bills (1-3)
The Tennessee Titans keep finding ways to win, no matter how ugly, which in part explains why our experts are willing to lay 3.5 points with them on the road in Week 5. That isn't necessarily because Davenport and Sobleski believe Tennessee can keep winning ugly, but because they've shown signs that they could start blowing bad teams out.
"Mike Vrabel already has his team playing much better than expected with a 3-1 start," Sobleski said. "The Titans are aggressive and play disciplined defense. But the most important revelation came this past weekend when Corey Davis emerged with a 161-yard performance against the Philadelphia Eagles. Marcus Mariota needed all the help he could get, and a true WR1 will make the offense far more dynamic, while the Bills are still trying to figure out who they are."
Mariota wasn't healthy in September, and he didn't receive a lot of support. It's amazing Tennessee is 3-1 under those circumstances, but Mariota is back on track and Davis has indeed emerged.
Meanwhile, that Week 3 blowout in Minnesota is beginning to look like a massive fluke for a rebuilding Buffalo Bills team that has lost each of its three other games by 11 or more points.
With only a four-point margin required, we're siding with Tennessee. But it isn't unanimous, because as Gagnon notes, the Titans still haven't won by more than three points this season and the Bills could still hang around at home.
Davenport: Tennessee (-3.5)
Gagnon: Buffalo (+3.5)
Sobleski: Tennessee (-3.5)
Consensus: Tennessee (-3.5)
Score Prediction: Tennessee 21, Buffalo 16
Atlanta Falcons (1-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (1-2-1)
Sunday's matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the Pittsburgh Steelers might be the most unpredictable game of the week, largely because both teams have experienced so much turbulence but still possess so much talent.
Our analysts are giving a slight edge to Falcons with three points in their back pocket, but even that comes with great reluctance. Gagnon admitted he's siding with Pittsburgh mainly because he has "even less trust in the backbone-less Falcons than in the shell-of-their-former-selves Steelers," while cautioning that he'd "never bet on this inevitably wacky contest."
Davenport is rolling with the Falcons, but even that was a hotly debated swing vote.
"Welcome to the Desperation Bowl, sponsored by Eggo—because I keep waffling on the pick here," he said. "This game has high stakes, two terrific offenses, two superstar quarterbacks and two defenses that have been so bad, it defies description. I think the Steelers will probably win this game—they've at least forced some turnovers and pressured quarterbacks, while Atlanta's injury-ravaged defense is just horrendous—but I also expect a close game decided by a field goal or less. The Steelers are also 0-7 against the spread in their last seven at home, so there's that."
The Steelers have lost both of their home games outright this season, and Le'Veon Bell won't be back to save the day for at least a few more weeks. His replacement, James Conner, has only 97 rushing yards in three games after an explosive Week 1 performance, the Ben Roethlisberger-Antonio Brown connection looks frayed and the defense can't stop anybody.
Meanwhile, the Falcons are coming off three consecutive 30-plus-point performances. Their offense is the best unit in this matchup, which is partly why our panel is hesitantly taking the points.
Davenport: Atlanta (+3)
Gagnon: Pittsburgh (-3)
Sobleski: Atlanta (+3)
Consensus: Atlanta (+3)
Score Prediction: Pittsburgh 31, Atlanta 30
Denver Broncos (2-2) at New York Jets (1-3)
Unanimity at last!
Our panel was shocked to see the Denver Broncos listed as underdogs this week against the New York Jets, and they're in agreement that even away from home on short rest after a tough loss to a division rival, the Broncos will easily dispose of a struggling Jets squad Sunday in New Jersey.
"The Broncos should have beaten the Chiefs," Sobleski said. "A 10-point second-half lead faded with Patrick Mahomes working his magic. Furthermore, Case Keenum missed a game-winning throw late in the contest. The Jets aren't the Chiefs, and Sam Darnold should struggle against Denver's formidable defense."
It's true, Darnold isn't Mahomes. At least not at this juncture. The rookie No. 3 overall pick lit up the Detroit Lions in Week 1, but he's completed only 53.8 percent of his passes while posting a 63.8 passer rating in the Jets' three ensuing losses. New York failed to score more than 17 points in any of those outings.
The Denver defense is also formidable. It was the first to put up resistance against the high-flying Chiefs, and the oft-pressured Darnold is likely already having nightmares about Von Miller.
The yo-yo nature of this league, the importance of home-field advantage and Denver's current set of circumstances might explain why the Jets are laying a point, but our experts can't look past one simple reality: The Broncos are a good team, and the Jets are not.
Davenport: Denver (+1)
Gagnon: Denver (+1)
Sobleski: Denver (+1)
Consensus: Denver (+1)
Score Prediction: Denver 20, New York 10
Green Bay Packers (2-1-1) at Detroit Lions (1-3)
The Detroit Lions typically hang with the Green Bay Packers at Ford Field, which could explain why Green Bay is laying only one point at Detroit on Sunday. But our panel isn't biting. Davenport, Gagnon and Sobleski are unanimously backing Aaron Rodgers and Co.
"I don't get how this is essentially a pick'em," Gagnon said. "Green Bay wasn't even at its best offensively in a three-score shutout victory last week, and you know Rodgers and that offense will be fired up against a banged up, somewhat toothless Detroit defense."
Rodgers was critical of his team's offensive performance in a 22-0 Week 4 victory over the Bills, which might put the Lions in the crosshairs at a bad time. Key defensive players Ezekiel Ansah, Darius Slay, Tavon Wilson and Quandre Diggs all dealing with injuries.
"Look for Rodgers to bounce back," Gagnon added, "but I'm also expecting to see a lot of red-hot running back Aaron Jones against a run defense that has been gashed this season."
The Lions could come out and dominate the way they did at home against the Patriots two weeks ago, but the Pats were in a worse place at that point than the Packers are now. Detroit hasn't been able to stop the bleeding against so-so offenses in its other three outings.
As a result, our guys are all over the Pack.
Davenport: Green Bay (-1)
Gagnon: Green Bay (-1)
Sobleski: Green Bay (-1)
Consensus: Green Bay (-1)
Score Prediction: Green Bay 30, Detroit 23
Baltimore Ravens (3-1) at Cleveland Browns (1-2-1)
The Cleveland Browns have lost by at least five points in each of their last five meetings with the Baltimore Ravens. While this is a different Cleveland team, it's also a fairly different Baltimore team, and two of our three analysts aren't ready to buy the Browns as three-point 'dogs on Sunday.
"The Ravens aren't getting enough credit for how good they've been this season," Sobleski said. "Joe Flacco may not be elite, but his current performance is the best it's been in years. The offense features talent at running back, tight end, wide receiver and a sturdy offensive line. Baltimore's defense ranks second overall as well. The Browns are certainly fun to watch this year, but they're still finding ways to lose."
The Browns committed four turnovers in rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield's first career start last week in Oakland. The Raiders had only one defensive takeaway all season prior to that, which doesn't bode well for the Browns' chances against a high-flying, opportunistic Ravens team coming off back-to-back double-digit wins.
But it isn't unanimous, because the Browns have yet to lose by more than three points this season, and Davenport is confident Cleveland can either win outright or lose by no more than a field goal again.
"It seems like every week the Browns have invented a new way to crush the hopes of their long-suffering fans, with the latest chapter being a zebra-aided collapse in Oakland," he said. "The Ravens have looked sharp in three of four games, but the 'off' one was on the road in the state they used to call home, and the Browns have kept things close every week. Give me the points at home."
Davenport: Cleveland (+3)
Gagnon: Baltimore (-3)
Sobleski: Baltimore (-3)
Consensus: Baltimore (-3)
Score Prediction: Baltimore 23, Cleveland 17
New York Giants (1-3) at Carolina Panthers (2-1)
The Cincinnati Bengals have scored 34-plus points in all three of their victories this season. In their only loss, they fell to the Carolina Panthers by a double-digit margin. That goes to show how good Carolina has looked this season.
At home coming off a bye, our experts didn't think twice about taking the Panthers with only a touchdown spread against the offensively challenged New York Giants.
"Even with Saquon Barkley rolling and the offensive line saving face thanks in part to the superb play of rookie guard Will Hernandez," Gagnon said, "the Giants have scored 18 or fewer points in three of their first four games. While the defense is good enough to avoid a blowout in Carolina, it's become impossible to get behind an offense that has almost no big-play ability. Eli Manning has become Captain Checkdown, which shouldn't pose much of a challenge to Luke Kuechly and Co. on the Carolina defense."
It's simple. If you can put up only 18 points at home against the New Orleans Saints defense, you aren't likely to generate a lot of offense on the road against the much more talented Panthers defense.
The backdoor cover is always a risk if Barkley and the Giants defense keep Big Blue in this game, but our experts don't have enough faith in the Giants offense to take seven points in a road matchup against a rested opponent.
Davenport: Carolina (-7)
Gagnon: Carolina (-7)
Sobleski: Carolina (-7)
Consensus: Carolina (-7)
Score Prediction: Carolina 27, New York 17
Miami Dolphins (3-1) at Cincinnati Bengals (3-1)
On the surface, it's odd to see a 3-1 team laying 6.5 points against another 3-1 team. But the Cincinnati Bengals offense has been been a wrecking ball, while the Miami Dolphins are widely being declared pretenders following a blowout loss to the division rival Patriots.
As a result, two of our three panelists are riding with the Bengals at home, regardless of the relatively big line.
"Don't look now, but the Bengals are quietly an impressive team," Davenport said. "The offensive line in front of Andy Dalton is light-years better than it was last year, and when Dalton has protection, he can play the part of a more-than-capable NFL starter. The Dolphins are the worst 3-1 team in the NFL, and with Vontaze Burfict back, Cincy's biggest weakness (linebacker play) should be shored up. It's possible this could be a trap game with Pittsburgh on the schedule for Week 6, but I think the Bengals win this by double digits."
Gagnon agrees that the Dolphins are overrated, but he isn't ready to give them nearly a touchdown because he also has his doubts about a Bengals team that has surrendered 67 points in its last two games. The trap game dynamic is also worth considering, as is the fact that Miami's offensive line remains far from good.
Altogether, this is a risky play.
Davenport: Cincinnati (-6.5)
Gagnon: Miami (+6.5)
Sobleski: Cincinnati (-6.5)
Consensus: Cincinnati (-6.5)
Score Prediction: Cincinnati 28, Miami 20
Oakland Raiders (1-3) at Los Angeles Chargers (2-2)
The Los Angeles Chargers won but failed to cover a big spread last weekend at home against a Bay Area opponent, which might have some bettors feeling skittish about taking the Chargers in a similar situation as a five-point home favorite against the Raiders on Sunday.
While Davenport is indeed a dissenting voice out of fear that the Bolts could again play down to an inferior opponent, Gagnon and Sobleski like Philip Rivers and Co.
"Even in a victory, the issues found within Oakland's roster are apparent," Sobleski said in reference to the Raiders' somewhat fluky Week 4 win over the Browns. "The team lacks any semblance of a pass rush and struggled to stop the run. The Chargers, meanwhile, have weapons everywhere, and Rivers is playing as well as he has at any point in his 15-year career."
In the AFC, only MVP front-runner Patrick Mahomes has a higher passer rating than Rivers, who likely would have the talented Chargers in a much better situation if they hadn't run into the league's two hottest teams—the Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams—in September.
If nothing else, he doesn't figure to be as forgiving as Baker Mayfield, who turned the ball over four times in Cleveland's Week 4 loss to Oakland.
The Bolts have taken care of both of their inferior opponents this season, and the law of averages alone says there's a good chance they don't cut it as close here as they did against the 49ers.
Davenport: Oakland (+5)
Gagnon: Los Angeles (-5)
Sobleski: Los Angeles (-5)
Consensus: Los Angeles (-5)
Score Prediction: Los Angeles 31, Oakland 23
Arizona Cardinals (0-4) at San Francisco 49ers (1-3)
The only winless team in football has lost its last two games by a total of five points, which has our panel believing unanimously that the 0-4 Arizona Cardinals can at least fall by fewer than five Sunday in San Francisco.
"Yes, the 49ers got almost 300 passing yards last week from C.J. Beathard and kept things close on the road against the Chargers," Davenport said. "But that says more about the Chargers' uncanny ability to play down to their level of opposition than anything good about the Niners. Josh Rosen plays better this week than last, David Johnson gets untracked, fantasy owners rejoice and the Redbirds notch a win that accomplishes nothing aside from costing them draft position next April."
Gagnon also has Arizona winning outright as a 4.5-point underdog, because they're due, they're much healthier than their opponent and they just might have something special under center.
"I don't think the 49ers are ready for Rosen right now," Gagnon said. "The rookie was better than his numbers against the Seahawks. He completed a pair of nice deep throws and usually made good decisions under duress. I think he's in for a breakout performance against a 49ers defense that has given up 29.5 points per game this season."
Davenport: Arizona (+4.5)
Gagnon: Arizona (+4.5)
Sobleski: Arizona (+4.5)
Consensus: Arizona (+4.5)
Score Prediction: Arizona 23, San Francisco 20
Los Angeles Rams (4-0) at Seattle Seahawks (2-2)
If you do some line shopping, you might be able to find the Seattle Seahawks as 7.5-point underdogs at home this week. But even a seven-point spread is shocking, as it's the first time Seattle has been a touchdown underdog at CenturyLink Field since Russell Wilson was a senior at Wisconsin.
That goes to show how scary the Los Angeles Rams are right now. The NFC's only 4-0 team has scored at least 33 points in all four of its outings. The Rams also put up 42 points in a blowout victory in Seattle last December, and this is an ill-timed matchup for a Seahawks team that just lost star safety Earl Thomas to a broken leg.
Seattle was already having injury issues before losing Thomas for the season, so the recent return of wide receiver Doug Baldwin isn't enough for at least two of our three experts.
Davenport, though, would like to offer a far-from-confident dissenting opinion.
"I have regretted this pick from the moment I decided on it," he admitted. "The Rams are well-rested coming off a huge [Thursday night] win over the Vikings, and this could be a statement game—not just the passing of the NFC West torch, but the Rams bludgeoning Seattle into goo with it. However, Seattle has long been a tough out in front of the 12th Man, Doug Baldwin's back, and while the Seahawks aren't great, they aren't awful, either. I'm not about to predict a Seahawks win, but getting a touchdown at home is a hard spread to pass on."
The Seahawks failed to cover the spread in five of their last seven home games, but none of those spreads were as large as this one in favor of their opponent. This certainly isn't a lock.
Davenport: Seattle (+7)
Gagnon: Los Angeles (-7)
Sobleski: Los Angeles (-7)
Consensus: Los Angeles (-7)
Score Prediction: Los Angeles 31, Seattle 20
Minnesota Vikings (1-2-1) at Philadelphia Eagles (2-2)
It's fair to be worried about both the Minnesota Vikings and the Philadelphia Eagles. But in a same-site rematch of last year's NFC Championship Game (a blowout Philly victory), our expert panel is indicating that it is more concerned about the defending Super Bowl champions than their slumping Week 5 opponent.
"There's no way this isn't a close game," Gagnon said of his decision to take three points with the Vikings, "but Minnesota's defense is too talented not to bounce back after a three-week slump. Save for that aberration against Buffalo, the Vikings have been superb on offense and are due for a strong all-around performance against a hungover opponent."
Yes, Gagnon is referring to Philadelphia's Super Bowl hangover. The Eagles were lucky to beat the Falcons in Week 1 and again needed fourth-quarter heroics to beat the Colts in Week 3. Those two teams have combined for two total victories this year.
Quarterback Carson Wentz hasn't rediscovered his groove since returning from a major knee injury, and Philly's offense has lacked firepower all year. Maybe this is the week the Eagles turn it around, but the Vikings are even more due and may be even more desperate.
Davenport: Minnesota (+3)
Gagnon: Minnesota (+3)
Sobleski: Minnesota (+3)
Consensus: Minnesota (+3)
Score Prediction: Minnesota 21, Philadelphia 20
Dallas Cowboys (2-2) at Houston Texans (1-3)
In Sunday night's "Battle of Texas," a Houston Texans team that has lost 12 of its last 14 games is favored by a field goal over a Dallas Cowboys team that has won six of its last nine games.
Why is that the case? And why are the majority of our analysts on board with Houston as a three-point favorite?
"It starts with the fact it's become hard to trust Dak Prescott and the Cowboys passing game," said Gagnon, who's picking the Texans alongside Sobleski. "Prescott has a mere 80.3 passer rating in his last 14 games, and he struggled in the first three weeks this season before rebounding against the Lions in Week 4. But that might have been tied to the fact Ezekiel Elliott went off against a bad Detroit run defense.
"Unfortunately for Prescott and Elliott, the Houston run defense ranks second in the NFL in terms of DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average), according to Football Outsiders. Throw in that J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney are finally catching fire together, and this'll be a hell of a road challenge for the Cowboys."
If the Texans defense shuts down a one-dimensional Dallas offense, we could be in for a low-scoring game. But considering that Houston finally broke out with 37 points in Week 4 while the Cowboys have surrendered 24 in back-to-back weeks, Dallas could have trouble keeping up against a desperate opponent.
Davenport: Dallas (+3)
Gagnon: Houston (-3)
Sobleski: Houston (-3)
Consensus: Houston (-3)
Score Prediction: Houston 24, Dallas 20
Washington Redskins (2-1) at New Orleans Saints (3-1)
The Washington Redskins should be energized coming off a bye week that followed an upset victory over the Packers. With a Week 6 bye on the horizon, the New Orleans Saints could make the same mistake as Green Bay and overlook a team that has quietly been killing it on defense.
Those dynamics are a factor for Sobleski, who believes bookmakers are giving the Saints too much love with a 6.5-point spread on Monday Night Football.
But he's on his own, because Davenport and Gagnon are backing Drew Brees and Co.
"We've yet to see Washington on the road against an NFL-caliber opponent," said Gagnon, who is prepared for hate mail from the state of Arizona. "I'm not giving them much credit for a one-sided road victory over the Cardinals, and it's entirely possible the bye week destroyed their momentum following that win over Green Bay. Meanwhile, the Saints just scored 76 points in back-to-back road games. They've mastered offense, period, and now they'll get to feast at home in Mark Ingram's return."
We won't fault you for grabbing the Redskins with seven full points in hand, especially considering that they're well-rested and a backdoor cover is always a possibility. But at 6.5, it's hard to resist the red-hot Saints.
Davenport: New Orleans (-6.5)
Gagnon: New Orleans (-6.5)
Sobleski: Washington (+6.5)
Consensus: New Orleans (-6.5)
Score Prediction: New Orleans 30, Washington 23