It's been a weird season so far, but also a fun one. It's great when teams like the Vikings and Falcons are dominating headlines and out-of-nowhere guys like Dak Prescott, Carson Wentz, and Jacoby Brissett become household names.
Now we get into the real grind of the season. Every year it's Weeks 7-13 that separate the true contenders from the rest of the pack. This week it begins.
On to the picks! As always the picks below are against the spread.
Also, don't forget to download the 'Go For Two' podcast with myself and T-Bob Hebert as we recap Week 6 and preview Week 7.
WEEK 7 PICKS
Picks listed are against the spread
*Home teams in BOLD
Giants (-3) over Rams (LONDON)
I realize the Rams are trying to go Full Fisher again this season, but frankly this has been more disappointing than years past. Just two weeks ago they were rolling at 3-1, having beaten division rivals Seattle and Arizona to (supposedly) prove they were legitimate division contenders. Once again they've fallen apart and seem destined for .500 mediocrity. In their defense, what NFL scheduling genius has them going from L.A. to Buffalo, NY to play a game one week only to go all the way to London the very next? That's ridiculous for any West Coast team, an unreasonably unfair competitive disadvantage.
Giants 30, Rams 20
Vikings (-3) over Eagles
This is Sam Bradford's return to Philadelphia, a place where he'll surely receive a welcome similar to that of Donald Trump's at the Al Smith Benefit Dinner on Wednesday.
Could the jeering at the hands of the Fans of Brotherly Love be Bradford's kryptonite? So far he's looked like a dark horse MVP candidate, although some people put more stock into that than others.
Speaking of award candidates, Carson Wentz looked like the runaway Rookie of the Year heading into the Eagles' Week 4 bye. Since then he's look, well, very rookie-ish.
Vikings 20, Eagles 13
Chiefs (-6) over Saints
I'm sure Saints fans are tired of me picking against them. Don't be! Maybe I'm the cooler they'd love to throw on their opponent's side every week! It sure happened last week when I spent all week on air talking about what a great matchup the Saints had with the Carolina secondary then proceeded to pick the Panthers to cover.
This week I've been trying to hammer home what a BAD matchup this is for New Orleans. The Chiefs defense is much better on the back end, and offensively they can run the ball as well as anybody in the AFC. Plus, Kansas City doesn't turn it over, something the Saints have relied on in their last two wins. Oh, and this game is at Arrowhead, perhaps the loudest stadium on the planet.
Chiefs 31, Saints 24
Washington (+1.5) over Detroit
I'd like to take a break to call out the absolute stupidity of the hot takes some in sports media have this week about the now retired Calvin Johnson. That hot takes says the Lions are better without Calvin Johnson which means that Johnson shouldn't be a Hall of Famer
Check out this doozy from known troll Mike Florio, inside his weekly power rankings capsule at Pro Football Talk : "18. Lions (3-3; No. 23): The fact that the offense hasn't missed a beat without Calvin Johnson needs to be remembered when it's time to consider him for the Hall of Fame."
Without getting to deep into the weeds, let me point out that that offense scored 15 points at home in a loss to the TITANS! Then they scored 14 points in a loss to the Bears, giving Chicago their lone win of the season.
It's stuff like this that really reduce the credibility of the entire sports-media complex, and probably why so many athletes see the media as hostile, untrustworthy agitators.
Washington 23, Detroit 17
Browns (+10) over Bengals
If the Bengals are going to save their season, it starts Sunday against the Browns. Cincinnati is 2-4, having navigated arguably toughest schedule in the league the first third of the season that included losses at Pittsburgh, Dallas, New England and home against Denver. Not many, if any, teams would escape that slate above .500.
What's striking is the Bengals, much like the Panthers and Cardinals, are struggling in nearly every facet of the game. Their offense hasn't scored more than 17 points in any of their losses and their defense is giving up nearly 27 points per game on the season. That's a recipe for disaster regardless of the talent on your roster, and yes the Bengals still have talent everywhere.
Perhaps this really is a 2-4 type of team. We will find out Sunday.
Bengals 27, Browns 20
Bills (-3) @ Dolphins
It's time to really start paying attention to the Buffalo Bills.
The last time the Bills were truly relevant Bill Clinton was in the White house and Jeff Fisher was actually considered a hot young coaching commodity.
The Bills have won four consecutive games and are trying to make the playoffs for the first time since 1999. The Dolphins can be tough to beat at home, but this is a pretty easy "take the hot team" type of line.
Bills 24, Dolphins 20
Raiders (+1) @ Jaguars
The Raiders are getting points against Jacksonville?
I'm having a conflict here as Jacksonville was my AFC sleeper this season, and won in an early must-win situation last week but I'm not sure what's going on with this line. The Raiders are tied for the lead in the AFC West while the Jaguars are an uninspirational 2-3.
Perhaps the Raiders are a little preoccupied but there's zero chance I'd put a dime on the Jaguars when they're giving points to a playoff caliber team.
Raiders 27, Jaguars 24
Titans (-3) over Colts
The worst contract handed out in professional sports this season goes to Chuck Pagano, who got an extension from general manager Ryan Grigson. Speaking of Grigson, there should be equal calls for his resignation after watching the current dumpster fire that the Colts have turned into. We're starting to see the pile-on of Grigson begin, with ESPN's Bill Barnwell writing a scathing critique this week.
Stay way away from the Colts until the flames of that fire are put out.
Titans 26, Colts 20
Jets (-2) over Ravens
Not too long ago the Ravens were 3-0 and had a favorable schedule that had fans in Baltimore realistically charting their team's return path to the playoffs. Since, the Ravens have lost three straight although the middle of the AFC playoff picture is such a mess that they are still in the thick of it.
On the opposite sideline we've seen the Jets absolutely implode this season. What was supposed to be a season of legitimate contention in the AFC has turned into a season of legitimate contention for the #1 overall pick. Disappointments like that usually lead to the abrupt end to young coaching tenures. Todd Bowles, your seat is officially scorching.
Jets 21, Ravens 17
Falcons (-6.5) over Chargers
One non-call of possible pass interference perhaps completely changed how the late season will play out for the Atlanta Falcons. This team is good, really good. Conference championship good. Anybody who doubts that needs to go re-watch their last three games against the Panthers, Broncos, and Seahawks.
However now the Falcons have lost the tiebreaker to Seattle in possible home field scenarios in the playoffs, meaning it's most likely that any rematch in the playoffs would be in Seattle, a place where the Seahawks haven't lost a postseason game in over a dozen years. If there's one place where playoff dreams die, it's in CenturyLink playing Seattle.
That's too bad for the Falcons. I'm really looking forward to seeing that matchup again, and I think it's one Atlanta can win. Until then, Atlanta will have to keep from having letdowns in games they should win such as this one.
Falcons 34, Chargers 24
Buccaneers (PK) over 49ers
My biggest storyline in San Francisco this week? The Oregon Ducks are really struggling and likely will be replacing Mark Helfrich after the season. There's a chance that Chip Kelly is one and done in the Bay.
As for actual football, the Bucs can get back to .500 with a win and would put themselves in the fringe playoff contender category. The 49ers just don't have the weapons right now for Kelly's system. He had to know that going in to that job right? Maybe the plan has been all along to give him three or four seasons to rebuild this team, ala Pete Carroll in Seattle (remember, that didn't happen overnight).
Bucs 23, 49ers 20
Steelers (+7) over Patriots
This line opened at Steelers -1 but Ben Roethlisberger's injury has swayed this towards New England. Too far that way in my opinion.
The Steelers are perpetually prepared for a Roethlisberger injury, and last year Landry Jones was 1-1 in relief, completing a respectable 58% of his passes and throwing for over 250 yards per game. This offense still has weapons all over the field that will give even the Patriots defense trouble.
How many points is Big Ben worth anyway? Vegas is saying he alone is worth 8 points over replacement in a single game? That math doesn't add up, especially when Jones (or perhaps Mettenberger) has a full week to prepare.
Are the Patriots the best team in football? Probably. Are they seven points better than the second best team in the AFC, on the road at their place? We'll find out.
Patriots 27, Steelers 23
Seahawks (+1.5) over Cardinals
One of the craziest NFL stats you'll ever see: The Seahawks have now led or been tied in the fourth quarter of 90 consecutive games, regular season and post season, which is pre-dates the Russell Wilson era. That's mind boggling incredible.
There are two teams in the NFL that you should never be giving points to. The Patriots, and the Seahawks. Seattle hasn't finished with a sub .500 record against the spread on the road since 2009. Think about that. If you just blindly picked the 'Hawks ATS on the road the past 7 years you'd be printing money.
On the actual field this football game promises to be darn good. This rivalry really started breaching the national conversation last season when the Cardinals dethroned Seattle in the NFC West. This season the Cardinals have struggled, but they've rebounded to 3-3 and certainly have one of the more talented rosters in the NFC. Watching the Cardinals play, however, they just don't jump off the screen like the did last year. The offensive and defensive lines haven't been dominant. Carson Palmer is having a 2015 Peyton Manning-esque unexpected fade in his play this season. The wide receiving corps, outside of Larry Fitzgerald, looks downright lost at times. Plus, the defense just isn't scaring anybody this season.
Yet this is a prime time divisional rivalry game. Last year the Cardinals beat Seattle on the road in the first half of the season to essentially wrap up the division early. The Seahawks with a win would essentially do the same. If the Seahawks have Cam Chancellor and Frank Clark healthy for Sunday this should be a road win. Watch the injury report. . .if those two don't suit up that completely changes how their defense plays (see last week against Atlanta).
Seahawks 24, Cardinals 20
Texans (+8) over Broncos
This season is turning into a litmus test as to whether a truly great defense can carry a truly bad offense to a championship. Last season you couldn't quite call the Broncos offense terrible. Peyton Manning was solid, if not spectacular, in the playoffs and they also found their running game when it mattered. Right now Denver looks truly impotent on most series with either Siemian or Lynch quarterbacking. Even in their early season wins the incredible defensive play, including forcing turnover and setting up the offense in great field position, helped mask how bad this offense is.
The Texans are basically Broncos Lite. Their defense is good, but not elite level great. And their offense is really bad at most times. Eight points just seems too much to give the Texans in a game where any points will be at a premium. Expect this to be close, or even expect a garbage time touchdown late to keep it close.
· The Packers look like a championship contender because of their DEFENSE
· The Dallas Cowboys may be better off without Tony Romo
Do you see the common thread? This is all in the NFC, a conference that is providing us with the most compelling first half of a season than we've seen in since the mid 1990's with the Cowboys/49ers/Packers rivalries. Granted, it's not the same type of compelling. There are arguably only two or three real title contenders in the conference, and none of them is the favorite.
Those favorites are in the AFC, which is remarkably playing out rather predictably. The Patriots are great. The Steelers can be the best team in football on any given night. The Broncos are still dangerously good defensively, but their offensive struggles make it hard to imagine a repeat title.
Speaking of Denver, they've lost two times since our last article. The debacle on Thursday Night Football against San Diego proved once again that teams can only mask replacement level quarterback play for so long until they get exposed. That's not a shot on Trevor Siemian, a first year starter who is dealing with an injury and a limited offensive playbook given to him (smartly) but Gary Kubiak. Most players would struggle in that role. Siemian is no different, but he still shows the upside that should give Broncos fans hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel, even this season.
There's a lot so sort through and there's not a better way to do it than with our inaugural 2016 NFL Tiers Project: v 1.0. Each team will be put into one of five tiers as we are 1/3 of the way through the regular season. I'll dive back in and re-evaluate these tiers after Week 10 and Week 15 as the hierarchy of the league becomes more apparent.
The tiers, and their classifications, are as follows:
·The Championship Favorites - Teams that have the best chance to hoist the Lombardi Trophy next February
·The Dark Horses – Teams that need everything to go right, plus get a few good breaks along the way, to be playing for a title. Yet, there are plausible scenarios where it can happen.
·Dangerous Spoilers – Teams that will be on the playoff fringe, and may even get in. These teams aren't easy outs, and nobody will want to play them down the stretch, but they don't have a realistic path to a championship.
·The Forgettable Mediocre – These teams aren't good enough to be remembered beyond 2016. Yet they aren't bad enough to be remembered either. This is the black hole of NFL fan pessimism . . . not even much hope for a truly exciting draft.
·#1 Pick Positioning – These teams are bad, really bad. Their fans remained interested only because of the possibility of grabbing the #1 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
On to The Tiers! Plus, as always we pick against the spread at the bottom of this article.
Also, don't forget to download the 'Go For Two' podcast with myself and T-Bob Hebert as we recap Week 5 and preview Week 6.
THE CHAMPIONSHIP FAVORITES
·New England Patriots (4-1): They survived Brady's absence, going 3-1 and cementing themselves as the favorite to win a title this season. There aren't many sure things in football, but having the Patriots in this tier is one of them.
·Pittsburg Steelers (4-1): If the Patriots don't represent the AFC in Super Bowl 51, then the Steelers have to be the next odds-on favorite. This team is electrifying on both sides of the football when they are playing well. However, as we saw against Philadelphia, that isn't guaranteed.
·Minnesota Vikings (5-0): The trade for Sam Bradford has turned out to be a stroke of brilliance for this franchise. While people can argue, as I did with T-Bob in this week's podcast, that Bradford is still more of a game manager than game changer at quarterback, there is little denial that it is his play that has kept the Vikings' offense capable enough to compliment a truly fearsome defense. The Vikings are absolutely for real folks.
·Green Bay Packers (3-1): Their lone loss was to the Vikings on the road. While the media has begun (again) questioning the struggles of the Packers offense, their defense has been stellar. They are allowing less than 50 rush yards per game, something that should be unsustainable over a full season. Packers' fans have long insisted that Aaron Rodgers was a great defense away from winning more titles. This year may be that litmus test.
·Seattle Seahawks (3-1): The Seahawks again are overcoming a relatively pedestrian start to the season to look downright scary in every facet of the game. That defense, which has led the league in fewest points allowed for four straight seasons, may be the best in the league again. Russell Wilson used the bye week to get healthy, and now that Jimmy Graham is also healthy he has another dominant weapon opposite of Doug Baldwin. Watch out.
THE DARK HORSES
·Atlanta Falcons (4-1): Atlanta fans will surely bristle at this second tier designation, but there is some luster lost off their wins after the recent struggles of Carolina and Denver. If they win this week in Seattle a move into Tier 1 will be more than warranted. Regardless, Matt Ryan is the current favorite for league MVP, and their two headed monster at running back is the best in the league.
·Denver Broncos (3-2): It's hard to designate a defending champion as a true 'dark horse' but they sure aren't playing like favorites. For as bad as their offense was at times last season the situation never looked as dire as it does now. Gary Kubiak is perhaps the most underrated quarterback-whisperer in the league, but even he may have problems turning Siemian or Paxton Lynch into guys who can win in hostile situations in the playoffs.
·Arizona Cardinals (2-3): Arizona saved their seasons with a comeback win on the road at San Francisco. Quarterback Carson Palmer has looked bad, and he is coming back from a concussion injury that kept him out against the 49ers. Yet his play hasn't been the only problem in Glendale. The defense, a unit that was supposed to be better with their offseason additions, hasn't played up to a championship level. Head coach Bruce Arians has a track record of being able to pull his teams out of early season slumps. He still has time to do it in 2016 and again prove doubters wrong.
·Dallas Cowboys (4-1): I debated on putting the Cowboys in next tier but I couldn't overlook the absolute dominance of this offensive line. They are absolutely manhandling opponents and have turned Ezekiel Elliot into the best running back in football. Their defense has been capable enough to complete the ball-control scheme that coach Jason Garrett has designed. The Cowboys play the physical style of football that can win playoff games on the road, something they'll likely have to do at Minnesota, Seattle, or Green Bay in January.
·Carolina Panthers (1-4): Only 6% of teams who started 1-4 have gone on to make the playoffs. While Carolina may have buried themselves too deeply to make a run this season, they'll be the definition of a dangerous spoiler once Cam Newton gets healthy. Oddly, their defense not only hasn't looked good in the secondary but they've also been porous in their much-hyped front seven as well. This doesn't, in any form, look like the team who went 15-1 and made the Super Bowl a season ago.
·Oakland Raiders (4-1): Oakland has proved they know how to win close games, a requirement for any team with aspirations of making a deep playoff run. Their four wins have been by a combined 12 points, three of those on the road. The struggles in Denver and Kansas City have door h opened for Oakland to make a run in the West, and possibly deep in the AFC playoffs.
·Kansas City Chiefs (2-2): Speaking of those Chiefs, they once again are the epitome of inconsistency. One week they look capable of beating anybody in the league, then the next they get humiliated by one of the conference favorites. This team likely doesn't have the weapons to make a title run, but Andy Reid's teams are always competitive and dangerous during the stretch run.
·Philadelphia Eagles (3-1): Carson Wentz is the favorite for Rookie of the Year, while Doug Pederson is a sleeper for Coach of the Year. The Eagles may be a year or two away from real contention but this is a team without many holes anywhere on their roster.
·Los Angeles Rams (3-2): Ther Rams were starting to get national media attention as a possible dark horse contender in the NFC after starting the season 3-1. Then they proceeded to go Full Fisher and revert to their perpetually .500 ways in a loss to the Bills. This tier was tailor made for the Rams.
·Cincinnati Bengals (2-3): There's no team in the league I'm more unsure of than the Bengals. Their losses have been to three of the better teams in the league in the Steelers, Broncos, and on the road to the Cowboys. Things don't get any easier this week as they travel to New England, but then the Bengals will have a chance to go on a bit of a run as the schedule softens up. They may have dug themselves too deep of a hole to climb out of but the Bengals will be a dangerous team during the second half of the season regardless of their playoff status.
THE FORGETABLE MEDIOCRE
·Baltimore Ravens (3-2): The dividing line between Tiers 3-4 starts with the Ravens who have played like a bubble playoff team but just don't have the playmakers on either side of the football to scare anybody.
·Houston Texans (3-2): Yes, the Texans may win the AFC South. But they have almost zero chance to make an impact in the playoffs. They have too many holes on a roster that hasn't improved enough from 2015.
·Indianapolis Colts (2-3): See above
·Buffalo Bills (3-2): The only reason this team will be memorable is Rex Ryan. Even his act is wearing thin. Three wins in a row isn't enough to vault them higher in our tiers.
·Washington (3-2): See above, minus the firebrand coach who attracts media attention.
·Tennessee Titans (2-3): This team is giving their fans reason to hope for a bright future, especially considering the division they are in. Their time isn't now, however.
·San Diego Chargers (2-4): Imagine if this team hadn't collapsed in their four losses this season.
·New York Giants (2-3): Is there a more inept rookie head coach than Ben McAdoo? I don't mean to pile on to the criticism, but he seems incapable of handling a superstar with a big personality (Odell Beckham) or a savage media market (New York).
·Detroit Lions (2-3): The Lions were on my preseason list of dark horse contenders but they've been uninspiring so far. Plus, they are buried behind the Packers and Vikings in that division making a playoff run even more unlikely.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-3): If Tampa Bay could just play a schedule full of NFC South opponents they'd be real contenders. They've beaten the Falcons and Panthers, but have looked inept against the rest of the league.
·New Orleans Saints (1-3): The Saints too good, at least offensively, to truly be competing for the top overall pick. The offense is one of the best five units in the league, and Drew Brees is having one of his best years. Could we see finally see an MVP from a team with a losing record?
·New York Jets (1-4): The bottom could fall out for the Jets, but they play the Browns, 49rers, and Dolphins (twice). That should keep them out of the pack that will battle for one of the top picks in the draft.
#1 PICK POSITIONING
·Jacksonville Jaguars (1-3): I was tempted to (finally) move Jacksonville out of this tier, but that can't happen until they actually start winning more football games.
·Chicago Bears (1-4): The Monsters of the Midway are no more. You know things are dire when fans rejoice when Brian Hoyer starts at quarterback.
·San Francisco 49ers (1-4): There possibly has never been a quicker collapse from one of the league's best teams to bottom feeder than we've seen in two plus years with the 49ers. Whether the blame can be laid on Trent Baalke or Jed York is immaterial. This franchise needs a complete and total rebuild. Is Chip Kelly really a guy who wants to stick around through that? Will he even get the chance?
·Miami Dolphins (1-4): Miami is quickly becoming the most dysfunctional franchise in the NFL, a distinction that belonged to the Cleveland Browns for the past decade.
·Browns (0-5): Speaking of those Browns, they again are the frontrunners for the first overall pick. I have faith in the rebound and the new-age analytics that are being used to build this team for the future. Fans will need to start seeing some results soon.
Westworld, HBO's much-hyped new big budget television series, premiered on Sunday to massive fanfare. The series, based on a 1973 sci-fi thriller written by famed novelist by Michael Crichton, features a highly realistic adult theme park based on the American Old West populated by near-sentient androids. Visitors to the theme park are immersed in highly realistic story lines, both good and evil, while interacting with the android population.
Westworld has been pitched by HBO as their big-budget successor to Game of Thrones, the latter which is scheduled to run just two more seasons. Often times hugely hyped television series fall flat. This has especially been the case recently for HBO, with relative duds like the second seasons of True Detective or Ballers.
That didn't happen to Westworld. If the first episode is any indication HBO has an enormous hit on their hands that could dominate fall pop-culture headlines for years to come, ala Thrones.
In the pilot episode the androids are seen malfunctioning, causing the human operators of the park to investigate the cause. Peter Abernathy, an android who plays the role of a farm owner and father of the series's main protagonist, plays a central role in the malfunctions and is questioned by the park's founder, played by Anthony Hopkins, in a highly tense scene towards the show's end. That scene has garnered critical attention across the world for the tension and portrayal by the actors involved.
Abernathy is played by Baton Rouge native Louis Herthum whose previous television credits include roles in Longmire, True Detective, True Blood, and Breaking Bad. Herthum's intense portrayal throughout the episode, especially in the closing scene, may be the high point of a diverse successful career.
Herthum joined WWL Radio's Double Coverage for an interview with T-Bob Hebert and Seth Dunlap. It's an absolute must-listen. Click on the link below to hear it!
The quarter pole of the NFL season usually brings a bit of clarity to the league hierarchy and is a good predictor of how the playoff races will shape up. Teams that start 3-1 make the playoffs 74% of the time while teams that are 1-3 make it only 14% of the time. Is your favorite team the 0-4 Browns? It's probably time to start checking early mock drafts as an 0-4 team has never made the playoffs.
The NFL is a different monster from other sports. A relatively short 16 game schedule means superior teams can get buried by a string of close and/or unlucky losses. This isn't the 162 game MLB, or the 82 game NBA. Every game truly matters, and we don't always see the "best" teams claiming the top seeds, let alone even in the playoffs every season. This chart from Bill Barnwell explains it well.
..but what are the chances of a team as good as Cubs being bad in a given 16-game season? Higher than you might think. pic.twitter.com/biLfk6nPmy
The Cubs have been baseball's equivalent to last year's Carolina Panthers. They were the best team in the sport during the regular season, the prolonged 162 game schedule minimized variance, and they ended up with a league best 103 wins. What would happen in a 16 game season? Nobody really knows, but there is a one in six chance they wouldn't even finish above .500. There's even a remote possibility that they would finish with 5 wins or less.
While fans of the Cardinals, Panthers, Colts, Jets and other 1-3 teams likely continue to believe that it's just a "fluke" and their will rebound, don't count on it. The odds are against it.
The NFL we see currently is likely similar to the one we will see after Week 17. The Vikings look every bit like conference title contenders. The Rams have rebounded and are a dangerous 3-1 team. Atlanta is 3-1 and leads Carolina by two games plus the tiebreaker with a dozen games to play, making them the prohibitive favorites in the NFC South.
There are 13 teams at 1-3 in the league. If history is a good predictor then two (rounding up) of those 13 teams will make the playoffs. One of the teams currently 3-1 won't. Let's see how this plays out as the second quarter stretch of the regular season begins.
On to the picks! As always these picks are against the spread.
Also, don't forget to check out the 'Go For Two' podcast with myself and T-Bob Hebert as we recap Week 4 and preview Week 5.
Picks listed are against the spread
*Home teams in BOLD
Vikings (-6.5) over Texans
The Vikings had a great night on Monday Night Football, walloping the Giants and cementing their place among the NFC elite. The Vikings fans, however, didn't seem like they were ready for prime time. This column, and our Go For Two podcast, have hyped up #SkolChant as the coolest new thing in football. What happened Minneapolis?
That video doesn't accurately represent the fail level of the fans on a nationally televised game. When the ESPN cameras would pan around during the chant half of the crowd was sitting or standing with a confused look on their faces. I'm very disappointed in you Minnesota! Don't let #SkolChant turn into the next Midwest sports tradition disaster.
don't even care about the spread in this game! I just want to see my faith in this fan base redeemed. Vikes cover and #SkolChant is back on track!
Oh and Brock Osweiler is going to be playing quarterback against the current-best defense in the NFC. Good luck. Vikings 23, Texans 16
Titans (+3.5) over Dolphins
It seems impossible, considering the amount of guaranteed money the Dolphins spent on upgrading their defense this offseason, but there might not be a more disappointing team in the entire league. A fan base-inspiring close loss to the Seahawks on the road in the opening week turned out to be false hope. The 'Phins are 1-3, having only beating the lowly Browns in overtime. There may not be a franchise more poorly suited to future success right now than Miami. Does anybody really expect this team to be more competitive next season, with an aging defense and a massive amount of money tied up in underperforming stars? Oh, and they are in the Patriot's division.
Tennessee is a nearly polar opposite 1-3. They have a young quarterback who seems to be progressing a young defense that's been better than advertised (21 ppg allowed this season). This was always a stepping stone season for the Titans. They've been competitive in every game so far and could be that "spoiler team nobody wants to face" coming down the stretch. Dolphins 20, Titans 17
Patriots (-10.5) over Browns
Cleveland just can't catch a break. Playing New England on Tom Brady's return week? The NFL schedule making process must be run by Emperor Palpatine.
Seriously, is there a more appropriate franchise to feel the wrath of Tom Brady and New England this weekend? Patriots 31, Browns 13
Steelers (-7.5) over Jets
It's essentially elimination week for the J-E-T-S. It might also be for Ryan Fitzpatrick. While only 14% of 1-3 teams make the playoffs it drops to 6% of 1-4 teams. The Jets had an opportunity to rebound playing a traditionally horrid East Coast team in the Seahawks last week. Fitzpatrick threw three interceptions and helped the Jets likely throw away any chance at a playoff appearance in 2016.
They play the Steelers, a team that already got their "wow they looked really bad" game out of their system in Week 3 against the Eagles. Le'Veon Bell is back, giving them a special one-two combo with a very content DeAngelo Williams.
A Jets win here would truly shock the NFL world. Steelers 30, Jets 20
Washington (+3.5) over Baltimore
Baltimore just experienced its worst sports weekend this decade.
Talk about a one-two punch to the gut. I wrote about how favorable the schedule looked for the Ravens the first two months, and that it wouldn't be surprising to see them as a one loss or even undefeated team at the end of October. All of the sudden this turns into a critical game for the Ravens. With the Steelers and Bengals returning to form last week there is no margin for error in the AFC North. It just so happens they are playing a newly invigorated Washington team that is coming of back to back wins.
Washington quelled skeptics a bit by winning their last two games to return to .500, scoring 60 points in those two contests. However, the NFC east is also a division with little margin for error as all four teams are .500 or better. This Beltway rivalry could have huge playoff implications later in the season for both teams.
Washington 27, Baltimore 24
Eagles (-3) over Lions
There has been a six point swing in this line since opening week. Deservedly so, as the Eagles are undefeated and have the quarter season Rookie of the Year while the Lions have lost three straight and are finding ways to lose games that only the Chargers seem to know about.
Detroit's offense is beat up and everybody who thought that the loss of Calvin Johnson wouldn't hurt them much have been proven wrong. Matthew Stafford and their receivers look absolutely lost on critical plays each game, and Golden Tate has become so non-existent that his coach is fending off benching rumors.
The medicine for improved passing success probably isn't the Eagles. Philadelphia hasn't allowed a passing touchdown all season and their entire defense has been sneaky elite-level good this season. Perhaps the bye week came at the wrong time for Philly, and their early season success was a mirage that will fade but right now this game seems like a mismatch. Eagles 27, Lions 17
Colts (-4.5) over Bears
Are there two more uninspiring coaches in the NFL? John Fox looks flat out old and overmatched while Chuck Pagano continues his run as our own Shooter Flatch, overwhelmed and out of touch.
If the great Dennis Hopper were still with us he could have reprised his role in the surely upcoming disaster film, The Fall of Luck.
Would anybody be surprised if the loser of this game is unceremoniously canned next week? Also, would anybody be surprised if Andrew Luck is Carson Palmer 2.0? Insanely talented, but took too many hits during his NFL-formative years and never turned into the truly elite quarterback we thought he would? Would it be truly surprising to see a perpetually frustrated Luck to go Full-Palmer and finally force a trade to a West Coast team with a better offensive line? Luck to L.A. in 2018! Colts 31, Bears 17
Broncos (-4) over Falcons
The marquee matchup in Week 5 features the league's best offense on the road against a truly frightening defense. First off, I said I wasn't picking against the Broncos until they actually lose a game (they are 4-0 against the spread this season) so I won't start here. But this week gives Denver perhaps their most intriguing matchup of the season against Julio Jones and Matt Ryan.
Jones became the first player since 1990 to have 300+ receiving yards in a game, and Ryan leads the NFL in nearly every meaningful passing category. Yet the Broncos demolished a sophomoric version of this team in Week 2 when the Colts came to Mile High. If that game was a dress rehearsal for this one, it's not a good sign for Atlanta.
Oh, and Atlanta faces the Seattle defense after this game. Talk about a brutal two game stretch. Broncos 27, Falcons 20
Rams (-2) over Bills
A lot of people laughed at Jeff Fisher after this outburst on Hard Knocks.
Then his Rams opened the season with a 28-0 humiliating loss to the 49ers. It was media pile-on time.
Since then something remarkable has happened. L.A. has won three straight, including two dominating defense performances against the Seahawks and Cardinals, to give them the NFC West lead after Week 4. The defense has allowed just 16 points per game during that span and the offense, led by a Dilfer-esque Case Keenam, have morphed into one of the best ball control make-no-mistakes offenses in the league.
We've seen this Rams story before. Give us hope before crumbling down the stretch. Something seems different this year. Maybe they are reinvigorated playing in L.A., or perhaps it's the truly back-against-the-wall approach by Fisher and the coaching staff. Nobody wants to play the Rams right now. Not even Rex Ryan. Rams 20, Bills 13
Chargers (+3.5) over Raiders
Derek Carr is this generation's version of Brett Favre. Maddenly gamble-prone yet fascinatingly brilliant in crunch time. He's even helped everyone remember how good Michael Crabtree can be in the right system with the right quarterback.
Speaking of mad, that's how every Chargers fans must feel. Mad about their three losses, all after the Chargers led with under two minutes to play. Mad about ownership and their take-all-hostages approach to a new stadium proposal and potential move out of town. Mad about suddenly being the one team in the AFC West that nobody takes seriously.
This should be a San Diego lead late, with Carr leading a touchdown winning drive with 42 seconds to play. Raiders 27, Chargers 24
Bengals (-2) over Cowboys
Tony Romo is in the process of being Wally Pipped. Dak Prescott seems tailor made to play quarterback in that offense, behind that offensive line. The power-run attack leads to play action looks that Prescott has been extremely efficient at since his days at Mississippi State. The rookie looks not only good but extremely comfortable, a true rarity for a rookie.
Yet, the media overreaction with the Cowboys 3-1 start has reached peak-absurdity levels. The three wins have come against Washington, Chicago, and San Francisco who have a combined 5-8 record. Let's hold our horses a bit. This isn't an NFC title contending team, but it might be a playoff team even if Romo never comes back fully healthy.
Conversely, the Bengals 2-2 start have seen most people jump off their bandwagon. The opening four games were the toughest part of their schedule, and it wouldn't be surprising to see the Bengals quietly march their way thru the middle of the season and set themselves up for a chance at even a division title again late in the season. Bengals 24, Cowboys 20
Giants (+7) over Packers
Odell Beckham isn't having fun anymore. I doubt coach Ben McAdoo is either. Babysitting a primadonna wide receiver is tough work. Ask Bill Parcells.
Or ask Tom Coughlin.
Heck, ask him again.
Does anybody think Ben Freaking McAdoo is capable of handling such a huge personality and talent? McAdoo is overmatched, and the decision to let him run that franchise already looks like a serious blunder by the Mara family.
Meanwhile somebody on the opposite sidelines has been having a lot of fun recently. Aaron Rodgers has R-E-L-A-Xed Packers fans and the media and has his team at 3-1, looking every bit like the conference title contender they were expected to be.
Seven points is a lot to give for a team that doesn't play great defense but it's hard to see how the Giants, in the midst of this turmoil, can go into Lambeau and win in prime time. Packers 30, Giants 24
Panthers (-4.5) over Buccaneers
Cam Newton and the Panthers lost their ring last February have looked an absolute mess since.
Yea, the Panthers are the Gollum to our NFL's Middle Earth. Gollum knows in his heart his will never get his Precious back. That doesn't stop him from wild antics, bad sportsmanship, and a deterioration of sanity. His singular focus on The Ring makes him forget the process that got him there before.
It's at times hard to watch for the audience. Some even begin rooting for him to turn it around and make something out of himself again. It never happens, and many years later he still is in search of the thing he once lost.
The Panthers' window for Rings is still wide-open with Newton and the young roster, but Gollum knows how hard it can be to find the thing you once lost. Panthers 28, Bucs 17
The NFC is completely upside down. The Eagles and Vikings are 3-0 while teams like the Seahawks, Panthers, and Cardinals are all struggling to various degrees. With the unexpected surge of those two teams, plus the Giants, Cowboys, Falcons and even Rams looking like bubble playoff contenders there isn't much room for error in that conference. Some of the preseason favorites may find themselves on the outside looking in once January arrives.
In the AFC we see familiar faces dominating. Denver is 3-0 looking every bit like the best team in the league. The Patriots are also undefeated without Tom Brady, although it's a bit harder to judge just how good they really are right now. Then you have the Steelers, Chiefs, Ravens, Bengals, and Texans filling in that next tier. Pretty much what everybody expected at the beginning of the season.
On to the picks now, an abbreviated version this week. We will be back next week with our full breakdown of each game.
Picks listed are against the spread *Home teams in BOLD
Washington (-7.5) over Browns
The Browns hung close last week before losing in overtime. They revert to Factory of Sadness form in this one.
Washington 27, Browns 17
Bills(+7.5) over Patriots
Rex Ryan seems to always play the Patriots close. Who is really going to be playing QB for New England?
Patriots 20, Bills 17
Jets (+2.5) over Seahawks
It's an east coast trip for Seattle, plus a 10am local start time for the 'Hawks. These are just the types of games they have lost the past decade plus. Russell Wilson is hurting.
Jets 20, Seahawks 17
Panthers (-3) over Falcons
The Panthers are a hungry 1-2, and this is an awful matchup for Atlanta. How does that defense stop the power rushing attack of Carolina?
Panthers 31, Falcons 21
Lions (-3) over Bears
The Bears will fall to 0-4 and we will get closer to a potential midseason firing of John Fox.
Lions 26, Bears 20
Texans (-4.5) over Titans
Houston was humbled last week by the Patriots. That's happened to nearly every franchise in this league at some point. They also got the news of J.J. Watt's season ending injury. A bad week for the Texans will end in a revenge-of-sorts win over their division rivals.
Texans 24, Titans 13
Texans (-4.5) over Titans
Houston was humbled last week by the Patriots. That's happened to nearly every franchise in this league at some point. They also got the news of J.J. Watt's season ending injury. A bad week for the Texans will end in a revenge-of-sorts win over their division rivals.
Texans 24, Titans 13
Raiders (+3.5) over Ravens
This game could have huge implications for Wild Card tiebreakers at the end of the season. This is the first true test for Baltimore after beating up on three of the worst teams in the league to open the season.
Raiders 23, Ravens 20
Broncos(-3) over Buccaneers
This line has actually tightened by a point since last week. What are the Vegas bettors seeing that the rest of the country isn't? Denver is due for a letdown, but until that happens the smart money should stay on them.
Broncos 28, Bucs 17
49ers (+2.5) over Cowboys
San Francisco was humiliated by Seattle, which likely doesn't have ownership in the Bay very happy with Chip Kelly & Co. This is the type of defense Kelly's system can feast on, and the Niners have played relatively well the past two years in their new Stadium.
49ers 24, Cowboys 23
Saints (+4) over Chargers
The Injury Bowl is also the return of Drew Brees to San Diego, amazingly the first time that's happened since he arrived in New Orleans. Quietly Brees is having one of the best seasons of his stellar career. Saints will put up a lot of points here, maybe even enough to mask their injury riddled defense.
Saints 31, Chargers 30
Rams (+8) over Cardinals
The Rams are in first play in the NFC West. You read that right. If history is an indicator that means they are due to fall to an even 2-2. The Cardinals may need a win to save their season.
Cardinals 23, Rams 16
Steelers (-5) over Chiefs
The Steelers are coming off the most embarrassing loss of the Mike Tomlin era last week to the Eagles 38-3. If Pittsburg is truly one of the best teams in the league they should rebound well this week, their first of the season with Le'Veon Bell available. The Chiefs don't play nearly as well away from Arrowhead.
Steelers 31, Chiefs 20
Vikings (-4.5) over Giants
#SkolChant is taking over the NFC. If you don't think the Vikings are legitimate contenders this game may convince you. It should be a crazy atmosphere on Monday night in front of what are turning into the most rowdy fans in the NFL (looking at you Seattle!)