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Thursday, October 2, 2014

Tuesday's Gone: Week 5 #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis)

"They are who we THOUGHT they were..."

Week 5: #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis)
Week 5 results: 13-2 (49-27 .645); 8-7 v. spread (30-46 .395)

Week 5 Notes: With the only bad weather game behind us and eight scheduled games between teams with winning or .500 records, Week 5 should be another great week of football, rife with parity. The two games of the week are undoubtedly the Lone Star Battle (3-1 HOU @ 3-1 DAL) and the Test in the West (3-0 ARZ @ 2-1 DEN). Conversely, the two worst games of the week will be the Battle of the Forgotten Farm Belt (1-2 CLE @ 1-3 TEN) and the Game of Southern Inhospitality (1-3 TB @ 1-3 NO). Besides that we’ve got a slate of “anything goes” games. Nine games this week approach or pass the touchdown spread, meaning Vegas foresees many blowouts. We’ll see, but so far they’re right (MIN @ GB); one of those potential “blowout” games happens to be the Lone Star Battle. Parity abounds…

Additional Week 5 Notes: With the only bad weather game behind us and eight scheduled games between teams with winning or .500 records, Week 5 should be another great week of football, rife with parity. The two games of the week are undoubtedly the Lone Star Battle (3-1 HOU @ 3-1 DAL) and the Test in the West (3-0 ARZ @ 2-1 DEN). Conversely, the two worst games of the week will be the Battle of the Forgotten Farm Belt (1-2 CLE @ 1-3 TEN) and the Game of Southern Inhospitality (1-3 TB @ 1-3 NO). Besides that we’ve got a slate of “anything goes” games. Nine games this week approach or pass the touchdown spread, meaning Vegas foresees many blowouts. We’ll see, but so far they’re right (MIN @ GB); one of those potential “blowout” games happens to be the Lone Star Battle. Parity abounds…

Minnesota Vikings 2-2 (+8.5) @ Green Bay Packers 2-2 (47): Packers 24-17 Packers 42-10
Thursday, 8:25 PM, Lambeau Field, Green Bay, WI (weather: 90% rain; low 60s)

Reasons: If the Vikings weren’t on their third quarterback in four games and playing on the road off of three days rest, I’d be inclined to give them the nod. The Vikings are a middle-of-the-road team, which is saying a lot considering their 2013 campaign. Minnesota has the 8th-ranked rushing attack, despite being without the services of All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson, and boasts the 9th-ranked scoring defense, a far cry from the 2013 unit. But the Vikings are on their third quarterback, and they are traveling, although not far, on short rest. The New York Giants decimated the “road team gets crushed on Thursday night” theory last week, but you can’t like the Vikings chances on the road in horrible weather against the possibly hot Packers, if Sunday had anything to say about it. The Packers offense, led by Aaron Rodgers, lit up the Bears at Soldier Field last week, and the Packers have the 5th-ranked passing defense, not that it’ll matter against Christian Ponder. The interesting thing is the Packers rush defense, worst in the NFL, against this very good running Vikings team in lousy weather. This is another evenly-matched game against divisional rivals, so you have to give the nod to the home team against a third-string quarterback, but there’s a small chance the Vikings run wild in the muck and steal one on the road.

Between Aaron Rodgers (3 TD passes) and Julius Peppers (INT return for TD) this game was 28-0 with just under five minute left in the second quarter. Then Green Bay came out running in the second half and sealed the game on two Eddie Lacy (105 rushing yards) TDs, making it 35-0 with just under four minutes in the third quarter. That was the end of that. Teddy Bridgewater watched helplessly as Christian Ponder was sacked six times and threw two INTs in a game in which the Vikings actually accrued more first downs and came within 21 yards total offense. If it were Sunday he “could have played”. It was Thursday.

Chicago Bears 2-2 (+2.5) @ Carolina Panthers 2-2 (45.5): Panthers 24-21 Panthers 31-24
Sunday, 1 PM, B o A Stadium, Charlotte, NC (Weather: Sunny; low 60s)

Reasons: The Panthers are reeling and the visiting Bears could be just the cure, although statistically the two teams are relatively evenly matched. Both teams are 2-2, but underwhelm, averaging “losses” in terms of scoring offense/defense (CAR 18-24; CHI 23-25), but Carolina has certainly performed below expectations relative to Chicago. As the Panthers’ offense continues to build chemistry and their backs get healthy the defense should get back to their expected level of play, allowing for the Panthers to break this “deviation from the norm” style of play. Cutler could cut it up against the reeling Panthers’ defense, but the Panthers’ defense can’t bomb three weeks in a row, can they?

The Panthers defense got back on track Sunday, giving up only 24 points and 347 offensive yards to Jay Cutler and the loaded Bears offense, and forced four turnovers (2 INTs; 2 fumbles). Carolina also sacked Cutler four times, and forced Bad Jay to come out in the end, throwing a critical interception to help the Panthers come back from being down 21-7 for the big win at home. Cam Newton delivered two touchdowns to tight end Greg Olsen and the Panthers’ defense allowed only three points in the final 35 minutes of the game. Both of those points are news to Panthers’ fans with a tough stretch of games ahead.

Cleveland Browns 1-2 (+1.5) @ Tennessee Titans 1-3 (44): Browns 24-21 Browns 29-28
Sunday, 1 PM, LP Field, Nashville, TN (Weather: Sunny; low 60s)

Reasons: The Titans just aren’t a good football team, with the exception of their run defense, which will be tested against the Browns’ 9th-ranked rush offense. The Browns are +4 in turnover ration and boast the league’s 13th-ranked scoring offense. Titans may get 3 points for being home, but the Browns are simply a better team.

The Browns are for real. Not necessarily because they beat the Titans, but because they came back from down 28-3 on the road to beat those Titans, an NFL record. No team has ever come back from down that many points on the road to win in NFL history. Cleveland fans may want Johnny Football, but they’re foolish, because Brain Hoyer is not only the Browns’ starting quarterback, he’s a damn good one at that. Hoyer (292 passing yards; 3 TDs) led that comeback with two fourth-quarter touchdowns.

St. Louis Rams 1-2 (+6.5) @ Philadelphia Eagles 3-1 (48): Eagles 28-21 Eagles 34-28
Sunday, 1 PM, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, PA (Weather: Sunny; low 60s)

Reasons: With the exception of their scoring offense and passing offense, the Eagles are a terrible team statistically, not much better looking on paper than their Week 5 opponent. Both teams turn the ball over and both teams rank near the bottom of the NFL in scoring defense. That’s why they say, “numbers never lie, but they don’t tell the whole story”. The 3-1 Eagles have gotten off to such slow starts on both sides of the ball that the numbers get skewed. The Rams throw the ball (ranked 9th) and defend the pass (ranked 3rd), so they could potentially give the Eagles trouble, but it’s unlikely in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia’s antics are beginning to catch up with them. This time they were up 34-7 deep into the third quarter, but allowed the Rams and third-string quarterback Austin Davis (375 passing yards; 3 TDs) to come screaming back, scoring 21 unanswered fourth-quarter points to make it a nail biter for Eagles’ fans. Nick Foles unimpressed again, and LeSean McCoy, although gaining 81 rushing yards, only averaged 3.4 yards per carry. The Eagles might be the odd team out if the Cowboys and Giants continue to play they way they have. Then again, I knew the Rams would play the relatively equal (statistically) Eagles tough.

Atlanta Falcons 2-2 (+4) @ New York Giants 2-2 (50.5): Giants 28-24 Giants 30-20
Sunday, 1 PM, MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ (Weather: Sunny; low 60s)

Reasons: The Falcons are one of those teams. At home in the cozy digs of their indoor dome the Falcons and their 2nd-ranked passing game fire on all cylinders (93 points). Take them out of their element and they stink (38 points). The Giants aren’t necessarily a home or away team, but they certainly are a team on the rise. After losing their first two games against very good teams (DET & ARZ) 60-28, the Giants have rebounded, beating their last two opponents, the not-so-good Texans and Natives, 75-31. The game could be high-scoring as both teams have top-10 scoring offenses (ATL – 2; NYG – 8), but the Giants defense is improving by the week.

The Giants have certainly turned things around. After starting 0-2 (facing tough competition), the Giants have reeled off three straight wins. The Falcons, on the other hand, have lost two straight and have now lost every road game this season (3) by an average of 12+ points. The Flacons outgained the Giants, and won the turnover battle, but the Giants defensive line had Ryan rattled often. 20-17 at the start of the fourth quarter, New York scored 13 unanswered fourth quarter points to take the win right from the Falcons.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1-3 (+10.5) @ New Orleans Saints 1-3 (48.5): Saints 30-21 Saints 37-31 OT
Sunday, 1 PM, Mercedes-Benz SuperDome, New Orleans, LA (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: Other then their annually potent offense led by Drew Brees, the Saints are not a very good football team. After boasting one of the league’s best defenses in 2013, the Saints have returned to the norm, letting teams run all over them. The Buccaneers are off to a terrible start themselves, save their great win over the Steelers Week 4. The Bucs are terrible and the Saints are home.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are not as bad as their play the first few games of the 2014 NFL season, but clearly, the Saints aren’t nearly as good as we thought they were, period. Drew Brees threw for 371 yards and two TDs, but threw three costly INTs, one being a pick-6 by TB’s Danny Lansanah. The Bucs were putrid on offense once again, only gaining 248 yards, a measly 66 on the ground, and were penalized a ridiculous 15 times for 113 yards. The Bucs are showing fight for sure, but have serious cleaning up to do before they’re as competitive as some expected. The Saints, on the other hand, could be in trouble. Their defense is back to the normal awful, and if they can’t win easy at home anymore…

Houston Texans 3-1 (+6.5) @ Dallas Cowboys 3-1 (47): Cowboys 27-23 Cowboys 20-17 OT
Sunday, 1 PM, AT&T Stadium, Dallas, TX (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: The Battle of the Lone Star State isn’t quite as big a battle as the records might suggest – the Cowboys are a far better team. The Texans’ good defense (6th-ranked scoring defense), led by JJ Watt, should be stifled by the Cowboys’ top-notch offensive line. The Texans also can’t stop the run (24th), which the Cowboys happen to be best in the NFL at. Additionally, the Cowboys are top-10 in the NFL in both scoring offense and defense, probably for the first time since the mid-90s. Maybe that’s why Jerry Jones hysterically compared these Cowboys to those Cowboys. They could look like it v. the Texans Sunday.

It was Texas-sized crowd at AT&T Stadium Sunday – of Texans fans. Tony Romo was forced to use the silent count in his own stadium, but managed to come away with the victory in OT. It wasn’t necessarily a Texas-sized scoring affair, as the game was 3-0 at the half. Romo shined (324 passing yards; 2 TDs), but DeMarco Murray stole the show again, rushing for 136 yards on 31 carries. The running games were on point Sunday, as the Texans’ Arian Foster rushed for 157 yards and two TDs on 23 carries. The Cowboys are 4-1 for the first time since 2008 – break out the false hope.

Buffalo Bills 2-2 (+6.5) @ Detroit Lions 3-1 (43.5): Lions 27-17 Bills 17-14
Sunday, 1 PM, Ford Field, Detroit, MI (Weather; Indoors)

Reasons: The Lions are a top-7 team in the NFL in passing yards, passing yards allowed, rushing yards allowed and points allowed. The Lions also boast one of the best turnover ratios (+5). The Bills rank in the top-7 in two categories: rushing yards allowed and points allowed. Statistically we should expect a defensive battle, but realistically, we’ll be watching Kyle Orton face a top-level defense on the road. The Bills defense may be good, but the Lions are better, and they actually have an offense.

The only game I got wrong besides the CIN-NE game in Week 5, I couldn’t be more disappointed in the Lions for losing at home to Kyle Orton’s Bills. Calvin Johnson was hobbled and should not have been playing and Reggie Bush was injured, limiting the run game, but the disappointment lies in the kicker. Alex Henery was 0-3 on his FG attempts and basically cost the Lions the game; Dan Carpenter missed a FG, too, but not when it counted. The final Bills’ FG was for the win with four seconds remaining. The only thing more embarrassing than the Lions losing in such fashion was the Bills carrying former Lions coach Jim Schwartz off the field for winning in such fashion. Or better yet, winning a regular season game at all.

Baltimore Ravens 3-1 (+3.5) @ Indianapolis Colts 2-2 (49): Colts 27-24 Colts 20-13
Sunday, 1 PM, Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, IN (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: The Ravens are quietly one of the NFL’s best teams. One of only eight teams with three wins, the Ravens also rank in the top-10 in rushing yards (8th), despite being on their third running back, rushing yards allowed (7th), scoring offense (8th) and scoring defense (2nd). The Colts are no slouches, either. Indianapolis is the top-ranked team in the NFL in passing yards and scoring offense. What a game – the league’s top-ranked offense v. the league’s 2nd-ranked defense. The Colts don’t do much else, but they don’t really need to. This could be the game of the week.

This game would have been far more lopsided if it weren’t for the Colts four turnovers (2 INT; 2 fumbles). The Ravens were 1-11 on third down and Joe Flacco was sacked four times while throwing an interception. Andrew Luck threw two INTs himself, but managed 312 yards passing to seven different receivers on the Colts’ way to their third straight win after starting the season 0-2.

Pittsburgh Steelers 2-2 (-6) @ Jacksonville Jaguars 0-4 (47): Steelers 28-20 Steelers 17-6
Sunday, 1 PM, EverBank Field, Jacksonville, FL (Weather: Sunny; mid-70s)

Reasons: The Jaguars are the worst team in the NFL record-wise (tied with Oakland), are essentially the worst team in the league statistically, and boast one of the league’s worst turnover ratios (-5). The Steelers don’t necessarily score points, but they’ll wear you out on the gridiron (8th in passing yards; 5th in rushing yards). What an insult to the Steelers…only giving six points.

Ewww…this game was terrible. Pittsburgh led this game 10-9 until 11:32 in the 4th quarter, when Brian McCain intercepted rookie Blake Bortles and took it to the house to seal the win. Vegas may have been wrong, but not by much.

Arizona Cardinals 3-0 (+7.5) @ Denver Broncos 2-1 (48): 27-20 Broncos 41-20
Sunday, 4:05 PM, Mile High Stadium, Denver, CO (Weather: Sunny; low 70s)

Reasons: The Game of the Week on paper, both of these teams are coming off their bye week and will be well rested. That will good for the fans, but won’t make much difference with the actual teams, as neither is dealing with any real issues, save Carson Palmer’s absence, which some may argue is inconsequential; Drew Stanton has filled in nicely. The Broncos are no doubt one of the better teams in the league, but they’re nowhere near the 2013 squad offensively (12th-ranked scoring offense), although their defense is much improved (13th-ranked scoring defense). The Cardinals are almost exactly the team they were in 2013, and still boast one of the league’s best defenses (2nd-ranked scoring defense; 4th-ranked run defense). The Broncos improved defense will be the difference in this game, although it’s not hard to imagine Bruce Arians getting into his former player’s head (Manning) and taking advantage of that insider knowledge.

Business as usual for the Broncos as the Cardinals were dropping like flies on defense. Peyton Manning eclipsed 500 TDs on a pass to tight end Julius Thomas (2 TDs) and Demaryius Thomas went off, catching eight of 16 targets for 226 yards for a ridiculous 28.3 ypc average and two TDs. The Cardinals also lost Drew Stanton, and are down to their third quarterback in the early season, a potential killer for an otherwise very good football team.

Kansas City Chiefs 2-2 (+5) @ San Francisco 49ers 2-2 (44): 49ers 24-21 49ers 22-17
Sunday, 4:25 PM, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, CA (Weather: Sunny; high 80s)

Reasons: Don’t let that home blowout win against a reeling Patriots team fool you – the Chiefs aren’t that good. Or maybe they are. The Chiefs have totally tuned things around after losing their first two games 50-27, beating their last two opponents 75-29. In that time they’ve become the 4th-ranked rushing team, the 8th-ranked passing defense, the 8th-ranked scoring defense and the 10th-ranked scoring offense. The 49ers on the other hand have been dealing with of-the-field distractions all season, but won a close game v. the Eagles last week to keep things from falling apart. The 49ers are still a good team playing in a tough division – they rank in the top-7 in rushing yards (7th), scoring offense (7th) and scoring defense (2nd) – but they turn the ball over (-2) and make too many mental mistakes. 49ers win a close game at home.

Six days after whooping the Patriots at home with an offensive onslaught the Chiefs went to Santa Clara and managed only 265 offensive yards. It was a relatively uneventful game as the 49ers shook off the outside noise again to take advantage of a Chiefs team with a “big win” hangover.

New York Jets 1-3 (+6.5) @ San Diego Chargers 3-1 (43.5): Chargers 27-17 Chargers 31-0
Sunday, 4:25 PM, Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, CA (Weather: Sunny; mid-80s)

Reasons: Statistically the Jets are a good team, they just have a rookie at quarterback and coaches making horrible decisions. The Jets have the second-ranked run game and the league’s top run defense, yet they’re 1-3, the Jets’ only win coming against the lowly Raiders. The Chargers are one of only eight teams with three wins, and also shine statistically, ranking in the top-10 in passing yards (5th), run defense (9th), scoring offense (10th) and scoring defense (5th). The Chargers should roll the Jets at home, but the Jets can get after quarterbacks, and Philip Rivers can get rattled. I’ll assume the long flight and inept offense do the Jets in.

The only worthy notes from this game are the San Diego Chargers are a seriously good football team and the New York Jets are in trouble. Geno Smith was replaced by Michael Vick, and Vick more than doubled Smith’s QBR…from 3.1 to 6.6. The Jets offense managed a comical 151 yards on 54 plays (2.8 ypp), averaged a seemingly impossibly 1.8 yards per pass, turned the ball over twice, and were penalized 12 times for 84 yards. I suppose any team could’ve shut that offense out, but the 31 points on this Jets defense was impressive.

Cincinnati Bengals (-1) @ New England Patriots (46): Bengals 24-21 Patriots 43-17
Sunday, 8:30 PM, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA (Weather: Clear; low 50s)

Reasons: I’m being kind to my hometown Patriots. It hasn’t looked this bad in 12 years. The Patriots have the league’s top-ranked passing defense and are middle-of-the-road scoring defense (14th). Otherwise the Patriots are awful. The Patriots beat the Oakland Raiders 16-9 at home. The Raiders flew across the country for a 1 PM game and almost beat the Patriots. Enough said. The Bengals, on the other hand, are one of the best teams, if not the best team, in the NFL. The Bengals are the league’s 7th-ranked scoring offense and the league’s top-ranked scoring defense, only allowing a measly 11 points per game. It’s a little shocking the Bengals are only giving one point in this game, a testament to two things: the Sharps continued hate for Dalton and there continued love for Tom Brady. Both of those emotions are seriously misguided so far in 2014. If I weren’t from New England, I’d be predicting a blowout (self jinx in full effect).

“The report of my death was greatly exaggerated.” That’s the often-misquoted phrase that first comes to mind when thinking of what the Patriots went through after their Monday Night Football loss to Kansas City, and then what they did the Bengals Sunday night. From the opening smash-mouth drive to the late Stephen Gostkowski FGs, this game was totally dominated by New England. I feel bad having picked against my hometown Patriots, which wasn’t difficult considering the numbers, but I feel worse about not trusting Belichick. We’re brainwashed up here. Tom Brady eclipsed 50,000 passing yards, Steven Ridley had 113 rushing yards (1 TD) and Rob Gronkowski caught six of 11 targets for 100 yards. In addition, Shane Vereen had 90 yards on 9 carries and newcomer tight end Tim Wright caught all five of his targets for 85 yards and a TD. The Bengals were essentially shut down on offense, and their top-notch defense gave up 43 points and 505 yards.

Seattle Seahawks (-7) @ Washington Natives (45.5): Seahawks 30-24 Seahawks 27-17
Monday, 8:30 PM, FedEx Field, Andover, MD (Weather: clear; mid-60s)

Reasons: The reason I have the Natives covering is simple: the Natives aren’t as bad as their 1-3 record and the Seahawks aren’t as dominant as they were last year. One major case in point is passing: the Natives are 4th in the league passing the ball while the Seahawks are only 25th defending the pass. Want more? The Seahawks have the 3rd-ranked run game in the NFL; the Natives are 8th in the league at stopping the run. So although people will be quick to point to the Seahawks, they are traveling across the country and are coming off three weeks of loss, overtime win, and bye. It’s not exactly like the Seahawks are steamrolling into town undefeated with the best team in the land. It’s more like the Seahawks are coming into with a few questions against a team that isn’t as bad as everyone thinks. That’s why I have them losing by six instead of seven.

A relatively uneventful game until the Natives scored to make it a seven-point game with 3:35 left in the game, the Seahawks eventually kicked a FG with 21 seconds left to prevent the Natives from a chance at the shocking home win against the Super Bowl champion Seahawks. Kirk Cousins led all quarterbacks with 283 passing yards and two touchdowns, but Russell Wilson stole the show with 201 passing yards, 122 rushing yards, and three total touchdowns. DeSean Jackson also had a big day, catching five of 11 targets for 157 yards and a touchdown and burning Little League teammate Richard Sherman several times, but it wasn’t enough against these champion Seahawks.

Check back Thursday and again Sunday for Week 6: #NFL Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis) at!

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