NFL WEEK 5: As the NFL season enters Week 5, it’s worth remembering what the landscape around the league looked like at this time last year: the Minnesota Vikings were 4-0 and the talk of the NFC; the Denver Broncos were the AFC’s only undefeated team; eventual NFC champion Atlanta had surrendered more points than all but three teams leaguewide; and the Patriots, who would go on to win the Super Bowl thanks in large part to their explosive offense, were averaging fewer points per game than Buffalo, Baltimore, Jacksonville, Detroit, and San Francisco, to name a few.
In other words, a lot can change over the next three months. Injuries happen, adjustments are made, some teams will improve and others will be exposed. So it’s no time to panic if things aren’t going as planned for your team… unless you’re a Giants fan. In that case, by all means— panic. I would say the same for Chargers fans, except they appear to have gone extinct with the team’s move to L.A. Nothing like playing a “home game” in a high school stadium filled with the other team’s fans, am I right, Philip Rivers?
Alas, the Giants and Chargers face off in this week’s most depressing matchup. At least the game’s not in L.A., I suppose.
The rest of the schedule is much more promising, with the suddenly-struggling Patriots traveling to Tampa for an interesting Thursday nighter, the 3-1 Panthers visiting the 3-1 Lions in a battle of division leaders, the surging Rams hosting division-rival Seattle in a game that will tell us a lot about the current state of the NFC West, and the Cowboys looking to right the ship against a 3-1 Green Bay team that is coming off its best performance of the season.
Here’s a look at a few of my favorite Week 5 games:
CAROLINA PANTHERS @ DETROIT LIONS (Det -2.5, 43.5)
Recommendation: UNDER 43.5 at 1.85
Both of these teams have started fast, winning three of their first four games, and the Panthers in particular have to be feeling good about themselves after going to New England last week and pulling out a 33-30 win as a 9-point underdog. It was easily the best performance we’ve seen this season out of the Carolina offense, a unit that ranked among the league’s worst through the first three games. The Panthers had been winning with defense, and if the offense can consistently perform like it did last week then we’re looking at a serious contender.
Thing is, every offense that has faced the New England defense has looked like that— the Patriots currently rank last in the NFL in total defense by a wide margin. The Lions, meanwhile, have been playing very well on defense, especially up front, where they’re only surrendering 86.3 rushing yards per game, the 7th-best mark in the league. They totally shut down the Minnesota offense last week, holding them to a mere 7 points and 284 total yards in a hard-fought win. I say “hard fought” because the Detroit offense could only manage 14 points and 251 total yards themselves, and it’s been the same old story for them: not enough consistency in the running game, which leads to over-reliance on Matthew Stafford and an average receiving corps. Both offenses will have trouble getting going in this one— I fully expect an ugly, low-scoring game that stays under 43.5.
ARIZONA CARDINALS @ PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (Phi -6.5, 44.5)
Recommendation: Arizona +6.5 at 1.91
The Eagles have shown impressive offensive versatility thus far, throwing the ball all over the lot in the first two games and then turning to the running game these past two weeks. I was particularly surprised that they got so much production out of their backfield last week despite the devastating season-ending injury to Darren Sproles, and, frankly, I’m not sure the three-headed monster of LeGarrette Blount, Wendell Smallwood, and Corey Clement can keep it up. It’ll be tough sledding this week against an Arizona front seven that has been excellent against the run this season, allowing just 3.2 yards per carry and zero runs longer than 30 yards.
The Cardinals secondary gets all the publicity, of course, and with good reason– with guys like Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu back there, danger is always lurking for opposing QBs. Carson Wentz will throw the ball into coverage at times, and that could really cost him this week. His counterpart, Arizona’s Carson Palmer (two Carsons! that’s… odd), is currently second in the NFL in pass yards per game (321 ypg), trailing only Tom Brady, and he’ll be facing a porous Eagles secondary that has surrendered more passing yards than every team in the league outside of New England. In other words, this is a great matchup for Palmer and the Arizona offense, and I’m just not sure things will be quite so easy for Wentz and the Eagles. This game screams UPSET POSSIBILITY, but I’ll gladly take the 6.5 points.
GREEN BAY PACKERS @ DALLAS COWBOYS (Dal -2.5, 52.5)
Recommendation: Green Bay +2.5 at 1.91
There’s understandable concern in Dallas, as the defending NFC East champs have lost two of their last three games and have surrendered 77 combined points in those two losses. Unproven quarterbacks Trevor Siemian and Jared Goff combined to throw for 6 touchdowns and zero interceptions against this Dallas secondary, and the 101 completions that the Cowboys have allowed this season are more than any team in the league. Now this reeling Cowboys defense has to face Aaron Rodgers, who is coming off a 4-touchdown performance in a blowout win over Chicago. It’s a difficult matchup, to say the least.
The hope for Dallas is that the offense will be able to respond and have some success against the Green Bay defense, and obviously a total like 52.5 would indicate that many expect a high-scoring game here. But I’m not so sure that the Cowboys will be able to go up and down the field on these Packers: Green Bay currently ranks 8th in the NFL in total defense (5th against the pass), and the vaunted Dallas o-line has taken a step back this season while trying to incorporate two new starters. The offense has been inconsistent as a result, often having to rely on Dak Prescott airing it out instead of watching Ezekiel Elliott gash opposing defenses behind that great line. It’s becoming clear that the Cowboys just aren’t as good this season as they were last year, and I think they’re going to have a world of trouble slowing down Aaron Rodgers and the Pack this week.
BALTIMORE RAVENS @ OAKLAND RAIDERS (Oak -2.5, 39)
Recommendation: Baltimore moneyline at 2.3
No team has been as inconsistent as Baltimore so far this season– the Ravens began the year by beating Cleveland and Cincinnati by a combined score of 44-10, only to turn around and lose 44-7 to a lightly-regarded Jacksonville team and 26-9 to arch-rival Pittsburgh. The offense has been turnover-prone these past two weeks and it seems to lack an explosive element, though young running back Alex Collins has ripped off some nice, long runs and there’s certainly speed on the perimeter with guys like Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin.
Maybe they can get it back on track this week against an Oakland defense that was abysmal last season and has shown only slight signs of improvement this year– the Raiders still rank in the bottom-half of the league in nearly every significant statistical category on the defensive side of the ball, and after watching Kirk Cousins slice them up two weeks ago, going 25/30 for 365 yards and 3 touchdowns, I’m sure opposing quarterbacks and offensive coordinators around the league are licking their collective chops.
But let’s get real: we can talk all day about the inconsistent Ravens or the generous Oakland defense, but the headline story of this game is that Raiders quarterback Derek Carr will not be playing, and that is a huge problem for the home team. E.J. Manuel was very shaky in relief of Carr last week, and the Raiders haven’t been able to run the ball all season. The Ravens have a capable defense that can look very good at times– and I have a feeling that Sunday will be one of those times. Look for Manuel to contribute a couple of turnovers, as has been his custom throughout his career, and for Joe Flacco to connect on a couple of deep balls against the vulnerable Oakland secondary. I expect Baltimore to win this one outright.