NFL WEEK 5: With most teams now through a quarter of their seasons, it’s a good time to quickly take stock of the league: the AFC already appears to be a two horse race between Kansas City and New England, as incredibly Buffalo is currently the only other AFC team with a winning record. The Ravens and Browns look set to battle it out in the AFC North, but the South is totally wide open, with all four teams sitting at 2-2 and nobody standing out as a true Super Bowl threat.
The NFC is a bit more convoluted, as eight teams currently have winning records and only the 49ers, who had a bye in Week 4, are undefeated. Seattle quieted some doubters with a big win over the Rams on Thursday night, and Sunday’s Cowboys/Packers game should reveal a lot about both teams, as Dallas has yet to beat a quality opponent, while Green Bay is still trying to get the “new” offense humming after scoring 27 points or fewer in all of their games and ranking 20th in the league in total yards. The Packers will be without leading receiver Davante Adams on Sunday, which won’t make things any easier for Aaron Rodgers and Co.
Aside from the Cowboys/Packers tilt, this Week 5 Sunday is a little light on compelling matchups– as a matter of fact, no other game this week features two teams with winning records. Of course, that doesn’t lessen the intrigue for you and me– opportunity abounds this week, as it always does with a full slate of games, and we’re just a few good decisions away from getting to make another decision: what to do with all the money.
With that in mind, here’s what I’m thinking for Week 5:
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Carolina Panthers (Car -3.5, 40)
Recommendation: Carolina -3.5 at 2.06
The Jags ruined my afternoon last week, as we had swept our games in the early wave and seemed to be headed for a massive day with Denver, who we had backed, holding a 17-6 lead over Jacksonville at halftime. You know what happened next: the Broncos offense turtled, Leonard Fournette became unstoppable, and a little sprinkling of Minshew Magic at the end was enough to deliver the home team, and your author, a painful defeat. But we’re back on the horse this week, as Minshew and friends hit the road again for an even tougher test: a fierce Carolina defense that leads the NFL in both sacks and pass yards allowed and ranks 4th in total yards allowed. Moving the ball will be painfully difficult for the Jags in this game.
The Carolina offense, meanwhile, has found its footing after losing Cam Newton to an early-season injury. Though the Panthers only produced 16 points in a win over Houston last week, new quarterback Kyle Allen threw the ball fairly well, spreading his 24 completions among 6 different receivers, and it’s now clear that he’s an upgrade over the version of Newton that we saw in the first two weeks of the season, when he was hobbling around and unable to put any zip on the ball. Now the Carolina offense looks like a true Norv Turner offense again, attacking the defense at all three levels and making them defend the entire field. At the center of it all, of course, is do-it-all tailback Christian McCaffrey, a dazzling player who consistently produces despite everyone on the field knowing he’s getting the ball 25-30 times per game. The Jacksonville defense is one of the league’s better units, but they’ll be without All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey for the second straight game and his replacement, Tre Herndon, was picked on repeatedly last week. This is just a really tough spot for the Jags– I expect Carolina to cruise to a fairly easy victory.
Arizona Cardinals @ Cincinnati Bengals (Cin -3, 47.5)
Recommendation: Cincinnati -3 at 1.95
It’s gotten ugly in Cincinnati, as first-year coach Zac Taylor is still looking for his first victory after his Bengals were hammered 27-3 last week by Pittsburgh on Monday Night Football. There’s nowhere to go but up after a performance like that, and fortunately for the Bengals they get to return home this week to face another winless team with a rookie head coach, the Arizona Cardinals. After two difficult road games against stingy defenses (Buffalo and Pittsburgh), Andy Dalton and the Bengals offense should finally have some room to operate against the porous Cardinals, who are surrendering 28.8 points per game and have allowed more yards than every team except for Miami.
Of course, the Bengals have had defensive issues of their own, but it’s not like the secondary is being lit up every week, as Jimmy Garoppolo (296 yds) is the only quarterback to top 250 passing yards against them so far this season. Given the way Arizona plays in Kliff Kingsbury’s Air Raid offense, Kyler Murray is likely to put up some yards, but the rookie has looked awfully shaky as he adjusts to the NFL game, particularly over the last two weeks, as Carolina and Seattle forced everything underneath and completely neutered the Cardinals attack. Expect that to be the blueprint for defending the Cards going forward, and you can bet that Cincinnati defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo has taken notice. But the main reason I like the Bengals here is due to their offense, which isn’t quite as bad as most seem to think. Andy Dalton is averaging nearly 290 pass yards per game, and he seems comfortable in the new pass-first scheme. Last week’s debacle against Pittsburgh was really the first time this season that Cincinnati has been shut down, and the Arizona defense simply doesn’t have the personnel to replicate Pittsburgh’s performance. I expect the struggling Bengals to find a little sliver of happiness this week by hammering a bad Arizona team.
Minnesota Vikings @ New York Giants (Min -5, 44)
Recommendation: Minnesota -5 at 1.9
The Vikings are in crisis, with both of their star receivers publicly voicing their frustration this week in different ways. First, it was Adam Thielen throwing quarterback Kirk Counsins under the bus by getting in front of a camera and lamenting all of Minnesota’s missed opportunities in the passing game. “I’m open and he’s not getting me the ball”, is the nuts and bolts of his complaint. Then, a day later, Minnesota’s other Pro Bowl wideout, Stefon Diggs, took things even further, refusing to show up at practice and then pointedly neglecting to shoot down rumors that’s he’s demanding a trade. “There’s truth to every rumor”, he said. So at this point it feels like it could go one of two ways for the Vikings: they could totally fall apart, or they could rally and steady the ship.
Given that they’re coached by Mike Zimmer, who has done an excellent job in his 5+ years in Minnesota, I think the latter option is more likely. Besides, it’s not like everything is broken in Minnesota: tailback Dalvin Cook is in the midst of a breakout campaign and the Vikes currently rank 2nd in the league in rushing, and the defense has been excellent, ranking 6th in the NFL in yards allowed and surrendering just 15.8 points per game, the 5th-best mark in the league. This week that defense will face a Giants offense that is missing its best player, running back Saquon Barkley, and is led by a rookie quarterback making his third career NFL start. The G-Men are 2-0 since Daniel Jones took over for Eli Manning, and the resounding win over Washington last week has some people reconsidering their opinion of the team. As for me, I think last week’s performance is a contributing factor to New York being overvalued this week, as it’s difficult for me to envision the current iteration of the Giants offense having any real success against the stout Minnesota D. This is “redemption week” for Kirk Cousins, I’m calling it now– Vikings win big.
Green Bay Packers @ Dallas Cowboys (Dal -3, 46.5)
Recommendation: Dallas -3 at 1.89
The Cowboys suffered their first defeat of the season in New Orleans last week, and many feel that they were exposed as a pretender after starting off the season with three big wins over bad teams. The offense sure looked different with a banged-up and reshuffled line, as the Saints held Ezekiel Elliott to just 35 rushing yards and never let Dak Prescott get comfortable in the pocket. This will be the main point of concern for the Cowboys again this week– can the offense operate effectively without both starting tackles? First-year coordinator Kellen Moore, who was lauded as an innovative genius after the first three games, will really have a chance to demonstrate his value this week.
Fortunately for Dallas, Green Bay is dealing with major injuries as well. Heading the Packers list of casualties is Pro Bowl receiver Davante Adams, who will miss this game with a toe injury. Adams is far and away Green Bay’s most dangerous weapon in the passing game, and without him the Packers offense will likely resemble a nonthreatening, dink-and-dunk unit. Though they’re 3-1 and tied for first in the division, all has not gone smoothly in first-year coach Matt LaFleur’s implementation of his offense: he and Aaron Rodgers have frequently butted heads, and the Packers rank in the bottom-half on the league in both points scored and yards per game. The Cowboys have been terrific defensively, surrendering just 14 points per game, so you have to like their chances against a middling Green Bay offense that will be without its primary downfield threat. Though many seem to think that Dallas was “exposed” last week, I’m of the opinion that it’s Green Bay who will be exposed very soon, as I’m not at all convinced that the Packers are a quality team that will contend for the playoffs. I expect Dallas to respond to last week’s disappointment with a bounce-back victory here.