NFL WEEK 5: Though the COVID situation has made this an unusual season in many ways, some things never change, foremost among them the tenuous nature of a head coach’s job security. Houston’s Bill O’Brien became the first to get the axe in 2020, despite four division titles in six years and an offense that has incubated a budding star in QB Deshaun Watson.
O’Brien has been criticized for some personnel moves, most notably the offseason trade of All-Pro wideout DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona for what many viewed as insufficient return, but his teams were largely successful on the field, and he probably feels like he earned the right to try and turn things around this season after an unfortunate 0-4 start. But what he thinks doesn’t matter anymore, and millionaire coaches with no shortage of fallback job opportunities are not to be pitied. O’Brien will land on his feet, and he’s soon to have plenty of company on the unemployment line– Atlanta’s Dan Quinn might not be able to survive a loss to Carolina this weekend, and the situations with Matt Patricia in Detroit and Adam Gase in New York are also highly combustible. You know what they say: NFL = Not For Long.
It’s been a moderately profitable start to the season for us, so I hope you’ve been following more than fading. Here are some thoughts on a few Week 5 games:
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Houston Texans (HOU -5.5, 54.5)
Recommendation: Houston -5.5 at 1.91
Sitting at 0-4 with their head coach having just been fired, the Texans are at the bottom of the NFL’s pit of despair. To begin the climb out, they first need a victory. Fortunately for them, a 1-3 Jacksonville team featuring one of the league’s worst defenses comes to town this week, so if there’s ever an obvious “get well” spot, this is it. The Jags rank 27th in the NFL in yards per play allowed and are surrendering 29.3 points per game despite a schedule consisting of the Colts, Titans, Dolphins, and Bengals– not exactly a murderer’s row of offenses. Houston, on the other hand, has faced some stout defenses like those in Pittsburgh and Baltimore, and despite some tough losses Deshaun Watson is healthy and locked-in, throwing for 250+ in all four games. If anything, I think the coaching change could be a short-term positive– interim coach Romeo Crennel is both experienced and respected, and Watson reportedly has an excellent relationship with offensive coordinator Tim Kelly, who will now be calling the plays. Look for the Houston offense to bust out in a big way this week and carry the team to an easy win over the visiting Jags.
Los Angeles Rams @ Washington Football Team (LA -7, 45.5)
Recommendation: Washington +7 at 2.02
Controversy has swirled in Washington this week, as head coach Ron Rivera made the somewhat surprising decision to bench second-year QB Dwayne Haskins in favor of Kyle Allen, who Rivera is familiar with from their time together in Carolina. Morons and rabble-rousers have gone so far as to suggest that racism played a role in the switch, which, for anyone who knows anything about Rivera, is as sad as it is stupid. Fact is, Haskins has been a below-average quarterback since entering the league, Rivera was not part of the crew that drafted him, and with the NFC East shaping up as the worst division in the NFL this season, Rivera feels he has a legitimate chance at the division title and wants to prioritize winning over development. Allen had some really nice games in Carolina last year, going 5-1 in his first 6 games as a starter, and Rivera traded for him this offseason due to his knowledge of the offense. I think the move will pay dividends, possibly starting this week against a Rams defense that gave up 311 yards and 4 TDs to Buffalo’s Josh Allen in Week 3. And the Washington defense might be among the best-kept secrets in the league, ranking 7th in yards allowed and 4th against the pass. With stud edge rusher Chase Young expected to return from a groin injury this week, this sets up as a sneaky-tough matchup for Jared Goff and the Rams. Gimme the Skins and the points.
Philadelphia Eagles @ Pittsburgh Steelers (PIT -7, 44)
Recommendation: Philadelphia +7 at 1.98
The Eagles picked up a big win in San Francisco last week, finally scraping together enough offense to get over the hump after starting the season with two losses and a tie. Carson Wentz is still without several of his key weapons, but he spread it around to seven different receivers last week and was also effective as a runner, and you get the sense that Doug Pederson has now settled in to his new reality in terms of personnel and is starting to figure out the most effective ways to attack defenses with this group. The Steelers have an excellent defense statistically, but how much do we really know about them, and about the team as a whole, considering the schedule they’ve played? The three teams they’ve beaten have a combined record of 1-11, and only one of them– Houston– has an offense that is even mildly threatening. The Philly defense leads the NFL in sacks and ranks top-10 in yards allowed, so this will be a challenge for Big Ben and the Pittsburgh offense, and considering the Steelers have only won one game by more than 7 points this season (26-16 over the Giants in Wk 1), I think Philly +7 feels like a pretty good deal.
Los Angeles Chargers @ New Orleans Saints (NO -8, 50.5)
Recommendation: New Orleans -8 at 1.92
Sometimes, it’s best to keep it simple: here we have a Chargers team which features a defense that ranks 25th in the NFL against the pass, has a rookie quarterback under center, and is missing arguably its most important offensive player in do-it-all RB Austin Ekeler. They’re traveling across the country to face a veteran Saints team that is averaging 30.8 points per game and is expecting the return of All-Pro wideout Michael Thomas, who has missed the last three games with an ankle injury but has been at practice this week. I mean, I realize Justin Herbert has put together some nice performances in his first couple of NFL starts, but I’m not exactly enthusiastic about his chances of out-dueling Drew Brees in the Superdome. I’d venture to say the Saints are better on both sides of the ball, better on special teams, better coached… just better. And this is a very important game for them, given that they’re 2-2 and won’t play another sub-.500 team for five weeks. Look for Brees & Co. to take care of business in a big way here.