NFL WEEK 5: With four games behind us the Arizona Cardinals are the NFL’s lone remaining unbeaten, so I don’t think the ’72 Dolphins have anything to be worried about this season. That’s not meant as a knock on the Cardinals, a team with an exciting young QB, elite talent at wideout, and an improving defense, but in years past we’ve had dominant teams who were already emerging as clear Super Bowl favorites by October and we just don’t have that this season, which is sort of exciting in a way. I mean, if you asked 10 people to name the best team in the NFL right now, at least 3 or 4 of them would probably say Kansas City despite the fact that the Chiefs are all alone in last place in their division! And hey, the Chiefs may be the best team out there… but the fact that we’re saying that about a last place team in Week 5 says it all about how wide open things are at the moment.
This Week 5 began with the Rams handling division rival Seattle on Thursday night, and the loss was costly for the Seahawks on multiple levels– not only did they fall to 2-3 and sink to last place in the NFC West, they lost All-Pro QB Russell Wilson for 6-8 weeks due to a hand injury. While Geno Smith was decent in relief of Wilson, it’s difficult to imagine Seattle salvaging the season at this point, so the Pete Carroll haters who think that Wilson is all that’s kept the ‘Hawks afloat these past few years might just get their “I told you so” moment.
Elsewhere around the league in the Week 5, the Bengals host the Packers in a battle of division leaders, the surprising Broncos travel to Pittsburgh for a tricky game, the Browns and Chargers meet in a potential playoff preview, and the consensus two best teams in the AFC, Buffalo and Kansas City, face off on Sunday night in a game that’s sure to feature plenty of offensive fireworks. It’s a good Sunday to clear the calendar and settle in for some football. Here are some games I like:
Denver Broncos @ Pittsburgh Steelers (DEN -1.5, 40.0)
Recommendation: Pittsburgh +1.5 at 1.95
A defensive struggle is expected in Pittsburgh, and if you think the total is kinda low here, you should be aware that the Under has cashed in every game that either of these teams have been involved in this season. Teddy Bridgewater has given Denver reliable quarterback play, but he’s more of a game manager than a QB who will challenge defenses down the field and so the Broncos have employed a very vanilla, run-first attack… problem is, they don’t run it all that well, so the offense is stuck somewhere between “serviceable” and “unwatchable”. They’ll have trouble moving the ball on a Pittsburgh defense that is excellent against the run, surrendering just 99 yards per game and 3.7 yards per carry. The Pittsburgh offense has been even uglier than Denver’s, and if you think that Ben Roethlisberger is truly as bad as he’s looked so far, then you’re probably not too eager to chuck any money at the Steelers. But we’ve seen this sort of multi-game dip from Big Ben before, and we’ve also seen him respond again and again with big-time performances, especially at Heinz Field. This feels like a “get right” spot for the Steelers– don’t quit on Big Ben just yet.
Tennessee Titans @ Jacksonville Jaguars (TEN -4.5, 48.5)
Recommendation: Jacksonville +4.5 at 1.91
The Jaguars have lost 19 consecutive games. NINETEEN STRAIGHT LOSSES. We’re getting into historical territory now, as they’re closing in on Tampa Bay’s ignominious record of 26 straight Ls. So it goes without saying that anytime you bet on the Jags or pick the Jags, you run the risk of losing your money, your sanity, and your reputation. Fine. They’re the right side this week anyway. The Titans are coming off a loss to the previously winless Jets and are decimated by injuries, listing a whopping 21 players on the official injury report this week. The offensive line and wide receiver positions have been particularly affected, making life difficult for Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry, and the Tennessee defense has been vulnerable all season, surrendering 27.8 points per game and allowing opposing QBs to post a passer rating of 102.3. Jacksonville rookie QB Trevor Lawrence has improved rapidly since the beginning of the season and the Jags have actually started to become competitive, blowing a double-digit 2nd-half lead against Arizona in Week 3 and then nearly stealing a win in Cincinnati last Thursday night. They now return home, off 10 days rest, to face a battered, injury-plagued division rival. I’ll take my chances with them this week as a 4.5-point home ‘dog.
San Francisco 49ers @ Arizona Cardinals (ARI -5.5, 48.5)
Recommendation: Arizona -5.5 at 1.92
The Cardinals may be the league’s last remaining unbeaten, but I don’t think they’re the best team in the NFL and I don’t think many others do, either. The glass slipper will fall off at some point, and a lot of folks seem to think that it will happen this week, against a division rival with a quality defense and a coach that is one of the sharpest offensive minds in the business. After all, it’s not like the Cards have been dominant– they squeaked by Minnesota 34-33 in Week 2 and nearly lost to Jacksonville, of all teams, the following week. That said, they do have an explosive offense that leads the NFL in both yards per game and points scored, and the defense has been better than expected, especially in the secondary. But my bet here has more to do with San Francisco– just about everybody and their brother thought the Niners were a dark horse Super Bowl contender this year, and many still hold that opinion. In reality, however, they’re a team that is coming off back-to-back losses, and despite what the Kyle Shanahan cult will tell you, they’ve been very average offensively. This week the offense will be helmed by rookie QB Trey Lance, who will be making his first career NFL start, and though Lance is athletic and naturally gifted, the pressure cooker he’ll face on Sunday will be lightyears removed from his experiences at North Dakota St. The ride will end for Arizona at some point, but not this week– gimme the Cards in this one.
Indianapolis Colts @ Baltimore Ravens (BAL -7, 46.5)
Recommendation: Baltimore -7 at 1.91
The Colts are coming off their first win of the season, a 27-17 victory in Miami last week. The defense has continued to play well, ranking 8th in the NFL in yards allowed, but the offense has struggled, particularly in the passing game, and things won’t get any easier when they travel to Baltimore to face the Ravens on Monday night. Carson Wentz is dealing with two lower-leg injuries and his best o-lineman, All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson, is out again this week. Wentz will be facing a Baltimore defense that can get after the quarterback, notching five sacks in a win over Denver last week, so it’s far from a lock that he will even finish this game, much less lead his team to victory. His counterpart, Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson, is coming off his first 300-yard passing game of the season, and if the Colts play the Baltimore offense the way I expect them to– crowd the box and try to force Jackson to beat them with his arm– then the 2019 MVP will have an opportunity to put together another big game through the air. Baltimore is simply too much for the Colts, especially this banged-up, less-than-whole version of the Colts. This game won’t be close.