NFL Ratings are climbing back up, and football seems more exciting than ever. Why you ask? Offense, offense, offense! Quarterbacks are passing the ball, and teams are moving the ball and scoring like never before. And with a great slate of games headlining Week 5 of the NFL season, let’s dive right in and break down some of this week’s top matchups, providing our thoughts, predictions and NFL Week 5 Picks.
Miami at Cincinnati (-5.5)
Before this season started, nobody would’ve thought this game would be worth watching. But this Week 5 matchup between the Miami Dolphins and Cincinnati Bengals featuring two interesting yet potentially flawed teams with 3-1 records thus far in the season.
Let’s start with the visitors. The Dolphins got their tails handed to them by the New England Patriots last week, in a game that was even more lopsided than the already ugly 38-7 score would indicate. The same offensively creative and defensively pesky Miami team that started the season 3-0 flat out didn’t bother showing up against New England.
Meanwhile, Cincinnati faced no such problem as far as scoring points on their opponent; it’s the part about keeping their opponents from doing the same that’s the problem. In all three of their wins this season, Cincinnati has scored 31 points. According to Football Outsiders advanced metrics, Cincinnati is among the top 10 teams in running the football, and the 3rd-best team in the NFL in throwing the football.
After defeating the Atlanta Falcons – in Atlanta – last week, Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green declared that his quarterback, Andy Dalton, “is playing at an MVP level right now,” and called Dalton’s level of play over the season “unbelievable.”
Thus, the Dolphins’ defense will get the chance to redeem themselves this week, against another offense that’s very capable of moving the ball. Miami’s passing defense is better than their 26th overall ranking in passing yards allowed per game would indicate; the same Football Outsiders advanced metrics ranks Miami’s passing defense as 8th-best in the NFL.
But if Dalton starts shredding apart the Dolphins’ defense, things could get ugly in a hurry for Miami, because they simply lack the firepower to keep up. After a promising start to the season, quarterback Ryan Tannehill had a miserable game. They’ve outright refused to hand the ball to running back Kenyan Drake, who’s one of their most dynamic playmakers. Wide receiver Kenny Stills, who might be the team’s most dangerous player on offense, has a total of six catches over the last two games.
Miami’s offensive line is also banged up, which is a big reason why New England was able to collapse the pocket so frequently last week. Dolphins’ center Daniel Kilgore tore his triceps muscle in the loss on Sunday, making him the second Dolphins offensive lineman to be lost for the season already. With studs like Geno Atkins on the interior and Carlos Dunlap off the edge, Cincinnati’s defensive line is even better than New England’s, so life isn’t going to be any easier this week.
Add in the fact that Cincinnati is 7-3 against the spread over their last 10 games, including 4-1 over their past five games at home, and you see why the line went from -5.5 early in the week to the -6.5 where it stands now – the money is flowing in the direction of the Bengals. That’s probably where you should put your funds as well.
Pick: Cincinnati (-6.5)
Jacksonville at Kansas City (-3)
Another NFL week in the books for 2018 means more of the same: more rightfully deserved accolades for Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
This past Monday night, Mahomes didn’t have the luxury of racing out to a fast start and padding his already-gaudy stat line with even more stats. In fact, the Chiefs trailed the Denver Broncos early in the fourth quarter, when the Broncos went up 23-13. But for the remaining 12 minutes and change of the final stanza, Mahomes mercilessly picked apart an exhausted Broncos’ defense, continued to extend plays and frustrate the pass rushers chasing him and make magic happen out of seemingly dire situations.
At the risk of hyperbole, Mahomes has the look of a modern-day hybrid of Aaron Rogers and Brett Favre, which is mind-boggling considering he’s still only entering his 6th NFL start.
But to that end, Mahomes hasn’t faced a single defense as fearsome as the one of the Jacksonville Jaguars. In fact, you could say that, with the mess that’s going on in Minnesota, the Jaguars have surpassed the Vikings as the most collectively talented and dominant defensive group in the NFL. Jacksonville has the speed, athleticism, and head-shaking talent at all three levels of their defense to match up with the high-octane offense of the Chiefs.
Thus, the chess match between Kansas City’s offense and Jacksonville’s defense could be fascinating. Ironically, it’ll very likely be what happens on the other side of the ball for both teams that’ll determine the outcome of the game.
For as good as Kansas City’s offense remains, that’s how lousy their defense remains. The Chiefs are ranked 30th in passing defense DVOA, and 32nd in rushing defense DVOA, meaning they’re a bottom-three defense in both stopping the pass and the run.
Against a team that was built with a blueprint of running the football down the opponent’s throat and making the timely pass as needed, that doesn’t bode well for Kansas City.
Even without running back Leonard Fournette, who’s already been declared out for this game, Jacksonville has no problem handing the ball off to the duo of TJ Yeldon and Corey Grant; Yeldon, in particular, has been very effective this season in place of Fournette, and his all-around skill set is very much in line with what team’s in today’s NFL are looking for.
In addition, perennial whipping boy Blake Bortles has transformed into a mostly-capable quarterback. Though he’s still prone to making inexplicable decisions at times, he’s also done a great job in orchestrating this offense by utilizing the talent around him. Jacksonville has four players who’ve been targeted at least 22 times, and five different players have caught TD passes.
The hype train almost got the best of Mahomes last week but helped Kansas City get the win thanks to his 4th-quarter heroics. He won’t find as easy of an outing this week. We’re feeling an “upset special”-type situation here.
One thing to note: If this ends up being that incredibly rare year where the New England Patriots don’t advance to the AFC Championship game, we could very well be getting an early preview of the last two teams standing in the AFC playoffs.
Pick: Jacksonville (+3).
Atlanta at Pittsburgh (-3)
Getting right down to business: the over/under for the points total for this Atlanta Falcons at Pittsburgh Steelers matchup is 57 points. While the old business maxim tells us that there’s no such thing as a free lunch, that point total feels like it’s ripe for an “over” bet that’ll buy you a whole year’s worth of free lunches.
Simply put, the Falcons and Steelers could probably score on anyone while they’re on offense, but a wet Kleenex would likely mount a more formidable defense than the ones from either team.
Case in point? Atlanta has scored 37 and 36 points in their last two games. After a very ugly regression last year, quarterback Matt Ryan is currently 6th in the NFL in passing yards and passing touchdowns. Wide receiver Julio Jones leads the NFL in receiving yards, and rookie wide receiver Calvin Ridley leads the NFL in receiving touchdowns.
And yet, the Falcons enter this game having lost back-to-back games, and currently, sit with a 1-3 record.
Said record is not really the fault of the Falcons’ offense, considering their defense is an absolute MASH unit, seemingly losing starters to long-term injuries every week. Atlanta’s defense was ranked in the bottom six in rushing and passing defense DVOA, and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, one of the team’s best defensive players overall, has been ruled out for Sunday’s game already.
Pittsburgh’s offense still runs through quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who leads the NFL in passing yardage while averaging a league-high 354 passing yards per game, but all isn’t really peachy for the Steelers’ offense. Pittsburgh is passing on 73% of their offensive snaps, which is the 2nd-highest imbalance in the NFL.
That’s probably because their rushing game has been non-existent since Week 1, as they’re averaging only 2.8 yards per carry over the last three weeks. After pushing former offensive coordinator Todd Haley out the door, thanks to the tension between him and Roethlisberger, there are increasing rumblings that the offense of new coordinator Randy Fichtner, who’s never been a coordinator in the NFL, is too predictable.
And the defense? They’re not exactly holding up their end of the bargain, either. Quite the opposite, actually; the Steelers’ 1,682 yards and 12 touchdown passes allowed is the worst four-game start in franchise history. Pittsburgh has faced a collective 56-0 deficit to start out their games this year. The defense shows little creativity from the standpoint of attacking opposing offenses, but more importantly, they lack the true blue-chip talents that we’ve been accustomed to seeing in the black and gold. Cameron Hayward and TJ Watt are very good players, but they’re not going to make anyone forget about Greg Lloyd and Kevin Greene.
So, Pittsburgh getting the standard three-point home team favorite is mostly the sportsbooks way of throwing their hands up with the outcome. While there’s just a bad feel to this Pittsburgh season in general, they only get the nod here because they tend to play better at home than on the road (while Atlanta is 0-3 against the spread in their last three road games), and they’ll likely be motivated after a very ugly loss to Baltimore last week.
Pick: Pittsburgh (-3)
Minnesota at Philadelphia (-3)
If you took a quick peak at the Week 5 schedule prior to the start of the season, you’d think this game would be one of the most hyped matchups of the year, considering these two teams played in the most recent NFC Championship game, and before the season started, both teams had very legitimate aspirations of representing the NFC in this upcoming Super Bowl.
But a funny thing happened as we passed the first quarter of the 2018-2019 season: namely, those contenders haven’t quite shown up yet.
For Philadelphia, it’s much more straightforward. The confluence of events that came together for them to win the Super Bowl last year came to an end. The offensive line isn’t playing at the world-beating level they did last year; they’ve given up 14 sacks in four games, which is the 7th-most in the league. The defensive line is banged up, meaning their young secondary is getting tested more than they’re used to. They’re thin at wide receiver because of injuries, and the same at running back. And most importantly, Carson Wentz still needs to shake off some of the rust of not playing for almost a year, and Nick Foles looks more like the journeyman version of himself, versus the Super Bowl-winning version.
Now, in regards to Minnesota? That’s much more of a conundrum. If you got into an argument at the bar with someone who’s a Vikings fan, you’d be hard-pressed to win an argument against them if they argued that the Vikings were one of the three most talented teams in the NFL this season. But as we all know, games aren’t won on paper, and talent does nothing but gets coaches fired.
The truth remains that the Vikings haven’t won a game since the opening Sunday of the NFL season. The Vikings’ defense, which was supposed to be among the very best in the league, is downright leaky so far. It’s not like the usually reserved Mike Zimmer to come out and publicly question an entire unit as he did with his current group of cornerbacks. The Vikings are currently 20th in rushing defense DVOA, and 25th in passing defense, which is almost unfathomable given their combination of coaching and talent.
Ironically enough, the team remains mostly competitive at this point in the season thanks to a guy who wasn’t even a part of the team that went to the NFC Championship last year. Quarterback Kirk Cousins has been tremendous in running the offense, throwing absolute dimes to wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, along with tight end Kyle Rudolph. He’s not getting a lot of help either, given that the line protecting him is among the least efficient in the NFL, and Minnesota might have the worst rushing attack in the league right now.
Cousins has been able to operate at his current level, even without the protection and balance on offense, and Philadelphia doesn’t seem to have the ability on defense to make him uncomfortable. If the Vikings can generate some pressure on Wentz and make him uncomfortable, the Vikings can come into Philadelphia and pick up that much-needed second win.
Pick: Minnesota (+3)
Washington at New Orleans (-6.5)
The media will do everything they can this week to remind you that it’s highly likely Drew Brees surpasses Peyton Manning for the most passing yards in NFL history. Brees is currently 201 yards away from the record and considering he’s averaging 324 yards passing per game this season, it’s pretty safe to say he’s going to be in first place by evening’s end.
Yet despite everything you’ll hear around Brees heading into this game, the storylines revolve around each team’s running backs, and how the opposing defense stops them.
For New Orleans, Alvin Kamara is quickly establishing himself as one of the very best in the game. This past week, Kamara became the first player in NFL history with 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving over his first 20 games. He has at least 99 combined yards in every game this season and six total touchdowns.
While Washington has been very solid on defense, the dirty secret is that their run defense is terrible; they’re ranked 31st in rushing defense DVOA. For some reason, the teams playing the Redskins abandon the run too quickly. With Kamara, the Saints likely won’t repeat that mistake.
On the flip side, Washington’s running game is fueled by the rejuvenated Adrian Peterson, who comes to New Orleans with some form of vengeance on his mind. The Saints’ signed Peterson as a free agent last year, only to replace him with Kamara and eventually trade him. Don’t think he won’t carry that chip with him into the game. Interestingly enough, even though the Saints have the worst passing defense in the NFL (in DVOA), they’re #1 in the NFL against the run. Washington has shown that, in their first two wins, their offense goes as their running game goes. In what shouldn’t be any surprise to anyone, quarterback Alex Smith is dead last in the NFL in percentage of passing attempts that travel more than 20 yards in the air. The Redskins have designed their offense to primarily function off the play-action passing game, which is (mostly) fueled by a successful rushing game. They don’t have a wide receiver who can get open and take over games on his own.
New Orleans has no such problem with Michael Thomas. Thomas has been virtually unstoppable this season, being ranked among the top five wide receivers (if not higher) in nearly every single measure. The Redskins cornerback duo of Josh Norman and the emerging Quinton Dunbar faces their toughest test of the season.
With all of that being said, here’s the real storyline to this game: Washington is 3-2 the last five times they’ve played New Orleans. The Saints’ two wins have come by a combined six points, including a three-point win against Washington last year, when the Saints were 9.5-point favorites against the Redskins.
Don’t overlook the fact that New Orleans is 2-4 in their last six games at home against the spread, while Washington is 4-1 against the spread in their past five games overall. The Redskins have a nasty habit of playing up – and playing down – to the level of competition, and this week could be the same.
Pick: Washington (+6.5)