Friday, October 9, 2015

The Hail Mary - Week 5

Sunday, October 11

Washington (2-2) at Atlanta (4-0), Atlanta favored by 7 1/2

This is like a reunion game as former Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and former Redskins receiver Leonard Hankerson now are with the Falcons. So far both of them are thriving. The Falcons offense has been on fire and is a large reason Atlanta is 4-0. Hankerson has surpassed Roddy White as Matt Ryan's number two target, something White is understandably not too pleased about. So far White's objections to his reduced role in the offense haven't been a distraction but it is definitely something to watch as the season goes on. The Redskins are coming off a strong team win against Philadelphia. They got a lead early and predictably lost that lead. But what was different this time was they were able to mount a game winning drive and get the win. Kirk Cousins and Pierre Garcon were excellent on that final drive. Cousins played well last week but we know he can play well at times. He has not yet been able to play well consistently and over consecutive games. The Falcons don't have a very good defense, so Cousins will have every opportunity to play well again this weekend. He would be helped by the return of DeSean Jackson, who has been saying it is his possible he could play, but I don't think that is something Washington can count on. I expect Ryan to make some big plays against the Skins hurting secondary, especially Julio Jones. I also think Hank will be hankerin' (see what I did there) to get some revenge against his former team and will make an impact as well. Then you can't forget about Falcons RB Devonta Freeman who has three rushing touchdowns in each of his last two games. The Falcons just have so many weapons offensively, I don't think Washington will be able to keep up.

Prediction: Atlanta 34, Washington 27

New Orleans (1-3) at Philadelphia (1-3), Philadelphia favored by 5

Maybe this will finally be the week the Eagles offense puts it all together for an entire game. They will have a great shot against a Saints defense that made even Brandon Weeden look competent last Sunday night. Fortunately, for the Saints, Drew Brees had a throwback type of performance and helped carry New Orleans to their first win of the season. This will be a desperation game, as the loser will sit at 1-4 and have a huge hole to try to climb out of to get in the playoff picture. Each offense has weapons galore but where the Eagles have the advantage is defensively. Their secondary isn't very good but their defensive front has been excellent at stopping the run this season. This game will come down to which offense shoots itself in the foot less, specifically by turning the ball over. The Eagles better start off well or it will feel like a road game for them because the boss will be raining down. Sam Bradford threw three touchdown passes last week and I think he can do something similar against a leaky Saints secondary.

Prediction: Philadelphia 28, New Orleans 24

Chicago (1-3) at Kansas City (1-3), Kansas City favored by 9 1/2

Somewhat surprisingly the Bears got Jay Cutler back last week and he played well enough to help lead Chicago to their first win of the year. The Chiefs are desperate for a win as they are currently on a three game losing streak. They were manhandled by the Bengals last week and the offense could only manage seven field goals. Chicago's defense actually stepped up and played well against a hot Oakland offense, which was surprising because they had spent the week leading up to the game having a fire sale of their big name defensive players. The Chiefs are typically a pretty good home team and play three of their next four games at Arrowhead. This will be a crucial four game stretch for them to salvage their season. Their defense has struggled but I think they can cause bad Jay Cutler to show up and force Cutler into some interceptions and mistakes that will be the difference in the game.

Prediction: Kansas City 31, Chicago 17

Seattle (2-2) at Cincinnati (4-0), Cincinnati favored by 3

The argument could be made that right now the Bengals are the best team in football. They get to test themselves against the two-time defending NFC champion Seahawks. After an 0-2 start Seattle has climbed back to 2-2 but last week's win against Detroit was aided by a horrible officiating gaffe. Despite it being painfully obvious that K.J. Wright had illegally batted the ball out of the end zone to cause a touchback, it went uncalled. I mean he literally swung at it like it was baseball and he had a bat, how do you miss that when you are staring right at it? The Seahawks have had a hell of a time protecting Russell Wilson and I expect the Bengals fearsome front line to have a field day pressuring Wilson. Marshawn Lynch missed last week's game and is questionable, but he can't return soon enough for the Seahawks offense. This game will also serve as a good test for Andy Dalton. Dalton is off to a highly impressive start to the season, and if he can put up solid numbers against the Seahawks, it might be time to admit that Dalton has made a leap as a quarterback.

Prediction: Cincinnati 21, Seattle 17

Jacksonville (1-3) at Tampa Bay (1-3), Tampa Bay favored by 3

Bloof Bortles has played well enough that I now have given him back his last name. The results aren't there yet for the Jaguars but you can't blame Bortles. Based on how poorly Jameis Winston has played at times this year maybe I should change his name too. He has given pundits like me plenty of material for a nickname with his personal life hijinx. Looking ahead, this will be the Buccaneers best chance at a win for a long time and if they are smart they will focus on feeding the ball to Doug Martin and Charles Sims and ride them to victory.

Prediction: Tampa Bay 15, Jacksonville 13

Cleveland (1-3) at Baltimore (1-3), Baltimore favored by 6 1/2

Baltimore saved their season last Thursday against Pittsburgh thanks to Josh Scobee forgetting how to hit field goals. Despite what Snoop Dog had to say Scobee was actually very good in Jacksonville, but he wasn't able to transfer that success to Pittsburgh. But getting back to Ravens/Browns, now Baltimore will try to win another divisional game and this time they will have to do it without Steve Smith Sr. who has a very hurt back. The biggest positive for the Ravens coming out of the Steelers game was Justin Forsett finally showing up for the offense. The Ravens have the most nondescript group of receivers in the league so it is imperative for their offense that the line gives Forsett the lanes he needs to run the ball effectively. The Browns fought valiantly in San Diego and then lost like only the Browns, and maybe the Lions can. San Diego missed a game winning field goal but the Browns were offside and the Chargers hit the do over field goal to win the game. Mike Pettine wants you to know that Joe Haden is not a pussy and he will play if he feels up to it on Sunday. A broken down Haden should be able to cover guys like Kamar Aiken, Marlon Brown and newly acquired Chris Givens. Still, they're the Browns so they will find some way to screw up and lose this game.

Prediction: Baltimore 24, Cleveland 21

St. Louis (2-2) at Green Bay (4-0), Green Bay favored by 9

Just when I thought I had the Rams figured out as pretenders they go and beat Arizona on the road. Now with that being said in this column last week I did question just how good Arizona was and it looks like I might have been right. The Rams, specifically their defense, faces the hardest test in football right now this week when they travel to Lambeau Field. Get Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense on the road and they look mortal. But face them at Lambeau, and Rodgers is as close to perfection and unstoppable as you can get. If the Rams defense can somewhat contain the Packers, they might have a chance.The Rams offense showed a pulse last week as Todd Gurley emerged on the scene in the second half, helping St. Louis hold on to the win. Nick Foles has also been pretty good thus far, and the Rams seem to be finding new ways to keep Tavon Austin involved. Austin has always shown flashes but never been consistent. I think the Rams will give a decent accounting of themselves but no one is beating Rodgers at Lambeau right now.

Prediction: Green Bay 35, St. Louis 20

Buffalo (2-2) at Tennessee (1-2), Buffalo favored by 2 1/2

I think myself and the majority of people underestimated how much the Bills offense would miss Sammy Watkins and LeSean McCoy. They could do next to nothing on offense against a Giants defense that is decent, but nothing special. McCoy is definitely out for this game and Watkins is doubtful. Then you have McCoy's backup Karlos Williams, who suffered a concussion last week and he is questionable for the game Sunday. That would leave Boobie Dixon as the starter and Tyrod Taylor in a whole heap of trouble. The Titans are coming off their bye week and we will see if the week off taught them anything about finishing games. They had the Colts dead to rights a few weeks ago and let them off the hook. If they have been paying attention they will try to entice the Bills, specifically their defense, into silly penalties. Rex Ryan is okay with penalties though as long as his team cares or some such nonsense. With so many injuries on offense, I think the Bills will be tough pressed to go on the road and win this one, even against an inexperienced quarterback like Marcus Mariota.

Prediction: Tennessee 24, Buffalo 22

Arizona (3-1) at Detroit (0-4), Arizona favored by 2 1/2

The media might have to pump the brakes on anointing the Cardinals as the Super Bowl champs after their loss to the Rams last week. I have a feeling some of the Cardinals players were starting to buy into their own hype. After being served some humble pie last week, I expect a more focused Cardinals team when they face the beaten down Lions in Detroit. Detroit dropped to 0-4. their season already over in early October. Now their focus is on just getting a win at some point. They were hosed by the referees last Monday despite a respectable performance at Seattle. If they had a better, more inspiring coach than sleepy Jim Caldwell I might believe the Lions could turn things around. Their offense is non-existent and it looks like the Lions might be lucky to win 4 or 5 games this year.

Prediction: Arizona 27, Detroit 17

New England (3-0) at Dallas (2-2), New England favored by 8 1/2

This game would be more fun if it were Tom Brady going up against Tony Romo. The Cowboys are just a few weeks from getting Dez Bryant back, but how effective will he be with Brandon Weeden throwing him the ball? Weeden hasn't been terrible in his two starts, but it is hard to believe that they wouldn't have won at least one of their past two games if Romo were still under center. The Patriots offense has been blowing by teams the first three weeks and already has some bored media types asking if they could go 16-0 this year. That won't be happening, but facing a mediocre at best Cowboys defense should lead to plenty of production from Brady, Rob Gronkowski and even up and coming running back Dion Lewis. The Cowboys will have Greg Hardy making his season debut after a 4 game suspension and also Rolando McClain returning from a suspension of his own. They will make a difference as the season goes on but they will be rusty Sunday and I don't expect them to be much of a factor.

Prediction: New England 38, Dallas 24

Denver (4-0) at Oakland (2-2), Denver favored by 4 1/2

This game should tell us a lot about how the Raiders are progressing as they try to turn themselves from constant laughingstock to contenders. Their quest hit a road bump last week when they lost to the winless Bears. QB Derek Carr showed the inconsistency that comes with a second year quarterback, as after two strong games, he and the rest of the offense couldn't get much going against a poor Bears defense. The Broncos offense was back to struggling last week, although Ronnie Hillman is making it clearer by the week that he should be starting over C.J. Anderson at running back. Peyton Manning has had his way against the Raiders over the last few years, but I think the Raiders defense will cause Manning to struggle again, and it will be up to Hillman to keep his running going, allowing Denver to escape with a win.

Prediction: Denver 23, Oakland 20

San Francisco (1-3) at New York Giants (2-2), New York Giants favored by 7

So the 49ers get a chance to show a national television audience just how terrible they are. NBC probably wishes this game was scheduled for later in the season so they could flex out of it. Colin Kaepernick should be thankful that Blaine Gabbert is his backup or else he might have been replaced by now. Somehow, Gabbert is probably far worse than Kap. The 49ers offense has put up 10 total points in their past two games. They can't throw or run the ball. Last week against the Packers, the one bright spot was the defense put in their first respectable performance since the opener against the Vikings. The Giants are on a two game winning streak and Eli Manning is off to a start that resembles how he plays in the playoffs when the Giants fluke their way to Super Bowls. The 49ers secondary will have their hands full with Odell Beckham Jr. and also need to keep their attention on the fast rising Reuben Randle. It would be nice if Carlos Hyde could get going running the ball again but it is next to impossible when a defense knows you have a quarterback who can't get the ball downfield. It is quite amazing the fall from grace Kap has had the past few seasons. I expect another long, frustrating three hours of Niner watching on Sunday night.

Prediction: New York Giants 23, San Francisco 10

Monday, October 12

Pittsburgh (2-2) at San Diego (2-2), San Diego favored by 3

The Steelers offense, specifically Le'Veon Bell showed flashes against Baltimore, but it is obvious that with Mike Vick under center the offense is far less potent. Antonio Brown disappeared for long stretches of the game, something that Steelers fans haven't seen in years. The defense continues to have trouble stopping the run, which may mean we finally see Melvin Gordon resemble the running back he was in college. Through four games, he has yet to score a touchdown or clear 100 yards rushing. Part of that is because Danny Woodhead is sharing touches with him, but Gordon seems to be running tentatively and not like the power back he was at Wisconsin. Philip Rivers can still sling it with the best of them but I think the run is the key to the Chargers winning this game and not the pass. I expect Vick to look a little more comfortable this week, but field goals probably will remain an adventure for Pittsburgh, even with a new kicker. This should be a close game and the Steelers inability to get points any time they have a chance will likely come back to haunt them.

Prediction: San Diego 29, Pittsburgh 23

Last Week Straight Up: 10-5
Overall Straight Up: 41-22

Last Week Against the Spread: 4-11
Overall Against the Spread: 31-31-1

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