Well, now you know the value of a 5 or 5.5-point spread. It took a special combination of Nick Folk field goal misses (from 31, 49 and an excusable 56-yarder) and some costly penalties, but the Bucs pulled off the cover in Tampa Bay on Thursday night in a 19-14 loss to the New England Patriots.
Of course, if you backed the Patriots and waited until closer to kickoff, when the line closed around 3.5 or 4, you have to be quite fond of Nick Folk right now (and Dirk Koetter). It’s difficult enough to watch your team line up for the 33-yard extra points; I don’t how Buccaneers fans do it. Doctors who treat ulcers in the Tampa Bay metropolitan area must booked solid during football season.
With four teams on bye this week (Atlanta, Denver, New Orleans, Washington), the slate is two games shorter and there’s no London appetizer, which may be a good thing. We’re changing up the TPS format a bit this week — putting the game capsules and score predictions first, followed by the survivor pool breakdown.
NFL Week 5 Picks, Score Projections, Chiefs-Texans Showdown and Rams-Seahawks Shootout
Los Angeles Chargers (+3) at New York Giants
It’s a battle between Class of ‘04 quarterbacks and their massively disappointing 0-4 teams. The Chargers can’t get out of their own way and the Giants can’t find theirs. The pass rushing duo of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram could spell real trouble for the Giants’ pass protection, which has looked better the past couple weeks since Ben McAdoo decided to try to preserve Eli’s existence by getting the ball out quicker. But the Chargers’ pass rush might still get home and the Giants can’t run the damn football. Remember when Big Blue had the Earth, Wind and Fire backfield? (Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw.) Under McAdoo it’s been more like Mud, Slush and Glaciers (3.2 yards per carry in ‘17, 3.5 in ‘16, stuffs aplenty). I’d recommend taking the points, but the Chargers and the interception-prone Philip Rivers can’t win a game or cover a damn spread (0-3-1 ATS). Last week at Tampa Bay the Giants had their season-saving opportunity. Here? Who knows. If you can get 3.5 points on the Chargers I’d look that way but the hook may be gone. Score Projection: Giants 24, Chargers 23
[Check out SportsHandle’s live odds page here.]
Tennessee Titans (-3) at Miami Dolphins
This game represents the reverse of an immovable object against an unstoppable force. The Titans’ pass defense can’t stop anything. As for Miami’s offense, which has scored a combined six points in the past two weeks (Jets, Saints), head coach Adam Gase said after the Jets loss that he was tired of their “garbage” offense; after their shutout loss to the Saints (the Saints!!!!) he said “there’s no more excuses.” The offensive line bears a lot of blame and I imagine we’ll see something better than garbage or excuses out there on Sunday, which leaves the door open for a lot of unpleasantness, but this is a spot to look at the Dolphins to show some life. As of Friday morning it’s unclear if Marcus Mariota is going to suit up on Sunday but it’s trending in the direction of backup Matt Cassel, which might dial the line down closer to -1. In the Westgate Las Vegas SuperContest the line remains 3, so I’d look that way and lean Miami in any case. Score Projection: Dolphins 24, Titans 21
Arizona Cardinals (+6.5) at Philadelphia Eagles
#Eagles DE Brandon Graham says Eagles can NOT drool over the fact Cardinals QB Carson Palmer is the MOST sacked QB in NFL pic.twitter.com/sjuzzqeaZz
— Jeff Skversky 6abc (@JeffSkversky) October 4, 2017
The Eagles are fairly lucky to be a 3-1 but as Bill Parcells said, “You are what your record says you are.” So, they’re 3-1. If Fletcher Cox (calf) were set to play, Carson Palmer might be experiencing night sweats right now. As it is there’s a decent chance that Cardinals trainers are going to need to peel him off the field on Sunday. The Cards’ porous offensive line has allowed constant pressure and a dozen sacks over the past two weeks. Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald and the Browns (Jaron, John) can still exploit a shaky Eagles secondary, of course. The Cards rushing defense is allowing just 2.9 yards per carry and will leave more opportunity for Carson Wentz in the passing game to Zach Ertz and wherever Patrick Peterson is not. There’s blowout potential for the Eagles (over Arizona) but I sense a somewhat closer game. Score Projection: Eagles 24, Cardinals 20
Jacksonville Jaguars (+8.5) at Pittsburgh Steelers
To what extent can the Jaguars run the ball so Blake “Liability” Bortles doesn’t have to pass? The Steelers’ third-ranked defense will make that difficult. Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers may have a rough time passing against the Jaguars top-ranked passing defense. Jacksonville has allowed just 174.5 yards passing a game and just a 58.2 completion percentage. So, it’s a Le’Veon Bell ground-and-pound game and I wouldn’t look to either side but the total, which opened around 44 and has ticked down to 42.5. You may be a little late to the UNDER PARTY but it could make a good teaser leg. Score Projection: Steelers 20, Jaguars 13
Buffalo Bills (+3) at Cincinnati Bengals
In head coach Sean McDermott’s simplified defense, the Bills are flying around and having fun again, which is something we should all aspire to do at work. Football is an emotional game and clearly the Bills got their edge back. That said, this isn’t a great spot for them after a huge win at Atlanta against a depleted Falcons offense. The Bills offense in ’17 is far from the rushing juggernaut it was last year (25th in DVOA in ‘17) and will find resistance there at Cincinnati. Meanwhile the Bengals offense has improved since Bill Lazor replaced Ken Zampese after Week 2, but Buffalo has allowed a mere 13.5 points per game, more than full point better than the Steelers (14.8) who rank second in scoring defense. The total here is a mere 39.5. The public is loving the Bills right now but the Bengals have a real shot to turn their season around and improve to 2-3 after a dreadful start, so that’s the way I’d look. Score Projection: Bengals 20, Bills 16
New York Jets (PK) at Cleveland Browns
Credit where it’s due: the Jets are playing hard and have shown up every week. The Browns have played solid run defense but the offense has regressed, no thanks to Kenny “Can’t Catch” Britt and DeShone “Shit, We Drafted the Wrong Deshaun” Kizer. (The Browns are actually visiting Houston next week.) The line implies that the Jets are about 3 points better than the Brownies, which seems fair. This is one of Cleveland’s best shots to win a football game this season, and it’s going to take a lot of rushing against a rough Jets run defense (27th in DVOA). We’ll see what Hue “Thank the Lord that the Indians are Dominating” Jackson dials up. Score Projection: Browns 24, Jets 21
Carolina Panthers (+2.5) at Detroit Lions
Last week I picked the Vikings to beat the Lions, basically dismissing the Lions as overrated and not that impressive. I remain in that camp, even if it’s about to get crushed by an avalanche of misunderstanding and stubbornness. Theirseat offense is below average in the air and on the ground and the defense is good-not-great but definitely improved. I think the Lions’ offensive line will struggle against the Panthers’ stout front seven. I don’t love backing the Panthers after a huge road victory (at New England) and Cam “Dropped By Dannon For Being Sexist” Newton’s breakout, but, they’re the better team. Score Projection: Panthers 26, Lions 20
Seattle Seahawks (PK) at Los Angeles Rams
The Rams have come an awful long way. Even in down years they have played the Seahawks tough, winning four of their six matchups straight up from 2014-2016. Like the Panthers, I don’t love taking them after a huge road win (at Dallas) but this is a franchise with momentum and an opportunity to shove the Seahawks down two games early in the NFC West. The Seahawks have problems on offense and the defense is a version B of its top form. Sean McVay has turned running back Todd Gurley into a dual rushing-receiving threat and into the (very) early MVP conversation The Rams’ defense had been its strength for the past few years but no so this season, particularly on the ground. Because Seattle lost Chris Carson to an ankle injury, it’s back to a timeshare between Eddie Lacy and Thomas Rawls. Russell Wilson is still doing Russell Wilson things making plays from nothing with his legs, and spreading the ball nicely. I think we’re going to see points on both sides here and reach Defcon III for the national Rams love-fest. Score Projection: Rams 31, Seahawks 30
San Francisco 49ers (+1.5) at Indianapolis Colts
Six years into Andrew Luck’s NFL career I still can’t figure out his speech pattern. He seems to emphasize the wrong words. He’s a smart dude; maybe he’s trolling us or winning a bet.
"Another good day for me. You take those things for granted,just to put a jersey on w/ #12 on it." Good to have Andrew Luck back at practice pic.twitter.com/U7QOxf22w0
— Tricia Whitaker (@TriciaWhitaker) October 4, 2017
Anyhow, Jacoby Brissett has proved a great pickup to stanch a potential disaster scenario for Indy but their offensive line is mediocre, they can’t run the football and they can’t defend very well. The Niners defensive line is going to bring the heat and on offense I think Brian Hoyer is going to have one of those big games where he looks like a starting QB and not just the guy starting at QB for now. Score Projection: 49ers 24, Colts 23
Baltimore Ravens (+2.5) at Oakland Raiders
Points will be at a premium here with E.J. Manuel taking over for Derek Carr (back) and Joe Flacco being Joe Flacco (league-worst 5.09 yards per pass attempt), a guy earning a humongous annuity for one epic Super Bowl run. Meanwhile, the Raiders defense certainly has holes, supposed WR1 Amari Cooper is having a brutal season and that was with Carr at the helm, and the offensive line and Marshawn Lynch have yet to unlock Full Beast Mode. That said, the Ravens without run-stuffing DT Brandon Williams has sprung leaks. I wanted to bet the under but 39 is just too low when there’s high pick-six potential on both sides that could dial up the score. This will not be a fun game to watch. Score Projection: Raiders 21, Ravens 20
Green Bay Packers (+2) at Dallas Cowboys
This will be a fun game to watch. The Mike Glennon-led Bears did the Packers several solids in Week 4 with fumbles in their first two possessions, leading to 14 early points. The Cowboys are experiencing a mild identity crisis as the offensive line is not moving piles as they did last year without two important components (RT Doug Free, LG Ronald Leary) and Ezekiel Elliott has a possible suspension looming. The Cowboys controlled the ball for 31:23 per game (3rd in league) last year but ranked 22 in ’17 with an average 28:24 time of possession. That puts pressure on a banged-up defense that hasn’t been up to the task. I won’t be betting this game but think the Packers edge out a close one. Score Projection: Packers 27, Cowboys 26
Kansas City Chiefs (-1) at Houston Texans
Sunday Night Football is delivering the goods with the undefeated and explosive Chiefs (also 4-0 against the spread) and the resurgent Texans, riding the confidence of having a possible franchise QB, finally, to match their very good defense. For the third time, I don’t love taking the Texans after they just dropped a 57 bomb on the Titans but this feels like extenuating circumstances, and I don’t think they come out flat. The Chiefs were really tested at home by the Redskins in Week 4 (and miraculously covered). The Texans probably will find some room to run against the 25th ranked Chiefs running defense and Watson can break some gains himself; the Chiefs have given up 55 rushing yards to Carson Wentz and 38 to Kirk Cousins, as noted by Rotoworld’s Rich Hribar. Alex Smith can run, too, and he’s been on point with a league-best (by far) 124.2 passer rating. I think the total is a bit low at 45. This should be a fun one. Score Projection: Texans 27, Chiefs 24
Minnesota Vikings (NO LINE) at Chicago Bears
We’ve got another quarterback question mark here, hence the lack of a line. Sam Bradford is practicing again but I think more likely than not we’ll see Case Keenum under center for the Vikings once more as Minnesota and Sam Bradford have erred on the side of caution with his (reconstructed) knee. The Vikings also need Latavius Murray to step up and step in for Dalvin Cook, downed last week with a torn ACL. On the other side, rookie QB Mitch Trubisky will be making first career start. Is he ready? “I think he’s ready” said head coach John Fox. So there you have it. Glennon has been a turnover machine so I think the Bears get a nice offensive jolt here and some hope for the future. I’m not sure where the line goes if Bradford plays, maybe PK. This should be an entertaining Monday Night Football contest and maybe a sneaky over game if we see Bradford. Score Projection assuming Keenum: Bears 23, Vikings 21
Best and Most Popular Week 4 Survivor Pool Options
Here are the five most popular picks (in Yahoo! and ESPN Survivor Pools). Note that the Patriots were the fourth most popular pick and boy you guys were pretty fortunate there.
Steelers vs. Jaguars: There are no moral victories but I’d much rather go out on the Steelers at home against a bad offense than on a more dicey squad. This is your best option. (19% in ESPN, 33% in Yahoo!).
Eagles vs. Cardinals: Elsewhere in Pennsylvania… the Cardinals may be able to exploit the Eagles’ secondary but there’s a high probability that Carson Palmer gets hammered and picked off four times. Second best option. (12% in ESPN, 31% in Yahoo!).
Vikings at Bears: Maybe if Bradford shows down against a rookie making his first start but I think Trubisky has some pluck and the Bears can rush. Minny here is a bad idea in a divisional game on the road. (15% in ESPN, 8% in Yahoo!).
Jets at Browns: Not a great idea against a desperate Browns team. (8% in ESPN, 4% in Yahoo.)
Giants vs. Chargers: Not a terrible idea but a very risky pick, friends. (6% in ESPN, 5% in Yahoo).
That’s it for this week. Happy Week 5. You can hit me me up on Twitter with any thoughts, comments, questions or well-crafted insults. Let’s go!!