With the quarter pole of the NFL regular season in the rear-view mirror, we’re now entering a mid-season stretch that will separate the contenders from the pretenders.
After four weeks of action, there are still five teams: Kansas City, Denver, New Orleans, Seattle and New England, who are left with unbeaten records. But it’s likely that number will get trimmed down by the end of Sunday.
The key question is: which unbeaten team will fall?
Here’s a looks at predictions and picks for every Week 5 NFL game.
Records Through Four Weeks
Against the Spread Picks: 36-23-4
Total Picks: 41-22
Buffalo Bills at Cleveland Browns
Spread: Cleveland (-3.5)
Picks: Browns (-3.5), Over
Prediction: Cleveland 26, Buffalo 20
When the Browns made the shocking decision to trade Trent Richardson to the Colts a few weeks ago, they were met with some pretty harsh criticism. The next day, pundit after pundit accused Cleveland of throwing in the towel for the season.
Well, after reeling off two straight wins in the weeks following the trade, the Browns certainly don’t seem to have quit on the season. Instead, they’ve managed to find new life with victories over the Vikings and the Bengals. Brian Hoyer has given the offense, which looked like it was stuck in neutral with Brandon Weeden at the helm, a much-needed spark, while the Browns new-look 3-4 defense has really started to gel.
It’s tough to tell if the past two weeks have been just a fluke or the start of an actual resurrection. However, Hoyer and company have done enough in their last two wins to gain my trust for this spotlight Thursday night home game against a Buffalo team that could be in store for a letdown performance after last week’s big win over Baltimore.
New England Patriots at Cincinnati Bengals
Spread: Cincinnati (-1)
Picks: Patriots (+1), Over
Prediction: New England 31, Cincinnati 24
After going down to Atlanta and making a statement against the Falcons last Sunday night, the Patriots will once again head out on the road this week to face a Cincinnati team, which like Atlanta, wants to prove that it can play with the big boys this season.
Though this may not be a vintage Patriots team, you still have to be encouraged by the way Tom Brady and his surrounding offensive cast started to click in last week’s win.
Though it’s always tough to back a team that is playing its second consecutive road game against a worthy opponent, it seems like the Patriots offense is finally starting to get on track. The unit should have another strong performance on Sunday, especially if WR Danny Amendola and TE Rob Gronkowski return to action.
Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers
Spread: Green Bay (-7.5)
Picks: Lions (+7.5), Under
Prediction: Detroit 28, Green Bay 24
It seems like everyone that was on the Chicago bandwagon after the first three weeks of the season has now hopped off and quickly hopped onto the Detroit bandwagon, following the Lions’ 40-32 win over the Bears last week.
Detroit is now the trendy new threat to the Packers in the NFC North. Still, if the Lions want to be deemed a true contender in the division, they must first prove they can beat topple the reigning division champs. They’ll have that opportunity this weekend, but the big question is, can they can handle the pressure?
On paper, this is a situation that would seem to clearly favor a Green Bay team, which has won nine out of the last 10 meeting between these two teams, and is coming into this game off a bye. Still, the Lions seem like they’re ready to finally rise to the occasion and prove that they are indeed true contenders in the NFC North this year.
Baltimore Ravens at Miami Dolphins
Spread: Miami (-2.5)
Picks: Ravens (+2.5), Under
Prediction: Baltimore 23, Miami 17
Both of these teams are coming off of road losses last week. But I expect the Ravens to be the team that has the big bounce-back performance this weekend.
Joe Flacco is a much better quarterback than the out-of-sync signal-caller who threw five interceptions in last week’s loss to the Bills. I expect Flacco to be motivated by his poor performance, and he should come out and play much better this week.
The Dolphins garnered some decent buzz after starting the season with three straight wins. But Monday night’s lopsided loss to the Saints was a bit of a reality check. That will be the case once again this week, as the Ravens will likely be looking to take out their frustrations and quiet their growing number of critics by going on the road and picking up a big win over a notable opponent.
Seattle Seahawks at Indianapolis Colts
Spread: Seattle (-1)
Picks: Seahawks (-1), Over
Prediction: Seattle 34, Indianapolis 21
Seattle has managed to sneak away with victories in their first two road games of the season, beating Carolina 12-7 in Week 1 and then beating Houston 23-20 in a late come-from-behind overtime victory last week. Following those two close calls, there are now some questions about just how good the Seahawks are when they don’t have the benefit of their deafening 12th man fan base backing them up.
Though the questions about Seattle’s ability to perform at a high level on the road may be legitimate, I expect the Seahawks to quiet those concerns with a big performance against an Indianapolis defense that has yet to be tested the way it will be on Sunday.
Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch and the rest of the Seahawks offense will be just too much to handle for the Indianapolis defense, and it’s doubtful that the Colts’ receivers will be able to make enough explosive plays in the passing game to keep up.
New Orleans Saints at Chicago Bears
Spread: Pick ’Em
Picks: Saints, Under
Prediction: New Orleans 27, Chicago 20
Last week provided both these teams with the chance to make a statement against worthy opponents. The Saints stepped up and beat the Dolphins handily, but unfortunately the Bears were not able to do rise to the occasion.
There’s still some major questions about this Chicago team, which needed two late-game comebacks to win its first two games and then benefited from a messy Steelers squad turning the ball over five times to win its third game of the season.
The Bears have the offensive weapons to give the Saints defense a test. But ultimately, I’d rather ride with a New Orleans team that is one of the hottest and most balanced teams in the league right now.
Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants
Spread: New York (-1)
Picks: Giants (-1) Under
Prediction: New York 24, Philadelphia 20
There’s not a lot to love about either of these teams right now. The Eagles defense currently ranks dead last in the NFL in total defense and 31st in scoring defense, allowing an average of 34 points and 446 yards per game.
The 0-4 Giants, on the other hand, have been a complete mess so far and they’ve undoubtedly been the most disappointing team in the league up to this point in the season.
It’s tough to trust either of these teams. But ultimately, I’d rather side with a Giants squad that has a group of veterans, led by QB Eli Manning, that have proven they know what it takes to win. Plus, it seems like the luster seems to be wearing off of Chip Kelly and his “high-powered” offense with each passing week.
Kansas City Chiefs at Tennessee Titans
Spread: Kansas City (-3)
Picks: Titans (+3), Under
Prediction: Tennessee 20, Kansas City 16
After surging to a 4-0 start, Kansas City has now become the big buzz team of the NFL. Alex Smith, Andy Reid and the emergence of Justin Houston have added a new edge to a Chiefs team that just a year ago was the worst team in football. However, it seems like this is a team that is due for a come down game soon, and this could be the spot we finally see it.
Sure, the Titans will have backup Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback. But this game won’t be about the offenses; it will be about which defense plays the strongest, as both units currently rank in the top 10 in the league in both scoring defense and total defense.
This is shaping up to be a physical, low-scoring defensive battle, and ultimately I expect the Titans to be able to make the plays necessary at home and hand the Chiefs their first loss of the season.
Jacksonville Jaguars at St. Louis Rams
Spread: St. Louis (-11.5)
Picks: Jaguars (+11.5), Over
Prediction: St. Louis 27, Jacksonville 17
This will be a battle of two teams that are a combined 0-8 against the spread so far this season. Though Jacksonville is without a doubt the weakest team in the league this year, this is actually one of the few opportunities they’ll have this season to keep a game competitive.
St. Louis looked completely lost on offense last week in a blowout loss to the 49ers, and the Rams defense just could not handle the physical nature of San Francisco’s run game.
If the Jaguars can establish the run early with Maurice Jones-Drew, they should have a great shot to at least keep this game reasonable and finally cover a double-digit point spread.
Carolina Panthers at Arizona Cardinals
Spread: Carolina (-2)
Picks: Panthers (-2), Over
Prediction: Carolina 27, Arizona 24
Carolina was able to get its season back on track with a huge home win over the Giants back in Week 3. Though a bye week may have diminished that momentum just a bit, the Panthers should still be playing with plenty of confidence when they head to Arizona to square off against a Cardinals team that has looked far from stellar over the past two weeks.
If you’re looking for a potential sleeper difference-maker in this game, watch out for Carolina rookie RB Kenjon Barner, who is expected to make his debut after missing the first three games of the season with a foot injury.
Barner, who possesses explosive speed and playmaking ability, should help to take some of the burden off of Deangelo Williams, who has averaged 21 carries per game, and he should help to diversify Carolina’s offense, as both a rushing and receiving threat.
Denver Broncos at Dallas Cowboys
Spread: Denver (-7.5)
Picks: Broncos (-7.5), Over
Prediction: Denver 38, Dallas 27
I’m officially not betting against Denver until Peyton Manning and the Broncos actually give me a reason to bet against them. So far this season, Denver’s offense has looked basically unstoppable. It’s tough to see a Dallas defense that just got lit up by San Diego last week, slowing down Manning, Welker and the rest of the Broncos’ potent passing attack.
The Cowboys, as always seems to be the case, are one of the most unpredictable teams in the league, so it wouldn’t necessarily be shocking to see them put together a great effort at home in a spotlight game.
Still, at this point in the season, when it comes to picking games, there’s a big trust factor involved, and right now, I’d much rather trust a dominant Denver team than a highly inconsistent Cowboys squad.
Houston Texans at San Francisco 49ers
Spread: San Francisco (-7)
Picks: Texans (+7), Under
Prediction: San Francisco 21, Houston 17
This matchup features two of the best and most talented defenses in the league. That’s why I expect this game to be a low-scoring, physical defensive slug fest, especially when you consider that so far neither offense has really shown much consistency.
The Texans are certainly a live dog, but ultimately, dynamic dual-threat QB Colin Kaepernick should make the plays late in the game to pull out a close win at home.
San Diego Chargers at Oakland Raiders
Spread: San Diego (-4)
Picks: Chargers (-4), Over
Prediction: San Diego 31, Oakland 20
I really like Terrelle Pryor and the type of skills he brings to the table, but after watching the Raiders get manhandled by the Broncos in Week 3, it’s clear that Pryor just doesn’t have much talent surrounding him this season.
The Chargers, on the other hand, look to be an improved squad under new head coach Mike McCoy, who has brought a different type of energy to the team.
Though San Diego might be in store for a bit of a letdown performance after last week’s big win over the Cowboys, I still think the Chargers just have too much of an overall talent edge in this matchup.
New York Jets at Atlanta Falcons
Spread: Atlanta (-10.5)
Picks: Falcons (-10.5), Over
Prediction: Atlanta 34, New York 17
A rookie quarterback playing on the road against a solid defense is a recipe that sometimes leads to disaster, and that’s just what we saw last weekend when Jets QB Geno Smith had an absoulteley abominable performance in a loss to the Titans.
Unfortunately, Smith won’t have an easy bounce-back situation this week, as he’ll have to face a hungry Falcons team on the road in front of a national audience.
Though Atlanta has been a disappointment so far this season, this appears to be the type of situation where the Falcons can finally have that breakout performance we’ve been waiting for.