Week 5 NFL Picks: Can Vegas Slow Down the Juggernauts?

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The Year of the Injury.

The Year of Bad Coaching.

The Year of Terrible Kicking.

The Year of Too Many Penalties.

The Year Draftkings Almost Ruined Football.

The Year of the Backup Quarterback.

We’re only a month into the regular season and I’ve already heard so many variations of “This is The Year of [fill in the blank with something negative].”

You can all waste your time obsessing over those problems if you want. I’d rather focus on my favorite version of “The Year of BLANK”: The Year of Dominant Teams.

Using the past five years as my guide, it looks like on average there are two teams that are still undefeated after five weeks. Well, this year we have six teams yet to lose a game as we head into week 5…and all five that are playing this weekend (Carolina at 4-0 is on a bye) are favored to win yet again.

Last week we had seven undefeated teams and six of them were playing (New England was on their bye). One team lost outright (Arizona), one team won but didn’t cover (Denver) and the other four easily covered as favorites.

It would be a gigantic understatement to say you’d be doing quite well if you’d been betting these undefeated teams with their point spreads all along. Check out these numbers:

  • Cincinnati, Atlanta and Green Bay are each 4-0 against the spread this year.
  • Add in the other three undefeated teams’ numbers, and you get a combined 20-2-1 against the spread record from Cincy, Atlanta, Green Bay, New England, Carolina and Denver.
  • And you could make the case that Arizona and the Jets belong in this conversation. Both teams have 3-1 win-loss records, and they also both have 3-1 against the spread records.
  • If you want to consider these teams as the eight best in the NFL, their combined gambling record is 26-4-1 through four weeks.

WOW.

Is it guaranteed that these teams will keep winning? Of course not. Is it a sure thing that they’ll keep covering the spread at this rate? Nope. In fact, Vegas will be doing everything in its power to make sure these teams regress back to an average rate of covering. But that might take some time. So my suggestion is to keep hammering these teams in your bets, your pick ‘em leagues and even your survivor pool until further notice. With so many bad head coach and quarterback situations in the NFL this year, maybe we’re looking at a season with a huge gap between the good teams and everyone else. We may be in a rare situation where parlaying and/or teasing all these excellent teams actually makes sense. Usually those kind of bets are for suckers. (Talk to your local degenerate for explanations on parlaying and teasing.)

Here’s the part where I admit that my week 4 results weren’t fantastic, and if yours weren’t either, I’m warning you not to get too down on yourself. Last week was an extremely difficult set of games. I went 7-7-1 against the spread, dropping my record for the season to 34-27-2. But I anticipated the struggle, limiting my bets and lowering my expectations. In my Survivor Pool, 10 different teams were selected out of 18 participants. No consensus on who would roll to an easy win whatsoever. These weeks happen. Don’t let it shake your confidence. Remember, you spent way too much time in July and August studying every written word about football. You DVR’d all the preseason games for every team and ignored your family to watch football on a Tuesday night in mid-August. You know this. Now go do it. (That was a pep talk for myself more so than for my readers.)

Here are the week 5 lines.

Indianapolis @ Houston (-4.5)

The Pick: Houston

The Score: Houston 20, Indianapolis 9

I bet Andre Johnson was looking forward to playing in Houston and showing his old team just how good he can still be when he has a good starting QB and the right team behind him. Maybe next year, Andre. First of all, Andrew Luck is out again for this game. Second, Johnson has all of seven catches for 51 yards this year. And third, his current team is almost as big of an embarrassment as his former team. So much for the revenge game.

The obvious choice here is to take Houston, but let’s not pretend anyone’s actually confident in them. Why would it be unfathomable for Matt Hasselbeck to have an OK game against the Texans? Because Houston’s defense has been good this year? Hardly. According to footballoutsiders.com, Houston ranks 26th in the league in defensive efficiency (22nd against the rush, 23rd against the pass). But combine Hasselbeck spending time in the hospital earlier this week with the chance that the Texans finally get their running game going, and I feel slightly better leaning towards Houston than Indy.

OK, I’m ready to call it a loss on yet another preseason prediction of mine: J.J. Watt for MVP. I feel like for the rest of eternity, whenever someone tries to suggest a defensive player for league MVP, we’re going to point to how awful the 2015 Texans have been. The guy playing at a higher level than any other player in history at his position can’t even make his team average, slightly competitive, better than dog poo. Houston is atrocious and there’s nothing Watt can do about it. He can’t be that cure-all that even a decent quarterback can be. So let’s all agree the MVP is for a quarterback or record-setting offensive player.

Chicago at Kansas City (-9)

The Pick: Chicago

The Score: Kansas City 30, Chicago 23

The Chiefs lost by 15 points last week to a team they expected to be very competitive with (Cincy). The week before, they lost by 10 to the Packers, in a game where the Packers were leading by as much as 24 in the 4th quarter. The week before that is when they blew a home game to the Broncos in epic fashion. They’re 1-3 and only a win over the harmless Texans kept the first month from being an unmitigated disaster for Kansas City.

And yet, you can’t really blame Chiefs fans for holding out some hope. After that week 1 win, they faced three straight opponents who are pretty much all locks for the playoffs. If you believe ESPN.com’s Power Rankings, the Chiefs just faced the 2nd, 3rd and 5th best teams in succession. And two of those were road games.

Their next four games look a lot better: Chicago, at Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Detroit. That’s three home games and four potential wins. There are no more excuses for the Chiefs. If they can’t win with an especially dominant display of offense at home against the Bears, then even Kansas City fans should ditch this team until 2016.

Full disclosure: I was initially picking the Chiefs to cover, but when I got to the end of my picks and realized I had chosen only five underdogs, I forced myself to find one game to swap. This feels like a decent game to choose because the Chiefs could still fall into that mediocre range, and the Bears probably aren’t as terrible as their first three games of the year.

Seattle at Cincinnati (-3)

The Pick: Cincinnati

The Score: Cincinnati 27, Seattle 23

I feel like my hands are tied with this game. Anything over three and I could have talked myself into Seattle making it a close game. Anything less than three and I would have gone big on Cincy because I’m just so damn sure they’re going to win by exactly three. Since I can’t predict a push, I’ll go with the Bengals because once again this game is not on Primetime TV, meaning Andy Dalton should be just fine.

By the way, how about me “crushing” my picks in the Survivor Pool so far this year. After an easy week win 1 where I took the Jets over the Browns, I went with the Ravens in week 2 (LOSS, but the other 17 people in my pool also lost so I stayed alive), the Panthers in week 3 (a win over New Orleans only when Josh Norman made a semi-miraculous interception in the end zone when the Saints were driving for the winning touchdown), and the Seahawks in week 4 (a win only because the refs totally bungled the Calvin Johnson goal line fumble).

So yeah, I’m not so sure I “know how to pick ‘em.”

Washington at Atlanta (-7.5)

The Pick: Atlanta

The Score: Atlanta 41, Washington 24

We just saw what a firing-on-all-cylinders Falcons team can do, especially at home against a weak opponent. That seems to be exactly what we’ve got in this game. Washington enjoyed three of its first four games at home, and playing well against Miami and Philadelphia doesn’t seem like as big of an accomplishment as it once did.

Plan accordingly for an Atlanta playoff berth. It’s happening. On top of being 4-0, Footballoutsiders.com has the Falcons’ schedule as the easiest in the league the rest of the way. After playing Washington it goes like this: at New Orleans, at Tennessee, vs Tampa Bay, at San Francisco, vs Indianapolis, vs Minnesota, at Tampa Bay. That feels like 9-3 at worst going into the final month where they face Carolina twice. With reasonable health, the Falcons are a 12-4 team. Dan Quinn, congrats on your Coach of the Year win.

Jacksonville at Tampa Bay (-3)

The Pick: Jacksonville

The Score: Jacksonville 20, Tampa 16

Something tells me this isn’t going to play out like much of a home game for the Bucs. They’ve lost 11 straight at home (dating back to December 2013). And already this season their play seems to be trending in the wrong direction. Not sure the fans are coming out full force for this in-state rivalry. And of course it’s not much of a road trip for the Jaguars. I think this plays like a neutral field game, and in that case, the Jaguars are the better team. I’ll take the three points gladly.

New Orleans at Philadelphia (-4.5)

The Pick: Philadelphia

The Score: Philadelphia 28, New Orleans 20

While these two 1-3 teams might look similar on the surface, the Eagles are much better according to most relevant stats. They’ve had a little bad luck, but at least their defense has played OK and they actually have the healthier quarterback situation. In fact, New Orleans’ defense is probably just what the doctor ordered for Sam Bradford.

That reminds me, we are now in something like year 8 of “Rob Ryan fails miserably at building a good defense.” It’s one of the surest things in all of sports.

Cleveland at Baltimore (-7)

The Pick: Cleveland

The Score: Cleveland 31, Baltimore 10

This one is easy for me. Under no circumstances would I pick the Ravens to beat any team by more than a touchdown right now. I know it’s not unthinkable, and I might be walking into a classic Cleveland Browns trap where they play like a halfway decent team just before having a no-show in a huge divisional game. But from a pure talent standpoint, along with execution through the first month of the year, the Browns should keep this close.

St. Louis at Green Bay (-9)

The Pick: St. Louis

The Score: Green Bay 24, St. Louis 22

If everything breaks perfectly for the Rams, I think they just might be able to keep this within a touchdown. But I need their defensive line to play so well that they’re getting to Aaron Rodgers all day without having to send extra blitzers. I need Todd Gurley to be the focal point of an offense that slowly marches down the field and keeps Rodgers on the sideline. I need Jeff Fisher to pull out one, maybe two, trick plays that he’s always good for in a game like this.

If all of that happens to absolute perfection, I think St. Louis can proudly lose a close game to a nearly untouchable team.

Buffalo (-3) at Tennessee

The Pick: Tennessee

The Score: Tennessee 23, Buffalo 14

There’s a chance I’m misreading this and the Bills are just going to come out and crush Tennessee. But to me, the combination of the Titans’ two weeks of rest and Buffalo spending the early part of this week trying to figure out how not to get penalized 150 times per game should be a huge advantage for the Titans. I feel like Tennessee should have a major preparedness edge in this matchup.

And it’s still very unclear what exactly Buffalo is this year. We gave them the benefit of the doubt in a home loss to the Patriots, but they just suffered a worse loss at home to the Giants. Did Rex’s cockiness combined with one good game in the opener against Indy really trick us into thinking this team was competent? The answer is starting to look like a resounding “yes.”

Arizona (-2.5) at Detroit

The Pick: Arizona

The Score: Arizona 34, Detroit 14

Yeah, I’m not letting myself overthink this one. Arizona isn’t one of those teams that automatically looks a lot worse on the road. In fact, they’ve won the majority of their road games in Carson Palmer’s starts over the past few years. I’m not worried about the road or anything else going against the Cardinals this weekend. They should roll. And Detroit should only have to wait one more week for their first win. They’ll host Chicago in week 6.

New England (-10) at Dallas

The Pick: New England

The Score: New England 54, Dallas 27

Hey, Roger Goodell, don’t think I don’t see exactly what you’re doing in this game. Deploying Clete Blakeman to Dallas as the head referee for this game. The same guy who royally screwed the Patriots during the 2013 season. The same guy who was one of the referees “measuring” the air pressure of the balls at halftime of last year’s AFC Championship Game. And the league’s biggest nemesis, the Patriots, are rolling into Texas with an undefeated record. Meanwhile Jerry Jones, one of your most obnoxious and influential owners, cried all Summer about how Brady should be suspended for four games. I wonder if the Pats are going to get a fair shot in this game. Hmm…

Meanwhile, I’m undeterred. I’m not remotely scared of Greg Hardy and Rolondo McLain playing for the first time on the Dallas defense and being fresh because all 53 players on the Patriots will be rested. And they actually got an injured starter on the offensive line back this week. So even more depth for the deepest team in the league. Oh, and apparently at least one Cowboys player gave Tom Brady some bulletin board material this week. It’s all there, folks. The makings of an absolute blowout. Don’t get left behind.

Denver (-5) at Oakland

The Pick: Denver

The Score: Denver 20, Oakland 10

When will the Broncos finally lose a game? As soon as their defense plays only OK for once, that’s when. The moment another team’s able to put up four touchdowns on Denver, it’s over. Their offense is one of the worst in football and Peyton Manning is rating out as one of the worst quarterbacks. There’s no secret here. But will the Raiders be able to hang that first L on Denver? In a word, no. Maybe when the Browns host the Broncos next week? Maybe. But we’re here to talk about this week. And this week I think Denver shuts down Amari Cooper (easily) and wins yet another low-scoring game.

San Francisco at NY Giants (-7)

The Pick: NY Giants

The Score: NY Giants 29, San Francisco 11

If I hadn’t abandoned my preseason thoughts so quickly, I would have seen that Giants win in Buffalo happening last week. At the very least I should have known the Bills were giving way too many points to a Giants team that could have easily been 3-0 if they had caught a few breaks. I had New York going to the playoffs, and it still looks reasonably promising. They’re 2-2 and after this game against the 49ers, they play at Philly, then host Dallas (no Romo), then back-to-back road games in New Orleans and Tampa Bay. Even if they go 3-2 in these next five games, they’ll be in great shape in the NFC East.

As for the 49ers, I wish I could find a website that would let me bet how many more starts Colin Kaepernick gets before they pull him for Blaine Gabbert or Terrelle Pryor. I would choose “two” as my answer. He starts this week, and then he starts against 1-4 Baltimore at home. When those games both go horrifically, he gets pulled. If you’ve watched any extended San Francisco action this year, you know Kaepernick is playing historically bad. He actually looks like someone who has never taken a snap in the NFL, which is weird considering he was a play away from winning a Super Bowl a few years ago.

Anyway, thanks for yet another appointment-TV kind of game on Sunday night, NBC!

Pittsburgh at San Diego (-3)

The Pick: Pittsburgh

The Score: Pittsburgh 26, San Diego 21

The Steelers will be coming off 11 days of rest, nearly a full bye week’s worth of time off. As for the state of the Chargers, I’m pretty unimpressed with their two home wins–by five over Detroit and three over Cleveland. I’m beyond nervous to back Michael Vick ON THE ROAD, but I could see this being remembered as “the Le’Veon Bell Game.” With the way the Chargers are giving up rushing yards, if Bell doesn’t touch the ball at least 25 times in this game, the Rooney’s should “Philbin” Mike Tomlin before the team plane lands in Pittsburgh Tuesday morning.

Here’s the weekly tally:

  • 8 Favorites, 6 Underdogs
  • 5 Road Dogs, 1 Home Dog
  • 6 Home Teams, 8 Road Teams

Enjoy week 5!

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