It finally happened. I finally got a pick right; truly and accurately, right down to the exact score. If you don’t recall, last Sunday I predicted the Seahawks would beat Washington 27-17 on Monday Night Football. Not to worry, I’m not Nostradamus. I only _predicted 11/15 picks correctly this week. I _only _have a record of 46-31, good for a measly winning percentage of .597, which is _only more wins than 23 of the NFL’s current head coaches. I even inexcusably thought the Giants Falcons game would end 31-21 when in reality, it was a 30-20 finish. Silly me.
Let’s find out who’s in the process of making their Lombardi dreams come true.
1. Denver: Record: 3-1 Next Game: @NY Jets
A little time off was all the doctor ordered for Peyton and co. After simmering over an overtime loss to Seattle for two weeks, Denver dispatched of the upstart Cardinals 41-20. Demaryius Thomas clearly enjoyed the time off to mend, recording an absurd 226 yards and two TDs, with one 80-yard touchdown being wiped off the board by the chop block heard round the world. With the sputtering Jets on deck, the mercy rule may have to be make its NFL debut. 2. San Diego Record: 4-1 Next Game: @Oakland Believe it or not, this Chargers team is leading the Broncos in the AFC West. Now that may only be because the Broncos have played one less game, but it may also be due to Phil Rivers’ MVP-caliber season and a resurgent secondary. Similarly to Broncos, the Chargers have a laughable road opponent in the Oakland Raiders on tap. Throw out the fact that this is a division rivalry, the Raiders would have trouble with some college teams right now. They’re that bad, and the Chargers are too good.
3. Cincinnati Record: 3-1 Next Game: vs Carolina
The Bengals maintain a top-three spot for the moment, but troubling is was the manner with which a supposedly washed-up Tom Brady destroyed Cincy’s vaunted defense. Even further troubling is the news that A.J. Green was carted off the field in practice this week and appears to be out for a match up against the Panthers this week. Though the Panthers are hurting, don’t be surprised to see if this one is a nail-biter. Without his favorite target, and running against a front seven that still retains the ability to be ferocious upon occasion could make life miserable for Andy Dalton. The character of this Bengals team is about to be tested. 4. Indianapolis Record: 3-2 Next Game: at Houston
The Colts will have every opportunity to take complete command of the AFC South tonight. A win on the road in Houston would give them a 3-0 record within the division and would leave them as sole owners of first place. Despite a few turnovers, the Colts and Andrew Luck were able to beat a quality Baltimore team last week. They’ll need to be better against a staunch Texans defense, but going against Ryan Fitzpatrick, who’s turned the ball over six times in the last three games will certainly help a defense that has forced a staggering nine turnovers in its last three contests. 5. New England Record: 3-2 Next Game: @ Buffalo
The expiration of the New England Patriots has been greatly exaggerated. In a game that I thought to be Cincinnati’s for the taking, the Patriots came out swinging, and beat the Bengals like a base drum. I don’t know what the most concerning part was, but a good bet would be the Bengals talented secondary and linebackers’ inability to cover the middle of the field. Gronk looked like the 20-year old head banger the Patriots drafted in 2010. Tim Wright emerged as the new 81 to Gronk’s 87, and it seems the Pats may have found their new duo to inflict devastation with. The running game cruised to a 220-yard night and the defense rebounded solidly. If this is the Patriots team we see moving forward, it’s not a stretch to start thinking about a Brady-Manning round 17 for the right to go to Arizona. 6. Baltimore Record: 3-2 Next Game: @ Tampa Bay
The Ravens looked pretty flat against the Colts; we saw what happens when Steve Smith is held in check and it ain’t pretty. Baltimore was able to fluster the Indianapolis offense, but ultimately fell victim to the arm and legs of Andrew Luck and their own turnovers. With that said, the Ravens are far from lost. They’ll do to the Buccaneers what the Steelers should have done, thus keeping crucial pace in the AFC North.
7. Pittsburgh Record: 3-2 Next Game: at Cleveland
The Steelers are in for a tooth and nail fight every time they take the field. An uninspiring yet necessary win against Jacksonville has posed more questions than it solved, but there’s still legitimate talent on this roster. The defense did it’s job against an inferior team; but the offense consistently came up short in the red zone. A 4-2 start with a 2-1 division record would be a solid turnaround for a team that started 0-4 a year ago. They’ll need to bring their A-game to Cleveland. 8. Kansas City Record: 2-3 Next Game: BYE
Kansas City lost a nail-biter to San Francisco and will go into the BYE week with a losing record. That said, they’ve shown substantial improvement from the beginning of the season. There are play makers on both sides of the ball and Jamaal Charles’ health will benefit from a week off, but this team essentially goes as far as Alex Smith can carry it. The 10th-year veteran has been solid thus far, but won’t get too much of a break, as the turnaround after the BYE week pits them against their San Diego division opponents. Later in the year they’ll play Denver and San Diego again, host Seattle, travel to Arizona and Pittsburgh. Not much room for error, but if this team finds themselves in the postseason, they’ll have earned it. 9. Houston Record: 3-2 Next Game: vs Indianapolis
Houston has a big task at hand tonight as they cling for dear life to first place in the AFC South. Arian Foster is coming off a monster performance against Dallas, but will need to duplicate the feat to compensate for the backup turned starter Ryan Fitzpatrick. The latter’s turnover woes were already detailed, but unless the Texans find a more competent starter in the coming weeks (it doesn’t look Ryan Mallett is that), this team will be doomed to a negative turnover differential in 2014, and subsequently another year missing the postseason. 10. Buffalo Record: 3-2 Next Game: vs New England
The Bills received their biggest boost last week from an awful kicking performance for the now-unemployed Alex Henery. The once touted kicker missed all three field goal attempts for Detroit, allowing the Bills to squeak by with an absolute boot from Dan Carpenter. Kyle Orton still has that same game-manager smell, but he’ll have issues moving the ball against a revitalized Patriots defense this week. I don’t expect the Bills to be blown out by New England, but even at the Ralph prospects are dim when facing a streaking Tom Brady. 11. Cleveland Record: 2-2 Next Game: vs Pittsburgh
Every game the Browns have played in this season has come down to the final two minutes. The Steelers barely survived week one against a ferocious Browns’ comeback that fell just short. At home with Brian Hoyer in a groove, it may come as little surprise that the Browns are favored in this match up. That said, they’ll be in for a tall task in beating Ben Roethlisberger, who owns an 18-1 career record against the Browns, especially with the statuses of starters Joe Haden, Paul Kruger, and Billy Winn in question and nose tackle Phil Taylor already having been ruled out. It will be a scrap, but if the Browns can pull out a victory, they’ll have not only dealt a serious wound to a arch nemesis, they’ll have also proved their legitimacy. 12. Miami Record: 2-2 Next Game: vs Green Bay
Miami looks to get back in the driver seat following their week away from action. When last we saw them, the Dolphins were pushing the hapless Raiders all over the field. They won’t be so lucky against a Packers team that is being lead by a quarterback who has thrown 11 touchdowns to just one interception in the last four games. The Dolphins will need quality days from Tannehill, Miller, Wallace and Wake, but they’re going to have the work cut out for them against a defense that has forced at least one turnover in every game this year including eight in their last three. 13. Tennessee Record: 1-4 Next Game: vs Jacksonville
The Titans are bad and they know it. Things are only getting worse following their 25-point collapse against the Browns last week. They’ll have a major opportunity to collect a second win against a win-less Jaguars team, but it won’t be easy against a promising Blake Bortles. To be honest, the Titans looked like a better team with Charlie Whitehurst in the game following Jake Locker’s injury, and with the latter’s health still up in the air, it’s still uncertain who will start come Sunday.
14. New York Jets Record: 1-5 Next Game: vs Denver
The Jets are also bad, and they also know it. Though it seems good ol’ Woody is content to let things play themselves out for the remainder of the season (not the worst decision with a guy like Marcus Mariota calling your name) I think the writing is finally on the wall; Rex and Idzik should start packing their bags. This Jets team is one without discipline, any offensive consistency and no secondary. They’ll win some games off the grit of their defense, but there’s no way this team is anything but a poor spoiler come December. Time to blow it up. 15. Jacksonville Record: 0-5 Next Game: @ Tennessee
The Jaguars actually have some mobility to move up this board if Blake Bortles continues to progress. That may be asking a lot with no running game and no real offensive line, but he and his receivers are slowly beginning to gain chemistry. The rookie has flashed at times throughout the year and while the Jags have no chance at being anywhere near a playoff team, they can use this season to let Bortles make his rookie mistakes without too much pressure or lasting scorn. 16. Oakland Record: 0-4 Next Game: vs San Diego
We could be on the verge of seeing another 0-16 season. The Raiders are miserable. Tony Sporano won’t fix that-hell Vince Lombardi would have probably been fired with the roster the Raiders field this season. San Diego coming to town won’t make things any better and will give Phil Rivers a chance to pad stats in what looks like an MVP season.
1. Seattle Record: 3-1 Next Game: vs Dallas
The defending champs continued to prove they’re a different team from the one that marched from Seattle to New York last season. The defense is not as good in the secondary as DeSean Jackson and other have proved this year, but the run defense is better, the linebackers are just as fast, and most importantly, despite having a poor offensive line, the offense as a whole is even better. Russell Wilson running for over 100 yards thrills me as someone who drafted him in three fantasy leagues, but if I were a Seahawks fan I’d be wary. As RGIII will tell you, running gets you hurt, even if you’re smart about it. With that said, the third-year Wilson has been exceptional this season. Couple him with Beast Mode and Harvin and you’re in position to win many more games.
2. Philadelphia Record: 4-1 Next Game: vs NY Giants
No matter the circumstance, Philly has found ways to win games this year. They’ve looked bad against some bad teams doing it (see Jacksonville, St. Louis), especially on defense, but the offense has the talent to go toe-to-toe with just about any defense in the league. The defense is another story. The secondary has been substandard through five games, and will have to be better against a Giants passing attack that has just gained a shiny, new toy in Odell Beckham.
3. Dallas Record: 4-1 Next Game: at Seattle
As a life-long opponent of the likes of Jerryworld and the Dallas circus, I have to grudgingly admit their offense has the talent to threaten for the NFC East crown. The defense has been far from dominant, but they’ve been passable in recent weeks. With Seattle in CenturyLink, the Cowboys will have their legitimacy challenged. Win or lose, f they can even make it a close, punch-for-punch slugfest, then they’re a team whose ceiling rises above just a division title.
4. Detroit Record: 3-2 Next Game: at Minnesota
With Matt Prater in tow, the atrocious Detroit kicking game should no longer be an issue. Calvin Johnson’s health may be moving forward, but this Detroit team, even with a lack of high point production, is as complete as its been. Even without Megatron, they should be able to handle Minnesota on the road, but beware the rookie Bridgewater. Lions head coach Jim Caldwell certainly isn’t sleeping on him. In a division as close as the NFC North is, there’s little room for division losses.
5. Green Bay Record: 3-2 Next Game: at Miami
The Packers are alive and well and appear to have their act together after a slow start. That may have the cheeseheads nice and r-e-l-a-x-e-d but the rest of the league is currently clawing over one another to avoid the giant rolling cheese wheel heading their way. As mentioned earlier, the Pack are clicking as far as Rodgers and forcing turnovers are concerned, but Eddie Lacy appears to be rounding into form after his monster game against Minnesota last week. Miami poses a few challenges but none that Green Bay shouldn’t be able to overcome.
6. San Francisco Record: 3-2 Next Game: at St. Louis
Another early-season underachiever has found some rhythm having won two in a row. The defense and the running game continue to provide this team with a backbone, and if Kaepernick can elevate his game to what it has been in the past, this team will be miserable to face. They’d be unwise to take the Rams for granted this week. St. Louis has given Jim Harbaugh’s team fits in the past, including a tie and a near-tie in 2012, but there’s a clear difference in talent between the pair of teams. Picking up their first division win would be a great way for San Fran to prove they are back and here to stay.
7. New York Giants Record: 3-2 Next Game: at Philadelphia
Talk about a turnaround. This team appeared to be dead in the water coming out of the preseason (despite recording a 5-0 record) with a quarterback who just looked loss. Well that’s ancient history heading into week 6. Eli has settle into quite the groove of late, tossing 8 touchdowns to just one interception in the Giants’ three-game winning streak. The loss of Rashad Jennings will hurt but Andre Williams has proven to be serviceable as the complimentary back to Jennings. He’ll need to be better than 3.1 YPC but the rookie runner has shiftiness and size that makes him difficult to bring down. Add in the long-awaited appearance of Odell Beckham and this is a tough offense to beat. The defense continues to improve, and has developed a nice tendency to force turnovers, already having 12 through five games. A win in Philly on Sunday Night Football would be a statement win, legitimizing Big Blue as big contenders in the NFC East.
8. Carolina Record: 3-2 Next Game: at Cincinnati
The Panthers rallied impressively from 14 points down to stun the Bears and snap their skid. With Jonathan Stewart on the mend, some balance may return to a largely one-dimensional Panther’s offense. The return of an effective running game will help a defense that has seen far too much of the field in this young season claw back to respectable form. Cincinnati represents a division that has outscored Carolina 75-29 in two games this year, and may be the best team they’ll play from the AFC North. Also worth noting is that Cincy will be coming out of the gates angry following their humiliation at the hands of the New England Patriots last week. It shouldn’t be a blow out, especially with the already-noted, likely absence of A.J. Green. The team that can run and stop the run more effectively should come out the winner.
9. Arizona Record: 3-1 Next Game: vs Washington
Yeah I said that one was going to be one of the most competitive games of the week-and for the first half it largely was-but I overestimated Drew Stanton’s talent and health. Overestimated may be a perfect term to describe the Cardinals secondary; the supposed strength of this team led by the “elite” Patrick Peterson was destroyed by the Broncos last week. Yes the Broncos are the best offense they’ll face this year, but if the Cardinal’s defensive backs are as good as they think they are, then they should have given us a better show. Carson Palmer appears to be nearly back from his early-season arm injury, but it’s not a guarantee that he’ll be 100 percent the first game he does suit up for. Don’t be surprised to see the Cards struggle this week against a 1-4 Washington team.
10. Chicago Record: 2-3 Next Game: at Atlanta
The Bears just don’t have enough consistency. There’s some serious talent in the building and they have a favorable match up against Atlanta this week (their mediocre defense is slightly less so than Atlanta’s hapless unit), but as long as Jay Cutler continues turning the ball over, the offense won’t be able to compensate for their poor defense. This week should provide plenty of opportunity for a shootout Sunday for those fans craving a high-scoring affair.
11. Atlanta Record: 2-3 Next Game: vs Chicago
Atlanta has some serious issues defensively-they lack any kind of pass rush, run defense and consistent secondary play-but their offense is to be feared. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones continue to be a great connection, and players like Antoine Smith and Devin Hester providing field-stretching explosiveness, the Falcons will still be able to win a few games. They face a similar opponent in the Bears this week. The team more proficient in forcing turnovers will be able to climb these ranks next week, as neither defense will be good enough to stop the opposing offense.
12. New Orleans Record: 2-3 Next Game: BYE
This team continues to underwhelm-it took all they could muster to beat the Buccaneers and the defense continues it’s weekly Swiss cheese impression. The BYE week will give Sean Payton and Rob Ryan time to try and figure out where it all went wrong, but following the loss of high-price free agent Jarius Byrd for the season, the team may be in too deep. I have no doubt that Drew Brees and this explosive offense will win a fair amount of games, but the defense will be the Achilles heel that keeps this team from a deep, postseason run.
Record: 1-4 Next Game: at Arizona
Washington was handily beaten for three of four quarters last Monday night. They can take solace in the fact that their pass-rush brought consistent heat throughout the game, forcing the Seattle offensive line to hold on multiple occasions. What especially stood out was that they absolutely dominated the third quarter as they held the champs to nine yards and zero points on three third-quarter drives. The rest of the game was ugly to be sure, but there were some nice plays made by Kirk Cousins and DeSean Jackson, and the team was still in it until late in the fourth. Moving forward Washington remains a team with spoiler potential but after a 1-4 start in a tight division like the NFC East, the playoffs look like a pipe dream at this point.
14. Minnesota Record: 2-3 Next Game: vs Detroit
Teddy’s back! After the nightmare that was the Christian Ponder experience last Thursday, the Vikings should have even more incentive to keep young Bridgewater healthy. They’ll have a tough task in the defensively-sound Lions, but if Calvin Johnson can’t go, the Vikings have a chance. If Teddy can find a slumping Cordarrelle Patterson in space, this game will have it’s fair share of highlights. Jerick McKinnon should also see an increased snap count with his speed and play-making talents to compliment the heavy running of goal line beast Matt Asiata. It’s unlikely the Vikings win, but with improved quarterback play, crazier things have happened.
15. Tampa Bay Record: 1-4 Next Game: vs Baltimore
Tampa gave New Orleans all they could handle but ultimately could not stop Drew Brees. That isn’t the first nor the last time that will be said about the two teams, but it appears that Mike Glennon is the man to lead this team. In just two starts and change, Glennon has been significantly better than Josh McCown ever was in his brief stint as starter. With a few play makers in Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans (when he returns) on offense and Lavonte David and Gerald McCoy on defense, this team won’t be a pushover, but still lack necessary depth to be a contender just yet.
16. St. Louis Record: 1-3 Next Game: vs San Francisco
The Rams at the bottom of the NFC are head and shoulders better than the bottom of the AFC. Austin Davis continues to quietly impress-he’s gone for three touchdowns and over 300 yards in back-to-back games-and should continue to get the nod at starter if he’s healthy. The rest of the team has been as inconsistent as Jared Cook’s hands, especially on defense, where the stop-unit has surrendered at least 30 points in three of the Rams four games. At 1-3, stuck in the basement of the NFC West, 2014 will not see the rise of the Rams but may instead lay important bricks for the foundation of the future.