With a quarter of the season now completed, it’s time for a quick glance at what’s transpired as well as what we might expect the rest of the way:
…Of the clubs who have made it to this point unscathed – Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Tampa Bay and Washington – only the Colts were predicted to do so. Sure, we all figured the Bengals would be improved. But they certainly do look for real, their mediocre effort against Houston last week notwithstanding. The Buccaneers are legit, too, but the Redskins are a mirage. Both have excellent defenses, but only Tampa Bay can expect to score enough to remain a weekly favorite.
… Among the bottom feeders in the standings are clubs we thought going into the season would be playoff contenders – Buffalo, the New York Jets, Baltimore, Green Bay and Detroit just to name a few.
…It’s not a good season to be a veteran running back. The true superstars, such as LaDainian Tomlinson and Shaun Alexander, remain stars but others like Curtis Martin, Jamal Lewis, Ahman Green and even Corey Dillon have been disappointing.
…No head coaches have been fired yet, but at least one should have been long ago – the Rams’ Mike Martz. Someone explain to me why a franchise is willing to put up with a guy in charge who has under-achieved with the talent his team possesses, who makes silly replay challenges, burns timeouts unnecessarily, and never puts enough time or effort into assuring his special teams are prepared and competitive.
Okay, on to Week 5:
Straight-Up: 33-27 (55%) ATS: 31-28-1 (53%) Over/Under: 30-29-1 (51%)
Straight-Up: 9-5 ATS: 8-6 Over/Under: 6-8
Miami (2-1) at Buffalo (1-3)
Line: Bills favored by 2½ (total points line is 33½)
Series: The Bills swept the season series in 2004, winning 20-13 at home and 42-32 at Miami. The two clubs have swapped sweeps the last three years.
Dolphins Status Report: Miami was on a bye last week, after having held off Carolina at home in Week 2, 27-24. The Dolphins are in first place in the AFC East, a half-game ahead of New England.
Bills Status Report: Buffalo’s offense continued to struggle in a 19-7 loss to New Orleans at San Antonio last weekend. It was the Bills’ third straight defeat after opening the campaign with a home victory. They are tied with the Jets for third place in the AFC East.
Other Noteworthy Info: Miami had won five consecutive post-bye games before losing at Seattle following its week off last season.
Game Summary: Although the Dolphins have played better than the Bills through the season’s first month, I’m not convinced that they have enough offense to win at Buffalo. Both defenses are playing well – the Bills’ D responded well to the loss of LB Takeo Spikes last week. Going under the total here with a somewhat ugly Buffalo win behind Willis McGahee.
Prediction: BILLS, 17-10
New England (2-2) at Atlanta (3-1)
Line: Falcons favored by 3(total points line is 43½)
Series: No recent meetings, but the Falcons have won three of the last four clashes including two of three at home.
Patriots Status Report: Two-time defending champion New England was throttled at home last week by San Diego, 41-17. The Patriots are in second in the AFC East, a half-game behind Miami.
Falcons Status Report: Even with QB Michael Vick sidelined less than halfway through, the Falcons dominated Minnesota at home last week for a 30-10 triumph. The Falcons are second in the NFC South, a game behind Tampa Bay.
Other Noteworthy Info: Vick suffered a mild sprain of his MCL in a knee last week but reportedly will start.
Game Summary: On paper, the Falcons probably should win. They’re playing well, at home, and healthier overall. But New England’s suspect pass defense probably won’t hurt them much in this matchup, and Patriots coach Bill Bellichick is astute at scheming to defend the likes of Vick. If New England’s run defense can step it up a notch from last week’s loss to the Chargers and play more like it did two weeks ago at Pittsburgh, the Patriots can get back on track. This is the type of game when the Patriots typically come up big. I like them as the underdogs.
Prediction: PATRIOTS, 24-17
Tampa Bay (4-0) at New York Jets (1-3)
Line: Bucs favored by 3½ (total points line is 31½)
Series: The Jets have won the last three meetings, only one occurring since 1990.
Bucs Status Report: Tampa Bay held off upset-minded Detroit at home last week, 17-13, in part because of a controversial call reversal that wiped out a late Lions TD. The Bucs are a game up on Atlanta in the NFC South.
Jets Status Report: The Jets lost at Baltimore last week, 13-3, with young Brooks Bollinger getting the start at QB. New York is tied for third in the AFC East.
Other Noteworthy Info: No official announcement at this writing, but veteran Vinny Testaverde is expected to get the start at QB. For Tampa Bay, rookie RB Carnell Williams may be a gametime decision because of assorted ailments.
Game Summary: I fully realize my upset specials of the last two weeks have been way off the mark, but that just means I’m due – and this is the game I like because I believe the Jets’ defense can rise to the occasion at home. In reality, Tampa Bay lost at home to Detroit last week. The TD catch by Lions TE Marcus Pollard should have stood due to a lack of conclusive evidence on replay. But instead, the call on the field was reversed and the Bucs escaped. Plus, Williams will be limited if not out of action entirely this week, and if Michael Pittman was the answer in the backfield, the Bucs wouldn’t have spent the fifth overall pick in this past spring’s draft on the Cadillac man. Just enough controlled passing by old man Vinny, and a little renewed vigor in the run game from another senior citizen, Curtis Martin, will get the guys in green the upset.
Prediction: JETS, 19-16
Baltimore (1-2) at Detroit (1-2)
Line: Lions favored by 1 (total points line is 33)
Series: The only meeting between these two since 1990 was a Ravens home win over the Lions in 1999.
Ravens Status Report: Baltimore recorded its first victory of ’05 last week, beating the New York Jets at home, 13-3. The Ravens are tied for third in the AFC North, 2½ games behind unbeaten Cincinnati.
Lions Status Report: Detroit lost officially at Tampa Bay, 17-13, (see Bucs Status Report above)… The Lions are nevertheless tied for first with Chicago in the NFC North, which is pro football’s version of the NL West.
Other Noteworthy Info: Lions WR Charles Rogers will be out the next four games, suspended for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
Game Summary: Detroit played gamely last week, especially on defense. But can you picture picking a Joey Harrington-led offense to overcome the Baltimore defense? Me, neither… not even with the Lions playing at home.
Prediction: RAVENS, 16-10
Chicago (1-2) at Cleveland (1-2)
Line: Browns favored by 3 (total points line is 34½)
Series: These teams have split four meetings in the last 15 years, none recent, with the home team winning all four.
Bears Status Report: Chicago was off last week after losing at home to Cincinnati in Week 3. The Bears are tied with the Lions atop the NFC North.
Browns Status Report: Cleveland also was off last week, after having played tough in a 13-6 loss at Indianapolis in Week 3. The Browns are tied for third in the AFC North.
Other Noteworthy Info: Despite the return of RB Lee Suggs, Reuben Droughns is expected to maintain his starting role, at least for the time being.
Game Summary: An interesting matchup, but only because it appears to be roughly even. Both defenses have played relatively well, but the Browns offense behind veteran QB Trent Dilfer has actually been effective in spots. More upside there than with the Bears, so I’ll take Cleveland at home in a yawner. Oh my gosh, did I just predict the Browns to cover as favorites? Gulp.
Prediction: BROWNS, 23-17
Tennessee (1-3) at Houston (0-3)
Line: Texans favored by 3 (total points line is 40½)
Series: These two have never split a season series – Tennessee swept in 2002 and 2003 -- but the Texans won twice last season, 31-21 at home and 20-10 at Tennessee.
Titans Status Report: Picked by many to pull off the upset last week (okay, so I’m the only one I could find who predicted that), the Titans were drubbed at home by Indianapolis, 31-10. They’re in third place in the AFC South, three games behind the Colts.
Texans Status Report: Houston played tough at Cincinnati last week, but lost 16-10 and is in last place in the AFC South.
Other Noteworthy Info: In all honesty, there isn’t any.
Game Summary: Thank you, Tennessee… for rewarding my faith in you last week. I will pay you back… by picking you again. Yeah, I know. As thick-headed as the guy on those root beer commercials. But this pick is simple, really. I believe the Titans are a better team right now. I can’t lay three points with a winless team. Can’t do it. Plus, there’s the QB matchup – Steve McNair vs. David Carr. I’ll take my chances with Air McNair.
Prediction: TITANS, 20-13
New Orleans (2-2) at Green Bay (0-4)
Line: Packers favored by 3 (total points line is 41½)
Series: Believe it or not, these teams have met only three times in the last decade and none since 2000. Green Bay won two of those three meetings, all of which were played at New Orleans.
Saints Status Report: New Orleans won a “home” game over Buffalo last week at San Antonio, 19-7. The Saints are tied with Carolina for third in the NFC South, two games behind Tampa Bay.
Packers Status Report: Green Bay’s valiant comeback attempt Monday at Carolina came up short in a 32-29 loss. The Packers are winless, but have lost three of those games by two points, one point and three points.
Other Noteworthy Info: Saints WR Joe Horn reportedly is expected to return to the starting lineup, while RB Ahman Green’s status is still to be determined. He’s listed as questionable.
Game Summary: Although they lost, I like what I saw from the Packers Monday night, especially in the second half. The line gave QB Brett Favre time to throw, and that’s why the future Hall-of-Famer was able to engineer the rally that came up just shy. In reality, the Saints are in the midst of a 16-game road trip. It will begin catching up to them sometime. This is a logical spot for Green Bay to finally get that first victory of 2005. Guess I can lay three points with a winless team after all.
Prediction: PACKERS, 28-20
Seattle (2-2) at St. Louis (2-2)
Line: Rams favored by 3 (total points line is 49½)
Series: The Rams have won the last four meetings, including a sweep of three clashes last season. After rallying from a 27-10 deficit to win 33-27 at Seattle during the regular season, the Rams won the rematch at home, 23-12, then won again at Seattle in the wild-card round of the NFC playoffs, 27-20.
Seahawks Status Report: Seattle came up short and lost in overtime at Washington, 20-17. A 46-yard field goal try at the end of regulation that would have won it for the Seahawks hit the upright. They are tied with the Rams atop the NFC West.
Rams Status Report: St. Louis was blown out by the New York Giants last week on the road, 44-24.
Other Noteworthy Info: WR Bobby Engram is unlikely to play for the Seahawks. Rams receiver Isaac Bruce also is sidelined another week.
Game Summary: The Rams have had the best of this series bigtime, and although it’s a decent bet that Seattle can end the run at home later this year, the Rams are still the better show on their own turf. The Seahawks may be a more balanced, fundamentally sound club but they just don’t get it done on the road often enough to instill confidence in their chances. This will most likely be a game similar to last year’s meeting at St. Louis – both offenses potentially potent but mistake prone.
Prediction: RAMS, 27-19
Indianapolis (4-0) at San Francisco (1-3)
Line: Colts favored by 14 (total points line is 46½)
Series: No recent meetings. The 49ers have won three of the last four meetings dating back to 1990.
Colts Status Report: Indy rolled at Tennessee last week, 31-10, and has opened up a two-game lead over Jacksonville in the AFC South.
49ers Status Report: San Francisco’s offense was shut out south of the Border by Arizona last week, losing 31-14 after seizing a 14-0 edge with two defensive scores. The two are tied for third/last in the NFC West, but just a game from the lead.
Other Noteworthy Info: Rookie QB Alex Smith will get his first NFL start for the 49ers.
Game Summary: Geez, what a time to let the kid quarterback debut – with arguably the best pass rusher in football today on the other side in the Colts’ Dwight Freeney. Sorry, but the 49ers have no realistic shot. In fact, no shot at all even if the Colts are a little flat in their second straight road game against an inferior foe. Incidentally, the Pick of the Week is to go under the total.
Prediction: COLTS, 28-0
Washington (3-0) at Denver (3-1)
Line: Broncos favored by 7 (total points line is 34½)
Series: These teams have split four meetings, none recent, going back to when the Doug Williams-quarterbacked Redskins routed the Broncos in the Super Bowl.
Redskins Status Report: Washington survived at home in overtime against Seattle, winning 20-17 after nearly losing in regulation on a last-second field goal. The Redskins are atop the NFC East, a half-game ahead of the New York Giants and Philadelphia.
Broncos Status Report: Denver has won three straight including last week’s 20-7 victory at Jacksonville. The Broncos are leading the AFC West, a game ahead of Kansas City and San Diego.
Other Noteworthy Info: Ex-Redskins CB Champ Bailey remains questionable for Denver after missing the win at Jacksonville.
Game Summary: The Redskins defense indicates that the spread is steep, but I definitely like Denver to stay on its roll at home over a club still badly lacking in offensive punch. In reality, this is the first quality foe Washington has faced. It will show.
Prediction: BRONCOS, 27-10
Philadelphia (3-1) at Dallas (2-2)
Line: Eagles favored by 3 ½ (total points line is 44½)
Series: The Eagles have won the last three meetings and seven of the last nine, all but two of those victories by double-figures. The last meeting was a 12-7 Eagles win at home last December. A month earlier, Philadelphia won in a rout at Dallas, 49-21.
Eagles Status Report: Philadelphia rallied from down 24-6 at Kansas City last week to beat the Chiefs, 37-31. The Eagles are tied for second with the New York Giants in the NFC East, a half-game behind Washington.
Cowboys Status Report: Dallas lost at Oakland last week, 19-13, and is in last in the NFC East despite its .500 record.
Other Noteworthy Info: The Eagles have won three in a row after the starting the season with a loss at Atlanta.
Game Summary: The homefield advantage hasn’t been much of one in this rivalry in recent years, so it comes down to simply going with the better team to get the victory. Dallas’ defense won’t be able to significantly slow Philly’s diversified passing attack.
Prediction: EAGLES, 31-17
Carolina (2-2) at Arizona (1-3)
Line: Panthers favored by 3 (total points line is 42½)
Series: Carolina routed the Cardinals at home last season, 35-10, and has won the last three meetings. The most recent clash in the desert was a 20-17 Panthers victory in 2003.
Panthers Status Report: Carolina held off Green Bay at home Monday night, 32-29. The Panthers are tied with New Orleans for third in the NFC South, two games back of Tampa Bay.
Cardinals Status Report: Arizona had to go to Mexico to get its first victory of the season, but the Cards got it – a 31-14 triumph over San Francisco. They are just a game behind co-leaders Seattle and St. Louis in the NFC West.
Other Noteworthy Info: Arizona scored 31 unanswered points against the 49ers after spotting them a 14-0 cushion thanks to a pair of fumble recoveries for TDs.
Game Summary: Arizona is frequently a tough home underdog – and Carolina was hugely disappointing in its only road test so far this season, a 27-24 loss at Miami in Week 3. But the Panthers’ balance on offense and Julius Peppers on defense spell too much for Arizona and its young QB, Joshua McCown, to overcome.
Prediction: PANTHERS, 24-14
Cincinnati (4-0) at Jacksonville (2-2)
Line: Jaguars favored by 2½ (total points line is 37)
Series: The Jaguars are 6-1 at home against the Bengals lifetime, 10-5 overall. No recent meetings.
Bengals Status Report: Cincinnati was flat but escaped with a 16-10 home win over Houston last week. The Bengals hold a game-and-a-half lead over Pittsburgh in the AFC North.
Jaguars Status Report: Jacksonville’s offense was shut down by visiting Denver last week in a 20-7 loss. Jacksonville trails first-place Indianapolis by two games in the AFC South.
Other Noteworthy Info: The last time Cincinnati got off to this good of a start, it went to the Super Bowl (1988 season).
Game Summary: I’m guessing that the popular pick this week will be for the Bengals to get that first loss. And certainly, Jacksonville could get fired up at home before a national TV audience and get it done. But I believe the Bengals are up for this opportunity to show the entire country that they’re for real. Their personnel are superior to Jacksonville’s, maybe even on both sides of the ball. This is the game when Cincinnati becomes a true AFC force… winning in a hostile environment. It should be close, either way.
Prediction: BENGALS, 23-20
Pittsburgh (2-1) at San Diego (2-2)
Line: Chargers favored by 3 (total points line is 45)
Series: Pittsburgh won the last meeting, 40-24 at home in 2003. They have won seven of the last nine meetings overall including two of three at San Diego.
Steelers Status Report: Pittsburgh had its bye last week after losing at home to New England, 23-20, in Week 3. The Steelers trail Cincinnati by a game and a half in the AFC North.
Chargers Status Report: After starting the season 0-2, the Chargers have won two in a row including last week’s ultra-impressive 41-17 romp at New England. They’re a game behind AFC West-leading Denver.
Other Noteworthy Info: Pittsburgh RB Jerome Bettis is slated to return, giving the Steelers a plethora of legitimate backs to carry the load. Rookie Willie Parker will start, and veteran Duce Staley is also in the mix as is third-down back Verron Haynes.
Game Summary: San Diego might endure a little bit of a letdown after last week’s great effort, and the Steelers are rested and angry. More important, however, is the Steelers ability to play run defense, most likely meaning that someone other than LaDainian Tomlinson will have to play well for San Diego to win. Tough call… could go either way. But Pittsburgh gets the nod – barely.
Prediction: STEELERS, 27-24