It’s Week 5 in the NFL and I hope you’re as excited as I am!
Sure, it’s the beginning of a long stretch of bye weeks as six teams take an early exit from the action with a chance to clear their heads, put their feet up and get healthy (the AFC North’s Cleveland and Baltimore, NFC East’s Washington and Dallas and winless St. Louis and Miami).
Nevertheless, as NFL Network’s always accurate Insider Jason La Canfora points out, it’s also “playoff rematch weekend, people!”
There are 13 total lip smacking and intoxicating matchups on tap and each of them offers some intriguing storylines. Here are my Week 5 NFL Predictions. Enjoy!
Last Week: 12-4 (47-17 Overall)
Philadelphia (1-3) at Buffalo (3-1) (FOX, 1:00pm EST)
The Dream Team and anti-dream team enter the week coming off second half meltdowns and face a must-win game. Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Bills are equipped with a great ground game led by Fred Jackson and the Eagles’ 30th-ranked run defense will look to become restless. Nonetheless, despite additional all-important home-field advantage for Buffalo, Michael Vick knows everything rests on his shoulders. Expect him to change things up, break from the pocket, do his thing and lead his team to a thrilling, hard-fought and must-have victory. Prediction: Philadelphia 26, Buffalo 19
Kansas City (1-3) at Indianapolis (0-4) (CBS, 1:00pm EST)
Boy I can’t wait for this game—is what I would say if I invested my whole livelihood in the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. Kansas City got its first win last week against Minnesota and might have a turnaround in mind with the upcoming schedule. However, the Colts have been coming ever-increasingly close to earning their first win since getting a beatdown in Reliant Stadium. Curtis Painter doesn’t paint a pretty picture here, but his sketches make out the letter “W.” Prediction: Indianapolis 16, Kansas City 13
Oakland (2-2) at Houston (3-1) (CBS, 1:00pm EST)
If you thought this contest would gather a great amount of interest from around the nation after Andre Johnson was ruled out of the lineup, then you probably fell out of your chair when you find out about the passing of a true trailblazer, innovator and maverick in the Raiders long-time team owner Al Davis. Like or dislike him, Davis was well-respected and his impact in the NFL will never be forgotten. How will the Raiders perform without him? GridironGrit.com Analyst Oren Shiri asks the question.
This may have slipped your memory, but Johnson missed this meeting last year as well. He wasn’t the only key missing piece, either. A pivotal component in the offense in tight end Owen Daniels was also out and Arian Foster missed much of the early action due to being late for a practice or team meeting earlier in the week.
This is another must-win game for Houston with Baltimore and Tennessee next back-to-back on the road. The Texans were very impressive in their 17-10 win against the Steel Curtain. The game was much more one-sided than the score indicated.
Newly acquired corner Johnathan Joseph had two touchdowns called back in the victory (one was a bone-headed penalty by Danieal Manning on a blocked field goal and the other was an interception return that was negated for a roughing the passer call on J.J. Watt which was a mistake because Watt was pushed into Big Ben).
This game will be decided in the trenches and ground attack. Look for a great showing from Darren McFadden and an even banner afternoon from the Texans combo in Ben Tate, Derrick Ward and Arian Foster. Prediction: Houston 31, Oakland 17
Tennessee (3-1) at Pittsburgh (2-2) (CBS, 1:00pm EST)
Hands down this is the most intriguing early game of the week. Neither team faces a must-win situation with an easy stretch on the schedule coming up in the following weeks. However, a win here could mean the difference between a have and a have-not at the end of the year as teams jock for playoff positions.
The Steelers have a home advantage with the terrible towel. Pittsburgh has a history of responding extremely well when Mike Tomlin sends a better-toughen-it-out message and a sense of urgency to the team as well.
Tennessee is a very physical ball club, though. The Titans outphysicaled the Ravens. Baltimore gave Pittsburgh a beatdown. The Steelers got beat up in the trenches by the Texans, too. Chris Johnson had his first 100-yard game on the season last week and the Steel Curtain has appeared very vulnerable and battered and tattered along the edges of the defense.
In addition, the Steelers are without Rashard Mendenhall and James Harrison. My head says to take Tennessee. My gut tells me to pick Pittsburgh. Prediction: Pittsburgh 21, Tennessee 18
Cincinnati (2-2) at Jacksonville (1-3) (CBS, 1:00pm EST)
Jacksonville ranks next-to-last in total offense and dead last in passing and scoring on offense. Cincinnati, to the surprise of everyone, leads the league in defense. No, seriously.
So if you’re expecting a shootout here, you’re going to be deeply disappointed. I actually like the Jags here. The Jaguars always play better at home. The Bengals haven’t exactly gone up against elite teams or powerhouse offenses—Buffalo (OK, that’s the exception), San Francisco, Denver and Cleveland, so take that No. 1 ranking with a grain of salt. And I like first-round-selection Blaine Gabbert over second-rounder Andy Dalton. Take that statement with a grain of salt, too. Prediction: Jacksonville 14, Cincinnati 12
New Orleans (3-1) at Carolina (1-3) (FOX, 1:00pm EST)
Cam Newton and the Panthers have exponential potential, but patience is pivotal for the team that has to deal with Atlanta, Tampa Bay and New Orleans. SI’s Peter King loved what Newton said when a reporter asked the first overall pick if he was surprised with how well he’s made the transition to the NFL. “If you write a good article, do you surprise yourself?”
While I really, really look up to PK, and I can see why anyone, especially in this field of journalism, would find Cam’s statement appealing, and I kind of do, it can also be seen as arrogant—a trait that’s been in his blood all along. His play through the first four weeks has certainly been extremely impressive, but I see him on a similar path taken by Vince Young and Michael Vick.
And my candid opinion on this is based on his character. We’ll see over time of course. But I don’t like his odds to keep this up and stay out of trouble long-term. But for right now, I think he puts up yet another banner performance on Sunday against New Orleans. Nonetheless, Drew Brees and the high-flying Saints slide to a victory by scoring quick and early against an injury-riddled defense. This looks to be another fun watch. Prediction: New Orleans 32, Carolina 22
Seattle (1-3) at N.Y. Giants (3-1) (FOX, 1:00pm EST)
The ‘Hawks played a tough-as-nails game against Atlanta, as I expected could have happened with home-field advantage. Now Tarvaris Jackson, coming off a rare 300-yard performance, and Seattle travels to the east coast for a date with the Giants, a team that can stomp on anyone, especially early in the season and against a weaker opponent who’s on a cross-country tour. Once more, Eli Manning has a sizzling hot hand. Prediction: N.Y. Giants 35, Seattle 7
Arizona (1-3) at Minnesota (0-4) (FOX, 1:00pm EST)
It’s the Andy Reid Recycled Bowl! Donovan McNabb’s distinguished tenure as a starter could be coming to a complete end on Sunday with a loss against Arizona. Kevin Kolb was selected in the second round of the 2007 NFL Draft to become the understudy for McNabb and to eventually replace him. Donovan was of course shipped to D.C. in 2010 and Kolb lost the starting job in Philly to Mike Vick. Now they’re both under fire in different locations. And what do you know, so is Vick and Reid! The long-time head coach of the Eagles has one heavy, wide-spread footprint. Chris Beanie Wells had a huge game last week, but Minnesota ranks 5th vs. the run. Prediction: Minnesota 24, Arizona 17
Tampa Bay (3-1) at San Francisco (3-1) (4:05pm, EST)
The major media national outlets will have their eyes (and cameras) glued to the Jets at Patriots, which is understandable, but if you’re looking for a great game in the afternoon, turn your attention to this marquee matchup on the west coast. These two teams could win their respective divisions, believe it or not, folks.
Toughness is clearly Jim Harbaugh’s trademark in the Bay Area, while Raheem Morris has his own “youngry” hallmark in the Tampa Bay area. Look for a heavy-dose of Frank Gore and LeGarrette Blount. I like Freeman over Alex Smith, but long travel on a short week is the difference. Prediction: San Francisco 23, Tampa Bay 20
(Side note: Did PK or Albert Breer copy off of each other’s paper or just exchange notes? Both of them have San Fran scoring 19 points and Breer has Tampa Bay scoring 16, while PK has 26. They’re both awesome analysts, but I thought I’d expose their secret kinship!)
San Diego (3-1) at Denver (1-3) (CBS, 4:15pm EST)
The beleaguered Broncos are ranked 32nd against the pass, but Champ Bailey should return to the field. The Chargers have an established, well-documented history of sluggish starts and if you thought the trend has ended just because the Bolts are 3-1, they’ve only outscored their first four opponents 91-85 (vs. MIN, at NE, vs. KC, vs. MIA).
Denver surrenders 70 percent completion percentage against its opponents and Phillip Rivers (5 TDs, 6 INTs) looks to bring his joie de vivre this week to the Mile High. Prediction: San Diego 38, Denver 24
N.Y. Jets (2-2) at New England (3-1) (CBS, 4:15pm EST)
The Jets fly into Gillette Stadium on a dreadful two-game losing streak. Mark Sanchez is getting pummeled with the state of the offensive line in shambles. New England’s defense certainly has been awful, and at times, almost non-existent through the first four games of the regular season.
Tom Brady is still hitting on all cylinders and even if the Jets successfully shut down Wes Welker, he has Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez (questionable), Julian Edelman (doubtful), Deion Branch, Chad Ocho-No-Show and a trio of backs to turn to at his disposal. Rex Ryan needs to come loaded with a bag of tricks. Prediction: New England 27, N.Y. Jets 17
Green Bay (4-0) at Atlanta (2-2) (NBC, 8:20pm EST)
Atlanta’s amazing 13-3 campaign was cut short in the 2010 NFC Divisional Round of the playoffs in embarrassing fashion at home—where the team rarely loses these days—against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers 48-21, who of course went on to win the Super Bowl.
Matty Ice and the Falcons have struggled insurmountably early this season, but he has what it takes to lead his troops to overcome adversity and inevitable back-breaking challenges. I think the test on Sunday Night Football fits in that category. Look for the Falcons to get back to basics and play some smart, tough, balanced football.
I expect Hotlanta to play much hotter in its own stadium in the limelight and Julio Jones to put on a show. However, the Falcons’ lack of pressure on Aaron Rodgers and less-than-stellar protection for Matt Ryan will lead the Packers to a thrilling victory. Prediction: Green Bay 34, Atlanta 24
Chicago (2-2) at Detroit (4-0) (ESPN, Mon, 8:30pm EST)
The red-hot Lions are restoring the roar in the Motor City. The atmosphere at Ford Field promises to be mesmerizing. The Bears are on their way towards entering treacherous waters, at 2-2, already two games behind the Packers and Lions. This game has much more meaning than meets the eye.
Last season Matthew Stafford went out with a shoulder injury marred by defensive end Julius Peppers and of course missed most of the action in the 2010 season. “The Calvin Johnson Rule” became a household term everywhere and caused outrage from everyone.
Now the Lions not only have a chance to get revenge, move to 5-0 and knock the Bears to below .500, but also have a rare opportunity to play on Monday Night Football—and even more sporadic occasion in their own stadium against a division foe. This game certainly will not disappoint and neither will Jim Schwartz, Detroit’s high-flying offense and fierce front seven against Jay Cutler and the Monsters of the Midway. Prediction: Detroit 28, Chicago 20
Verse of This Piece: “Fools will be punished for their proud words, but the words of the wise will protect them.” —Proverbs 14:3