October football has begun and a lot of teams are starting to discover their identities. Many teams made statements this past week. Let’s look back and see what we’ve learned.
5 things we learned in Week 5
1.The AFC North (minus the Steelers) had a good week. The Steelers couldn’t lose this past week because they were on a bye. The other 3 teams all had impressive victories (Browns vs Bills, Ravens vs Dolphins, and Bengals vs Patriots). Things change week to week in the NFL primarily because it is a league of parody. The AFC North looked weak not long ago yet now looks like one of the stronger divisions as 3 teams now sit at 3-2. The AFC North divisional games will be fun to watch, as they always are.
2. The elite teams are vulnerable. Both the Broncos and Seahawks (my Super Bowl picks) have dominated our meaningless power rankings through the first quarter of the season. Seattle lost their first game of the season to a very impressive Indianapolis in one of the best games of the season so far. In last week’s preview of this game, we looked at how good both teams are at takeaways. Indeed, both teams forced 2 turnovers but the special team’s touchdown off a blocked Seattle field goal that Indianapolis scored was the difference in the game. Seattle is statistically better at home which is why home field in the playoffs is a significant goal for the Seahawks. While Denver won, their defense looked vulnerable as they gave up 506 passing yards to Tony Romo. It doesn’t hurt to have Peyton Manning (who finally threw his first interception of the season) in case you need to outscore your opponent. This leads us to…
3. The Colts may be an elite team. After a tough defeat to the Dolphins in week 2, Indy has not lost. In this stretch, they gave San Francisco a rare loss at home and handed Seattle their first loss of the season (maybe another sign the AFC is better this year). Indy has the 4th best passing defense in the AFC (201 yards/game) and longtime Colt Robert Mathis (who achieved his 100th career sack over the weekend) leads the league in sacks (9.5). The acquisition of Trent Richardson has helped Indy become the 2nd best rushing team in the AFC (142 yards/game). A showdown with the Broncos on Sunday night will headline Week 7 (next week) so this Monday night at San Diego may be the classic trap game for the Colts.
4. The Saints are running away with the NFC South. At 5-0, they head into a key matchup at New England as the only remaining undefeated team in the NFC. As far as the NFC South is concerned, the nearest team to the Saints is the 1-3 Carolina Panthers who are coming off a bye. Heading into the season, many experts believed it would be the Falcons and Saints battling it out all season for the NFC South crown, yet after 5 weeks the Falcons sit at 1-4 and without Julio Jones for the rest of the season. The Saints’ passing offense ranks 2nd in the NFL behind the Denver Broncos. The defense has improved to 4th in the NFC giving up 330.4 yards a game. Barring injury to Drew Brees and a complete collapse, the Saints look to be returning to the postseason one season removed from Bountygate.
5. Jacksonville is all-time bad. This will probably be my last mention of this team the entire year in this column. They have scored fewer points and have given up more points than any team in the AFC. They can’t fill their stadium even if they bring in Florida legend Tim Tebow at halftime. This past week’s game against the St. Louis Rams drew 13,000 less fans than the stadium’s capacity. Fans may purchase tickets for their next home game against the San Diego Chargers for only $12 on StubHub. This week the Jaguars head to Denver where the Broncos are favored by 26.5 (or 27 depending on where you look) points, a pro-football spread record. Week 15, which boasts Buffalo at Jacksonville, may be their best chance of winning this season.
Week 6 Meaningless Power Rankings
1. Denver Broncos
2. New Orleans Saints
3. Indianapolis Colts
4. Kansas City Chiefs
5. Seattle Seahawks
6. Cincinnati Bengals
7. New England Patriots
8. San Francisco 49ers
9. Baltimore Ravens
10. Green Bay Packers
5 games to watch in Week 6
Last week’s record (2-3) Season record (10-14)
Sunday, October 13th: Detroit Lions (3-2) at Cleveland Browns (3-2)
No, this is not a misprint. The Detroit Lions and the Cleveland Browns are both playing a meaningful game. Against each other. Oddly, the Browns are 3-0 since trading Trent Richardson away. Cleveland’s defense ranks 4th in the NFL in yards allowed/game while their offense has been less than stellar (27th in the league. The Lions on the other hand have a great offense (9th in the NFL) and a below average defense (24th in the NFL). While Detroit has given up a good bit of yards, they rank 4th in the NFC in takeaways (11). One team will leave this game at 4-2, which would be a surprise for either team. The Lions have more playmakers on both sides of the ball so I will pick the road team.
My pick: Detroit Lions
Sunday, October 13th: Green Bay Packers (2-2) at Baltimore Ravens (3-2)
This is a matchup between 2 of the last 3 Super Bowl winners. Neither team has played consistently well this season yet both teams sit in a good place in their respective divisional standings. Aaron Rodgers has his team in a familiar position ranking in the top 4 in the league in passing yards/game (312.3). The Ravens on the other hand have struggled offensively without Anquan Boldin (a free agent loss) and a healthy Ray Rice. Both teams have played well defensively against the run (Green Bay 5th, Baltimore 6th overall in NFL). However, neither team is great against the pass (Baltimore 16th, Green Bay 26th in NFL). Because both defenses are vulnerable against the pass, it may come down to the quarterbacks. I will take Aaron Rodgers over Joe Flacco.
My pick: Green Bay Packers
Sunday, October 13th: Arizona Cardinals (3-2) at San Francisco 49ers (3-2)
The Cardinals are quietly sitting at 3-2 and tied for 2nd in the AFC West with the 49ers. Arizona is one close Week 1 loss vs. St. Louis away from being tied for 1st place. These divisional matchups are always key when determining who gets in and who does not. The 49ers have looked good ever since their embarrassing loss to the Seahawks. A significant matchup will be the Cardinals running defense (1st in the NFC) against the 49ers ground game (4th in NFC). If the Cardinals defense can control the line of scrimmage, they have a shot. But, once again, the 49ers rarely lose at home under Jim Harbaugh (15-3-1 in regular season) so I am going with the 49ers.
My pick: San Francisco 49ers
Sunday, October 13th: Tennessee Titans (3-2) at Seattle Seahawks (4-1)
This is a sneaky good interleague matchup. The Tennessee Titans sit quietly at 3-2 only a game out of first place in the AFC South. The Titans have not had a statement win yet but a victory in Seattle on Sunday would cause many to notice them. The Titans defense has been good this season, ranking 9th in the NFL (although Seattle ranks 6th). Neither team has been good at passing the ball (Seattle 25th, Tennessee 26th in NFL) but Seattle is one of the better rushing teams in the league (2nd in yards/game). One thing that has helped Tennessee this season is forcing turnovers. They rank 3rd in the NFL with 11 takeaways. As good as Tennessee is at forcing turnovers, Seattle is better (1st in NFL with 15 takeaways). Taking care of the football may be the key to this game. Just like the 49ers, the Seahawks rarely lose at home and most betting sites have the Seahawks as 2 Touchdown favorites. That’s good enough for me.
My pick: Seattle Seahawks
Sunday, October 13th: New Orleans Saints (5-0) at New England Patriots (4-1)
This is the game of the week by far on paper. Two teams that have won Super Bowls not long ago but have not kissed the Lombardi trophy recent enough. New England had improved week-to-week before the Bengals handed them their first loss of the season last week. The Patriots will get back Rob Gronkowski, who has not played yet this season due to injury. This will certainly help out a New England passing attack that has struggled this season (21st in the NFL in passing yards/game). The Saints on the other hand are second only to the Denver Broncos when it comes to passing (327 passing yards/game). New England is at home and AFC teams have been getting the better of NFC teams this season. I’m still not a believer in the Patriots this year. I’m picking the road team.
My pick: New Orleans Saints
Another week of October football with a lot of mismatches and a few good games. Enjoy!
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