This 2016 season has already been through tons of ups and downs and keeps getting harder and harder to predict as the weeks go by. The league is filled with parody, and that is why these games are so much fun to watch. Below are the top ten surprising results of the season, followed by my picks for the week.
10. Week 1- 49ers 28, Rams 0: This game is very shocking, considering where these two teams are now. The Rams were able to beat the other two divisional opponents, but somehow got stomped by the very inconsistent Niners to start the year.
9. Week 1- Buccaneers 31, Falcons 24: Here’s another game that leaves us all scratching out heads because of where these teams are now. The Bucs could not look much worse, but they were somehow able to scrape together a Week 1 win and look impressive while doing it. If these two teams were to face off now, I think the Falcons would be the clear winner.
8. Week 3- Vikings 22, Panthers 10: Of course we all know for sure that the Minnesota defense is as legitimate as it comes, but going into this game I honestly thought that Carolina’s offense was going to be too much for the Vikings to handle. They did almost nothing on offense but were able to control this game and dominate due to defense. This was surprising to me.
7. Week 1- Patriots 23, Cardinals 21: Going into this game without Tom Brady or Rob Gronkowski, there were a ton of people thought the Arizona offense was going to run the Patriots out of the gym. Instead, New England’s defense controlled the game and a late missed field goal gave an improbable win to the Pats sans their best players against a good team on the road in a tough place to win.
6. Week 3- Chiefs 24, Jets 3: Anytime a quarterback throws six interceptions in one game has to be considered a shock to me.
5. Week 4- Bills 16, Patriots 0: Here is an outcome that isn’t super shocking, but a final score that is. The Patriots had never been shut out in the Bill Belichick era or at Gillette Stadium and it was their first time being shut out at home in almost a quarter of a century. That should go down as a shock no matter who was starting at quarterback.
4. Week 4- Rams 17, Cardinals 13: The Cardinals came into this game at 1-2 and the Rams were a (what we thought) a weak 2-1. At home, Arizona was expected to dominate. Instead, Los Angeles did what they always do: confuse us all with the result of this game. A major upset in the desert is always good for a list like this.
3. Week 4- Falcons 48, Panthers 33: First of all, not a ton of people picked the Panthers to win this game anyways, let alone let Matt Ryan throw for 503 yards and let Julio Jones receive 300 of them. Mind-boggling stats to go with an unforeseen upset makes this game an easy selection.
2. Week 3- Bills 33, Cardinals 18: Here is another Arizona game for this list. Who would have guessed that the Cardinals would have been so thoroughly dominated in all three phases of the game the way they were, especially after coming off of a 40-7 win while the Bills looked to be in a state of turmoil heading in.
1. Week 3- Eagles 34, Steelers 3: I was going to put the Bills/Cardinals game here, but I think the score, more than anything, is what gave this one the top spot. The Eagles completely crushed Pittsburgh holding them to just three points. The utter domination alone is what was surprising in this game, not necessarily the win.
What surprises will Week 5 have for us? It will be exciting to find out!
Last Week: 5-10
Thursday, October 6th, 8:25 e.t.
Arizona Cardinals (1-3) @ San Francisco 49ers (1-3)
The wounded Cardinals look to get off the mat on the road versus a Niners team that plays much better at home than on the road. Seeing Arizona struggle a bit to open the season is not a complete surprise to me, but sitting at 1-3 it goes without saying that a loss here would really put them in some trouble for the rest of the year. San Fran is going to be hurting without star linebacker Navorro Bowman to patrol the middle of the field. Ezekiel Elliot sliced through the 49er “D” last week in his absence. This is important because this will be the game of David Johnson.
Carson Palmer will be inactive due to a concussion, but this injury should have no bearing on the outcome of this game. Bruce Arians is going to feed his back more than the Lamar Miller is getting at his Thanksgiving feast down in Houston. Of course this team is better off with Carson Palmer than they are with Drew Stanton, and even though Stanton has had a rough go of things lately, some practice with the 1’s will help here. The Niners’ best shot at winning this game is to give the ball to Carlos Hyde a bunch and wear down the Arizona defense. Too bad that isn’t Chip Kelly’s M.O. The Cards should take care of business on the road here with their backs against the wall, but if they thought it was going to be a cakewalk they’ve got another thing coming.
Arizona 24, San Francisco 19
Sunday, October 9th, 1:00 e.t.
New York Jets (1-3) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (3-1)
The following gif perfectly sums up what has happened to the Steelers over the past couple of weeks:
The 43-14 drubbing of the Chiefs has to have Pittsburgh fans back on the bandwagon in 2016 season. Le’Veon Bell looked great in his return, Ben Roethlisberger was back in the pocket slinging it, and the defense swarmed the field looking just as fast as it always has. The fact that they played at home certainly helped their case but even still this is one of the best teams in the league. The Jets on the other hand have not had a pleasant past couple of weeks, and it all starts at the quarterback position. Ryan Fitzpatrick has thrown nine interceptions over the past two weeks against only one touchdown pass. There have been some rumblings among the Jets fanbase that call for Geno Smith to get some playing time, but Fitzpatrick will be the man under center this week. It would be pretty hard for him to play much worse this week than he has over the past two but even if he has the game of his life I’m not sure he will be able to trade punches with the Steelers offense if they are getting healthy right now. Also, the defense has not looked very good at times this season which starts in their secondary. Darrelle Revis is allowing 84% of passes thrown his way to be completed and Buster Skrine, opposite him, has had trouble over his career against bigger receivers. If the Jets think sticking Revis on Antonio Brown and leaving Skrine to defend Sammy Coates, or Markus Wheaton, or Eli Rodgers is a good idea then they have a horrible news flash coming their way. Philly had success when they pressured Ben Roethlisberger. The Jets have the talent to do this, but have not been harassing opposing QBs that much lately. I want to pick Gang Green for an upset but they just don’t have the players to hang with the Steelers if they are on in the Steel City.
Pittsburgh 32, New York 20
Chicago Bears (1-3) @ Indianapolis Colts (1-3)
Fun fact: there are 13 teams that are 1-3 in the NFL. This is the second of four games pitting such teams here in Week 5. The Colts are a team that has been on the short end of the losing stick a trio of times, but are a team that could be 3-1 with a play here and there going their way. Andrew Luck seems to be back to him old self, but he hasn’t received much help along the way. Indy has still struggled to find a running game and haven’t seen one since Vic Ballard rumbled for 105 against Houston on December 16th, 2012. Yikes. Chicago seems like a team that the Colts could find some headway against, however they did play well defensively last week against Detroit. Although that could have been an anomaly, there is some evidence that may suggest that it wasn’t. For starters, the Bears’ offense was finally watchable against the Lions. They ran the ball well with Jordan Howard, a rookie, and Brian Hoyer threw for over 300 yards and a couple of scores. This kept the Chicago defense fresh and ready to handle the Lions’ attack. With all this being said, I think that last week’s game in Chi-town said more about Detroit than it did Da Bears. What this means is that perhaps they are not all that good after all, but that is something that a lot of people know already. Hitting the road to take on a Colts team that is hungry for a win could be a recipe for disaster. Besides Matthew Stafford’s struggles, opposing quarterbacks have had their way with the Bears secondary. Andrew Luck is the best gunslinger that the team will have faced so far this year.
As long as the Indianapolis offensive line doesn’t let Luck get buried they should have no trouble swatting the Bears on Sunday.
Indianapolis 33, Chicago 20
Tennessee Titans (1-3) @ Miami Dolphins (1-3)
In a game that is going to be considered by many as the worst matchup of the week, the Titans take their one win team down to Miami to take on the equally poor Dolphins squad. The ‘Phins received a beatdown in Cincinnati last Thursday night and their offense looked three degrees north of atrocious outside of a long touchdown on their first possession. Ryan Tannehill held the ball far too long and was swamped by the Bengals’ pass rush. Jurrell Casey had himself a nice game in Houston a week ago and has to be licking his lips seeing the shaky offensive line starting opposite him. If Miami fails to get a running game going then they could be in some trouble leaning of the O-line to protect Tannehill. Of course we should see a lot of quick passes from #17, perhaps more empty backfield 4-receiver sets with a tight end split wide. This was the personnel on the field when Miami scored their lone touchdown in Cincinnati and it is the formation that the former Aggie feels most comfortable in. They should also mix in the no-huddle a bit more. For the Titans, their offense looked decent against Houston a week ago after the first quarter, and had it not been for a special teams gaff against Will Fuller V in the third quarter Tennessee may have stolen one. Will Mike Mularkey’s smashmouth offense work in Miami this week. Let’s see this team take a lead once again that isn’t against an elite defense (like Minnesota’s in Week 1) and see what happens. The Titans are a more physical team and are finally the team with the most talent on the field. As long as the secondary can contain Jarvis Landry, Tennessee should leave town with a win. Perrish Cox did a marvelous job covering DeAndre Hopkins a week ago, holding him to one catch in the game.
Tennessee 19, Miami 15
Washington Redskins (2-2) @ Baltimore Ravens (3-1)
In a game that looks like it will be heavily impacted by the brunt of Hurricane Matthew, we get the battle of Maryland.
The Redskins come into town fresh off of an eleven point win over Cleveland while the Ravens are licking their wounds following a late loss to the Raiders at home. This Baltimore team is not one that often loses home games with Joe Flacco and Kirk Cousins really struggles versus teams with winning records. It is looking like a Ravens win is in the forecast for Sunday, but with the way the NFL has gone this season we know that nothing comes that easy. For the Redskins to leave town with a win, the following needs to happen:
- Matt Jones needs to run the ball well against the leagues #5 run defense (and #1 overall team “D”).
- The Washington defense needs to tighten up against the run. This game looks like it will be won in the trenches with the impending weather. Winning at the line of scrimmage is pertinent.
- Kirk Cousins needs to take what the defense gives him and not force the ball down the field to DeSean Jackson. This is a contest that sets up well for 12 underneath balls to Pierre Garcon and a couple of middle routes to Jordan Reed.
Oh and by the way, who else is excited to see the trash-talking Steve Smith take on his former teammate in Carolina when he faces Josh Norman? Fun stuff. Anyways, the Ravens seem like they were a bit of a flawed 3-0 team before losing to the Raiders last week. While I don’t think they will fall hard in 2016, I do see them dropping their second straight game at home. Chalk this one up to one of the many weird results of the year. I just think that Washington can really make some noise with short passes more than the Ravens can.
Washington 22, Baltimore 19
New England Patriots (3-1) @ Cleveland Browns (0-4)
So perhaps you have heard, but the Patriots will be getting Rob Nincovich back for this game. They have waited four long weeks to see this man hit the field again and he draws a nice matchup against the Cleveland offense on Sunday. Okay, we all know that the real story here is the return of Tom Brady. He missed the first four games of the season due to suspension and the Pats emerged from the wreck at 3-1 which was about as good as they could have hoped for. Sure they lost ugly to Buffalo last week, but the overall mood in New England is pretty good as it looks like the team is prime to go on a bit of a run. You would probably think about taking a 300 yard, three touchdown game out of #12 to the bank this week, but I think that the Patriots will run the ball more than most anticipate this week. It would be just like Bill Belichick to do exactly what nobody is thinking, and this is a Cleveland team that can certainly be run on. Tight ends have also killed the Browns and even if Rob Gronkowski isn’t playing as great as he is capable due to his hamstring injury, New England still suits up Martellus Bennett. Good luck to Cleveland. If the Brownies are to have any success in this game, they have to shorten it by pounding Isaiah Crowell over and over again at a Patriot defense that has not been too bad against the run this year. Cody Kessler has to be accurate and quick with his decision making here as well. Cleveland absolutely cannot turn the ball over like they did a week ago versus Washington either. This is a Patriots team that will likely walk into the Dawg Pound and leave with a crushing win, however. There is just a huge gap between these two and there is no way I can pick against Belichick and the Pats.
New England 27, Cleveland 6
Philadelphia Eagles (3-0) @ Detroit Lions (1-3)
The Eagles just took an early BYE and are flying high after destroying the Steelers at home in Week 3. However, this off-week could have come at a bad time for the team because they were rolling. Philly has completely rolled over all three teams it has played so far this year and had a ton of momentum. We will have to see if that BYE kills it. Anyways, Jim Schwartz will be returning to Detroit for the first time since 2014 when he was hoisted on the shoulders of his Buffalo Bills after the team pulled an upset over the Lions. Philly’s defense looks like it is for real and their opponent looked pretty bad a week ago versus the Bears on the road. By the way, I think it is time to send out an APB on Golden Tate. He made just one catch for one yard all of last week against the Bears. Yes, he did make good on a two-point conversion but he also cost the Lions points when Matthew Stafford threw an interception at the end of the first half because Tate ran the wrong route. This does not seem like a game for him to reemerge either as the Eagles play the pass pretty well, being the only team in the league yet to surrender a touchdown through the air. If there is one thing that Philly has struggled to do, it is defend the deep ball/jump ball. Their corners are a bit shorter and have not had tons of success in that department so far. If Marvin Jones gets loose then those Iggles may have issues. It will be tough for the Lions to win, but I think they will put up a bit more of a fight than any of the other three Philadelphia opponents have. In the end, I just don’t think their defense will be able to slow Doug Pederson’s offense enough to win the game. Wendell Smallwood looks like an emerging rookie and could be leaned on a bit more in this game against a Detroit run “D” that has been pretty poor this year (ranked 23rd in the league). There, I did an Eagles article without mentioning their rookie quarterback.
Philadelphia 16, Detroit 14
Houston Texans (3-1) @ Minnesota Vikings (4-0)
The Vikings look like one of the best teams in the NFL this year and seem to be a very tough out at their sparkling new stadium. They do have a short week to cope with after dismantling the Giants on Monday night, but they should be fine given the way their defense has played. Houston is 3-1 but has not been utterly dominant in any of their three home wins. DeAndre Hopkins has been a bit of a no-show over the last two weeks totaling just five catches for 60 yards combined. He draws a really tough assignment against Xavier Rhodes who has shut down Kelvin Benjamin and Odell Beckham Jr. in back to back weeks. Don’t expect him to go off in this game either. Brock Osweiler has thrown at least one interception in every game this season and will really need to avoid turning the ball over in this one. The Vikings lead the NFL with a +10 turnover differential. This is, in large part, due to how Sam Bradford is playing on offense. He has yet to turn the ball over and is making quick and accurate throws to his receivers. Norv Turner isn’t asking Sammy Sleeves to take too many shots down the field, and that plays right into his wheelhouse. As long as the Vikings don’t begin to play loose with the football they should not see anything less than a dominant home victory. I think they are, by far, the better team. As a side note, it will be cool to see how US Bank Stadium looks during a day game.
Minnesota 29, Houston 10
Sunday, October 9th, 4:05 e.t.
Atlanta Falcons (3-1) @ Denver Broncos (4-0)
Who woulda thunk it? The Atlanta Falcons are involved in the game of the week here in October. Not only that, but Matt Ryan is playing his best football in a while and making noise for league MVP. Obviously it is too early to start anointing anybody such prestigious awards, but if he can continue to put up big numbers against a defense like Denver’s on the road then it can go a long way towards that goal. That raises the big question: Atlanta’s #1 ranked offense or the Broncos’ elite defense? As is normally the case in the NFL, a good defense beats a good offense. Not to mention, Gary Kubiak has his team playing some damn good offense in their own right. Trevor Seimien did leave last week with an injured shoulder, but Paxton Lynch stepped right in and performed. The 20 point romping of the Buccaneers on the road was complete with a totally dominant effort from the leagues 4th ranked defensive unit. The team has the second ranked passing “D”, so it will fall on Matty Ice’s shoulders to carry his team to a win. Unfortunately for the Falcons, their pass defense has been pretty bad this year and that is something that will not bode well for them in this game. The Broncos are one of three undefeated teams remaining in the league and it will remain that way after this season. Julio Jones did go off for 300 yards receiving a week ago, but there is no way that happens again. Chris Harris should shadow him for a majority of the game. On the opposite side, how will the Atlanta secondary fare against Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Desmond Trufant has played pretty well so far this season, but he will have his hands full in this game with two of the league’s better looking pass-catchers. In the end, it is going to be tough for the Falcons to win this game with their offense, which is how it looks like they are going to win most of their games this season. Give me the Broncos at home.
Denver 26, Atlanta 16
Sunday, October 9th, 4:25 e.t.
San Diego Chargers (1-3) @ Oakland Raiders (3-1)
The Chargers let one slip away from them last Sunday against the previously unbeaten Saints. They were run on and could not stop New Orleans when they were in the red zone. The Raiders have had a ton of success in red zone offense since Derek Carr has been their quarterback. This will probably be the key to this game. I can absolutely see the Chargers pulling an upset here, and looking back I realized that I picked against the Raiders three out of four times. Carr has thrown nine touchdowns to just one pick on the year and is taking good care of the ball. The Chargers pass defense has not been bad by any means but they really don’t have any answer for the combination of Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper. Oakland swept the season series last year as well, so there’s that. Philip Rivers is still performing despite all of his favorite toys being taken from him, but will his offensive line be able to protect him versus the Raiders pass rush?
Khalil Mack recorded his first sack a week ago, but he is creating numerous pressures and can really have a deep impact on this game. Also worth mentioning is the fact that Oakland’s defense has really rebounded since the first two weeks, although they did almost give the game away to Baltimore last week if it weren’t for a late rally. This looks like another tight game in the making as well since the Chargers and Raiders have played quite a number of those already this season. I will take the home team though because I like them to protect Carr better in the game and because I think their O-line is going to open up more holes in the running game. Melvin Gordon for San Diego has come back down to earth these past two weeks ever since his quick start to the season and really contributed heavily to their loss against New Orleans with a late fumble. Not to mention, the Raiders have not had many problems closing out games this season. The Chargers are a different story entirely.
Oakland 35, San Diego 31
Cincinnati Bengals (2-2) @ Dallas Cowboys (3-1)
The Cowboys play host to the now .500 Bengals who have won two games against 1-3 teams this season. Their losses came to quality opponents in the Steelers and Broncos. Is Dallas a quality opponent though? If they continue to play mistake-free football and slam Ezekiel Elliot at opposing defenses with success they are. That’s on the offensive side of the ball. Defensively the Cowboys are not putrid. They are an average unit that skates by due to the fact that their offense is so fundamentally sound. The secondary should be tested in this game, however. A.J. Green torched Miami a week ago and didn’t feel sorry in the slightest. It would appear as though Andy Dalton feels secure with only his big wide receiver to this point. It is fairly obvious that he has confidence in his arm and he is moving around in the pocket better than in years past, but still Green is the only receiver he can fully trust to this point. Dallas’ answer to A.J. is Dez Bryant but he will not be participating in this game due to his injury. This means that the ‘Boys will be coming at the stripes with the likes of Cole Beasely, Terrence Williams, and Jason Witten. Dak Prescott has thrown 131 passes and has yet to be picked off. He did come close last week, but still sports the ole goose-egg in that category. Zeke Elliot has grown stronger with each game but so far this season the Bengals have not been the easiest team to run on. Their defense is in the top half of the league, something that the Cowboys have not had to cope with so far this year. Chances are they will be in for an awakening and although this game could certainly go either way, I see the road team coming out with a win. We know what A.J. Green and the rest of Cincy’s offense can do against good defenses, let alone a middling one such as the Cowboys’. Dallas is unproven in this respect so far, so we are going with the safe, logical choice here.
Cincinnati 30, Dallas 27
Buffalo Bills (2-2) @ Los Angeles Rams (3-1)
If you would have told me that this was going to be a match up of two teams with .500 records or better about two weeks ago, I would have thought that there was something wrong with you. As it is, the Rams, winners of three straight, host a Bills team that seems to be revived on defense after winning its last two games. The Buffalo running game has seen an increase in yardage ever since Anthony Lynn has taken over as offensive coordinator. He has had Tyrod Taylor moving around a bit more in this offense. Also, he isn’t taking the same amount of shots down the field as he did when Greg Roman was dialing up plays. The wildcat has been an oft used weapon in this offense and the team is able to piece drives together which really helps the defense out. Now that this very thin unit is getting time to rest, their players are in good shape to stop the other team’s offense. Zach and Preston Brown along with Lorenzo Alexander have quietly been one of the best line-backing corps in football. They should present problems for the Rams in Los Angeles. As for the surprising winners of three straight games, quarterback Case Keenum has looked competent lately and has had the strength of a fighting defense to back him. The running game has still yet to take off because teams are still stacking the box to stop Todd Gurley. It is working. At the end of the day, I really don’t want to pick Los Angeles because I don’t think they are a 4-1 team. A win over a bad Buccaneer team as well as close wins over divisional opponents aren’t enough to make me think that these guys can win games like this. Buffalo is not an NFC West rival. The Rams get up for those teams, I think they will fall flat at home here.
Buffalo 23, Los Angeles 12
Sunday, October 9th, 8:30 e.t.
New York Giants (2-2) @ Green Bay Packers (2-1)
Coming off of a BYE, the Packers play host to the Giants on Sunday Night Football. Green Bay looked like it was returning to form in the first half of Week 3’s game against the Lions, but the team took their foot off the gas in the second half and let Detroit make it look closer. This has to be a bit of a concern for Mike McCarthy seeing as how the Packers’ offense has been the subject of great scrutiny lately. They scored just three points in the second half and were far too conservative. The Giants come to town after having been beaten up physically by a very good Minnesota club. Things will not get better if Eli Manning cannot shake the images of ghosts from his head. He looked spooked against the Vikes, and although Green Bay’s defense is nowhere near the caliber, they are a fast squad who can cover a lot of ground.
Odell Beckham Jr. was thoroughly contained by Xavier Rhodes. Asking Demaryius Randall to do the same thing would be absurd, but I can see the Pack having some success slowing the Giants down if they play physical. It wouldn’t be recommended to blitz Eli Manning either. He’s going to get rid of the ball quickly whether there is pressure or not. Since Dom Caper’s unit is nowhere near as good as Minnesota’s, they are going to have to rely on pressure from their front four. If they can get it, the Packers should have absolutely no trouble winning this game. The real key lies in if Aaron Rodgers can pick apart this $200 million defense. Teams have not had a ton of success running it on Big Blue, so it will fall squarely on the shoulders of #12 if the Pack is to pick up the win. At home on a Sunday night, I’ve gotta say I like their chances. The Giants have struggled mightily to create turnovers and Aaron Rodgers and company tend to be quite stingy with the ball at home. I’ll take them for the win.
Green Bay 38, New York 21
Monday, October 10th, 8:30 e.t.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-3) @ Carolina Panthers (1-3)
The Buccaneers have, to be frank, looked awful since their Week 1 win over Atlanta. I do not envy the position they are in this week either since they will be taking on a very pissed off Carolina team that was absolutely embarrassed by the likes of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones on the road last week. Mike Evans is one of the biggest and best young receivers out there, but Jameis Winston has to make sure he gives his receiver the ball and not the opposing DB. Ever since losing Doug Martin in Week 2, this offense has been very inconsistent to put it lightly. Turnovers and sloppy play have plagued the Bucs and they have not looked good at all. I’m still not sure that the Panthers are a bad team. I think they ran into a couple of buzz-saws early in the year and will pick it back up later on. As of right now, there is no reason these guys should lose this game on Monday night. Cam Newton did leave last Sunday with a concussion, but he looks like he will be alright for this game. Even if he isn’t I doubt Derek Anderson will be such a flop that the team ends up falling off. Look for the Panthers to get back to pounding the rock and hitting quick slants behind the rush. That’s what Carolina needs to get back to doing; playing better small ball is important to them. Lately they have been chasing the big play and it has hurt them quite a bit. The defense should play inspired football after being gashed in Atlanta in Week 4. I fully expect the Panthers to rebound in a big way and get back in the W column at home.
Carolina 42, Tampa Bay 14
Week 5 Bonus Predictions
Sure Bet of the Week (3-0): Carolina over Tampa Bay
Upset of the Week: Washington over Baltimore
Offensive Player of the Week: Derek Carr, QB, Raiders
Defensive Player of the Week: Jurrell Casey, DL, Titans
Rookie of the Week: James Bradbury, DB, Panthers
Best Quarterback: Andy Dalton, QB, Bengals
Best Running Back: David Johnson, RB, Cardinals