Welcome to October people, where the playoff races begin to brew and the elite gradually separate from the rest of the NFL.
The 2013 NFL season still has five teams with a perfect record, but as always history takes over, we’ll likely be down to just one before Thanksgiving. Plenty of time still remains for anyone to make a comeback to reach January and for anyone to blow a major lead.
So let’s sink our teeth into another slate of picks, this time for Week 5.
*Note: Spreads courtesy of FootballLocks.com. Also, be sure to check back as each line may changer prior to every game’s kickoff. And games with “**” next to the pick are best bets.
Kansas City Chiefs (-3) at Tennessee Titans
Arguably the game of the week here between Kansas City and Tennessee. Both squads have certainly improved on 2012, these two potential AFC contenders feature strong ground games, underrated passing attacks and reliable offensive lines. Flip to the defenses and they field sound coverage, a decent pass rush and are disciplined against the run.
That said, a minute difference lies in the big play. Tennessee has just that in Nate Washington whereas Dwayne Bowe has yet to really take over a game this season.
Pick: Titans straight up and with the points
Baltimore Ravens at Miami Dolphins (-3)
Baltimore continues to struggle with consistency, while Miami simply got steamrolled by the Saints in New Orleans (which wasn’t surprising). Ryan Tannehill’s ability to throw the ball is better than he is given credit for and Joe Flacco’s turnover problem remains a concern. Although the Ravens have the big play receivers and a solid ground game, the Dolphins possess the better defense to control the tempo.
Pick: Miami straight up and against the spread
Jacksonville Jaguars at St. Louis Rams (-11.5)
St. Louis has dropped three games, but all three have come against potential NFC division champions. Jacksonville has scored just 31 points in four games and that includes garbage time. With the better defense and passing game, the Rams will get a much needed win.
Pick: **St. Louis straight up and against the spread
New England Patriots at Cincinnati Bengals (Even)
Watch closely, because this Pats-Bengals duel will have long-lasting AFC playoff implications come December. Each team has the talent to not only win its division, but challenge the Broncos for the AFC title. New England is capable of matching Cincinnati defensively in coverage and by forcing turnovers. And with Tom Brady conducting the orchestra, he remains a competitive advantage.
Pick: New England straight up
Seattle Seahawks (-3) at Indianapolis Colts
Is this a potential Super Bowl matchup? Perhaps, if the Colts figure out how to play defense consistently. Seattle’s offense will be Indy’s toughest challenge yet. With great balance between a punishing ground game, mobile quarterback and deep threat receivers, the Colts have to find a way to slow Seattle down and match the pace. Unfortunately for Indy, the Seahawks don’t have any glaring weaknesses.
Pick: Seattle straight up and against the spread
Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers (-7)
A battle of two high-powered offenses, Detroit enters Green Bay as the NFC North leader through four weeks. So, the major X-factor here will be the defenses. Meaning, which one does a better job of slowing down the opposing attack. The Packers don’t field a receiver like Calvin Johnson, but Aaron Rodgers is far more consistent than Matthew Stafford. Detroit, though, has an improved defense for pass-rushing and the Lions have the dynamic Reggie Bush to change the pace. Still, Rodgers is the biggest impact player here as he has been throughout his career in Titletown.
Pick: Packers straight up, Lions and the points
New Orleans Saints (-1) at Chicago Bears
Don’t be fooled by this one-point spread. Why? Because the Bears have yet to figure out their defensive identity and New Orleans still has an extremely explosive offense. Factor in the Saints’ drastically improved defense and Jay Cutler’s turnover issues and New Orleans possesses a major league advantage with Drew Brees.
Pick: New Orleans straight up and against the spread
Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants (-1.5)
Turnovers have plagued the Eagles and Giants thus far in 2013. Neither offense has establish any consistency, nor have the defenses been able to slow opponents down. On the bright side, the NFC East is pro football’s weakest division and a victory here will keep postseason hopes alive. As for the victor, Philadelphia knows how to score and New York is lacking defensively.
Pick: Philadelphia straight up and with the points
Carolina Panthers (-2) at Arizona Cardinals
Two teams that are capable of going under the radar this season. Arizona isn’t as fortunate since its offense doesn’t present balance and has yet to completely dominate on defense. That said, Carolina is gradually improving, fields a better defense and has maintained some balance offensively this year.
Pick: Carolina straight up and against the spread
Denver Broncos (-7.5) at Dallas Cowboys
Don’t discount the Cowboys against the Broncos. Dallas’ offense averages 26 points per game and the Broncos aren’t going to hit 40-plus every week. Therefore, anticipate this game being closer than what Denver is use to. It will also be relatively high-scoring since neither defense has entirely smashed an opposing offense this season. So, it will come down to offense and Denver has the edge there.
Pick: Denver straight up and against the spread
San Diego Chargers (-5) at Oakland Raiders
This will be an interesting matchup. Oakland has sound defense, but its offense remains stagnant. San Diego on the other hand, is six points away from being perfect and has played tough in all four games. The quarterback position will be the difference in this one because Philip Rivers looks way better than 2012 and the Raiders don’t have a reliable signal-caller at the moment.
Pick: San Diego straight up and against the spread
Houston Texans at San Francisco 49ers (-6)
San Francisco got back on track during its short-week victory over St. Louis. Houston, however, has issues. After getting thumped by Baltimore, the Texans squandered a two-touchdown lead at home against Seattle. Texans quarterback Matt Schaub continues to struggle late in big games, while we have seen just the opposite from Colin Kaepernick. The 49ers will also equal Houston defensively and on the ground.
Pick: San Francisco straight up and against the spread
New York Jets at Atlanta Falcons (-10)
It’s almost panic-mode time for the Atlanta Falcons. Despite a valiant comeback against the Patriots, the Dirty Birds desperately need a win to remain in the NFC playoff picture this week. As for the Jets, they’re in a similar situation but expectations aren’t nearly as high. With the passing attack to press Gang Green downfield, Atlanta will up the tempo and find its rhythm as we begin October.
Pick: **Atlanta straight up and against the spread
Straight Up: 8-7
Straight Up: 40-24
Follow John on Twitter @Rozum27