Sportsball, 2019 Week 5 Preview: Truth to All Rumors

 

Sportsball, 2019 Week 5 Preview: Truth to All Rumors

 

Well, most teams have wrapped up a quarter of their games for this season — the last two will be playing their fourth games soon, one early Sunday afternoon and the other Monday night. By this point, you’d expect teams to be starting to settle into patterns, defining who they are and where they are headed (whether that means trending upward or downward). But this season, so many unexpected events — retirements, injuries, disaffected players forcing their way off teams’ rosters (or at least trying to do so) — has made it difficult for many to solidify their identities, resulting in some very topsy-turvy activity from week to week thus far.

Will this fifth week of the season see teams locking into trajectories that will carry them through the remainder of the season? Or are there still more surprises and major shake-ups yet to come? Rumors currently seem to favor the latter, and as we all know, there is at least some truth to all rumors. What rumors are you hearing, and do you believe them or not? Let us know in the comments section (below). And as always, head on over to Twitter to complain and argue, up to 280 characters at a time.

 

Thursday, 03 October (8:20 pm)

Rams (current record: 3-1 / current prediction: 13-3)
Seahawks (current record: 3-1 / current prediction: 11-5)

 



 

Another exciting NFC contest took place on Thursday night, this one an extremely close one between two NFC West competitors. One of these two teams won the division most years in recent memory, but regardless of the outcome, both were tied at second behind the 3-0 49ers who were inactive in week four. And the victorious Seattle home team continues to sit behind San Francisco (at least until we see the outcome of MNF tomorrow), while last year’s conference champions have now dropped to third place above only the winless Cardinals.

 

Sunday, 06 October (1:00 pm)

Patriots (current record: 4-0 / current prediction: 14-2)
Redskins (current record: 0-4 / current prediction: 2-14)

After winning their first three games by an average of 30 points, New England looked far more human and fallible playing in Buffalo last week — with Tom Brady throwing only 150 yards (including an interception but no touchdowns), and ultimately coming out ahead of the home team by a mere six points.

Now, the Patriots are traveling to Landover, MD to face a Washington team who has put up significantly fewer points each week this season (27, 21, 15, 3) — a trend which seems to indicate they might somehow finish with a negative sum in week five. However, coach Jay Gruden has an ace up his sleeve, planning to start Colt McCoy at quarterback. Some might say the player who replaced an injured Alex Smith in 2018 for three games (all losses) before suffering a season-ending injury of his own, and who has an overall record of 3-7 in games in which he has appeared over three seasons for Washington might not seem like much of an “ace”; but this is also the same person with a 1-0 career record versus New England: defeating them 34-14 as Cleveland‘s starting QB in 2010.

So with the 4-0 Patriots suddenly looking potentially defeatable, and the 0-4 Redskins suddenly looking… ah forget it, I can’t even finish this sentence with a straight face; no matter how many surprising twists and turns this season may take, it’s still too much of a leap to try and continue that string of logic.

 

Sunday, 06 October (1:00 pm)

Bills (current record: 3-1 / current prediction: 13-3)
Titans (current record: 2-2 / current prediction: 6-10)

Undefeated until hosting New England last weekend, and a single blocked punt away from coming away from that meeting with a fourth consecutive victory, Buffalo continues to look like the real deal this season, especially on defense. Meanwhile, Tennessee continues their up-and-down season with a win over Atlanta, in which Derrick Henry reached exactly 100 yards rushing, and Marcus Mariota tossed three touchdowns — although all the Titans scoring took place in the first half of the game; their defense managed to keep the Falcons from hitting the scoreboard just enough to make up for their own offense’s lack of production later in the game.

Today’s contest really could go either way; Buffalo expects their second-year starting QB Josh Allen to be ready to go after clearing the concussion protocol he had been in since exiting last week’s game, but Matt Barkley will also be ready if called upon, as he was to finish in week four. Although the Bills quarterbacks combined for 130 more passing yards than Tom Brady, they also combined for three more interceptions in that game.

 

Sunday, 06 October (1:00 pm)

Ravens (current record: 2-2 / current prediction: 12-4)
Steelers (current record: 1-3 / current prediction: 10-6)

Last Monday night, on their first drive of the game, Pittsburgh‘s offense lost a fumble, giving the ball to the Bengals on their own 15-yard line. The Steelers defense then held the visitors to a field goal on that possession. It would be Cincinnati‘s only trip inside the red zone until early in the fourth quarter, when Andy Dalton threw an interception from the 10-yard line into the end zone. With the tremendous amount of draft capital invested in their defensive line-up, it really was just a matter of time before this group started living up to expectations; they followed their turnover feast in week three with an eight-sack, nine-tackle-for-loss, two-forced-fumble (one recovered), one-interception performance against the team in orange and black.

But the real question this year has been when the Steelers offense would step up. On their second drive of the game, they pushed into Cincinnati territory, facing a third down with less than a yard to go, which turned into a fourth down with the same short distance to be gained. Rather than punting the ball, coach Mike Tomlin decided to give it another try, which honestly felt like a perfectly reasonable decision to make under the circumstances. But then offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner came up with this doozy: QB Mason Rudolph taking the snap and then dumping the ball to running back James Conner somewhere around eight or nine yards behind the line of scrimmage, who predictably came up a bit short on the attempt — at which point every member of Steeler Nation around the world collectively groaned, “Here we go again…”

For the rest of the night, though, the black and gold team used a number of unconventional approaches: direct snaps to running back Jaylen Samuels; jet sweeps and reverses; numerous quick, short passes to the running backs (tossed by either Rudolph or Samuels); and many more unexpected options for which the Bengals simply had no answers. The outcome was a beacon of hope, not just because it was finally a notch in the “W” column, but because it represented a shift in philosophy and approach, something that has been entirely lacking in Pittsburgh‘s offense for the past few years — which had mostly been characterized by either finding something that worked and then stubbornly sticking with it even if the opposing team had adapted to put a stop to it, or trying something that simply did not work and then stubbornly sticking with it even though it continued not working.

So it might seem the Steelers could be in the driver’s seat for another AFC North victory, still glowing in the aftermath of last week’s prime time match, while welcoming a Baltimore team who dropped two heart-breakers in a row (most recently against longtime divisional doormat Cleveland). But Ravens games are always difficult, and hosting John Harbaugh‘s team after such a frustrating loss — or even more so, after two of them in a row — is an especially dangerous prospect.

 

Sunday, 06 October (1:00 pm)

Jets (current record: 0-3 / current prediction: 3-13)
Eagles (current record: 2-2 / current prediction: 5-11)

Quarterback Sam Darnold has been looking healthier after a few weeks off suffering from mono, but as of last night it was announced that New York would again be turning to third-stringer Luke Falk who has thus far compiled just under 300 yards, no touchdowns and one interception, through nearly two full games as the Jets‘ QB.

Meanwhile, Philadelphia has been off since their big victory over Green Bay last Thursday night, as they prepare to host a team who has never won a game against them. That’s right: in the entire history of both franchises, the Eagles are 10-0 against the Jets. Today does not feel like a likely time for that streak to change course.

 

Sunday, 06 October (1:00 pm)

Bears (current record: 3-1 / current prediction: 11-5)
Raiders (current record: 2-2 / current prediction: 10-6)

The statistics speak for themselves, comparing these two teams’ defenses before the Khalil Mack trade from Oakland to Chicago with what they’ve each done since then. This will be his first time facing his former team. Quarterback Derek Carr has been sacked eight times through four games; one has to wonder not whether that total increases today, but by how much.

 

Sunday, 06 October (1:00 pm)

Vikings (current record: 2-2 / current prediction: 7-9)
Giants (current record: 2-2 / current prediction: 10-6)

While Minnesota has struggled mightily on offense, with Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs — among the very best receiving duos in the sport today — both highly vocal about the team’s (and implicitly, quarterback Kirk Cousins‘) lack of production. The Vikings‘ defense, meanwhile, may be unexpectedly challenged by New York. Despite superstar running back Saquon Barkley remaining out with an ankle sprain (but have you seen the footage of him running around in practice this week? The 2018 first-rounder very well may see the field much sooner than anyone had expected), this Giants team seems incredibly re-energized since rookie Daniel Jones took over from Eli Manning.

 

Sunday, 06 October (1:00 pm)

Buccaneers (current record: 2-2 / current prediction: 11-5)
Saints (current record: 3-1 / current prediction: 9-7)

New Orleans just managed to squeak out a win last Sunday night, coming up with only twelve points (all field goals) against the visiting Cowboys‘ defense. Today they return home to the Superdome and face the somewhat less daunting Tampa Bay defense who allowed 40 points to the Rams last week. But that same 2018 NFC Championship-winning Los Angeles team, with its highly-touted defense, gave up 55 points to the visiting Bucs.

The Saints, widely looked upon as Super Bowl contenders before the season began, have been doing better than many would have expected with Teddy Bridgewater in place of future Hall of Famer Drew Brees, while division rival Buccaneers have been a bit uneven but generally looking more good than bad — but either of these teams could also have a suddenly rejuvenated Carolina to contend with for the NFC South lead…

 

Sunday, 06 October (1:00 pm)

Falcons (current record: 1-3 / current prediction: 4-12)
Texans (current record: 2-2 / current prediction: 7-9)

Atlanta might be relegated to the bottom of a talented NFC South at 1-3, while Houston, just one game ahead at 2-2, may be currently locked in a four-way tie in a completely wide-open AFC South, but that doesn’t mean there’s necessarily a clear winner for this game. The Falcons‘ quarterback Matt Ryan may have more years of experience, but Deshaun Watson has shown more raw talent — at least when he’s managed to stay healthy. Both teams have exceptional #1 wide receivers (Julio Jones and DeAndre Hopkins), without many other big names on offense for either side. But the Texans defense is where that team’s biggest stars are shining, threatening to wreak havoc against an Atlanta team that has already lost to AFC South teams two weeks in a row. Maybe they’re about due to change course this time around?

 

Sunday, 06 October (1:00 pm)

Cardinals (current record: 0-3-1 / current prediction: 1-14-1)
Bengals (current record: 0-4 / current prediction: 2-14)

One of the toughest matches to predict this week — but in theory someone has to win it, right? Arizona came out of week one with a tie against Detroit, and the Lions are actually no laughing matter this year. The past two weeks they haven’t managed to keep the scores quite so close. Meanwhile, while Cincinnati was similarly tight with the Seahawks in week one, they’ve looked less competitive in other games as well — especially last Monday night where they looked absolutely listless and lost against Pittsburgh. This is a contest between two teams who each feel like the odd one out in their respective divisions, in which a plausible case could be made for any of the other three teams to come out on top except the Cardinals or Bengals. But they’ve both got young new coaches with lots of big ideas, and one of them has a young new quarterback with plenty of future potential…

 

Sunday, 06 October (1:00 pm)

Jaguars (current record: 2-2 / current prediction: 10-6)
Panthers (current record: 2-2 / current prediction: 10-9)

And this one is quite possible the most difficult game to pick a winner — and without hesitation I say it just might end up as one of the more exciting to be played this weekend. With quarterbacks Nick Foles and Cam Newton both out for an undefined amount of time, these two teams have turned to relatively unknown and unheralded backups Gardner Minshew and Kyle Allen, and both have looked pretty great so far. Carolina also has Christian McCaffrey who seems superhuman, but Jacksonville‘s Leonard Fournette finally had his coming out party last week, exploding for well over 200 yards against Denver. Both teams also have exceptional defenses, even though one of them has been having a bit of dissatisfaction from the direction of a certain star cornerback. With that being the case, perhaps a slight advantage toward the home team?

 

Sunday, 06 October (4:05 pm)

Broncos (current record: 0-4 / current prediction: 2-14)
Chargers (current record: 2-2 / current prediction: 5-11)

Denver still hasn’t won any games, but they were ahead 17-6 at halftime last week, and ultimately only fell two points short against the Jaguars. More importantly, they logged their first sack of the season — in fact, they added a total of FIVE versus Jacksonville (while giving up zero to the visiting team). Three of them came from the Broncos‘ dynamic pass rush duo of Von Miller and Bradley Chubb — although the latter came out of the game with a torn ACL and won’t be available to his team for the remainder of the season, which can’t be good news. But generally speaking, things seem to be trending upward in the Mile High City.

Meanwhile, in Miami, the Chargers came away with their second win of the season — but honestly, who isn’t beating the Dolphins these days? Although believe it or not, following a Los Angeles field goal, about eight minutes into that game Miami scored a touchdown — which gave them a lead for the first time this season. They actually led the Chargers for almost four full minutes! Although Philip Rivers had a typically decent showing (300+ yards, two touchdowns), it’s hard to say that the team’s overall performance would have been sufficient to have beaten a more formidable opponent. Like a divisional rival, perhaps…

 

Sunday, 06 October (4:25 pm)

Packers (current record: 3-1 / current prediction: 13-3)
Cowboys (current record: 3-1 / current prediction: 10-6)

These two teams are still atop their respective divisions, with three straight wins apiece to open the season, but those positions are slightly more precarious after each suffered its first loss in week four. Green Bay in particular now find themselves tied with Chicago, with only the tie-breaker of a head-to-head victory in week one separating them from the Bears. Dallas has managed to keep one full game ahead of the Eagles and Giants, but neither team can afford a sub-par display this afternoon.

The Packers‘ defense has been one of the surprises during the early part of this season, as they’ve held opponents to 16 points or fewer in each of their victories (but then allowing 34 in last Thursday’s loss to Philadelphia); the Cowboys have also been fairly dominant on that side of the ball as well, even when they lost to New Orleans last week, as the Saints were only able to produce twelve points via field goals. Some may say that was the first real test Dallas has faced — but two of their three victories came against fellow NFC East teams, and at least one of those has shown themselves to be capable of some degree of success (just not with the quarterback who was on the field against Dallas). With that in mind, they may have a reason to be mildly concerned when Green Bay comes to town — if, that is, the Packers finally find a way to jump-start that offense of theirs!

 

Sunday, 06 October (8:20 pm)

Colts (current record: 2-2 / current prediction: 8-8)
Chiefs (current record: 4-0 / current prediction: 14-2)

On paper, with Indianapolis coming into Arrowhead Stadium on a Sunday night, minus their longtime starting quarterback and trying to keep up with last year’s league MVP, you might be tempted to predict a blowout. But beware sleeping on these Colts, who have shown themselves to be quite resilient — and meanwhile Kansas City has been looking somewhat more vulnerable of late, beating Baltimore by just five points at home in week three, and then pulling off a last-minute touchdown to come from behind and defeat Detroit by four last week. In the game against the Lions, Patrick Mahomes didn’t even throw a single touchdown pass. I don’t think anyone would argue against the Chiefs still being one of the top two or three teams league-wide, but I also don’t think anyone should be too shocked to see an upset tonight…

 

Monday, 07 October (8:15 pm)

Browns (current record: 2-2 / current prediction: 7-9)
49ers (current record: 3-0 / current prediction: 10-6)

And finally… tomorrow night pits San Francisco, who has been outperforming anyone’s expectations prior to this season (especially on defense), still undefeated after sitting out week four, and therefore up there at the top of the NFC West (for now), against Cleveland, who have been underperforming the general hype and hysteria that surrounded this team in the offseason, although they have looked about as good as anyone could have reasonably expected so far, given the steep mountain they had to climb from where they’ve been over the past few years.

The Browns‘ most recent outing was a rather definitive deconstruction of the defending division champions in Baltimore, which was either a sign of things to come, or an anomalous blip on the radar of an otherwise middling-at-best team. Meanwhile the 49ers have gone against Tampa Bay in week one, a team which had been stumbling out of the gates at the time, but otherwise they’ve beaten Cincinnati (who has looked awful all year) and Pittsburgh (whose only victory has come against those same Bengals). So this prime time showcase could very well reveal quite a bit about which of these teams is for real. Either Cleveland will stay atop their division (regardless of whether the Ravens win or lose, by virtue of that week four victory) or they’ll falter to somewhere in the middle of the pack; and either San Francisco will remain in sole possession of first place in their conference by continuing as the lone undefeated NFC team, or they’ll drop to half a game behind the new conference leader (Chicago, Green Bay, Dallas, or New Orleans all have a chance to join Seattle at 4-1).

Cleveland is appearing in their third night game in four weeks, and they haven’t looked great in the first two (despite one of them being a victory over the much-depleted Jets); on the other hand, the 49ers will be rested and raring to go following their bye week. So that sounds pretty positive for the home team, no?

 

2019-20 Playoff Picture (Pre-Week 5 Edition):

AFC:

  • #6 Steelers at #3 Ravens
  • #5 Bills at #4 Jaguars
  • Bye Week: #1 Patriots, #2 Chiefs

 

NFC:

  • #6 Seahawks at #3 Buccaneers
  • #5 Bears at #4 Cowboys
  • Bye Week: #1 Rams, #2 Packers

 

Super Bowl LIV:

  • W: Kansas City Chiefs
  • L: Green Bay Packers
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