– Bill Annechino
Lions 24 Eagles 23
So, Carson Wentz is human. The kid finally threw his first NFL interception and suffered his first loss. Having said that, this appeared to be a classic “trap game” going into the week. The Lions had their back to the wall at 1-3 coming into the game, needing a win to salvage their season and avoid the dreaded 1-4 start. 2-3 is not much better, but if they win their next game, they’re right back to .500 and anything can happen from there, right? Right now, I’ve got the Packers penciled in as one of the Wild Card teams. From there, it gets a little murky. Unless you think the Rams are for real (which I don’t know why you would), the other Wild Card team is either going to come from the NFC East (likely) or it’s going to be Arizona or Seattle. If the Lions can pull to .500, I think they enter that conversation, which they had no shot of doing from 1-4. So, you could say that this win saved their season.
The Eagles, meanwhile, are still in the driver’s seat of the NFC East. 3-1 is still a hell of a start, and they fell victim to some bad luck in this one as a late Ryan Mathews fumble could very well have cost them the game. A game that, by the way, their opponents desperately had to win. Losing a road game against a desperate team by 1 point is not a bad loss. However, they need to win their game next week against the Redskins to avoid seeing their promising start fade away into 3-3 anonymity. After the Washington game, the Eagles play host to a Vikings team that I see as the best in the NFL. It is somewhat troublesome that the Eagles lost following their bye week, but the aforementioned circumstances with Detroit would have made it a lot more surprising if the Lions failed to win. Playing the Steelers and Vikings within a 4 week stretch is as brutal as you’re going to see in the NFL this year, but the Eagles passed their first test against Pittsburgh and now must win next week to ensure that the Minnesota game is not must-win.
Colts 29 Bears 23
Well, someone had to win this game, I guess. Seriously, if there was ever a game that I wish could have ended in a tie, this was it. The worst part about this game is that the Colts are now 1 game out of first place in their division. The only thing I saw that I liked during this game was Luck’s beautiful touchdown to T.Y. Hilton late. The Bears appeared to line up in a cover 2 look, and we all know that you attack the cover 2 deep down the middle, right? That’s exactly where Luck went, hitting Hilton on a gorgeous deep post rout that was shocking in the competence of its execution.
Speaking of competence, check out Hoyer the Destroyer. The people of Houston ran him out of town after having a bad game at a bad time last year (getting shut out by the Chiefs in the Wild Card round), but you’d have to be a fool to refuse to admit that Hoyer is outplaying the man who replaced him, Brock Osweiler, this year. Additionally, Jordan Howard looked solid for the Bears, and certainly better than Jeremy Langford. I expect Howard to hold onto the starting job even after Langford returns. I hated this game and everything about it, but what I hated the most was that the Colts are one game out of first place in the terrible AFC South.
Titans 30 Dolphins 17
The Dolphins are probably the worst team in the NFL this year. This game was a joyless affair for all involved. If you know a Dolphins fan in your life, go easy on them this week. I mean it. In other news, Marcus “The Worst Quarterback in the NFL” Mariota had 3 TDs without going over 200 yards. I’m still not impressed. The Titans are in the same boat as the Colts in that they are now 1 game out of first place in their division, which makes me sad. Can we move on? You guys won’t hold it against me if I just move on to the next game, right? Cool, thanks.
Redskins 16 Ravens 10
Looks like the Ravens are who we thought they were: a good defense with hardly any offense. With the events of today’s games, the Steelers have moved into first place in the AFC North, with the Ravens falling to second. Our old friends at playoffstatus.com now say that the Ravens have only a 42% chance of making the playoffs after their 2 straight losses. The Redskins, meanwhile, sit 1 game out of first place in the NFC East. The Eagles sit above them, and Washington will get a crack at them next week. Not much else to really talk about in a 16-10 game. Both teams played hard, right?
Vikings 31 Texans 13
Another horrible game for people who like good football! Although, it would be more accurate to say that it was half of a horrible game, because if you only focused on the Vikings, you saw a very good and complete football game played. Sam Bradford was airing it out! He was slinging it around and making plays. No Stefon Diggs? No problem! Bradford hit Adam Thielan on a really nice ball early in the game and never looked back. The running game could have been a little better for Minnesota, but we are really nitpicking at this point. The Vikings are my pick for the best team in the NFL through week 5. They sit undefeated and have won all of their games by double-digits.
As for the Texans, looks like Brock Osweiler may not be as competent as I formerly thought. Seriously, what the hell is wrong with this dude? Just from watching this game, I noticed several plays in which he was determined to throw the route, regardless of whether or not his receiver had actually made it to where the ball was supposed to go. Watching Osweiler, I do not get the impression that he has the mental aspects of quarterbacking down, and it has been impacting Houston’s entire offense. Lamar Miller can’t get anything going when teams do not have to respect the pass, and DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller both were fairly anonymous in this game (Hopkins did add a late touchdown, possibly strictly for fantasy purposes). The Texans defense looks a lot different without J.J. Watt, doesn’t it? I have also hammered the Texans in my columns before for poor play on special teams (particularly in the Patriots game) and that trend continued this week as they allowed a return touchdown. By virtue of playing in the worst division in football, the Texans remain in first place, although they need to right the ship in a hurry to remain relevant. Could 7-9 win the AFC South this year?
Steelers 31 Jets 13
Pittsburgh is good, the Jets are bad. The six interception game from two weeks ago may have been the straw that broke Ryan Fitzpatrick’s back. He could quite possible be permanently broken now. I said it last week, I’ll say it again: this would be a good opportunity for New York to see if their next quarterback is already on their roster. Otherwise, this looks to be a completely lost season for the Jets.
As for Pittsburgh, business as usual. Sammie Coates broke out in a big way in this one, catching 6 balls for 139 yards and 2 touchdowns. I appreciated Big Ben making sure that Antonio Brown got a touchdown amidst the Sammie Coates show. The Steelers do a great job of looking out for their fantasy owners. Pittsburgh moves to 4-1 after this win, and have scored 31 points or more in 3 of their 4 wins (the 4th was against Cincinnati in a torrential downpour, and their 24 points may be just as impressive owing to the weather). Besides an ugly loss to the Eagles, the Steelers have looked to be a top-5 team in the league. With Le’Veon Bell back, there seems to be nothing stopping the Steelers until Brady and the boys come to town in two weeks. But between then and now? A road trip to Miami, which may see new records set in fantasy football scores for owners of Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and Ben Roethlisberger.
Patriots 33 Browns 13
Has there ever been an in-season addition as large as Tom F’n Brady coming back to a 3-1 Patriots squad that already looked like world-beaters? I’ll answer that question: No. Seriously though, this game was bordering on sexual for me. Martellus Bennett had 3 TDs and both him and Rob Gronkowski went over 100 yards. Also going over 100 yards: Chris Hogan. 7/11 (because he’s always open, get it?) showed an immediate connection with Brady, and the thought of the Patriots being able to run their 2 tight end offense at full capacity for the first time since Aaron Hernandez got framed for murder should terrify the NFL.
As for the Browns, they’re terrible so I’d like to take this opportunity to address something about them that has always bothered me: their uniforms. Contrary to popular belief, the Browns are not named after a color; they’re named after a person. So what, I ask, is the devotion to the hands-down worst possible color for a sports uniform? The Cavaliers and Indians both rock with blue and red color schemes, so why can’t the Browns abandon the brown and orange that has come to symbolize failure in the NFL? “That’s the way it’s always been” is the worst justification for anything, and the Browns are in serious need of a makeover (or exorcism).
Cowboys 28 Bengals 14
The Cowboys were home underdogs in this one, according to Vegas. I would say that, in hindsight, that was not giving the Cowboys much respect… except I predicted them to win on our Hard Foul Podcast on Friday. With this win, the Cowboys move to 4-1 and a tie with the Eagles for first place in the NFC East. Dak Prescott has not thrown an interception this year, which is surprising because who knew that having your quarterback not commit turnovers was the formula for wins? Ezekiel Elliott became the third rookie ever to have 130 rushing yards in 3 straight games, which is pretty neat. He seems to have overcome his early-season woes and solidified himself as an upper-echelon back. I can still criticize the selection based on other team needs, but it’s hard to argue with the results they have gotten from Elliott. It remains to be seen whether or not Tony Romo will replace Prescott when he is healthy (I say he shouldn’t, Jerry Jones says he will), but it is starting to look increasingly likely that whoever suits up at quarterback once Romo is able will be taking the reigns of a playoff team.
The Bengals, meanwhile, continue to underachieve. The lone bright spot for the Bengals in this one was Andy Dalton throwing 2 touchdowns against 0 interceptions. A.J. Green never really got going, and their run defense was shredded all afternoon. From where I’m sitting (on a couch in Houston, Texas, if you must know), Marvin Lewis should be on the hot seat. Cincinnati was supposed to be a Super Bowl contender heading into this season. So far, they have two wins with one being a one point, last second win against a bad Jets team and the other being against the Dolphins. Their losses have all been of the double-digit variety, and their defense has allowed at least 22 points in 4 of their 5 games. It has been a good (but not great) run for Lewis in Cincinnati, but this is a team badly in need of a shakeup.
Raiders 34 Chargers 31
This may have been the most entertaining game of the afternoon. Philip Rivers has shown immediate and powerful chemistry with Travis Benjamin, and rookie tight end Hunter Henry has all the looks of a future Pro Bowler. Even the old man, Antonio Gates, found his way into the endzone. Melvin Gordon continues to lead the league in rushing touchdowns. For all the fireworks on offense, the Chargers still walked away with a loss on Sunday. The ongoing Philip Rivers saga is probably our nation’s worst tragedy. Rivers is a national treasure, and someone who deserves only good things. In reality, he is stuck on a Chargers team that didn’t look very good to start the season, and proceeded to lose almost all of their impact players to injuries. Their problem with holding 4th quarter leads is a trend that doesn’t bode well for them going forward. Football Outsiders’ DVOA rankings suggest that San Diego is a lot closer to a middle of the pack NFL team than one of the worst teams in the league, but it is difficult for rankings to take things like luck and chokes into account. Regardless of the advanced stats or the explanations, San Diego has one of the worst records in the league and is quickly headed towards a lost season.
The Raiders defense certainly hasn’t looked up to par yet, but with an offense like they trot out, that hardly matters. Derek Carr continued his onslaught of the NFL with 317 more yards and 2 more touchdowns against only his second interception of the season. ESPN credited this as essentially his worst game (he posted a 50.1 QBR in the Tennessee game and a 50.7 QBR in this Chargers game, so just indulge me here), and they were still able to get the win. Additionally, the 50 QBR he posted in his two worst games this year still ranks as better than his total QBR in his first two seasons. His QBR continues to be nearly 50% higher than his previous career mark this season, suggesting a player who is (say it with me here) “taking the leap”. If you were watching Amari Cooper set fire to the Chargers’ secondary and thought to yourself “this is probably the best game of his career so far”, you thought right. He set a new career high in yardage, 138, on 6 catches and added a touchdown for good measure. Michael Crabtree also contributed a touchdown, providing more evidence that he and Cooper may make up the best wide receiver duo in the league right now. The running game still leaves a lot to be desired for me, although Latavius Murray’s absence surely hurt, but the offense is good enough through the air that it hardly mattered. This Raiders defense is not going to win them many games, but there is enough talent that it is reasonable to expect some improvement. The Raiders now sit tied for first in the AFC West, and they have games against the Chiefs, Jaguars and Buccaneers upcoming before hosting the Broncos before their bye week. This is about to get interesting.
Bills 30 Rams 19
Well, I said that I didn’t think what the Rams were doing was sustainable and it sure wasn’t on Sunday. Buffalo looked fantastic on the ground, with LeSean McCoy firmly entrenched in his comeback season. Tyrod Taylor also played a very efficient game, throwing for 2 touchdowns on 12 attempts. He also lined up behind the guard instead of a center on a shotgun snap that, had it been recovered by Los Angeles, would surely have joined the Butt Fumble on NFL blooper reels. Sexy Rexy has that defense flying around and making plays, as well. This Bills team is finally starting to look like a Rex Ryan team, playing in-your-face defense and pounding away on the ground.
As for the Rams, there are two things that need to be noted. One is that they were without Michael Brockers and Robert Quinn on the defensive line, which probably contributed somewhat to the Bills’ success on the ground. The other point we need to touch on here is Jeff Fisher. I have been highly critical of him in this space before, but what he did on Sunday was one of the dumbest coaching decisions of the season. If you saw this game, or a highlight reel, you’ve seen the fake punt. Fisher fell in love with the fake punt after memorably using it to beat Seattle back in 2014. I can’t really describe how stupid it is to use a fake punt nearly semi-regularly better than telling you that I call fake punts on almost 50% of my punting plays in Madden because I’m a jackass. And that’s what Jeff Fisher is: he’s me, playing Madden and being a jackass, except he’s getting paid millions to do it and he isn’t straight fire with the control sticks in his hands like I am (billmatic12 on the PS4, find me).
Falcons 23 Broncos 16
The Falcons marched into Denver and handed the Broncos their first loss of the season. I’m not sure if the Falcons defense came to play, or if Paxton Lynch really wasn’t ready to be out there as the starter. Lynch was sacked 6 times and hit another 8 times on his 35 dropbacks, including a monstrous 3.5 sacks from Vic Beasley Jr. All of this combined to have Lynch post a QBR of 11.7. C.J. Anderson was ineffective on the ground, but he also didn’t get many opportunities due to the Broncos playing from behind all game. My suspicion is that the original gameplan would have featured a heavy dose of Anderson, with Paxton Lynch throwing the ball about 20 times. However, that wasn’t possible and the moment was probably too big for a rookie making his first start (especially a rookie not named Dak or Carson). Going forward, Trevor Siemian should probably be the starter when he’s healthy, or at least until Paxton Lynch is actually ready to run an NFL offense. Up next, the Broncos will look to get right on a road trip to San Diego.
The Falcons were dominant in this one. I’ve already told you what Matt Ryan did in the latest installment of his case for MVP. Tevin Coleman contributed 163 all-purpose yards and a touchdown, with Devonta Freeman adding 88 rushing yards and a score. Additionally, Freeman has claimed the lion’s share of the backfield touches, outcarrying Coleman 23-6. Coleman finished with 10 touches compared to Freeman’s 26, but was extremely efficient with his opportunites. The Falcons have a good thing going with Freeman as the workhorse and Coleman as more of a home run hitter. After posting 300 yards last week, it’s only natural that Julio Jones would finish with 2 catches for 29 yards. Denver has possibly the best secondary in football, so it made sense to attack them with Coleman and Freeman. With this win, the Falcons move to 4-1 and face another tough test next week with a road trip to Seattle.
Packers 23 Giants 16
The Giants’ woes continued in this one. After starting the season 2-0, the Giants have lost 3 straight and now find themselves 2 games behind the Eagles and the Cowboys and 1 game behind the Redskins. Eli Manning managed to cut down on the interceptions (he did lose a fumble), but that was about the only positive you could take away from their offensive performance. The Packers were boasting the best run defense in the league, and the Giants were only able to get 43 yards on the ground. Odell Beckham led the team in receiving and scored, however his line was only 5 catches for 56 yards and a touchdown. On defense, the Giants didn’t manage any sacks but Janoris Jenkins intercepted Aaron Rodgers twice. In my opinion, this was a fairly solid defensive effort from the Giants. They didn’t get much pressure (only 3 hits on Rodgers beyond the 0 sacks), but they managed to limit the damage. 23 points represents the Packers’ second-lowest total of the season. Unfortunately, the Giants’ offense just wasn’t up to the task of putting points on the board. This has actually been an ongoing problem for New York this year, as they have been held to 20 or fewer points in all of their games except for the loss to Washington. Going forward, they have a toss-up game against the Ravens and fly to London to play the Rams, which could also go either way before their bye week. These next two games are must-wins for the Giants, because they come back from their bye against the Eagles. If they can manage to win 2 of their next 3 games, they will be hosting the Bengals with a record of 4-4, and anything can happen from there. It’s put up or shut up time for Eli and the gang.
The Packers maybe at 3-1, but I do not see a contender when I look at their performances. Every Green Bay game this year has been decided by 7 points or fewer, and going 3-1 in those games suggests that they are prime for regression. Doing just enough to win is not sustainable. Against New York, they were having success on the ground with Eddie Lacy (before he left the game with an injury) and Rodgers played a good-but-not-great game (259 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT, 69.4 QBR). The Packers actually have the look of a good-bad team to me, in that they will beat bad teams and lose to good ones. They are dangerous if they make it to the playoffs, strictly because of Rodgers. They still have 3 games to play this year against the AFC South and both of their games against the Bears are upcoming. They find themselves 2 games out of first in the NFC North and will need to keep winning to ensure that they are keeping pace with the Cowboys/Eagles and the Cardinals/Seahawks. The Wild Card race in the NFC should be a good one.
– Bill Annechino (Twitter)