I got above .500 last week, but just barely. Here's hoping that Dan Campbell can fire my picks up enough to a winning record.
Atlanta at New Orleans
The Falcons' OL struggled against the Redskins and Matt Ryan struggled because of it. This week, they get a reprieve as they play a Saints defense that doesn't generate too much pressure. Julio Jones wasn't fully healthy, but could be a bigger factor this week. The run game is what is getting Atlanta going this season however as Devonta Freeman has scored 8 rushing TDs in 5 games. Imagine that Dolphins fans: a running game helping out an offense. Who knew? Obviously the Falcons did and the Saints are about to learn.
Falcons 35 - Saints 20
Washington at New York Jets
Washington nearly pulled off a big upset road win against the previously mentioned Falcons. A pick six in overtime doomed them however. Washington now has to face Darrelle Revis and company in New York. The Skins will have to rely heavily on the run game in this one, but I'm not sure it's enough. Offensively, the Jets aren't special, but can do enough to win. The Skins will hope to limit Chris Ivory unlike letting him have a career day against them. Jets pull off a late win thanks to another Kirk Cousins INT.
Jets 21 - Redskins 14
Arizona at Pittsburgh
Ben Roethlisberger said he wants to return for this game to play against his former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. That is an unlikely event however and the Steelers will once again have to rely on Mike Vick to win. Meanwhile, the Cardinals are playing like the best team in the NFC. They look like a Super Bowl contender. They are simply the better team right now.
Cardinals 35 - Steelers 24
Kansas City at Minnesota
Sitting at 1-4 and with Jamaal Charles out for the year, the Chiefs would appear to be done. The Chiefs failed to score another point without Charles in the game and they will have to find offensive somewhere else. The Vikings have a pretty tough defense and can move the ball decent enough. The Chiefs will need to play great defense to stop AP.
Vikings 24 - Chiefs 20
GAME OF THE WEEK
Cincinnati at Buffalo
The Bengals are coming off a big win over the struggling Seattle Seahawks. The Bills snuck by the 1-3 Titans. Both teams have a good defense. The Bengals have a better offense. This one will be close and fun to watch, but I see the Bengals doing just enough to move to 6-0.
Bengals 24 - Bills 17
Chicago at Detroit
The Lions self-destructed last week against the Cardinals - doomed by turnovers. The Lions, much like the Dolphins, are struggling due to lack of a run game, poor offensive line, and struggling defense. At least the Lions TRY to run the ball. In any case, they look to get on the board against the resurging Bears, who stole a win last week against the aforementioned Chiefs. The Bears' defense isn't great by any means and they may struggle against Calvin Johnson. But the Bears' offense is probably good enough to score against the Lions. Chicago makes it to .500 as they pile on the Lions.
Bears 21 - Lions 17
Denver at Cleveland
I picked Oakland to upset Denver last week and they came very close. A late pick six by Derek Carr ended that idea, but it was a close game throughout. Peyton Manning isn't the player we are used to seeing. The Broncos are winning thanks to a running game and stout defense (picture Kermit the Frog sipping tea here). They will face a Browns team that have played spunky over the last few weeks. They picked up a big win over the Ravens last week. However, the Browns, like the Dolphins, are passing at an unsustainable rate (over 70% of the time). That won't work against a Broncos team has a fierce pass rush. This game will be low scoring, and the Broncos have to deal with the west-coast-east-coast-early-start thing. But the Broncos defense will put them over the edge.
Broncos 21 - Browns 14
Houston at Jacksonville
Two teams from the worst division in football. Yeesh. The Jaguars have a better QB right now and better playmakers on the outside. The Texans have Watt and Clowney, but that isn't enough for them. The Texans couldn't get past the geriatric Colts on Thursday night, so I'm not sure how they'll do against a young team with some talent. I'm going with the home team.
Jaguars 20 - Texans 17
UPSET OF THE WEEK
Carolina at Seattle
Ok, I'm kinda cheating with the upset pick here. Seattle has a 2-3 record right now and face a 4-0 Panthers team. So in that regard, it's an upset. Many fans are overlooking just how bad the Seahawks offense is right now. They have scored 7 offensive touchdowns in 5 games (for a reference point, Miami's offense has 7 TDs in 4 games). Seattle's offensive line is terrible and the normally elusive Russell Wilson is on pace to be sacked 70 times this year (picture Ryan Tannehill sipping tea here). They are running the ball well, but that has only translated to 1 TD (only Jacksonville and Miami have less rushing TDs). They face a tough Carolina defense who have an emerging CB in Josh Norman. The Panthers will struggle to move the ball as they have no quality receivers. This will be a defensive matchup and I like the home team just slightly over the road team, despite the records.
Seahawks 17 - Panthers 14
San Diego at Green Bay
The Chargers lost a heartbreaker at home to the Steelers on Monday night and now have to go into Green Bay to face Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. This could be a good matchup to watch between two top QBs. The Packers are a better team right now and they are at home. Advantage: Green Bay.
Packers 31 - Chargers 27
Baltimore at San Francisco
Only one Harbaugh in this game and his team might actually be the worse of the two. San Francisco nearly had a big win on Sunday night, only to watch the Giants pull off yet another amazing catch to win in the final moments. Super Bowl combatants only 2 Super Bowls ago, these teams have a combined 2 wins right now and it took head scratching coaching moves by Pittsburgh for Baltimore to even get one of those wins. Baltimore isn't very good right now on either side of the ball. The Niners can play defense at times and may shut down a lackluster Marc Trestman led offense (cue Bears' fans nodding their heads right now). The Ravens aren't good on defense either and SF may be able to run on them. There are only three late games this week and some poor, unfortunate fans will get stuck with this snoozer. I'm taking the home team.
49ers 20 - Ravens 14
New England at Indianapolis
Think this one has been circled on Tom Brady's calendar for a while? This looks like a battle between two division leaders, but that's merely a technicality. The Colts are 3-2, but those wins have come against the 1-3 Titans (required a late game comeback), the 1-4 Jaguars (missed FG away from being a loss), and the 1-4 Texans (another terrible team). They won those games by a combined 12 points. They lost to the 3-2 Bills and 3-1 Jets, scoring 21 points total in those games (Miami scored 28 points against those teams). Two of those wins were with backup Matt Hasselbeck under center. That means golden boy Andrew Luck has led the Colts to a 1-2 record, while compiling a stat line of 65-116 (56.0 completion percentage, 753 yards (6.49 YPA average), 5 TDs, 7 INTs, and a passer rating of 65.0. Only one of those stats is better than Ryan Tannehill's stats and only by a margin of 0.17 (#MagicalQBWorld). I wonder what is says for Andrew Luck when 40 year old Matt Hasselbeck has outplayed him thus far? Why has Andrew Luck "regressed" like this? In terms of pressures allowed, his OL isn't in the bottom 5 like Miami's OL (31st in the league; picture Ryan Tannehill sipping tea here). But his OL is still pretty bad and pressure has been causing Luck to make more mistakes than most would expect of him. They're 23rd in rushing offense despite adding Frank Gore this offseason. His weapons aren't overly special outside of T.Y. Hilton. Defensively, the Colts aren't special. They have one good CB but that's about it. Is any of this sounding familiar to you? It sounds like the Colts and the Dolphins are practically the same team. Except the Dolphins play in a very tough division with a worse OL and the Colts get the 3-11 combo platter of the Texans, Titans, and Jaguars. The Colts will most likely cruise to yet another division title because of how terrible that division is and then get beat by a clearly superior team. I expect the Patriots to show just exactly how far behind the Colts actually are in this game.
Patriots 48 - Colts 14
New York Giants at Philadelphia
I have no clue how to take this game. The Eagles beat up on the lowly Saints, while the Giants had a great comeback over the Niners. Both teams have positives and negatives. If Odell Beckham Jr. is limited by his hamstring issue from Sunday night, this game could tip in the favor of the Eagles. I'm sticking to the home team in this one.
Eagles 24 - Giants 20
Miami at Tennessee
If nothing else, Dan Campbell has made the Dolphins fun again. He is clearly trying to mix things up in practice. At the behest of new assistant head coach Darren Rizzi, Campbell has moved the locker room around so position groups are together. On Monday, it was reported that the offensive players had to carry the pads of the defensive players after losing in some drills. Peter King reported in his MMQB article that when Campbell had his first practice, and focused heavily on one-on-one drills, Olivier Vernon stepped up first when the DE vs. OT segment started and wouldn't leave the circle. What does this all mean?
For starters, it sounds like the players believe in Campbell. It was hard to believe that the players believed in Philbin by the way they carried themselves. Campbell is leading and they are following. It's a start.
Secondly, the players want to play hard for Campbell. Reading between the lines from all the Monday practice reports is that with Philbin, players used to coast through practice; they were just going through the motions. With Campbell, things are more intense. With the coaching staff not being assured of position past this season, the players certainly aren't assured of starting or playing time. Sure, guys like Wake, Tannehill, and Suh aren't in jeopardy. But guys like Sheppard, Aikens, Taylor, Dallas Thomas? Not so much.
Third, young players are learning that they need to bring it every snap every time they are on the field. Campbell said that he wants to instill the idea of winning every rep. You kinda got the feeling with Philbin than certain players got preferential treatment despite play (e.g. Brice McCain getting more snaps over Jamar Taylor despite the fact Taylor has outplayed McCain since training camp). Guys like Jamil Douglas, a talented player who is struggling right now, will hopefully learn to tap into that reservoir that he doesn't know he has yet to fighter just a little bit harder on the next snap. And the next; and the next; and you get the picture. I'm sure Philbin understood that, but I don't know if he ever expressed it and it got through. It sounds like Campbell is possibly getting through to some of these players.
Fourth: depth chart changes. Remember when Rishard Matthews was listed as the backup behind Kenny Stills, despite being the top target all preseason and then into the season? Good times. Remember when Greg Jennings was listed above rookie DeVante Parker and then getting red zone targets instead of the 6'3" 215 pound WR you drafted to be a red zone target? Good ti... yeah, enough with that. There probably won't be a lot of wholesale changes to the depth chart, but there should be some in certain areas. Here they are:
DVP should start immediately. He's not the technician that Jennings is and will still need to learn a few things. But it's time to get the guy out on the field and draw some things up for him.
At CB, Jamar Taylor should start on the outside and Brice McCain should become the full time nickel. If Brice still struggles, then move to Bobby McCain. Bowman should start at the other outside CB spot until Grimes is fully healthy.
At FS, start Michael Thomas over Walt Aikens. Aikens has potential and the goal was for him to learn the FS spot behind Delmas this season, then take over next year. He was forced into the starting role this year and has struggled, mostly with the mental part of the position. Thomas is a better player in that regard and while he doesn't possess the athletic upside that Aikens does, he will make fewer mental mistakes. It's a shame they didn't retain Chris Clemons. Was he a playmaker? No. But he was a quality starting FS and would most certainly shore up the secondary. That's not really an option, so they need to go with the safest option they have on the roster.
On the OL, bench Dallas Thomas, move Jamil Douglas to LG, and start Billy Turner at RG. Turner struggled in preseason. Then again Dallas Thomas did not. Turner played well in limited snaps last year. This won't necessarily help with pass protection; there's not a great deal of personnel movement that can right now. But this WILL help in the run game. Douglas was drafted to be the LG and he can move back there. Turner is a natural mauler with the athleticism to get to the second level. You want to help Tannehill in the passing game? Get the defense on their heels with the running game. Turner can help there. Will it be enough? Who knows. But Dallas Thomas is bad, especially in the run game, and Philbin's loyalty to him is irrelevant right now.
As far as X's & O's go, we will have to see if Campbell has what it takes. There will be some struggles. I like the way Armando put it, "he doesn't know what he doesn't know". He will have help and I think he'll do fine with game plans. There won't be much change in scheme on either side of the ball, and that's to be expected. It's virtually impossible to change schemes midseason and expect to have any success. I do expect some tweaks such as running the ball more with more power running concepts and more aggressive play calling with the secondary. But otherwise, Campbell will have to make the most out of what he's got. Can he do it? We can hope. What I do know is that this team will player harder and with more passion against the Titans than they have shown in all four previous games combined. NO ONE wants to come back to that sideline and have to face Dan Campbell if they didn't give it their all and then some. I expect better blocks, better tackles, harder hits, and tougher running against the Titans. I expect that the players on this team will do everything in their power to make sure Dan Campbell's first endeavor into head coaching is a successful one, starting with this week. I could give some analysis regarding the Titans. But this week and this game, it's about the Dolphins and how they respond. The challenge has been given to them. Will they accept?
Dolphins 24 - Titans 20
Duke's Record: 41-36-0