Bye weeks are never fun. The team is off and there is never any news until they play again. What a dull week for the Dolphins. So let's get right to the picks.
Indianapolis at Houston
The Colts nearly lost to the Jaguars at home and if Jacksonville hadn't fallen into the week four bad kicker wormhole, they would have stolen that victory. The Colts prevailed and landed atop the AFC South. That's the good news. The bad news is that Andrew Luck has a partially separated shoulder and he may play Thursday night. This is a long term/short term conundrum. The long term option would be to rest Luck and let his shoulder heal. But the front office and coaching staff may not have that kind of leeway as there are rumors they may be out after this season. The short term option would be to play him because he gives you the best chance to win. But Indy's O-line is about as bad as Miami's and all it would take is one hit to end Luck's season and further damage that shoulder. Meanwhile, the Texans are coming off a whuppin' (that's how we say it in NC) at the hands of the Falcons. They may be looking to get that bad taste out of their mouth and J.J. Watt and Jadaveon Clowney could tee off against that atrocious O-line. Luck has struggled behind that OL this season and his stats reflect it. He will struggle again as Watt and Clowney make it miserable for him (or Hasselbeck) and the Texans pick up a home win. Or he would have had he played. Reports are coming out now that Hasselbeck will start the game. Doesn't change the pick.
Texans 21 - Colts 20
Washington at Atlanta
Washington picked up a home win over division rival Philadelphia last week. But things get tougher as they head to Atlanta to face the undefeated Falcons. The Falcons are playing much better and the offense is dominating thanks to an emerging rushing attack (imagine that). The Skins can stop the run well enough, but they will not be able to contain Julio Jones. Falcons move to 5-0.
Falcons 31 - Redskins 21
Cleveland at Baltimore
Baltimore avoided an 0-4 start by sneaking past the Steelers last Thursday night, mostly in part to Michael Vick playing poorly and Josh Scobee giving the NFL world a harbinger of the week four kicking woes. Baltimore just isn't very good right now on either side of the ball. The good news is that they face a Cleveland team that doesn't appear to be as talented. However, the Browns just went on the road and took the Chargers to the wire, with Josh McCown looking halfway decent. The Browns defense isn't as good as advertised, but they may be able to contain a listless Ravens offense. A 1-4 start for the Ravens isn't a good look, but that's what happens this week as Cleveland sticks it to their former team.
Browns 24 - Ravens 17
GAME OF THE WEEK
Seattle at Cincinnati
The Bengals have, quite possibly, the most complete team in the AFC. They have a solid defense and a solid offense. Their record reflects that as they are 4-0. They host a 2-2 Seattle Seahawks team that doesn't look anything like a true contender right now. If Dolphins fans complain about the Miami offense, they won't like this stat: Seattle has scored 5 offensive TDs in 4 games this season. The main reason is once again the O-line. Seattle's OL is bad and it limits the offense. Jimmy Graham, tight end scoring threat extraordinaire, is blocking more than he's used to because he has to. Seattle's defense is still pretty good, but aren't quite as dominant as they have been (top 4 the last 3 years). They have two wins, but both over teams with a combined one victory. It took a botched batting call to allow them to escape with a home victory over the 0-4 Lions. Now they face a tough Cincinnati team that can protect the QB and rush the QB. All Andy Dalton has to do is not screw up and he can pick up a big win here. Seattle's already struggling offense will continue to struggle as the Bengals beat up on their OL.
Bengals 24 - Seahawks 20
St. Louis at Green Bay
The Rams look better than they have in recent years and stole a huge road win against the Cardinals. They are 2-0 in the division and 2-2 overall. However, they face a tough Packers team this week. The Rams boast a good defensive line and have solid linebackers. Their secondary is weak however and I don't like them at all against Aaron Rodgers. If the Packers OL can protect Rodgers (and they have been so far), then the Packers' passing game should dominate the Rams secondary.
Packer 34 - Rams 21
Chicago at Kansas City
The Bears picked up a big win over the Raiders last week, but now have to roll into Arrowhead Stadium to face the Chiefs. The Chiefs are struggling on offense, but should get rolling against the Bears defense. The Bears will struggle against an aggressive Chiefs defense that could make it a rough day for Cutler and the Bears offense.
Chiefs 27 - Bears 17
New Orleans at Philadelphia
Neither one of these teams are very good. I'm going to go with the better quarterback.
Saints 21 - Eagles 17
Jacksonville at Tampa Bay
Is it possible that this matchup is more intriguing than the Saints-Eagles game? Yes. Yes it is. But not by much. The Jaguars are a good kick away from being 2-2 and atop the AFC South. The Bucs aren't very good, but could make this interesting. I'm going to go with the better defensive team and I think Jacksonville's defense will do enough to get the win.
Jaguars 21 - Buccaneers 14
Buffalo at Tennessee
The Bills struggled to get past the Giants last week and it's very possible that the league is catching up to Tyrod Taylor. The good news for the Bills though, is that they get to once again face a porous offensive line. They should be able to get pressure against Mariota and the Titans. They could use the same strategy as the Giants and get the ball out quick, but the Titans aren't quite good enough to beat the Bills defense yet. This should be a defensive battle.
Bills 17 - Titans 14
Arizona at Detroit
The Cardinals lost a tough matchup last week, but the Rams are always pesky to division foes. The Lions nearly helped out the Cards with a near upset win over the Seahawks. The Cards look to stay on top and keep the Lions winless. They are too good not to.
Cardinals 28 - Lions 21
New England* at Dallas
Tony Romo and Dez Bryant would have had fun against the Pats* secondary. They aren't playing however and it falls on the arm of Brandon Weeden. He should lean heavily on the rushing game. On the other side, the Cowboys defense gets Greg Hardy back from suspension and will need a strong game from him. Otherwise, the Pats* are too good on offense for the Cowboys.
Patriots* 31 - Cowboys 27
UPSET OF THE WEEK
Oakland at Denver
The Oakland Raiders aren't as bad as people thought and could be 3-1 right now. They face a tough Broncos defense that can get after the passer very well. The good news for the Raiders is that they have a solid offensive line that could quell some of that rush. The Raiders can rush the passer as well with Khalil Mack and Aldon Smith. They will need to get after Manning in order to compete. Denver should win this game, but the Raiders could... and will surprise in this one. Cooper scores a late TD to edge out the Broncos.
Raiders 28 - Broncos 27
San Francisco at New York Giants
The Niners are a good team right now and QB Colin Kaepernick needs to play better. They have an easier task this week against the Giants (compared to the Packers). I don't have a good read on this game, so I'll go with the Giants because I think they are a slightly better team right now and they are at home.
Giants 24 - 49ers 17
Pittsburgh at San Diego
San Diego's offense should be effective against a poor Steelers defense. Their defense struggled to contain a McCown-led Browns offense. They may struggle against a Mike Vick-led offense. The Steelers seemingly forgot they had Le'Veon Bell on their roster last week and made some strange play calls against the Ravens. It ALMOST worked, but it came back to haunt them. Perhaps they correct that against the Chargers, but that's questionable. Chargers take one at home.
Chargers 28 - Steelers 21
Miami at The Bye Week
If any team could lose to the bye week, it would be Miami. They started the week doing what they should have done last year by moving on from Joe Philbin. The team had given up on him. Interim HC Dan Campbell has one of the two components of coaching down pat: leadership. The players love him and some have said they'd run through a wall for him. But so did Tony Sparano. He failed at the second part: X's & O's. We don't really know how Campbell will fare in that regard. My guess is he will defer much of the play calling to the coordinators. Being an in-season hire will make it tough to implement new stuff. From his press conference Monday, it sounds like his goal is to get the team to play with more fire and passion - something they have most certainly lacked all season. The talent is there and he wants to squeeze every last drop of it out of the players (probably by flexing his biceps). He started off practice on Wednesday with the Oklahoma Drill. Is that propaganda to play to the media? Sure. It is needed for this team? Absolutely. This team is soft. We have all said it. Sure, guys like Suh and Wake don't need it. We all know they are driven. You know who DOES need it? The offensive line. Guys like Jamil Douglas and Billy Turner need to be toughened up a bit. Dallas Thomas needs to learn how to win his one-on-ones. They have taken on the persona of their previous head coach and played quiet and soft. Now, we hope they can take on the persona of Campbell and smash defenders in the mouth. THAT is his primary goal this season; to get this team playing better, tougher, and with more passion.
In some respects, I think the team has already taken to Campbell and taken on his persona. How? This week, a ridiculous report came out that Philbin had to tell the scout team defense to go easy on Tannehill to protect his confidence. Tannehill reportedly make a comment to a practice squad player, taunting him about his paycheck. After the smoke cleared, the FACTS came out that it was a walk through and the defense was going full speed, in other words, not doing their jobs. Former Dolphins player and current Finsiders member Troy Drayton said that the job of the defense was to give the offense "a look". They don't typically interfere with the plays, just provide the look. So it's easy to see why Philbin and Tannehill got upset with a PS player picking off a pass and showboating by running it back for a score. The most likely scenario is that Philbin told the defense to lighten up because it was a walkthrough. So how does this relate to Campbell and his persona?
The normally robotic and dry Tannehill was vehement about his innocence regarding the paycheck comment. He called the report untrue and "slanderous". That's not cheap talk there. NFL Network reporter Jeff Darlington reported on it and said that players are standing behind Tannehill. Mike Pouncey used expletives to describe the report. As NFLN host Andrew Siciliano mentioned, most players usually shrink from the media when stuff like this normally happens. That hasn't happened. Under Philbin, this team was usually buttoned up (like the coach). I don't think players will start running their mouths or being stupid under Campbell. But I do think the reserved nature of things will change and it started with that they way players responded to that report. I think the players will rally behind Campbell and play their butts off for him and it may have already started. Will this save the season? Maybe. Maybe not. But Miami has talent and to paraphrase Lou Brown: They just need something to bring it all together. Perhaps Campbell can be the catalyst; it certainly can't hurt.
Duke's Record: 33-30-0