The leaves are changing, the air is getting crisp and pumpkin spice has again taken over the world. For some, it’s the best time of the year. In the NFL, however, it’s time to start figuring out who’s for real.
It’s hard to believe, but we’re at about the quarter pole for the 2016 NFL season, and there are still plenty of questions to be answered. Are the Philadelphia Eagles for real? Will the Carolina Panthers and Arizona Cardinals — two supposed Super Bowl contenders — both miss the playoffs? Is there a quarterback the Denver Broncos couldn’t win a game with?
We’re also hoping, for the NESN.com football pickers’ sake, those questions get answered soon and we can start getting a grip on these games.
Here’s how the guys did last week against the spread.
Mike Cole: 5-10 (23-40 overall): Don’t let him get hot.
Ricky Doyle: 8-7 (29-34): The fact that this is our first winning record this season tells you all you need to know.
Andre Khatchaturian: 7-8 (26-37): Would have been over .500 last week if he didn’t listen to the guy who went 5-10 last week.
On to the Week 5 picks, with the lines coming from our friends at OddsShark.
THURSDAY, OCT. 6
(-4) Arizona Cardinals (1-3) at San Francisco 49ers (1-3), 8:30 p.m. ET
Mike: Cardinals. The game plan for Arizona should be pretty simple: run, run, run. The Cowboys ran all over the 49ers after NaVorro Bowman left Sunday’s game with an injury in the third quarter, as San Fran allowed 113 rushing yards from that point. Expect a big night for David Johnson.
Ricky: Cardinals. It’s never a good thing to lose a quarterback of Carson Palmer’s caliber, but perhaps it could be a blessing in disguise in the short term for the Cardinals. Arizona has been too reliant on the deep ball this season despite featuring a super talented running back in David Johnson. Not having Palmer should force Bruce Arians and Co. to play a different — more effective? — brand of football.
Andre: 49ers. Carson Palmer’s absence changes everything in this game. In the last two seasons, Drew Stanton has thrown 40 pass attempts and has completed just 40 percent with no touchdown passes and four interceptions. He’s not very good, and the 49ers defense has shown spurts of being decent, especially at home.
SUNDAY, OCT. 9
Washington Redskins (2-2) at (-4) Baltimore Ravens, 1 p.m.
Mike: Ravens. Terrance West picked up Baltimore’s first 100-yard game on the ground since last October, and there’s a good chance he and the Ravens find similar success against a Washington defense that’s showing no signs of improvement.
Ricky: Redskins. Washington is coming off back-to-back wins and its offense looks much better than it did the first two weeks. I’m also not sold on Baltimore, which makes the spread of more than a field goal a little too high for my liking. The Redskins are 6-1 straight up and against the spread in their last seven games as betting underdogs. The Ravens are 2-10-1 ATS in their last 13 games at home.
Andre: Redskins. Let’s stop hating on Kirk Cousins. The dude can play. After leading the league in completion percentage last year, he has a 66-percent completion percentage and is averaging 7.8 yards per attempt (8th) this season. The Redskins have also forced eight turnovers this year (tied-5th) and as a result have had an average drive start from their own 32 (4th in NFL.)
(-10) New England Patriots (3-1) at Cleveland Browns (0-4), 1 p.m.
Mike: Browns. As OddsShark points out, the Patriots are 5-14 ATS in their last 19 games as road favorites and 1-3 straight-up in their last four against AFC North teams. That 90 percent of bets are coming in on the Patriots also scares me because Vegas is smarter than us … despite apparently overrating the Patriots on the road in 14 of those 19 games.
Ricky: Patriots. Listen, I’m sick of the whole Tom Brady revenge storyline. Wasn’t last season supposed to be his revenge tour? How many revenge tours can one man have? Plus, wasn’t he already, like, the most motivated guy on the planet? Anyway, in spite of my obvious frustration, I’m still taking the Patriots here; partly to be the contrarian on staff and partly because I expect New England’s offense to look really, really good with Brady back the helm. This is the week Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski break out.
Andre: Browns. For a team like the Browns to pull off an upset like this, they’re going to need some big plays and also control time of possession. Well, guess what? Cleveland leads the league in explosive plays (31!) and rushing yards per attempt (5.7 yards per attempt). New England’s defense (5.6 y/a against– 20th) has been a huge disappointment so far this season. I also think we’ll see some rust from Brady, who hasn’t been with the team in a month. The Browns not only cover, but they win! Take it to the bank!
(-3) Philadelphia Eagles (3-0) at Detroit Lions (1-3), 1 p.m..
Mike: Eagles. The last time we saw the Eagles, they roughed up Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers. While it’s hard to completely buy in to Philly at this point, it’s hard to see them slipping up in this spot.
Ricky: Eagles. Carson Wentz and the Eagles will receive a reality check at some point. Just don’t count on it happening this week because, well, it’s the Lions.
Andre: Lions. I smell a letdown for Carson Wentz. A lot of numbers point to Philly in this one, but the NFL never makes any sense. I think Wentz throws his first pick against a team that has just one forced turnover this season (dead last). One stat I do like is that the Eagles only have 13 hurries this season (29th). If you give Matthew Stafford time to throw, he’ll make you pay.
Chicago Bears (1-3) at (-4.5) Indianapolis Colts (1-3), 1 p.m.
Mike: Bears. The Colts have so many problems right now on both sides of the ball. I also wonder how not getting a bye after the London game will affect them.
Ricky: Bears. No, Brian Hoyer isn’t the long-term solution in Chicago. And yes, I know the Bears’ first win of the season last week came against a lowly Lions team. But there’s something to be said for a team rallying behind a newly inserted quarterback. Sorry, Jay Cutler.
Andre: Bears. Somehow the Bears have a top-10 defense (5.1 y/p — 9th) and they’ve done it against solid quarterbacks like Matt Stafford, Dak Prescott and Carson Wentz. Andrew Luck might also end up in a body bag before the end of the season. He’s been sacked 15 times, more than any other quarterback.
Tennessee Titans (1-3) at (-3.5) Miami Dolphins (1-3), 1 p.m.
Mike: Titans. Tennessee has the fourth-most rushing yards in the NFL, while the Dolphins have allowed the fourth-most yards on the ground. Miami also has been dominated in the time of possession game (dead last), and at the very least, the Titans should keep this close and cover.
Ricky: Dolphins. The Titans’ offense stinks under Mike Mularkey. It’s like he’s coaching in 1991 and handling Marcus Mariota with little kid gloves in the quarterback’s sophomore season. I’m not in love with picking the Dolphins by any means, but at home and given the alternative, sure, let’s ride.
Andre: Titans. For the second straight week, I read Mike’s reasoning and decided to change my mind. It didn’t work out well for me last week, but I have an open mind and still have faith in Mr. Cole.
Houston Texans (3-1) at (-6) Minnesota Vikings (4-0), 1 p.m.
Mike: Vikings. Not only are the Vikings 8-0 ATS in their last eight home games against teams with winning records, they’re also the best second-half team in the league. That defense wears you down and they just outlast teams.
Ricky: Vikings. This could be a statement win for the Texans, especially after getting dumptrucked by the Patriots just two weeks ago. But I’m still not convinced Houston is capable of that sort of thing. And Mike Zimmer’s Vikings team — particularly the defense — looks legit.
Andre: Vikings. In Armenian, the word “danz” means someone who is incompetent in their profession. Brock Osweiler is a danz. He has more interceptions than touchdowns and he’s going up against one of the league’s most violent defenses.
New York Jets (1-3) at (-7) Pittsburgh Steelers (3-1), 1 p.m.
Mike: Steelers. The Jets’ pass rush was supposed to hide any deficiencies they had in the secondary. Well, the Jets can’t get to the quarterback, and the secondary has been exposed. Give Ben Roethlisberger time in the pocket, and he’ll pick you apart — as the Justin Houston-less Chiefs can attest.
Ricky: Steelers. With Ryan Fitzpatrick slinging picks all over the place, conventional wisdom says the Jets should rely on their ground game for the time being. Only problem is, the way to beat the Steelers is through the air, as Pittsburgh ranks fourth in the NFL with just 78.3 rushing yards allowed per game.
Andre: Steelers. How do you beat Big Ben? You hit him in the mouth. The Jets don’t hit many quarterbacks in the mouth (10 hurries — 30th). They’ve also allowed more explosive plays than any other team (25). Not great news when you’re going up against Big Ben, Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and Co.
Atlanta Falcons (3-1) at (-6.5) Denver Broncos (4-0), 4:05 p.m.
Mike: Broncos. Trevor Siemian is hurt, but the Broncos have shown they probably could win with one of us three under center. The Falcons have put up eye-popping numbers, but they haven’t faced a defense like this.
Ricky: Broncos. In consecutive weeks, Denver’s defense has contained Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Andy Dalton and Jameis Winston. Matt Ryan is the hottest quarterback in football right now, but he could be in for a long afternoon, as the Broncos lead the NFL with 41 quarterback hits (14 more than the next-closest team).
Andre: Broncos. A classic matchup of defense vs. offense. I’ll take the defense that leads the league in yards/play allowed (4.3) and sacks (17) in this one. The Falcons have yet to play a defense like the Broncos. On the other side of the ball, the Broncos definitely have weapons to feast on a defense that’s allowed a 69.3 completion percentage (29th).
Cincinnati Bengals (2-2) at (PK) Dallas Cowboys (3-1), 4:25 p.m.
Mike: Bengals. The Cowboys do a good job in the running game, but they have gone up against some bad run defenses (Chicago, Washington, San Francisco). It won’t be as easy against Cincinnati. The Bengals’ red zone offense could break out after a rough slate to start the season.
Ricky: Bengals. For whatever reason, Andy Dalton is really good against NFC opponents, posting a 14-4-1 record and 38 touchdowns to 17 interceptions. Does that matter here? I don’t know. But it’s enough for me to roll with the Bengals, especially since they’re better than any of the cupcakes the Cowboys have defeated so far.
Andre: Cowboys. Aside from Philadelphia, who’s had a bye week, Dallas has the best time-of-possession in the NFL. A third of its drives are at least five minutes long. To put that into perspective, the Eagles are second in the league at 21 percent. The Cowboys also have 14 drives of 10 plays or more — five more than any other team. Dallas’ defense isn’t amazing, but it’s hard for other teams to score when they don’t have the ball.
Buffalo Bills (2-2) at (-2.5) Los Angeles Rams (3-1) 4:25 p.m.
Mike Rams. The Bills won their Super Bowl last week in New England, but now they have to travel across the country to take on an upstart, confident Rams team in 85-degree weather. The Rams’ offense will struggle against the Bills’ defense, but hey, a 3-0 win would be a cover.
Ricky: Rams. The Bills are 0-9 SU and 1-7-1 ATS in their last nine games coming off back-to-back wins. They’ll have a target on their backs after posting consecutive victories over the Cardinals and Patriots.
Andre: Rams. The Rams lead the league in hurries (26) and have forced 9 turnovers (T-2nd). The Bills are coming off emotional wins against the Cardinals and Patriots. Also, after being a top-10 team in yards/play last season, the Bills now rank 22nd. I smell a letdown for Buffalo.
San Diego Chargers (1-3) at (-3.5) Oakland Raiders (3-1), 4:25 p.m.
Mike: Raiders. Don’t overthink it … don’t overthink it … don’t overthink it. This feels like a trap game, but the Raiders showed me something last week by going on the road and handling the Ravens. Now, they need to prove they can handle expectations — unlike their Week 2 stinker against Atlanta.
Ricky: Chargers. Oakland’s defense has looked much better over the last two weeks, but the improved performances came against the Titans and Ravens, neither of whom will be mistaken for an offensive juggernaut. Philip Rivers should be able to sling around the bacon a little bit come Sunday, at least enough to keep this one close in a high-scoring affair.
Andre: Raiders. The Raiders average 6.3 yards/play (2nd) and have turned the ball over just twice all season. The Raiders defense is also living up to its potential after allowing more than 1,000 yards in the first two games. David Amerson is one of the best corners in the game this year and with so many injuries in the Chargers’ wide receiving corps, I expect the Raiders to shut down the Chargers’ offense.
New York Giants (2-2) at (-7) Green Bay Packers (2-1), 8:30 p.m.
Mike: Packers. Green Bay is 9-1 ATS after the bye under Mike McCarthy, and the off week was perfectly timed after key defensive players — Clay Matthews, Morgan Burnett, Datone Jones and Letroy Guion all missed Week 3 against Detroit.
Ricky: Packers. Maybe it’s the Odell Beckham Jr. drama, but the Giants look like they’re on the verge of falling apart. The Packers, meanwhile, boast a very good run defense, which could prove problematic for the Giants, who are working with a banged up backfield … Oh yeah, that Aaron Rodgers guy usually is pretty good in primetime, too.
Andre: Packers. Once again, how do you beat elite quarterbacks in the NFL? You hit ’em in the mouth. The Giants don’t do that. They only have four sacks (dead last in the NFL) and that’s not going to work against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, who are coming off a bye week.
MONDAY, OCT. 10
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-3) at Carolina Panthers (1-3), 8:30 p.m. — no line as of Thursday
Mike: Panthers. If a home game on a Monday night and starting 1-4 — with or without Cam Newton — isn’t enough to get the Panthers out of this slump, nothing will.
Ricky: Panthers. Carolina isn’t as good as last season. Clearly. But Tampa Bay makes too many mistakes — minus-9 turnover differential (second-worst in the NFL) — and Jameis Winston simply hasn’t taken that next step in Year 2.
Andre: Bucs. If Newton doesn’t play, I think the Bucs win. If Newton plays, I’ll still take the Bucs. He seems like he has lost all of his confidence. Winston and his crew are much more talented than whatever the Panthers have offensively.
Thumbnail photo via Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports Images