NFL Week 5 Predictions: Low Ratings Edition

So ratings are down 11 percent in the NFL. I could have predicted this given the indisputable facts that Peyton Manning retired, Tom Brady was suspended, and 11 percent of all NFL interest still comes back to arguing about them.

Okay, but on a more serious note, this league has had the No-Name Chicago Bears and Blaine Gabbert on in prime time twice each before Columbus Day. What did you expect? Week 5 seriously got started with Drew Stanton completing less than 50 percent of his passes and Phil Simms praising Gabbert for missing important throws. It’s not going to get any better with the farcical Presidential debate going on tomorrow night during Giants-Packers, and no Cam Newton against the Buccaneers on Monday night. The prime-time games have just been bad, and I’ve taken a few naps during the middle portions of them. It is hard to watch an island game that’s just bad football with countless commercial breaks for three hours.

Is the national anthem controversy sparked by Colin Kaepernick part of the decline? It could be. I’ve seen some weird people (Trump supporters, go figure) on Twitter saying how they’ve stopped watching for this reason, but overall I think it’s just been about the quality of the product. Chiefs-Steelers seemed like a nice game on paper, but the casual fan could have turned over to HBO for Westworld at 9 p.m. last week. It was a first-quarter knockout, and that was one of the good games on the prime-time schedule. Do  you really want to watch Jets-Cardinals next Monday night? That was a bad idea in April.

We’ll see if the ratings return to normal once the election is over, The Walking Dead goes on winter break, and the stakes get higher with each passing week of the regular season. But right now, the NFL is pushing crap games and it shouldn’t be shocked if people aren’t willing to put in the time. Life is too short to see if Ryan Tannehill has a breakout year in him. (In fact, that’s good advice for the Miami Dolphins too.)

Falcons at Broncos

We at least have one standout matchup this week: the red-hot Atlanta offense going into Denver against the most-respected defense in the NFL right now. Yes, defense usually beats offense in such meetings, but not always, and definitely not always in a Week 5 regular-season game. In fact, I can recall the 2006 season when Peyton Manning led the Colts into Denver in Week 8. The Broncos were 5-1, and had only allowed 3-7 points in each of their last five games (26 points total). It wasn’t that scary of a defense by personnel, but it did have Champ Bailey, John Lynch, Al Wilson and a rookie pass-rusher named Elvis Dumervil. Manning and Reggie Wayne had one of the best games of their careers in the 34-31 shootout win. The Colts of course won the Super Bowl that year, and I believe that team is being honored this weekend in its matchup against the Bears for a 10th-year anniversary.

Anyway, I’ve always viewed Matt Ryan as the poor man’s Manning, but he’s off to probably his best four-game start ever this season. Unfortunately, he’s seen nothing even close to a defense like this yet this season. Carolina did not have anyone capable of keeping up with Julio Jones last week in the 500/300 game for this combo. Denver has a couple of corners capable of containing Jones. That’s the biggest difference, because this Atlanta offense is not very deep at receiver. The other guys are more pedestrian at best. This isn’t like 2012 when Roddy White was still a stud. Contain Julio, and the passing game, which has historically not gone as well for Ryan on the road, should not be as efficient this week. If there’s somewhere for Atlanta to attack, it may be with its running back duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. The Broncos have not been as stout there this year, and I could see Freeman popping a big one.

But these offenses do share some similarities in that it’s the Shanahan/Kubiak style of WCO, utilizing zone-blocking scheme and play-action/bootlegs. The Falcons had a great touchdown bomb to a wide-open TE last week with a bootleg play. Ryan is definitely thriving in Year Two of Kyle Shanahan’s offense, but this is something Kubiak and Phillips should be very familiar with. I know Denver has a quarterback concern with Trevor Siemian as questionable, but I’m not even that worried about Paxton Lynch if the rookie has to make his first start. He was airing it out like crazy last week against Tampa Bay, so the Broncos will not hold back with him. I also think the Falcons are a pretty poor defense despite having the outside corners to contend with Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas. This might be a bounce-back game for C.J. Anderson and the running game.

As I tweeted after last week’s game, Atlanta’s first four games have been historically high scoring.

The Falcons can stake their claim as the No. 1 team in everyone’s meaningless power rankings with impressive showings the next two weeks on the road in Denver and Seattle. However, I think they’ll fall completely on their face in at least one of these matchups, and this is the one where I think they’ll come back to earth offensively. I don’t expect a blowout, because Denver almost never does that to anyone (three times in 23 games under Kubiak), but I don’t see the offensive production continuing for Atlanta here.

Best of the Rest

What else am I looking at in Week 5? It’s not a very good week…

Jets at Steelers – I’ve been a Darrelle Revis fan since he was at Pitt, but it’s been tough to see him play this year. He’s allowing 16 yards per target, by far the worst in the league. It doesn’t sound like he’ll play in this big matchup with Antonio Brown, but that might actually be a good thing for the Jets at this point. I worry that the Steelers might rest on their laurels after the huge win against KC, but this should be a game they take care of well at home. There’s a huge mismatch in play-action passing here. However, I still think Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brandon Marshall are going to play well. Fitzpatrick has to know his job is hanging on the line with nine interceptions in two games. Another pick parade, and I can’t see how Todd Bowles can keep putting him out there at 1-4.

Eagles at Lions – Well, here we go again, Eagles fans. The Lions are 32nd in defensive DVOA, and 31st against short passes. They’re also 28th against deep passes, so it’s really been a shitshow start for this unit. The Lions have been a huge disappointment since blowing a 12-point lead in the 4Q to the Titans in Week 2. Now they need a win against a 3-0 team that’s coming off the bye and has played very well, balanced football. It doesn’t look good for the Lions, and I think Carson Wentz should have another good game. It’s just a matter of how much credit does he really deserve when it’s feasting on another bad opponent? I’m all for opponent adjustments in stats. It’s absolutely not the same when you play the worst defense in the league compared to one of the best, like Matt Ryan will be doing in Denver. However, I’m not sure if we’re going about opponent adjustments the best way we can, because when you think about it, the concept of a team’s defense is constantly changing due to injuries and players being benched. Detroit is likely to play without its best pass rusher (Ezekiel Ansah) and linebacker (DeAndre Levy) again this week. So far, Andrew Luck in Week 1 was the only QB to face the 2016 Lions with Ansash (2 GS) and Levy (1 GS) on the field. It definitely should make a difference in playing Detroit without Ansah and Levy vs. playing Detroit with them, but how do we account for that statistically in a way that’s not so arbitrary? You can almost say a team’s defense (or any unit) has 16 one-game seasons rather than one singular unit playing a 16-game season. I wish I had some good answers for how to account for this better, but I haven’t put in the work to do so. I just know it’s an unfortunate issue with opponent adjustments.

Patriots at Browns – Let’s dial back on the “Angry Brady” narrative. Truth be told, he’s probably played just about every game since Spygate with a sandy va-well that’s not very presidential of me to say. But I really find it a tiresome narrative. Quarterbacks should always be motivated, and the Patriots should be extra motivated after a 16-0 shutout loss to Buffalo last week. Do I expect Cleveland to lose? Absolutely; this is the only winless team in the league, but it’s not a historically bad team. It’s just a lousy Cleveland team. Do I expect a total domination by the Patriots? Not necessarily, because the Browns are at home and have played competitively the last few weeks. And it’s not like the Patriots with Brady dominated this team in 2010 (lost 34-14) or 2013 (won 27-26 after needing a late onside kick for a comeback). Much like that 2010 game fueled by Peyton Hillis, the Browns need to run the ball well and control the clock with Isaiah Crowell, who is off to a great start in Hue Jackson’s offense. I don’t expect much from this game, but I certainly don’t expect a Brady masterpiece because he’s “angry.”

2016 Week 5 Predictions

I had the Cardinals by double digits on TNF, and that surprisingly worked out after it looked like neither team would score if you gave them 75 minutes of game time. Turnovers are a bitch.

Winners in bold:

  • Redskins at Ravens
  • Bears at Colts
  • Texans at Vikings
  • Patriots at Browns
  • Eagles at Lions
  • Titans at Dolphins
  • Jets at Steelers
  • Falcons at Broncos
  • Bengals at Cowboys
  • Bills at Rams
  • Chargers at Raiders
  • Giants at Packers
  • Buccaneers at Panthers

Man, all Derek Anderson does in Carolina is excel in garbage time and starting against Tampa Bay. I also wish the debate was on Monday instead, because Giants-Packers could be decent. If Odell Beckham Jr. has a dominant, great game, it will sadly get less attention than one of his tantrum games gets. But don’t take my Beckham prediction to the bank. Even though I plan to use him heavily in DFS this week, my overall game predictions have started about as poorly as any season I can remember.

  • Week 1: 7-9
  • Week 2: 10-6
  • Week 3: 8-8
  • Week 4: 8-7
  • Season: 33-30
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