Friday, October 09, 2009

NFL Week 5: Mr. Perfect

You had to figure this was coming. Even though there were only 14 NFL games last week due to the first run of bye weeks, a perfect week is a perfect week.

When you're me, you realize that such a week is unlikely to ever happen again, therefore, you have to relish it.

With that in mind, cue music.

Maybe a little overboard, but I have the right.

Now, on to this week's games.

I wish I could get excited about this week's slate. I mean, it's football, but that's about all it has going for it. The two big games are both in the AFC, as the resurgent Bengals try to take down the Baltimore Ravens, and the mentor meets his student when the Patriots visit Denver.

But coach storylines don't move the needle for me. The Ravens-Bengals game is much more intriguing.

Cincinnati has been a typical "find a way to win" type of NFL team so far. They're not beating anyone into submission, but instead overcoming their own mistakes and making enough plays to end up on the right side of the scoreboard. Yes, the Packers screwed up by not helping on Antwan Odom, but he still had five sacks and the Bengals still had to score 31 points to win. Yes, the Steelers missed a ton of chances, but Carson Palmer had to lead his team on back-to-back fourth-quarter touchdown drives to secure the comeback win. Last week, it probably sucked for Browns fans to watch their offense pay for turnovers and not be able to do anything in overtime, but the Bengals converted a fourth-and-11 with a Palmer run to set up the winning field goal, after the Browns had blocked a short field goal and an extra point in regulation.

The reality is that they're 3-1. It's not as sexy as the Ravens, who are scoring bundles of points and nearly won at New England last week, but 3-1 is 3-1.

Everything about this game skews toward Baltimore. They're at home, appear to have a bit more balance and consistency to their game, and their defense is begging for a breakout game. Even though I'm taking the Ravens, beware of this Cincinnati team. They might not have the look of an elite team, but they're clearly a much better group than they've had there in a while.
The pick: Baltimore

New England at Denver:
You can only beat the teams they put in front of you, but the Broncos are still looking to prove themselves against a realistically good team. Yes, they beat the Bengals, but they did it with the biggest fluke play the NFL's seen in years. We know Oakland is better, but they're still not very good, and Cleveland is wretched. As for Dallas, well ...

New England is coming off consecutive home wins over Atlanta and Baltimore. Tom Brady appears to have recovered nicely from the beating he got from the Jets. They're going to miss Fred Taylor, but if Bill Belichick can squeeze 11 wins out of the team while Brady was sidelined, I'm sure he can handle Taylor being out.

Josh McDaniels has successfully won over most of his team's fanbase, after an offseason full of people begging for Mike Shanahan back and referring to their young head coach as "McDummy" (or worse). Mike Nolan was a brilliant hire on defense, and the Broncos are getting measurable (and positive) contributions out of Brandon Marshall.

It's the classic "show me something" game, but it's the Patriots who usually win road games like this. Then again, the last time they faced an aggressive 3-4 on the road, they looked lost. Ah, let's not bet on that happening again.
The pick: New England

Atlanta at San Francisco: Can you believe this is a 4:05 Eastern kickoff? This game should be going to half the country. Instead, maybe 15 percent of America gets this game on FOX. Meanwhile, more than half the country will watch one of two games involving winless teams playing at home in Missouri. Congratulations!

The Falcons have a strong offense, as quarterback Matt Ryan has so far avoided a sophomore slump. The 49ers play great defense, but their offense isn't quite as advanced, and they will struggle defensively to make plays against Ryan and his skill players.
The pick: Atlanta

Other games (home team in CAPS)
BUFFALO over Cleveland
Pittsburgh over DETROIT
Dallas over KANSAS CITY
Minnesota over ST. LOUIS
N.Y. GIANTS over Oakland
CAROLINA over Washington
Jacksonville over SEATTLE
ARIZONA over Houston
Indianapolis over TENNESSEE
MIAMI over N.Y. Jets

Last week: 14-0
Season: 44-18

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