The first month of the 2016 NFL Season is, sadly, over. But it included a lot of drama, plenty of surprises, and reminded us that, in the NFL, we need to remember to expect the unexpected. The Super Bowl Champions almost always suffer from that dreaded Super Bowl Hangover, but the Broncos are having none of it. Your favorite team may have broken your heart when their starting quarterback shredded his knee, but against all odds, the team is 4-0 with a guy that was acquired less than a week before the season started. The greatest team in the entire state of Florida may have frustrated you for three weeks, but somehow, someway, with great young defensive players, they FINALLY won a game. Editor’s Note: I’m not sure Aaron knows what ‘greatest’ means.
The NFC may be better than the AFC this year (top to bottom, the NFC is usually better). My top five teams right now would be Denver, Minnesota, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Atlanta. I could definitely see a Denver-Minnesota Super Bowl, or a Philadelphia-Pittsburgh championship. One of the coolest things about the NFL, in my opinion, is that those top five will almost definitely change between now (week 5) and week 16 or 17.
Locally, the Jaguars’ win is the talk of the town, and Gus Bradley’s job is saved for a little while longer. Hey, the optimist in me wants them to make a turnaround, and put together 9 or 10 wins. The pessimist in me, however, remembers that Bortles was making passes against a secondary so depleted the Colts had to sign Antonio Cromartie, and the defensive line was making amazing plays against what can be generously called a patchwork Colts offensive line. What will happen after the bye week? Well, Chicago is on the plate next, and that certainly looks like a winnable game for the Jags. Will the week off benefit the team or work to their detriment? As the Jags jerseys and teal and black facepaint go into the cupboard for a week of rest, that question, among others, rings around the Jacksonville area.
On to our Week 5 game previews and predictions…
CARDINALS at 49ERS – This is a pretty underwhelming Thursday night matchup, especially with Carson Palmer potentially out of the game. However, the 49ers make for an ideal opponent to get the Cards off a 2-game slide that makes them look vulnerable instead of one of the best teams in the NFC. The Niners lost to the Cowboys, and will probably keep on flirting with mediocrity until their quarterback situation improves. I think the Cardinals will win this.
TEXANS at VIKINGS – The Vikings look awesome. That is all there is to it. Showing up on a Monday night stage and handling the Giants is just the latest in what is, on paper, an improbable season: down their starting QB and superstar RB, they haven’t missed a beat. The pieces seem to have slid into place for the Vikes. The Texans looked vulnerable several times against the Titans. They are without their defensive leader, and I see them losing this and their perch atop the division swaying more and more.
BEARS at COLTS – The Colts are one of the first teams to come back from London without a bye week after the game over there. However, I don’t believe they will be too jetlagged to lose this one, because the Bears are what the Bears are right now – not playing good football and hampered by injuries. I don’t think the Bears can cover TY Hilton near as well as Jalen Ramsey did last week, so expect Andrew Luck and company to bounce back from last week with a win.
JETS at STEELERS – The Jets have paid a handsome sum for mediocre quarterback play. Their defense is getting burned in the air, giving up an average of 285 passing yards per game. The Steelers have this player named Antonio Brown. You may have heard of him; he is a pretty good wide receiver. The Steelers are also coming off a confidence-building blowout of the Chiefs. The Steelers should win this one pretty easily.
TITANS at DOLPHINS – This week’s Toilet Bowl game comes to us from Miami, where the Titans are going to try to be less inept than the Dolphins. With them being at home, the Dolphins will probably win this – but this is a lock for Most Underwhelming Game of the week. If you are stuck with it on your television, I apologize, and hope that you find something else to watch than the Continuing Regression of Ryan Tannehill.
EAGLES at LIONS – The Lions lost to the Bears, which is kind of like someone in the AFC South losing to the Titans with Zach Mettenberger at QB. (Fun fact! Zach Mettenberger is now a backup quarterback for the Steelers. So you could say the team has a double ‘berger. I’ll be here all week.) In any case, the Eagles are currently a juggernaut of a team, and I expect them to continue to defy expectations. They should return back to Philly with a win.
PATRIOTS at BROWNS – Tom Brady’s return to the NFL should be an easy win. Even if the Pats had a difficult time with the Bills, Brady will most likely will himself to a win in his first real game action since last year’s AFC Championship. Then, he lost by 2 to The Sheriff. This year, he’s going to be on a mission to prove New England’s 3-1 record without him is the exception rather than the rule.
REDSKINS at RAVENS – In the past three weeks, the Redskins have put up at least twenty points per game. The offense may be finding its groove. Meanwhile, the Ravens are looking pretty mediocre, and have close, probably-should-have-lost wins over Jacksonville and Cleveland. It should be pretty evident that Washington will make the short trip to Baltimore and make short work of the Ravens.
FALCONS at BRONCOS – This is an easy lock for GAME OF THE WEEK. The high-flying Falcons are 3-1 and making the rest of the NFC South look silly. Julio Jones had an amazing game with 300 yards receiving last week. Can the Broncos’ strong, dominant defense hold Matt Ryan and company to a manageable number of scores? There are definitely questions at quarterback for Denver, and rookie Paxton Lynch may have to start. Can he handle it, and let his playmakers do their thing on offense, or will the Falcons be too much for Denver? It is one of the most intriguing matchups so far this season. Personally, I like Denver at home.
BENGALS at COWBOYS – A quick summary of this game: the immediate future of Dak Prescott will depend on how he responds to a defense like the Bengals’. If Prescott can make the appropriate reads and make the appropriate calls to get the game to go his way, then we know his is ready and there is a legitimate case for him to stay in the starting lineup after Tony Romo returns. However, it seems like Dallas doesn’t really have the tools defensively to stop AJ Green. If the Bengals’ defense does what it needs to and Dalton finds Green regularly, the Bengals can win. However, the Cowboys do have enough offensive power to make their case for this game, and it’s in front of their home crowd. It’s a close call but I’d make the call for Dallas.
CHARGERS at RAIDERS – Oh, the Chargers. Even a year ago, the Chargers seemed to be the odds-on favorite for 2nd place in the AFC West. However, the Raiders seem to be filling that role nicely, and there’s only a loss between Oakland and Denver right now. The Chargers look like a bad team, and they will lose to the Raiders.
BILLS at RAMS – The Bills are a surprising 2-2. They just shut out the Patriots. Can they beat the Rams? Sure. But the Rams may have a giant home crowd behind them. That can sometimes make a difference, but only if the Rams continue to play competent football. Let’s see if that happens – but on this side of the game, my thought is that the Bills will win.
GIANTS at PACKERS – It must feel weird to be the Packers and be second place in the division this early in the year. It must feel weirder for the Giants to be coming off two straight losses and also have to deal with the weirdness of Odell Beckham. He seems to be slowly imploding. That may just be me. You don’t often go into Lambeau Field as the visiting team during prime time and walk away with a win, though, so the Packers should be refreshed, ready to go, and dominating the Giants.
BUCS at PANTHERS – Another “marquee” Monday night matchup. Just kidding! The Panthers are a surprisingly bad 1-3, not really equipped to handle grinding out a game and keeping the clock running. The Bucs have kept their position at the bottom of the division, and one of these two teams are going to scrape and claw their way up to second place since the Saints have the week off. I think the Panthers, after giving up a ton of points to Atlanta, protect their home field with a win.