After finishing 6-8 against the spread in Week 4, we now sit at 34-22-1 (60.7 percent) so for the season. More games played means more data, which have been incorporated into the model to pick Week 5 games against the spread. There are certainly some surprise picks this week—such as Detroit upsetting the Eagles at home, and the Cowboys squeaking out a win against a Bengals team that’s coming off a less-than-stellar win against the Dolphins. For my pick of each Thursday Night Football game, follow me on Twitter (@EricEager82).
Texans at Vikings (-6.5)
Prediction: Vikings win by 5
The Vikings have thus far been the best team in the league from points-for, points-against, and schedule perspectives. They host the Texans, who are off to a 3-1 start despite a slow beginning for free-agent pickups Brock Osweiler and Lamar Miller, neither of whom is cracking the top-15 in his respective position, in terms of overall grades, so far this season. Expect this to continue this week, as Vikings S Harrison Smith has made life difficult for opposing quarterbacks (allowing just 0.04 yards per coverage snap, third-least among safeties this season) and RBs (his 8.2 run-stop percentage is fourth-best among safeties).
Titans at Dolphins (-3.5)
Prediction: Dolphins win by 4
After a rough outing last Thursday against the Bengals, the Dolphins return home to face the Titans, losers of two straight hard-fought games against teams with winning records. Look for the Dolphins' passing attack to bounce back at home, with slot receiver Jarvis Landry facing a Titans' secondary currently using Brice McCain in the nickel. McCain is surrendering a 138.5 passer rating into his coverage this season, and without the steady Da’Norris Searcy behind him, will surely be out of his depth in that matchup.
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) October 4, 2016
Patriots (-10.5) at Browns
Prediction: Patriots win by 4 Tom Brady returns to the lineup as New England heads to Cleveland in Week 5. While it’s certainly plausible that the Patriots, with Rob Gronkowski finally returning to his normal form, will roll over the Browns, Cleveland does have the advantage of playing at home and has been pretty competitive in its last three games. New England is a 65.55 percent proposition to win this one, but look for the Browns to continue to stay competitive, with WR Terrelle Pryor (2.01 yards per route run, 19th among wide receivers) doing what he can to take advantage of Patriots corners Malcolm Butler (46th among cornerbacks with 1.38 yards allowed per coverage snap) and Logan Ryan (67th with 1.86).
Jets at Steelers (-7)
Prediction: Steelers win by 5 The Steelers are fresh off of two drastically different games—a 31-point loss in Philadelphia followed by a 29-point win at home against Kansas City. The Jets, meanwhile, are off to a disappointing 1-3 start, and are missing one of their stronger offensive weapons (WR Eric Decker). The Jets have a decided edge up front, where the Steelers’ offensive line is banged up (it appears as though right tackle Marcus Gilbert won’t play Sunday) and shaky in some areas (left tackle Alejandro Villanueva has the fourth-worst pass-blocking efficiency among qualifying tackles). If Leonard Williams (fourth in pass-rush productivity among defensive tackles), Sheldon Richardson (fourth among 4-3 defensive ends) and company can get pressure on Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, the Jets can keep this game close on the road.
Washington at Ravens (-4)
Prediction: Ravens win by 3 The Ravens are fresh off their first loss of the season, while Washington had a disappointingly-difficult time with the winless Browns in Week 4. Both starting quarterbacks have had a rough go of it so far this season, combining for just 10 touchdown passes compared to eight interceptions. Cousins has been worse, grading out as the 29th-best quarterback in the league (to Flacco’s 17th-best grade). Washington’s offensive line has played well, however, producing the seventh-best pass-blocking efficiency and the eight-best run-blocking grade so far, whereas the Ravens have finished 22nd and 10th in the same categories. Look for Washington to keep this one close on the road.
Eagles (-3) at Lions
Prediction: Lions win by 1 Last week, Detroit was a three-point favorite on the road against the Bears, while our model (correctly) had them as three-point losers. For somewhat similar reasons, our model has them faring better at home against this week against an undefeated Eagles team coming off a bye. While the potential absence of Ziggy Ansah is again a blow, Kerry Hyder has seemingly come out of nowhere to produce five sacks, one quarterback hit, and eight hurries, for a pass-rush productivity ranking second out of qualifying 4-3 defensive ends so far this season. Couple that with the continued strong play from cornerback Darius Slay (allowing fewer than one yard per coverage snap this season), and the Lions' defense could surprise people this week against a rookie quarterback on the road.
Bears at Colts (-4.5)
Prediction: Colts win by 3 While the Colts have been a very disappointing 1-3 so far this season, they’ve played four close games, and Andrew Luck appears to be returning to the form that excited Indianapolis fans during his first three seasons. Luck owns the third-highest overall grade (87.4) among quarterbacks, despite the fact that his offensive line ranks dead last in pass blocking efficiency so far this season. If healthy, the Bears' defense might be able to exploit that deficiency enough to pull this one out on the road. However, Eddie Goldman, Pernell McPhee, and Lamarr Houston are all out for the Bears, and their current trio of outside linebackers (Willie Young, Sam Acho, and rookie Leonard Floyd) rank 44th, 56th, and 60th among their position group in pass-rushing productivity so far this season. Look for the Bears' winning streak to end at one this week in Lucas Oil Stadium.
Falcons at Broncos (-5.5)
Prediction: Broncos win by 6 The Falcons have been brilliant offensively the last three weeks—out-dueling the otherwise undefeated Raiders on the road in Week 2, putting up 45 points in New Orleans while getting almost no production from their best player, and dominating a Carolina defense on the back of 503 passing yards from Matt Ryan and 300 receiving yards from Julio Jones. The Broncos have continued their Super Bowl-caliber dominance defensively into this season, boasting a trio of players (OLB Von Miller, CB Aqib Talib, and CB Chris Harris Jr.) with top-six overall grades at their respective position. Questions at the quarterback position for Denver have thus far not impeded their success, and I don’t think they will this week, either.
Bills at Rams (-2.5)
Prediction: Rams win by 1 The Rams has won three straight games, the last two on the road, on the back of a defense largely relying on a cover-2 scheme previously thought to be outdated in today’s NFL. Since firing their offensive coordinator, the Bills have won two straight games—last week shutting out a depleted Patriots' squad. Both teams will be looking to show that their resurgence is a real phenomenon. Look for the Rams, who unlike the Bills, are largely intact health-wise, to hold off doubters for at least one more week on the back of a defense—with eight starters owning overall grades above 75.0—facing an offense that just put their top receiver on injured reserve.
Chargers at Raiders (-3.5)
Prediction: Raiders win by 4 The Raiders appear to be for real, possessing a quarterback that appears poised for stardom and a defense that has improved markedly since the beginning of the season, specifically in the secondary. With Chargers’ cornerback Jason Verrett tearing his ACL last week, San Diego will be short starting-caliber players in the secondary. Look for Derek Carr and the highest-graded passing offense in the league to have their way in this one.
#Raiders quarterback Derek Carr is nearing “elite” QB status.
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) October 5, 2016
Bengals (-1) at Cowboys
Prediction: Cowboys win by 1
This should be as close to a coin-flip game as there comes. The Bengals are a very talented side, tied with Atlanta for the sixth-highest overall team grade so far this season. However, Dallas is at home, and matches up decently up front with the Bengals’ Carlos Dunlap (third among 4-3 defensive ends in pass rush productivity) and Geno Atkins (fourth among defensive tackles). If Dak Prescott can continue to play mistake-free football, the Cowboys may very well be able to take advantage of the Bengals' vulnerabilities (which the Dolphins were unable to do last Thursday night).
Giants at Packers (-7.5)
Prediction: Packers win by 5
On Sunday night, the Giants play their second-straight road game in primetime. While the Packers’ defense is not in the caliber of the Vikings’ unit that held Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. in check on Monday, they do have a solid unit, including eight starters with overall grades above 70.0. The big question is the performance of Aaron Rodgers, who remains in the bottom half of the league in PFF QB rating, adjusted completion percentage (where he’s second-to-last among all quarterbacks), completion percentage on deep passes, and accuracy percentage under pressure (where he’s last among all quarterbacks). Look for the Packers to win out of a bye against a Giants team on a short week, but 7.5 points is a bit high here.
Buccaneers at Panthers (-7)
Prediction: Panthers win by 7
After a very impressive first week, Jameis Winston has been the worst quarterback in the league based on PFF QB rating, second-worst based on adjusted completion percentage, fourth-worst in deep passing (throws traveling 20+ yards in the air), and seventh-worst in accuracy percentage under pressure. Things have been similarly-difficult on Cam Newton, who’s been knocked out of at least parts of the last two games, with only two quarterbacks facing more pressure on a per-dropback basis during that stretch. Both teams will likely be without their starting running back this week, a loss that means more to Tampa Bay, as Martin was the highest-graded back in the league last season and his backup, Charles Sims, is also injured. For the Bucs to have a chance, Winston will have to pull it together enough to take advantage of a vulnerable Carolina secondary Monday in Charlotte.