Having so many teams unbeaten through four weeks (five this season) isn’t groundbreaking. You have to go back just four years to find the last time it occurred. It happened again in 2004, and with six and seven teams in 2003 and 1998, respectively. Also not surprising is the tendency for these unbeatens to be 4-0 or 5-0 after Week 5. Teams usually don’t start the season perfect unless they are indeed a strong squad.
But the 5-0 mark specifically carries an even more concrete meaning with it. Since the playoffs expanded to the current 12-team format in 1990, 90 percent of the teams who start 5-0 end up in the postseason. Not a guarantee (ask the 2009 Giants, 2003 Vikings, and 1993 Saints), but a near-certainty.
The one difference between this year’s undefeated trying to reach 5-0 and those of year’s past is that all five will have to do so in hostile territory. And we’re not talking about just any road games: each opponent is at or above .500, which gives us a better idea of how good these teams really are.
The consensus #1 team at the moment, the Denver Broncos travel to Dallas to face a Cowboys team that has looked much stronger at home (scoring 33.5 points per game and forcing 3.5 turnovers) than on the road.
Tied with Denver in the AFC West is this year’s surprise, Kansas City, who went 2-14 last season. Their consistent new quarterback Alex Smith and dominating defense go to Nashville to face the 3-1 Tennessee Titans. They took a huge hit on offense last week, but their defense is still well in tact and leading them to wins. Alterraun Verner and Jurrell Casey aren’t household names, but they should be with the way they’ve started the season.
Sean Payton‘s back from his year-long suspension and has picked up right where he left off in New Orleans. They began the season with two tough division games, but have reverted back to their dominant ways with wins over Arizona and Miami. But don’t be fooled into thinking that their problems in his absence were offense-related (more on that after the pick down below). They play Chicago, who just suffered their first loss on the road last week.
The last two are surprises for different reasons.
In New England’s case, success is hardly anything new. But the way they’ve gotten it done thus far deserve applause. After letting Wes Welker walk in free agency, they signed wide receiver Danny Amendola from the Rams. The drop-off in talent isn’t as large as many claimed it would be, but Amendola’s injury history was a clear red flag (he’s played just 14 games over the last three seasons). Combine that with an injury to Rob Gronkowski and murder charges for Aaron Hernandez and the receiving corp looks desolate.
But as the organization has done for a little over a decade now, they’ve found a way. It hasn’t been sexy (on offense, they looked out of sorts against Buffalo and stagnant against the Jets), but they’re 4-0 still. The Cincinnati Bengals are 2-2, but certainly aren’t incapable of beating any team any given week.
Then there’s the Seattle Seahawks — one of the late bloomers of last season and a markedly different team depending on the venue (more on that later). Their 4-0 record has seen them take two games they had no business winning in Carolina and at Houston last week, but also seen them come home and blowout Colin Kaepernick and the Niners and make light work of the Jaguars. A road game in Indianapolis against a 3-1 Colts team just as gritty as them could pose serious problems.
The road to 5-0 will be a tough one.
I thought about putting out the first NFL Ladder of the season this week, but next week seems like a better to release it. Too many question marks still through four weeks; more than any season I can remember so far. After this week’s games we should all have a better idea of who’s for real and who isn’t.
Wow, did Hampton Roads get the raw end of the deal this week: 1-3 Washington has their bye week, opening the door for some great matchups on Fox (New Orleans-Chicago or Green Bay-Detroit in particular) and what do we get?
1-3 Philadelphia vs. 0-4 New York. Brutal. Baltimore-Miami on CBS wins by default. Check out the full national map HERE.
Now let’s pick. Last week’s 1pm games were an absolute nightmare for me, but the later games and the Monday nighter saved me for the week. I went 10-6, bringing the overall for the season to 45-19.
Cleveland over Buffalo
I hesitate to even take credit for this win. After Brian Hoyer went down and Buffalo went up 10-0, I was kicking myself. Good thing Brandon Weeden and Travis Benjamin were there (something I may never say again).
New Orleans over Chicago
Here’s something that would have been blasphemous to say last season: The Saints defense is playing better than the Bears at the moment. The biggest improvement may be defensive end Cameron Jordan, who is applying pressure at will. Jay Cutler and Matt Forte will need huge games for Chicago to keep up.
New England over Cincinnati
For Tom Brady and the Patriots to go into the Georgia Dome and get it done with LeGarrette Blount and Kenbrell Thompkins is just insane. Even with Vince Wilfork done for the year, how can you bet against them right now?
Green Bay over Detroit
A much tougher call that I expected, but Aaron Rodgers should stay on his feet long enough to do some damage.
Kansas City over Tennessee
Think of how great of a matchup this would be with Jake Locker under center for Tennessee. But with him likely missing extensive time, it’s up to Ryan Fitzpatrick to keep the ship afloat. I don’t like his chances. Though these two strong defenses could produce a low-scoring game, the Titans face a Chiefs team clicking in all three phases right now.
Indianapolis over Seattle
Late change of heart. I’ve had Seattle penciled in here all week, but Seattle on the road is a much different team than Seattle at home. Especially true on offense, for a Seahawks offensive line that has been one of the league’s worst through four games.
Russell Wilson may be running for his life on Sunday if Indy can generate a decent pass rush. While Seattle doesn’t have a weak spot on defense, I think the Colts can move the chains today.
St. Louis over Jacksonville
Most set high expectations for the Rams, which they’ve failed to live up to thus far. Everyone set low expectations for the Jags, which they seem to have surpassed.
Miami over Baltimore
Miami’s back seven was unable to contain Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham last week, but their luck against Joe Flacco should be much better. As long as Ryan Tannehill can move the offense, they should earn a victory.
New York Giants over Philadelphia
The first three weeks have shown there’s really no reason to pick New York here. But how many reasons are there to pick Philadelphia? Certainly not the defense, and I think that’s the common thread to New York’s four losses. All came against very capable defenses. I don’t think the Eagles’ defense will be up to the task. Eli Manning finally gets it going and leads them to a win this week.
Carolina over Arizona
This four-game stretch for Carolina is all-or-nothing: Arizona, Minnesota,St. Louis, and Tampa Bay? Anything less than 4-3 would be a major disappointment. Of course the threat of Larry Fitzgerald and Patrick Peterson are apparent, but the Cardinals offensive line should have a tough time dealing with the pass rush of Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy. And Carson Palmer does not fare well under pressure.
Denver over Dallas
There’s a chance that Dallas, at home, can upset Peyton Manning and company. But it’s a very small chance. Even if you slow down the offense, there’s still the matter of scoring points on their defense (albeit a much easier task), not to mention keeping Trindon Holliday in check on special teams.
San Francisco over Houston
San Diego over Oakland (11pm, NFL Network)
The only question is whether to stay up until 2am watching it.
Atlanta over New York Jets
I’m sure the schedule-makers had an angle when they put this one in primetime, but even though Atlanta currently has the worse record, I don’t see it. The Atlanta defense stifles Geno Smith and cruises at home.
Record (Week): 8-6
Record (Overall): 53-25