By Jeff Risdon
This weekend’s slate features a host of home underdogs, making this a challenging forecast. It’s getting to the time of the season where teams have either refuted or confirmed preseason expectations, and it’s time to put those summer concepts aside. That is easier said than done.
Last Week: 14-1 and the only miss was taking my Lions, a pick I would have changed Sunday morning if given the chance. 49-27 on the season.
Gambling Update: I’m hot, baby! Hitting on all three wagers last week (NYG, STL and SEA) brought home $4000. That sound you hear is me making the Johnny Football money sign as I type. The bankroll sits at $15,500 after starting at $10,000.
- Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans (+2.5): The Texans host the Colts in a battle for first place in the AFC South. This is a critical game if the Texans hope to make the playoffs, their best chance to keep a leg up on the surging Colts. J.J. Watt will have to prove once again he’s the league’s MVP, because if he isn’t great then Andrew Luck is likely to surpass him.
The quarterback battle here is a major issue for Houston. Andrew Luck vs. Ryan Fitzpatrick just isn’t a fair fight. It’s like Mark Price vs. Dwight Howard in a free throw shooting contest. Howard might get hot and sink a few in a row, but Price’s freakish consistency and reliability will prevail in the long haul. The key to winning that battle is keeping Price from getting to the line, and the Texans do have the ability to contrl the pace and the clock behind Arian Foster. I just don’t see them making enough plays to counteract the matchup of Luck and both TY Hilton and Reggie Wayne versus the Houston safety combo of D.J. Swearinger and Kendrick Lewis. The latter has been a pleasant surprise for Houston, but when Lewis last saw Luck his Chiefs defense gave up 35 points in a half…much of that thanks to Lewis being buttered toast. Indy hasn’t lost on Thursday night in a decade, and they keep that impressive string going while seizing control of the NFL’s worst division. At least this one shouldn’t be a blowout. Shouldn’t.
Colts 27, Texans 24
- Carolina Panthers at Cincinnati Bengals (-7.5): The news of Bengals star receiver A.J. Green being carted off during Wednesday’s practice after aggravating his toe injury are a concern here. Cincinnati does have other talented receivers, but Green is the straw that stirs their milkshake.
Will the Panthers be able to drink their milkshake? It depends on which Carolina team shows up. The one with the dominant front four and clutch passing game that knocked off Detroit and rallied for a victory over Chicago will win. The lethargic, chaotic unit that was blown out by AFC North teams Pittsburgh and Baltimore doesn’t stand a chance in The Jungle.
That’s the quandary here. In meteorological terms, the Panthers are the pop-up thunderstorm. Even though weather forecasters know there will be some, forecasting exactly where and when they hit is near impossible even with the most sophisticated equipment. The forecast here say the Bengals still win, but it’s a low confidence pick.
Bengals 24, Panthers 20
- New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles (-3): I’ll kill the suspense early; I’m picking the Giants to win outright on the road in a divisional game. Why? There are a few reasons…
- The Eagles offense ranks 29th in yards per play over the last three weeks.
- Philly has scored five TDs via defense or special teams in the last two weeks. That is completely unsustainable.
- Eli Manning is completing over 70% of his passes in the last three games, looking even more comfortable and confident with Odell Beckham Jr. in the lineup.
- Philly’s offensive line is atrocious at run blocking, and their 3.3 yards per carry over the last month means too many 3rd-and-longs for Nick Foles against a good Giants pass defense.
Giants 26, Eagles 24
- New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills (+3): New England’s sputtering offense got back on track a bit last week, but Buffalo presents a different sort of challenge. The Bills have the ability to play the run with just four linemen, keeping the linebackers free to roam in coverage and make it even harder for Tom Brady to find one of his pedestrian receivers getting any separation. Jerry Hughes and Mario Williams can also bring the heat off the edge, while Marcell Dareus comes off a week where he destroyed Detroit’s interior offensive line. This is a tough matchup for the Patriot offense.
The problem for Buffalo is its own offense. Kyle Orton makes their passing attack more viable, but he’s still working out the kinks and timing in the offense. I don’t see their rushing attack having much success. I also don’t see Orton avoiding the rush or avoiding a catastrophic turnover like his gift-wrapped pick-six of a week ago.
Ah, screw it. My gut feeling is that the Bills celebrate the approved new ownership with an improbable victory.
Bills, 23, Patriots 20
- Chicago Bears at Atlanta Falcons (-3): I could give you an exhaustive breakdown here, but I’ll keep this one very simple: Matt Ryan at home against Chicago’s craptastic linebackers and safeties is the single biggest mismatch of any X’s vs. O’s on the entire slate of games this week. Don’t overthink this one, folks. I’ll put $500 on the Falcons.
Falcons 38, Bears 31
- Dallas Cowboys at Seattle Seahawks (-9.5): Dallas has been a wonderful surprise on the young season. Between Demarco Murray’s league-leading rushing and the shockingly effective pass defense, the Cowboys are an impressive overachiever.
Hold onto that positive sentiment, Dallas fans, because this game is not likely to be pretty. I do think the Cowboys offense will find some success thanks to the truly great offensive line and the downfield playmaking ability of Dez Bryant. Unfortunately for Dallas, I think the Seattle offense will eviscerate the defense. Seattle’s excellent special teams will prevent the Cowboys from getting field position and could create some shorter fields for its own offense. The mystique of the crowd will rattle Tony Romo for an INT or two, and that will be more than enough for the home team to prevail. The 9.5 points is a tough sell in either direction, however.
Seahawks 32, Cowboys 24
- Green Bay Packers at Miami Dolphins (+3): The Packers got themselves healthy by feasting on division rivals Minnesota and Chicago. Heading to Miami presents a different challenge, however. The Dolphins are rested after their English excursion. And they have history on their side, as noted by the Dolphins’ own webpage:
Breaking down the Dolphins’ bye history, the first thing that jumps out is that the last time they went into their off week with a 2-2 record the opponents the following game were the Green Bay Packers.
It’s the exact same scenario this year, and the Dolphins can only hope for a similar result as 2010 when they returned from their bye with a 23-20 overtime victory at Lambeau Field.
If you believe in omens, here’s another encouraging bye stat for the Dolphins: Miami has alternated wins and losses after its bye for the past nine seasons, starting with a 20-14 loss against the Buffalo Bills in 2005.
If the trend continues, that means the Dolphins will win because they’re coming off a post-bye loss in 2013.
If I learned one thing in my years as a history major at Ohio University, it is to not argue with history. I don’t know how they’ll knock off the superior Packers, but Miami somehow gets it done.
Dolphins 27, Packers 24
- Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns (-1.5): Oddly the Browns are not a home dog despite hosting the team which has mastered them for years. Cleveland comes off an epic comeback, the largest one ever for a road team in just one quarter. They’re a team figuring out how they can compete despite limited talent.
Pittsburgh is sort of the opposite. The Steelers do not look good, and often play like a team not as good as the sum of its parts. They are quite vulnerable here to a Browns team that is not beating itself with turnovers or poor special teams. If Pittsburgh cannot steal the ball a couple of times, it’s hard to see them taking a win with them on the short trip home.
Browns 20, Steelers 17
- Baltimore Ravens at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+3): Don’t automatically dismiss the host Buccaneers here. Since their blowout loss in Atlanta, Tampa Bay has won in Pittsburgh and took the Saints to overtime in New Orleans. Going back to Mike Glennon at quarterback has stabilized the offense, while the defense is finally creating some turnovers.
Still, the Bucs are home underdogs for a reason. The Ravens love to throw the ball, and even though they do so with an inefficiency rivaling the health insurance industry, the sheer volume (over 38 attempts per game) presents real problems for a secondary that struggles in both coverage and quickly tackling the receiver. This should be a big day for Ravens WR Steve Smith, who has some pirate feathers in his cap already from his years with the Panthers.
Ravens 34, Buccaneers 25
- Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings (NL): We will learn a lot about Detroit in this game. Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush are both likely to not play (fantasy alert!). The Lions are coming off a dispiriting loss at home to Buffalo where the team played well for exactly 90 seconds. They’re on their third kicker and have made just 4-of-12 field goals on the season.
In spite of all that, the Lions should prevail in their first outdoor game in Minnesota in almost 40 years. Minnesota has some injury issues of its own, notably underrated safety Harrison Smith. The Detroit defensive front should handle business against a leaky Vikings line, where left tackle Matt Kalil continues to emerge as one of the more underreported draft busts in recent times. The Lions snuff out the run without needing any help from the back seven. As long as they can keep Cordarrelle Patterson from being a one-man wrecking crew like he was when last these two met, the Lions have a major advantage. And given how scant the Vikings have used Patterson, I like those chances.
Lions 20, Vikings 16
- Denver Broncos at New York Jets (+10): Yeah, sorry here Jets fans. Not gonna happen. Be happy if the final score is within three touchdowns. I’ll put $1500 on the Broncos.
Broncos 41, Jets 9
- Washington at Arizona Cardinals (NL): Arizona’s questionable quarterbacks cloud this forecast. Both Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton are questionable, leaving rookie Logan Thomas as the likely starter. Thomas completed just one of his eight passes last week, though it did go for an 81-yard touchdown. The Cardinals have a good running game and lots of receiving weapons to help the youngster, but Washington’s pass rush is a real problem for him. Thomas was often paralyzed by the rush at Virginia Tech, and the ACC didn’t have anyone like Ryan Kerrigan or Brian Orakpo bringing the heat. I’ll trust in Arizona’s defense at home to stymie the erratic Kirk Cousins, but there is no outcome here that would surprise me.
Cardinals 26, Ethnic Slurs 21
- Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans (NL): The no line on this game is ostensibly because of the questionable status of Titans QB Jake Locker. It could just as accurately indicate the decided apathy towards two of the four worst teams in the league. The Titans rank 29th in point differential at -51 through 5 games, meaning they lose by an average of 10 points every week. The Jaguars are doubly worse, coming in dead last at -102. I’ll go with the obvious mathematical conclusion here…
Titans 20, Jaguars 10
- San Diego Chargers at Oakland Raiders (+8.5): The Raiders fired Dennis Allen after their London loss two weeks ago, replacing him with Tony Sparano. Most NFL fans know Sparano as the leader of some bad offenses in both Miami and New York (Jets), so it’s hard to imagine him having much of a positive impact on the NFL’s lowest-scoring team at just 13 points per game. Guess which team has the #1 scoring defense? If you said the Chargers, have a cookie. Easy pick for survivor fantasy games if you didn’t burn the Chargers last week against the Jets. I’ll put $1000 on it before the number, which opened at 7.5 at many books, goes up any further.
Chargers 33, Raiders 16
- San Francisco 49ers at St. Louis Rams (+3): I was impressed with how effectively St. Louis played on both sides of the ball in their furious comeback effort against the Eagles last week. However, that effort fell short. And it’s negated by their collapse against Dallas in St. Louis’ prior game. If the Rams are to win, they need to put the first half of the Cowboys game and the second half of the Eagles game together. It could happen, honestly it could. Austin Davis is better than you think and Kenny Britt’s head appears extricated from his rectum, giving Davis a viable receiving threat. The Niners are inconsistent enough and troubled enough to facilitate the improbable upset. I worry about overconfidence by the visitors, but then again I remember the last time San Francisco visited the Edward Jones Dome…35-11 49ers and it wasn’t that close, and that was facing a significantly better Rams defense.
49ers 31, Rams 20
Denver -10 for $1500
San Diego -8.5 for $1000
Atlanta -3 for $500
San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins, Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants, New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Diego Chargers, Oakland Raiders, IQ
By Christopher Reina
Our NFL Team Rankings are based entirely on the The Trench Counter, which is an objective formula measuring average yards per pass and run on both offense and defense, along with first downs registered and given up, turnovers for and against, and total penalty yards.
Over time, The Trench Counter rankings begin to closely resemble the standings but goes even further to determine which teams are truly the best when on the line of scrimmage.
The chief aim of the Trench Counter is to take the subjective out of the equation and even the somewhat fluky nature of teams actually scoring points, which is of course the whole point on a game-by-game basis.
The Seattle Seahawks entered the week with a +7.4 Trench Counter and stayed basically even with their +7.2 performance against Washington to leap ahead of the Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore Ravens and Arizona Cardinals.
The San Francisco 49ers continue to climb up the rankings after their 1-2 start, going from 14th to eighth, while the San Diego Chargers are now fourth after entering Week 5 at No. 12 due to their +23.1 against the New York Jets.
Week 5 Rankings
1. Seattle Seahawks: 7.3
2. Baltimore Ravens: 7.1
3. Miami Dolphins: 7.0
4. San Diego Chargers: 6.6
5. Cincinnati Bengals: 6.2
6. New Orleans Saints: 4.3
7. Arizona Cardinals: 3.5
8. San Francisco 49ers: 3.5
9. Green Bay Packers: 3.3
10. Chicago Bears: 2.9
11. New York Giants: 2.3
12. Indianapolis Colts: 2.3
13. Dallas Cowboys: 2.1
14. Detroit Lions: 1.4
15. Denver Broncos: 1.0
16. Cleveland Browns: 0.3
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: -0.1
18. Buffalo Bills: -0.3
19. Kansas City Chiefs: -0.3
20. Minnesota Vikings: -1.1
21. Atlanta Falcons: -1.1
22. Houston Texans: -1.3
23. New England Patriots: -2.2
24. Washington Redskins: -2.4
25. Philadelphia Eagles: -2.5
26. Carolina Panthers: -2.7
27. Tennessee Titans: -3.3
28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: -7.1
29. New York Jets: -8.0
30. Oakland Raiders: -8.2
31. St. Louis Rams: -8.6
32. Jacksonville Jaguars: -10.0
Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins, Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants, New York Jets, Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, IQ
By Jeff Risdon
$.01--The marquee game in the AFC pitted the unbeaten Cincinnati Bengals testing their mettle against the sagging New England Patriots in the Sunday night game. Cincy entered the contest as the NFL’s last unbeaten team. They left on the wrong end of a blowout loss.
One of the key points came on the first drive of the second half. The Bengals dodged a bullet just before halftime in holding the Patriots to a field goal, and Cincy could have seized momentum with a scoring drive. Instead they went 3-and-out thanks to blanket coverage from Darrelle Revis, Kyle Arrington and the New England secondary. Instead of making a statement they were back for the attack, the Bengals whimpered back to the sideline with all their positive vibes zapped.
When the Bengals did get a spark, the Patriots answered. Cincinnati quickly turned a long Adam Jones punt return into a Dalton-to-Sanu touchdown, cutting the lead to 20-10. New England responded with an impressive touchdown drive, and on the ensuing kickoff former Patriot Brandon Tate fumbled it away. Kyle Arrington scooped it up and ran it in, pushing the score to 34-10. The Patriots ultimately won 43-17.
Just like that, the NFL’s last undefeated team went down. It took just five weeks for every team to lose at least once, ending all drama in the chase to join the 1972 Miami Dolphins, who will never let you forget they’re the only team to go through an entire season unbeaten.
For all the talk about New England possibly giving up on an aging Tom Brady, the Patriots sure didn’t seem distracted. Shame on you if you expected them to go down without a fight. As I wrote in the game forecast,
But I refuse to write off the Patriots and Bill Belichick. I think New England’s defense will play to its potential in this one. They are a cornered animal, and Brady is still dangerous. So is the defense, and I’m worried about some post-bye rust from Andy Dalton and the Bengals offense. This is the proverbial middle finger from the cocksure Brady to all the people throwing dirt on the Patriots.
It’s games like this that remind us all that the New England Patriots are still a very legitimate contender in the AFC, and that the Bengals still struggle under the bright lights.
$.02--The Arizona Cardinals entered Sunday unbeaten and flying high. They head home from Denver 3-1 and thoroughly outclassed by the mighty Broncos, who pasted the visitors 41-20.
It was a close game until the fourth quarter, when Arizona’s good fortune with backup quarterbacks finally ran out. Drew Stanton, already filling in somewhat capably for an injured Carson Palmer, was knocked from the game. Enter fourth-round rookie Logan Thomas, who looked very much like the ineffective, inaccurate signal caller he was for most of his Virginia Tech career.
Thomas had one hell of a line: 1-for-8, 81 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT while being sacked twice. Not exactly Peyton Manning, huh…
Manning put on a clinic for the Broncos, completely outclassing Arizona’s defense. More specifically, Demaryius Thomas completely outclassed Antonio Cromartie. The big wideout broke out of an early season slumber with 8 catches for 226 yards and two touchdowns, including an 86-yarder where Thomas ran the last 60 yards unscathed. I didn’t catch every play but it appeared Arizona tried to handle Thomas with Cromartie on his own. Big mistake, and Manning made them pay. This was as close to the vintage Peyton as he’s been this year, though the Calais Campbell INT was a bit of a head-scratcher.
This should serve as a reality check for the Cardinals. Instead of being distraught about the loss, there is plenty of time to regroup and right what went wrong in Denver. Having a healthy Palmer--which is not a given with his nerve issue in his shoulder--will certainly help. They also learned what it will take to advance to the next level, and they do have the talent to pull it off. They must not get discouraged; winnable games with Washington and Oakland come with the next two weeks.
$.03--Last week during New York Jets' loss to the Detroit Lions, fans came out of the woodwork to demand Rex Ryan insert Mike Vick in at quarterback. Young starter Geno Smith was struggling against Detroit’s strong front, and his fumble on a sack set the Vick fans to fever pitch.
When Smith was once again brutal in Sunday’s lifeless 31-0 loss in San Diego, those fans got their wish. They learned a harsh lesson. The grass isn’t always greener because of better conditions. Sometimes that new grass sits over a septic tank.
It was about as ugly as a NFL offense can look. The Jets finished with 60 passing yards, or 34 fewer yards than they were penalized. New York was 1-for-12 on 3rd down, and two of their 11 first downs came on San Diego penalties. Just one drive had more than 5 plays or 23 yards. San Diego marched 90 yards on 11 plays on its first drive, and the ensuing Philip Rivers-to-Antonio Gates TD was all the Chargers needed to win.
Now that it has been firmly established that both Smith and Vick are awful, where do the Jets turn? The only other QB is Matt (son of Phil) Simms, who has been on the practice squad or the street for his entire 2+ year career. How can there be any hope? Those who clamored for Vick instead had their worst nightmare come to life, and now what do they have? Granted the receiving weaponry isn’t very good, but no quarterback should be as bad as either Smith or Vick were. Or are. The Jets are a mess at the most critical position in pro sports, and it’s almost certain to ruin what is a competitive rest of the team.
$.04--The Philadelphia Eagles certainly like to make their games interesting. Sunday’s matchup with the St. Louis Rams was no exception.
The Eagles took the lead less than 30 seconds into the game when they blocked a punt and Chris Magaros recovered it in the back of the end zone for a quick touchdown. It was 13-0 late in the second quarter and the Rams had just 53 yards on their first five drives. It looked like a rout in the making. The teams traded late touchdowns before halftime, and the host Eagles certainly looked comfortable with a 20-7 lead. It looked even more comfortable when Zac Stacy fumbled, and two plays later the Eagles were up 34-7 late in the third quarter.
After that point, it was all Rams all the time. Austin Davis, looking more poised and accurate with his deeper throws than Sam Bradford is in his dreams, rallied the Rams for three touchdowns in as many drives. The Eagles offense sputtered down and ate little clock on its own three drives, as once again Lesean McCoy found tough sledding behind a patchwork offensive line. When the Eagles aren’t going at full up tempo speed, they’re just not a very good offense.
Davis even had his resurgent Rams in position for a winning touchdown, but his 4th down pass to Brian Quick wound up incomplete. The Eagles held on 34-28 in a game they led by 27 with less than 20 minutes to play. This continues a wild up-and-down scoring chart for Chip Kelly’s Eagles:
It’s an exasperating, exhausting way to get through a season. They’re a very tenuous 4-1, with five defensive/special teams touchdowns in the last two weeks augmenting what has become a flat offense behind Nick Foles. The next five games (NYG, bye, @ARI, @HOU, CAR, @GB) are going to require putting up points in more conventional ways and not resembling Doug Moe’s Denver Nuggets teams of the 1980s with their wild in-game runs.
$.05--Last place in the NFC South was on the line when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers traveled to New Orleans in a matchup of 1-3 teams. This was supposed to be a get-right game for the struggling Saints, but instead they needed overtime to eke out a 37-31 win. All is not right in New Orleans, but one thing in particular stands out.
The inevitable decline of Drew Brees deserves the attention. It’s very real and it’s very painful to watch, especially if you’re a Saints fan.
On a day where he passed 40,000 passing yards with the Saints, his signature play was an awful, off-balance pick-six to backup linebacker Danny Lansanah. As Mike Tanier from Bleacher Report noted at the time, this wasn’t the first awkward, off-target panic heave for Brees this season. He threw three on the day.
While his raw statistics look awfully similar to his recent career arc, Brees is not playing as sharply as normal. His offensive line is a problem, but there is more to it than that. Marques Colston has also declined, but it goes beyond that, too. The velocity looks off just a bit. So does the pinpoint accuracy. Jimmy Graham, Brandin Cooks and friends are still making the catches, but they’re working harder to make them.
Perhaps he misses QB Coach Joe Lombardi, who is now running Detroit’s offense with mixed results. Or perhaps he’s trying too hard to shoulder the burden of trying to overcome Rob Ryan’s truly atrocious defense. It’s probably a confluence of all these issues. And I’m not sure it is going to go away. This is still a dangerous team, and by no means am I suggesting Brees needs replacing before 2016, but it’s hard to see this Brees leading this particular cast to any playoff wins.
$.06--Another Thursday night, another blowout. We probably should have seen this one coming, as the Packers hosted the QB-challenged Vikings in a grudge match Green Bay desperately needed to fully right its listing ship. Desperation, thy name is Christian Ponder.
The Vikings third starting QB in five games was terrible, even for his own prior low standards. Ponder was 22-of-44 for 222 yards, a dismal yards per attempt ratio. It gets even worse when his six sacks are factored in, dragging the total passing yards down to just 158 yards on 50 dropbacks. He threw two interceptions on consecutive plays, the first returned for a TD by Julius Peppers. Minnesota’s defense wasn’t nearly as awful as the 42-10 final would indicate. They knew they had no chance with Ponder under center and it showed.
Teddy Bridgewater will likely be back next week for the Vikings, and that should represent the end of Ponder in a NFL uniform. There is no reason for Minnesota to keep him even as a backup. Sure, he knows the offense. How exactly did that help against Green Bay’s lowly-ranked defense? Ponder is a free agent at the end of the season. Minnesota needs to accelerate his fate. Chandler Harnish is not the answer as the backup either, but he cannot be worse than Ponder.
The Packers have some backup QB issues of their own. Matt Flynn came into the game in mop-up duty and promptly threw his first pass right to Harrison Smith, who plays safety for the Vikings. At least Green Bay finally got something positive from Eddie Lacy, who looked more assertive in charging through some big holes opened by his quality run-blocking line. He topped 100 yards on just 13 carries after not topping 48 yards in any other game this year. He entered the game with 161 yards on 53 carries. If Lacy can run like he did against Minnesota, the Packers are back as a viable playoff team.
$.07--Normally college football only gets one cent here, but this was one of the most fascinating Saturdays in memory. Alabama lost to Ole Miss. Oklahoma lost to TCU. LSU got routed, although Auburn was favored. Mississippi State rolled unbeaten Texas A&M. Northwestern stunned Wisconsin, while Utah State knocked off unbeaten BYU.
But nothing tops what happened under the cover of late-night obscurity in the PAC-12. It started Thursday, when Arizona clogged up Oregon’s go-go offense and strangled the 2nd-ranked Ducks 31-24. It was the second year in a row Rich Rodriguez’s Wildcats feasted on Duck meat. Never mind that Arizona is undefeated; they were 24.5-point underdogs and probably would be if those two teams played again next week. That kicked off a string of surprises which has left the power structure of the 2nd-best conference in shambles.
UCLA was ranked No. 8 and undefeated. Was. Utah went into the Rose Bowl and came away with the 30-28 win when UCLA’s kicker missed two potential game-winning field goals with no time on the clock. The Utes won despite passing for exactly 100 yards.
Stanford, consistently the most overhyped program in the nation, lost on a soggy and cold afternoon at Notre Dame. The Irish remain undefeated thanks as much to Stanford’s unimaginative offense and one blown coverage on a great throw from Everett Golson, who belongs in the Heisman race. The Cardinal are now 3-2 and have to be the least fun team in any major conference to watch.
USC is fighting hard to climb back up to national prominence, but that slippery slope got sloppy when Jaelen Strong stabbed a Hail Mary and scored the game-winning TD for Arizona State. The man who threw that pass is a backup QB, Mike Bercovici, who threw for over 500 yards on the road against a defense featuring potential #1 overall draft pick Leonard Williams.
It was such a crazy weekend out west that Washington StCollege ate QB Connor Halliday broke the NCAA record for passing yards in a game, throwing for 734 yards and 6 TDs. The Cougars lost 60-59 when their kicker missed a 19-yard field goal with little time left. The Bears, one of the worst programs in the nation over the last few years, are the only team in the North division with two conference wins.
--My Lions suffered a brutal home loss to the Buffalo Bills. I really don’t want to think any more about this dog of a game, punctuated by three missed field goals from about-to-be-unemployed Alex Henery. Here’s my takeaway for Detroit:
--Awesome comeback win for the Cleveland Browns in Tennessee. After trailing 28-3 just before halftime, the Browns clawed their way back and stunned the Nashville faithful 29-28. Blame Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt for throwing the ball with backup QB Charlie Whitehurst more often than they ran the ball with the lead for helping Cleveland’s miracle comeback.
--Indianapolis finally beat a team that will win more than 5 games this year with a hard-fought 20-13 win over Baltimore. The strange stat from this game? 92 total dropbacks from Andrew Luck and Joe Flacco against what have not been good pass defenses, and just one touchdown pass.
--FOX’s Jay Glazer adamantly stuck to his guns in reporting San Francisco will part ways with head coach Jim Harbaugh even if the team wins the Super Bowl. Harbaugh fatigue is real, folks, much as Niners fans want to ignore it.
--Kyle Orton’s breathtaking moustache deserves more national attention:
--Through five weeks the Chargers have the league’s best point differential at +70. The Colts are next at +47. At the other end is Jacksonville at an astonishing -102. That means they’re losing by an average of 20 points per week. The Raiders are next at -52, though they’ve played just 4 games. Tennessee is at -51, giving the AFC South two of the three worst teams in the league. Easy to see why the Colts rank 2nd, no?
--I really don’t want to pile on the train wreck that is Michigan football, but consider the Wolverines made Gary Nova look like Peyton Manning in Rutgers’ 26-24 win. Nova threw 5 INTs in a loss to Penn State last month, and his propensity for spectacularly inept play once led me to compare watching him to brushing my hair with a pitchfork. He threw for over 400 yards and 3 TDs against Michigan, not turning the ball over once.
Now consider that one of Michigan’s victims this season is Miami, the Ohio version. They held the nation’s longest losing streak until finally eking out a win over UMass, its first victory since 2012. The Redhawks won when UMass forgot to spike the ball to kill the clock and couldn’t get into the end zone as time expired. The new holder of the longest losing streak? You guessed it, the Minutemen.
--Lots of folks are now touting Ole Miss QB Bo Wallace after his impressive, gutsy comeback over mighty Alabama. I’ll admit Wallace has improved in terms of a NFL prospect, but I still see a guy who tops out as a very good college QB but a marginal backup at the next level. They’re not really similar, but think Curtis Painter or Jeff Tuel as his NFL lot.
--Spent a good portion of the early Sat. game window focusing on Ohio State DT Michael Bennett. He’s a gap-wrecking bull with quick hands and natural strength throughout his body. Bennett has already figured out how to set up his moves and vary his attack, something that often comes later for interior guys. His best fit at the next level is at 3-4 DE, where he can use his quickness more effectively with the offensive tackle leaning outside to protect against the wide rush. It’s still early for draft slot projections, but Bennett belongs in the top 25 overall.
--The flip side of that game was Maryland WR Stefon Diggs. He did not impress, looking very linear and stiff in his routes and overall movement. There was one play, a reception over the middle where he shaked and baked after the catch, which showed why some have touted him as a top 50 talent, but the rest of the game he looked rather pedestrian. He reminds me of Devin Street from Pittsburgh, the Cowboys’ seldom-used 5th round pick last May.
--Remember when Florida vs. Tennessee was a marquee matchup, worthy of Brent Musburger in prime time? Yeah, times have changed. The two played a 10-9 affair which left both fan bases exasperated and hopeless. Florida won…I think. I don’t really know. Or care. It’s a rather insignificant game in the humdrum SEC East, where no team stands much of a chance against any West division team. The best team in that East might be Kentucky, which upended 3-3 South Carolina.
$.10--Music critic time!
Frequent readers know I love my music. I’ve been to well over 150 concerts in my lifetime, seeing some truly incredible shows. Heading into this last week, my top five concerts:
5. Joan Jett & the Blackhearts at the Newport in Columbus, 1989
4. Metallica on the first night of the S&M recordings in San Francisco, 2001 on tickets I won on a radio contest while everyone else was focused on the Columbine massacre the day before.
3. Coheed and Cambria with Porcupine Tree at The Intersection in Grand Rapids, 2010. Unquestionably the best audio production of any show I’ve ever seen.
2. Dream Theater with Joe Satriani circa 2004. So good I saw that tour in Cleveland, Detroit and Indianapolis. I never thought this musical nirvana could be topped.
Ladies and gentlemen there is a new top dog, albeit a familiar one…
1. Coheed and Cambria with Thank You Scientist at the Fillmore, Detroit last Tuesday night.
If you are unfamiliar with Coheed, you’re probably not a 20-something white male into comic books and fantasy. I’m not either of those, but I’m still a diehard Child of the Fence. That’s what fans call themselves, and it’s not unlike a religion.
Coheed’s music plays out as an extended story over multiple albums, and on this night they played the second one in its entirety. In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth was the entry point to the band and its story for many of us. It features one of the two songs casual music fans might be familiar with, A Favor House Atlantic. Yet for fans this is THE record that best defines the band and being part of the community.
Seeing it performed live with a couple thousand others was very much a religious experience. The entire congregation rose and cheered in unison. Everyone knew every word to every song and most sang along all night. Claudio Sanchez, the lead singer, guitarist and creative force behind it all, presided like a humble guardian of all that is holy. The light show, with the band’s signature key logo and dragonfly mascot, was awe-inspiring.
Every note was perfect. Not good, perfect. The sound engineering was fantastic. The guitar interplay between Sanchez and Travis Stever worked seamlessly, and it was great to see Stever offer a heartfelt thanks to the crowd. It was truly an amazing experience and it was well worth getting home at 2:30 AM to see it.
The opening act was a new band from New Jersey called Thank You Scientist. They’re hard to describe without actually playing their music. Think of a 70s funk band playing progressive rock with jazzy undertones, including a horn section and violinist. It sounds strange but it absolutely works. They earned a lot of fans with their unusual style and intricately melodic music.
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