Here at across the pond we went 10-5 last week but still rue the Bucs inability to finish a game they should have won, the Steelers unsuccessful final drive at Wembley, a narrow loss by the Ravens and the mysterious improvement of the Browns. 14-1 would really have been something, that said there are some real tough games in week five so ten wins this week in a fourteen game slate would be more than satisfactory.
On bye weeks are the two Wembley teams, Minnesota at least got off the mark and will hope to carry some momentum forward although the playoffs are surely beyond them. Interesting to see if Christian Ponder gets back under center or if Matt Cassel retains the start after a decent performance, Greg Jennings may well be in Cassel’s corner. Pittsburgh meanwhile are falling apart, even their defense didn’t travel to London, they are looking very likely to be picking in the top 5 this spring at the moment. They do at least have excellent coaches who will try to bring some spirit and discipline back in their bye week. Washington are also on their week off, a vital win kept them in contention in the woeful NFC East, they will have to improve but a .500 record may win the division, a rest will help Robert Griffin so they could return stronger. Tampa round out the four teams on bye, the four combined have two wins so all will expect to improve but the Buccaneers are in disarray. They have lost three close games now after surrendering a 10 point lead last week, their offense, scoreless in the second half takes the blame there. The Bucs offense may be the league’s worst, they have playmakers on the outside and in the backfield and some good linemen but with nobody to get the ball to their playmakers as a unit they look completely ineffective.
The strong largely got stronger in week 4; both the unbeaten Broncos and Chiefs of the AFC West won impressively and will fancy going 5-0 with winnable fixtures this week. The also unbeaten trio of Seattle, New Orleans and New England won again, Seattle pulling out a comeback win in overtime on the road, the sort of win that clinches homefield playoff games. New England are getting stronger it seems despite still being short of offensive playmakers and the Saints are back to somewhere near their best. Defeats for Atlanta, Cincinnati and Houston left that trio all in big trouble while the Ravens defeat in Buffalo didn’t inspire confidence. The NFC East contrived just one win again, that division remains the weakest in the league through four games. Injuries are always hugely important in the NFL, Tennessee quarterback Jake Locker, New England defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, San Diego defensive end Dwight Freeney and Oakland running back Darren McFadden headlined those to sustain injuries. Wilfork’s season ending torn Achilles is a huge blow to New England’s so far improved defense. Week five sees some vital games and plenty of games where defeat could be fatal for the loser.
Buffalo Bills @ Cleveland Browns
Two teams that have been scourges on atpf’s weekly predictions face off in a game that’s again tough to call. Cleveland have responded to losing their starting quarterback to injury, trading away their starting running back and losing their first two games by beating playoff teams in back to back weeks. They have rode the third best defense in the league and some decent quarterbacking from Brian Hoyer to gain those two upset wins. Buffalo meanwhile followed a disappointing performance against the Jets with a surprise win over the Superbowl Champions Baltimore. Both teams are at 2-2 and in foreign territory with the chance to have a winning record through five weeks. A win for the Browns would keep them very much in contention in a wide open and underperforming AFC North. Buffalo meanwhile are trying to stay in contention in the AFC East which currently has an 11-5 record.
The big issue for the Bills is the health of their running backs. Big playmaker C.J. Spiller is doubtful and workhorse Fred Jackson although more likely to make it is unlikely to be 100%. Buffalo seem to always start seasons well then fade away, the consistent ill health of this duo is a factor. Quarterback E.J. Manuel hasn’t done bad thus far but was thwarted by the stout Jets defense on the road and could find Cleveland as inhospitable in front of the dog pound. For Cleveland their offense mustn’t lose them this game. They are very good defensively and in rookie tight end Jordan Cameron have an emerging star. They don’t need to score big, just look after the ball and let their defense win it.
ATPF Prediction- Unthinkably the Browns land a hat-trick, beating the Bills by around a field goal.
New Orleans Saints @ Chicago Bears
Maybe the toughest test to date for the unbeaten Saints and a pivotal game for the 3-1 Bears. A Jay Cutler error strewn defeat to the Lions has the ‘same old Bears, same old Cutler’ hyperbole in full swing. With the Lions now ahead of them, Green Bay back after bye and the Vikings up and running this is an important game for Chicago. They rode their luck and used a few lives up in their 3-0 start but had an all round disappointing performance last week. Their 20th ranked defense is best known for its opportunism but against Drew Brees chances will be few and far between. Depth is a concern in the secondary due to injuries and Brees and his array of different weapons will expect to find and expose mismatches.
New Orleans are getting better and better, their defense needed to be adequate this year to give them a chance. Instead it has been excellent and played a big hand in their unbeaten start. With Brees as good as ever and playmakers Darren Sproles and Jimmy Graham playing at pro bowl levels they are going to be tough to contain and look to be capable of scoring against anyone. The Bears have to get pressure on Brees to try and force errors and take away the Saints running game. The Saints will think if they can protect their man he can guide them to another win.
ATPF Prediction– Saints are built for and win a shootout by around a touchdown
New England Patriots @ Cincinnati Bengals
The Patriots are unbeaten and in cruise control, the much vaunted Bengals stand at 2-2 behind a struggling quarterback who still doesn’t look the answer. Dalton couldn’t get anything going consistently against the Browns as his team was upset on the road. The Bengals defense meanwhile have been inconsistent, they are not playing at last year’s levels thus far and have a tough match here. The Patriots seem to be coming to form; two narrow wins to start have been succeeded by two easy wins, the imminent return of slippery slot receiver Danny Amendola and the almost unstoppable Rob Gronkowski makes this offense look scary again though losing nose tackle Vince Wilfork for the season is a massive blow on defense.
The AFC North is not the division we are used to so this isn’t must win for the Bengals but they need to find some consistency if they want to seize control, beating Green Bay then losing to Cleveland is not championship form. To win here they need to capitalise on any frailties in the Patriots thus far over performing defense, A.J. Green, Jermaine Gresham, Tyler Eifert and Mohammed Sanu give Dalton enough weapons and running back Giovani Bernard could cause problems to a Wilfork-less unit. New England have surrendered seven sacks thus far and will see on the Green Bay tape that the key to scoring against Cincinnati is not letting their destructive defensive line overwhelm you upfront. Aaron Rodgers was constantly pressured, hit and sacked and at home the Bengals will look to do the same to Tom Brady.
There are many facets to every NFL game but we can’t get away from Brady versus Dalton here and that ultimately dictates this one.
ATPF Prediction– Patriots remain unbeaten, win by a touchdown.
Seattle Seahawks @ Indianapolis Colts
The Colts are coming to form whilst the Seahawks look invincible at home but beatable on the road. Indianapolis destroyed the woeful Jaguars to get to 3-1 last week and Seattle came back from the dead to beat the Colts big rivals Houston in overtime. Though still unbeaten, the NFC favourites Seattle haven’t looked the dominant force on the road that they are at Century Field. Poor play calling and execution cost the Texans but Seattle were good enough to take advantage last week. Their defense is the league’s best and in Richard Sherman they possess the best corner in football. Offensively battering ram Marshawn Lynch will again be pivotal to the attack, Russell Wilson is happy to play conservatively when Lynch goes into ‘beast mode’.
The Colts, led by the brilliant Andrew Luck and new acquisition Trent Richardson have the 10th best offense and will expect to test this Seahawk defense in a variety of ways, getting yards on the ground is very hard to do but with Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw in the backfield they should find some success. Defensively the Colts rank eighth but have faced the Jags and Raiders in their four games so that could be misleading.
A tricky one to call this. It hinges on the battle of Luck versus this all star defense, if the Colts can have success there they will hope to contain Seattle well enough to edge it but any errors will be punished by this suffocating unit. Key for the Seahawks is having more consistent drives than they did in Houston or Carolina but this Colts defense isn’t as strong as either of those units so there is reason for optimism.
ATPF Prediction– Seattle’s defense frustrates the Colts and the Seahawks edge it by a point or two.
Baltimore Ravens @ Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins unbeaten start came to an unceremonious end in the Superdome and the Ravens unconvincing start saw them upset by the Bills. The reigning NFL champions are struggling offensively. Running back Ray Rice has barely got going and his backup Bernard Pierce averages just 2.7 yards per touch. Superbowl MVP Joe Flacco is struggling, he has seven picks, 5 of which came in Buffalo and receiver Torrey Smith while explosive must prove himself a viable number one receiver with Anquan Boldin gone. Defensively the Ravens have performed pretty well since being picked apart by Peyton Manning in week one.
Miami were going along nicely until the Saints led by Brees, Graham and Sproles proved too hot to handle on Monday Night. Few offenses can match the Saints firepower but on a team who will have to play solid defense to make the playoffs it was still worrying how easily the Saints moved the football on them. Offensively Ryan Tannehill had been going well until he had three interceptions in the deafening Superdome. The physically gifted Tannehill must learn to shrug off such games if he is to be a top quarterback and the other key factor for Miami here is overcoming the short week having played on Monday night. Baltimore need more from their receivers in aid of Flacco who himself must take plenty of blame for struggles so far.
ATPF Prediction– Defenses hold the aces here but at home the Dolphins can shade a low scoring game
Philadelphia Eagles @ New York Giants
The winless Giants are staring down the barrel here; surely 0-5 is season over. The 1-3 Eagles know that a fourth straight defeat will make them favourites to again be the NFC East’s basement team. This divisional clash is important for all the wrong reasons. The two are largely mirror images; both have been plagued by turnovers and have been consistently burned on defense, who will press the self destruct button here? Philly have lost three straight to AFC West teams, shipping 111 points in the process. The Giants have been outscored 69-7 in their last two outings. Philadelphia’s seven turnovers are unacceptable, New York’s fifteen puts them at record pace.
So other than their obvious shortcomings what will be key to this game for the two embattled teams? For the Giants, winning at the line of scrimmage has been key to past successes on defense and it will be vital here, if LeSean McCoy and Michael Vick can consistently run the ball with success containing the Eagles will be impossible. The Eagles meanwhile must force Eli Manning to take risks and try to create turnovers. It’s hard to envisage either of these two teams winning in current form but the Giants have enough talent on offense to score plenty of points and if they can just look after the ball will edge it.
ATPF Prediction– Giants win at last by seven to ten.
Detroit Lions @ Green Bay Packers
The Lions got a big win over the Bears last week to top the NFC North; they could take control of the division with a win here and virtually eliminate the perennial team to beat Green Bay from contention. The 1-2 Packers return from their bye week knowing they need to protect Aaron Rodgers better and need to play better defense to start stringing together wins. An early bye week is not what teams normally want but it could have been well timed for Mike McCarthy’s team. This game promises points, two of the league’s most explosive passing attacks facing up to two suspect defenses has shootout written all over it.
Detroit will hope their talented defensive line led by tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley can put heavy pressure on Aaron Rodgers as Cincinnati’s defensive line did in a week three win. Green Bay with the quartet of Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Jermichael Finley will be looking to expose the holes in Detroit’s secondary and more quick passes may be schemed in to keep Rodgers upright and take away the time the Detroit pass rushers need. As unplayable as Calvin Johnson is the vital cog to Detroit’s offense here will likely be Reggie Bush. Bush has missed two games for the Lions but has been huge in the two games he’s completed. Covering the dual threat is a tough call for anyone but if the Pack can nullify him and make Stafford one dimensional they will fancy getting pressure upfront and that could be key.
ATPF Prediction– Green Bay are ready after their bye and outduel the Lions by a single score.
Jacksonville Jaguars @ St. Louis Rams
The woeful 0-4 Jaguars could be just the tonic for the reeling Rams who at 1-3 have been one of the league’s more disappointing teams so far. The Jags are almost unanimously picked as the league’s worst team right now and have a whole raft of injuries to deal with. Their league worst offense has a reasonable matchup here with a Rams defense that has taken a big step back from the promise it oozed last season. The Rams offense has been equally disappointing, they are only two spots above their rivals here and their lack of a run game has hurt with Steven Jackson gone. Sam Bradford is improving but he remains some way off an elite quarterback and isn’t yet good enough to take games by the scruff of the neck when others around him are struggling. That said Chad Henne has just one touchdown throw so far so expect the Rams offense to be set an easier task here. The Jags only realistic hope is that Maurice Jones Drew comes up huge against a poor run defense but we haven’t yet seen any evidence that he’s the same player after injury so the Rams will expect to contain him and get a much needed win.
ATPF Prediction– At home the Rams cruise to victory by ten or more.
Kansas City Chiefs @ Tennessee Titans
It seems like lady luck is with the Chiefs this year. They are unbeaten having beaten three below par NFC East teams and the winless Jaguars and just as things should be getting tougher on the road at the 3-1 Titans, Tennessee quarterback Jake Locker’s injury again makes KC the favourites. Tennessee however shouldn’t despair; their solid start has been built around a hugely improved defense and sound management of their offense. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, a man with plenty of starting experience in Buffalo needs to simply follow Locker’s lead in making smart, conservative decisions to protect the ball. Tennessee’s defense has strangled opponents in their three wins and they rank ninth best overall.
Kansas City like Tennessee are well coached and understand that winning the turnover battle is vital. Alex Smith is at his best as a conservative, short and intermediate thrower not asked to make too many huge plays. Jamaal Charles is still underrated, he is one of the league’s top running backs and leads his team in rushing and receiving yards, he will be the main focus of Tennessee’s attention. Kansas City rank seventh defensively and have a plus nine turnover ratio. With both teams sound defensively and cautious offensively this game should be low scoring and hard fought. Both teams place a heavy emphasis on the importance of turnovers and indeed the winner of that battle likely wins this game. Alex Smith is looking after the ball well but Ryan Fitzpatrick in his time at Buffalo had a knack for throwing backbreaking interceptions so with that in mind the Chiefs have the edge.
ATPF Prediction– A low scoring affair is likely, the Chiefs prevail by a field goal.
Carolina Panthers @ Arizona Cardinals
The 1-2 Panthers return from their bye week hoping to retain the momentum gained from their demolition job on the Giants in week three. The Cardinals outlasted the Buccaneers to get to 2-2 last week and are outplaying expectations thus far. Neither team look to have much chance of making the playoffs or any chance of winning their divisions but both will fancy their chances here. Carolina have been better defensively than offensively and will be hoping that Cam Newton can come good after the bye week, the Panthers rank dead last in passing. The rushing attack of Carolina however is strong, with speedy DeAngelo Williams and bruising Mike Tolbert supplemented by Newton’s dynamic running.
The huge turnaround in Arizona has been the play of quarterback Carson Palmer. The veteran has no aspirations of being a pro bowler at this stage of his career but has significantly upgraded a revolving door of journeymen, misfits and backups. The Cards are in the bottom half of the league in both offense and defense but have been close in all four games and could easily have won the two they lost. The problem they face here is establishing any sort of running game against the Panthers excellent front seven. They should have some joy passing the football especially to Larry Fitzgerald but with left tackle Levi Brown traded away this week expect the Panthers to dial up plenty of blind side pressure to the immobile Palmer. With Newton and DeAngelo Williams both set to have success here against an average defense we see a road win for hot-seat coach Ron Rivera.
ATPF Prediction– Panthers defense comes up big, Carolina win by a touchdown or so.
Denver Broncos @ Dallas Cowboys
The Broncos offensive juggernaut continues to look unstoppable and with Peyton Manning in the form of his career a perfect season is already being talked about. Dallas have won both home games pretty convincingly but twice faded in road games where they have led.
Denver’s offense and particularly their passing offense are on course to break all sorts of records and the flawless Manning is having the time of his life with the quartet of Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Eric Decker and Julius Thomas running amok. The Broncos don’t really need to play defense but have talent on that side of the ball, the stats don’t tell a true story with teams always playing from behind. They have conceded 20, 21, 23 and 27 in their four wins so they can be scored on and the Cowboys who have notched up 67 in two home games will expect to outscore any of the Broncos rivals to date.
Tony Romo has a passer rating of 105.0 and has thrown just one pick yet the usually dynamic Cowboys offense is ranked just 19th and it seems that once teams take Dez Bryant away with double coverages Romo struggles to move the football. The running game of the Cowboys still can’t be relied upon and with Miles Austin it seems permanently either missing or short of full fitness the Cowboys lack a big play threat beyond Bryant. Tight end Jason Witten is among the best in the business but isn’t a deep threat. The defense of the Cowboys seems to focus on turnovers; they won’t see many chances against the Broncos. Defensive end DeMarcus Ware, linebacker Sean Lee and corner Brandon Carr are all playing outstanding football but the Cowboys 19th ranked defense is short upfront and in the secondary and they look ripe for Peyton Manning’s picking.
The two biggest factors which will determine whether Dallas can make a game of this are whether they can get pressure on Peyton Manning which is always so hard to do with how quick he gets rid of the football and whether anyone bar Dez Bryant has success on the offense. Murray, Witten, Austin or last week’s villain Terrence Williams, one of them must have a big game. Neither factor can be fancied for Dallas so the Broncos again win comfortably.
ATPF Prediction– Points galore, Dallas score thirty points and still lose heavily.
San Diego Chargers @ Oakland Raiders
The Chargers are trying to keep pace with the Chiefs with the AFC West looking highly likely to have two playoff teams this year. Reborn duo Phil Rivers and Antonio Gates are rolling back the years and the tandem tore up the Cowboys in the second half a week ago en-route to victory. An improved defensive performance was equally notable for the Chargers as their heavily retooled unit had struggled in their first three games but shutout Dallas in the second half. The Raiders are lacking in talent but have more discipline and determination than most recent teams and have made both Washington and Indianapolis work for victories; lack of offensive firepower has ultimately been their downfall in those two games however.
With Rivers back at the top of his game the Chargers eleventh ranked offense can again have plenty of success against Oakland’s secondary which is still trying to find consistency after being completely rebuilt. The Chargers are banged up upfront and the Raiders who have eleven sacks thus far, spurred on by their passionate home fans will want to get after Rivers from the first whistle.
The Chargers defense had been a revolving door through three and a half games but came up big in the second half last week and will hope to carry that momentum forward against the Raiders 26th ranked passing attack. With star running back Darren McFadden questionable the Chargers will be able to bulls-eye dual threat quarterback Terrelle Pryor and should again frustrate the Raiders offense which is in desperate need of playmakers. All signs point to the Chargers unless the Raiders pass rush can wreak havoc.
ATPF Prediction– Chargers offense is too dynamic, they win by ten here.
Houston Texans @ San Francisco 49ers
Being 2-3 is unthinkable for these two teams but for one it will be a reality by Monday. This is a huge game, both teams are well capable from 3-2 of going on winning streaks of five or more games to leave early season struggles behind but the 49ers chances of catching the Seahawks from 2-3 would be slim to say the least and Houston know that the Titans and Colts in particular are big dangers to their recent dominance of the AFC South.
Shocking defeats to bitter rivals Seattle and Indianapolis were forgotten to some degree by 49ers fans after a comfortable win last Thursday over the Rams. Houston and heavily criticised quarterback Matt Schaub must still be reeling after throwing away what looked a certain victory over the unbeaten Seahawks. The Texans have the 5th most offensive yards and they rank top 10 in both passing and rushing but have a -4 turnover ratio which has been massive, quarterback Matt Schaub’s pick six in the fourth quarter last week was the most crucial play of Houston’s season to date. They rank first in the league in defense but turnovers and special teams errors have meant they haven’t reaped their just rewards for it.
San Francisco’s problem in back to back defeats in weeks 2 and 3 was their usually reliable running game’s failings. The Rams are particularly poor against the run but nevertheless in week four their stable of backs went to town. Colin Kaepernick hasn’t played badly so far but teams have certainly been ready for him and with only Anquan Boldin proving a reliable target the 49ers rank a disappointing 27th in passing. The 49ers again are one of the league’s best defenses and rank fourth overall, Aldon Smith’s off field issues nevertheless haven’t helped.
This game could go either way but at home San Francisco are favourites. We believe that the Texans however can get the upset. J.J. Watt needs to be ready but he’s a tough kid. Beating the Rams merely papered over the cracks in San Francisco, their heavy losses to Indianapolis and Seattle show their weaknesses and their inability to move the ball against Seattle was alarming. The Texans defense is on par with the Seahawks so this could be frustrating for the 49ers.
ATPF Prediction– Upset win for Houston, they win by a touchdown.
New York Jets @ Atlanta Falcons
Few would have predicted that the Jets would have had the better record going into this game; the 1-3 start for Atlanta can virtually be entirely blamed on injuries. The Falcons dynamic offense has been particularly hard hit. Running back Steven Jackson got injured on an early touchdown run in week two and hasn’t been seen since. Receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones have both been battling injuries with White missing time and left tackle Sam Baker is now out. Throw in star defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux, starting corner Asante Samuel and a trio of linebackers and you get the enormity of the misfortune that has befallen the Falcons. The good news however is that all these players will return at some point so if the Falcons can stay in contention they can still make the playoffs. With White, Jones and Jackson all likely to be on the field on Monday the Falcons offense at least should be effective, their 25th ranked defense will gain encouragement from playing a Jets offense led by rookie Geno Smith who has thrown eight picks to four touchdowns so far. Stopping the Jets running the ball will be key, getting back to successes of the past the Jets are once again highly determined to have success on the ground and will stick with the run in any situation. They will hope to wear down Atlanta’s injury plagued defense.
The Jets lost their winning record by being heavily beaten in Tennessee last week, they aren’t built to get behind in games as they did there so must get a better start here. Rex Ryan’s teams are supposed to play good defense and the Jets are doing again, they rank 2nd overall and will hope to stifle the spluttering Falcons. With a trio of key starters returning however the Falcons offense may be a different beast here and generally in the Georgia Dome Matt Ryan and co are close to unstoppable. We expect this to be somewhere in between, the Falcons embattled playmakers won’t have it all their own way against this defense but Ryan doesn’t turn it over too much so eventually he will lead Atlanta to victory.
ATPF Prediction- Atlanta outlast the Jets, win by a hard fought touchdown.