Week 4 Intel and Week 5 Picks
October is always the month in the NFL where the pretenders begin to get peeled away from the contenders. This happens because coaching staffs start to have a sufficient enough sample size to gather intel on certain fast-starters that have caught the league by surprise.
Examples in 2009 are the Broncos, Bengals and Bears, among others. Each one of those squads has cast aside some sort of negative rep (ie the Broncos defense, the Bengals’ finishing capabilities, the Bears’ lack of consistency at quarterback) to go a combined 10-2. However, they can all be be sure that opposing staffs are going to target some tendency or expose some weakness in a facet of their performances that had gone previously undetected.
While there are typically 10 or so teams in each conference entertaining realistic playoff aspirations in October, that number will be pared down to about eight by the beginning of November. The accruing of intel and the adjustments made as a result are why at least one of those aforementioned teams will be a string of losses removed from their September triumphs once the leaves are falling.
Before looking ahead, though, it’s probably wise to revisit some of the big games from Week 4, as it’s not often that there are so many matchups so early in the season that are capable of providing big-picture intel. By my count, there were four such games last week.
Big Game No. 1 — Patriots 27 Ravens 21
Intel gained: This was a classic December-like bout: big plays, lead changes, momentum swings, fourth-down drama, you name it. As much as everyone wanted to write off New England after a near 0-2 start, the fact is the ’09 Patriots boast a balanced and evolving offense, are solid on special teams and have a defense that has some punch to it. You can say the same about the Ravens, which is why this game was so hotly contested and could have very well gone the other way had Mark Clayton not dropped a fourth-down pass deep in Patriots territory with little time left in the game. There’s no doubt this meeting may end up serving as the precursor to a clash in January.
Big Game No. 2 — Saints 24 Jets 10
Intel gained: Interconference tilts are always interesting, if only for the fact that teams are seldom familiar with one another. From this game emerged some valuable intel, most notably that the Saints — unlike versions 2006-08 — no longer need to put up 35 points a game to win because they actually have a defense. It may not be a Top 10 unit, but it doesn’t have to be, it just needs to have some playmaking ability. The addition of Darren Sharper (5 INT, 2 TDs) has given it just that. On the Jets side, we learned that Mark Sanchez is still a rookie and capable of making some huge mistakes. The NFL learning curve is both harsh and unforgiving.
Big Game No. 3 — Steelers 38 Chargers 28
Intel gained: At 28-0, this game was such a blowout that Steelers fans actually departed Heinz Field en masse before Phillips Rivers decided to go (cue LL Cool J vo) ALL PHILLIP RIVERS!! The guy is a warrior and takes any obstacle as a personal slight, which is why San Diego improbably found itself within a touchdown late. The Chargers still lost the game, though, and the way they’ve cumulatively staggered out of the gates the last few seasons isn’t exactly something to be proud of. However, there’s no disputing the Bolts always end up playing their best football down the stretch. For the Steelers, the beginning of their title defense hasn’t been pretty but they remain one of the elite teams in the league and boast an air attack the likes of which has never been seen in Pittsburgh. While the defense seemed helpless during the Rivers onslaught Sunday night, that’s understandable given the temporary loss of Troy Polamalu.
Big Game No. 4 — Vikings 30 Packers 23
Intel gained: This contest was all about Brett Favre, and rightfully so. Given the game was played at the raucous Metrodome and under the spotlight of Monday Night Football, Favre’s surgical dominance of his former team wasn’t difficult to predict. But with their vaunted defensive line and the ongoing presence of one Adrian Peterson, it’s understood the Vikings are going to be tough to beat this year. It was the Packers, led by Aaron Rodgers, who showed some resolve and refused to back down from the stage. Given all the hoopla, Green Bay put forth an impressive performance, one that would suggest it may indeed be a whole different ballgame when the teams meet again on Nov. 1 at Lambeau Field.
Week 5 Picks (home teams in CAPS)
BUFFALO over Cleveland
Pittsburgh over DETROIT
Dallas over Kansas City
Minnesota over ST. LOUIS
NY GIANTS over Oakland
PHILADELPHIA over Tampa Bay
CAROLINA over Washington
BALTIMORE over Cincinnati
SAN FRANCISCO over Atlanta
Jacksonville over SEATTLE
Houston over ARIZONA
New England over DENVER
TENNESSEE over Indianapolis
NY Jets over MIAMI
Last Week: 11-3