WEEK 5 SURVIVOR POOL
Yea, yea, yea, Week 4 was tough on all of us. But now we are a month into the season and I’m ready to heat up. Teams have had four weeks (three in some cases) to show us who they really are and what we can expect. Here are the statistically wise picks for Week 5.
Saints vs. Buccaneers
Adjust your Fantasy football lineups, make your survivor pool picks, and settle in to watch this game because … the Saints are at home! New Orleans boasts a pass-first offense, especially when playing in front of that raucous home crowd, and Tampa Bay has been one of the easiest units to pass on this season (fourth worst touchdown-to-interception ratio, third most passing yards allowed, and the NFL’s highest completion percentage against). While the Saints defense was gashed by Tony Romo last week and generally hasn’t looked a whole lot better than the Bucs pathetic group, I struggle to find a statistical argument that would suggest Mike Glennon/Josh McCown can take advantage. Behind the oft-criticized Andy Dalton, the Bengals have accounted for more yards through the air than the Bucs despite playing one fewer game and attempting 47 fewer passes. Only the Titans have thrown more interceptions and fewer touchdowns than the Bucs, an offense you can’t even call one-dimensional, as they only run the ball 21 times per game. Listen, I’m not saying the Saints are world-beaters on the defensive side of the ball, but with the Bucs’ offensive line grading out below average in run blocking and even worse (30th) against the pass rush, they might stumble upon a strong effort in support of what is sure to be a big home game for this explosive offense.
Soppe Score: Saints 34 – Buccaneers 17
Lions vs. Bills
News flash: Kyle Orton is not the guy to lead Buffalo to the Promised Land. Will he make fewer mistakes than E.J. Manuel? Possibly, but when playing the Lions, you need a quarterback that is going to make plays, as opposed to making fewer mistakes, and I don’t see that happening here. Only the Jacksonville Jaguars have allowed more completions than the Bills through four weeks, a bad trend when opposing an offense that always ranks in the top third of the league in number of completions and within the Top 5, more often than not. Calvin Johnson was slowed by an ankle injury this past weekend, allowing Eric Ebron and Golden Tate to step into a larger role, something they both looked good in doing. I expect Megatron to be a bit more mobile with another week of rehab, and that’s going to be an issue for a Buffalo defense that has had problems slowing down big pass catchers (Johnson and their trio of tight ends all stand at least 6’4”). I will give credit where credit is due to this Bills defense, as that front seven has established themselves as a strength, but forcing the Lions out of running the ball is like telling you to ignore work and only look at your Fantasy Football roster … no problem there! On the flip side, the Lions own a similar defensive philosophy as the Bills, as they too have an upper echelon front seven that is capable of dictating pace. The difference? The Bills need to establish the run to set up the misdirection pass, and have yet to prove capable of beating teams with consistency through the air. This game feels a lot like last week’s Jets/Lions game: a contest in which Detroit can take away the opponents’ one strength, dominate the game and win with a score that looks much closer than the actual game was.
Soppe Score: Lions 27 – Bills 20
Eagles vs. Rams
What is the best way to slow a Chip Kelly offense? That may be somewhat of a trick question (the 49ers managed to do so last week by giving up defensive and special teams touchdowns, but I’m not sure that is the key here), but putting them in long yardage situations is a good place to start. That’s exactly what the Rams cannot do, which is why I love the Eagles in a big way on Sunday. St. Louis has totaled just one sack this season and is allowing 5.1 yards per carry; one week isn’t going to make enough of a difference when it comes to their front line. The lack of pressure should allow Philadelphia to establish a run game that has been absent in recent weeks, but it should also allow Nick Foles (second most pass attempts in the NFL) to find a nice rhythm. He has tossed 11 touchdowns and only two interceptions at home since the beginning of last season, a trend I like to continue against a defense that is allowing opponents to complete nearly 74 percent of their passes. Worried about the potential return of Shaun Hill? I didn’t think so. The Rams need to both stop the run and stay committed to the run if they want to make this a game, and I’m not sure they can do either. LeSean McCoy is still a very good football player, and I would expect to be reminded of that in a big way on Sunday.
Soppe Score: Eagles 31 – Rams 13
Giants vs. Falcons
The narrative is easy; the Falcons are no good on the road. That storyline is going to be played up throughout the week, but how about we give the Giants some credit for what they’ve been able to do this season? Eli Manning is orchestrating a low-risk offense that is clicking on all cylinders, and their run game has been very efficient in keeping defenses honest. They displayed a two-headed monster in Andre Williams and Rashad Jennings last week, and with an extra three days of preparation, both backs should be fresh to take on what could well be the worst run defense in football (allowing one rushing score per 15 carries this season). The Giants win probability soars when their opponent is forced to respect the run, as Manning can then use play-action (he’s completing a higher percentage of play-action passes than Aaron Rodgers this season) to free up Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle, and the emerging Larry Donnell. Heck, given the Falcons struggles on the defensive side of the ball, rookie Odell Beckham, potentially making his NFL debut, is another option that can threaten in the short to intermediate pass game. When Atlanta has the ball, they rely on Matty Ice making plays down the field, and while I think he can put up decent numbers, this Giants secondary is quite talented and capable of making a big play down the stretch (sixth lowest completion percentage against and a NFL high seven interceptions). The Giants currently grade out as the strongest run defense in the league, making it very possible that they trust their front line to limit Steven Jackson and drop multiple linebackers into coverage. I’ve got this game looking very similar to the Dirty Birds’ Week 4 loss to the Vikings, a higher scoring game than most expect that is won in the fourth quarter.
Soppe Score: Giants 34 – Falcons 30
Cowboys vs. Texans
Confidence is a dangerous thing in Dallas and they are flying high after a third straight win, each with an increasing point total. I’d love to wax poetic about the importance of a well-rounded football team, but let’s be honest; this team is only going to go as far as the offense can take them. The defense has been better than expected, but that doesn’t change the fact that they still aren’t very good and are much more effective when playing with the lead. Luckily for surprisingly balanced Dallas offense, the “other” Texas team is struggling to stop the run. Houston is allowing opponents to rip off five yards per carry, a major issue when you consider how good DeMarco Murray has looked this season (5.4 yards per carry, in addition to a Top 3 ranking in both Elusive Rating and Breakaway Percentage). Tony Romo has struggled again this year when pressured, but with the league’s best run game, defenses have been less likely to bring the house at Romo, thus allowing him to pick them apart from the pocket. Terrance Williams stepped up on Sunday Night, a huge development, as the Cowboys look to establish a threat opposite Dez Bryant. The red flag here is that the Texans want to establish the run and the Cowboys aren’t a stingy run defense. That being said, the questionable health of Arian Foster and Dallas’ ability to jump out to an early lead could mitigate this weakness and force Ryan Fitzpatrick to decide the game. If I’m a Cowboys fan, I’ll take my chances if that is the case.
Soppe Score: Cowboys 30 – Texans 20
ONE UPSET SPECIAL
Browns @ Titans
Most had this targeted as the beginning of the Johnny Football era, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. This game won’t rank up there in terms of watchability, but the Browns do have a nice chance to pull off a road upset. The week off certainly doesn’t hurt, as Ben Tate should return to give this Cleveland offense a nice trio of running backs that can control tempo. Andrew Hawkins and Jordan Cameron make this pass game viable. So the Browns should be able expose a Titans defense that has allowed 100 points since a strong Week 1 effort in which they surrendered just 10 points to the Chiefs. On offense, I worry about the health of Jake Locker and their inability to stretch the field (their 6.8 yards per attempt ranks behind the ultra-conservative Kansas City offense). I’m looking for this to be a physical game in which both teams run the ball with consistency, and I’ll give the edge to the healthier squad that has had an extra week to game plan
Soppe Score: Browns 20 – Titans 17