We walked the tight rope last week, as Philadelphia tried to give away one of our survivor pool locks and Cleveland came from way down to hit on the upset special. Who do we like this weekend to help you advance in your survivor pool?
Denver Broncos @ New York Jets: What are we constantly saying about the NFL today? It’s a quarterback driven league. If that holds true, then there might not be a better bet this season than Peyton Manning and the Broncos over the struggling tandem of Geno Smith/Mike Vick and the Jets. Denver will likely be without starting running back Montee Ball, an absence that might actually increase their odds of winning. Nothing against Ball, but if his injury means Manning throws the ball more, Broncos fans are going to be OK with that, especially against the strong front line of the Jets. Wes Welker (nine targets) is becoming an asset again and this explosive offense was clicking on all cylinders following their bye in a dismantling of a pretty good Arizona Cardinals team. The Jets, on the other hand, are licking their wounds after being shut out in San Diego. The 31-0 score doesn’t even highlight the level of dominance that took place in that game, as the Jets averaged just 3.9 plays per drive before an extended garbage time drive. The Broncos defense is an improved one and should force the Jets to attack through the air … yea, I’ll take my chances. The Jets have one win and four losses this season; the victory came over rookie Derek Carr, while the four losses have come to top flight signal callers in Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler, Matthew Stafford, and Philip Rivers. What category do you think Manning belongs in?
Soppe Score: Broncos 34 – Jets 13
Arizona Cardinals vs Washington Redskins: Let’s not overreact to one shellacking. Sure, the Cardinals were gashed for a career-high 479 yards by Peyton Manning last week, but he’s Peyton Manning. Want to know who’s not Peyton Manning? Kirk Cousins. The Redskins quarterback looked dazed and confused for the second consecutive week and this aggressive Arizona defense isn’t a great spot to figure things out. It should be no surprise that Cousins had his best game when Washington stayed committed to the run (28 rushing attempts against the Eagles), something they haven’t done in each of the past two weeks (34 combined attempts) and may not both doing against the second best run defense in football this weekend. The Andre Ellington explosion is looming, and with Carson Palmer (nerve damage in his throwing shoulder) and Drew Stanton (concussion) ailing, this could be the week he bursts onto the scene. The Cardinals own the superior defense and three of the top four most explosive play-makers in this game, giving them a decided edge on both sides of the ball. The fact that Washington will have a short week after a physical battle with the Seahawks and that Arizona has not dropped a home game against a non-divisional opponent since December 23rd, 2012 also make this a tempting survivor pool pick.
Soppe Score: Cardinals 27- Redskins 17
Cincinnati Bengals vs Carolina Panthers: Much like the Cardinals, the Bengals are just as good as they were prior to Week 5. They didn’t lose talent; they just ran into the buzz saw that was an angry Patriots team in Prime Time. I expect to see the Cincinnati team that sat atop many power rankings after the first month, which is big trouble for the limited Panthers. Their backfield is banged up and they have graded out as the fourth worst pass-blocking offensive line through five weeks, a disastrous combination against a Bengals defense that has 50 percent more interceptions that touchdown passes allowed while ranking atop the league in yards per pass attempts (6.0) and completion percentage against (56.6). So the Panthers are going to take on an elite defense without a healthy running back and one receiver with multiple 50-plus yard performances? Carolina lacks the ability to be creative on offense and I expect that to be a major issue this weekend. On the other side, the Bengals expect to get Marvin Jones back to give Andy Dalton yet another option for the big play (the Panthers are giving up three 20-plus yard pass plays per week). In their two losses this season, Carolina has allowed 391 rushing yards while Cincinnati has averaged 34 rushing attempts in their three victories this season. Look for the Bengals to physically control this game and connect on a long play or two in a wire-to-wire victory.
Soppe Score: Bengals 27 – Panthers 13
TWO VALUE PICKS
Detroit Lions @ Minnesota Vikings: The Lions offense may be banged up (both Reggie Bush and Joique Bell are dealing with injuries while Calvin Johnson appears unlikely to play) but their defense is worth gambling on this weekend. They own one of the most feared front lines in all of football and that might be enough to outlast the Vikings, who need to establish the run in order to be anywhere near effective on offense. Even with their injuries on offense, I’ll take my chances with Matthew Stafford over a banged up Teddy Bridgewater should this game come down to quarterback play. The Vikings have the eighth worst pass defense in the NFL, and with the recent emergence of Golden Tate/Eric Ebron, the Lions passing game is capable of producing minus Megatron in the short term. Detroit has allowed 17 or fewer points in three straight games, a trend I like to continue through this weekend for the first place Lions.
Soppe Score: Lions 23 – Vikings 16
Tennessee Titans vs Jacksonville Jaguars: If you’re looking to play the “value” card, it doesn’t get much better than a bad team playing a worse team. Sure, an unwatchable football game is likely, but are you ever going to get the chance to pick the Titans in a survivor pool and feel reasonably good about it at any other point this season? Tennessee owns a Top 10 pass rush and Jacksonville possesses the second worst run offense, a combination that should extend the offensive struggles for a Jacksonville team that has scored just 50 points in the 18 quarters since jumping out to a 17-0 lead over the Eagles in the season opener. Whether it is Jake Locker or Charlie Whitehurst, I like the potential for the Titans to move the ball against a defense that is allowing a league-high 8.3 yards per pass attempt and has intercepted just one of the 199 passes thrown against them. Tennessee’s offense isn’t what I would call “explosive,” but they do rank fourth in the league in yards per carry and that is without having a run play go for more than 38 yards. Shield your eyes from the television, but the Titans are a nice pick in a survivor format this weekend.
Soppe Score: Titans 20 – Jaguars 13
Houston Texans vs Indianapolis Colts: The team that has held the advantage in rushing statistics has won every Thursday night game and that happens to be the one spot that the Texans hold an edge on the Colts. Houston is averaging more rushing yards, yards per carry, and touchdowns on the ground than the Colts in addition to allowing fewer rushing scores through five weeks. I’m not going to tell you that Ryan Fitzpatrick is going to outplay Andrew Luck, but the fact that 18.6 percent of completions against the Indianapolis defense have gone for at least 20 yards is a major concern versus a risk-taking quarterback that has not one but two receivers that are more than capable of making the big play. Look for this game to be closer than you think, with the run game potentially allowing the Texans to prevail in the first competitive Thursday night game in quite some time.
Soppe Score: Texans 24 – Colts 23