The picks are in for Week 5, as the big bye weeks start.
Yep, this is one of those weekends in which a group of teams will be off the NFL slate. That includes the Minnesota Vikings and Pittsburgh Steelers -- the London combatants -- as well as the Washington Redskins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tell you what: If the latter squad really was trying to deal Josh Freeman, it sure didn't do a very good job. Now Freeman's on the street.
Sketchy reports from back-alley sources have whispered that Denver Broncos punter Britton Colquitt asked the team to acquire the former Bucs quarterback -- says he wants a QB who will let him get on the field. In other news ...
You have to hand it to Seattle Seahawks fans. They seemingly hit Twitter (my account included) harder than any other fan base, and for good reason. Seattle is a top-notch team that can run the football, play defense -- and still win in today's pass-happy/defense-optional NFL. It's awesome to watch. So of course, I'm picking the Indianapolis Colts to upset the 'Hawks this week.
In Week 4, I went out on a limb and picked a bunch of road teams -- and lost some very close calls. At least the breakdowns of each game were accurate.
This week, we're giving you the strategic storyline that looms largest for each contest. Feel free to share your thoughts ... hit me up @Harrison_NFL. Don't be afraid to get all technical, like J4R3D G4M8L3.
Now, let's get to it ...Elliot Harrison went 8-7 on his predictions for Week 4, giving him a record of 38-25 so far this season. How will he fare in Week 5? His picks are below, with home teams listed second.
What it comes down to: Can the Bears' defensive backs stop the Saints' receivers and create turnovers? How will the Chicago safeties handle Jimmy Graham, who was a beast once again on Monday night? Matthew Stafford, meanwhile, could have had a field day against the Bears last Sunday, but the Lions were so effective rushing en route to building an early lead that he didn't have to. New Orleans will start off with short passes to Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas, then Sean Payton will figure out the best way to get big plays downfield, like having Graham matched up with D.J. Williams or Chris Conte in man coverage. The Bears would be smart to make Drew Brees uncomfortable with some blitz packages, though blitzing frequently would be somewhat out of character for them. Giving Matt Forte 30 touches -- yes, we said 30 touches -- wouldn't be the worst idea, as Chicago does not want to get into a track meet with Payton's offense. #NOvsCHI
What it comes down to: How susceptible will the Patriots be to the run? And will Rob Gronkowski play? The Bengals were just rocked by " Hoyer to Cameron." How does "Brady to Gronk" sound? Defensive stalwart Vince Wilfork is definitely out for New England. So does that mean the Bengals can run it time and again? They'll have to, as Andy Dalton is not making teams pay downfield. Speaking of big plays, Cincinnati isn't getting any huge runs, either; no one in a Bengals uni has scampered for more than 20 yards on any one attempt. Overall, the ground attack is ranked 22nd (83.8 yards per game). We're predicting another Kenbrell Thompkins touchdown this week. Kenbrell Thompkins: Don't try to stop him. #NEvsCIN
What it comes down to: Can the Lions make the Packers beat them on the ground? Closing off Green Bay's outside threats and the slot guy -- Randall Cobb -- would be huge for Detroit, which has been unable to do that in the past. Especially on the road, the Lions have to force the running game to get it done for the Packers. Over the past two seasons, Green Bay quarterbacks have a collective 116.5 passer rating against Detroit. Ironically enough, the last time the Lions traveled to Lambeau, they did stop Aaron Rodgers, but the Pack ran for 140 yards. Of course, Green Bay's backs are either banged up or inexperienced -- or both. This might be Week 5's best ballgame. #DETvsGB
What it comes down to: How well can the Seahawks' back seven play in coverage in a hostile environment? Indy backs and tight ends caught 11 of Andrew Luck's 22 completions last Sunday; if the Colts QB doesn't want to challenge the corners, he doesn't have to. Luck has, however, taken 10 sacks this season. If the Seattle pass rush can get there, game over. That's where Trent Richardson's third week with the Colts' playbook becomes key. The more Indy can make those Seattle pass rushers think, the better the Colts' offense will function. Make the Seahawks beat you on offense; don't let their defense do it. #SEAvsIND
What it comes down to: Can the Ravens run the football, er, call running plays? Yep, their running backs had just nine total carries last Sunday against the Bills, while Joe Flacco dropped back 54 times. The Dolphins are getting healthier on defense, and -- especially since they will be ticked off about the way they failed to show up in New Orleans -- you can bet they'll be ready Sunday. That's why the Ravens must get Ray Rice involved. He didn't even catch a pass in Buffalo, while Bernard Pierce had just one reception. That won't fly in Miami. #BALvsMIA
What it comes down to: Can the Giants' offense get into a rhythm? If there is any NFL team that an offense can make plays on, it's the Eagles. They're allowing the most yards (446.8) and first downs (28) per game. In fact, only one team has allowed more total points than the Eagles (138). Yep, you guessed it, you wanted it: your New York Giants have given up a whopping 146 points. Unfortunately, Big Blue might have trouble taking advantage of that porous Philly defense. The Giants can't convert a third down to save their lives (22.9 percent), meaning they won't be able to put together the kind of 10-play drive that would give their defense a blow. At least New York makes up for it by turning over the ball. #PHIvsNYG
What it comes down to: Can any Jaguars quarterback make a play? How old is Mark Brunell again? The answer (to the first question, that is) is tied to protection, how much Justin Blackmon will contribute in his return from a four-game suspension and if Jacksonville's heretofore nonexistent run game can get on track. Though the Rams got their butts kicked the past two weeks, their pass rush can get after the quarterback -- in theory. Thus far, that pass rush has a paltry nine sacks. The way to beat St. Louis is to hurry quarterback Sam Bradford -- which the Jags can't do, by the way -- and run the football, à la DeMarco Murray and Frank Gore. Of course, the longest any Jacksonville ball carrier has managed to travel on any one run is 10 yards. So that's out. #JAXvsSTL
What it comes down to: Can Ryan Fitzpatrick make plays downfield and challenge the Chiefs' defense vertically without turning over the ball? Chris Johnson has not been running effectively enough for Tennessee to get away with throwing none-yard outs all day. And Fitzpatrick is not -- unlike a healthy Jake Locker -- a threat to take off on some 20-yard scamper. People still might consider CJ2K a top-flight back, but he's outside the top 10 in rushing yards (ranking 13th with 277) and averaging a scintillating 3.3 yards per carry. On the flip side, the Titans' defense is surrendering 4 yards or more on a whopping 50.5 percent of running plays (30th in NFL), which means Andy Reid can get into plenty of second-and-5 situations. Reid has been calling for the run game this year; the Chubby Gandalf is somewhat living up to his name. You shall not pass! #KCvsTEN
What it comes down to: Hangovers. Will the Cardinals have a gnarly one after their last-minute win over the Buccaneers? How about the Panthers, who are coming off an unfortunately timed bye after their best performance of the season? Cam Newton is the key. He has to protect the football and make more plays with his legs -- he's attempting just 5.3 rushes per game, well below his career average (7.7). Against Arizona's strong secondary, tucking it and running might be a good strategy. The Cardinals have faced Sam Bradford, Matthew Stafford, Drew Brees and Mike Glennon so far -- the equivalent of playing against Drew Bledsoe every week -- and will be ill-prepared for Newton's athleticism. We'd like to predict that Carson Palmer will drive to win it 21-20, much like we were rooting for that little John Denver-looking kid to get that Red Ryder BB gun in "A Christmas Story." Carolina has allowed two late comebacks this season, but after the off week, the Panthers should be ready for Palmer. #CARvsAZ
What it comes down to: Can Dallas cover the middle of the field? Peyton Manning should be familiar with the defense that coordinator Monte Kiffin is running with the Cowboys. After all, Manning faced it every day in practice for years in Indianapolis, as Tony Dungy -- who employed Kiffin as his coordinator in Tampa Bay -- used the same defense when he coached the Colts. From a schematic standpoint, the weakness of said defense is in the middle of the field, where the middle or weakside linebacker must get depth to cover the tight end (and sometimes, the slot receivers). If you saw Sean Lee and Bruce Carter in "coverage" against the Chargers, umm, you'll be covering your eyes when the Cowboys are on defense this Sunday. That said, the Broncos might have serious trouble with the Cowboys' offense, which plays very well at home. #DENvsDAL
What it comes down to: Can Matt Schaub bounce back? Hopefully, Gary Kubiak's talk with his quarterback after the Texans' late meltdown last Sunday will help. This is a tough road assignment following such a brutal loss. Houston must patiently run Arian Foster and Ben Tate, so as to avoid third-and-longs, which is when bad plays often occur. On that note, the 49ers saw last Thursday what they can do when they get back to a simple power game. Of course, for both clubs, it's about more than just running the football. Houston's play-calling had as much to do with Schaub's crucial pick-six as Schaub did; never put your QB in situations where the worst thing -- like Richard Sherman plucking the ball out of the air -- can happen. Colin Kaepernick, meanwhile, has done a good job taking care of the football for the most part in his young career -- despite a rash of turnovers in recent weeks -- but he should take off on some scrambles Sunday night. Give those pass rushers something to think about before they sprint toward the pocket. #HOUvsSF
What it comes down to: Can the Raiders' secondary hold its own? Ditto the LBs. Speaking of lbs., er, linebackers, the Cowboys consistently had a linebacker covering Chargers tight end Antonio Gates last Sunday, and they paid dearly for it; Gates absolutely destroyed Dallas. Terrelle Pryor will be the unpredictable factor here, as we've seen both good and bad from the young Raiders quarterback -- kind of like AMC, with " Breaking Bad" and " Low Winter Sun." Ah, we kid, we kid. That said, the Chargers had some trouble with Jake Locker in Week 3 in Tennessee -- he ran for 68 yards and one touchdown. Oh, and one more thing: Philip Rivers has been playing out of his mind. His lowest passer rating over the past three weeks is 112.5. #SDvsOAK
What it comes down to: Will Geno Smith protect the football? Through four games, Smith has 11 turnovers. That's an astronomical number for a quarterback whose team doesn't even lean on him. For comparison's sake, consider Matt Ryan; the Falcons' entire offense runs through him, and he's turned over the ball just three times. The Jets will be without Stephen Hill and Santonio Holmes, which means running back Bilal Powell very well might be the focal point of their attack. Now, the Patriots' LeGarrette Blount was able to rip off a big run against Atlanta last Sunday, but by and large, the Falcons' defense has been stout on the ground (giving up 92.2 rushing yards per game). Powell must find a way to give his team 80 yards against this top-10 run defense; burning the clock would slow the Atlanta offense and take some of the load off Smith's shoulders. #NYJvsATL
What it comes down to: Can the Browns protect Brian Hoyer, both with their offensive line play and in having some semblance of a running game? And that question leads to this question: Can Hoyer take advantage of an ailing Bills secondary that Joe Flacco failed to exploit last Sunday? Buffalo has racked up 13 sacks; to keep these pass rushers at bay, Cleveland needs to do better than 3 yards per carry. Maybe Willis McGahee can give more in his third game as a Brownie. As an aside, have people noticed what a rough start C.J. Spiller is off to for Buffalo? Fifty-seven yards per game at 3.5 yards per carry. Ew. #BUFvsCLE
Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @Harrison_NFL.