Week 6 picks are on the way, but as with any decent tease, we have to get something you don't care about out of the way first.
You know, kinda like Rocky III, where we had to watch Stallone getting all pimped out and big headed, fighting Thunderlips for charity, before seeing the real goods: the press conference at which Mr. T challenges Rocky while flaunting the kind of jacket your mom had you wear with red boots when you were 5.
In my write-up about the Colts in the Week 6 Power Rankings, I ranked the quarterbacks as such: 1) Peyton Manning, 2) Tom Brady, tied at 3) Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, 5) Ben Roethlisberger and 6) Andrew Luck. Got a lot of feedback on this, particularly when it came to putting Luck behind the Pittsburgh signal-caller.
Hey guys, I read you. But I'm not just weighing this year alone. Roethlisberger has had no help from his line, no running game (although promising rookie Le'Veon Bell is now healthy) and nothing like Reggie Wayne or a defense that is creating turnovers. Not to mention, Luck has 21 career starts and a playoff loss under his belt. Roethlisberger, by contrast, has two rings, and he played valiantly in getting to the Super Bowl for the third time. I actually was afraid I had Luck too high, that I'd overreacted to his limited -- though often brilliant -- catalogue.
Now that this whole QB deal is behind us, we can get to the games ... which include tough road assignments for both Roethlisberger and Luck. One of those guys will go home happy. As for the rest, feel free to share your thoughts ... @Harrison_NFL is the place. We read them all.
OK, let's get to it.Elliot Harrison went 9-5 on his predictions for Week 5, giving him a record of 47-30 so far this season. How will he fare in Week 6? His picks are below, with home teams listed second.
The points are usually down on Thursday nights. While we actually got to see a good one last week in Cleveland, neither the Bears nor Giants will light it up offensively this week in my estimation. Eli Manning's 12-interception stat line and David Wilson's rough season have made for a horrific mix in New York. (Don't call it a rum and Diet Coke; it's more like a Diet Coke and anything.) Manning's pick total is especially foreboding, given Chicago's penchant for converting turnovers into points. The Bears are second in the NFL in takeaways with 14, while New York leads the league in giveaways with 20 -- eight more than the next-closest team. That said, I like slot receiver Victor Cruz to exploit the middle of the field against the Bears' safeties. #NYGvsCHI
These teams will have trouble stopping each other, although games in Baltimore rarely turn into shootouts. The Packers are decimated at the linebacker position, so Ray Rice should get a ton of work on the ground for the Ravens. Rice had 33 touches in last week's win over the Dolphins -- which, of course, means he'll get two carries in Week 6. With Clay Matthews out for Green Bay, Joe Flacco will have more time than he saw two weeks ago in Buffalo, when he gave up five picks. The Ravens have faced one premium quarterback this year -- Peyton Manning -- and he absolutely pummeled them. Aaron Rodgers has a 105.5 passer rating (is this a "down year"?) and is tied for second in the NFL with 15 completions of 25-plus yards. The Ravens have given up the most big-play passing touchdowns in the AFC. #GBvsBAL
Thad Lewis will start for the Bills at quarterback in front of Jeff Tuel, and he had better get the ball out. I don't think Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer plans to go vanilla this week; Zimmer has the "Tuels" (really, I'll stop) in Cincinnati's front seven to confuse Lewis. Buffalo clearly needs injured starter EJ Manuel back, especially considering how well the Bills' front seven -- specifically Kiko Alonso, who has been Polamaluing all over the field -- is performing. If Manuel were healthy, the Bills easily could take this one, especially with the way Fred Jackson is playing. Cincinnati, meanwhile, can't afford another turnover-filled slow start on the road. Also, the pass rush must get home; with their personnel, the Bengals should have more than 13 sacks, which is tied for 14th in the league. And Andy Dalton still isn't making plays downfield for Cincinnati. His 10.66 yards per completion? Puts him at No. 30 in the NFL. No bueno. #CINvsBUF
The Browns and Lions know each other well -- they face off every preseason -- and should not be fooled too much. Of course, the Browns would love to see Detroit without Calvin Johnson -- though Megatron vs. Joe Haden would be a sweet matchup for football fans. The question is, how many points can Brandon Weeden and the offense put up? In the two games that Weeden started this season, the Browns scored 10 and six points. He was sacked 11 times in those games -- and was sacked five more times after replacing an injured Brian Hoyer against the Bills last week. The Lions have been sluggish in terms of chasing the opposing quarterback, notching just 10 sacks so far. If Weeden is allowed to step up in the pocket, Cleveland might have a chance. Ultimately, however, this game hinges on No. 81 in blue. If Megatron is inactive, I reserve the right to change my pick before kickoff. #DETvsCLE
Thinking the Texans bounce back in a big way. For example, Matt Schaub improves by throwing an interception on the second series rather than the first, and it's returned inside the 10 rather than into Houston's end zone. Actually, I fully expect Gary Kubiak to run Arian Foster and Ben Tate 35 times this Sunday. Houston shouldn't put the game on an ailing veteran in Andre Johnson or a rookie in DeAndre Hopkins. The Texans should emulate what Dallas did against the Rams, running DeMarco Murray and throwing to the tight end. Johnson can be a decoy. The St. Louis receivers really are going to have to get separation, as the Houston pass rush will be all over Sam Bradford. For the Rams, this could come down to play calling. #STLvsHOU
Calling for what has become a rarity in the NFL: the relatively low-scoring defensive battle. Alex Smith did not play well for the Chiefs last week, while the Raiders' defense is playing far better than anyone anticipated. Oakland kicker Sebastian Janikowski is going to hit from 59 yards and attempt another from 65 -- because the Raiders' offense is going to stall in Chiefs territory. Kansas City has the best red-zone defense in pro football, allowing opponents to score just 25 percent of the time. The Chiefs' special teams might be the difference, as that unit always seems to play better at Arrowhead. Look for the Raiders to sell out to stop Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles and force Smith to beat them. #OAKvsKC
The Panthers' offense is stuck in neutral -- shoot, call it reverse. They're not mounting any sustained drives into the red zone and they're not getting any big pass plays downfield. Once they do get down inside an opponent's 30-yard line, the air attack becomes a Nerf bow-and-arrow set -- in that area of the field, Cam Newton's passer rating is 72.2. Driving and throwing touchdown passes before the field gets squeezed too much is almost as important as blocking and tackling. Speaking of tackling, the Panthers better be ready to execute, as Adrian Peterson is coming off a weekend of rest. The Vikings must look to get Greg Jennings involved early, as they did in the Week 4 win over the Steelers in London. #CARvsMIN
Pittsburgh's offensive line has been the subject of much talk, at least when conversations drift toward winless teams and the up-for-grabs state of the AFC North. Ben Roethlisberger is often playing streetball back there. If you saw the Jets play Monday night, then you know Roethlisberger isn't going to get any kind of respite against a team that ranks in the top five in sacks. The key to this contest: Can Geno Smith protect the football and be as efficient as he was against Atlanta? New York's defense -- particularly the front seven -- is playing better, which means Smith doesn't have to win this one by himself. He just can't give the offensively challenged Steelers any short fields. #PITvsNYJ
It's ironic that these two teams are meeting this week in Tampa Bay, where Nick Foles (expected to start for the Eagles) delivered a win for Philly in the waning moments of a Week 14 matchup with the Buccaneers last season. This year, Foles will find Tampa Bay's defense harder to throw on, as the Bucs have given up just five touchdown passes while snaring six picks. They're also allowing less than 11 yards per completion, third-best in the NFC. LeSean McCoy -- a far better player than any running back Tampa Bay has faced thus far -- will be the great equalizer. Mike Glennon might not have to put up 30, but he must top the 55.8 passer rating he posted in Week 4 if the Bucs are to have a shot. Byyyy Glennon. #PHIvsTB
The good news for the Jaguars: Blaine Gabbert, who has a hamstring problem, won't be starting. The bad news: Everybody else still will. OK, so playing without Gabbert might get the Jags to within 30. Jacksonville could actually make a game out of this if it had a quarterback capable of throwing for 500 yards, but since it doesn't, perhaps leaning on the ground game -- and limiting Peyton Manning's snaps -- is the way to go. Problem is, when it comes to ground games, Jacksonville has the NFL's worst, averaging 2.65 yards per carry. All snark aside, what can the Jaguars do? Get turnovers on special teams and get physical with the Broncos receivers on those short routes -- and, well, hope for more turnovers. Denver has all the matchups when it comes to the receivers vs. defensive backs, so playing numbers and avoiding risky blitz packages would be smart. Manning has a 147.6 passer rating -- 147.6!!!!! -- versus the blitz this season. #JAXvsDEN
Seattle gets back on track Sunday. Last week, Ryan Fitzpatrick ran for a surprising 50 yards; this week, the Titans quarterback might be running for his life. The Seahawks know they didn't play their best football in Houston and Indianapolis. Of particular concern is the passing game, with Russell Wilson appearing to be more dangerous out of the pocket than he is throwing the ball. Seattle's 81 pass completions (Wilson has 74) are the fewest in the NFL -- save for San Francisco -- among teams that haven't had a bye. Wilson was able to get some big plays against the Colts last Sunday; expect the same versus the Titans, who will surely load up to stop the run. Speaking of, Tennessee running back Chris Johnson has to play well against a stout Seahawks run defense, or this sucker will be over midway through the third quarter. #TENvsSEA
Originally figured there would be more points scored in this one, but seeing how both defenses are playing exceptionally well, it's hard to imagine the combined total getting as high as 60 or 70 points. It's pretty surprising that the Patriots are defending against the pass so effectively, holding opposing quarterbacks to a 57.6 completion percentage while collecting more interceptions (six) than touchdown passes allowed (four). New Orleans' defense, meanwhile, has been outstanding under new coordinator Rob Ryan. The Saints should be able to pressure Tom Brady (they have 15 sacks this season) without getting destroyed downfield. Brady's best hope is to hand the ball off, as the Saints allow a league-high 5.43 yards per carry. Don't expect Drew Brees to be lobbing a bunch of deep balls, either. Brees diced up the Chicago safeties and linebackers last week. Of his 29 completions, though, 26 went to a tight end or running back. #NOvsNE
Arizona struggles on offense. OK, on to the next blurb.
Alright, alright -- let's do this for real. I don't see the Cardinals winning this NFC West game on the back of their defense. Yes, Arizona has kicked the butts of opponents who have tried to run the football against them. Yes, the 49ers will attempt to play power football anyway. Yes, they'll fail miserably, then try again -- something like 30 carries for 78 yards from the Niners' backs wouldn't surprise me. However, while Arizona's secondary has talent, San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick should be able to make plays, especially with the help of tight end Vernon Davis. All that said, both offenses will be sluggish; the score at halftime probably will be 6-3 or 3-3. But then I see the 49ers' defense intercepting Carson Palmer to set up a clinching touchdown. #WhatHappenedTo2005CarsonIsAMysteryNotSeenSinceStonehenge #AZvsSF
How will Robert Griffin III look after a bye week? The franchise hasn't been himself, especially when running out of the pocket. His performance partially will depend on how the Dallas defense recovers from allowing 51 points to Denver last Sunday. Problem is, the Redskins don't have the weapons to exploit the Cowboys' secondary the way Peyton Manning did. A working running game would be RGIII's best asset. While the Redskins didn't have a high per-carry average during their Week 4 win in Oakland, they did run 32 times. Playing ball control could slow Tony Romo, who just became the second quarterback in NFL history -- joining Y.A. Tittle -- to throw for 500 yards and five touchdowns while giving up one pick or less in a game. #WASvsDAL
So much of this matchup hinges on what Philip Rivers can do against the Indianapolis secondary. Of course, when does a Chargers contest not come down to Rivers? He's balling out there with veteran Ronnie Brown, a rookie in Keenan Allen, Vincent Brown and Antonio Gates, who might be 60 but has 32 catches and 438 yards (seventh in the NFL). The Colts have yet to face a premium tight end ( Vernon Davis didn't play for the 49ers in Week 3), so they could have trouble with Gates. Still, we trust Andrew Luck to exploit a struggling San Diego defense, while Trent Richardson will have his first 100-yard game of the season. #INDvsSD
Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @Harrison_NFL.