Week 5 Previews: Prove-It Time for the Buffalo Bills
Game of the Week: Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, 8:20 p.m.
The NFL's top contenders are settling into very familiar roles as the season enters its first turn:
- Kansas City Chiefs: Superheroes who sometimes accidentally blow their own faces off.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers: It's Tom Brady's world; the rest of us are just potential organ donors.
- Baltimore Ravens: Yeah, they'll f*ck this up in the playoffs.
- Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers' brilliance versus Aaron Rodgers' bitter disappointment with the rest of creation.
- Seattle Seahawks: Russell Wilson. Wheeeeeee!!!!!!
- Dallas Cowboys: A lot of offense/no defense/a little manufactured drama.
- Los Angeles Rams: Our 5.3 guys can beat your 53 guys.
- Arizona Cardinals: Wait, how did we get here?
- Tennessee Titans: [Dick Vitale voice] Automatic tournament bid, baby!
- Buffalo Bills: The team that hasn't played anyone.
The "hasn't played anyone" storyline is a new one for the Bills, who spent nearly two decades as part of the "anyone." The AFC daisy-stomper ecological niche was previously filled by the Patriots in the late Brady run, the Colts for part of the mid-2000s, and the Steelers in 2020. It's possible for the "hasn't played anyone" team to be schedule-assisted flukes. It's also possible for them to be the late-2010s Patriots or mid-2000s Colts.
The Bills are inarguably legitimate Super Bowl contenders. But it's impossible to gauge how good they really are based on the Dolphins-Washington-Texans blowouts. DVOA sees their defense as potentially historic, but DVOA is basing one-fourth of that off a win against a uniquely dysfunctional franchise in the rain and another half of it against teams relying on backup quarterbacks for most or all of the game. (And the final one-fourth came against Zombie Roethlisberger). The Bills offense, like the Chiefs offense, goes through sloppy, mistake-prone early stretches, but they have gotten away with it because their opponents give the ball right back. There may be other weaknesses which just haven't caught up to the Bills just yet.
Great teams win blowouts. "Hasn't played anyone" arguments don't really hold up against a three-game stretch of outscoring opponents 118-21. But great teams also sometimes stumble all over themselves out of the gate the way the Chiefs have. The EdjSports app leans Chiefs, though with a score right around the 2.5-point spread. Walkthrough isn't wagering on this game because it doesn't need any juice to hold our attention. Instead, we'll be watching to see how the AFC Super Bowl race shapes up. Chiefs 30, Bills 28.
New York Jets versus Atlanta Falcons in London, Sunday, 9:30 a.m.
Walkthrough covered the Falcons in Wednesday's Tank Watch. We're anticipating some kindergarten kickball league energy in this game, so we'll wake up to some spicy same-game parlay action: Falcons Moneyline AND Over 44.5 at +190.
Wait … am I betting on the Falcons? What's next? Joining the anti-vax movement? Claiming that establishing the run is a great idea? Dieting? I'm surprised I didn't burst into flames like a vampire in a church the moment I placed the bet.
Oh well. My Sunday is probably ruined. Yours might as well be too. Falcons 26, Jets 24.
(Update: News of Calvin Ridley's injury broke soon after I filed and, more irritatingly, well after I placed the bet. This capsule has been preserved as atonement for my sins.)
San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
The Cardinals lead the NFL in hidden special teams points, which means that opponents have missed a lot of field goals and extra points against them.
You probably remember that the Vikings missed a potential 37-yard game-winner in Week 2. The Vikings also missed an extra point earlier in that one-point Cardinals victory. The Jaguars missed a pair of extra points in a game that they led 19-10 late in the third quarter; the 24-19 fourth-quarter lead the Cardinals later took was very different from the 24-21 they might have taken. Matt Gay's 45-yard miss last week may not seem like much, but 27-16 is a less dire third-quarter situation than 27-13.
With Joey Slye replacing injured 49ers kicker Robbie Gould, the Cardinals may get a little more field goal luck on Sunday. Hidden special teams points do not nullify a team's accomplishments, but they're important to keep an eye on when determining whether a team is likely to regress as the season wears on.
The Cardinals will also face Trey Lance on Sunday; Jimmy Garoppolo is supposedly "uncertain," but it sounds like Kyle Shanahan doesn't even put any effort into his smokescreens anymore. "It's always advantageous if you don't know what quarterback you're planning for, but if there's no chance, I'll rule him out," Shanahan said after Garoppolo did not practice on Thursday. He might as well have said "It's in my best interests to lie to you, and I lie to you often, but there's a chance that I am not lying to you right now, despite empirical evidence that I am." Thanks, Loki!
Lance looked like a frightened chipmunk in the third quarter against the Seahawks but should be far more comfortable after a week of starter's reps executing a customized Shanny game plan. It's unlikely, however, that he will be comfortable enough to beat the Cardinals on the road. Walkthrough generally loves a backup in his first start, but the 49ers' kicker situation and the way the Cardinals are playing right now make us wary. Cardinals 26, 49ers 17.
Philadelphia Eagles at Carolina Panthers, Sunday, 1 p.m.
From the Walkthough Fun Facts Factory: the Panthers defense ranks 32nd in the NFL in stopping passes to the offensive right side of the field. Meanwhile, Jalen Hurts is 31-of-47 for a league high 411 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception on passes listed as "right" by Sports Info Solutions. The Next Gen Stats passing charts from Week 1 and Week 2 reveal just how reliant the Eagles offense was on passes to the right early in the season, though things are starting to balance out.
Stephon Gilmore won't be available to upgrade the Panthers secondary for two more weeks. And CJ Henderson isn't good, folks.
The Panthers should still win and cover, but Walkthrough whipped up a sweet little prop on DraftKings: Hurts Over 249.5 yards AND 1.5 touchdowns at +130. That way, we can root for late-game screens and bombs along the right sideline. Panthers 31, Eagles 22.
Chicago Bears at Las Vegas Raiders, Sunday, 4:05 p.m.
No no no, Matt Nagy. You did this all wrong. Here's what you were supposed to do:
- Name Justin Fields the starter "for now" immediately after Week 2;
- Announce publicly that Bill Lazor was taking over as the playcaller before last week's win over the Lions.
Had you done those things, you would be perceived as flexible, adaptive, and magnanimous. You could also have fit any future decisions (re-inserting Dalton, yanking back play-calling duties, firing Lazor after a bad week) into a self-serving narrative of rolling with the punches during an injury-plagued season. But instead you:
- Made it look as though you were forced at gunpoint to promote Fields;
- Turned the play-calling transition into a Pentagon-level secret; and
- Pulled a sudden about-face and anointed Fields the uncontested starter after one decent game against a bottom-feeder.
As a result, you look like a squirrely, paranoid reactionary desperately clinging to his job. If the offense flatlines again in a month, you will be completely out of cards to play. It's almost as if Nagy is as terrible at spin control and employment preservation as he is at game-planning, quarterback development, etc., etc.
The Raiders are about to crash back to earth, but how far and how fast are not yet clear. There's a strong chance they will still be 5-2 entering the bye after facing the Bears, the Denver M*A*S*H unit, and the Eagles. Raiders 23, Bears 19.
Green Bay Packers at Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, 1 p.m.
The Bengals are more like a litmus test than a team right now:
- Week 1 win vs. Vikings: Gosh, the Vikings look sloppy and unprepared after their not-vax summer.
- Week 2 loss to Bears: The Bears' defense can still win games for them.
- Week 3 win vs. Steelers: Zombie Roethlisberger is not a threat.
- Week 4 win vs. Jaguars: Forget USC. Urban Meyer is headed to Lap Dance U!
Part of this is perception: the Bengals have been pro wrasslin' jobbers for several years, so it's hard to think of them as a team on their own playoff journey. Part of it is the fact that the Bengals haven't looked all that impressive in their victories. (Before you disagree, try to remember how you felt when they were taking delay of game penalties on purpose while trailing 14-0 at halftime last Thursday night.)
A Packers win won't get much national attention. A Bengals upset will leave the football world asking what's wrong with Aaron Rodgers. Packers 34, Bengals 24.
New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
In an effort to be less negative about the Giants, Walkthrough presents the following stat splits:
- Daniel Jones on passes 15-plus yards downfield: 20-of-29, 499 yards, 3 touchdowns, 1 interception. 17.7 adjusted net yards per attempt per Sports Info Solutions: fourth behind Russell Wilson, Joe Burrow, and Kyler Murray among starting quarterbacks.
- Dak Prescott on passes 15-plus yards downfield: 8-of-18, 201 yards, 4 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, 10.6 ANY/A, 19th among starting quarterbacks.
The Cowboys should still win, though the -7 spread makes Walkthrough a little wary. But DraftKings is offering the following special: Prescott AND Jones over 549.5 passing yards at +125. An Eagles fan can play that wager with a clear conscience and spend the afternoon laughing at both defenses. Cowboys 34, Giants 27.
New Orleans Saints at Washington Football Team, Sunday, 1 p.m.
Washington injury report highlights: Guard Brandon Scherff is out for a few more weeks. Logan Thomas is now on IR. Antonio Gibson missed practice this week with a shin injury. Curtis Samuel is merely a figment of our imaginations. There are also injuries on defense, but the main takeaway is that Washington won't generate much offense against a strong defense.
Saints injury report highlights: Left tackle Terron Armstead missed the Giants game with an elbow injury and wasn't practicing as of Thursday. Center Erik McCoy (calf) has been out for a while. Backup running back Tony Jones is on IR, leaving the Saints dangerously thin behind Alvin Kamara. Michael Thomas has joined a gang of intergalactic jewel thieves. Sean Payton slashes the tires of any reporter who dares to ask an injury question, so the Sunday status of the offensive linemen is rather fuzzy. But the main takeaway is that the Saints won't generate much offense against a theoretically strong defense.
Walkthrough doesn't know who to trust in this one, but Washington's offense is so depleted that we played them Under 20 points at -110. Now we just have to hope Taysom Hill doesn't enter the game randomly and throw a pick-six. Saints 22, Washington 16.
Cleveland Browns at Los Angeles Chargers, Sunday, 4:05 p.m.
Baker Mayfield is playing with his non-throwing shoulder in a harness after he injured it in the Texans game. Mayfield said the harness isn't affecting his throws, but it sure looked like it was against the Vikings, and Mayfield can't risk tossing fresh meat to the sports talk crowd by offering a reasonable justification for his mini-slump. (Next on First Blecch: Baker Mayfield is making excuses again. Does he really deserve $40 million per year?)
Browns wide receivers haven't done Mayfield many favors: they have caught just 28 passes, the lowest figure by a wide receiver corps in the NFL. Meanwhile, rookie left tackle Jed Wills is coping with an ankle injury that has forced him out of every game so far this season. A revolving cast of backups has replaced him adequately but sub-optimally. Wills' status for Sunday is uncertain.
The Browns have an outstanding run defense and an excellent running game. That was enough to beat the Texans and Bears. They aren't going to beat the Chargers with a gimpy left tackle, a depleted receiver corps and one arm tied behind Mayfield's back. Chargers 23, Browns 17.
New England Patriots at Houston Texans, Sunday, 1 p.m.
Combine Bill Belichick's still-formidable ability to befuddle rookie quarterbacks with a rookie quarterback best suited to substitute teaching and assistant coaching at some regional high school and you get a recipe for potentially hilarious statistical outliers. The over-under for Davis Mills interceptions is 0.5, and even though the moneyline is -230, Walkthrough played it as a matter of principle.
With two rookie quarterbacks squaring off, the points-off-turnovers likelihood for both sides is high, and the late-week over-under of 39.5 was tantalizingly low. That means it's same-game parlay time! Patriots Moneyline AND Over at +135. Gotta make up for that Falcons bet (which I have already written off as a loss) somehow. Patriots 29, Texans 13.
Tennessee Titans at Jacksonville Jaguars, Sunday, 1 p.m.
If anything happens to Derrick Henry, the Titans will immediately transform into the Falcons. Don't discount the possibility that the Titans will follow up their Jets loss with a defeat at the hands of a team whose coach spent the week sleeping on his couch: A.J. Brown was limited in practice this week, Julio Jones (the Falcons-disease superspreader) appeared to be out again as of Thursday, and the Jaguars have a habit of racing out to early leads.
The fact that the Titans have a 39.6% chance of making the playoffs as a fourth seed is an argument for conference realignment, playoff reseeding, relegation, or possibly just building a razor wire fence around the AFC South for everyone's protection. Titans 24, Jaguars 21.
Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, 1 p.m.
The Vikings got the ball with 1:12 to play before halftime and no timeouts at their own 25-yard line, trailing the Browns 8-7 in Week 4. Kirk Cousins threw an incompletion, then a 2-yard pass. A false start set up third-and-13. Under pressure, Cousins threw a 3-yard pass and the Vikings were forced to punt. Fortunately, the Browns offense was also playing poorly and quickly found itself in third-and-20 with no timeouts left. Nick Chubb took a draw-play handoff and—we can't make this stuff up—not only gained 33 yards but got out of bounds. A quick Baker Mayfield completion set up a Browns field goal. The Browns eventually won 14-7.
The moral of the story is that the Vikings are not good at the things they think they are good at. They are not shrewd game-managers, situationally sound decision-makers, or fundamentally sound veterans. They're a mediocre, aging team that somehow manages to step on every rake in the yard.
The Vikings should beat the Lions easily. But they could also mismanage the clock, commit dumb penalties, miss a few chip shots, and get lulled into a low-scoring slugfest, which is just what the NFL's most unrepentant Cro-Magnons are hoping for. Vikings 22, Lions 16.
Denver Broncos at Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday 1 p.m.
Walkthrough covered the Steelers in some depth on Thursday. Teddy Bridgewater's status (concussion) will likely be a Sunday decision, while the Broncos' injury situation elsewhere remains bleak.
It's a shame that Ben Roethlisberger threw his 400th touchdown pass last week. We'd have loved it if he threw it on a late-fourth quarter shovel pass with the Steelers leading 17-6 so Vic Fangio could deliver another jeremiad about player safety and sportsmanship. Steelers 19, Broncos 17 with Bridgewater; Steelers 22, Broncos 13 with Drew Lock.
Miami Dolphins at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, 1 p.m.
The Dolphins not only rank 29th in rushing DVOA, but they only average 3.6 yards per attempt on 27 passes to running backs. Their running backs are also hit at or behind the line of scrimmage on 51.2% of their rushes, the third-worst figure in the league. All Dolphins receivers average 4.8 yards after catch per reception, the sixth-worst figure in the NFL. (All splits from Sports Info Solutions).
So what we are looking at is a case of replacement-level running backs behind a very shaky line, exacerbating a bad quarterback situation, thereby rendering the whole offense inoperable. Throw in a muffed punt and a defense selling out to stop the run and the Dolphins lost a game to a statue last week.
The Dolphins do not face a statue this week. Buccaneers 37, Dolphins 13.
Indianapolis Colts at Baltimore Ravens, Monday, 8:15 p.m.
Let's wrap things up with a Monday night edition of the Carson Wentz Victimization Index:
- "Well well well. It appears as though I won a game. So when does Carson Wentz get his apology?" 5%
- "Far-right pundits claim that Tim Tebow has been blackballed from the NFL for his faith? C'mon, fellas: NOTICE ME." 10%
Total Victimization: 15%
Wow, that's the lowest it has been since the "over 4,000 yards with NO RECEIVERS" narrative of late 2019.
Walkthrough covered the Ravens' effort to break the record for most consecutive 100-plus-yard rushing games on Wednesday. They should roll on Monday night, and it won't be Wentz's fault, not that it ever is. Ravens 27, Colts 16.