NFL Power Rankings Week 5
by Robert Ferringo - 9/30/2014
The spreads have exploded across the NFL between Week 4 and Week 5, as everyone in the country feels as if they have a pretty good idea of who can play and who can't through one month of the season.
Of 12 spreads on the board in Week 4, only three of them were posted at a touchdown or higher. Two others were posted at 5.5 and 4.5. But the remaining seven spreads were at a field goal or less, which is generally an indicator that even the sportsbooks are unsure of who is going to win.
Now flash forward to this week. Everywhere you look the books have posted inflated lines. Currently nine of the 15 spreads on the board are posted at a 6.5 or greater. Just three games - Chicago-Carolina, Cleveland-Tennessee, and Cincinnati-New England - are in the "toss-up" range between a 'pick'em' and 3.0.
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Only four of 15 spreads are listed below the key NFL number of 4.0.
What is interesting about the spread distribution is that it is occurring despite a standard distribution of wins throughout the league. Parity is alive and well in the NFL. Right now nearly half of the league - 13 of 32 teams - is presently sitting at 2-2, and four other teams are within a game of .500. That is a pretty severe bulge in the middle of the NFL.
That is also why wins and losses are somewhat arbitrary in the NFL and not the best indicator of overall team strength and weakness. Everything in this league is relative. And that's why having a macro view of professional football as a whole is one of the strongest advantages any good handicapper can have.
Here is Doc's Sports NFL Power Rankings for Week 5:
1. Seattle Seahawks (2-1) - The Seahawks benefit from the fact that this week's trip east doesn't involve a 1 p.m. EST start. Seattle is 7-1 ATS in its last eight "Monday Night Football" games, and they are public darlings this week, garnering 73 percent of the action in their game with the Redskins. And why not? Seattle is 21-7 against the spread in its last 28 conference games and a hearty 37-16 ATS in its last 54 games overall.
2. Denver Broncos (2-1) - The Broncos have failed to cover a spread in three games so far this season. Perhaps more disturbing is the fact that they have been outgained in all three games. Denver is 6-0 ATS after a loss, and they are 13-5 ATS the last 18 years when playing after a regular season bye week. Also, Denver has gone 8-2 ATS as a nondivisional home favorite with Peyton Manning under center.
3. Cincinnati Bengals (3-0) - Heading into Monday night the Bengals had been installed as a token three-point underdog against New England this coming Sunday. But after the Chiefs bombarded the Patriots the Bengals are now a one-point road favorite in Foxboro. Marvin Lewis has gone just 6-10 ATS in nationally-televised regular-season games, but the expectations are for the Bengals to make a strong showing. They got Marvin Jones and Vontez Burfict back from injury this week, and the Bengals are on a 20-8 ATS regular season run.
4. Philadelphia Eagles (3-1) - I am definitely expecting a bounce-back effort from the Eagles offense this week. As we touched on last week, their offense line is completely mangled and without three starters. San Fran was a horrible matchup for that line, and it showed. St. Louis' front four will be able to generate a lot of pressure on Philadelphia, and the Rams have had two weeks to prep for the hurry-up offense. But I think the Eagles receivers will be able to consistently beat St. Louis' young and undisciplined secondary.
5. Arizona Cardinals (3-0) - Carson Palmer has said that he plans to start this week in Denver. But Monday I saw a quote from him that said, "I was hoping to be throwing more than I am." I think Arizona would be wise to sit him again this week. Palmer has major happy feet. And when he gets pressured he would rather make some ill-advised throw into traffic rather than take a hit. I think coming back from an injury too quickly would exacerbate his happy feet.
6. San Diego Chargers (3-1) - Beating the Jaguars is never impressive. But staving off a potential letdown situation is. And in each of the past two weeks, following commanding wins over Seattle and Buffalo, the Chargers have been able to maintain their focus and beat the number. That is a sign of excellent coaching. The Chargers are 4-0 ATS so far this season and a healthy 10-2 ATS dating back to last year. San Diego's offense has only turned the ball over one time this year. They will need to maintain that focus again this week versus a tricky, aggressive Jets defense.
7. San Francisco 49ers (2-2) - That Philadelphia win was a tough one for me to read. On one hand you can say the 49ers dominated and the Eagles shouldn't have had any of their three touchdowns. On the other you can say that the 49ers are still horrible at the details and are still not executing the way that good teams do. Yes, they won. But they were one yard away from going 1-3, and I still don't trust this group and its terrible karma any further than I can throw it. I have made my prediction on this team clear: I think they will go 9-7, sneak into the playoffs as a wild card, and then wreak havoc in the postseason before coming up short again.
8. Green Bay Packers (2-2) - Huge play by Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to stop Alshon Jeffery right before the half. And I think that Green Bay will be able to shred Minnesota's average secondary in the same fashion they just abused the Bears' this Thursday. The four winning teams on Thursday Night Football have posted a collective 163-50 differential so far this year, good for an average score of roughly 41-13. During September and October of last season the first nine TNF games of the season were decided by an average of 12 points per game. So early-season Thursday night blowouts are pretty much the norm.
9. Indianapolis Colts (2-2) - Andrew Luck is now 3-1 ATS this year and just continues to be the best moneymaker in the NFL. He is now 23-11 ATS in his last 34 regular season starts despite the fact that the Colts have been outgained by an average of 13.9 yards per game over their last 34 tilts. Indianapolis still has revenge for Luck's first playoff loss in Baltimore two Januarys ago. But playing the Ravens will be a major step up in class for the Colts after pounding the feeble Titans and Jaguars a combined 85-34 the past two weeks. Indy is 8-1 ATS in the last nine meetings with Baltimore, and the 'over' is now 7-3 in their last 10 home games.
10. Detroit Lions (3-1) - Somehow it appears that the Lions have ended up with the best defense in the NFC North. The Lions are in the Top 6 in total yards, passing defense, rushing defense and points allowed. Their offensive yards per point are still an inefficient 17.1. But they've only given the ball away five times, putting them on pace for just 20 turnovers this season. That's a far cry from last year's 34 giveaways. The Lions are just 3-7 ATS as a nondivisional home favorite over the past three years, including 0-5 ATS last season. So I'm still not sure how much I trust them to cover a big spread like they face this week.
11. Baltimore Ravens (3-1) - The Ravens will have to avoid a letdown this week after their emotional win over Carolina for Steve Smith. They will also have to find some answers in the secondary. Because before that Panthers game turned into a rout, Carolina's passing game was consistently beating the Ravens. I mean, Panthers receivers - who are not good - were running free all over the field. Baltimore is No. 24 in the league against the pass. They only have four sacks so far this season, and they will be hard-pressed to slow down Luck and Co. on Sunday.
12. New York Giants (2-2) - I don't know that I'm ready to vault the Giants into the upper echelon of NFL teams just because they have won two straight. After all, they beat a mediocre Houston team at home and a banged-up Redskins team. Neither of those wins is overly impressive. Larry Donnell had his coming out party against Washington, and he should have another field day against a Falcons linebacking corps that is among the worst units in football. October has been a great month for the Giants, who are 23-9 ATS, but be wary of the G-Men having a letdown this week. They are 1-5 ATS following a win by more than two touchdowns.
13. Kansas City Chiefs (2-2) - Everyone left Monday night talking about how bad the Patriots were. But how about how great the Chiefs looked? Andy Reid is proving once again why he's one of the top coaches of this generation. Kansas City had Denver on the ropes and then followed it up with back-to-back blowouts (combined score: 75-29) over Miami and New England. This week is a big revenge game for Alex Smith going against his former team. These clubs met last year in the preseason, and Smith moved the ball at will but was unable to punch it in the end zone versus his former mates.
14. Carolina Panthers (2-2) - The Panthers have been embarrassed in back-to-back games, losing to the Steelers and Ravens by a combined 75-29. But you know that this week's game is a huge one for coach Ron Rivera, who cut his teeth as a Chicago Bears defensive coordinator. You know this game means a lot to him. Carolina is just not the same defense without Greg Hardy (suspension) and Thomas Davis (hamstring). And this alleged ground-and-pound, defensive-oriented team has been outrushed by 280 yards the past two games. If they can't run the ball on Chicago they won't run the ball against anyone.
15. Chicago Bears (2-2) - If you exclude Monday Night Football games, in which he is 9-4 ATS, Jay Cutler is 34-61 ATS in his career as a starting quarterback. So basically the best betting system in the league is to just bet against this turnover-prone loser. Chicago's secondary is a sieve, and it will be impossible for them to slow down elite quarterbacks this year. Matt Ryan, Tom Brady, Tony Romo, and Drew Brees are all still on the schedule.
16. Dallas Cowboys (3-1) - I will fully admit that the Cowboys are better than I expected. And right now they are on a rush, playing with emotion and enjoyment. They have embraced their underdog season, and the lack of pressure on this group has allowed them to relax and play confidently. However, their three wins have come against teams that are a combined 3-8, none of whom will likely make the playoffs. And with each win the paradigm for Dallas shifts from "plucky underdog" back to "favorite with expectations". A win over Houston this weekend would create a media frenzy heading into a brutal Seattle-Giants-Washington-Arizona run on the schedule.
17. New England Patriots (2-2) - I saw what everyone else saw on Monday night: a Patriots team that, for the first time in 15 years, is best described as "mediocre". It is not just that they lack talent in a lot of areas. (Particularly their offensive line and their safeties; their safeties are horrendous). But the Patriots body language - particularly Tom Brady's - is terrible. He looks like a guy that has mentally checked out, and he isn't even pretending to try to lead this team. New England has revenge for a tight loss in Cincinnati, and they are 16-2 straight up in their last 18 home games. It is going to be interesting to read the crowd's vibe in this one. Are they ready to turn on Brady?
18. New Orleans Saints (1-3) - I'm not really one for severe swings in my Power Rankings. And dropping the Saints from No. 6 last week to No. 18 this week is one of the steepest drops I can remember. But these guys are just pathetic right now. They can't win on the road. Jimmy Graham hasn't done much. Drew Brees is not sharp. The defense is back to being one of the four or five worst in football. And I just don't see this team turning things around. I'm not in a hurry to bet against them at home - where they are a ridiculous 36-16 ATS - but the long-term prospects for this group are not particularly rosy. The home team is 5-1 ATS in the last six meetings with the Bucs, and the Saints have covered four of five.
19. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-2) - Until they find some answers on the stop unit, I think that the Steelers are a blind 'over' bet all season long. They have gone 3-1 against the total so far this season, and going back to last year they are 7-2 against the total. Their back seven is in shambles right now. I was stunned to see Pittsburgh as such a strong road favorite this week, seeing as they have been so unimpressive against bottom feeders Cleveland and Tampa Bay. The favorite in the Jaguars series is 0-8 ATS, and the Steelers are 2-9 ATS in their last 11 games down in Jacksonville.
20. Atlanta Falcons (2-2) - As I have said repeatedly, Atlanta's back seven is probably the worst in football. They absolutely cannot stop anyone, and they have CFL-caliber talent on defense. Atlanta has gone 18-4 ATS after losing a game by a touchdown or more recently. But they are just 3-7 ATS on the road, and prior to their 34-0 win in December of 2012 the Falcons had lost four straight to the Giants by an average of 14.8 points per game.
21. Houston Texans (3-1) - I said at the start of the season that I felt this week's game in Dallas would be Houston's "Super Bowl Game". This is by far their biggest regular-season contest, and this is a crucial game for the Bill O'Brien regime to announce its presence. Unfortunately, Houston's rush defense (No. 24) has been horrible, and that plays right into Dallas' strength. Houston's 21.9 defensive yards per point is wildly high, and I would expect to see this team play 'over' in the coming weeks.
22. Minnesota Vikings (2-2) - Teddy Bridgewater is questionable for Thursday night's game in Green Bay, meaning the Vikings could be on their third starting quarterback in five games. The Vikings are now 7-3 ATS in their last 10 games, and they are 4-1 ATS in their last five divisional games. But as poorly as Atlanta played on Sunday, the Falcons were actually beating Minnesota heading into the fourth quarter. That's a bad sign. It is also a bad sign that prior to last year's 26-26 tie, six of the previous nine games in the Packers series had been decided by nine or more points, and the Vikes were just 3-6 ATS against Green Bay since 2009.
23. Miami Dolphins (2-2) - Miami was one of the most impressive teams in Week 4. Yes, I know that it was against the lowly Raiders. But the Dolphins executed to perfection on both sides of the ball, Ryan Tannehill was sharp, and the team may have some momentum. They are still a little soft with their pass attack, though. They have been featuring those wide receiver screens, and I just don't see the Fins beating good defenses consistently with an attack that doesn't try to aggressively attack the middle of the field.
24. Cleveland Browns (1-2) - I'm curious to see what fixes Mike Pettine has enacted to turn around his No. 30-ranked defense. The Browns don't lack for talent on that side of the ball. But to this point they haven't been able to stop the run (No. 29) nor the pass (No. 27). Fortunately, they will face either Jake Locker or Charlie Whitehurst this week, and that is always a boon to defensive statistics. Jordan Cameron and Ben Tate will be back in the fold for the Browns. And they'll have to avoid looking past this week's game to an early-season rematch with Pittsburgh.
25. Tennessee Titans (1-3) - Ken Whisenhunt admitted that he might have overestimated how good this Titans team is. He is not the only one, and I think that Tennessee has been one of the biggest disappointments in football. That said, I'm not completely writing them off. The Titans have faced three 2013 playoff teams on the road this year. Their opponents are a combined 10-5 to start the season and, as mentioned, three of those games were played outside of Nashville. Titans DC Ray Horton will be facing his old team this week, and that should give Tennessee somewhat of an edge.
26. New York Jets (1-3) - Rex Ryan said it best: no one is doing a worse job in the NFL right now than the Ryan brothers. Those barely competent, mouth-breathing oafs are both just killing their respective organizations right now. Perhaps it is a good thing that the Jets are heading to California this week. They could use some fresh air and some time away from the New York media. This is their first trip to California since 2011, and the Jets are 0-3 ATS west of the Mississippi over the past four years.
27. Washington Redskins (1-3) - The Redskins clearly needed the extra time after their Thursday shellacking to regroup. Injuries have really derailed this season for this team, and they need to get some key guys - not named Bob Griffin - back healthy. The main disaster area is in the secondary, where three of their four projected starters are out. And backups Trenton Robinson and Brandon Meriweather have been injured or ineffective. Washington needs to find answers in the back or this season is going to spiral out of control.
28. Buffalo Bills (2-2) - The Neck Beard returns! Kyle Orton - who sat out the entire offseason and training camp in order to force Dallas to cut him and pay him $7 million rather than retire and receive nothing - is the new starting quarterback for the Bills. It's not often you see a first-place team change starting quarterbacks, especially to a guy that's been with the organization less than six weeks. Good luck with that Buffalo!
29. St. Louis Rams (1-2) - The Rams secondary is going to be no match for Philadelphia's up-tempo passing game. But it will be interesting to see if St. Louis will be able to play keep-away by pounding the ball on the ground. Jeff Fisher is 11-7 ATS coming out of a bye week and is a healthy 41-29 ATS in the underdog role since 2006.
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-3) - I don't care that the Bucs won on a last-second touchdown pass on the road in Pittsburgh; this is still a bad football team. They may be without starting safety Dashon Goldson this week because of an ankle injury. That's not going to help the league's No. 29-ranked pass defense.
30. Oakland Raiders (0-4) - Dennis Allen is out and Tony Sparano is in. In the short term this move could pay dividends. Sparano is an old-school coach with an aging roster. But the fact is that Oakland's issues weren't just coaching; this roster is pathetic.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-4) - We might as well update this state every week: Since the start of the 2012 season the Jags are 6-30, and 22 of those defeats have come by at least 10 points. This team doesn't just lose; it gets demolished. But they may have a chance this week against a Steelers team that just lost to a pathetic Bucs bunch. Blake Bortles, with the exception of some turnovers, was pretty solid. He completed nearly 80 percent of his throws and looks more comfortable in the pocket than Chad Henne ever did.
Throughout the season I will have my NFL Power Rankings every Tuesday. My next ones will be released on Tuesday, Oct. 7.
Robert Ferringo is a lead writer for Doc's Sport and he has posted three straight winning NFL weekends and back-to-back winning football months. Robert demolished the books for $2,000 in football profit last weekend alone and swept his three top plays this weekend. Robert has 9 of 11 winning football months and 14 of 19 winning NFL weeks and he is going to build on that sensational resume again this week with more. He is one of the best in the business and will be back with more this week.
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