Raise your hand if you predicted the Minnesota Vikings would be the final unbeaten team standing through the first five weeks of the 2016 NFL season. Guessing your hand is down unless you are a completely biased Vikings fan. It's shocking to me this team is 5-0 considering the season-ending injuries suffered by QB Teddy Bridgewater and running back Adrian Peterson.
So now I'm going to type something I never thought possible: Sam Bradford for MVP? Bradford, who didn't play Week 1 for Minnesota as he was still learning the playbook following a trade from Philadelphia, is the NFL's second-highest rated passer (109.8) following another turnover-free game in Sunday's blowout win over Houston. Bradford completed 22 of 30 passes for 271 yards and two touchdowns -- despite playing without top receiver Stefon Diggs -- and hasn't been picked off yet. Minnesota is only the second team since 1933 to start 5-0 without throwing an interception, joining the 1969 Los Angeles Rams. The Vikings' record for consecutive games without an interception by a single QB is five, by Fran Tarkenton in 1973. I don't actually believe that Bradford wins the MVP Award, but he deserves some consideration. My pick for that at the moment is Ben Roethlisberger barely over Matt Ryan.
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If Minnesota gets the NFC's top seed it's going to be tough to beat the Vikings because by all reports they have the loudest home-field advantage in the NFL these days in that new stadium. Oddsmakers still aren't convinced as Minnesota is just a fifth-favorite to win Super Bowl LI at +850. The Vikings are off this week and visit Philadelphia in Week 7. I think they stay unbeaten until Week 10 at Washington.
Here are some Week 6 early lines that caught my eye. I won't touch on Thursday's game (Broncos-Chargers), the marquee Sunday matchup (Falcons-Seahawks) or the Monday night game (Jets-Cardinals) as I will be previewing them here individually. The Bucs join the Vikings on the bye.
Bengals at Patriots (-8, 47.5): Or maybe Tom Brady could win his third career MVP Award even though he won't play more than 12 regular-season games. Brady's revenge tour against Commissioner Roger Goodell got off to a roaring start on Sunday as Brady threw for 406 yards and three touchdowns in a rout of the Browns in Cleveland. It was Brady's first time playing with new tight end Martellus Bennett and he caught all three scores. Brady was 12 of 15 throwing to Patriots he had never played with before (Bennett, Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell). Brady joined Warren Moon (Seattle in 1997) as the only quarterbacks age 39 or older to have at least 400 passing yards and three touchdown passes in a game since the merger. Brady has 38 career games with at least 350 passing yards, the second-most in NFL history (the Saints' Drew Brees has 51). New England has a scary mismatch when it goes to two tight-end sets with Bennett and Rob Gronkowski (five catches for 109 yards vs. the Browns). It should be a zoo at Gillette Stadium in Brady's 2016 home debut. As for the Bengals, I thought they would win in Dallas on Sunday but it was over at halftime with Cincinnati trailing 21-0 in a 28-14 defeat. Cincy running back Jeremy Hill had to leave the game after suffering a chest injury, so monitor his status. The pick: Patriots and "over."
Browns at Titans (-6.5, TBA): This total hasn't been posted yet because we don't know who will start at quarterback for the laughable Browns. Rookie Cody Kessler, who entered the season as the third-stringer, had to leave Sunday's loss vs. the Patriots with chest/rib injuries. So that means we could see Clipboard Jesus, Charlie Whitehurst, a former Titan, start. He's in his eighth season and has started in Seattle and Tennessee and is 2-7 as a starter. The Browns also will probably use receiver Terrelle Pryor under center on certain plays as well. Even in their said history since 1999, the Browns have had to use four starting QBs in a season just once, in 2008. The last time a team started four quarterbacks in six games was 1968 when the Broncos did it with Jim LeClair, John McCormick, Marlin Briscoe and Steve Tensi. Literally never heard of those guys. Tennessee pulled off a 30-17 upset in Miami on Sunday as Marcus Mariota threw for three scores and the Titans rushed for 235 yards. The pick: Titans and under regardless of the total.
Ravens at Giants (-3, 44.5): Baltimore might be the most interesting team in the NFL thus far as every game has gone right down to the wire. The Ravens lucked out a bit in winning their first three but lost a second straight at home on Sunday, 16-10 to Washington. And Coach John Harbaugh dumped offensive coordinator Marc Trestman, the former Bears head coach, on Monday. The Ravens ran the ball well in the first quarter vs. the Redskins, who are not good at stopping the run. But then the team basically abandoned that game plan for some reason. Trestman had replaced Gary Kubiak after the 2014 season but made it only 21 games. This brings to mind the 2012 season when the Ravens lost to the Redskins and Harbaugh fired OC Cam Cameron and replaced him with Jim Caldwell. The Ravens would go on to win the Super Bowl that year. Don't see that happening here. Quarterbacks coach Marty Mornhinweg, a former offensive coordinator of the 49ers, Eagles and Jets and head coach of the Detroit Lions, will take over this time. New York's offense is also in a funk as the Giants have lost three straight after a 2-0 start. Eli Manning seems to be getting worse each game. He's not getting much help from his rushing attack as the Giants had only 43 yards in Sunday's 23-16 loss in Green Bay. The pick: Giants and under.
Steelers at Dolphins (+7.5, 48): I thought the Dolphins got it right this offseason when they hired highly-regarded Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase as their new head coach. But that team is an utter disappointment following a pretty stunning 30-17 home loss to Tennessee. Gase says he's sticking with quarterback Ryan Tannehill even though he threw for only 191 yards in the loss, his third game of the year with fewer than 200 yards. I guess there's little point to turn the team over to journeyman backup Matt Moore because he's not the future. But I do expect Miami to address the QB position in the 2017 draft if Tannehill doesn't turn things around. His quarterback rating is the lowest it has been since 2013. Tannehill is scheduled to cost the Dolphins $20.3 million against the cap next year. Why is Roethlisberger my MVP thus far? After throwing for four scores in Sunday's easy win over the Jets, Roethlisberger has 15 touchdown passes this year, the most ever by a Steelers quarterback in the first five games of a season. The pick: Steelers and over.
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