One of the great things about following the lines for each week's NFL games is that you get to see, in numerical fashion, just where there are doubts about whether a team "deserves" their current record. Scott Cullen digs into the Week 5 slate of games in the NFL.
Bill Parcells was famously quoted as saying. "You are what your record says you are," and that may be true to some extent, but those of us who look deeper into statistics see underlying issues that might affect that record and the likelihood of it continuing, for better or worse.
Looking at this week's games, the 1-3 Miami Dolphins seem to have generated faith with competitive performances, including last week's overtime loss to undefeated Arizona, a team not quite getting full support behind their 4-0 start.
Perhaps the team that has the most doubts concerning their current record is the New Orleans Saints, who are 0-4, yet still favoured by 3.5 points at home against the 3-1 San Diego Chargers. The last two Saints losses have been extremely close -- by one point to Green Bay last week and in overtime to Kansas City the week before -- and they can still move the ball, so there is reason to believe that fortune will start favouring the Saints soon.
Judging by the lines, there is an expectation that those fortunes could turn as soon as this week.
A look at the Week 5 matchups:
ARIZONA (-1.5) at ST. LOUIS
However unlikely it may be that the Arizona Cardinals are one of three remaining undefeated teams, they have a reasonable opportunity to carry that through Week Five. Arizona is still trying to get consistency in their running game, with Ryan Williams now the featured performer, and this week could be a good chance to grind out some yards on the ground since the Rams are allowing 4.7 yards per carry and rank 26th with 541 rushing yards allowed.
At the same time, one of the Rams' defensive strengths has been the play of their corners, Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins, in pass coverage, so this may not be the most fortuitous matchup for Cardinals wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Roberts.
St. Louis doesn't have anything special offensively -- perhaps aside from kicker Greg Zuerlein -- ranking 27th in the league with 281.0 yards per game (the Cardinals, incidentally, rank 31st with 271.0), but they mix in Steven Jackson's running game with short passes to Danny Amendola, occasionally setting up to take shots down the field. Arizona's defence has been impressive enough in its own right, with an above-average run defence and a secondary that can be pretty good (even if they were shredded by Miami's Brian Hartline last week) thanks to veteran safeties Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes, along with rising star cornerback Patrick Peterson.
The upshot of all this is that the game figures to be low-scoring. It's the only game on the board this week with a total under 40 (39.5) and, based on two teams with above average defences and among the least productive offences, this one will be a grind.
MIAMI (+3.5) at CINCINNATI
Even though the Dolphins are 1-3 and the Bengals are 3-1, the spread indicates that these two teams are fairly close match, perhaps within a point if not for home field advantage. In any case, the Dolphins have the league's stoutest run defence, allowing 2.4 yards per carry, so that could make it tough sledding for Bengals RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
At the same time, the Dolphins' defence has been vulnerable in the passing game, as only New Orleans and Tampa Bay have allowed more than Miami's 1191 passing yards. Given the development of the Bengals' aerial attack, that should mean good things for receivers A.J. Green and Andrew Hawkins, as well as QB Andy Dalton.
Where the Bengals are vulnerable is on the ground, where they are giving up 5.4 yards per carry and the strength of Miami's offence, which ranks fifth in rushing yardage (153.3 per game) is based around RB Reggie Bush, so that seems like an area that the Dolphins may want to exploit.
GREEN BAY (-7) at INDIANAPOLIS
The Packers haven't been providing their usual high-octane offence, but do have the weapons to put up points, even if WR Greg Jennings is hampered (or altogether out of the lineup) due to a groin injury.
Indianapolis' defence hasn't been terrible, but is below average and cornerback Vontae Davis has been targeted early in the season, an approach that could work for Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, whether he is getting the ball to Jordy Nelson, James Jones or Randall Cobb.
Indy's best chance to slow down the Packers lies in their ability to generate a consistent pass rush against a subpar Packers offensive line. With OLB Dwight Freeney expected to return to the lineup, after missing a couple games with a high ankle sprain, expect Freeney and his tag-team partner, Robert Mathis, to get after Rodgers frequently.
Even if the Colts' defence is able to perform at a respectable level, the offence will need to score. While QB Andrew Luck has WR Reggie Wayne as his number one target, there may be better opportunities to move the ball with secondary options like Donnie Avery and T.Y. Hilton.
In an effort to slow the Packers' pass rush, specifically from OLB Clay Matthews, the Colts can use RB Donald Brown more often, on draws and screen plays, which would also provide some necessary offensive balance.
BALTIMORE (-6) at KANSAS CITY
The Ravens' offence is now predicated on the passing game, with QB Joe Flacco throwing more than ever before and there is reason to believe that can be effective against Kansas City, since the Chiefs have allowed 8.5 yards per pass attempt, better than only four other teams. Even with top CB Brandon Flowers rounding into form after a preseason foot injury, the Ravens have receiver depth to take advantage against the Chiefs' secondary.
If the Chiefs are going to keep this game close, they probably need RB Jamaal Charles to produce, which won't be easy going against a Ravens D that has allowed just 3.2 yards per carry.
There may also be some vulnerability in the Ravens' pass defence, as only three teams have allowed more than the 1183 passing yards surrendered by the Ravens thus far and this despite the fact that CB Lardarius Webb is one of the highest-rated cover corners in the game. Maybe if the Chiefs can get earlier production from WR Dwayne Bowe, they will stay in the game, rather than looking for a late back-door cover.
CLEVELAND (+8.5) at N.Y. GIANTS
While the Browns are winless, they are not without assets that could pose some problems for the Giants. RB Trent Richardson is the focal point and should help keep Big Blue off balance so that QB Brandon Weeden has some time to throw downfield against a Giants secondary that is allowing 9.0 yards per pass attempt (tied for worst in the league).
The challenge for Weeden is finding receivers who will hang onto the ball. Greg Little and Jordan Norwood were productive enough against Baltimore (eight catches, 133 yards combined), but had multiple drops that proved to be costly. If they hold on to a few more, the Browns might be able to hang around a while.
Injuries to the receiving corps, including Hakeem Nicks and Ramses Barden, leave the Giants somewhat shorthanded, but the Browns secondary remains vulnerable without suspended CB Joe Haden, so look for Victor Cruz and Domenik Hixon to produce.
QB Eli Manning should be able to coax a W out of the Giants, even if they are shorthanded, but it's asking a lot to keep doing it with secondary options moving into the spotlight.
PHILADELPHIA (+3) at PITTSBURGH
Coming off their bye week, the Steelers are getting healthier, with OLB James Harrison, SS Troy Polamalu and RB Rashard Mendenhall returning to the lineup. The Steelers need all their horses against a Philadelphia team that has been squeaking out close wins, but have also beaten quality teams along the way.
A healthy Mendenhall could give the Steelers a semblance of a running game, they may be able to attack on the ground, because Philadelphia's pass defence has been among the league's best so far, allowing a league-low 52.4% pass completion percentage.
Pittsburgh's defence hasn't been dominant early in the season but, to be fair, they've been missing Harrison and Polamalu, two of their biggest playmakers in recent seasons. If Harrison can generate a pass rush, that could force Michael Vick into turnovers, which is the ideal for any team facing the Eagles.
If Vick plays under control, though, he has the weapons to give the Eagles a chance to take a tough road win.
ATLANTA (-3) at WASHINGTON
It says something about the merits of the Redskins that they are only three-point 'dogs, even at home, against unbeaten Atlanta. Atlanta was exposed somewhat last week by Carolina, who ran the ball effectively and the Redskins can run the ball, thanks to RB Alfred Morris, who has helped Washington to be one of four teams averaging better than 5.0 yards per carry.
Since Atlanta's pass coverage has been relatively strong this season and Redskins No. 1 receiver Pierre Garcon is still getting back to form after missing a couple weeks with a foot injury, the ground game may be the Redskins' best plan of attack. Running the ball might also allow Washington to keep the ball away from the high-powered Atlanta offence.
The glaring issue for Washington, however is that their porous pass defence will have to have a monster effort against Falcons QB Matt Ryan, who has the league's best QB rating (112.1) and has 11 passing touchdowns and two interceptions. So, best of luck to DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson in their matchups against Roddy White and Julio Jones.
SEATTLE (+3) at CAROLINA
A fascinating matchup as the Seahawks bring one of the game's best run defences into Carolina, where the Panthers' strength is running the ball, with running backs Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams providing a two-pronged attack.
Seattle will need their running game, spearheaded by Marshawn Lynch, to generate yards because rookie QB Russell Wilson continues to struggle -- his 148.5 passing yards per game is lowest among 32 starting quarterbacks -- and while the Panthers' pass D is nothing special, they're surrendering 4.9 yards per carry, which means they had better load up if they are going to have any hope of containing Lynch.
CHICAGO (-6) at JACKSONVILLE
Coming off an impressive showing at Dallas Monday night, there is the possibility that a visit to Jacksonville will bring a letdown for the Bears, but they have a defence that can lock down the Jaguars' impotent passing attack, with all due respect to rookie Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts (Laurent Robinson has a concussion), so that they can turn their attention to Maurice Jones-Drew, the only real threat on the Jacksonville roster.
Chicago's offence has been inconsistent thus far but, when they are operating efficiently, Jay Cutler can get the ball downfield to Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery while the running back tandem of Matt Forte and Michael Bush grinds out yards.
To slow the Bears down, Jacksonville will need to generate a pass rush to knock Cutler off his game and that hasn't been a strong suit since the Jaguars have registered a league-low two sacks thus far.
DENVER (+6.5) at NEW ENGLAND
Another matchup between Peyton Maninng and Tom Brady, and it could be competitive because the Broncos' defence has given them some life. Both the Broncos and Patriots allow opponents just 3.4 yards per carry and Denver's pass defence, anchored by Champ Bailey and Tracy Porter on the corners, has been better than average.
Of course, after New England's offensive explosion in the second half against Buffalo last week, Denver will need to be decidedly better than above average and former Broncos WR Brandon Lloyd will be one of the receivers that Denver needs to keep under wraps.
Even though they blew out the Bills last week, the Patriots' secondary was exposed at times and could be tested by Broncos wideouts Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, who have naturally thrived with Manning at the controls, so this game could be a passing free-for-all, just as one would expect in a Manning-Brady showdown.
BUFFALO (+10) at SAN FRANCISCO
After the first half against New England last week, Buffalo might have appeared capable of giving the 49ers a test, but after New England stomped the Bills in the second half, it's going to require a massive rebound for the Bills to go to the West Coast and handle a 49ers team that is even more accomplished running the ball.
It's asking a lot of Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick to engineer a consistent offensive attack against the Niners' vaunted defence. Even if WR Stevie Johnson can get loose down the field, Fitzpatrick -- who could have two new starters on the O-line this week -- may not have the time needed to throw the ball. That could leave the Bills to try and run with Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller facing a Niners run defence that allows just 3.2 yards per carry.
San Francisco buried the Jets last week and, returning home, should be able to wreak similar havoc against the Bills, even if the Bills bring more to the table offensively.
TENNESSEE (+5.5) at MINNESOTA
With QB Jake Locker sidelined due to a shoulder injury, the Titans turn to veteran QB Matt Hasselbeck as they visit the surprising Vikings. Considering the Vikings' run defence has been especially strong, allowing 3.3 yards per carry and one rushing touchdown, which figures to cause problems for RB Chris Johnson, Hasselbeck ought to make gains through the air, where the Titans have improved depth, particularly when Kenny Britt joins Nate Washington and rookie Kendall Wright at wide receiver.
While the Vikings will surely give Adrian Peterson a continued heavy workload in the running game, the Titans are allowing opposing QBs a rating of 118.3, worst in the league, so expect Minnesota to take advantage, with QB Christian Ponder getting the ball to Percy Harvin, Jerome Simpson and TE Kyle Rudolph.
SAN DIEGO (+3.5) at NEW ORLEANS
San Diego comes in as underdogs against the winless Saints, who have to do more to prove that they are deserving of their winless record (a juxtuposition with the Arizona Cardinals, who have their share of doubters, even at 4-0).
The Chargers have a bit of a running back controversy, with Jackie Battle usurping Ryan Mathews at the top of the depth chart and that's important enough because the Saints have allowed a league-high 747 yards on the ground. Come to think of it, that might be enough yardage for both to have productive games.
New Orleans is atrocious defensively, but after rolling up 474 yards in total offence at Green Bay last week, they still have to be considered a dangerous team offensively.
San Diego has an above-average defence, led by linebackers Donald Butler and Shaun Phillips, but they're also getting strong performances from the secondary and from a relatively unknown defensive line (which includes Western Ontario grad Vaughn Martin). So long as the Chargers can put pressure on Drew Brees and contain the Saints' passing game (not the easiest task, admittedly), there is a chance for a road upset.
HOUSTON (-9) at N.Y. JETS
Given the current state of the Jets, it's a good thing this game is at home or who knows how high the line, which opened at six, would end up?
With no Darrelle Revis, the Jets don't have any defensive playmakers, so they're going to be hard-pressed to shut down the Texans' passing game, to say nothing of what happens when the Texans start churning out yards on the ground against a Jets defence that has allowed 691 rushing yards, ranking 31st in the league.
Even if the Jets' defence somehow rises to the occasion to make life difficult for Houston, the Texans have a ferocious defence that should have its way with a depleted Jets offence. It's one thing to get by with Mark Sanchez as your quarterback. It's another trying to do it against the top team in the league while Jeremy Kerley and Chaz Schilens are lined up as the starting receivers.