Thursday Night Football Preview: New Orleans Saints @ Carolina Panthers

Rookie Saints receiver Brandin Cooks scored twice last week against Green Bay

It’s week nine of the NFL season, and the stakes are high as two NFC South rivals get set to do battle in prime-time on Thursday Night Football. Carolina currently lead the division with a 3-4-1 record, while the Saints sit just behind them at 3-4. As you can tell, despite neither team enjoying a good start to the campaign they’re both well in the hunt for a post-season berth at the mid-point despite their lack of wins early on. Keep it right here to find out who has the edge in this evening’s contest.

When New Orleans has the ball…
The Saints have struggled to post the lofty points totals they’re accustomed to in 2014, although that changed somewhat at the weekend when they dropped 44 points on the Green Bay Packers. First round pick Brandin Cooks finally broke out with a pair of touchdowns, one through the air and one on the ground, while Jimmy Graham also scored for the first time in nearly a month after a shoulder injury had relegated him to merely being a decoy. Carolina boasted one of the leagues top defenses a year ago but that is no longer the case; linebacker Luke Kuechly’s play has dropped off slightly (although he is still one of the top players in the NFL at his position), while the loss of Greg Hardy on domestic abuse charges has stung the pass rush. The Panthers run defense has suffered more than any part of the unit, however, which means that Saints running back Mark Ingram could enjoy a successful outing. Edge: New Orleans

When Carolina has the ball…
It’s all about Cam Newton when it comes to the Panthers offense, both with his legs and with his arm, but unfortunately for Carolina Newton’s rib injury has limited his effectiveness in both areas so far this season. He’s thrown for just 8 touchdowns through eight games, while his one rushing touchdown is way down on his normal productivity on the ground. Injuries to running backs Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams have also hit the offense hard, although rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin has been a bright spot and his combination of good hands and great size make him a match-up nightmare for opposing defenses. Defensively New Orleans have been poor, with acclaimed free agent addition Jarius Byrd proving ineffective before he went down for the season with an injury. Edge: Even

Special Teams
Saints kicker Shayne Graham has missed just one kick this season and has been as steady as usual, although he lacks elite leg strength. Graham Gano has also been productive for the Panthers, although he’s missed one more kick than Graham. Philly Brown, Carolina’s punt returner, is the only player from either side to score a special teams touchdown in 2014.

Injury Report
Panthers punt returner Brown is out with a concussion, while running back DeAngelo Williams is set to play. For New Orleans running back Pierre Thomas is out, as is linebacker David Hawthorne. TE Jimmy Graham is set to play, while halfback Khiry Robinson is questionable with a forearm injury.

Prediction
Saints 30, Panthers 20

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Thursday Night Football Preview: San Diego Chargers @ Denver Broncos

Broncos TE Julius Thomas has evolved into a top flight player under Peyton Manning

The NFL heads west tonight for the eighth Thursday Night Football match-up of the season, with the AFC West leading Denver Broncos (5-1) hosting the 5-2 San Diego Chargers. Both teams have looked good in the early going but a loss here for either side would significantly decrease their chances of winning the division and earning a bye in the play-offs. To find out what to keep an eye on as the action unfolds scroll on down.

When San Diego has the ball…
Phillip Rivers is enjoying a career season for the Chargers, throwing 17 touchdowns to just three interceptions while posting a passer rating of 113, making him a prime candidate to win a first MVP award if he can continue his purple patch. Branden Oliver, an undrafted rookie, has taken over as the teams primary running back following injuries to Danny Woodhead and Ryan Matthews, and while Matthews is expected to return soon Oliver has been a revelation in the backfield. Antonio Gates has enjoyed a resurgence following a couple of down years at the tight end position, and he’s once more become Rivers favourite red zone target as his seven touchdown receptions would suggest. The Broncos beefed up their defense in the summer and the moves have paid off handsomely, with Aqib Talib proving to be a lock-down corner on the outside while former Cowboy DeMarcus Ware has been a menace when rushing the passer. Ware recorded three sacks of 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick on Sunday night and Von Miller has also been a threat to opposing passers, bringing the QB down eight times in just six games.
Edge: Even

When Denver has the ball…
There’s not a lot left to be said about Peyton Manning after he broke the all-time touchdown passing record last week against San Francisco, but that doesn’t mean opposing defenses should assume the former Colt will slow down. To make matters even more ominous for Denver’s foes Manning has a full compliment of weapons in tow, with Wes Welker back from his concussion problems and both Demaryius and Julius Thomas causing match-up problems wherever they line-up. The running game has been a disappointment for Denver this year and Montee Ball is currently out injured, but that hasn’t stopped Manning from carving open defense after defense. Safety Eric Weddle has been a steady presence in the San Diego secondary for a number of years now and he leads the team in tackles once again in 2014, while the Chargers pass rush has been effective with the team recording 15 sacks, although no one player has more than 2.5. Brandon Flowers leads the team with two interceptions but he’ll miss out with a concussion, while Manti Te’o is a capable run stopper in the middle of the field when he’s been healthy – which unfortunately he hasn’t been this year.
Edge: Broncos

Special Teams
Nick Novak has been nails for the Chargers this season and hasn’t yet missed a kick, while punter Mike Scifres is one of the better players at his position in the league. Rookie Brandon McManus has kicked well enough for Denver that they were able to release Matt Prater, who missed the first four games of the season while serving a PED related suspension.  Neither side has gotten much out of their return games.
Edge: Even

Injury Report
Flowers and Te’o are definitely out for San Diego, while cornerback and first round pick Jason Verrett is also questionable to play. Montee Ball is out for the Broncos, while kicker Brandon McManus is probable with a groin strain.

Prediction
Chargers 20, Broncos 35

Week 7 NFL Predictions

Colin Kaepernick will have his handful against the revamped Broncos defense on Sunday night

Week seven of the NFL season is upon us, and as the play-off races begin to take shape the games have become more and more critical for the teams involved. A key divisional loss at this stage of the year can be terminal for a teams post-season aspirations, while a win can make all the difference as each of the 32 franchises jockey for position in their respective conferences. Here’s what Fred Stanley Sport thinks will happen as the season nears its midpoint a we attempt to build on our 58-37-1 record when predicting games in this most unpredictable of campaigns.

Atlanta @ Baltimore
Matt Ryan and the Falcons have stuttered significantly after a fast start, while Baltimore continues to play good football and racked up an incredible 35 points after just 17 minutes of their game versus Tampa Bay in week six. A few weeks ago this might have looked like a shootout; now it looks like a comfortable win for the Ravens behind the arm of Joe Flacco and the legs of break-out running back Justin Forsett. Falcons 21, Ravens 31

Minnesota @ Buffalo
The Bills hung around against New England a week ago, but ultimately when Kyle Orton takes on Tom Brady there can only be one winner. Orton will feel a lot more confident of coming out on top against Teddy Bridgewater, who struggled for the first time in his young NFL career last week against the formidable Lions defense. Buffalo’s D isn’t as strong as Detroit’s, but their offense is probably better (with the Lions sans Calvin Johnson), so the result should be the same. Home win.
Vikings 17, Bills 24

Miami @ Chicago
The Dolphins came this close to beating Green Bay in south Florida last week but they couldn’t quite hold on against an inspired Aaron Rodgers, while Chicago earned a resounding road win over the Falcons. The Bears are probably a more rounded team than the Packers with their superior defense and running game, which spells bad news for Miami and coach Joe Philbin, who edges nearer and nearer the exit with each loss. Dolphins 18, Bears 27

New Orleans @ Detroit 
Calvin Johnson is likely out once more for Detroit, leaving Matthew Stafford without his favourite toy and almost entirely compromising the Lions offensive attack. Reggie Bush is also a doubt, so Stafford and company will be thankful that the Saints posses one of the worst defenses in football. Drew Brees hasn’t looked like himself in 2014 and New Orleans nearly fell to Tampa Bay at home two weeks ago. Saints coach Sean Payton will hope that the offense has ironed out some of its kinks during the bye week, and I’m inclined to bet that they’ve done enough to ensure that they’ll topple the Megatron-less Lions in Detroit. Saints 24, Lions 21

Carolina @ Green Bay
After drawing with Cincinnati last week the Panthers are sitting pretty atop the NFC South with a 3-2-1 record, but the most exciting thing for Carolina fans has to be the return to form of QB Cam Newton. Newton scored on the ground for the first time in 2014 last week and with the Green Bay defense looking far from stout the former Auburn man could be in for a big week against Mike McCarthy’s 4-2 Packers. Aaron Rodgers will attempt to answer in kind but it’s the Panthers run defense which has been terrible this year, something the Packers are unlikely to be able to take advantage of judging by their efforts on the ground so far this season.
Panthers 27, Packers 23

Cincinnati @ Indianapolis
A.J Green will miss out again for the Bengals, leaving Andy Dalton feeling much like Matthew Stafford as he attempts to muddle on without his favourite target. Mohamed Sanu has been excellent in Green’s absence, it should be noted, but Andrew Luck will fancy his chances of carving up the Bengals secondary in much the same way Tom Brady did a couple of weeks ago. Both sides could put up points but it figures to be difficult for Dalton to keep pace with the formidable Indianapolis passing attack on the Lucas Oil Field turf. Bengals 21, Colts 28

Cleveland @ Jacksonville
Before you skip reading this paragraph, remember that Cleveland are actually relevant this year and this game isn’t a battle between two basement dwellers for a change. Brian Hoyer has developed into a capable quarterback who doesn’t make mistakes and makes enough plays with his arm to give the Browns a chance to win most weeks, while the Cleveland defense was at its stifling best versus Pittsburgh in week six. I think the Jags have a performance in them  at some point this year, but the Browns should be too strong and have too much to play for to mess this one up.
Browns 26, Jaguars 14

Seattle @ St. Louis
The defending champs take on the Rams in a must win game for both teams if they are to challenge the two teams who currently sit above them in the NFC West. With Percy Harvin now out of town the Seahawks should ride Marshawn Lynch harder than ever, while the likes of Doug Baldwin will take on a more prominent role in the passing game. Fortunately for Seattle the Rams have looked toothless on both offense and defense this year, which should result in a return to winning ways for Pete Carroll’s men. Seahawks 23, Rams 17

Tennessee @ Washington
Now this is a game that has no play-off implications whatsoever in week seven. Washington are playing out the string until RG III returns, while Tennessee are playing out the string until, well, erm… you get the picture. They’re not very good. The Redskins do at least have play-makers on offense in the form of Alfred Morris and DeSean Jackson, so they should walk away from FedEx Field with their second win of the season and their record sitting pretty at 2-5.
Titans 14, Redskins 27

Kansas City @ San Diego 
Chiefs coach Andy Reid has a phenomenal record after the bye week, and I fully expect that to continue against a Chargers team that has dropped off the pace in each of the past two weeks. Luckily for them they haven’t faced top opposition, and while Phillip Rivers was able to lead them to victory over Oakland seven days ago he’ll find things much tougher against a Kansas City outfit who have looked dangerous on offense ever since the return of Jamaal Charles from injury. Tight End Travis Kelce is also worth keeping an eye on, as he leads the Chiefs in receptions and has three touchdowns to show for the young season. Chiefs 26, Chargers 20

New York Giants @ Dallas
After being shut out by Philadelphia in week six the Giants travel to Texas for a big showdown with division rivals Dallas, who are sitting pretty at 5-1 behind the legs of DeMarco Murray. Murray has been a workhorse so far this year and with Dez Bryant helping keep the passing game afloat the Cowboys offense has variety to go with skill. To make matters worse for New York Victor Cruz is done for the year with a knee injury, while cornerback Domonique Rodgers-Cromartie is also a doubt to play this evening. The NFC East race could become a two horse contest if this one stays true to the form guide. Giants 17, Cowboys 27

Arizona @ Oakland
Cardinals QB Carson Palmer returns to one of his former teams, and it should be a happy return for the former USC signal caller as Arizona seeks to re-affirm its position as one of the top teams in the NFC. The Raiders played hard for interim coach Tony Sparano against San Diego last week but while that’s admirable it shouldn’t be enough to earn the win against a talented Arizona team that boasts play-maker’s on both sides of the ball, not least in the form of cornerback Patrick Peterson and wide-out Michael Floyd. Cardinals 28, Raiders 19

San Francisco @ Denver
After a shaky start to the season the 49ers have improved in recent weeks, but while they have played well on defense they haven’t faced an attack as potent as Denver’s well oiled machine this year. Colin Kaepernick will be under the microscope and the revamped Broncos defense featuring Aqib Talib and DeMarcus Ware will be a big test for the young QB. If Kaepernick is at his best he’ll keep it close; if he’s not it could be lopsided as Denver proves once more that they’re the class of the AFC.
49ers 24, Broncos 34

Houston @ Pittsburgh
After being walloped by Cleveland last week the Steelers should come out fired up on Monday Night Football, however they might run right into the returning Jadaveon Clowney and the unavoidable J.J Watt. The Texans haven’t been outstanding in recent weeks but they have enough pieces in place to make things difficult for a dysfunctional Pittsburgh team that has several holes and several veteran players who are on the decline, not least Troy Polomalu and, perhaps, Ben Roethlisberger. With both teams 3-3 this could be the tipping point in both of their seasons; expect Houston to be the ones above .500 come Tuesday morning. Texans 21, Steelers 17

What do you think will happen in week 7? Have your say in the comments or tweet @fredjstanley
 

 

Thursday Night Football Preview: New York Jets @ New England Patriots

Tight End Rob Gronkowski has re-emerged as Tom Brady’s favourite weapon

Week seven of the NFL gets underway with one of the best rivalries in the sport, an AFC East battle between Rex Ryan’s 1-5 Jets and Bill Belichick’s 4-2 Patriots. The Pats currently sit atop the division after they overcame Buffalo in week six, while New York are rooted to the foot of it following a well-fought defeat against Denver at Mile High Stadium four days ago. To find out what to watch for in this crucial encounter stay right here with American Football Focus.

When New York has the ball…
Geno Smith is still the Jets QB, but if he starts slow this week (as he has in almost every game this season) it would figure that Rex Ryan will insert Michael Vick at the position, especially with Ryan’s job being seemingly on the line. However the Jets coach has shown an unwillingness to make a change under centre throughout his head coaching career, first with Mark Sanchez and now with the enigmatic Smith. Chris Ivory has become the dominant figure at running back for New York while former Titan Chris Johnson has faded into the background. It figures that if New York are to move the ball effectively against the Patriots they’ll need to give both a healthy dose of carries, all the more so with New England middle linebacker Jerod Mayo done for the season.
Edge: New England

When New England has the ball…
As has been the case for over a decade now, as goes Tom Brady goes the Patriots offense. Running back Steven Ridley is done for the year so Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden make-up a rather underwhelming running back tandem, making Brady and the passing game all the more critical to New England’s hopes. Tim Wright has joined Rob Gronkowski as a threat from the tight end position, with the former Buccaneer recording touchdowns in each of the past two games. New York are awfully thin at cornerback and in the secondary in general, so look for Brady to light it up through the air tonight.
Edge: New England

Special Teams
Stephen Gostkowski has been one of the more reliable kickers in the league since he replaced Adam Vinatieri in New England over six years ago, and has missed just one kick this season while making all eight of his attempts from beyond 40 yards. Nick Folk has gone one better for New York and hasn’t missed in 2014, although he’s attempted just nine field goals to Gostkowski’s 17. Neither team has a kick returner of note, although Julian Edelman has averaged a respectable 8.1 yards per punt return for New England this year.

Injury Report
Mayo and Ridley are done for the year for New England, while offensive lineman Dan Connolly and Bryan Stork both haven’t practiced due to concussions sustained last week. The Jets on the other hand are in pretty good shape health wise.

Prediction
New York 17, New England 30

Week 6 NFL Predictions

Phillip Rivers stellar early season play has seen him emerge as a potential MVP candidate

The sixth Sunday of the NFL season is upon us and it’s becoming clearer and clearer who the teams to beat in each of the eight divisions are. There are, however, some teams who have done well to reverse poor starts, while others have fallen off slightly after setting a blistering early pace. With a 49-27 record so far this year American Football Focus have been reasonably accurate when predicting the outcomes in each of the 76 games that have taken place. Will that accuracy continue through week six? Keep reading to find out.

New England @ Buffalo
Not many people expected Buffalo to be tied for the division lead in the AFC East after five weeks, but that’s exactly where they are as they host the also 3-2 Patriots in upstate New York. Putting Kyle Orton in at QB ahead of E.J Manuel was the correct decision and paid dividends against Detroit last week. The Lions, however, would have won the game if it weren’t for three missed Alex Henery field goals, and it’s unlikely the Patriots will be as generous following their thumping of Cincinnati in week five. Patriots 24, Bill 16

Carolina @ Cincinnati
The Panthers showed great resiliency to overcome a large deficit against Chicago last week, yet their flaws (namely a lack of a running game and a weakness against the run on defense) should make it very difficult for them to beat a good Bengals team. Cincy were terrible against New England in their last game and A.J Green is unlikely to play with a toe injury; nonetheless they’re the better team here especially with Cam Newton still struggling to be effective due to his rib injury.
Panthers 17, Bengals 23

Pittsburgh @ Cleveland
The 3-2 Steelers take on the 2-2 Browns in Cleveland, with the AFC North all of a sudden looking like one of the NFL’s most competitive divisions. Brian Hoyer has kept Johnny Manziel off the field and out of the news with a string of stellar performances, and he’ll need to be on top of his game against Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers if he’s to lead the Browns to victory this evening. Unfortunately for Hoyer and Cleveland, I can’t see their defense doing enough to stop what has become a balanced and effective Pittsburgh offense and giving Hoyer a chance.
Steelers 30, Browns 21

Green Bay @ Miami
Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin faces his former employers in a game that could go a long way to deciding his future in Miami. With their record sitting at an even 2-2 a win would propel them into the AFC East title race, while defeat would increase the distance between them and the division front runners. It’ll be defeat against the prolific Packers, and a step closer to the exit for Philbin.
Packers 31, Dolphins 20

Detroit @ Minnesota
Teddy Bridgewater has looked good since he was handed the reins to the Vikings offense, instantly becoming a threat with both his arm and his legs. He’ll be up against a fearsome Lions front four, however, and the lack of a running game in Minnesota is concerning. Calvin Johnson probably won’t play for Detroit which will force Matthew Stafford to spread the ball around a bit more than he’d like, but still expect the Lions to overcome their NFC North foes and progress to 4-2.
Lions 19, Vikings 16

Denver @ New York Jets
When you’re a head coach under severe pressure, as Rex Ryan is, the last thing you want to do is face Peyton Manning. Unfortunately for Ryan and the Jets that’s exactly what they’ll have to do this evening, and the result won’t be pretty. Brett Favre’s all-time touchdown passes record could be under severe pressure by the end of this one; as could Ryan’s job security. Broncos 34, Jets 14

Baltimore @ Tampa Bay
Tampa Bay have played a lot better since Mike Glennon took over the quarterback job from the injured Josh McCown, but will that be enough against the Joe Flacco led Ravens? Probably not, especially with Justin Forsett getting it done at running back and Steve Smith enjoying a career resurgence at wide receiver. Ravens 27, Buccaneers 20

Jacksonville @ Tennessee
These two teams have a combined one win between them heading into this match-up; thankfully that total will have doubled by the end of the 60 minutes they’ll play in Nashville. With both sides struggling to move the ball and neither defense looking capable of stopping all but the worst attacks, who knows what will transpire in the battle of AFC South doormats. My guess? The Jaguars get in the win column for the first time in 2014. Jaguars 21, Titans 18

San Diego @ Oakland
If Jacksonville and Tennessee are two of the worst teams in the NFL, the Raiders certainly deserve to be in that conversation. San Diego meanwhile have been excellent, led by QB Phillip Rivers who at age 32 is playing as well as he ever has. Antonio Gates has re-emerged as a top tier tight end, while Malcolm Floyd is also enjoying an Indian summer to his decorated career. Big road win, with Rivers continuing to press his case for first-half NFL MVP. Chargers 30, Raiders 16

Washington @ Arizona
Kirk Cousins and the Redskins rebounded somewhat against Seattle last week after a dire performance versus the Giants in week four, and even though they lost they’ll believe they can challenge the Cardinals on the road here in week six. The Arizona quarterback situation is in flux with Carson Palmer questionable, but whether Palmer starts or not should ultimately be irrelevant as the Cardinals running game and stout defense give them the edge over the porous Washington D.
Redskins 20, Cardinals 28

Chicago @ Atlanta
Both of these teams have fallen a bit flat on their face after promising starts to the season, but the Falcons offense at home gives them the edge with the Bears attack looking more and more inconsistent as the campaign wears on. Neither team has much to offer on defense, so expect a fair amount of points on the Georgia Dome turf. Bears 27, Falcons 35

Dallas @ Seattle
As well as the Cowboys have played in recent weeks, almost no one goes to Seattle and comes away victorious. However DeMarco Murray gives Dallas at least a chance, while the battle between Dez Bryant and Richard Sherman should be fascinating to watch. The Cowboys defense has improved with each passing week but this could be their biggest test yet, with Russell Wilson playing the best football of his career and Marshawn Lynch seemingly healthy. I’m going for a predictable home win, although I think Dallas will keep it closer than many people would expect.
Cowboys 23, Seahawks 27

New York Giants @ Philadelphia
Sunday Night Football sees a clash of two NFC East titans, with the 4-1 Eagles welcoming the 3-2 Giants to town. Eli Manning will fancy his chances of lighting up the terrible Philadelphia secondary, while Eagles RB LeSean McCoy could have his first breakout game of the season against the questionable Giants run defense. Even though the Eagles have the better record I’m not sure they’re the better team, which could see New York even their record with Philly’s by this time tomorrow morning. Giants 30, Eagles 21

San Francisco @ St. Louis
The 49ers have saved their season somewhat in the past couple of weeks amid talk of anarchy in the dressing room over the way head coach Jim Harbaugh is running the San Francisco ship. Harbaugh shouldn’t face too many difficult questions next week if form holds true and the Rams crumble under the weight of the 49ers potentially explosive offense. Colin Kaepernick has come into form in recent weeks and with the St. Louis defense struggling to contain anyone this year it could be a long day for Jeff Fisher’s men on Monday Night Football. 49ers 33, Rams 16

What do you think will happen in week six of the NFL season? Have your say in the comments or tweet @fredjstanley

Thursday Night Football: Indianapolis Colts @ Houston Texans

Colts receiver Reggie Wayne is QB Andrew Luck’s favourite target

There’s a battle brewing in Houston tonight between the surging Colts and the surprising Texans, who currently are tied for the lead in the division with 3-2 records. Here’s all you need to know as the season enters its middle portion.

When Indianapolis has the ball…
Andrew Luck is the beginning, middle and end of the Indianapolis offense and although he is unable to call on much of a rushing attack he’s still been able to operate a high powered unit so far in 2014. T.Y Hilton and Reggie Wayne are useful weapons on the outside and the offensive line is much improved from last season, which makes the Colts attack one to be feared. Houston are without Jadaveon Clowney, who’s still injured, but with J.J Watt on the line they still have one of the league’s better defensive units. Edge: Colts

When Houston has the ball…
Ryan Fitzpatrick has done an adequate job leading the Texans passing attack, but the star of the offensive show for Houston has really been wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins has surpassed Andre Johnson as the Texans leading wide-out and if the Colts want to stop Houston’s offense they’d do well to start with containing Hopkins. Arian Foster remains a decent option on the ground, so the Texans have a balanced attack in their favour. Edge: Even

Special Teams
Randy Bullock has been solid so far this season for Houston, missing just one of ten field goal attempts in 2014. Adam Vinatieri has gone one better for Indianapolis, making all ten of his kicks this year. Edge: Colts

Injury Report
Clowney has already been ruled out for Houston, while wide receiver Andre Johnson is questionable with an ankle injury. Indianapolis are almost entirely healthy with the exception of Robert Mathis who is already on injured reserve.

Prediction
Colts 26, Texans 17

Week 5 NFL Predictions

Earl Thomas leads the Seattle defense into Washington to take on the 1-3 Redskins

It’s that time of the week again where American Football Focus attempts to predict the correct results in the weekends slate of NFL games. Our record currently sits at 38-23, and we’ll look to build on that positive record in week five of the current season. Without further ado, here are our picks for the fourteen remaining games this weekend.

Chicago @ Carolina
The Bears travel to Carolina for a must-win game for both sides. Both are 2-2 in the early going and both squads contain key players who have been hobbled through injury, limiting their effectiveness. Cam Newton hasn’t been himself this year and has battled through a rib injury, while Chicago wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery have both been restricted in recent weeks. Neither defense has been good in 2014, but I think the Bears offense is more explosive than the Panthers so I’m going for a road win here. Bears 27, Panthers 20

Houston @ Dallas
Both of these teams own surprising 3-1 record through four weeks, with the Texans benefiting from strong defensive play while Dallas have enjoyed the best four game stretch of running back DeMarco Murray’s career. In this lone star state battle the real difference could be the quarterbacks, and Tony Romo gives the Cowboys a significant edge. Home win. Texans 17, Cowboys 28

Buffalo @ Detroit
Has the Bills bubble finally burst after their fast start to the season? Their loss against Houston last week was disappointing to say the least and led to the removal of E.J Manuel as the team’s starting quarterback. Detroit meanwhile have enjoyed a 3-1 start to the season and they’re looking like the class of the NFC North, although Calvin Johnson’s ankle remains a concern. Nonetheless the Lions should have no problem handling the Bills at home, especially with Johnson likely to be in better shape then he was last week. Bills 14, Lions 27

Baltimore @ Indianapolis
These two great rivals square off at Lucas Oil Stadium in a tasty encounter, with the Raves sneaking under the radar somewhat so far this year with a 3-1 record. Andrew Luck has been lights out for the Colts but the rest of his team needs some work, particularly the defense, which could get shredded by Joe Flacco and the resurgent Steve Smith Snr. It promises to be a shootout on the Indianapolis turf, with Luck again being left too much to do by his teammates. Ravens 34, Colts 31

Pittsburgh @ Jacksonville
After a last minute collapse against Tampa Bay last week the Steelers find themselves in must win territory against the Jaguars in Florida, but they should be able to overcome a Jacksonville side that has regressed in recent weeks, even from their mediocre beginnings. Ben Roethlisberger will look to hook up with Antonio Brown again this evening, after the duo combined for two touchdowns in week four. Steelers 28, Jaguars 20

Tampa Bay @ New Orleans
Can the Buccaneers cause an upset for the second consecutive week? Probably not, but they have a chance against a Saints side who were obliterated in Dallas in week four. Drew Brees knows this is a game New Orleans can’t afford to lose, but with the already struggling Saints D missing Jarius Byrd Mike Glennon will fancy his chances of putting points on the board for the Bucs. Home win, but it’ll be tighter than most people think. Buccaneers 24, Saints 28

Atlanta @ New York Giants
Atlanta suffered a brutal loss in Minnesota last week which dropped their record to 2-2, while New York destroyed Washington to return to .500 with Eli Manning and the offense showing much improvement over the first few weeks of the season. The Giants defense has been better than expected and has been opportunistic, with their four interceptions of Redskins QB Kirk Cousins a case in point. Matt Ryan and the Falcons passing attack will test their ability, but at home the Giants could get the win that propels them into the NFC East title race. Falcons 26, Giants 27

St. Louis @  Philadelphia
The Eagles were stopped entirely on offense in San Francisco last week but they should find some respite in the Rams porous defense, which despite it’s much touted pass rush has failed to generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks in 2014. The St. Louis offense has been equally poor and although the Eagles defense hasn’t been playing great football this season they should be able to contain Austin Davis and the Rams impotent passing game. Rams 17, Eagles 34

Cleveland @ Tennessee
Brian Hoyer leads the Browns into the deep south in search of second win of the season following their bye week, and he should be able to do the job against a Titans team which has been disappointing this season. Tennessee were blown out by the Colts last week and while Cleveland aren’t as explosive on offense their defense is much better than Indy’s, which should be enough to send Ken Wisenhunt’s men to their fourth defeat of the year. Browns 20, Titans 13

Arizona @ Denver
The Cardinals head to Denver to take on the Broncos in what could be the game of the week, with the stout Arizona defense coming up against the high octane, Peyton Manning led Broncos offense. Without Carson Palmer the Cardinals may struggle to keep pace with Manning however, and the Broncos are notoriously strong at Mile High Stadium. Expect a close game, but a win for the home team as the Cardinals lose their perfect record. Cardinals 16, Broncos 24

New York Jets @ San Diego
The Jets will face a battle to save their season and avoid falling to 1-4 when they play the Chargers in San Diego, with Rex Ryan battling to save his job after a poor start to the campaign. Geno Smith hasn’t played well at quarterback and if he starts off cold this evening the calls for Mike Vick will grow louder from the Jets faithful. Phillip Rivers has been spectacular in the first quarter of the season and if he can continue his hot start the Chargers should have enough to overcome the Jets and their vulnerable secondary. Jets 19, Chargers 27

Kansas City @ San Francisco
The Chiefs shocked everyone with their demolition of New England on Monday night, but they’ll face an uphill battle if they’re to beat the 49ers in their own back yard. Colin Kaepernick showed signs of improvement against Philadelphia last week but it was the defense which really stood out, and they’ll fancy their chances of keeping Jamaal Charles and the Kansas City offense quiet. It could be a low scoring affair on the west coast as Alex Smith returns to face his former employers; unfortunately for Smith I don’t think it’ll be a happy reunion. Chiefs 16, 49ers 20

Cincinnati @ New England
I can’t believe I’m writing this, but the Bengals might be the best team in the AFC. Their defense is stifling and their offense is dangerous thanks to the Andy Dalton and A.J Green partnership. New England looked weak on MNF and their offense just doesn’t have the firepower it once did, which could mean Tom Brady is in for another long night against the Cincy D. Don’t rule the Pats out, but I just think the Bengals are too strong for Bill Belichick’s charges. Bengals 27, Patriots 24

Seattle @ Washington
Kirk Cousins, meet the Seattle Seahawks defense. After a humiliating defeat versus the Giants things don’t get any easier for the Redskins, and they’re likely to see their record fall to 1-4 as they face the best team in the league. Even though Seattle aren’t as strong on the road as they are at home they should win fairly comfortably here, with Russell Wilson able to take advantage of a banged up Washington secondary. Seahawks 30, Redskins 10

What do you think will happen in week five? Leave a comment or tweet @fredjstanley