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NFL Week 5 game picks: Cowboys over Packers; Bucs nip Saints

As we head into the second quarter of the 2019 regular season, I'm trying out something a little different with this week's formatting. For each game, I aim to supply three informative nuggets to whet your appetite for another weekend of football consumption. Enjoy!

Gregg Rosenthal went 7-8 on his predictions for Week 4, bringing his season record to 37-25-1. How will he fare in Week 5? His picks are below.


SNEAKY GOOD GAME OF THE WEEK: Carolina Panthers 23, Jacksonville Jaguars 19

1 p.m. ET (CBS) | Bank of America Stadium (Charlotte, N.C.)

1) Ron Rivera is at it again. The Panthers' transition to a 3-4 defense has helped them withstand the season-ending injury suffered by Kawann Short and allowed Carolina to keep Shaq Thompson on the field for all but a few snaps of his breakout season. The third-ranked pass defense plays terrific assignment football, making this Gardner Minshew's toughest opponent yet.

2)Kyle Allen passes the eye test, even in a game against the Texans when he fumbled three times. You can't coach accuracy, and he makes all the throws, including some gems to the outside.

3) It's hard to believe how much Allen and Minshew appear to belong. If they had the draft pedigree of Sam Darnold or Baker Mayfield, they'd be talked up as the next big thing rather than passing curiosities. While they have long seasons ahead, they outplayed plenty of veteran NFL starters in September.

1 p.m. ET (CBS) | FedExField (Landover, Md.)

1) Ben Watson's return from suspension should help a Patriots offense that needs more receiving options. Josh Gordonis hurt and clearly not in sync with Tom Brady, while Julian Edelman is not 100 percent. Brady's struggles in Buffalo were more about the great Bills secondary and the Patriots' limitations than Brady's pass protection.

2) To compare pass rushes, the Patriots have 21 sacks and 83 total disruptions, according to PFF, with role players like Lawrence Guy and John Simon providing great value. The Redskins have four sacks and 51 total disruptions with first-round pick Montez Sweat and even perennial Pro Bowler Ryan Kerrigan struggling to make an impact.

3) It looks like the Redskins might get wide receiver Terry McLaurin back from injury, but lose tight end Vernon Davis. Colt McCoy, if he passes medical benchmarks, appears to be Jay Gruden's preferred option to start. This is Gruden's version of going out his way. (UPDATE: Gruden announced Friday that McCoy will start Sunday's game.)

1 p.m. ET (CBS) | Nissan Stadium (Nashville, Tenn.)

1) The Bills' Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer are the best safety tandem no one talks about, signed in free agency on the same day back in March of 2017 for a combined nine years and $43.5 million. Look for them to limit the Titans' passing attack from making big plays.

2) Don't assume starting Matt Barkley -- if Josh Allen doesn't return from his concussion -- would end the Bills' chances to win. Barkley made good decisions and moved the ball better than Josh Allen or Tom Brady last Sunday, even if he has a backup's arm. There's a real chance the Bills' passing game could stay on schedule better without Allen.

3)Titans left tackle Taylor Lewan's return from suspension is massive for a Titans offense looking for consistency. Last week's 24-point first half effort in Atlanta -- followed by a goose egg after halftime -- was their first quarter of the season in a nutshell. I trust the Bills' defense more.

*1 p.m. ET (CBS) | Heinz Field (Pittsburgh) *

1)Ravens safeties Earl Thomas and Tony Jefferson take big risks, but lack the same athleticism they possessed earlier in their respective careers. That's led to some coverage busts and a secondary that looks slow with 33-year-old Brandon Carr starting at cornerback and 31-year-old Jimmy Smith out with injury.

2) The Steelers' defensive front has quite a trio in Stephon Tuitt, Cameron Heyward and T.J. Watt, who are all playing at a Pro Bowl level. If they don't get caught up in all of Baltimore's misdirection, they represent Pittsburgh's best chance to take over the game and disrupt the Ravens' attack.

3) The Steelers coached around second-year quarterback Mason Rudolph in Week 4, not requiring many difficult throws. Baltimore mastered that approach last season, but now Lamar Jackson is an improved passer supported by a far more dynamic running game, which he leads. If the Steelers lose this game, they will be playing catch-up all year.

1 p.m. ET (FOX) | Paul Brown Stadium (Cincinnati)

1) I feel bad for new Bengals coach Zac Taylor. He lost two offensive line starters to retirement and first-round left tackle Jonah Williams to injury before the season started. Wide receiver John Ross is joining receiver A.J. Greenon the sideline. Running back Joe Mixon's frustration leaps off the screen playing behind a group that can barely function.

2)Andy Dalton is understandably re-acquiring bad habits, playing down to his surroundings. Rookie QB Ryan Finley may get his shot eventually, but it's hard to imagine that happening before Thanksgiving.

3) Called runs for Kyler Murray are already one of the most thrilling plays in football. His footwork and footspeed are just different. Cardinals running back David Johnson looks closer to his 2016 form each week and coach Kliff Kingsbury has found more success scheming for the running game, so look for that to be highlighted this week with wideout Christian Kirk expected to be out.

1 p.m. ET (FOX) | NRG Stadium (Houston)

1) The Texans have scored 23 points combined in two home games, partly because Deshaun Watson remains a streaky passer. The pass protection gains the Texans made in Week 3, however, carried over into Week 4. That promises better days ahead, especially against a Falcons pass rush that hasn't traveled well this year.

2) In a league awash in substitutions, the Texans play eight defenders at least 88 percent of the team's snaps. J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus, both over 94 percent, are earning their money. That's the sign of a top-heavy defense that could ill afford injuries.

3) After a week in which Falcons coach Dan Quinn unwittingly createda meme, the Falcons return to the scene of the organization's toughest night. It's going to feel awfully late early in the season if the Falcons can't find a way to win.

1 p.m. ET (FOX) | Mercedes-Benz Superdome (New Orleans)

1)Jameis Winston plays like a mad bomber out of the 1970s when he gets protection, which has been rare in his career. It's happened the last two weeks, and suddenly his top two wideouts (Chris Godwin and Mike Evans) are on pace for over 1,450 yards each.

2) The Bucs' defense is impossible to run against (allowing 2.9 yards per carry), so can Teddy Bridgewater throw enough to win? The Saints' lack of receiver depth is glaring, with Bridgewater completing one pass (a screen) that gained over 10 yards and wasn't to Michael Thomas. Teddy doesn't display the same feel for the position that he had in Minnesota. In a matchup where rushing yards will be tough to come by for both teams, I trust Jameis (gulp) more.

3) The Bucs are seventh in Football Outsiders' overall team efficiency, while the Saints are 21st. The Saints haven't gained 300 yards of total offense since Week 1. This wouldn't be that big an upset.

LOCK OF THE WEEK: Minnesota Vikings 30, New York Giants 20

1 p.m. ET (FOX) | MetLife Stadium (East Rutherford, N.J.)

1)Daniel Jones' playing style figures to give both teams a chance. He could have had four first-half interceptions last week and can be reckless as a runner. But there's no denying he makes very quick decisions and is excellent evading the pass rush. Minnesota is better equipped to take advantage of his mistakes.

2) Despite Dalvin Cook's numbers, the Vikings aren't opening holes in the running game and the Giants' big bodies up front mark the strength of their defense. There should be better matchups with whoever lines up opposite rookie cornerback Deandre Baker, slot corner Grant Haley and the players left standing among the banged-up Giants' linebackers. Rookie Ryan Connelly's torn ACL is a sneaky-big loss for the G-Men.

3) These are the games in which Kirk Cousins shines, at 1 p.m. ET against an undermanned defense. There should be wide-open receivers and very little pass rush to bother him.

*1 p.m. ET (FOX) | Tottenham Hotspur Stadium (London) *

1) The Bears are 28th in scoring and second in points allowed, a trend that shouldn't change much with Chase Daniel under center. London audiences revel in low-scoring slugfests and this one is setting up that way, especially with rain in the forecast.

2) Jon Gruden is on fire with his game-opening scripts and rookie Josh Jacobs breaks tackles, but the Raiders struggle to move the ball otherwise. Derek Carr still tends to throw short at the hint of pressure, a recipe for copious three-and-outs against the Bears.

3) The Raiders could desperately use a No. 1 receiver and a premier pass rusher, the very assets they traded away a year ago. Tyrell Williams is a fine No. 2 wideout forced up a spot. Tight end Darren Waller is one of the best stories of 2019. But throwing to Hunter Renfrow has been a drag (18 targets for 89 yards) and no one else on the team has over 60 yards. The passing game is thinner than Gruden's patience.

1 p.m. ET (CBS) | Lincoln Financial Field (Philadelphia)

1) If the Eagles don't hit the quarterback Sunday, it's time to worry about the defensive line. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz doesn't trust his shaky secondary, so he barely blitzes, but even Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham are struggling to get home. 2017 first-rounder Derek Barnett hasn't stepped up and injuries have sapped the group's depth.

2) It's ironic that an analytics-minded team like the Eagles turned their season around because they ran well and stopped the run in Green Bay. Running backs Miles Sanders and Jordan Howard can stop GM Howie Roseman from trading for help if they keep playing well. Look for a more pass-happy approach this week with matchup advantages against the Jets' secondary.

3)Sam Darnold's status is a mystery, but what about the other Jets first-rounders off to slow starts? Leonard Williams has not played well in Gregg Williams' scheme and No. 3 overall pick Quinnen Williams is expected to return after missing two games for a squad surprisingly ranked No. 12 in defensive efficiency. (UPDATE: Adam Gase announced Friday that Darnold is officially out for Sunday's game.)

4:05 p.m. ET (CBS) | ROKiT Field at Dignity Health Sports Park (Carson, Calif.)

1) These teams are imbalanced, but not in the ways you think. The Chargers rank fifth in offensive DVOA, but Gus Bradley's defense is 28th and just lost pass rusher Melvin Ingram to injury. The much-maligned Broncos offense checks in at a respectable 12th, but Vic Fangio's defense sunk to 27th and now lost pass rusher Bradley Chubb for the season.

2)Melvin Gordon should be worked into the mix for a Chargers offense that did just fine without him. Austin Ekeler -- fifth in the NFL in yards from scrimmage -- deserves an equal share of the workload.

3) A high quantity of passes to running backs is one reason why Philip Rivers has faced the fifth-lowest pressure rate in the NFL, according to Next Gen Stats. That shouldn't change Sunday, so taking Rivers over Joe Flacco in a shootout isn't a hard decision.

4:25 p.m. ET (FOX) | AT&T Stadium (Arlington, Texas)

1)Davante Adams may be the most valuable Packers player without a State Farm commercial and his status is in question after missing practice Wednesday with the toe injury he suffered last week. Jamaal Williams' concussion could also limit an erratic running game. The best Packers play remains Aaron Rodgers making one up on the fly. As Cowboys fans know well, that could still be enough. (UPDATE: NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported Friday that the Packers have ruled Adams out for Sunday's game.)

2) The creeping insistence of the Cowboys to run on early downs -- diminishing play-action throws -- is a worrisome trend. Kellen Moore will be tempted to keep feeding Ezekiel Elliott against a Packers defense that is much better against the pass than the run. Even with left tackle Tyron Smith unlikely to play this week, I still want to see Moore have faith that Dak can carry the team in a tough matchup. Continually putting him in third-and-longs helps no one. (UPDATE: The Cowboys have ruled Smith out for Sunday's game.)

3) With DeMarcus Lawrence not quite all the way back from offseason shoulder surgery, Robert Quinn's ferocious start changes the Cowboys defense. Quinn has often looked good in September in recent years, only to have his back flare up. His health -- and defensive tackle Maliek Collins' emergence -- makes this defense so dangerous.

8:20 p.m. ET (NBC) | Arrowhead Stadium (Kansas City, Mo.)

1) The Colts' defense is a solid group of pros who hover around 0 in PFF PRO's scoring system. They are well-coached, but lack firepower. Even if linebacker Darius Leonard returns this week, that's not going to be good enough to slow down this Chiefs offense.

2) Coach Frank Reich could be tempted to err on the side of caution with his injured players, considering the looming Week 6 bye. Wideout Parris Campbell, running back Marlon Mack and safety Clayton Geathers all look iffy, in addition to T.Y. Hilton.

3) The Chiefs had a great September, but the Frank Clark trade is not working out thus far. He has eight total QB disruptions (sacks, hits and hurries), which is six fewer than teammate Emmanuel Ogbah in 105 more snaps. This Chiefs defense needs Clark to turn it around to get to the next level.


TOUGHEST GAME TO PICK: San Francisco 49ers 20, Cleveland Browns 19

8:15 p.m. ET (ESPN) | Levi's Stadium (Santa Clara, Calif.)

1) I'm not convinced the Browns' offense is fixed. Their big plays last week came from failed assignments against an uneven defense. Cleveland is talented enough to put up 500 yards in any given week boosted by superlative individual plays, but the 49ers' defense (second in DVOA) marks the Browns' toughest test.

2) The Browns' offensive line ranks fifth-best in pass block win rate, according to ESPN. They are above average in pass protection, according to PFF. Baker Mayfield's punishment has mostly been self-inflicted, but he did a better job seeing the field and making quick decisions in Week 4.

3) Mayfield and Jimmy Garoppolo have endured similarly erratic starts to the season. Against the eighth-ranked Cleveland defense, the Niners passer is also set to face his steepest challenge yet. The Browns' front seven is getting consistent disruption from Olivier Vernon and playmaking from linebacker Joe Schobert. Look for defense to rule the most fascinating Monday night game of the year thus far.


1) The Rams' offensive line is a problem. Los Angeles is ranked 31st in Pro Football Focus' pass-blocking grades and last in run blocking. It's not just the Rams' new starters; tackles Andrew Whitworth and (especially) Rob Havenstein have regressed. They are ruining the timing of the ultimate timing offense.

2) The Seahawks' pass rush is pointed up with Ziggy Ansah slowly improving, Jadeveon Clowney playing better each week, Quinton Jefferson having a sneaky-good season and Mychal Kendricks blitzing like prime Bruce Irvin. It's no wonder Pete Carroll thinks this group is just getting started.

3) This is the biggest game of Week 5. Will the NFC West race be wide open or will we see more of the same atop the division? I lean Rams here because Sean McVay is 2-0 in Seattle and the Rams' offense got untracked against Tampa despite Jared Goff's somewhat-fluky turnovers. He's making big-time throws each week, despite the narratives.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.


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