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Path: /college-football/heavily-praised-alabama-tackling-bigger-mental-challenge-moving-forward
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For Alabama, from here on out, it's all about the goings-on between the ears.


Alabama 38, Georgia 10 made sure of that.

 

This Alabama team, as demonstrated by last week's romp, has talent. Lots of talent. On offense. On defense. On special teams. 

 

The two question marks going into the season were quarterback and the secondary. Against then-No. 8 Georgia last Saturday, Jake Coker completed 11 of 16 passes for 190 yards and, perhaps most importantly, no interceptions. The secondary gave up no TD throws and picked off three passes, returning one for a touchdown.

 

And Coker, Alabama's first-year starting QB, and Alabama's secondary, peppered with freshmen, are only getting better.


And the college football world has taken notice. Just like they took notice three weeks ago when Alabama self-destructed at home against Ole Miss and lost 43-37. In the two weeks following that defeat, Alabama was, in the words of head coach Nick Saban, 'buried' and left for dead by many.

 

Some wondered if Alabama's run of dominance was over. Some wondered if Saban had lost a little something. Some wondered if two, three or even four losses were in store for this identity-less, mistake-prone Alabama team this season.

 

Even the folks in Las Vegas lost some faith in the Crimson Tide, installing Alabama as an underdog for the first time in six years as it headed east to Athens.

 

Then came Alabama 38, Georgia 10. And, my, how things have changed ever since.

 

Now, this Alabama team is being viewed much, much differently. Some have Alabama being the SEC favorite now, despite the fact that three other teams in the league (Texas A&M, LSU and Florida) are currently undefeated. Some have Alabama earning one of the four College Football Playoff spots come December. Some have Alabama winning out.

 

And, oh yeah, Arkansas is coming to town this weekend. And, no, Alabama is no underdog this time. Far from it. The Tide are favored by 17.

 

Related: Arkansas Razorbacks vs. Alabama Crimson Tide Preview and Prediction

 

Yes, Alabama is in a different world now than where it was living just over a week ago. And it's a world Saban is none too fond of. To him, it's a distracting world. A world that challenges everything he preaches to his players.

 

He wants his guys armed with mental intensity and focus when they roll out on to the field and line up against the competition. Mental intensity. Focus. Saban just can't seem to say those words enough. To his players. To anybody.

 

And when his guys fail. Either on one particular play or in an entire game. He's quick to remind them why.

 

"Look at our game last week, we lost focus for one play," Saban said Thursday night. "One play we didn't have the linebackers in the right gap — a play that we had already defended 6-8 times in the game for no more than 10 yards a gain out of six times. And then it goes for 83 yards for a touchdown. So one play you lose focus. That's how fast it can go bad."

 

Alabama's season? It can conceivably go bad just as fast. All it takes is one Saturday without mental intensity and focus. Saban knows that. He just hopes Alabama players and fans know that as well.

 

"Everybody asks me, 'Why is college football the way it is?' Why does this team win big this week and then the next week they don't play very well?'" he said. "It's because of a lack of focus — an inability to stay focused which comes from mental intensity and energy based on what you want to accomplish and what you want to do. So this is the challenge for us and this is the challenge for our team."

 

The fact that seemingly everyone went from thinking this Alabama team is enormously flawed to thinking this team is head-and-shoulders above everyone else on its schedule is, in the mind of Saban, enemy No. 1 when it comes to maintaining mental intensity and focus.

 

"I wish everybody around here every time they saw one of our players would say, 'Man, Arkansas is really good. You guys are gonna have to play really good this week,' instead of patting them on the back all the time, not thinking the other team's any good," Saban said. "... If you don't respect the opponent you're playing there's no way you're gonna have the mental intensity and the energy to have the focus you need to be able to play well. It's not gonna happen. Not gonna happen."

 

Saban, for one, thinks this Arkansas team, despite its 2-3 record, is extremely formidable and dangerous. After dropping three in a row, Arkansas got back in the win column last week with a 24-20 victory at Tennessee last Saturday.

 

But it was Arkansas' near win over undefeated Texas A&M two weeks ago that really told the Alabama coach everything he needed to know about the Hogs.

 

"(Texas) A&M is in the top 10, and A&M beat them in overtime," Saban said of the Razorbacks. "They had an opportunity to win the game in regulation. So this is a team that's a very, very good team, very capable of beating anybody they play."

 

Will anybody believe Saban? Everyone's gonna find out Saturday night at Bryant-Denny Stadium if his players did.

 

— Written by Erik Stinnett, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Stinnett is an experienced college football beat writer who has been covering Alabama since 2009.

Teaser:
Heavily Praised Alabama Tackling Bigger Mental Challenge Moving Forward
Post date: Friday, October 9, 2015 - 20:30
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Iowa Hawkeyes, Big Ten
Path: /college-football/just-how-good-can-iowa-hawkeyes-be-season
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Don’t look now, but the Iowa Hawkeyes have quickly jumped out to a 5-0 start after going into a hostile environment and beating then-No. 19 Wisconsin by a final score of 6-10 last Saturday. Although it wasn’t the most impressive of victories, it showed just how capable this team is at beating quality opponents.

 

C.J. Beathard, who has been the rave of the season thus far in Iowa City, had his first bad game last Saturday, finishing the day 9 for 21 for 77 yards, which included an interception. This undoubtedly will be a game Beathard would personally like to put in his rear view mirror and move on from, but in the end, this may help him get over the hump most first year starters face and propel him to be successful over the course of the season.

 

However, with that said, there was more to the offensive struggles than just poor quarterback play — in fact, a lot more.

 

On Saturday, the Hawkeyes struggled mightily in pass protection against the Badgers allowing star pass rusher Joe Schobert, a former walk on, to rack up 3 sacks, 8 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, and even hit Beathard as he threw forcing him into his only interception of the day. Schobert was virtually un-guardable and is undoubtedly one of the best defensive players in the country right now and on multiple occasions burned past left tackle Cole Croston and right tackle Ike Boettger with a great first step off the line, displaying speed and an unmatched amount of quickness that Hawkeye offensive lineman had not yet experienced coming into the game.

 

Sitting there right now you might be thinking, “If somebody is really that good, should fans even be worried?” For the most part I say no, and here’s why. When you look at the games left on the schedule, there isn’t a team remaining that has a pass rusher with replicable explosive athleticism to Schobert, in fact most of the teams left on the schedule don’t even have much of a pass rush to speak of. So in conclusion, I don’t think pass protection is a huge worry for the rest of the season, but as fans, I think we would obviously like to see improvement and I think we will.

 

Enough about recap — that is not what I want this article to be about. Let’s instead shift our focus to a broader vision, a vision about what this Hawkeye team can accomplish over the course of this season.

 

This Hawkeyes team is a lot different than in years past. The Hawkeyes thus far have had a solid running game, pass rush, run defense, and for the most part above average quarterback play, but something else is making the difference between winning and losing right now and will be the x factor as the season continues. One word: turnovers.

 

At this point in time, the Hawkeyes are tied for 5th in interceptions, with 7 in the first five games. In addition, the Hawkeyes are also tied for 7th in the country in turnovers gained with 10. The Hawkeyes secondary through the first five games of the season has not played lights out, despite having some good individual talent in that area. But when the moment arises, for example against Pittsburgh and Wisconsin, Desmond King has been there to bail out the defense, accounting for 5 of the team’s 7 interceptions through five games. That kind of production is more than likely unsustainable, meaning that other players will need to step up and start forcing turnovers while in addition, tightening up in coverage down the stretch to help this team pull out victories in close games.

 

In addition to forcing turnovers this season, the Hawkeyes have excelled against the run, allowing a nation-leading 0 rushing touchdowns through the first five games. However, I want to move away from the stats and simply focus on how great Nate Meier, Jaleel Johnson, and Drew Ott have been not only in regards to creating a pass rush, but also when it comes to shutting down the opposition’s running game. Coming into the season, I’m sure most Hawkeye fans knew the names of Drew Ott and Nate Meier, but Jaleel Johnson? Well, through the first five games of the season Johnson has been playing lights out, in fact he’s arguably been the best piece in the Hawkeyes front seven. This unit would certainly not be playing at the level that they currently are if it weren’t for him.

 

After re-watching the Hawkeyes defensive line play through the first five games of the season, I came away more impressed with their play against the run than I did against the pass, which really surprised me due to the fact they’re currently tied for 6th in the country in team sacks. When you watch this unit upfront, they’re not really making a whole lot of “splashy” plays against the run or blowing up plays in the backfield for that matter, but what they’re doing is filling holes and stopping runs at line of scrimmage which is inevitably forcing teams to look for success in the passing game on later downs. This combined with Hawkeyes’ ability to create turnovers this season has proven to be a dangerous combination that opposing teams need to start taking into account.

 

Moving away from the defensive side of the ball, it’s time to shift the focus over to the offense, where early in 2015 we’ve seen a completely new, refreshing backfield for the Hawkeyes in the form of starting quarterback C.J. Beathard who was brought in to replace last year’s incumbent starter Jake Rudock (transferred to Michigan). While in addition, we’ve seen Jordan Canzeri and Leshun Daniels assume control of the running back spot which was formerly held by Mark Weisman who has since graduated and moved onto the NFL.

 

Thus far, Beathard has performed very well in every game other than last Saturday’s win over the Wisconsin Badgers. Beathard has been able to add an entirely new dynamic to this offense that hasn’t been there since Brad Banks, when he was making a run for the Heisman trophy back in 2002, and that comes in the form of being able to make plays on the run from the quarterback position. With that said, Beathard has also been quite successful while in the pocket through the first five games throwing for over 1,000 yards, while completing over 64 percent of his passes, and the biggest positive, not turning ball over, with only 2 interceptions on the year. If the Hawkeyes want to be successful over the duration of this season, Beathard will need to keep up this level of play and leave poor performances, like the one he had against Wisconsin, behind him.

 

Finally, let’s talk about the play of the running game. More specifically senior running back Jordan Canzeri. Canzeri through the first five games has been electric, showing off his clear explosiveness each time he gets the ball in his hands. In fact, he is currently averaging 5 yards per carry and over 11 yards per reception while in addition also has a combined 600 yards and 8 touchdowns. Canzeri has already shown me that he’s an overall better fit for this offense than, with all due respect, Weisman ever was. He’s been the Achilles heel for the Hawkeyes offense this season producing consistently in each game he’s played in, and if the offensive success is going to continue it’ll be on the back of Canzeri.

 

So what exactly is this Hawkeyes team capable of this season? In my opinion, this team is the best one since the 2009 team that ended up going to the Orange Bowl, except in this case the Hawkeyes won’t have to play nearly as tough of a regular season schedule. With that said, I think this team has a real shot at finishing the regular season at 10-2 or dare I say 11-1, meaning that a trip to the Big Ten title game could definitely be in the cards. Do I think this team is even remotely close to as talented as the one in 2009? Simply put, no. But this team is talented and if the Hawkeyes offense is able to stay on track they’ll be a very dangerous team down the stretch.

 

— Written by Rob Donaldson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. An NFL Draft analyst and writer for drafbreakdown.com, Donaldson also recently founded his own site, OnTheClockFB.com, and also pays careful attention to his beloved Iowa Hawkeyes and Pittsburgh Steelers. Follow him on Twitter @RobDonaldsonOTC.

Teaser:
Just How Good can the Iowa Hawkeyes be This Season?
Post date: Friday, October 9, 2015 - 18:00
Path: /college-football/red-river-showdown-5-nastiest-games-texas-vs-oklahoma-rivalry
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The Red River Showdown (or Rivalry or Shootout) between the Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners carries as much bad blood as any annual contest in college football. The schools first met in 1900 when Oklahoma was still a territory and have played more than 100 times since then. Along the way the schools have seen their states heatedly argue over their borders along the Red River and have regularly knocked each other out of the national title hunt.

 

These schools have both been ranked in the top five in 11 previous showdowns so picking the five best or most important is impossible. It’s also kind of pointless since these two teams want to proverbially jab a thumb in each other’s eyes every year — rankings be damned. With that line of thinking in mind, here are the five nastiest games in the history of this rivalry. (Note: All of these games were played in Dallas)

 

5. Texas 28, Oklahoma 16 – October 8, 1983

The Longhorns had a bone to pick with sophomore running back Marcus Dupree. First, the phenomenal running back had reported recruiting violations that in part led to NCAA probation for Texas. Then in 1982, he blistered Texas’s defense, averaging ten yards a carry in a 28-22 OU win. When the two teams met again in 1983, the Sooners were a dysfunctional team and Dupree was warring with head coach Barry Switzer. Texas pounced holding him to 50 yards and giving him a concussion. Dupree went home to Mississippi and quit the team, leaving Switzer and Sooner fans to wonder what might have been.  

 

4. Oklahoma 63, Texas 14 – October 7, 2000

Having been out of college football’s elite ranks for more than ten years, OU announced its return with a thrashing of the Longhorns in the rain. It was the first time both teams had entered the game ranked since 1984, but the Sooners ended hopes for a competitive contest by scoring touchdowns on its first five drives. Oklahoma would go undefeated and win the national title that season.

 

3. Texas 15, Oklahoma 14 – October 11, 1958

Oklahoma had gone 52-2-1 since 1953 and had beaten Texas for the past six seasons. In this contest, Texas head coach Darrell Royal wasted no time trying to take the fight to his mentor and Sooner head coach Bud Wilkinson. The Longhorns used a halfback touchdown pass and a two-point conversion to take an 8-0 halftime lead, but the Sooners charged back in the second half to a 14-8 lead. Late in the fourth quarter, Texas responded with a gutsy drive punctuated by a touchdown jump pass. The Longhorns then intercepted an Oklahoma pass to clinch the win. Texas would go on to win the next seven games against OU.

 

2. Oklahoma 48, Texas 27 – October 9, 1971

Imagine teaching someone how to build a fire and then he uses that knowledge to burn down your house. That’s what this game represents. Texas had first taken the field with the Wishbone offense and had racked up 30 straight victories. Royal was generous in sharing information about the Wishbone and when his friend and OU head coach Chuck Fairbanks was facing pressure to win, he helped the Sooners as well… to his own detriment. In 1971, OU fielded a team that went 11-1 and averaged an NCAA record 472 rushing yards a game. One of those wins was this game in which the Longhorns were competitive but could not stop OU’s rushing attack. Royal never beat OU again after 1970.

 

1. Oklahoma 6, Texas 6 – October 9, 1976

Earlier in the week, Royal had accused the OU coaching staff of spying on their preparations. Switzer denied the allegations at the time but admitted almost 15 years later. Regardless, the situation worsened when an AP reporter overheard Royal say, “Why those sorry bastards, I don't trust 'em on anything." The statement made it into print and OU fans greeted him with the chant, “Sorry bastards, sorry bastards.” For the pregame coin toss, Switzer and Royal walked onto the field with President Gerald Ford, who was in his own tough contest with Jimmy Carter to win Texas in the 1976 presidential election. An OU fan screamed, “Who are those two assholes with Switzer?” and the stadium erupted into laughter. Texas kicked two field goals and held the Sooner offense to two first downs in the first 55 minutes. Then OU recovered a fumble at the Texas 37-yard line and drove down the field for a score. However, the Sooners missed the extra point and their five-game win streak over Texas came to an end. An exhausted Royal vomited on the way to the locker room. He would retire at the end of the season.

 

— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.

Teaser:
Red River Showdown: The 5 Nastiest Games in the Texas vs. Oklahoma Rivalry
Post date: Friday, October 9, 2015 - 16:30
Path: /mlb/nlds-preview-and-prediction-new-york-mets-vs-los-angeles-dodgers-2015
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Los Angeles Dodgers fans nor New York Mets fans want to think about the implications of either of their teams losing in the National League Division Series. That statement seems rather obvious, doesn’t it? But there is more to that shallow declaration than meets the reader’s eye. 

 

Let’s look at the Dodgers first, the highest paid team in baseball’s thriving payroll history. Yes, even higher than overpriced Yankee royalty. We always want to try and correlate payrolls to wins just like we try and correlate a vast amount of varying statistics and analytics to wins in baseball. But as I mentioned in my Cubs and Cardinals NLDS preview, somethings in baseball can’t be quantified.

 

Related: NLDS Preview and Prediction: Chicago Cubs vs. St. Louis Cardinals

 

The pressure around this Dodgers team cannot be quantified. Yeah, the Dodgers won the NL West, but really the NL West wasn’t very good this year. The Dodgers should have won the NL West. After two straight postseason collapses, with the best pitcher of a generation in Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers find themselves in a "World Series or nothing" mentality for the third straight October. 

 

The Dodgers are less than outstanding when it comes to facing comparable teams, going just 9-12 against the remaining NL playoff teams this season. But the Dodgers are well equipped to make an October run. They have the best 1-2 pitching punch since the Arizona Diamondacks' Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling in 2001. Mixed with stellar starting pitching is a somewhat better bullpen and a veteran lineup.  

 

On the other hand, the Mets are full of their own Hollywood drama that keeps the New York back page editors busy. New York took full advantage of the train wreck that was the Washington Nationals and the rest of the NL East, winning 11 of 19 games against the Nats and going 47-29 against their division on the season.

 

Between a complex and disheartening financial situation, a lightning-in-a-bottle lineup, and the 24/7 Matt Harvey news cycle, the 2015 Mets could easily be a one-hit wonder, or go down in October lore alongside the ’69 Miracle Mets. 

 

New York Mets vs. Los Angels Dodgers

 

GameDayTime (ET)TVPitching Matchup
1Friday, Oct. 99:30 p.m.TBSJacob deGrom vs. Clayton Kershaw
2Saturday, Oct. 109 p.m.TBSNoah Syndergaard vs. Zack Greinke
3Monday, Oct. 12TBDTBSBrett Anderson vs. Matt Harvey
4*Tuesday, Oct. 138 p.m.TBSUndecided vs. Undecided
5*Thursday, Oct. 158 p.m.TBSUndecided vs. Undecided

*If necessary

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Kershaw’s Continuing Postseason Woes

Fair or unfair, a lot of blame has been placed upon Clayton Kershaw for the Dodgers' most recent postseason performances. Does Kershaw deserve some of the blame? Of course he does. 

 

In his last four postseason starts, two against the Cardinals in the 2013 National League Championship Series and two against the Cardinals again in the '14 NLDS, Kershaw’s ERA was 6.30 and 7.82. Kershaw’s career ERA is 2.43. So what gives? Do the Cards simply have Kershaw’s number?  It appears so, only in the postseason though. 

 

His career regular season numbers against the Cardinals are good, a .288 batting average against, 100 strikeouts, and just 21 hits and three home runs allowed in 15 starts. But his career ERA against the Cards is the third highest against any other team he has faced, at 3.18, a number that 98 percent of pitchers would kill for — but most pitchers aren’t Clayton Kershaw. 

 

A big reason for Kershaw's mishaps in the last two postseasons is the lack of help from the Dodger bullpen. Kershaw, who last season was forced to throw on three days rest, was absolutely gassed by the time the sixth inning rolled around in Game 4 of the NLDS. Dodgers’ manager Don Mattingly had zero confidence in his bullpen to give Kershaw any middle inning relief, and the 27-year-old lefty gave up the go-ahead home run to Cardinals first baseman Matt Adams, and that was that.

 

Luckily for Kershaw and the Dodgers, their ace doesn't have to face the Cardinals in this, the 2015 NLDS. In his two starts against the Mets this season, Kershaw had 18 strikeouts, gave up just one run and one extra-base hit. Look for Clayton Kershaw to be more like Clayton Kershaw against the Mets this series. 

 

2. Dodgers’ Timely Hitting

Traditionally, two things win games in October, starting pitching and timely hitting. Both teams have the starting pitching part down pat. But both teams also struggle to score runs. The Mets and Dodgers were caught right in the middle of the pack in the National League when it comes to crossing the plate, ranking seventh and eighth, respectively, in runs. 

 

Where the Dodgers may have an advantage is in power. They ranked first in the NL in home runs (187), second in OPS (.739) and third in slugging percentage (.413). Most teams that love the long ball are also suspect to strikeout a lot, but not the Dodgers, ranking second in the NL behind the Cubs in walks and 11th in strikeouts.

 

Watching the veteran Dodgers lineup try to work counts against the young guns of the Mets staff that gave up the second-fewest walks in the league should make for great theater. 

 

3. Matt Harvey Headlines

The Mets' young starting is no stranger to the limelight, both on and off the field. Harvey was an All-Star in his first full season, posting a 2.27 ERA, .931 WHIP, 191 strikeouts, and league-leading 2.01 FIP after 26 starts. Harvey missed ’14 with Tommy John surgery, but returned this year to great expectations and fanfare.

 

On the mound, Harvey is one of the best young pitchers in baseball. Off the field, Harvey still makes headlines, albeit, not the good kind. Often times dry and aloof to the media, which isn’t the best idea in New York, Harvey has been the center of attention in the last month or so as a dispute between his agent, Scott Boras, and the club’s front office over a limit on his pitches and/or innings has gotten out of control. While pinning that issue on Harvey would be unfair, the fact that it is Harvey’s arm in question, makes it a big deal. 

 

Earlier this week, the one known as “The Dark Knight,” failed to show up to a mandatory team workout. Harvey said he was caught in tunnel traffic and couldn’t make it. But several reports are saying Harvey was out and about the night before the workout. In a press conference Harvey kept saying he screwed up and that it wouldn't happen again. Mets’ manager Terry Collins tried to downplay the event as best as he could, but the story became a frenzy when captain and third baseman David Wright spoke about the incident, saying he was only “concerned about the guys who were here” and adding, “We have a ton of guys that put the team aspect in front of personal accolades.” 

 

The last thing that Collins needs is for two of his best players to be beefing during the postseason, or for one of his aces to have his mind anywhere else than on the mound. There is one way for Harvey to make all of the unwanted and negativity surrounding his arm and punctuality: pitch really, really well in Game 3 in front of what is sure to be a raucous Citi Field crowd.

 

Final Analysis

 

The Mets have been a great story for the second half of the MLB season. Between winning the NL East, the amazing, young pitching rotation of Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Harvey, and the Yoenis Cespedes trade, the Mets have been very fun to watch the past couple of months. 

 

But the Dodgers have everything thing that a quality postseason team needs, a star-studded pitching rotation, lineup depth, and an improved bullpen. It feels like the Dodgers are due. 

 

Prediction: Dodgers in 4

 

— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. An avid baseball fan, Rose also takes time to do some play-by-play work for the radio broadcasts of Middle Tennessee State Blue Raider baseball games. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.

Teaser:
NLDS Preview and Prediction: New York Mets vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
Post date: Friday, October 9, 2015 - 15:30
All taxonomy terms: Green Bay Packers, NFC, St. Louis Rams, NFL
Path: /nfl/st-louis-rams-vs-green-bay-packers-preview-and-prediction-2015
Body:

Last week, St. Louis knocked off one undefeated team. Sunday, the Rams will take aim at another. A trip to 4-0 Green Bay isn’t generally anybody’s preferred destination, but after last week’s win in Arizona against the previously-spotless Cardinals, St. Louis looks at this as an opportunity to mess with someone else’s perfection. Although the Rams have been somewhat inconsistent this season, their outstanding defensive front and the steady play of quarterback Nick Foles has made them dangerous, no matter what the opponent’s record might be.

 

Not that the Packers head back home after a win in northern California afraid of the Rams. They have overcome injuries to become one of the NFC’s Super Bowl favorites, and though quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ excellence has been a big reason for Green Bay’s unbeaten start, the defense has been a big factor, especially in the passing game.

 

St. Louis at Green Bay

 

Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET

TV: FOX

Spread: Green Bay -9.5

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Sack Attack

The Rams have spent plenty of time and draft picks on building a defensive front capable of disrupting any opposing offense, and the unit’s 17 sacks this year demonstrate just how good the group can be. Aaron Donald already has 3.5 sacks, while Robert Quinn has three. St. Louis has the depth and talent up front to keep its front four fresh throughout the game, so that it can attack rivals into the fourth quarter. How well Green Bay keeps the ferocious Rams pass rush away from Rodgers will go a long way toward deciding the game.

 

2. Defensive Posture

When a team has a QB who has completed 72.4 percent of his throws and is on pace to finish the season with just under 4,000 yards through the air, it tends to be labeled an offense-first outfit. But Green Bay is eighth in total defense and third in points allowed (17.8). Green Bay pass rushers have accumulated 17 sacks, are allowing enemy passers to complete just 56.5 percent of their throws and have made an improvement over last year, when the team was still pretty good on that side of the ball.

 

"This defense has some bite to it," Packers defensive end Mike Daniels said recently. "Maybe it wasn't always like that, but this is a different group. And I think we're going to keep getting better."

 

3. Backfield in Motion

The Rams finally gave rookie running back Todd Gurley full-time work last week, and he responded with a big effort, gaining 146 yards on just 19 carries in the win over the Cardinals. Gurley, who has spent much of the past year rehabbing a knee injury, has a great combination of power and speed. He exhibits superior vision, something that helped him strive last week in the desert. Though Green Bay has been excellent against the pass this year, the Packers are allowing rival backs to gain 4.8 yards/carry, something that could help Gurley thrive.

 

Final Analysis

 

The smart play in this one is to take the Packers, especially at home. Green Bay has tremendous confidence, and the Lambeau Field advantage is considerable. Rodgers has been so good that it has become almost boring to list his exploits every week. Suffice it to say there is none better in the sport. If the Green Bay defense can keep it rolling and not surrender long runs to Gurley, it should be a happy Sunday in Lombardi-land.

 

The Rams are searching for consistency. Last week’s win in Arizona was great, but St. Louis has to prove that it is more than just a .500 team. That won’t be easy in Green Bay, but it is possible. If Gurley has another strong day, it will make Foles’s job easier. Meanwhile, the Rams’ front four will take aim at Rodgers, hoping to disrupt his rhythm. And watch out for Tavon Austin, a special teams threat.

 

Prediction: Packers 24, Rams 20

 

— Written by Michael Bradley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bradley is a writer and broadcaster based in suburban Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter @DailyHombre.

Teaser:
St. Louis Rams vs. Green Bay Packers Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, October 9, 2015 - 14:30
All taxonomy terms: Atlanta Falcons, NFC, Washington Redskins, NFL
Path: /nfl/washington-redskins-vs-atlanta-falcons-preview-and-prediction-2015
Body:

It was widely assumed before the start of the season that the Washington Redskins would be one of the worst teams, if not the worst team, in the NFL in 2015. Currently, Washington sits atop the NFC East in a three way tie with the Giants and Cowboys, one play away from being 3-1, and in sole possession of the East. In spite of multiple injuries, many to key players, Washington has been able to persevere en route to upset victories against the Rams and Eagles, utilizing a host of young players.

 

The Redskins will attempt to keep their season headed in a positive direction as they travel to Atlanta on Sunday to face a Falcons offense that is currently hitting on all cylinders. Thanks in large part to monster performances from Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman, the Atlanta Falcons sit atop of the NFC South division with a perfect 4-0 record. Atlanta is coming off of its best game of the season in Week 4, demolishing the Texans 48-21. They will look to keep it rolling against a beat up, yet feisty, Washington team in Week 5.

 

This will be the 25th meeting all-time between the Washington Redskins and Atlanta Falcons. Washington holds a solid lead in the series with a 15-8-1 record. The Falcons have narrowed the gap somewhat by beating the Redskins in each of their last four meetings. The two teams last played in 2013 with Atlanta edging Washington by a score of 27-26.

 

Washington at Atlanta

 

Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET (Sunday)

TV: FOX

Spread: Atlanta -7.5

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Washington Run Offense vs. Atlanta Run Defense

Thanks to a surprisingly solid offensive line and a trio of outstanding running backs in Alfred Morris, Matt Jones, and Chris Thompson, Washington currently ranks first in the NFL in rushing, averaging close to 140 yards per game. On paper, the Falcons run defense also looks impressive, currently ranking fifth in in the NFL, allowing 85 rushing yards per game. However, there is a catch. Unlike the Redskins, the Falcons ranking is a bit deceiving. If you go by yards per carry, which is a more telling statistic, the Atlanta defense has allowed 4.4 yards per play to opposing runners, ranking them just 25th in the NFL. The reason being that opposing offenses have had to abandon the run against Atlanta, going pass heavy in an attempt to play catch up. This has resulted in opposing offenses having only attempted 19 run plays per game against the Falcons, the fewest in the NFL.

 

In other words, the Falcons run defense is not nearly as formidable as the yards per game ranking would seem to indicate. Thus, the Redskins should be able to once again find success on the ground in Week 5. The key will be finding that success early, controlling the clock, and hoping that their defense can minimize the damage against the potent Falcons offense. If the Atlanta offense comes out on fire, the Redskins may have no choice but to abandon their run game as well, which would not bode well.

 

2. Julio Jones vs. One Very Unfortunate Secondary

Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones has proven to be an unstoppable force this season, accumulating 478 receiving yards and four touchdowns on 38 receptions. While Jones only managed 38 yards on four catches in Week 4, his services were barely needed in the blowout win against the Texans. He should bounce back in a huge way in Week 5 against a banged up Washington secondary.

 

The Redskin secondary has played surprisingly well so far this season, but they are no match for the Atlanta passing game, or its primary weapon, Julio Jones. Washington lost mainstay corner back DeAngelo Hall to a toe injury in Week 3, and the Redskins' top cornerback, Chris Culliver, is nursing a knee injury which could very well keep him from playing on Sunday. Even if Culliver does play, he will be nothing short of a liability against the likes of Jones. That leaves either Bashaud Breeland and/or Will Blackmon to try and handle Jones. A total mismatch any way you look at it. In all fairness, who isn’t mismatched playing against Julio Jones?

 

3. Can Devonta Freeman Run Wild Once Again?

The surprise of the Falcons offense this season has undoubtedly been Devonta Freeman. In spite of high expectations, Freeman struggled mightily through his rookie season in 2014. He also lost his bid for the starting running back job to rookie Tevin Coleman in fall camp. Freeman’s woes continued into Week 1 where he struggled to get going against the Eagles. In Week 2, Freeman managed to find the end zone against the Giants and took over the starting role after Coleman suffered a rib injury that same week.

 

Since then, Freeman has been nothing short of spectacular, accumulating 342 total yards and six touchdowns in his last two games. Freeman is the first running back to run for seven touchdowns through the first four games of a season since LaDainian Tomlinson accomplished the feat in 2005. Look for the Falcons to look Freeman’s way early and often again in Week 5. The Redskins currently boast the NFL’s second best run defense, so it will not be a cakewalk, but Freeman's explosiveness and versatility in the passing game make him difficult to contain for any defense.

 

Final Analysis

 

If Washington stands any chance of winning this game, Head coach Jay Gruden will have to have his team prepared to execute a nearly perfect game plan. That will be a tall order against a red-hot Falcons team, especially with so many injuries standing in the way. The Redskins will likely be without star receiver DeSean Jackson once again. Go to tight end, Jordan Reed, is highly doubtful, and Pierre Garcon will play on an ailing knee. Washington quarterback, Kirk Cousins, will probably make do with a gimpy Garcon, and the likes of Jamison Crowder and Ryan Grant as his primary targets. But it won’t make any difference if the Redskins' run game fails to produce early, and the Washington defense fails to slow down Atlanta’s potent offensive attack.

 

As for Atlanta, they pretty much need to simply keep doing what they have been doing all season, feeding the ball to Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman. The Falcons offensive line obviously needs to keep Matt Ryan from ending up in a horizontal position, but beyond that, Atlanta should have few concerns heading into Week 5. As long as the Falcons offense performs up to its standards, and there is no reason to believe that it will not, even a mediocre performance from the defense will not keep them out of the win column against a thin Washington team.

 

Prediction: Falcons 31, Redskins 20

 

— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.

Teaser:
Washington Redskins vs. Atlanta Falcons Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, October 9, 2015 - 14:15
All taxonomy terms: Cincinnati Bengals, Seattle Seahawks, NFL
Path: /nfl/seattle-seahawks-vs-cincinnati-bengals-preview-and-prediction-2015
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One of the more intriguing matchups of Week 5 in the NFL will take place at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati as the Seattle Seahawks will be looking to upend the undefeated Cincinnati Bengals. These two teams last met during the 2011 regular season when Cincinnati defeated the Seahawks at Century Link Field by a score of 34-12.

 

Seattle escaped with their lives on Monday night with a 13-10 win over the Detroit Lions. The narrative all week long has been about K.J. Wright’s illegal batting of a Calvin Johnson fumble out of the end zone. Without question, there should have been a penalty called on Wright. The Lions did have an opportunity to get a stop defensively when they surrendered a 50-yard pass completion to Jermaine Kearse on 3rd-and-2 from the Seattle 28-yard line. If Detroit had stepped up and stopped the Seahawks with 1:34 remaining they still would have easily had a shot to drive back down and get a field goal to send the game into overtime.

 

Cincinnati will be looking to get off to its first 5-0 start since the 1988 season. One of the big reasons why they are sitting at 4-0 is the improved play of quarterback Andy Dalton and consistent play defensively. Dalton is completing 67.2 percent of his passes and has thrown nine touchdown passes and just one interception. The ability to take care of the football and get it in the hands of playmakers like A.J. Green at wide receiver, Giovani Bernard out of the backfield and Tyler Eifert at tight end creates matchup nightmares for opposing defenses. Defensively, the Bengals have been outstanding at stopping the run as they are only allowing 85.8 yards per game on the ground to opposing offenses.

 

Seattle at Cincinnati

 

Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET (Sunday)
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Cincinnati -3 O/U 44

 

Three Things To Watch

 

1. Seahawks' Offensive Line
The non-stop turnstile that is the Seahawks offensive line that has allowed an absurd 18 sacks so far in four games and many other pressures and hurries on quarterback Russell Wilson has got to stop. Alvin Bailey has come out this week with comments such as, "there are 31 other cities" he would rather be in on Twitter and setting off a social media firestorm with some overzealous 12s. Bottom line, Bailey and the rest of the offensive line need to direct their focus on the only place that matters and that is on the field. If the offensive line wants to get Seahawks fans off of their back the solution is crystal clear — play better and don’t make Russell Wilson run for his life on a regular basis. 

 

2. Seahawks' Defense vs. Bengals' Offense
While Andy Dalton deserves a lot of credit for his performance to date, it does have to be taken with a bit of a grain of salt considering the level of opponent that he has faced. Dalton has only faced the No. 15 defense in Baltimore and No. 29 in San Diego while making plenty of hay stat-wise, while Kansas City and Oakland are statistically two of the worst teams defensively in all of football. So this will be a significant step up in competition for Dalton to navigate a Seahawks defense that has held opponents to 18 punts in the last 20 defensive possessions. It is going to be key for Kam Chancellor and the Legion of Boom to set the tone right away and make Dalton and the Cincinnati offense work for everything that they get.

 

3. Playing on a short week

Seattle faces the great challenge of traveling east with an early kickoff after a very short week with the Monday night game against Detroit. This is going to test the overall mental toughness of this Seahawk team and they will need to find a way to avoid digging an early hole for themselves in the first half. Under the reign of head coach Pete Carroll this football team has gotten better at dealing with the 10 a.m. pacific time kickoffs, but unlike the game against the Rams a slow start will doom this football team against a Bengals team that is primed to move to 5-0.    


Final Analysis

 

Cincinnati should not have a ton of success against the Seahawk defense as a whole but they will do just enough to find a way to get a narrow win and move on to 5-0 on the season. Seattle has not shown anywhere near enough on the offensive line to prove that they can be relied upon over the course of four quarters to generate the consistency needed for Russell Wilson to get into a legitimate rhythm to make enough plays for the Seahawks to move on to 3-2. Also, if Marshawn Lynch is unable to go again then Seattle will be in even bigger trouble as the Bengals then will dare the Seahawks to beat them in the passing game with the understanding that even if they get some big plays, over the long haul Cincinnati will be able to handle the inconsistent pass protection of Seattle.

 

Prediction: Bengals 19, Seahawks 17

 

— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and also writes for College Sports Madness, covering college football, basketball, softball and baseball. Follow him on Twitter @scottwhittum.

Teaser:
Seattle Seahawks vs. Cincinnati Bengals Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, October 9, 2015 - 14:00
Path: /nfl/jacksonville-jaguars-vs-tampa-bay-buccaneers-preview-and-prediction-2015
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After losing a tough game to the Indianapolis Colts 16-13 in overtime in Week 4, the Jacksonville Jaguars will be on the road for the third straight week as they will play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium. This will be the sixth time that the two Florida teams have played one another.

 

The Jaguars enter Sunday’s game leading the series over the Buccaneers 4-1 and they have won the last four contest between the two. Jacksonville’s only loss in the series came during their inaugural season in 1995.

 

Jacksonville at Tampa Bay

 

Kickoff: 1 p.m. EST

Channel: CBS

Spread: Tampa Bay -2.5

 

Three Things to Watch For

 

1. Jameis Winston

Even though rookies often struggle as they get acclimated to playing in the NFL, Jameis Winston's poor performance against the Carolina Panthers wasn’t the norm. The former Heisman Trophy winner did finish 26-of-43 for 287 and two touchdowns, but he also threw four interceptions.

 

On the season, Winston has thrown for 965 yards, six touchdowns against seven interceptions. He is still making the same mistakes he made while at Florida State as he forces the ball into coverage while being pressured.

 

Despite his mistakes last week, Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley likes what he has seen from Winston.

 

“You see flashes of why he was picked when he was picked,” said Bradley. “You see it and you say he makes some really good plays and then the ups and downs sometimes that you go through. I think the Saints game was a classic one. He played very well, no interceptions and played really well. And then another game he has multiple interceptions. So I think that’s the challenge they’re going through with him. It’s a new offense for him and the speed of the game, that’s a big transition.”

 

This week, Winston will be facing one of the better pass rushes in the league in the Jaguars. In four games, Jacksonville has eight sacks on the season. If Winston doesn’t limit his mistakes, it could be another long day for the quarterback.

 

2. T.J. Yeldon

Last week against the Colts, T.J. Yeldon crossed the century mark in a game for the first time in his young NFL career. The rookie rushed for 105 yards on 22 carries.

 

Bradley has been impressed with Yeldon’s progression.

 

“What I have been very pleased with him is his protection, said Bradley. “I think he’s done a really nice job. Some of the things we’ve seen on tape as far as making people miss and his instincts, that’s showing up. But the protection part I think has really stepped up his game.”

 

Tampa Bay’s defense has given up an average of 107.3 yards so far this season, which is the 16th best rush defense in the NFL. So Yeldon should be able to find holes in the Buccaneers defense, which will open up opportunities for the Jaguars offense. If Yeldon can have success running the ball, that will take pressure off of quarterback Blake Bortles and the Jacksonville passing game.

 

3. Buccaneers' defense

Despite their 1-3 record, Tampa’s defense has been among the best in the league during the first month of the season. The Buccaneers rank ninth in total defense as they’ve given up 322.3 yards per game. Tampa is also tied for second in the NFL in pass yards allowed with the New York Jets as they’ve both given up 185.5 per game.

 

According to Pro Football Focus, Bortles has already completed 11 passes for 20-yards or more in four games after completing 13 of them in 16 games last year. Tampa is ninth in the NFL in sacks with nine this season, so they have been able to get pressure on quarterbacks this year. If they want to force Bortles into mistakes, they will need to be active in Jacksonville's backfield early and often.

 

Final Analysis

 

Jacksonville and Tampa are two evenly matched teams, so that should make for a highly-contested meeting. The difference in the game will likely be who wins the turnover battle, and that advantage goes to the Jaguars.

 

Tampa Bay has already turned the ball over 10 times in four games this season. Jacksonville should be able to force Winston into some mistakes.

 

Expect Bortles to use a lot of play action to get the ball to Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns down the field. It should be a close game, but Jacksonville will pull out the close victory in the end.

 

Prediction: Jaguars 21, Buccaneers 17

 

— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.

Teaser:
Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, October 9, 2015 - 13:45
Path: /nfl/new-orleans-saints-vs-philadelphia-eagles-preview-and-prediction-2015
Body:

New Orleans may not make the playoffs this year, especially since the Saints are three games behind Carolina and Atlanta in the suddenly strong NFC South, but if they do somehow sneak into the postseason, Drew Brees’s 80-yard TD pass to C.J. Spiller in overtime that gave the Saints a 26-20 win over Dallas could well be seen as a turning point. After struggling in its first three games, New Orleans will try to continue its climb back to contention in Philadelphia when it takes on the reeling Eagles.

 

Not much has gone right for the Birds this season, and last Sunday’s loss at Washington was a perfect example of the team’s problems. Philadelphia struggled to run the ball — again — and was slammed in the time-of-possession department. Even though QB Sam Bradford showed some life, the team’s offense remains at sea, and thanks to its considerable workload (the unit was on the field for 41:08 against Washington), the defense faltered at the end, allowing a 90-yard game-winning TD drive.

 

New Orleans at Philadelphia

 

Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET

TV: FOX
Point Spread: Eagles -5

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. On the Run

The Eagles are ranked 30th in the NFL in rushing, and it’s hard to imagine they aren’t dead last. Thirty-two of the team’s 89 ground attempts have resulted in no gain or negative yards, and 47 have gained two or fewer yards. Despite a star-studded backfield that includes DeMarco Murray (29 rushes, 47 yards), Ryan Mathews (33 for 132) and Darren Sproles (21 for 80), the Eagles have floundered on the ground, thanks to shaky offensive line play and a scheme that has been well defended. The Saints aren’t getting a whole lot from their backs either. Main man Mark Ingram is averaging just 3.6 yards per carry, a big reason New Orleans is just 28th in the league on the ground.


2. Make Plays

When confronted by the media Monday afternoon about the team’s 1-3 start, Eagles coach Chip Kelly repeatedly said that his team had to “make plays” in order to correct its problems. He didn’t mention that fatigue from overwork could have caused the defense to make mistakes. He didn’t want to say that the NFL has caught up to his college offense. Nope, if people just “make plays,” the Eagles will be fine.

 

“So it's a matter of making one more play than your opponent,” Kelly said. “We had a touchdown called back because we lined up wrong. That's the difference in a football game. We missed an extra point. We missed a field goal; that's the difference in a football game. We get a completion on third down, we allow a completion on the third down; that's the difference in the football game. It's just one play here or there and it's a different story when we are standing here today.”

 

3. (Not So) Easy Pickings

It’s bad enough that the Saints are 24th in the NFL in yards allowed, but what may be worse is that New Orleans isn’t creating the turnovers necessary to give its offense some help. The Saints have gone four games without intercepting a pass, something that must change if they want to make a run at the postseason. There’s a chance to register some picks against Sam Bradford, who has been inconsistent this year. If the Saints can’t start forcing more turnovers, they are going to have a tough road the rest of the season.

 

Final Analysis

 

Both teams need this game a lot, but the Saints have a more desperate situation than the Eagles. Atlanta and Carolina have raced to 4-0 starts, and should New Orleans fall to 1-4, it’s as good as eliminated from division title consideration. To beat Philadelphia, the Saints’ ground attack must get rolling, and it has to force some turnovers on defense, the better to set up some easier scoring opportunities.

 

As for Philadelphia, the key is to execute better and create a tempo that allows the offense to find a rhythm that has been absent for most of the year. The Eagles are at a crossroads and must prove that the rest of the league hasn’t figured out their schemes. If they can find a way to “make plays,” the Eagles can get rolling.

 

Prediction: Eagles 23, Saints 21

 

— Written by Michael Bradley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bradley is a writer and broadcaster based in suburban Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter @DailyHombre.

Teaser:
New Orleans Saints vs. Philadelphia Eagles Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, October 9, 2015 - 13:30
Path: /nfl/cleveland-browns-vs-baltimore-ravens-preview-and-prediction-2015
Body:

The 1-3 Cleveland Browns travel to Baltimore to take on the 1-3 Ravens Sunday in a game that will give one team their second win of the season and leave the other alone in last place in the division.

 

The Ravens got their first win of the season last Sunday, but needed overtime and two missed field goals by the Steelers to escape with the victory. The Ravens' injury issues continue to grow as both Steve Smith and Michael Campanaro sustained injuries against Pittsburgh, ending Campanaro's season and likely shelving Smith for at least this contest. Justin Forsett rose to the occasion last week, putting up 150 rushing yards, but he can't be asked to carry the entire offense. Journeyman Kamar Aiken is now the top threat in the passing game and he has just 11 catches.

 

The Browns have had plenty of injury issues themselves, with both Joe Haden and safety Tashaun Gipson questionable with injuries. That could affect the Browns' ninth-ranked pass defense. Josh McCown looked impressive last week against the Chargers, throwing for 356 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. Speedy receiver Travis Benjamin has been an early breakout offensive player for a Browns team in dire need of playmakers. He's averaging 20.5 yards per reception.

 

Cleveland has taken some positive strides this season, but they haven't quite made it over the hump just yet. Baltimore showed some signs of life in Pittsburgh but have suffered near-catastrophic injuries this season, leaving them with spare parts for Joe Flacco to work with. It should be a physical battle of will with the season already on the line for both teams.

 

Cleveland at Baltimore

 

Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET

Network: CBS

Line: Ravens -6.5

 

Three Areas to Watch

 

1. Turn off the Forsett

The obvious key matchup in this one will be Justin Forsett against the Browns' 31st ranked run defense. The Ravens are down to their last options at receiver and tight end, leaving Forsett as their biggest offensive threat. Even with Cleveland's injuries in their secondary, they should be able to match up in the passing game, but dedicating themselves to stopping Forsett will force Flacco to win the game through the air in a backup-vs.-backup affair. If Haden and Gipson are able to go it could be enough to tip the scales toward the Browns if they aren't getting gashed on the ground.

 

2. No really, is Joe Flacco elite?

Seems like every Ravens preview I write I make this joke but each time things just seem to be getting harder and harder on Flacco as he loses every viable receiving threat he has. Flacco was efficient in key moments against the Steelers and avoided the key mistakes that could've cost the Ravens the game. Now, with the Browns likely to dedicate seven and eight-man boxes on defense to stop Forsett, we'll see what kind of magic Flacco can put together with the likes of Kamar Aiken, Marlon Brown and Maxx Williams.

 

3. Can Josh McCown and the Browns' offense breakout?

The Browns have looked surprisingly good in the passing game, ranking ninth overall in yards, but just 20th in points scored. That comes down to them being dead last (32nd) in red zone touchdowns, illustrating that they're just having trouble finishing drives and relying too much on deep strikes to Benjamin. The Ravens' defense is 11th in passing yards allowed and they do have the talent to get after the quarterback. The Browns should give the Ravens some issues, but finishing with touchdowns is vital to put the pressure on a Ravens team that is far better equipped to play with the lead in this one.

 

Final Analysis

 

AFC North divisional games are always low-scoring wars and this one figures to be no different. Both teams will likely struggle to move the ball at times and getting an early lead will be critical for one team to dictate how the game is played. If the Browns can score an early touchdown it will put the game on Joe Flacco and his unproven squad of pass catchers. But if the Ravens are able to run the ball early and get that early lead, the Browns' advantages will be minimized. The Ravens started slow last year as well, expect their defense to start rounding into form in this one, but their offense won't be able to put up enough points to prevent this one from being a close affair.

 

Prediction: Ravens 16, Browns 10

 

— Written by Mike Dussault, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and writer/editor of PatsPropaganda.com (@PatsPropaganda), a comprehensive blog covering the New England Patriots.

Teaser:
Cleveland Browns vs. Baltimore Ravens Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, October 9, 2015 - 13:15
All taxonomy terms: AFC, Buffalo Bills, Tennessee Titans, NFL
Path: /nfl/buffalo-bills-vs-tennessee-titans-preview-and-prediction-2015
Body:

In spite of their 1-2 record, the Tennessee Titans have shown glimpses of brilliance so far this season. Thanks in large part to rookie sensation, Marcus Mariota, Titans fans finally have reason to believe in the promise of a bright future after struggling through years of sub-par football in Music City. That being said, Tennessee still has a ways to go, and there are plenty of growing pains yet to come before they can truly call themselves contenders.

 

On Sunday, the Titans will host Rex Ryan’s Buffalo Bills in a Week 5 AFC cross-divisional matchup. Like the Titans, the Bills are a team on the rise, just a little further along in their progression. A talented roster, and the emergence of Tyrod Taylor as a viable NFL quarterback, have many believing that the Bills are a legitimate playoff contender this season. Unfortunately, injuries and penalties have proven costly en route to a mediocre 2-2 record thus far.

 

The Titans were able to heal up coming off of a bye in Week 4, while the Bills are coming off of a tough 24-10 loss to the Giants. Both teams are in desperate need of a victory on Sunday, especially the Bills, who now sit behind the eight ball in the AFC East.

 

The Titans and Bills have a storied history dating back to 1960. Tennessee leads the all-time series against Buffalo with a 28-16 record. The two teams last met in 2012, resulting in a 35-34 victory for the Titans. Tennessee has won five consecutive games against Buffalo. The series is best represented by two classic games. The first being an epic 1993 playoff game, dubbed “The Comeback,” in which the Bills stormed back from a 35-3 third quarter deficit to win 41-38 in overtime. The second being the Titans 22-16 playoff victory over the Bills in 2000, which everyone knows as “The Music City Miracle.”

 

Buffalo at Tennessee

 

Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET (Sunday)

TV: CBS

Spread: Buffalo -2.5

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. The Titans' Offensive Line vs. The Bills' Defensive Line

Buffalo was supposed to field one of the fiercest defensive lines in all of football this season. So far, the results have proven otherwise. In the first four games, Bills All-Pro defensive linemen Kyle Williams, Mario Williams, and Marcell Dareus have accounted for just two sacks. As a team, the Bills have just seven sacks heading into Week 5. Surprising to say the least, especially for a group that accounted for an NFL best 54 sacks last season, 30 of which were supplied by the aforementioned trio of star defensive linemen. Even more surprising considering that defensive guru, Rex Ryan, is now the head coach.

 

Fortunately, Week 5 could provide just the medicine for what ails them. On the other side of the line of scrimmage will sit a Titans offensive line that has already given up twelve sacks through just three games. Not good, especially for a team with a mobile quarterback. Tennessee could have offensive guard Chance Warmack back from injury this week, but even if that is the case, a struggling Titans line will have their hands full against a potent Bills defensive front. This is by far the worst offensive line Buffalo has faced this season, and it should provide them with ample opportunity to finally get their pass rush on track. Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota should be prepared to put his mobility to good use on Sunday.

 

2. A Depleted Buffalo Backfield

The Bills rushing attack was supposed to flourish behind newly acquired star running back, LeSean McCoy. And it has flourished, producing nearly 130 yards per game. But not because of McCoy, who has been hampered with a hamstring injury since preseason. Rookie Karlos Williams has been the primary bread winner in McCoy’s stead, averaging 5.4 yards per carry and scoring a touchdown in each of the Bills’ four games. Unfortunately, it is also very likely that Williams will be unavailable for Week 5 after suffering a concussion in last week’s loss to the Giants.

 

If that is the case, the Bills will be forced to rely on third string, short yardage back, Anthony Dixon, to tote the rock against the Titans in Week 5. Cierre Wood would serve as back up, and the recently signed Dan Herron could also be in the mix. They also have a fleet footed and capable runner in quarterback Tyrod Taylor. That being said, it doesn’t necessarily bode well when you are down to your third, fourth, fifth, and sixth options in an offense built around the run game. The Titans rank middle of the pack in the NFL in run defense, so all is not lost on the Bills' rushing attack this week. But it is certainly going to be more challenging without the likes of McCoy and Williams.

 

3. Will the Bills Flag Their Way to Another Loss?

The Buffalo Bills were the second most penalized team in the NFL in 2014. Unfortunately, the trend has continued and only gotten worse under the new regime. In four games, the Bills have already accrued 47 penalties for 428 yards, by far the most in the NFL. It has also played a major role in both of their losses this season. Buffalo had 17 penalties for 135 yards in last week’s 24-10 loss to the Giants, and they had 14 penalties for 140 yards in their Week 2 loss at home to the Patriots. Buffalo’s most convincing win came in Week 3 against the Dolphins. They committed just 5 penalties for 40 yards in that game, en route to a 41-14 victory.

 

The correlation is pretty clear. Penalties can kill a team’s chances to win, and they have been a thorn in the side of the Bills most of the season. In order to help correct the problem, Buffalo Head Coach Rex Ryan has been making any player who commits a penalty in practice do push-ups. Whether or not this will rectify the issue is yet to be determined, but given their track record to date, Bills penalties, or a lack thereof, could weigh significantly on the outcome of Sunday’s game against the Titans.

 

Final Analysis

 

A Week 5 victory at home, against a solid Bills team, would go a long way in jump starting a young Titans team into contention for what appears to be a wide open AFC South division. In order to get it done, Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt will have to employ a flawless game plan on offense. Rookie quarterback, Marcus Mariota, will have to continue to play well beyond his years to overcome a talented Bills defense that is easily the best he has faced to date. The Titans wide receivers must find a way to separate from Buffalo lock down corner backs Ronald Darby and Stephon Gilmore, and the offensive line will have to play the game of their lives to fend off the Bills’ All-Pro defensive front. On defense, Tennessee should find success holding down the line of scrimmage against a beat up Bills rushing attack, but linebackers Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan will have their hands full trying to contain the elusive Tyrod Taylor.

 

The Bills badly need a Week 5 victory if they have any hope of trying to keep pace with the dominant Patriots. Rex Ryan is not likely to steer away from the run game, so it is imperative that his makeshift back field shows up against a middling Tennessee run defense. In the passing game, Tyrod Taylor should be able to continue a successful trend of connecting with tight end Charles Clay, and the return of Percy Harvin should help open things up if Sammy Watkins is a scratch. On defense, the Bills must simply defeat a shaky Titans offensive line and pressure Marcus Mariota from start to finish. The rest should take care of itself. If the Bills can avoid the costly penalties that have plagued them in both of their losses this season, they should cruise to victory. If not, the well-rested Titans stand a very good chance at pulling off the upset at home.

 

Prediction: Bills 27, Titans 17

 

— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.

Teaser:
Buffalo Bills vs. Tennessee Titans Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, October 9, 2015 - 13:00
Path: /mlb/nlds-preview-and-prediction-chicago-cubs-vs-st-louis-cardinals-2015
Body:

No matter what Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon says, not even an episode of “The Sopranos” can match the drama that is preparing to unfold in the upcoming National League Division Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and his Cubs.

 

After the last time these two teams met in September, Maddon made reference to the popular former HBO show, wandering aloud if Cardinals manager Mike Matheny “put a hit out” on Cubs’  All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo after a series of bean balls and hard slides caused tempers to flare.

 

The difference in philosophy between these two franchises was evident during that series, and is an obvious and a fascinating storyline that will be harped upon for the next week or so. But the bottom line is this: this series between the Cardinals and Cubs is the series that baseball deserves and needs.

 

The Cardinals are National League royalty, appearing in 12 of the last 16 postseasons and searching for their 12th World Series title in franchise history, second to only the New York Yankees. The Cards are a model franchise, a blend of homegrown youngsters and tough veterans that refuse to make excuses, and strive to “play the game the right way.”

 

The Cubs' sorrows have been well documented for the last 107 years. But these young Cubs are rolling into the postseason on fire, winners of nine straight, including the 4-0 dismantling of the 98-win Pittsburgh Pirates in the NL Wild Card game. The Cardinals have beaten the Cubs 11 of 19 times this season, but the Cubs have taken three of the last four.

 

The rivalry between the Cubs and Cards has been played out 2,363 times over the course of a century, but for the first time ever, the two teams face one another in the postseason.

 

Chicago Cubs vs. St. Louis Cardinals

 

GameDayTime (ET)TVPitching Matchup
1Friday, Oct. 96:30 p.m.TBSJon Lester vs. John Lackey
2Saturday, Oct. 105:30 p.m.TBSKyle Hendricks vs. Jaime Garcia
3Monday, Oct. 12TBDTBSMichael Wacha vs. Jake Arrieta
4*Tuesday, Oct. 13TBDTBSLance Lynn vs. Jason Hammel
5*Thursday, Oct. 154:30 p.m.TBSUndecided vs. Undecided

*If necessary

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Banged-Up Redbirds

The Cardinals go as their leader and catcher Yadier Molina goes. Molina hasn’t played in the last 13 games because of a partially torn left thumb ligament suffered during the last time the Cards and Cubs met on Sept. 20. Molina is expected to play and start behind the plate while wearing a special brace to protect the damaged thumb. The big question is, how reliable will he be offensively, and for a Cardinals pitching staff that has fallen off since their amazing 2015 start?

 

Speaking of pitchers, the Cardinals will be without their most reliable arm from the season in Carlos Martinez. Martinez was shut down for the remainder of the year after it was discovered nearly two weeks ago that he had a strain in his throwing shoulder.

 

No doubt that the Redbirds' rotation is taking a hit losing Martinez, but the bullpen receives a boost with the return of ace Adam Wainwright. Wainwright, who suffered a torn Achilles in April, did not pitch until the last week of the season when he made three, one-inning relief appearances. Although he will not start any games in the NLDS, Matheny will attempt to use Wainwright to bridge the gap between his starters and closer Trevor Rosenthal. Like that of Molina, a question must be asked: Does Wainwright still have “it”  to keep up against a deep Cubslineup?

 

The pitching isn’t the only part of the Cardinals' roster that has had injury issues. Lineup staples Matt Holliday, Matt Adams, and Jon Jay have all seen plenty of time on the disabled list. Adams didn’t even make the NLDS roster, and neither did reserve center fielder Peter Bourjos, who had been struggling of late. Both Jay and Holliday have missed almost half the 2015 season and have been limited in the past month due to various bumps and bruises. Also, reserve outfielder Stephen Piscotty has been cleared after a violent outfield collision left him with a concussion and resulted in him being carted off the field on a stretcher less than two weeks ago.

 

One has to wonder if the lack of regular playing time for the majority of the Cardinal outfield will have any affect against the Cubs. The revolving outfield door certainly didn't hurt the team on its way to a 100-win season.

 

2. Starting Rotation Questions

The Cubs and Cardinals find their pitching rotations heading in different directions. The Cards' pitching staff started the season at a fantastic pace, even without Wainwright. Martinez, John Lackey, Michael Wacha and Lance Lynn were firing on all cylinders for months, while the Cubs' hurlers were good enough, but not great. Lately, it seems the roles have reversed.

 

Martinez is out for the postseason and Wacha and Lynn look exhausted. Wacha gave up seven home runs and posted a 7.88 ERA in five September starts. Lynn has given up 16 runs in the past few outings, and has looked especially vulnerable against the Cubs. Chicago hitters have recorded a .296/.398/.587 line good for a team OPS of .905 against Lynn in four starts (17 1/3 IP) this season.

 

The bright spot for the Cardinals’ rotation is staff elder Lackey. Lackey, 36, has been brilliant at Busch Stadium, with a 9-4 record and a 1.93 ERA in 17 home starts. Before his last outing, Lackey was in the zone with seven straight quality starts. Lackey also has the postseason pedigree with a 3.08 ERA in 18 playoff starts.

 

The Cubs’ Jake Arrieta’s exploits have been well documented as he has become a must-watch this season. His post-All-Star break 0.77 ERA is the best in major league history. His 22 wins, hits and home run rate per nine innings are the best in baseball, while his 1.77 season ERA is second only to Zack Greinke. In his four starts against St. Louis this season, Arrieta gave up just eight runs and six extra-base hits while striking out 25. His last time out, he had one of the best postseason starts ever, striking out 11, while walking none in a complete game shutout victory over the Pirates in Pittsburgh. Arrieta is scheduled to pitch Game 3 at Wrigley Field against Wacha.

 

Not to be outdone, teammate Jon Lester has been outstanding as of late. In his last five starts he has a 2.19 ERA, 38 strikeouts, a 0.703 WHIP, and a .169 batting average against. Lester was paid handsomely ($155 million) this offseason to be the Cubs’ go-to guy in big-game situations just like this. Lester will take the hill against his former Red Sox teammate and good friend Lackey in Game 1.

 

While Arrieta and Lester are earning the headlines, the Cubs' starters staff finished the season on a 51 1/3 innings scoreless streak, which was extended to 60 after Arrieta’s masterpiece against the Pirates. With Lester taking the ball in Game 1 and Arrieta in Game 3, either Kyle Hendricks (Game 2) and Jason Hammel (Game 4), and possible Dan Haren, will need to do their part to help the Cubs advance to the National League Championship Series. 

 

3. Bitter Rivals, Philosophical Differences

St. Louis has the “Cardinal Way,” the formula of success that has worked for years. First instituted under long-time manager Tony La Russa, the “Way” is the format that has led the Cardinals to a surprising 100-win season under Matheny. Players emulate their manager, stoic and strictly business, with a “play the game the right way” mantra mixed with a “next man up” mentality.

 

“The Way” is often imitated, but no other franchise executes it quite like the Cardinals, as evidenced by this season when the team was without some of its best players for long stretches of time. But the injuries were never used as an excuse as the Cardinals used homegrown talent and veteran pitching to win a fourth straight NL Central title. Often times seen as smug or dated by some opposing teams and fan bases (especially the Cubs and their fans) for their “respect the game” attitude, the Cardinals are the franchise model for success.

 

In the opposing dugout, the Cubs also have their own way too, the Joe Maddon way. And like their archrival, the Cubs go as their manager goes — laid back, confident, fun, and good — surprisingly good. Maddon is known for his out-of-the-box managing mentality, like playing rookie catcher Kyle Schwarber in right field during the do-or-die Wild Card game after Schwarber had only played the position for 14 innings previously.

 

Maddon also is the master of keeping his team loose off the field by organizing costume-themed road trips, bringing in a DJ to spring training, setting up a petting zoo in left field of Wrigley Field, and welcoming himself to the Windy City with “a shot and a beer” for the Chicago media. Maddon’s players reflect his “it’s a kids’ game” psychology, complete with bat flips, helmet rubs, and a Miguel Montero-made hashtag that has taken on a life of its own (#WeAreGood).

 

Maddon’s style and personality has molded this mix of young prospects and veteran players into an October force that is only picking up more steam as it rolls along.

 

Final Analysis

 

Baseball is a game dissected by numbers, stats, sabermetrics and analytics. Baseball also is a game built on the unquantifiable: toughness, longevity, tradition and grit. Both the Cardinals and the Cubs have all of those things going for them. But the Cubs... the Cubs just feel special. Traditional wisdom says, the Cardinals beat the Cubs — they’ve been here too many times before, they know how to win, they won 100 games. But these Cubs are anything but traditional — and that is why I like them.

 

Prediction: Cubs in 5 Games

 

— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. An avid baseball fan, Rose also takes time to do some play-by-play work for the radio broadcasts of Middle Tennessee State Blue Raider baseball games. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.

Teaser:
NLDS Preview and Prediction: Chicago Cubs vs. St. Louis Cardinals
Post date: Friday, October 9, 2015 - 11:30
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, NFL, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-five-up-five-down-justin-forsett-philip-rivers-up-carlos-hyde-russell-wilson-down-week-5
Body:

With a quarter of the fantasy football season behind us, we can now look back, take stock from what we've learned, and look ahead with some knowledge. During the preseason, we just look at the players and teams with what we think we know.

 

Now, for Week 5, we can actually look at real numbers for players and make educated decisions on who to start and who to sit. However, note that this column isn't a start/sit column. Rather, it's a look at the rankings and five guys who are ranked higher this week and five that are ranked lower compared to previous weeks.

 

Positional Rankings: QB I RB I WR I TE I DST I K I Flex

 

Five Up

 

Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego Chargers

Cracking the top 10 in our quarterback rankings, Rivers is finally making his way into QB1 territory. In Week 4, he passed for 358 yards and three touchdowns. He has eight touchdowns so far on the year and only four interceptions. He's found Keenan Allen and his tight ends and he's looked good. While Rivers is playing well, start him. He gets Antonio Gates back this week, and that will only help Rivers' value. He always looks to Gates and Pittsburgh has struggled at defending tight ends this year (a stat that is inflated by Rob Gronkowski in Week 1, admittedly). However, Pittsburgh has allowed seven passing touchdowns, and Rivers will likely add to that in Week 5.


Related: Why You Should Start Philip Rivers and Other QB/DST Start/Sit Fantasy Advice for Week 5

 

Justin Forsett, RB, Baltimore Ravens

Fantasy owners were getting nervous about Forsett prior to Week 4. He didn't have a game with over 70 rushing yards and he wasn't even getting a lot of carries. Yet, in Week 4, he had 27 carries for 150 yards. He didn't have any receptions, but fantasy owners were happy with the 15 points. Fantasy owners should be even happier this week as Forsett faces the second-worst rush defense in the league. Cleveland has allowed 566 rushing yards and three touchdowns through four games. They've allowed the second-longest rushing play from scrimmage as well (54 yards). Forsett is poised for a big day, and he's the sixth-ranked running back this week.

 

Eddie Royal, WR, Chicago Bears

Owning Royal has been frustrating this year. He has one bad week followed by a good week, followed by a bad week, and then another good week. While it has been hard to follow what Chicago's offense will look like because of the absence of Alshon Jeffery and Jay Cutler, it does look like Royal will have a role moving forward. Cutler looked for him in Week 4, and he found the end zone. Kansas City's defense can be beat and if Jeffery does play, Royal will still have value. Keep in mind he is battling an ankle injury and his status for Sunday may be questionable. Currently, Royal is our 33rd-ranked wide reciever.

 

Roddy White, WR, Atlanta Falcons

I know. 12 targets. Six receptions. 84 yards in Week 1, eight in Week 4, nothing in between. White isn't a recommend start by any means. However, in deep leagues, with players on a bye, if you are looking for a possible lottery ticket for Week 5, go with White. The only basis for this is the fact that White took to the media and complained about his role on the team. When a player complains, the team usually tries to placate him the following week. Squeaky wheel gets the grease theory, if you will. While Leonard Hankerson has been the No. 2 receiver for Atlanta, look for White to find the end zone this week.

 

Antonio Gates, TE, San Diego Chargers

While it is a risky to recommend a tight end that has not played yet this season, it's hard to not recommend Gates. He wasn't playing because of suspension, not injury, so he should be in football shape and ready to go. He'll jump back into his TE1 spot and become one of Philip Rivers' favorite targets. With injuries to other San Diego pass catchers (Stevie Johnson, Malcom Floyd), there should be plenty of balls thrown Gates' way. Rivers has shown that he likes using his tight ends, and Pittsburgh is a good matchup for tight ends. Gates is our fifth-ranked tight end for Week 5.

 

Related: Bold Fantasy Predictions for Week 5 in the NFL

 

Five Down

 

Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks

Wilson was drafted as a QB1, but he hasn't been playing like the guy you drafted. Through four games, Wilson has thrown five touchdowns and two interceptions. He lost two fumbles in Week 4 as well. He hasn't thrown more than 290 yards, and he only rushed for more than 40 yards once. The rushing numbers aren't as high as fantasy owners hoped for and the touchdowns aren't there. On a short week, Wilson heads to Cincinnati, who has actually played tough defense. He's only a QB2 for Week 5.

 

Todd Gurley, RB, St. Louis Rams

In Week 1, Green Bay allowed Matt Forte to run for 141 yards and a touchdown. However, in Week 2, Marshawn Lynch ran for 41 yards on Green Bay. Jamaal Charles rushed for 49 yards, but three touchdowns in Week 3 against the Packers. In Week 4, Carlos Hyde had 20 rushing yards against Green Bay. What will Gurley do? Our sample size for him is small; in Week 2 he was eased in. In Week 3, he struggled until the second half of the game. He ended with 146 rushing yards. Don't expect Gurley to put up those numbers in Week 5. While our ranks have him as a top-10 running back, he's really more of a RB2 with upside.

 

Carlos Hyde, RB, San Francisco 49ers

Hyde has been trending in the wrong direction since Week 1. He looked great to start the season, with 168 rushing yards and two touchdowns. In the three games following, he's totaled 114 yards and no touchdowns. What happened? Hyde blames stacked boxes against him, which is what Frank Gore struggled with last year. Hyde faces the Giants on Sunday night in Week 5. Surprisingly, the Giants have the best rush defense in the league, allowing only 279 yards and two touchdowns over four games. Hyde is barely a RB2 this week.

 

Brandin Cooks, WR, New Orleans Saints

Cooks made this list last week, and he came through with four receptions for 25 yards. He hasn't had more than seven receptions or 79 yards yet this season. He hasn't scored a touchdown and just hasn't done anything with the targets. He had a team-high seven targets in Week 2 and eight in Weeks 1, 3 and 4. At this point, Cooks is no longer a must-start, although with the bye weeks, he will likely still be in lineups. With Drew Brees back, his value increases slightly, but he is still a WR3.

 

Gary Barnidge, TE, Cleveland Browns

After Week 3, the fantasy community picked up on Barnidge. No one thought he'd repeat his performance, but in Week 4, he did secure all six of his targets for 75 yards and a touchdown. San Diego isn't terrible against tight ends, but they aren't great either. In Week 5, Barnidge faces the Ravens, which is a tougher matchup. While Josh McCown will look for him, fantasy owners need to realize that these double-digit fantasy days are not the norm. He is worth streaming if you are a Jordan Cameron or Greg Olsen owner, but don't rush to pick Barnidge up to save your season.

 

— Written by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. She also writes for SoCalledFantasyExperts.com among other sites. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter @Sarah_Lewis32.

Teaser:
Fantasy Football Five Up, Five Down: Justin Forsett, Philip Rivers Up, Carlos Hyde, Russell Wilson Down For Week 5
Post date: Friday, October 9, 2015 - 11:15
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, NFL, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/bold-fantasy-predictions-week-5-nfl
Body:

What craziness is going to happen this week in the NFL? Every week there is someone, somewhere that has quite the game and makes a name for himself, only to seemingly disappear forever after that. In the fantasy world, we could care less about those players because they’re one-hit wonders and no one had them in their starting fantasy lineup anyways.

 

But what about the guys you rely on, week in and week out, to produce serious fantasy points for your team. What if you could look into the future to figure out who was going to have a big game and who was going to suck?

 

Positional Rankings: QB I RB I WR I TE I DST I K I Flex

 

Thankfully, if you’re reading this, you’ve struck gold.

 

Let’s peer into my magic crystal ball and see who’s going to be produce and who isn’t in Week 5.

 

Philip Rivers Finished at the No. 1 Fantasy QB

Rivers was very, very good last week. Finally playing at home after two mediocre road games on the East Coast, he lit up the Cleveland Browns for 26.22 fantasy points thanks to 358 passing yards and three touchdowns. This week he gets an even better matchup on Monday night with the Pittsburgh Steelers coming into town. What really makes Rivers special this week is he finally gets his all-time favorite target back in the lineup – Antonio Gates, after a four-game suspension. Look for Rivers to air it out all game and finish with close to 400 yards passing and another three touchdowns.

 

Related: Why You Should Start Philip Rivers and Other QB/DST Start/Sit Fantasy Advice for Week 5

 

Antonio Gates is Back – Big Time!

As mentioned above, Gates will finally be back on the field after serving a four-game suspense for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. With lots of rest Gates will start this year at 100 percent and instantly build on his uncanny rapport with Philip Rivers. Seeing that the Chargers are struggling to run the ball with Melvin Gordon and they can’t run Danny Woodhead up the middle, and the fact that both Stevie Johnson and Malcolm Floyd are banged up and might not even play, Gates will easily see at least 10 targets and should finish the game with over 100 yards receiving and two touchdowns.

 

Devonta Freeman Comes Back Down to Earth

What an incredible two weeks Freeman has had. He’s ran for 209 yards, caught 11 passes for 133 yards and scored six touchdowns. In case you’re wondering all those numbers add up to an incredible 70.2 fantasy points (standard scoring), by far the most in the league over that span. Freeman just can’t keep it up. Even including the last two games, his yards per carry average is still under four and this week he goes against a stout Washington run defense that has only allowed one rushing touchdown all season. Plus, it looks like Tevin Coleman is going to play and while there is no way Coleman will be the lead back, he could still steal about 5-8 touches that were all Freeman’s the last two weeks. It’s time to temper your expectations on Freeman and if you own him, start thinking about selling high.

 

Le'Veon Bell Goes Bananas for Over 200 Total Yards and 3 TDs

Bell basically single handedly carried the Steelers to a victory last week against their archrivals the Baltimore Ravens. With Michael Vick under center you know that the only way the Steelers are going to stay in the game against the Chargers Monday night is to use Bell all the time. The matchup also is in Bell’s favor. So far this season the Chargers have given up the second-most fantasy points to running backs and last week made Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson decent fantasy players. Just imagine what Bell can do when he gets 20-plus carries and around 10 targets out of the backfield.

 

Marcus Mariota Throws 4 Touchdown Passes

Remember in Week 1 when Mariota took the world by storm throwing four touchdown passes against the Bucs? Well, because the Titans had the bye week last week, it seems like that game was forever ago. But believe it or not, Mariota has eight touchdown passes in three games, and hasn’t thrown less than two in any game. This week he gets a Buffalo Bills defense that for whatever reason, just can’t get out of its own way and defend the pass. The Bills currently rank 29th in the league in total passing yards allowed, not good, especially for a Rex Ryan team. Also, keep in mind that the Titans really don’t have much of a running game and are going to have to rely on Mariota to carry them to victory this week.

 

Alex Smith Has Another 300-yard Passing Game and 2 TDs

You might have to read that headline twice, but Smith has actually been playing really well as of late and it looks like Andy Reid has taken Smith’s chastity belt off and is allowing him to throw down the field. It also helps that Smith has some serious offensive weapons in Jeremy Maclin, Travis Kelce and of course, Jamaal Charles. This week the Chiefs host the Chicago Bears, which of course is a recipe for success. The Bears have given up the ninth-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks this season and with Reid’s curious decision to limit Charles’ touches, look for Smith to keep airing it out.

 

Amari Cooper Scores Less Than 5 Fantasy Points

Cooper has lived up to his pre-fantasy draft hype and been one of the most explosive players this season. But everyone has their "off" games and this will be one of those weeks for Cooper and the entire Raiders offense. This week the Raiders play host to the Denver Broncos and their vaunted pass rush and pass defense. So far this season the Broncos have given up the fewest fantasy points to wide receivers. That’s because they’ve allowed just two receiving touchdowns and only 185 receiving yards per game. As good as Cooper is and will be, this is not the week to keep the talented rookie in your starting lineup.


Related: Why You Must Sit Amari Cooper and Other WR/TE Start/Sit Fantasy Advice for Week 5

 

— Written by Michael Horvath, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Horvath is a Canadian who also happens to be a fantasy football (not to be confused with CFL) and fitness nut. Follow him on Twitter @realmikehorvath.

Teaser:
Bold Fantasy Predictions for Week 5 in the NFL
Post date: Friday, October 9, 2015 - 11:00
Path: /college-football/east-carolina-pirates-vs-byu-cougars-preview-and-prediction-2015
Body:

If you wanted to describe this game between BYU and East Carolina, I’d probably turn to a popular term from the young people on Twitter, low-key awesome.

 

Will it be lit though? Okay, I’ll stop with all the Twitter and Vine jargon, but while this ECU vs. BYU game might be buried on the national radar, it also has the makings of being a fun game between two teams that feel confident they can put up a lot of points.

 

Both ECU and BYU have played tough schedules thus far, BYU in fact, has played the country’s toughest slate in the country through five weeks according to the Sagarin Rankings.

 

East Carolina at BYU

 

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)

TV Channel: ESPNU

Spread: BYU -8

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Which defense will step up?

In the summer of 2014, East Carolina head coach Ruffin McNeill and his staff travelled out to Provo to learn from Bronco Mendenhall and his staff on how to run the 3-4 defense. McNeill and his program have been using the 3-4 scheme ever since.

 

Both teams want to create a lot of pressure with their linebackers, a position both teams feel is a strength in their programs. The stats aren’t too favorable, however, for both the Cougars and the Pirates on the defensive end so far, as both have had their struggles at time this year.


In terms of total defense, BYU ranks 63rd, and ECU is lower at No. 86.

 

This game has the makings of a good, old-fashioned shootout. Which defense will get the necessary three-and-outs to keep their explosive offenses on the field?

 

BYU will have a tall order on third down as the Pirates are tops in the country with a 55 percent conversion rate.

 

2. Which quarterback will play for East Carolina?

Back in August the Pirates’ starter at quarterback was Kurt Benkert until he suffered a season-ending knee injury in practice.

 

Blake Kemp stepped in for Benkert and is your prototypical drop-back passing quarterback. Kemp led Pirates to a near upset in The Swamp against Florida in week two, but turnovers have been a problem at times for Kemp. This has led to ECU head coach Ruffin McNeill to turn to junior college transfer James Summers, who was expected to be a wide receiver for the Pirates when he signed back in February.

 

Summers came in against Virginia Tech and led the Pirates to an upset over the Hokies, and then one week later came off the bench again to reel off 42 unanswered points against SMU in a come-from-behind victory.

 

This week’s depth chart for ECU has Kemp OR Summers starting. Have to think Summers ultimately gets the start here as the Pirates will likely ride the hot hand that gives them the most versatility in their offense.

 

3. BYU’s new rushing attack

The Cougars’ ground game has gone through a lot of different faces this season. Three-year starter Jamaal Williams was lost for the season when he withdrew from school before camp started, and then BYU has had a laundry list of injuries to its rushers. Senior Adam Hine, who had a breakout game against UCLA, suffered an ankle injury against Michigan and is out for a month.

 

True freshman Francis Bernard, who was out with a hand injury the first three weeks of the season, made a name for himself last week to help BYU beat UConn, rushing for 69 yards.

 

Expect Bernard and Algie Brown, who came back from an injury last week to rush for 95 yards, to get 20 to 25 carries between the two of them as BYU looks to have balance on offense.

 

Final Analysis

 

This should be a fun football game. I’m expecting a lot of points to be put up, and it could be one of those games that goes down to the final possession, which is probably all smiles for BYU, which has come through in the clutch on two Hail Marys this season.

 

One of BYU’s goals this year is to go undefeated at home, something the Cougars haven’t done since 2008. I’d expect BYU’s defense to win the turnover battle by forcing a mistake or two that will lead to short field situations for Tanner Mangum and the Cougar offense. BYU squeaks out a win that will end up being one of the week’s best games by the time Sunday morning comes around.

 

Prediction: BYU 44, East Carolina 28

 

— Written by Mitch Harper, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Harper is the BYU reporter and insider for 1320 KFAN and co-host of "The Cougar Center" podcast. Follow him on Twitter @Mitch_Harper.

Teaser:
East Carolina Pirates vs. BYU Cougars Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, October 9, 2015 - 10:50
Path: /college-football/james-franklin-impersonated-key-peele-penn-state-team-meeting
Body:

If anyone can impersonate Penn State coach James Franklin, it's Key from "Key & Peele." They're like two people you didn't realize are physically similar until they're standing next to each other.

 

Key, a Penn State grad, and Franklin decided to do a little switcheroo, and boy does it pay off. The players go wild when they see Key pop in to lead a hilarious team meeting.

 

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, October 9, 2015 - 10:44
Path: /college-football/colorado-buffaloes-vs-arizona-state-sun-devils-preview-and-prediction-2015
Body:

One week is sometimes all it takes to turn around a season. Just look at Arizona State. Coming off its second blowout loss of the first month, a 42-14 home rout against USC, the Sun Devils were in desperate straits. Now, after a wire-to-wire lead and two-score win at UCLA, Arizona State is right back in the mix as one of the Pac-12 South’s contenders.

 

Just as quickly as the Sun Devils regained their groove, a setback Saturday against Colorado could slow their momentum. 

 

The Buffs sought to score their own upset last week, and hung with Oregon for three quarters before falling, 41-24.

 

Colorado is a dangerous trap opponent for some Pac-12 counterpart. Is this the week the Buffs trip up a team riding high?

 

College Football Podcast: Week 6 Preview with Tom Dienhart



Subscribe: iTunes | Stitcher

 

Colorado at Arizona State

 

Kickoff: 10 p.m. ET (Saturday)

TV: Pac-12 Networks

Spread: Arizona State -15

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Battle of the Runs

The offenses of both Arizona State and Colorado have been at their best this season when running multiple ball-carriers. The return of power-back Kalen Ballage to Arizona State’s lineup gives the Sun Devils the multifaceted look offensive coordinator Mike Norvell wanted, and it paid immediate dividends. Ballage carried a number of Bruins into the end zone for the final touchdown.

 

Slowing the duo of Demario Richard and Ballage is difficult enough, but the challenge is compounded with linebacker Kenneth Olugbode sidelined for the next month. 

 

Conversely, Colorado’s inability to get the Christian Powell and Phillip Lindsay backfield going against Oregon hindered the Buffs’ attack. Colorado typically rolls with a three-man set, also showcasing Michael Adkins II, but he was out with a hamstring injury.

 

2. Special Teams Play

A recurring lament of Arizona State head coach Todd Graham through the Sun Devils’ difficult opening month center on his team’s play in special teams.

 

The message obviously resonated, as the Sun Devils were outstanding in special teams last week at UCLA. Punter Matt Haack effectively iced the game late in the fourth quarter, pinning the Bruins at the shadow of their own goal line to force a safety.

 

Still, special teams should be a critical component of Saturday’s contest. Even with last week’s heroics, the Sun Devils rank No. 120 nationally in yards surrendered on punt returns. They’re No. 52 on kickoff return coverage, but Colorado boasts one of the top returning outputs in all of college football at 27.3 yards per attempt.

 

3. Bringing the Blitz

It’s no secret Graham likes to bring heavy and consistent pressure to opposing quarterbacks. Last week, it rattled UCLA true freshman Josh Rosen. The more experienced Sefo Liufau can be a dangerous ball carrier if flushed from the pocket, and Colorado’s offensive line under positions coach Gary Bernardi has been effective keeping the quarterback upright.

 

Arizona State’s defensive strategy is decidedly feast or famine. Against UCLA, it feasted. Against USC, it starved.

 

Final Analysis

 

Last week’s win was the first appearance of the Arizona State team many expected to see heading into 2015.

 

“It was extremely gratifying,” Graham said. “I was extremely proud of players and our staff for never wavering…and accomplishing something pretty special there in the Rose Bowl.”

 

The win at UCLA could certainly be a springboard into much bigger things, though Colorado will give Arizona State a test. The Sun Devils must continue to avoid the turnovers that vexed it through the first month and get off to a fast start to stay on the right track heading into the second half of the season.

 

Prediction: Arizona State 35, Colorado 27

 

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of CFBHuddle.com. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.

Teaser:
Colorado Buffaloes vs. Arizona State Sun Devils Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, October 9, 2015 - 10:40
Path: /college-football/california-golden-bears-vs-utah-utes-preview-and-prediction-2015
Body:

Impressive victories over Michigan and Oregon have positioned Utah as a Pac-12 championship contender. The No. 5 ranked Utes are off to their best start since 2010 and seem to have finally added an efficient offense to their trademark punishing defense.

 

California is mirroring Utah with its own football renaissance. The No. 22-ranked Bears are 5-0 for the first time since 2007 and looking to move to 6-0 for the first time since winning nine straight to open the 1950 season. A dynamic offense and an opportunistic defense have played an equal role in propelling California to this point. 

 

California leads the overall series 5-4 but Utah has won three of the last four meetings between the two teams. The Utes won the most recent game in 2012, beating the Bears 49-27 after Reggie Dunn tied a single-game NCAA record with two 100-yard kickoff returns for touchdowns.

 

College Football Podcast: Week 6 Preview with Tom Dienhart



Subscribe: iTunes | Stitcher

 

California at Utah

 

Kickoff: 10 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

Spread: Utah -7

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Who will win the turnover battle?

One driving factor behind California’s success is a defense with a penchant for forcing turnovers. The Bears lead the nation in takeaways, gaining 18 turnovers. California’s eight fumble recoveries rank first among all FBS schools and its 10 interceptions are tied for second nationally. Getting Utah to cough up the ball, however, is easier said than done. The Utes lead the Pac-12 and rank seventh in turnover margin, averaging 1.75 turnovers gained per game. Utah also ranks seventh among FBS schools in scoring defensive touchdowns, with both an interception return and fumble return through four games.

 

2. Stopping the pressure

Utah quarterback Travis Wilson has enjoyed a fine senior season so far. Wilson has thrown for 513 yards and four touchdowns while completing 68 percent of his passes in eight quarters of action spread over three games. He also has rushed for 200 yards and three scores on 23 carries. One major factor behind those solid numbers is the protection Wilson gets on nearly every down. Utah’s offensive line — led by junior standouts J.J. Dielman and Isaac Asiata — has allowed just one sack in four games. California will test the Utes in their ability to keep Wilson safe. The Bears lead the Pac-12 with 18 total sacks and 3.60 sacks per game.

 

3. Spreading the wealth

A slew of talented wide receivers have helped California QB Jared Goff emerge as one of the nation’s most dangerous passers. Goff has completed at least one pass to 15 different receivers this season. Six different receivers have caught at least 11 passes for the Bears. Kenny Lawler leads the way with 27 receptions. Lawler leads the Pac-12 with eight touchdown catches and is tied for second in scoring at 9.6 points per game. He has averaged 79.8 receiving yards per game, ranking 3rd in the Pac-12. Lawler also averages 5.4 receptions per game to rank 4th in the league.

 

Final Analysis

 

California has made a living this season overwhelming teams with an explosive offense and getting turnovers to create short fields. Utah is one team where that strategy won’t work well. The Utes feature their usual bruising defense, coupled with a smash-mouth offense and electrifying special teams play. Utah has the ability to control field position and set the tempo to its liking. It isn’t a fluke that the Utes are a Top-5 team and California won’t have enough points in reserve to stay a step ahead.

 

Prediction: Utah 38, California 28

 

Written by John Coon,who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.

Teaser:
California Golden Bears vs. Utah Utes Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, October 9, 2015 - 10:30
Path: /college-football/michigan-state-spartans-vs-rutgers-scarlet-knights-preview-and-prediction-2015
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For a struggling and inconsistent Rutgers program, there’s nothing worse than false hope, right? Well, trying to find a silver lining from Michigan State’s 24-21 victory over Purdue could lead to a very deflating result on Saturday when the Spartans come into High Point Solutions Stadium looking to earn their fifth win of the 2015 season.

 

Rutgers is fresh off a bye week, and just reinstated leading receiver and team captain Leonte Carroo for their big upcoming in-conference game. Do the Scarlet Knights have a fighting chance against a Spartans team that’s aimed at a berth in the second College Football Playoff? With major questions on defense, and an inconsistent offensive product, Rutgers could be in line to see an in-person replay of the last matchup against Michigan State which ended in a 45-3 loss on the road.

 

Michigan State is of no shortage on offense. Senior quarterback Connor Cook leads the offense with already 10 touchdowns to just one interception on the young season. Wide receiver Aaron Burbridge leads the team with 25 receptions and four touchdowns, and the Spartan rushing attack is as potent as always with both L.J. Scott and Madre London both over 370 yards on the season each with seven total touchdowns between them.

 

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Michigan State at Rutgers

 

Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET

TV Channel: Big Ten Network

Spread: MSU -13.5, o/u 54.5

 

Three Things to Watch For

 

1. Michigan State QB Connor Cook

Cook is undoubtedly one of the nation’s top signal-callers, and will easily be the toughest test under center for the Scarlet Knights at any point this season. Cook has led the Spartans to an early 5-0 record, a No. 4 national ranking and a claim to first place in the Big Ten Eastern Division.

 

Spartans head coach Mike Dantonio acknowledged that Rutgers' secondary is a concern for he and the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Cook looking to stay upright with three starting offensive lineman out.

 

"It is tough to win games," Dantonio said. "I don't care who you play. People spend 80-plus hours as coaches every week to develop a plan with what they have.”

 

Cook could be in for a big day, with receiver Aaron Burbridge expected to be the focus in the passing game; Burbridge leads the team in receptions at 25, with the highest total after being just 10. Unless Rutgers gets pressure early and often against Cook, the Scarlet Knights defense could be ripe for picking at the hands of Cook and the Spartans.

 

2. Rutgers' Defensive Line

As mentioned before, the Spartans are expected to be without three starters along the offensive line, including All-American left tackle Jack Conklin. In light of Conklin’s absence, starting center and All-American Jack Allen will bump out to left tackle.

 

If the Scarlet Knights want to take the pressure off their secondary, their best bet is to utilize the pass rush in an attempt to fluster Cook and force the Spartans to use the rushing game, something the Spartans might actually find works in their favor considering Rutgers is just two weeks removed from Penn State rushing for more than 200 yards against them.

 

3. Janarion Grant

The Scarlet Knights have very few bright spots on this year’s team, but Grant is one that fans and pundits can cling to when looking to shine some light on a rather ugly season so far.

 

Grant has already taken three kicks back to the house in the young 2015 season, having already earned himself a Big Ten Player of the Week award after his Week 2 performance. The Michigan State kick coverage team is average on a good day, so this could be an avenue the Scarlet Knights look to exploit with creativity.

 

Final Analysis

 

Michigan State is coming off an ugly win against Purdue, but they’ve dominated the rest of their competition along the way. Look for Connor Cook to possibly have his first “big” game of the season against a Rutgers defense that has been far from dominant this year.


Michigan State has the advantage in both the running game, and the passing game, and their defense ranks as one of the best in the conference. Rutgers quarterback Chris Laviano has been inconsistent and unable to truly take over games, and could falter early against a turbulent pass rush from Michigan State.

 

Prediction: Michigan State 44, Rutgers 17

 

— Written by Chris Dougherty, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Dougherty also serves as a National Recruiting Analyst for 247Sports.com and has written for other sites, including FanSided.com and Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @warontheweekend.

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Michigan State Spartans vs. Rutgers Scarlet Knights Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, October 9, 2015 - 10:20
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If the past four games have proven anything about TCU’s offense, it’s that anybody who paid too much attention to the 23-point performance in the opening win over Minnesota was making a big mistake. Since the tight win and the attendant frenzy over whether the Horned Frogs would be able to crank it up this season, TCU has scored 70, 56, 55 and 50 points. It is second nationally in total offense, behind fellow Big 12 member Baylor, and has a stable of weapons that few (if any) teams can match.

 

This could well have been a matchup of unbeatens, had the refereeing crew at last week’s KSU-Oklahoma State game not awarded the Cowboys a phantom first down near the end of the first half that kept a drive alive and helped OSU score a touchdown in its 36-34 win. As usual, the 3-1 Wildcats aren’t flashy or explosive, but they navigated a relatively soft non-conference schedule and head into a five-game stretch that includes matchups with TCU, Oklahoma, Baylor and Texas Tech.

 

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TCU at Kansas State

 

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. EDT

TV: FOX

Spread: TCU -10

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Ka-Boom!

The Horned Frogs can hammer opponents in a variety of ways, beginning with QB Trevone Boykin, who has thrown for 1,802 yards and 19 TDs, while completing 63.3 percent of his throws and tossing just three interceptions. Running back Aaron Green averages 5.8 yards a carry and has scored six times, while explosive wideout Josh Doctson has averaged 17.2 yards on his 42 catches and has scored eight times. If those aren’t enough, consider all-purpose marvel Kavontae Turpin, a true freshman. The 5-9, 152-pound true freshman has scored six times as a receiver, is averaging 12.2 yards per punt return and 28.1 on kicks.

 

“We have to play better defensively, we have to be able to defend against the pass better and we have to go up and make some plays on deep thrown balls,” KSU coach Bill Snyder said. “They have a wealth of talent coming back.”

 

2. Pick It Up

The Wildcats haven’t exactly overpowered teams with their offense, although they did put up 34 points last week. KSU is averaging just 3.9 yards per rush, although Justin Silmon is gaining 5.1 a carry. QB Joe Hubener has been solid but must improve his 51.3 percent completion rate. If KSU is going to hang with TCU’s high-powered attack, it must score early and often.

 

“I think it goes without saying — it is vital for us to not only score early but throughout the course of the ball game,” Snyder said. “I think early is important. If you fall behind with a team like that, it is pretty difficult to get back on the table, and that is what happens to a lot of teams — they fall behind by not scoring early.”

 

3. Pressure Points

The Horned Frogs want to move quickly and hit with big plays, but Kansas State can slow down TCU if it continues to put solid pressure on the QB. Jordan Willis (3.5 sacks) and Marquel Bryant (3) have been successful rushing the passer this season and need to be disciplined in their approach to Boykin if KSU is to keep the Frogs in check.

 

Final Analysis

 

Kansas State has been successful this year, but it hasn’t faced anything like the Frogs, who have their offense running at full capacity. If the Wildcats think they can outscore their visitors, they are sadly mistaken. This must be a strong defensive week for Kansas State, because its offense just can’t keep up.

 

TCU comes to Manhattan with great confidence and an offense that has been operating at top capacity for the last month. The Frogs don’t care if they give up 30 or 40, because they are going to score 50 or 60. With weapons like Boykin, Green and Doctson, they put inordinate pressure on rivals and create a haphazard game that plays to their strengths.

 

Prediction: TCU 47, Kansas State 24.

 

— Written by Michael Bradley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bradley is a writer and broadcaster based in suburban Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter @DailyHombre.

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The Florida Gators shocked the college football world with a 38-10 upset of Ole Miss in Week 5. It was a win that bumped the Gators up from No. 25 to No. 11 in the AP Poll and made believers out of skeptics who questioned the team's chances of contending in the SEC during head coach Jim McElwain's first season.

 

Missouri defeated South Carolina 24-10 in its most convincing win of the season thus far. The Tigers' defense forced quarterback Lorenzo Nunez to throw three interceptions while Missouri's Drew Lock threw for a pair of touchdowns on 21-of-28 passing.

 

The two SEC East foes will face one another on Saturday in a game that has major implications for the division title.

 

Florida at Missouri

 

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: SEC Network
Spread: Florida -6

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Is Florida a legit contender in the SEC
Saturday's win against Ole Miss left many fans wondering why they ever doubted the Gators. Despite an inexperienced offensive line, Florida sits atop the SEC East standings as the division's only remaining undefeated team and the team most capable of challenging Georgia for the division title by season's end.

 

McElwain has done wonders in his debut season as the Gators' coach. His offensive scheme has already seen a rapid improvement, aiding to a 5-0 start. But is Florida a legit contender or was last week's win against Ole Miss just a fluke?

 

2. Will Drew Lock keep his spot as Missouri's starting QB?

Lock made an impressive debut as Missouri's starting quarterback in Week 5. But that was against South Carolina, one of the SEC's worst defenses.

 

Florida will be a much tougher matchup for the freshman with one of the conference's best secondaries and a talented front seven. Lock could secure his spot as Missouri's starting quarterback even after Maty Mauk returns from suspension should he have another impressive performance on Saturday.

 

3. Will Grier vs. Missouri defense

Will Grier has been the perfect compliment to McElwain's offense. Grier has thrown for 996 yards — seventh among SEC quarterbacks — and has a 10-3 touchdown-to-interceptions ratio.

 

Surprisingly, the redshirt freshman had his best performance of the season against Ole Miss — the most talented defense Florida has faced in 2015. Missouri provides another difficult matchup for the young quarterback, but in a hostile road environment. It will be interesting to see if he can repeat last week's success.
 

Final Analysis

 

Florida looks like a legitimate contender in the SEC East. The Gators have a complete team now that their offense has proven to be a competent unit.

 

Missouri, however, needs to improve on offense to be in consideration for its third consecutive SEC East division title. It's not impossible to think this is the game where the Tigers suddenly turn it around and make a run for the division, but it seems unlikely.


Prediction: Florida 21, Missouri 10

 

— Written by Jason Hall, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and works for Fox Sports Florida. Follow him on Twitter @jasonhallFSN.

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Post date: Friday, October 9, 2015 - 10:00
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The 21st-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys come into Morgantown on Homecoming weekend looking to change their fortunes against the Mountaineers. West Virginia has won the last two meetings against the Cowboys, including the last trip to Morgantown in 2013 when Oklahoma State was ranked.

 

Oklahoma State will need this game to keep its undefeated season intact while the Mountaineers will be looking to get over their first loss of the season last week in Norman.

 

These teams are evenly matched and the game could easily come down to who makes the big play in the fourth quarter.

 

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Oklahoma State at West Virginia

 

Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: West Virginia -6.5

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Mountaineers' Defense
The 44 points scored last weekend by the Sooners was not indicative of how the Mountaineers' defense performed. The Sooners were only 2-for-11 on third down and were only able to muster 174 rushing yards after torching the Mountaineers just a year ago. Where West Virginia faltered was in giving up the big pass plays. Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield only completed 14 passes but had 320 yards and three touchdowns.

 

Watch for the Mountaineers' defense to be cognizant of the pass against the Cowboys. Expect West Virginia to be strategic in its pass coverage and especially blitz packages. How often will the Mountaineers come after Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph? The Cowboys are allowing an average of 2.2 sacks per game while the Mountaineer defense is averaging 2 per game.

 

Expect the Mountaineers to pay close attention to Cowboys receivers David Glidden, who has become Rudolph’s main target this season with 23 receptions for 407 yards. However, he is not the only concern. Rudolph has been liberal with distributing the ball. The Cowboys have seven players with at least eight catches this season.

 

Lastly, the loss of All-Big 12 safety Karl Joseph to a torn ACL is significant to the Mountaineers. He was a team leader and a threat in both pass and run defense. While his absence should not change the Mountaineers' game plan defensively it definitely takes away that intimidation factor Joseph possessed as well as the nations' leader in interceptions. 

 

2. Can Oklahoma State Establish a Run Game?
Rudolph has put up some impressive numbers so far this season. However, that is much in part to the fact that Oklahoma State is a pass-first offense.

 

The Cowboys were only able to gain 49 yards rushing on 27 carries last week against Kansas State. And despite impressive numbers by Rudolph, Oklahoma State was only barely able to pull out the victory over a Kansas State team that was decimated by injuries at the quarterback position.

 

Oklahoma State will have to establish a run game against the Mountaineers. Staying one dimensional against this West Virginia secondary is not a recipe for success.

 

3. Can Skyler Howard Rebound?

In this week’s press conference West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen took most of the blame for the loss at Oklahoma. He did elude to mechanical flaws in Howard's passes however. Howard is coming off his worst game of the season where he completed a little more than half of his passes and tossed three interceptions. The Cowboys' secondary is not as talented as the Sooners' and Howard may have the chance to redeem himself.

 

It will be interesting to see the Mountaineers' game plan early on. Will Holgorsen stick to the ground or will he test the Cowboys with speedsters Shelton Gibson and Juvon Durante on the outside? One concern for the Mountaineers will be the Cowboys' ability to get to in the backfield. Oklahoma State leads the nation with an average of 4.4 sacks per game. The Mountaineers struggled in this department last week, giving up seven sacks to Oklahoma.

 

Expect Holgorsen to take the Cowboys' ability to get to the quarterback into strong consideration. Shorter underneath passes and screens may be more prevalent this weekend than in prior weeks.


Final Analysis

 

With both teams being so evenly matched the game could go either way. The Mountaineers have had the Cowboys' number the last two seasons, both of which as underdogs. This time the Mountaineers are favored at home over a ranked opponent.

 

While some may question why West Virginia is favored, it is actually quite simple. If you have been to a night game in Morgantown in front of a sellout crowd you will understand.

 

The fact that Oklahoma State has become a one-dimensional team will ultimately be its downfall this weekend in Morgantown. Giving the West Virginia secondary the opporunity to strictly focus on defending the pass is not a good strategy for any team.

 

Oklahoma State will cover the spread but won't be able to pull out the victory for the third year in a row.

 

Prediction: West Virginia 27, Oklahoma State 24

 

— Written by Jeremy Simon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and editor-in-chief of BlueGoldSports.com, a must visit for any and all West Virginia Mountaineer fans. Follow BlueGoldSports.com on Twitter @Blue_GoldSports.

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Post date: Friday, October 9, 2015 - 09:45
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In last Saturday’s 38-10 dismantling of Georgia, Alabama once again proved it’s not to be underestimated. Two weeks after suffering a six-point home loss to Ole Miss, Alabama turned in a dominating performance reminiscent of the 2008 “Blackout” game to put the Crimson Tide back in the thick of the College Football Playoff hunt. 

 

Arkansas snagged its second win of the season last week, eking out a 24-20 victory over Tennessee in Knoxville. The win snapped a three-game losing skid by the Razorbacks in a disappointing start to a season that began with much optimism. All hope is not lost, however. The Hogs still remain very much in contention in the SEC West and a win Saturday would give them a one-game advantage over the Tide in the division.  

 

Both teams have met 25 times since 1962 and Alabama leads the series in wins. The Crimson Tide escaped Fayetteville with a one-point victory in 2014 and currently own an eight-game win streak.

 

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Arkansas at Alabama

 

Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET (Saturday)

TV Channel: ESPN

Spread: Alabama -12.5

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Arkansas QB Brandon Allen

Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen has quietly crafted an impressive early-season body of work. Widely regarding as one of the SEC’s premiere quarterbacks entering the season, the third-year trigger man has been a bright spot on a team that struggled in September. He scorched the North Texas defense for 308 yards and four touchdowns in the season opener and shelled Toledo for 412 yards one week later. He currently ranks second in the SEC in passing yards — behind Ole Miss’s Chad Kelly — with 1,360 and has tossed eight touchdowns against three interceptions. His 9.65 yards per attempt tops all SEC passers and ranks sixth in the nation. Tide defensive backs have struggled against high-powered pass offenses and they’re certain to get a test from Allen. The position group held him to 246 yards and a touchdown in 2014 and forced a game-sealing interception with 1:59 left in the fourth quarter. Allen leads all current SEC quarterbacks in career starts with 30.

 

2. Alabama’s Defensive Line

Arkansas’s rushing attack suffered a hit when it lost returning 1,000-yard rusher Jonathan Williams to an injury he sustained in an August scrimmage. Luckily for the Razorbacks, depth at the position is not a problem, as Williams shared the backfield with Alex Collins, who also rushed for more than 1,000 (1,100) yards in 2014. Overshadowed this year by the play of LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Georgia’s Nick Chubb, Collins has rushed for 656 yards and six touchdowns in five games this season, placing him just below the LSU and Georgia running backs in the conference’s rushing totals. His 656 yards give him the eighth most in the nation and he’s rushed for more than 150 yards in three of the team’s games this year. Backup running back Rawleigh Williams III, a true freshman, turned in the first 100-yard rushing game of his career last week against Tennessee and combined with Collins’s 154 yards to produce Arkansas’s first conference game since 2007 where two rushers each gained 100 yards.  It’s no secret that the strength of ‘Bama’s defense is its line. Since 2005, it’s allowed just 16 100-yard performances to opposing rushers, its most recent occurring last week when Georgia running back Nick Chubb ran for 146 yards and a touchdown.

 

3. Arkansas Offensive Line

When it comes to offensive lines, Arkansas boasts perhaps one of the nation’s finest. Bret Bielema consistently recruited and groomed NFL-sized offensive linemen as the head coach at Wisconsin and he’s brought his run-heavy brand of football to Arkansas. The Razorbacks offensive line is the heaviest in the country, averaging 327 pounds. It’s the SEC’s most experienced, too, with all five linemen having totaled 3,411 snaps entering the season. Behind it, Arkansas's running backs have rushed for 1,020 yards and eight touchdowns this season. Alabama has held opposing rushers to 84 yards rushing per game this season and the matchup between the two units should be a good one. Alabama’s defensive line will face a difficult task in pressuring Allen as Arkansas’s offensive line has allowed two sacks in 2015. The Razorbacks lead the SEC in time of possession (35:44) and rank third nationally.

 

Final Analysis  

 

Both programs enter Saturday’s game with one conference loss and one will likely see its opportunity to capture the SEC crown vanish with defeat. When the two teams met last October, the Razorbacks kept a dynamic Crimson Tide offense in check by holding it to 227 yards and 14 points. But Arkansas’s offense struggled to find the end zone as the Hogs scored just 13 points. Arkansas hasn’t beaten Alabama since 2006 and hasn't won in Tuscaloosa since 2003.  While many of the players in this year’s edition of the game have departed, the stakes remain the same for the Crimson Tide. Last year’s loss to Ole Miss galvanized the team and it went on to win the SEC and play in the College Football semifinal. Arkansas, not devoid of talent and size, will be a difficult out. But home field advantage and a deep roster should power the Crimson Tide past the Razorbacks. Look for Alabama quarterback Jake Coker, running back Derrick Henry and the Crimson Tide defense to turn in impressive performances Saturday night in Tuscaloosa.

 

Prediction: Alabama 28, Arkansas 17 

 

— Written by Elton Hayes, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. A Washington, D.C.-based sports writer, Hayes is a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and he also has been an invited guest on “The Paul Finebaum Show.” Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.

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Miami and Florida State renew their bitter rivalry on Saturday night, as the Hurricanes head to Tallahassee looking to snap a five-game losing streak to the Seminoles. Every matchup between Florida State and Miami is critical for bragging rights and recruiting within the state of Florida, but the storylines extend beyond just the normal rivalry component.

 

The Hurricanes are 3-1 after a loss to Cincinnati last Thursday, and fifth-year coach Al Golden is squarely on the hot seat. Under Golden’s direction, Miami is 31-23 over five seasons, including a disappointing 6-7 record last season. The Hurricanes are still looking for their first appearance in the ACC Championship Game since joining the conference in 2004. Considering the level of talent within the program and a favorable division (Coastal), Miami should be able to win at a high level. Golden needs more than just six wins in 2015 to avoid the hot seat, but a victory over Florida State would help Miami build momentum for the second half of the season.

 

The vibe is significantly different in Tallahassee. Coach Jimbo Fisher has guided Florida State to three consecutive ACC titles, a national championship in 2013 and recorded at least 12 victories every year from 2002-14. While Miami is a program dealing with uncertainty, the Seminoles are set for a run at the ACC title once again in 2015. And who knows, with a young roster, Florida State could be among the nation’s best teams next season.

 

Related: Predictions for Every College Football Game in Week 6

 

Miami leads the all-time series with Florida State at 31-28. Additionally, the Hurricanes own a 14-9 edge in games played in Tallahassee. However, the recent trend in this series clearly favors the Seminoles. Florida State has won eight out of the last 10 games, including last season’s 30-26 thriller in Sun Life Stadium.

 

Miami at Florida State

 

Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 10 at 8 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ABC

Spread: Florida State -9

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Florida State Running Back Dalvin Cook

With new quarterback Everett Golson still finding his footing in Fisher’s offense, the Seminoles are building their offense around running back Dalvin Cook. The sophomore has 570 rushing yards and six scores on 66 attempts this season, including 266 yards against USF. However, Cook’s status for Saturday’s game is uncertain after a hamstring injury suffered against Wake Forest. In a positive development for the Seminoles’ ground game, the sophomore was back at practice on Wednesday and Thursday. However, Fisher has yet to officially declare the sophomore ready to go for Saturday night’s game. Cook’s health is critical for Florida State, as the sophomore is a big-play threat (8.6 ypc) and backup Mario Pender is out due to a collapsed lung. If Cook is unable to go, the Seminoles will turn to Johnathan Vickers and Jacques Patrick at running back. Regardless of whether Cook is at full strength or Vickers and Patrick handle the bulk of the carries, Florida State should be able to move the ball on the ground against Miami. The Hurricanes rank No. 10 in the ACC in rush defense, giving up 4.5 yards per carry and 149 yards per game. Those numbers are even more concerning for Miami when you consider the opponents so far – Bethune-Cookman, FAU, Nebraska and Cincinnati – aren’t as talented as Florida State’s rushing attack.

 

Related: ACC Predictions for Week 6

 

2. Miami Quarterback Brad Kaaya Against Florida State’s Secondary

Everett Golson has been solid for Florida State so far, but the edge at quarterback in this game goes to Miami. Sophomore Brad Kaaya was sharp as a true freshman last season and is only getting better in 2015. Kaaya has completed 86 of 140 passes for 1,094 yards and five touchdowns in four games. However, Florida State’s defense is the best this Miami team has played so far in 2015. In last year’s matchup, Kaaya threw for 316 yards and two touchdowns but only completed 47.1 percent of his passes. Will Kaaya have a similar performance on Saturday night? The Seminoles boast one of the nation’s top cornerbacks in the nation in Jalen Ramsey and have surrendered just one passing play of 30 yards or more this season. Can Kaaya find ways to generate big plays against Florida State’s defense? While the Seminoles have only eight sacks through four contests, this defensive line will be the best Miami has played so far. Kaaya isn’t particularly mobile, so it’s critical for the offensive line to protect their sophomore signal-caller and allow opportunities for this offense to attack downfield.

 

3. Turnovers

Last year’s matchup was decided by just four points and another close one is expected on Saturday night. And with any close game, turnovers could play a huge role in the outcome. Miami is plus-nine in turnover margin through four games, while Florida State is plus-six. These two teams have combined for just three lost turnovers this season. Can the Seminoles get another mistake-free game from quarterback Everett Golson? Or can the Hurricanes’ defense – which has struggled this season – force Golson into a couple of mistakes?

 

Final Analysis

 

This is stating the obvious, but the stakes are high for both teams on Saturday night. Florida State needs a win to keep pace with Clemson in the Atlantic Division and continue its dominance over the Hurricanes. For Miami, it’s all about snapping a five-game losing streak to the Seminoles. Additionally, a win over Florida State would help Golden move off the hot seat. And as usual when these two teams play, there are huge opportunities to score points on the recruiting trail. After losing to Cincinnati last week, what type of performance will the Hurricanes deliver? Is this team on the verge of another collapse? Or is Golden capable of rallying this team and scoring a huge victory in this rivalry? The guess here is Florida State continues its recent dominance in this series. While Kaaya is the best quarterback in this game, the Seminoles are better on defense and should have Cook available at running back. Kaaya keeps the Hurricanes in this game, but Florida State’s offensive line and ground attack does just enough to earn win No. 6 in a row over Miami.

 

Prediction: Florida State 27, Miami 20
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Oregon's dream 2014 season very nearly derailed early against Washington State. The Cougars took advantage of an injury-plagued offensive line in that meeting last September, but Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota bailed the Ducks out.

 

What does last year's 38-31 close call mean for Washington State?

 

"None of those plays help us this year," Washington State head coach Mike Leach said. "We just have to go out and play the best that we can."

 

The question then, of course, is whether Washington State's best is enough to topple Oregon this time around. The Cougars rebounded well from an ugly, Week 1 loss to FCS member Portland State with a pair of wins over Rutgers and Wyoming, and last week nearly upset nationally ranked Cal on the road.

 

Similarly, Oregon came back from a 42-point blowout loss at home to Utah in Week 4 to rally against a vastly improved Colorado team on the road.

 

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Washington State at Oregon

 

Kickoff: 6 p.m. ET (Saturday)

TV: Pac-12 Networks

Spread: Oregon -17

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Air Raid vs. Oregon's Secondary

After its rough outing against Utah, the Oregon defense collective tightened up against Colorado. The Buffs' multifaceted rushing attack was limited to just 77 yards, but perhaps more importantly, a pass defense that had been woeful limited quarterback Sefo Liufau to 231 yards, one touchdown and an interception.

 

The Ducks' young secondary has been forced rapidly to mature and will get a workout this week against Washington State's pass-happy air-raid offense.

 

Leach-coached teams are known for attacking with the pass almost exclusively. And while the Cougars are rushing more this season — their 91 carries in four games has them on pace to exceed last season's total by about 30 — Washington State still operates largely through the air. It's 369.3 passing yards per game is seventh nationally.

 

Quarterback Luke Falk is completing an impressive 72.6 percent for his attempts and has 10 touchdowns to just two interceptions.

 

The move for defensive coordinator Don Pellum from the booth back to the sideline, where he spent last season, could be a factor in how Oregon attacks Washington State's air raid.

 

2. Quarterback Still in the Air for Oregon

Perhaps perfectly crystallizing Oregon's quarterback quandary last week, arguably the best pass of the Ducks' 41-24 win at Colorado was thrown by wide receiver Bralon Addison.

 

Addison's touchdown strike off a reverse was a highlight in an otherwise rough night for Oregon's passing game. Jeff Lockie got the hook for third-stringer Taylor Alie, but offensive coordinator Scott Frost relied on the run to the tune of 361 yards and three touchdowns.

 

Taj Griffin's emergence as a capable No. 2 to star running back Royce Freeman gives the Ducks offense the diversity from the run game it needs as Oregon awaits the return of Vernon Adams from a finger injury.

 

3. The Mid-Quarter Squeeze

A signature of Oregon football beginning in the Chip Kelly era and continuing the first two seasons under Mark Helfrich was a deluge, typically coming in the second or third quarter, which put teams away.

 

The big runs didn't quite come for Oregon through the season's first month — not as they had in years past, anyway. But last week saw something of a return to that style, with the Ducks breaking out of a nip-and-tuck contest with a 14-0 third quarter.

 

Last week at Cal, Washington State was victim of such a run, coughing up its lead on the wrong end of a 21-7 Golden Bears burst.

 

Final Analysis

 

Washington State had a knack for playing Oregon competitively under Leach, first in a closer-than-the-score-indicates 51-26 game in 2012, then last year's nail-biter. Even in a 2013 rout, the Cougars set a record for pass attempts, forced a few big turnovers and gave the Ducks reason to sweat.

 

Oregon seemed to resolve a few of its problematic areas in time for the win at Colorado, though the quarterback situation remains worrisome. Expect the Ducks to come at Washington State's defensive front with the run frequently in the early going and essentially beg the Cougars to prove they can stop Freeman and Griffin before going to the air.

 

The Cougars performed admirably against Cal's run a week ago, save a big play or two late, but Oregon is designed to attack from the ground much more effectively than the Golden Bears.

 

Prediction: Oregon 38, Washington State 24

 

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of CFBHuddle.com. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.

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Washington State Cougars vs. Oregon Ducks Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, October 9, 2015 - 09:25

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