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High Five: Week 6 picks

Each week here on The Neutral Zone we will preview the top five games on the NFL’s weekend slate. We’ll also add our picks for all the remaining games…

Last week’s record: 7-6
Season record: 18-11

San Francisco 49ers at Detroit Lions

These teams have only one defeat between them after ten combined games in the NFL this season, and even that was an overtime defeat (when San Francisco lost to Dallas in week 2). So, another blemish will be added to the respective record of these sides on Sunday, but whose?

Detroit were a fashionable pick before the season began, but San Francisco’s form has taken most people by surprise. It’s been noted on this blog a few times in its short lifetime, that the 49ers form this season has been solid but unspectacular. Up until Sunday past that was, when they blew out Tampa Bay 48-3. That victory will allay fears that Jim Harbaugh’s well-coached side can’t win comfortably, but they still have a few critics to win over.

Calvin Johnson

No such problems for Jim Schwartz in Detroit. The Lions have fashioned some brilliant victories, the latest being a second-half comeback win against the Bears. With Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson (pictured) and Jahvid Best bang on-form, they boast one of the most balanced offenses in the league. And the defense is not bad either, with Ndamukong Suh’s considerable weight on the d-line boosted by the return (or rather entrance) of first-round draft pick Nick Fairley.

Home advantage will help the Lions in this one, and they can expose the offensive deficiencies buried in the 49ers team. Despite Detroit coming off the back of a short week, this young team is playing with so much confidence and exuberance that this week actually can’t be short enough. Expect them to prove that they are the truly form team in this encounter.

Neutral Zone prediction: San Francisco 10 Detroit 28

New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

It was a big letdown defeat for Tampa at San Francisco last weekend. They just about stumbled over the line against the Colts the previous Monday night, and seemed affected by the travelling over the course of a short week. Things don’t get much easier for them this weekend, and they will have likely lost some confidence coming back to he south east coast.

Josh Freeman is a young quarterback who has had an excellent start to the season and it will be interesting see how he recovers his offense against the Saints after only registering a single field goal on the Candlestick Park scoreboard. The defense has some recovering to do also after shifting 48 points. This is an important game for the Bucs to get back on track and to not lose further ground against their division rivals.

Drew Brees and the Saints offense are likely to smell blood. They’ve been at something approaching their 2009 best this year, averaging 31.4 points per game so far. Mark Ingram and Daren Sproles have added options to the rush attack, but its Brees who has been the leading light again. He has 1769 passing yards this season – ahead of Aaron Rodgers and second only to Tom Brady – and Sunday provides him with a great opportunity to increase those numbers. The defense has not been overly lively, but they’ve been doing enough to get victories when games have become close.

The Bucs have three wins to their name, but none of them have been convincing, and if you’re not in convincing form then it will be a long afternoon against the Saints. Sean Payton’s side will rack up the scores, and the Bucs will find it difficult to keep up.

Neutral Zone prediction: New Orleans 34 Tampa Bay 24

Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons

Sky Sports are treating us to an NFC South double-bill on Sunday showing live the games from Atlanta and Tampa Bay. It’s actually not as bad as it sounds, with four excellent quarterbacks on view: Drew Brees, Josh Freeman, Cam Newton and Matt Ryan. It should be decent day of pass-happy offensive football to add some colour to what would no doubt otherwise be another drab Sunday evening.

Rookie of the year (they may as well just give him that award now) Cam Newton lines up against Matt Ryan at the Georgia Dome and the young Panthers quarterback will be hoping to start putting a few ticks in the win column to match his fantastic statistics. It’s been a quick learning curve for the draft’s number one pick, he has thrown for over 1600 yards and five touchdowns, yet his team have suffered four losses in the first five games.

The Falcons are also having trouble in 2011. This was expected to be a big season in Atlanta following the breakout year in 2010, when they led the NFC after the regular season with a 13-3 record. But it’s been anything but, as the Falcons have laboured to a 2-3 start and are losing ground in the NFC South. Of their two wins so far, the victory over the Eagles doesn’t look as good now as it did in week 2, while the week 4 win over a poor Seattle side had just two points to spare. The Falcons are struggling on defense and seem to have lost all power on offense. They have yet to put a full game together, but it needs to happen soon if they are to contend for the post season.

The game against the Panthers, might just be the moment for Atlanta to finally get their season up and running. After conceding 25 points without reply against the Packers, the Falcons defense will be keen to get off to a good start in front of their home fans. Cam Newton is originally from Georgia and there will be huge pressure on his young shoulders in this game. The Falcons will be keen to exploit, hoping to trigger Newton’s propensity to throw picks; if so, it could be a long afternoon for Cam Newton in the unforgiving confines of the Georgia Dome.

Neutral Zone prediction: Carolina 13 Atlanta 24

Dallas Cowboys at New England Patriots

It’s been two long weeks for the Dallas Cowboys, cruelly left to stew following the improbable meltdown loss to Detroit in week 4, with their bye week. Which leaves us with a key plotline to study during this game at Foxborough: how have the Cowboys recovered?

They could probably have done without visiting New England for starters. A nice home game against one of the NFL’s weaker teams would certainly have been more preferable. If any team is going to make life difficult for anyone, it’s Bill Belichick’s outfit. They had something of a meltdown of their own in week 3 against Buffalo, but they have won their subsequent two games with considerable ease. And these should not have been easy games; going into a rampant Oakland in week 4, then facing the Jets last weekend. 62 points later, the Patriots are back on form, and Sunday showed that there might just be more to their offense than Tom Brady, with BenJarvus Green-Ellis running for 136 yards.

So we know what shape the Patriots are in, but what of the Cowboys? It’s genuinely hard to know. They’re 2-2 and could be 4-0, or even 1-3. A veritable mixed bag. But despite the awful loss to the Lions after holding a 24 point lead, the Cowboys are still in reasonable shape. The NFC East is currently wide open, so the playoffs are still a very real proposition for Jason Garrett’s side. Tony Romo has been at his inconsistent best (or worst, depending on which way you look at it), but he now has a fully fit receiving corps of Miles Austin and Dez Bryant to aim at, and this will certainly make the Cowboys more potent – especially against a Patriots defense that has struggled against the pass. For the Cowboys to win at Foxborough however, they will likely have to try and control the game on the ground – in an attempt to keep Brady off the field – but this is not an easy task against the Pats, and Romo might have to produce a couple of big plays to win this game. Couple this with a weak Cowboys’ pass rush on defense and it’s hard to see where a win will come from for Dallas here.

New England had Rex Ryan to deal with last week, and his brother Rob – defensive co-ordinator with Dallas – will try and scheme a more effective way of slowing the Patriots, but it’s nothing Tom Brady hasn’t seen before. Expect Dallas to play a solid game, but it’s the Patriots who are coming out on top.

Neutral Zone prediction: Dallas 17 New England 24

Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins

Another week, another ‘do-or-die’ clash for the Philadelphia Eagles. You know the drill by now: an awful performance in the previous week must now be followed up by a strong, solid showing on both sides of the ball for the Eagles to get their season back on track… and then the Eagles lose again. That’s how 2011 has been so far for them, but they’ll be hoping to rewrite the ending this weekend in the capital.

Five turnovers last Sunday at Buffalo helped condemn the Eagles to their fourth loss in as many games and now head coach Andy Reid is on the hot seat. So many star-names, so much talent, and yet Philadelphia still can’t get it right on the field. It’s been noted time after time, but they must cut out the silly errors, the sloppy penalties, the careless turnovers. In a heated divisional matchup against the Redskins, every ball will be at a premium, but in a strange way this offers the Eagles a good chance in this one. They will be forced to be more patient in this game, and the good news there is that they have LeSean McCoy ready to do damage on the ground.

Washington have had a steady start. Nothing major, but they’re 3-1, scoring 83 points and allowing just 63. They won’t give anything up easy so expect this to be a tight, attritional low-scoring encounter. Washington are unlikely to get out of reach on the scoreboard and perhaps a close game like this might be just the thing to bring out some long-forgotten concentration levels in the Eagles.

Philadelphia are defintely under pressure here – fighting for their divisional lives – but they won’t be scared by anything the Redskins have to offer. With Rex Grossman under center, Washington have very little big-play potential, whereas the latent talent on the Philadelphia offense might have one big moment in them that makes the difference.

Neutral Zone prediction: Philadelphia 20 Washington 14

And the rest…

St. Louis at Green Bay
The Rams are coming off a bye week and may keep this one closer than people expect, but Packers will do enough. Green Bay by 7

Buffalo at NY Giants
A shootout is expected in Meadowlands, but the unpredictability of Eli Manning will favour the Bills. Buffalo by 4

Indianapolis at Cincinnati
This one might be anything but a shootout. Bengals QB Andy Dalton has been solid so far and that might be enough. Cincinnati by 3

Jacksonville at Pittsburgh
Should be a comfortable win for Big Ben and the Steelers. The Jags won on week 1 but have been very ugly since. Pittsburgh by 14

Cleveland at Oakland
The Raiders will struggle to replicate the emotion from last weekend and the Browns are coming off a bye week. Upset alert. Cleveland by 3

Houston at Baltimore
The Ravens are also coming off a bye and looked very good defensively last time out against the Jets. Texans lacking confidence. Baltimore by 9

Minnesota at Chicago
Both teams have struggled all season for the most part, but the Vikings have struggled more. Bears defense to stop Adrian Peterson. Chicago by 4

Miami at NY Jets
The Jets have a lot of improving to do, as do Miami. If Sanchez can get going on offense the Jets will put up enough points to win. NY Jets by 7

Categories: High Five, Weekly Picks
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