Your team is never more than one play away from a season-defining injury.
All it takes is one bad snap and your career, never mind season, can change completely.
Oakland Raiders fans found this out the hard way last season when left tackle Donald Penn gave up his only sack of the year against the Colts. Unfortunately for Penn — and Raiders fans — that sack resulted in a broken leg for Derek Carr and ended any hope that Oakland could return to their first Super Bowl since 2002.
Injuries are part and parcel of life as an NFL fan, but I struggle to remember a single game week as brutal as week five. Nearly every game was affected by a significant injury with Odell Beckham Jr and JJ Watt obviously topping the bill.
While the Giants season is essentially over, Beckham’s injury means they are down to a single healthy wide receiver from their week five roster after Sterling Shepard, Brandon Marshall (ankle injuries) and Dwayne Harris joined Beckham on the sidelines during a bloodbath at the Meadowlands.
In case you’re wondering — or are that desperate for a fantasy football pick-up — the one remaining healthy receiver is Roger Lewis, a second-year player out of Bowling Green with just 15 receptions for 199 yards in his entire professional career.
Watt’s injury for the Texans is probably more significant considering the dog-eat-dog nature of the AFC South means that only one team is likely to make it to the postseason.
Of course, the Texans managed to reach the playoffs without Watt last year but, even when he’s not showing up in the box score with sacks, he’s creating pressures or drawing blockers away from the Texans’ other defensive weapons.
Losing Watt was bad enough, but Whitney Mercilus is also out for the year after suffering a torn pectoral muscle. Mercilus, who has 19.5 sacks in his past two seasons, will be replaced by Ufomba Kamalu leaving Jadeveon Clowney as the last man standing in Houston. That Texans game also saw the Chief’s Chris Conley blow his Achilles attempting to recover an onside kick while Travis Kelce left the field in the second quarter and failed to return.
For Kansas City, they’ve managed to overcome injury after injury this season — starting with Eric Berry in the opening game — but eventually there must come a point when it catches up with them, especially when they start facing the elite pass rushers of the AFC West.
Steve’s Pick – New England Patriots (3-2) @ New York Jets (3-2) – Sunday 6pm
Congratulations to the New York Jets, the first team to go over their win/loss total for the season (2.5) after managing three wins. What Gang Green has done is nothing short of remarkable. After stripping their roster of nearly every veteran player, they secured as many wins as the New York Giants, San Francisco 49ers, LA Chargers and Oakland Raiders — three of whom were considered playoff contenders — combined.
Indeed, the Jets have started the season so well that the New York Daily News even asked the question this week:
“Are the Jets actually good enough to beat the Patriots and take over first place in the AFC East?”
It is, however, a good rule of thumb that, for any headline that ends with a question mark, the answer is almost always ‘no’.
As poorly as the Patriots have played this season — they remain on pace to have a historically bad defence — the Jets’ wins include a three-point victory over the 0-5 Browns and an overtime success against a Jacksonville team that would have won the game with nearly any other quarterback in the National Football League not named Blake Bortles.
For the Patriots, anything other than a win in this game is unthinkable, but the problems on defense have masked an even bigger issue; their complete inability to protect Tom Brady. The 40-year-old has already taken more sacks (16) through five games this season than he did through all of last (15). Indeed, he’s on course to take 51 this season, 10 more than he’s ever had in a single season and nearly double his career average. And again, he’s 40, eventually one of those sacks is going to have repercussions for more than just the next play.
The sample size is small, but it’s worth noting that New England is 2-0 against the spread on the road this season, and 0-3 at home.
They are -9.5 point favourites going into this game and that’s a little high when you take into consideration their average points differential between the pair over the last four games at MetLife Stadium is 3.75 — and that includes two Jets overtime wins. Much more tempting for me is the over (47.5) with the Pats coming off 10 days rest.
Sky Game 1 – Pittsburgh Steelers (3-2) @ Kansas City Chiefs (5-0) – Sunday, 9.25pm
Throwing five interceptions — including a pair of pick-sixes — against Jacksonville last weekend prompted Ben Roethlisberger to publicly question his own ability by declaring “maybe I don’t have it anymore.” And he could be right.
Indeed, the entire crop of 2004 quarterbacks are falling off a cliff this year with Philip Rivers and Eli Manning combing for one win (and that was against each other).
The latter has eight touchdowns, five picks, and an 89.1 passer rating this season while the former hasn’t completed more than 60% of his passes in a game since week two and his 59.8 completion percentage is his lowest since he became a starter for the Chargers in 2006.
Roethlisberger is hardly faring any better, completing just 61.5% of his passes through five games — his worst completion percentage in 10 seasons — for six touchdowns and seven interceptions. In all categories, from scores to picks, the 35-year-old is one course for a career-low season.
At the other end of the quarterback spectrum, Alex Smith is the early season favourite to win the MVP award as he has completed a staggering 76.6% of his passes for 11 scores and zero interceptions.
His completion percentage, interception percentage, yards gained per pass attempt (8.8) and quarterback rating (125.8) are all way ahead of his career average. However, so too is his sack count (17) and while Kansas City has been able to overcome injuries to the interior of his offensive line in terms of wins, as pointed out earlier, they’ve yet to face the likes of Von Miller and Khalil Mack. And they’ve to face each of them twice.
That said, as it stands, there’s little doubt that in all three facets of the game, the Chiefs are the best team in the NFL, so a 4.5 point spread seems especially generous to Pittsburgh until you consider their defense has not given up more than 20 points to an opposing offense all season. However, I’ll still be taking Kansas City and the under (45.5).
Sky Game 2 – New York Giants (0-5) @ Denver Broncos (3-1) – Monday, 1.30am
If you’ve ever played a game of American football, there’s a decent chance the New York Giants could give you a call to suit up for this game.
Big Blue signed Travis Rudolph off their practice squad Monday and re-signed Tavarres King, one of their former players, on Tuesday but head coach Ben McAdoo ruled out a move for Victor Cruz who is without a team since his release from the Bears.
Sadly, the Giants can’t even turn to the run game for comfort this weekend as, through the opening five weeks, their top rusher is Orleans Darkwa who has 122 total yards. No other running back on the roster has more than 100. By comparison, CJ Anderson is averaging 82.5 yards per game for Denver (330 total), while Jamaal Charles has pitched in with a very useful 43.8 per game as he continues to defy expectations on his return from the knee surgery that prompted his release from the Chiefs.
Of course, Denver continues to be a team that relies on its defense more than its offense and, given that the secondary is called ‘The No Fly Zone’ it should come as no surprise they rank sixth against the pass in Football Outsiders Defensive DVOA.
When you consider who they’ll face this weekend, it could be a quiet night for Aqib Talib, Chris Harris, Bradley Roby, Justin Simmons and Darian Stewart.
With the Broncos coming into this game on the back of a bye week, Giants fans can be forgiven for thinking that, if it wasn’t for bad luck, they’d have no luck at all.
The line (-11.5) might look intimidating, especially when you consider the Giants average margin of loss this year is eight points, but that was with a full complement of receivers — but mostly Beckham — and this could easily end up being a three-score game in Denver’s favour so I’ll be backing the home side. I’m not, however, convinced New York can contribute enough to cover the 39.5 point total.