Minnesota Vikings @ Detroit Lions: The Lions have trailed in every single game, yet they have a winning record for the first time since 2014 where they made the playoffs only to blow a fourteen point lead. This is the best I have ever seen quarterback Matthew Stafford play. He is such a competitor. He is a gutsy player, and I like his mobility. I’m not going to say that he is some speedster like Marcus Mariota or Tyrod Taylor, but he has good pocket presence and will run when the time calls for it. It’s pretty amazing that the Lions have a winning record right now. Stafford has strung together a mediocre football team and has lead them to a solid start. He has no running game (30th in the NFL), the pass protection is scarce (30th in the NFL according to Football Outsiders adjusted sack formula), he has an average defense (19th in total yards), and a receiving core that is experienced, but leads the NFL in drops (20) and drop percentage (5.8). The key guy on this Lions offense is Eric Ebron. Coming of of North Carolina, Ebron was portrayed as an athletic tight end who could play on the outside or even in the slot at times. While he hasn’t quite lived up to the bill yet, I have started to see flashes of that playmaker this season. He is the type of guy who could push the Lions into the playoffs. I think from a defensive standpoint the Lions aren’t really that bad. It doesn’t help when your best pass rusher (Ezekiel Ansah) has been hampered by injuries and your best linebacker (De’Andre Levy) has missed all but one game.
Finally, the Vikings have come down to Earth after what was a dream start. Sam Bradford had a 109.8 passer rating during the Vikings four game winning streak, the longest since weeks 6-10 of last season. Going back to Sam Bradford who was brilliant in that four game stretch, his career passer rating is an 83.2. So, an increase that big was impossible to continue, considering his last season was mediocre (31st in total QBR). With that being said, I think Bradford has done a very nice job so far. He has dink and dunked his way down the field with short passes to Stefon Diggs (who will not play today), but he is making good decisions. I think he has done everything coach Mike Zimmer could have hoped for. It is embarrassing that Jerick McKinnon is the Vikings number one running back. A former college quarterback, McKinnon has extremely limited experience at the position and outside of good top end speed, he has less than ideal size and power. So if it’s not McKinnon then it’s Matt Asiata, who has a career yards per carry average of 3.4. Mike Zimmer has brought to Minnesota the tough rugged style of defense he had in Cincinnati. He has some interesting talent especially in the secondary where he has developed fourth year corner Xavier Rhodes into a physical ball hawk.
I have the Lions winning this one because they are at home and are on one of the hottest winning stretches in recent Lions history. I’ll take Detroit 27-23.
Washington Redskins @ Dallas Cowboys: This is the best match up of the day in my opinion. The Redskins have finally got the running game looking like a well oiled machine. Rob Kelley is a physical bruiser who has good blocking skills and has played lights out this season. Their third down back Chris Thompson has played really well in his own right and he is more shifty than Kelley, and a much better receiver out of the backfield. So with that two headed monster, the Cowboys have their hands full in that department. Kirk Cousins hasn’t lost his magic from last season. He is on track for nearly 5,000 yards and 30 touchdowns. That’s a pretty darn good season from a guy who was drafted behind 101 other players in the 2012 draft. Cornerback Josh Norman is overrated in my opinion. Look, when he was matched up against AJ Green, he got torched on nearly every play, but Andy Dalton simply under threw the ball several times. He is a fiesty loudmouth who has superb technique at the line of scrimmage, but he doesn’t have the ability to dominate elite receivers. He is kinda like a taller version of Adam Jones.
Look I know the Cowboys offensive line has been fantastic, but you have to give credit to Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott once in a while. Elliott is the most complete running back in the NFL maybe outside of David Johnson. Name me a player as dominant of a blocker and runner than Elliott. The guy has great top end speed with power and is the type of back that can handle a 350 carry workload. Prescott has played solid football. He is doing the three things as a quarterback you need to do to win a football game. He is taking care of the football (2 interceptions), he is making good decisions (67.7 completion percentage), and he has created a balanced attack (331 passing plays, 333 rushing plays). So give those two rookies credit. I keep getting asked whether Dez Bryant is over the hill, honestly I never thought he was elite. Look, when Tony Romo had a dominant running attack with Demarco Murray, defenses where so fixated on stopping Murray which left room for guys like Bryant to finish off the leftovers. Elite in my opinion, is a player who consistently exemplifies excellent play game in and game out with only a couple of exceptions a year. Even during his career years (2012-2014) he had 10 games (including postseason) where he had 40 yards or less. Since then he has had 6 of his 16 games under 40 yards. So while he is an unbelievable talent does not play at a high level on a consistent basis.
I’ll take Dallas in this game mainly because of their offensive balance vs the Redskins pass heavy offense. Washington has played tough this season, but their defense is simply not good enough to stop an offense that has averages over 400 yards per game. I’ll take Dallas 31-24.
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Indianapolis Colts: I’m gonna make this preview relatively brief. From a talent perspective the Steelers should route the Colts, but the Steelers have struggled on the road with a 2-3 record. Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been held to a 74.3 passer rating on the road, but got injured in one and played the NFL’s number one defense in the other. It’s also important Look, the Colts have are playing their second string quarterback who has a 1-5 touchdown to interception ratio and a 0-2 record. I’ll take Roethlisberger who has a 292-154 touchdown to interception ratio. I have Pittsburgh winning 38-20.