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Week 5 NFL Picks: Darkness on the edge of town

Tom Brady’s return from suspension highlights the Week 5 schedule.

Each week Zac Hirschbeck will look at the betting odds for each NFL game and then share his pick for each matchup. While hopefully it goes without saying, please don’t hold him accountable if you gamble away your retirement savings or child’s college fund based on his picks.

After going 9-6 in his Week 4 picks, Zac’s season-long record stands at 33-29-1 heading into Week 5.

Here are his thoughts on the rest of the Week 5 games:

Houston Texans (+6.5) at Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings defense has shut down Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, and Eli Manning in consecutive weeks, and Brock Osweiler will join that group in Week 5. Minnesota is following a very similar blueprint to the one that Denver utilized in 2015, and Sam Bradford is playing better than Peyton Manning and Osweiler were for the Broncos. I think Minnesota marches to 5-0 with a comfortable home win.

Pick: Minnesota (-6.5)

Tennessee Titans at Miami Dolphins (-3)

Although Mike Mularkey’s panic firing of special teams coach Bobby April following Tennessee’s 27-20 Week 4 loss in Houston is worrisome, the Titans have been better than the Dolphins in 2016. The Titans’ three losses (vs. MIN, vs. OAK, @ HOU) have come to teams with a combined record of 9-2 in 2016, and two of these defeats came down to the last possession. While the Dolphins’ defeats have all come on the road against playoff contenders (SEA, NE, CIN), they’ve looked largely unimpressive during those games. With two of the worst offensive teams in the league pitted against one another, this looks set to be a low-scoring affair. I like Tennessee to cover.

Pick: Tennessee (+3)

New England Patriots (-10) at Cleveland Browns

Tom Brady is back, and the Browns happen to be the poor team that has to match up with the pissed off New England quarterback first. Cleveland has managed to stay competitive during their 0-4 start to the season, but this week may spell the end of their string of moral victories. I like New England to win big here.

Pick: New England (-10)

New York Jets at Pittsburgh Steelers (-9)

Although Pittsburgh’s offense absolutely rolled in the team’s Week 4 primetime win over the Chiefs, this line seems a little too generous to the Steelers. While it’ll be difficult for any team to completely stop the three-headed monster of Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, the Jets still possess a capable defense that’s led by one of the best defensive lines in football. New York has been plagued by turnovers and mental breakdowns over the last two weeks, and I see them beginning to patch things up a bit in Week 5. While I don’t believe they will win, I like the Jets to cover in Pittsburgh.

Pick: New York (+9)

Washington Redskins (+4) at Baltimore Ravens

Despite bouncing back from 0-2 with consecutive wins over the Giants and the Browns, Washington doesn’t resemble a team that looks set to return to the playoffs. Likewise, I’m not really a believer in the 3-1 Ravens either. Baltimore certainly has a great coaching staff and a talented veteran core on both sides of the ball, but the Ravens have also greatly benefitted from a soft early-season schedule. Ultimately, with neither team looking poised to leave its mark on the NFL in 2016, I’ll take the home team in this one.

Pick: Baltimore (-4)

Philadelphia Eagles at Detroit Lions (+3.5)

Though I certainly had my reservations regarding the Eagles and their hot start to the season, I started understanding the hype after their 34-3 thrashing of the Steelers in Week 3. Carson Wentz continues to look the part of a great young quarterback, and Jim Schwartz has turned Philadelphia’s defense into one of the strongest units in the league. Matthew Stafford’s renaissance under Detroit offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter has slowed considerably since Detroit’s Week 1 win over the Colts. I think the Eagles win comfortably to extend their undefeated season.

Pick: Philadelphia (-3.5)

Chicago Bears (+4.5) at Indianapolis Colts

This game sets up as the least intriguing matchup of Week 5, as neither team looks anywhere close to holding legitimate playoff aspirations. Andrew Luck continues to be let down by the entire Colts organization. At 27, the former No. 1 overall pick remains one of the more talented quarterbacks in the NFL. However, incredibly poor personnel decisions have put a lackluster supporting cast around Luck. Meanwhile, the Bears come off of their first win of the season in Week 4, and will likely turn to Brian Hoyer for a third-straight start. Hoyer has actually performed capably while filling in for the injured Jay Cutler, but an ugly outing is always just around the corner with the veteran quarterback. I think Hoyer is due for some struggles despite a matchup with a poor Indianapolis defense.

Pick: Indianapolis (-4.5)

Atlanta Falcons at Denver Broncos (-4)

After beginning the week as seven-point favorites over the visiting Falcons, faith in the Broncos has dropped throughout the week. While some of that may stem from a belief in Atlanta’s high-powered offense, the more likely reason for the drop is that Denver will see rookie Paxton Lynch make his first career start after Trevor Siemian suffered a shoulder injury in Week 4. Despite Lynch’s inexperience, I’m going to continue liking Denver each week until proven otherwise. The Broncos defense will find a way to slow down Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, and Lynch will manage the offense and distribute the ball to Denver’s talented playmakers on the outside.

Pick: Denver (-4)

Buffalo Bills (-1) at Los Angeles Rams

After disappointing starts to the season, both the Bills and the Rams have managed to turn things around in recent weeks. Following the dismissal of offensive coordinator Greg Roman, Buffalo has won consecutive games against two preseason Super Bowl favorites. Likewise, after a 28-0 road defeat to the lowly 49ers in Week 1, the Rams have ripped off three straight victories. With that being said, I tend to believe in the Bills more through four weeks. While Buffalo’s offense may yet feel the effects of a prolonged absence for Sammy Watkins, Tyrod Taylor and LeSean McCoy have been very effective during the last two weeks. Buffalo’s defense has also started to resemble the quality of unit that many hoped for when the organization hired Rex Ryan. The Rams have been led by their physical defense during the team’s three-game winning streak. Aaron Donald has been one of the best players in football through four weeks, and the Bills need to pay additional attention to him if they are to effectively run the ball and protect Taylor. Ultimately, I like the Bills defense against Case Keenum, and I like Buffalo to win a close one.

Pick: Buffalo (-1)

San Diego Chargers at Oakland Raiders (-3.5)

With both of these teams plenty capable of putting up points and surrendering them, this game looks set to be a shootout. Though the Chargers are just 1-3 through four games, their record doesn’t properly reflect how well they have played this season. In all three of their defeats, San Diego blew late leads and lost in the closing seconds. On the other hand, Oakland has managed to win two of their three games with last-minute touchdowns. I think the difference in this game will be San Diego’s injury woes. With Pro Bowl cornerback Jason Verrett joining Keenan Allen, Danny Woodhead and Manti Te’o on the sidelines, San Diego’s backups will struggle to keep pace with Oakland’s young talent.

Pick: Oakland (-3.5)

Cincinnati Bengals (-2.5) at Dallas Cowboys

In what feels like a true toss-up, I like the visitors in this matchup. Cincinnati got back on track last week against the Dolphins, and the Bengals should benefit from the additional rest. Although Cincinnati’s offense has yet to hit the heights that it reached in 2015 with its well-rounded attack, Andy Dalton and company have a great opportunity to have a big day against a suspect Cowboys defense. On the other side, Dallas’ offense is predicated on a strong running game and a conservative passing attack. I envision the Bengals keying in on Ezekiel Elliot and forcing Dak Prescott to throw the ball downfield. Though Prescott has been impressive through four weeks, I’m not sure if he can carry his team to victory on the strength of his passing ability quite yet.

Pick: Cincinnati (-2.5)

New York Giants at Green Bay Packers (-7)

While the Packers failed to cover as heavy favorites in Week 1 and Week 3, I like them to win comfortably against a Giants team that has lost two consecutive games. Although Aaron Rodgers had a modest day in terms of yardage (205) during Green Bay’s Week 3 win over the Lions, the two-time MVP threw for four touchdowns (without an interception), and really clicked with Jordy Nelson (six catches for 101 yards and two touchdowns). That reconnection should bode well for Green Bay’s offensive moving forward, and they should fare well against an improved New York defense. A third-straight defeat for the Giants probably won’t do wonders for Odell Beckham Jr.’s emotional fragility.

Pick: Green Bay (-7)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+4) at Carolina Panthers

With Cam Newton already ruled out due to a concussion, the Buccaneers will be facing 33-year-old Derek Anderson on Monday night. Oddly enough, Anderson’s lone pair of wins since 2010 has come against the Bucs (both in 2014). While that stat isn’t at all predictive of what will occur on Monday night, I think Carolina will find a way to win without Newton at the helm. The Bucs are dealing with several significant injuries of their own, and Jameis Winston has struggled during Tampa’s three-game losing streak. I see Carolina’s front seven pressuring Winston into at least a couple turnovers, and Anderson makes quick, sound decisions in getting the ball to his receivers.

Pick: Carolina (-4)