Still going with the low volume approach in the NFL and it worked out last week as I went 2-0-1. Hardly anything to start taking victory laps about, but it’s a step in the right direction after sitting out week 4. Here’s what I’ll go with in week 6…
Steelers (+1.5): The Bengals are now 4-1 and sit atop the AFC Central. There’s no denying they are out of the gates quickly, but I can’t help but think they are playing over their heads a little. Just last week they were down 17-0 at home to Miami late in the 3rd quarter. On the strength of a few 4th quarter defensive touchdowns they fought back to win in a game where their defense actually outscored their offense. Offensively there really isn’t much going on with this team that scares you. They are 17th in total offense and 23rd in rushing offense. The 30.6 points per game is a very impressive number but there isn’t much behind it that leads you to believe it’s sustainable. The Steelers on the other hand have an offense that I still completely believe in. Roethlisberger is throwing for 321 yards per game and last week they made a renewed effort to get the ground game back on track with James Conner. After 3 straight clunkers, Conner bounced back with 185 yards from scrimmage (110 rushing) and when he plays like that the Steelers offense is nearly unstoppable. Defensively they’ve taken a lot of heat this year but the truth is it’s the pass defense that’s the only real concern. Their rushing defense is by no means great but they rank right around the middle of the pack in most rush defense stats. It’s through the air where they’ve been vulnerable allowing nearly 300 yards per game. There’s a reason this total is over 50 and it figures we should get a shootout. If that’s indeed what this thing turns into I can’t help but to take Roethlisberger over Dalton. I don’t want to over simplify this game and act like it’s just a QB on QB battle but that’s what this league is becoming. Not a lot of faith in either defense but I think the Steelers have enough playmakers to outscore the Bengals and win a 31-24 type of game.
Browns (PK): To me the Browns are the story of the 2018 season so far. I’m not saying they are the best team in the league or anything like that, but as far as entertainment value goes they are right at the top. They overhauled their roster, brought in some actual talented playmakers and are now truly a fun and competitive team. All 5 of their games this season have been down to the wire nail biters. Honestly this team could be 5-0 or 0-5 right now, all 5 games have really been that close. Tyrod Taylor is a respectable NFL QB and he’s led a team to the playoffs in this league (Buffalo last year) but there’s no denying this team is a totally different animal with Mayfield at the helm. Yes he’s a bit more volatile but that’s something the Browns are willing to deal with for the upside he brings. The offense is much more dynamic and the easiest way to see that is in the numbers. Taylor was averaging 5.5 yards per pass attempt, while Mayfield is checking in at 7.8. They are also 2nd in the NFL at 144 rush yards per game. Carlos Hyde hasn’t really gotten going in terms of yards per carry but he’s a horse and the Browns have shown they are content to stick with the run game and remain balanced. Defensively I don’t think they are at a point where the team stats measure up with their talent level. They have plenty of young talent on that side of the ball, but I’ll concede that as a unit they are still a work in progress. As far as the Chargers go I do have them power rated above Cleveland, but when you factor in the early start and the travel angle I see value in the Browns. I also think experience playing in close games matters and as I touched on earlier all 5 of the Browns games have come right down to the final minutes. The Chargers conversely have only played one single digit game so far this season. If this one is close late in the 4th (which I expect it will be) I have to give Cleveland an edge.