Itching to watch an underdog try to overcome the odds or triumph against adversity? Simply looking to pass the time reading another NFL.com article while stuck in your cube? Nick Shook offers a bead on four us-against-the-world scenarios to track entering Week 5 of the 2022 NFL season. The order below is determined by confidence rankings, from No. 1 (most confident) to No. 4 (least confident).
Well, the 2022 NFL season has already been a strange one.
Through four weeks, there are 15 teams with a 2-2 record in the NFL, the most such teams at this point of a season in league history. No other season featured more than 13 such teams (excluding strike seasons), per NFL Research, supporting what we've all seen with our eyes.
There's also just one undefeated team remaining (the 4-0 Eagles) heading into Week 5. This is the earliest point in a season in the Super Bowl era in which only one undefeated team is left. Four divisions do not have a single team with a winning record.
The NFL can be weird. It's extra odd this year.
That makes choosing underdogs a bit of a difficult exercise. But fear not, NFL fans. I still have my 4-1 record from Week 3 to place on my mantel, and a little bit of unpredictability isn't going to scare me away from continuing.
This might end up being the week we see some separation. Despite the parity in the standings, the Week 5 slate doesn't lend itself to as many easy underdog picks. As such, I'm only listing four teams this week instead of the usual five.
I feel good about three of them. Then again, I've felt pretty good about my picks in general, and we've seen how that has gone to this point.
Here are the four underdogs I believe in the most to pull off the upset in Week 5:
The lines below provided by DraftKings are current as of 1 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Oct. 5 unless otherwise noted below.
- WHERE: SoFi Stadium (Inglewood, California)
- WHEN: 4:25 p.m. ET on Sunday | FOX
- SPREAD: Cowboys +5.5
In the San Francisco 49ers' win over the Rams on Monday, we saw what a good -- perhaps great -- defense can do to a Los Angeles offense that doesn't have many options outside of Cooper Kupp. Matthew Stafford and Co. won't get a break when they host the Cowboys.
In his second season on the job, Dan Quinn is again putting the D in Dallas, coordinating a unit that has played phenomenally since the team's Week 1 loss to Tampa Bay. Linebacker Micah Parsons is playing at an elite level in his second pro season, but he's far from the only standout in a group that promises to keep the heat on a Rams offense that isn't achieving at a rate we'd expect from a Sean McVay-directed attack.
Dallas is allowing the third-least points per game in the NFL through four weeks (15.5), ranks first in quarterback hits (36), is tied for second in sacks (15) and ranks third in opposing passer rating (71.2). McVay's Rams, meanwhile, own a -24 point differential. That's 37 points worse than their previous low through the first four games of a season in the McVay era (+13, in 2019). It's clear the Rams have issues offensively, and going from one heavyweight defense in Week 4 to an even better one in Week 5 won't make things any easier.
All of this sets up for another dreadful outing for Stafford following his forgettable performance (5.3 yards per attempt, seven sacks, 71.0 passer rating) in Santa Clara. Give me the Cowboys, even if they only win by a small margin.
- WHERE: M&T Bank Stadium (Baltimore)
- WHEN: 8:20 p.m. ET on Sunday | NBC
- SPREAD: Bengals +3
I didn't like the Ravens' chances against the Bills last week because of the way they blew an early, commanding lead over Miami in Week 2. And Baltimore repeated that script in Week 4, letting a 20-3 advantage over Buffalo melt away in the final moments.
Two instances is enough to sap my confidence the Ravens' defense and its ability to protect a home lead. Cincinnati brings a strong offensive lineup capable of putting points on the board and erasing a deficit if necessary. After scoring just 20 and 17 points in Weeks 1 and 2, the Bengals have scored 27 in each of their last two games, pulling into a tie for first place (with the Ravens and Browns) in the AFC North. They might be figuring things out just in time for a date with a division rival -- a team that, by the way, Cincinnati waxed twice in 2021 en route to the AFC crown.
Joe Burrow is also quite good on the big stage, averaging the most passing yards (317) per prime-time game among quarterbacks with at least three such starts in their careers since 1970. If we've learned one thing about these Ravens, it's that they're susceptible to giving up big passing games to opposing quarterbacks in Baltimore. Add in the bright lights, and you're setting up for a shootout -- one I think Burrow can win.
- WHERE: Gillette Stadium (Foxborough, Massachusetts)
- WHEN: 1 p.m. ET on Sunday | FOX
- SPREAD: Lions +3
New England isn't entering this game with a ton of firepower, especially if Bailey Zappe is pressed into starting duties, thanks to injuries to Mac Jones and Brian Hoyer. The Patriots nearly scored a massive upset win over the Packers with Zappe at quarterback, but their final possession of regulation in that game -- a three-and-out that saw them gain 9 yards before punting -- likely best defines the state of their offense with the third-string rookie, who threw for 99 yards and his first career touchdown on 15 attempts Sunday.
Match that up with a Lions offense that is outperforming expectations, and you have a nice little setup for an upset. Detroit -- yes, Detroit -- currently ranks first in the NFL in total and scoring offense, while Jared Goff is throwing the Lions into a top-five ranking in passing. Detroit has scored 24-plus points in six straight games dating back to Week 17 of last season, tying for the second-longest such streak in franchise history. The Lions' biggest issue is their defense, which ranks last in points and yards allowed per game.
The equalizer here should be New England's defense, but keeping the Lions within striking range for Zappe and Co. is a big ask. New England ranks 22nd in points allowed per game at 24.5, which is 10.5 less per game than what Detroit is putting on the board.
We've learned the NFL can be a fickle and unpredictable beast. But I feel pretty good about this one, if only because we might see Zappe again this weekend. If I had to choose between Zappe and Goff, I'm going with the latter -- even taking into account Goff's career numbers against Bill Belichick (51.6 completion rate, 2:4 TD-to-INT ratio and 57.7 passer rating in three games, including Super Bowl LIII).
- WHERE: FirstEnergy Stadium (Cleveland)
- WHEN: 1 p.m. ET on Sunday | CBS
- SPREAD: Browns +3
I'd honestly prefer to assign this game a half of a confidence point at most, because this Browns defense is about as reliable as a rusted-out Pinto. Cleveland appears to have ironed out its issues with blown coverages, but in Week 4, the Falcons ran right through the Browns, to the tune of 202 yards, with 140 coming from Tyler Allgeier and Caleb Huntley. I know, I wasn't too familiar with those two before Sunday, either.
Cleveland's run-oriented offense, which was just beaten at its own game, has not proven capable of overcoming a significant deficit. And Justin Herbert seems to be the perfect quarterback to pick apart the Browns. Although the Chargers waited until Week 4 to score a rushing touchdown, Austin Ekeler presents quite a challenge to Cleveland defensive coordinator Joe Woods, who is under plenty of local pressure to make his unit more productive.
But the Bolts haven't exactly been the most consistent team, either. Injuries contributed to the surprising Week 3 loss to Jacksonville, and even if Los Angeles got back on track against the struggling Texans in Week 4, it's not like the Chargers are suddenly healthy. If the Browns get Jadeveon Clowney and/or Myles Garrett back from their own ailments, Cleveland could hold an advantage on the defensive edge. I'd like the Browns more here if it were later in the season (that is, if it were colder), but if they can control the game with their excellent rushing attack while avoiding turnovers, they have a decent chance to pull off the home upset.
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