NFL Week 5: Points aplenty in the first quarter of the season – but who are this week’s big winners?

Another week of NFL action is upon us. Check out our tips ahead of another busy weekend.
John Arnette  |  5th October 2018

Can you believe we’re already a quarter of the way through the NFL’s regular season? Time flies when you’re having fun, and the league has been lots of fun so far with all the scoring (most points ever through four weeks!) and the usual collection of wild games and upsets.

Week 5 features several quality matchups, highlighted by Jacksonville’s visit to Kansas City and a rematch of last year’s NFC Championship game in Philly. I’ve avoided those games (leans: Jax +3, Phi/Min under 45) because I believe there are greener fields elsewhere, but I’ll certainly be an interested observer— Jax/KC is a classic offense vs. defense matchup, while Eagles/Vikings should tell us a lot about whether the teams involved are going to be legit contenders again after disappointing starts to the season.  But let’s get to where the opportunity lies…


Atlanta Falcons @ Pittsburgh Steelers


Line: Pittsburgh -3, 57.7

These teams share a lot of similarities: they both entered the season as Super Bowl favorites, they both feature powerful offenses and vulnerable defenses, and they’re both desperate for a win, having won just one game each thus far. The problems in Atlanta are pretty straightforward, as the Falcons have been hit hard by injuries on both sides of the ball, but especially in the defensive backfield, where they’ve lost three starters. As a result, their prolific offense is under constant pressure to score, and even when Matt Ryan & Co. produce, it still isn’t enough sometimes. Case in point: over their past two games the Falcons scored 80 combined points and lost both times. Now, the losses were both of the last-second variety and they came against teams with a combined record of 6-2, but when you’re averaging 40 points per game, you’re not supposed to lose. The Steelers have had similar issues on defense, surrendering 95 combined points in their past three games, but unlike Atlanta, their offense has struggled to find consistency and is beset by finger-pointing and general discontent. Star running back Le’Veon Bell is still a holdout, All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown hasn’t been putting up his usual numbers and has let the resulting frustration boil over publicly, and first-year offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner seems to lack predecessor Todd Haley’s play-calling acumen. Until Bell returns, I’m just not sure Fichtner has any “secret sauce” that will juice up the offense, and the problems on defense are intractable. With Pro Bowl tailback Devonta Freeman returning for Atlanta this week and rookie wideout Calvin Ridley emerging as a legitimate weapon opposite Julio Jones, the Falcons offense is downright scary and should pose serious problems for these Steelers. I know betting against Big Ben at Heinz Field is always a little nerve-wracking, especially when he’s facing a porous defense, but in this instance I believe it’s the right call. Recommendation: Atlanta +3.5 at 1.84


New York Giants @ Carolina Panthers

 Line: Carolina -7, 44.5

The Giants are 1-3, and all anybody wants to talk about is the offense— Eli Manning is over the hill, Odell Beckham isn’t worth the money, Saquon Barkley isn’t getting enough carries, the play-calling isn’t creative enough, etc. And while there may be elements of truth in all of those criticisms, the intense focus on the New York offense has obscured something important: the defense is playing very well thus far, especially the secondary, which is allowing fewer than 230 pass yards per game and has surrendered just 4 touchdown passes— tops in the NFC and behind only Jacksonville for the league lead. Considering Carolina ranks 25th in passing offense, averaging a mere 204 yards per game through the air, you would expect the New York D to make life difficult for Cam Newton and force the Panthers to grind out long drives. But on the other side of the ball, there’s no hiding the problems— the G-Men rank 25th in total offense and an embarrassing 29th in points scored, producing just 18.3 ppg. Last week they had a home game against a New Orleans defense that ranked last in the NFL in points allowed by a wide margin, and they managed just 18 points and 299 total yards. Now they go on the road to face a Carolina D that is surrendering fewer than 15 ppg this season and will be rested and ready after a Week 4 bye. This has all the hallmarks of an ugly, low-scoring game, and though points are being scored at a record pace in the NFL this season, I think they’ll be relatively hard to come by in Charlotte on Sunday. Recommendation:Under 44.5 at 1.97


Arizona Cardinals @ San Francisco 49ers

 Line: San Francisco -4.5, 41

It seemed all hope was lost in San Francisco once Jimmy Garoppolo went down with a season-ending knee injury in Week 3, but if last week was any indication, the C.J. Beathard experience may not be as bad as once feared. Beathard is a second-year player who saw the field plenty as a rookie, starting six games, but he seemed to be destined to finish his 49ers career holding a clipboard once the team signed Garoppolo midseason. When he was thrust into the starting role last week Kyle Shanahan spoke very confidently about the young QB, saying that the team had no need to bring in a veteran who may be able to compete for the job, but many were understandably skeptical and viewed Shanahan’s bravado as nothing more than typical coach-speak. However, after watching Beathard throw for 298 yards and a pair of touchdowns against a talented Chargers defense, I’m beginning to think that Shanahan’s confidence was real. Frankly, the San Francisco offense didn’t seem to miss a beat with Beathard in for Garoppolo, and the yardage numbers even improved, as Garoppolo had thrown for 260 yards or fewer in each of the team’s first three games. Beathard has a golden opportunity to keep it going this week against an Arizona secondary that has been very disappointing thus far, ranking in the bottom-five of the league in interceptions, passes defended, and yards per attempt. And the Cardinals have been even worse against the run, surrendering more rushing yards than every team but Detroit, so 49er backs Matt Breida and Alfred Morris should be able to ease some of Beathard’s burden. Where San Francisco has problems is on defense, but fortunately for them they’ll be facing an Arizona offense that has been far and away the worst in the NFL this season, ranking dead last in both yards per game (208.5) and points per game (9.3). The Cards are rolling with rookie QB Josh Rosen now, so they’re truly a team in “developmental” mode, while the Niners strike me as a team that’s hungry and ready for success. I don’t think this game will be particularly close. Recommendation:San Francisco -4.5 at 1.91


Dallas Cowboys @ Houston Texans

Line:Houston -3, 45.5

Perhaps no team was more disappointed with their start to the season than the Texans, who entered the year with thoughts of division titles and playoff berths but found themselves winless after three games. They were in a desperate situation on the road in Indianapolis last week and appeared to be headed for a tie, but Colts coach Frank Reich made an inexplicable 4th-down call late in overtime that allowed Houston to get the ball back in plus-territory and eventually kick the winning field goal. It may have been a season-saving result for the Texans, as they now return home for back-to-back winnable games against Dallas and Buffalo. Of course, I’m sure the Cowboys view this game as eminently “winnable” as well, and they should, but I’m a little concerned about the state of America’s Team. The offense has been really bad, ranking 27th in total yards per game and 30th in points scored, as only the Bills (12.5 ppg) and Cardinals (9.3 ppg) are producing fewer points than the 16.8 per game that Dallas has managed. The one bright spot on the offense has been the Ezekiel Elliott-led rushing attack, but Zeke faces a tough matchup here, as the talented Houston front seven has allowed just 3.5 yards per rush— 4th best in the league. And though the Dallas defense has held up well so far, star linebacker Sean Lee will likely miss his second consecutive game with a hamstring injury, and over the past few years very few defensive players have had as much of an impact on their team’s success as Lee. Heading into this season, the Cowboys were 1-8 in their last nine games without Lee in the lineup, and in 2017 they surrendered 11 more points per game when he was out versus when he was playing. The Houston offense is coming off an explosive performance in which they hung 37 points and 466 total yard on the Colts, so this feels like a really dangerous spot for a Dallas D that is missing its best player. I’ll take the home team here. Recommendation:Houston -3 at 1.83

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