by Chris Corbellini
Week 5 Picks: Who’ll stop the Rams?*
(“And I wonder/Still I wonder/Who’ll stop the Rams…”)
Vegas likes the Rams, I like the Rams, NFL Twitter likes the Rams, and people who put in the extensive film work like the Rams. They are rolling. All that movement and bounce on offense could play to sell-out crowds at Lincoln Center. So, should we just go ahead and skip the regular season and playoffs and crown LA your Super Bowl 53 champions already?
Maybe. BetOnline has them at +350 to win the Super Bowl, with the Patriots, fresh off a Thursday night win against the Colts, in second at +700. If the mark of an NFL powerhouse is exceeding expectations one year earlier than expected — and remember, this is Year 2 of the Sean McVay Experience — then perhaps our eyes aren’t lying to us, and we are seeing the beginning of something special. It was easy to enjoy LA’s offense against the Vikings on national TV in Week 4 — Goff looked like an NFL MVP, answering every test question McVay called for him with a pearl of a throw, and let’s not forget he’s the second-best player on his offense.
Yeah, the Rams look like the perfect sunny-day team at the quarter pole. Still, the Chiefs are off to a 4-0 start with Patrick Mahomes completing passes left-handed, the Patriots could have another run in them with Edelman back, and the Eagles aren’t completely sure what they have with a healthy Carson Wentz yet, they just know it’ll work in the long run. The league is in good position, Trump’s tweets be damned, with all the young QBs excelling and Brady playing well into his 40s. September was fun. Cinematic, even, with the Rams re-inventing the Fun Bunch.
Now we wait to see if the chill and injury uncertainty of October and November will be enough to knock LA back from Super Bowl contender to playoff contender. What impressed me most last week on GamePass was how hard the Vikings DBs were drilling Rams WRs, and yet that bunch kept hopping back up. Maybe, I thought. Maybe these guys have the stuff of champions. Which is not exactly fair to the rest of us bracing for winter – LA is the City of LeBron, Clayton Kershaw, Mike Trout, Malibu beaches, 70-degree New Year’s Days, In N Out, the Another Day of Sun montage, and so many beautiful people just off the bus, asking for the address of the nearest Netflix show to star in. Santa Monica even has a damn Dunkin Donuts now on Wilshire.
Go away, LA.
Home team in caps. William Hill odds, as of Friday afternoon.
Rams (-7.5) over SEAHAWKS
A Todd Gurley game. He’ll remind everyone he can slice between the tackles, too. Seahawks safety Earl Thomas is gone, flipping the bird to management as he was carted off the field last week, and don’t think for a second his teammates didn’t absorb that. To beat the Rams, you need to rally around that effective-but-horseshit “we’ll shock the world” storyline, and prove you are better than the record indicates. I see none of that with Seattle yet. The Seahawks are weak at spots on the defensive line, and linebacker Austin Calitro, one of the lowest-rated players on Pro Football Focus this week, will surely be targeted as well.
I’m sure there will be a couple of false start penalties due to Seattle’s 12th man. And the Seahawks will shorten the game some, focusing on those talented receivers and giving up as little as possible vertically. So, Gurley will be given a chance to go all Beast Mode, and while he’ll feel every one of his 25+ touches afterward, it’ll still add up to a winning, 100-yard day.
Vikings (+3) over EAGLES
“Hey, what about us?” is another motivational tactic NFL teams use, and I see the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles wholeheartedly embracing it … after they lose this week. I wanted to pick Philly here, but changed my mind earlier today after watching the Vikings-Rams film. There’s just something about the zip of Cousins passes, and the nasty edge that Stefon Diggs has after he catches the ball, as if to say: Thielen’s my guy, but I’m out to prove I’m number one.
Of course, judging by Thielen’s targets, he’s No. 1. He has 56, which also leads the NFL. This may be a good thing for Diggs this week – according to Pro Football Outsiders the Eagles are 31st in the league against the No. 2 receiver. I think he’ll be the difference-maker in Philly.
Titans (-5.5) over BILLS
Don’t overthink this, Tennessee. Make this a fourth straight victory, fly under the radar while the rest of us concern ourselves with KC and New England, and fly home healthy. On third and longs you have just one weak link, a linebacker, and that can be disguised with pressure. So, go for the shutout, and give Derrick Henry an ego boost with a 25-carry afternoon.
Redskins cover (+6.5) against SAINTS
Ooh. This one. Me gusta. Neither is lacking in motivation, with both playing to stay in first place in their respective divisions. And they look so evenly matched – the Redskins are coming off a bye week and are more balanced than people realize, while the Saints offense is a track team at the Superdome, with Kamara deciding he’ll run anchor leg the rest of the season – so I see Washington covering. I could also see this one stretching to OT (say, tied at 21), and if it does, Drew Brees will pick away at Washington and get his offense in position to win it by a field goal.
Brees needs 201 yards to overtake Brett Favre (71,838) and Peyton Manning (71,940) to be the most prolific passer in the NFL’s history. That seems inevitable, but perhaps the Saints will get crafty and use that milestone as a decoy on Monday night. They could put it all on Kamara’s back between the 20s, with returning back Mark Ingram punching in one or two TDs during goal-line situations. In fact, if Brees has to sling it all night that could be a bad thing for New Orleans – as it may indicate that Alex Smith is tearing up the Saints D (which is ranked 29th in DVOA). Again, I do see the Redskins covering here. This should be another fun one.
My own Brees story: I finally met him last November in New Orleans, first at the team facility and then at gorgeous City Park, where he was coaching his kids’ flag football teams. It was a perfect Friday night with high school football being played in two different spots, and youth soccer and flag taking up the rest of the park’s many fields. My film crew and I initially got lost — driving at night in that park there was so much inky blackness, followed by pockets of street lights illuminating little kids playing sports and eating pizza with moms and dads, with whistles and cheers and the occasional high school band playing in the distance when the home team scored. You just … felt it. Americana. This was the family New Orleans so few tourists ever see as they guzzle hand grenades on Bourbon Street. We just had to find our guy and shoot it.
It didn’t take long. At the epicenter of all of it was Drew Brees, smiling and cheering on the kids.
A future Mayor, if he wanted to be.
At the facility, I thought he was relentlessly positive, as QBs tend to be. Even if a team is winless, the upbeat mask must go on (someone forgot to tell Jay Cutler). And Brees so has that. But there was no faking the gregariousness he showed on that City Park field to friends and strangers alike. That guy is real. New Orleans feels it. He was New Orleans. He is New Orleans.
You can argue he was the bronze medalist of NFL QBs for years, behind Brady and Manning but ahead of everybody else, and stuck around long enough to sit on the gold medal stand as the league’s all-time leader in passing yards. For a long while, he seemed destined to be in the Warren Moon/Jim Kelly/Dan Fouts strata of future HOFers who were so fun to watch and yet didn’t win a Super Bowl – and then he finally pulled it off, dueling with a native son of New Orleans, Manning, to win the city its first NFL championship. And perhaps the NFL Films shot you’ll remember most is of him holding his baby son aloft as the confetti fell and he had won a title. It’ll certainly be the shot they show last during his Hall of Fame presentation.
But to me, I’ll remember him best from that perfect night in City Park, high-fiving kids and chatting with fellow parents as if he were a landscape architect from Metairie. The only thing that distinguished him from everyone else was a compression sleeve on his right arm – a right arm that soon will have thrown for more yards than any other player in pro football history.
Last week: 1-3