By Brian Burke
Five weeks into the season and there aren't many surprises in the top tier of teams. What may be surprising is how those teams are winning. Seattle's offense is outperforming their vaunted defense. Denver's defense is as stifling as their offense is productive. Other teams better known for their offenses, like Detroit and San Diego, have very dangerous defenses. And some teams known lately for defense, like Cleveland and Houston, have remained competitive thanks to unexpectedly solid offenses. That's one advantage of a statistical perspective -- looking past the team reputations that might no longer apply.
Last week, I had seven out of the 15 games picked correctly off the spread (not including the Thursday night contest). Will Leitch got six out of 15 games. Our totals so far are all tied up: 33 for me, 33 for Will. Here are our picks for Week 6.
Note: The Machine's outcome probabilities are based on who will win the game, not the point spread. The score predictions are Burke's own estimates when factoring in the win probability, which is based on a logistic regression model of projected core team efficiency statistics. For more on Burke's model, click here.
PANTHERS: 13 (27% win probability)
BENGALS: 30 (73%)
VEGAS: Bengals (-7)
Both teams protect the ball very well. Cincinnati's only weakness might be run defense, but their passing attack will be too much for the Panthers who can't take A.J. Green away like the Patriots did.
The Bengals were the last undefeated team in the NFL this year, in case you were wondering what sort of year it was.
JAGUARS: 10 (31%)
TITANS: 28 (69%)
VEGAS: Titans (-6)
Jacksonville is a solidly below-average team in every key dimension except run defense and penalty rate. They will struggle on the road all season, especially against a fairly competitive Titans team.
The next Jackass stunt is to watch this whole game straight, without switching.
COWBOYS: 14 (32%)
SEAHAWKS: 28 (68%)
VEGAS: Seahawks (-8)
The offense is surprisingly the stronger squad in Seattle these days. Despite early turnover problems, the Dallas offense is one of the league's best. The Seahawks will be able to slow them down enough to let their offense take over.
Sorry, Dallas, you have to play a real team this week.
BRONCOS: 31 (65%)
JETS: 6 (35%)
VEGAS: Broncos (-9.5)
With the exception of the running game, Denver has much better numbers across the board. The Jets stand out with one of the lowest pass efficiencies in the league.
I miss Rex Ryan already.
STEELERS: 24 (41%)
BROWNS: 30 (59%)
VEGAS: Browns (-2)
The Browns' offense is for real -- it's efficient and rarely turns the ball over. Pittsburgh's defense appears to be improving, so this should be a competitive game. The AFC North has three wildcard contenders and this matchup will have a big effect on that fight.
This reeks of one of those games the Browns snatch away from their fans at the last second.
CHARGERS: 24 (59%)
RAIDERS: 7 (41%)
VEGAS: Chargers (-7.5)
The passing game is getting all the attention in San Diego, but their pass defense is smothering, leading the league with 5.3 net pass yards allowed. On the Oakland side of the ledger … they're at home.
It should keep the RedZone channel active, anyway.
PATRIOTS: 17 (43%)
BILLS: 23 (57%)
VEGAS: Patriots (-3)
New England might have fixed their offense, but the numbers aren't swayed by a single game's outcome. The stats say the Patriots are a slightly better team overall, but Buffalo has an edge with home-field advantage.
Very definition of a trap game for the Patriots.
BEARS: 38 (43%)
FALCONS: 41 (57%)
VEGAS: Falcons (-3.5)
A matchup between very similar teams. Both offenses need to take risks and light up the scoreboard to stay a step ahead of porous defenses. Atlanta has the better offense at the moment, but has an even worse defense. Look for lots of points and turnovers in this one.
Confusing teams that score a bunch of points are the BEST teams.
RAVENS: 24 (57%)
BUCCANEERS: 17 (43%)
VEGAS: Ravens (-3.5)
Baltimore edges Tampa in every category -- running and passing, offense and defense, but by just enough to overcome the Buccaneers' home-field advantage and not much more.
Sometimes football can make you a bit sleepy.
49ERS: 27 (54%)
RAMS: 20 (46%)
VEGAS: 49ers (-3)
St. Louis is doing as well as can be expected with a QB who began the season as a third stringer, but their defense isn't living up to pre-season expectations. San Francisco's numbers have bounced back from a rough start.
Watch the baseball version instead, obviously.
COLTS: 23 (47%)
TEXANS: 24 (53%)
VEGAS: Colts (-3.5)
The stats like Houston because of their strong passing efficiency. Their problem has been turnovers, which this early in the season doesn't carry as much predictive weight as strict yards per attempt. The Colts' numbers are average to above-average, but they'll face a challenge on the road.
This would be a legitimately good game if it weren't on a Thursday night.
WASHINGTON: 13 (48%)
CARDINALS: 17 (52%)
VEGAS: Cardinals (-3.5)
The pure numbers say Washington is underrated by the general consensus, as Kirk Cousins has been consistently effective. Arizona's success to date has been largely thanks to a zero interception rate, which is hard to keep up, and their defense has allowed a disappointing 7.4 net yards per attempt.
This prediction assumes the Cardinals have anyone still walking after the carnage of the Denver loss.
LIONS: 20 (52%)
VIKINGS: 16 (48%)
VEGAS: Lions (-1.5)
Even without Calvin Johnson, the Lions have the edge in Minnesota thanks to their defense and its 5.7 net yards per pass attempt. Teddy Bridgewater looked impressive in his first game a couple weeks ago, but there's not nearly enough data on him to upgrade the Vikings rankings.
Any former Lions coaches on the Vikings sideline wanting to be carried off the field after this one?
PACKERS: 21 (51%)
DOLPHINS: 17 (49%)
VEGAS: Packers (-3.5)
Green Bay is back in form, but Miami's defense might be the best in the league right now and they can run the ball well too. The Dolphins should be able to keep it close enough for the game to come down to one or two big plays.
Anybody else find the Aaron Rodgers Hans and Franz commercials horribly depressing? Also, they must be so confusing to millennials.
GIANTS: 23 (50%)
EAGLES: 26 (OT) (50%)
VEGAS: Eagles (-3)
Philadelphia has lost their running groove, ranking near last in the league. The Giants put a lid on their turnovers and look like a slightly better team right now, but home-field advantage gives the Eagles the edge in this one.
So drafting Nick Foles so early in my fantasy draft MIGHT have been a bad idea.
Brian Burke is a former Navy fighter pilot and tactics expert. He is the founder of Advanced Football Analytics, the site that made modern football analysis a reality.