Heading into Week 5 of the 2017 season the Vikings were 2-2, fresh off a loss to the Lions, and Case Keenum, who replaced Sam Bradford after Week 1, was in the very early stages of an improbably successful four-month run. The Eagles were 3-1, their only loss to a high-powered Chiefs team (sounds familiar), and Carson Wentz (six touchdowns and two interceptions to that point) was easing into his NFL MVP campaign.
Through the first month of the 2018 season, these teams barely resemble the NFC Championship Game participants from eight months ago. The Eagles are 2-2 and have struggled to find consistency on offense; the Vikings are 1-2-1 and have the ignominious distinction of not only losing to the Bills, but doing it at home and in a rout, 27-6.
In Philly, there are signs for optimism; Wentz, who tore his ACL last December, finally returned to the lineup in Week 3. Not surprisingly, he's looked rusty, though less so with each passing start. He currently ranks 23rd in value per play, according to Football Outsiders' metrics, which isn't great, but just behind Ben Roethlisberger and just head of Marcus Mariota.
And while Kirk Cousins has been good for the Vikings -- he was signed in the offseason to three-year, all-guaranteed $84 million deal and he's 11th in total value among all passers -- the offensive line has not only struggled to protect him, but the running game is even worse shape; 2017 second-round pick Dalvin Cook, who tore his ACL last September, is averaging just 2.7 yards per carry this season.
And then there's the defense. The second-best unit a year ago behind only the Jaguars, the 2018 version only resembles that group in that they wear similar uniforms. As it stands, the Vikings rank 25th in defense, just ahead of the Raiders and Lions. And after the group was exposed by the Rams in Week 4 -- Jared Goff threw for 465 yards and five touchdowns -- Mike Zimmer, a defensive-minded coach if their ever was one, was understandably flummoxed.
"We've never been -- probably anywhere I've ever been -- we've never been this poor in pass coverage, so we're going to look at everything we're doing and get back to doing things correctly," the Vikings coach told reporters.
Whether there's enough time to fix all that ails this defense in 10 days is another matter. And with the Bears' hot start and no sign that the Packers will slip up, the Vikings are in a precarious spot. The Eagles, meanwhile, are in the up-for-grabs NFC East, where nine wins could earn you a division title.
In other games, the Colts have the unenviable task of facing the Patriots, while the Falcons and Steelers face off in a matchup of one-win disappointments, and Jon Gruden is looking to win two-straight games for the first time in a decade.
We'll talk about all the Week 5 games in our picks below.
LAST WEEK: 12-3
OVERALL RECORD: 36-25-2
Minnesota at Philadelphia
Line: Eagles -3
Neither of these teams looks like the 2017 versions of themselves. The difference is that the Eagles appear to be getting back on track while the Vikings continue to search for answers.
Pick: Eagles 35, Vikings 27
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Indianapolis at New England
Line: Patriots -10
With or without a healthy Andrew Luck, the Colts have oscillated between garden-variety losers and wholly overmatched when it comes to facing the Patriots. They've lost seven straight to New England by as few as three and as many as 38 points, dating back to the 2010 season, two years before Luck was drafted. We mention this because even though the Colts have played better in recent weeks, and the Patriots have yet to hit their stride, it's hard to envision Indy will leave Gillette Stadium with anything other than consecutive loss No. 8.
Pick: Patriots 35, Colts 17
Miami at Cincinnati
Line: Bengals -6.5
Perhaps it's too strong to call the Dolphins frauds -- they did start 3-0 and were ranked No. 2 in efficiency behind only the Rams (and, notably, just ahead of the Chiefs) before they were summarily embarrassed by the Patriots on Sunday. But there were few positives in the 31-point beatdown. Meanwhile, the Bengals have quietly played like one of the NFL's best teams, including convincing wins over the Ravens and an Andy Dalton-led comeback on the road against the Falcons last week. After missing the playoffs the last two seasons, Cincy is poised for a return to January football.
Pick: Bengals 38, Dolphins 28
Atlanta at Pittsburgh
Line: Steelers -3
Two high-scoring offenses that have been betrayed by defenses that allow even more points. To be fair, the Falcons are minus-6 in point differential and the Steelers are minus-14 -- combined that's still better than the Giants (minus-22), Raiders (minus-26), Buccaneers (minus-27), Bills (minus-56) and Cardinals (minus-57). And to continue in the spirit of fairness, the Falcons' D has been decimated by injuries -- starters Deion Jones, Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen are all sidelined -- while the Steelers' D has yet to recover from losing Ryan Shazier to a spinal injury last December. Pittsburgh is 13-2-1 all time against Atlanta -- and other than the 2006 loss in the Georgia Dome, the previous loss came in 1970 -- which is the only reason we like them on Sunday.
Pick: Steelers 40, Falcons 39
Baltimore at Cleveland
Line: Ravens -3
Not only are the Ravens tied for the lead in the division, there's a good argument to be made that they're one of the AFC's best teams. They've lost just once, to a very good Bengals team, and are fresh off roughing up the Steelers in Pittsburgh. The offense finally has balance and the defense has yet to allow a touchdown in the second half of any game this season. The Browns could be 4-0 this season but they're 1-2-1, mostly because Hue Jackson seems to coach like someone who's afraid to get fired. (Weird, we know.) The good news is that Baker Mayfield is now the starter. The bad news is that Mayfield has to face this defense on Sunday.
Pick: Ravens 31, Browns 24
Denver at N.Y. Jets
Line: Jets -1
Remember when the Jets smoked the Lions in the season opener? That seems like four years ago. They scored 48 points in Detroit. In the three games since -- all losses -- they've managed a combined 41. In those three losses, rookie quarterback Sam Darnold is completing less than 55 percent of his throws, and has one touchdown against four picks. The Broncos looked good against the Chiefs on Monday, but not good enough to overcome Patrick Mahomes. Lucky for them, they're not facing Mahomes on Sunday
Pick: Broncos 24, Jets 18
Green Bay at Detroit
Line: Packers -1.5
Is there a bigger enigma than the Lions? They were blown out by the Jets, never really had a chance to beat the 49ers, then manhandled the Patriots before falling to the Cowboys last week. At 1-3, they're in last place in the division and given how the perennial basement-dwelling Bears are now playing, we don't see the Lions changing their station anytime soon. The good news is that Detroit beat Green Bay twice last season. The bad news is that Brett Hundley was the quarterback both times.
Pick: Packers 30, Lions 21
Jacksonville at Kansas City
Line: Chiefs -3
We all thought Denver would be the trap game for the Chiefs. Turns out, after overcoming a slow start, Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City's offense was no match for a Broncos defense that has been replacement-level this season but enjoyed the benefits of hosting the Chiefs at Mile High Stadium. But playing on the road has yet to be a concern for Mahomes; he's put up big numbers in Los Angeles and Pittsburgh. Now he'll return home to face the Jags, one of the league's most dominant defenses a year ago and still a top-10 outfit through the first month of the 2018 season. Is this Mahomes' trap game? Until the Chiefs actually lose, we can't imagine betting against them, even against a very good Jags team that seems to have finally found its own quarterback in Blake Bortles.
Pick: Chiefs 24, Jaguars 21
N.Y. Giants at Carolina
Line: Panthers -7
We need a reason -- any reason -- to believe in the Giants. To date, they have provided none, and despite an offseason overhaul, at least on paper, remain one of the NFL's worst teams. That was on full display last week against the Saints, who allowed 48 points to the Bucs, 38 points to the Falcons, and should have lost to the Browns. Instead, the Giants were outclassed at home, losing by two touchdowns, and with no clear solutions to all that ails them. The Panthers, meanwhile, are coming off their bye and have added safety Eric Reid to the roster. Given how bad defenses around the league have been this season -- including in New York -- it's amazing Reid remained out of work this long. A win for the Panthers could catapult them into first place in the division, depending on how the Saints fare against the Redskins on Monday night.
Pick: Panthers 24, Giants 12
Tennessee at Buffalo
Line: Titans -3.5
The Titans are the best team no one's talking about. Mike Vrabel has gotten off to a start start in his first month as coach and Marcus Mariota had one of the best games of his career in Sunday's overtime win over the Eagles. Also awesome: rookie second-rounder Harold Landry, who was inexplicably overlooked as a first-round talent, leaving many teams now regretting the decision to pass him over. The Bills' Super Bowl unexpectedly came two weeks ago when they went into Minnesota and whipped the Vikings. It has otherwise been a disaster in Buffalo, where only the Cardinals have been outscored more (minus-57 to minus-56). When you're losing by an average of two touchdowns, things are so far off the rails you can no longer see the tracks.
Pick: Titans 28, Bills 10
Oakland at L.A. Chargers
Line: Chargers -5.5
The Raiders finally won a game -- yes it was against the Browns but it was Jon Gruden's first victory in 3,592 days -- and now they'll go for two-straight victories for the first time since Weeks 12 and 13 last season. (The last time Gruden won at least two straight? He had a four-game winning streak with the Bucs in 2008, his last season with the team.) The Chargers are 2-2 with losses to likely playoff teams (and Super Bowl favorites), the Chiefs and the Rams. If Philip Rivers gets on a turnover spree, and Derek Carr continues to grow into Gruden's offense, the Chargers could certainly lose on Sunday, but we're still unconvinced that Gruden has this team buying what he's selling.
Pick: Chargers 35, Raiders 28
Arizona at San Francisco
Line: 49ers -4.5
C.J. Beathard looked pretty good last week, replacing Jimmy Garoppolo, whose season is over after suffering a torn ACL. Josh Rosen looked pretty good too, in the first start of his NFL career. Yes, the Cards lost again, but they scored a season-high 17 points, found a way to finally get David Johnson involved, and Rosen's modest numbers (15 of 27 for 180 yards, a touchdown and no turnovers) belies an impressive effort by a rookie under less-than-ideal circumstances. We don't know if the Cards are going to win their first game of the season on Sunday, but they're getting closer.
Pick: 49ers 21, Cardinals 20
L.A. Rams at Seattle
Line: Rams -7
Earl Thomas is done for the season and his Seahawks career appears to be over too. That means the Legion of Boom is officially dead and the Seahawks are in the process of trying to reinvent themselves. It's ... going. That's about the best way to put it. Russell Wilson continues to run for his life behind a makeshift offensive line, and the defense, which ranked sixth before losing Thomas, now has to host the NFL's most explosive offense. The Rams can beat you in so many ways -- on both sides of the ball -- which could make for a long afternoon for Pete Carroll, who undoubtedly misses Jeff Fisher.
Pick: Rams 38, Seahawks 14
Dallas at Houston
Line: Texans -3
The Texans finally won a game, beating the Colts in overtime, and Deshaun Watson continues to knock the rust off after a slow start following an ACL injury last November. But here's the thing: The Texans' offensive line is a huge problem. Watson was sacked SEVEN times against the Colts. For some perspective, Indy came into Sunday averaging 3.3 sacks a game.The good news is that J.J. Watt continues to look like the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year and the Cowboys, despite beating the Lions, have a lot of unanswered questions on offense. Can Dak Prescott ever return to his rookie form? Who will emerge as a legit downfield threat? Will Zeke Elliott literally have to do everything? We picked the Texans to win the division and we're going to stick with them to see if they can turn things around after a slow start.
Pick: Texans 28, Cowboys 24
Washington at New Orleans
Line: Saints -6.5
The Redskins are coming off their bye and head to New Orleans as one of the league's most surprising teams. Alex Smith has been better than advertised and he's doing it without a legit downfield receiver and with a 33-year-old Adrian Peterson behind him in the backfield. Which Saints defense will Smith & Co. face on Monday night? The one that was steamrolled the first three weeks of the season or the one that shut down Eli Manning and the Giants? We're guessing it's somewhere in between; luckily, the Saints have one of the three most explosive offenses in the league so even if their defense isn't what it was a season ago, Drew Brees, Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara and just-off-suspension Mark Ingram can more than make up for it.
Pick: Saints 38, Redskins 28