*Man vs. Machine is a weekly installment during the NFL season that pits a flawed human brain against the coding and algorithms of Madden 18.
The NFL regular season is officially a quarter of the way through. The Patriots have scored the second most points in the league (129) and have allowed just one less than that on defense. They are tied with New York and looking up at Buffalo in the AFC East. The lone remaining undefeated team was almost unanimously expected to lose their opening game against those same Patriots. The Rams sit at 3-1 and are currently flaunting a revived version of the Greatest Show on Turf. The Saints pitched a shut out in London. In other words, we are exactly where we expected to be. The Falcons, Broncos, Saints, and Redskins all have byes this week, meaning there are two less games to choose from. Let’s get started.
Kownack Record: 38-26
Madden Record: 32-32
Week 5 Picks
Big Game Spotlight
- Kownack: Patriots 32, Buccaneers 35 / Madden: Patriots 26, Buccaneers 12
My Take – The New England Patriots have forgotten how to play defense. Bill Belicheck finally did what for so long seemed impossible. He traded too many players away to adequately maintain a top NFL defense. Will they turn it around? Almost certainly. It just won’t happen during a short week against a team built on deep threat weapons. Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson should run circles around them. Tom Brady will likely keep it close… only to watch another loss on the sidelines. Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers kindly welcome him to the No D Club.
Madden’s Take – The Patriots were out for blood in the virtual world. New England followed up their first loss with a convincing win against the Saints, and they achieved the same thing here. Tom Brady only threw for 182 yards but tossed three touchdowns. Jameis Winston’s lone touchdown came on a long bomb to Desean Jackson. Nick Folk missed the extra point, which is now tradition for Tampa Bay kickers. Doug Martin posted 102 rushing yards in his return from suspension, but it wasn’t nearly enough. Cooks, Hogan, and Amendola all scored. Neither team recorded a turnover, but the Patriots defense got to Winston four times.
- Kownack: Panthers 24, Lions 20 / Madden: Panthers 7, Lions 34
My Take – Cam Newton still isn’t the quarterback who appeared to be an unmatched star of the future in 2015. He may never be that player again, but he has done enough to get Carolina off to a 3-1 record. Their win against New England did give him a chance to gain momentum in the right direction, and the victory over Buffalo also looks better after recent weeks. The Panthers have the defense to stifle Matthew Stafford just as Minnesota did in week four. If the Panthers’ unit reaches that same level of success, Newton and company should capitalize where Case Keenum couldn’t.
Madden’s Take – The Detroit Lions either didn’t know or didn’t care that the Panthers were coming off a victory over the defending Super Bowl champions. Madden simulated a romp in Detroit. Cam Newton, who looked poised to end his slump last week, regressed with 203 passing yards and two interceptions. Matthew Stafford played steady as always, but the bigger story was that Detroit continued to pound the rock with Ameer Abdullah. The third year back carried the ball for his first 100-yard game (126) and two touchdowns. Glover Quin and Darius Slay were the recipients of Newton’s interceptions. This one was never close.
- Kownack: Seahawks 23, Rams 33 / Madden: Seahawks 27, Rams 26
My Take – Seattle finally seemed to wake up on Sunday night against a hapless Colts team. That doesn’t guarantee future success, but it suggests they’re a more dangerous team than they looked before halftime. It may not matter against the new look Rams. The Rams’ helmets don’t match their uniforms (seriously, why?), but the on field product has not suffered. It’s worth nothing that the Seahawks are 2-4 against the Rams since 2014. They’re also 1-4 in their last five away games in the rivalry, with their lone win coming in 2013. Beating the Seahawks was perhaps the only thing Jeff Fisher did well. Sean McVay has improved on every aspect compared to his predecessor. It stands to reason that he should continue the winning ways against Seattle.
Madden’s Take – Just when things are looking up for Rams fans, Madden wants to crush them mercilessly. Los Angeles trailed a back and forth game by a touchdown with three minutes remaining. Goff connected with Cooper Kupp for a 51-yard touchdown. Greg Zuerlein, who had an insane 7 for 7 performance against Dallas, missed the extra point. Seattle ran the remaining 1:08 off the clock for a much needed victory. The good news for the Rams is that Gurley continued to roll with 112 rushing yards and Goff threw three touchdowns, cementing their arrival against a top notch defense. Thomas Rawls dominated the ground game for Seattle, and Prosise added a receiving touchdown.
- Kownack: Packers 30, Cowboys 23 / Madden: Packers 26, Cowboys 25
My Take – This is a revenge game for Dallas after Green Bay’s last second victory in the NFC Divisional Round. The Cowboys are already one loss away from matching their 2016 total. Dak Prescott is a gamer, but he’s exhibiting symptoms of a sophomore slump when he drops back to pass. In fact, his passer rating when blitzed (136.3), while superb, is more than double his rating against a regular rush (61.6). It’s a strange disconnect. His inconsistency matches the struggles of his once-dominant offensive line. Dallas can’t topple Green Bay if they continue to spend entire halves in a funk. Green Bay has had issues playing full games this season as well, but their biggest concern has become employing a lineup of walking wounded. The injuries threaten to become too much of a burden for Aaron Rodgers to overcome at some point. Luckily, the mini bye week after a Thursday night game could give Green Bay the reprieve they need.
Madden’s Take – This simulation was completed with Davante Adams sitting and Ty Montgomery gutting out a rib injury. If Madden is to be believed, the encore to last year’s playoff showdown will be one of the best games of the young season. Aaron Rodgers and Dak Prescott both threw for two touchdowns, with Rodgers surpassing 300 yards. Ezekiel Elliot ran for 106 yards on 25 carries, but the Green Bay defense kept him out of the endzone. A game with zero turnovers and one sack for both teams came down to the wire. Trailing 20-25 after a Dan Bailey field goal at 2:12, Aaron Rodgers led a flawless two-minute drill into the redzone. He threw a nine-yard TD pass to Ty Montgomery with four seconds remaining on the clock to cap a game-winning drive.
- Kownack: Chiefs 20, Texans 17 / Madden: Chiefs 32, Texans 13
My Take – Deshaun Watson’s electric performance on Sunday has put the league on notice. Dabo Swinney’s Michael Jordan comparison does not look so absurd anymore. With that said, Watson has not gone up against a team like Kansas City. He managed only 13 points in his debut against a disruptive Bengals defense. He should meet similar resistance against an opportunistic Chiefs team that now has several games of tape. As is the case with many of Kansas City’s games so far, it should be a close contest. The better overall team gets the win here.
Madden’s Take – A game that was only 20-10 going into the 4th quarter ended up as somewhat of a blowout. Kansas City’s defense smothered Deshaun Watson, limiting him to 214 yards passing and 26 on the ground. Marcus Peters also picked off the rookie. Alex Smith had a flawless game with a completion percentage of 70%, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Rookie sensation Kareem Hunt once again topped 100 rushing yards on the day.
Pick a Lock
* Madden’s selection based on biggest margin of victory. Result is worth two wins/losses.
Kownack: Eagles (vs. Cardinals) – The Steelers are a safer pick, but it’s more fun to test a young team that appears to have turned a corner. The 2-2 Cardinals could just as easily be 0-4 after barely beating the Colts and 49ers. Philadelphia will take care of business again to go 4-1.
Madden: Lions (vs. Panthers) – One of league’s marquee matchups ended up being Madden’s biggest blowout. The two-point swing attached to these selections could become crucial after Madden and I differed on seven games.