*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.
Lessons learned from the NFL’s week five: The New York Giants wide receivers have angered someone deeply skilled in the art of Voodoo. The hair on the Odell Beckham doll must have been quite a sight before he received a pin in the lower leg. Ben Roethlisberger is going full Favre after an offseason spent doubting his commitment to another season. He must have missed Tropic Thunder. Never go full Favre. The Patriots will still win the AFC East. The Buccaneers and Titans are still only hype at this point. Aaron Rodgers is a deity. Sam Bradford’s knee might be worse off than Teddy Bridgewater’s.
Bold prediction with no basis in reality: Adrian Peterson runs for 100 yards this Sunday after receiving a new lease on life. Now, on to week six.
Kownack Record: 46-33
Madden Record: 42-37
Week 6 Picks
Big Game Spotlight
- Kownack: Eagles 27, Panthers 20 / Madden: Eagles 41, Panthers 14
My Take – For so many years a dumpster fire of blasé matchups, Thursday Night Football has now showcased several key games this year. None have been bigger thus far than a showdown between two 4-1 teams. It’s easy to forget the Eagles started 2016 with a 3-0 record before finishing last in the NFC East. Carson Wentz has expectations high once again in the early going, especially after his four-touchdown masterpiece against Arizona. Unlike last year, Philadelphia has the right stuff to keep things going. The Panthers’ two home games have been a loss to the Saints and an uninspiring 9-3 victory over Buffalo. The Eagles will do enough to win on the road despite the fact that Cam Newton is heating up.
Madden’s Take – Carson Wentz followed up his first career four-touchdown day with his second career four-touchdown game. Although the Panthers got on the board first, the much-anticipated Thursday night game was never close. Cam Newton looked shaky with 192 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions. LeGarrette Blount thundered his way to 129 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Vinny Curry was the defensive MVP of the game. He accounted for 3.5 of the Eagles’ six sacks.
- Kownack: Lions 30, Saints 33 / Madden: Lions 17, Saints 27
My Take – The Saints defense remains putrid. The unit has given up the fourth most total yards per game this season. However, there have been recent signs of a pulse. Cam Newton was unable to break out against New Orleans during the Saints’ upset victory, and they recently shutout Miami. The latter is more of a condemnation of Jay Cutler, but New Orleans has still had two weeks to plan for the Detroit Lions. Matthew Stafford and the offense will inevitably put up some points. The more concerning part of the game for Detroit is keeping their newly extended quarterback upright. If New Orleans can put enough pressure on him to force a few field goals rather than touchdowns, Drew Brees should have enough cushion to steal a win.
Madden’s Take – This simulation has Matthew Stafford playing despite his name finding the injury report this week. Perhaps he should have stayed on the sideline. Stafford completed only 51% of his passes, but he did throw two touchdowns to zero interceptions. Drew Brees outdueled him with Michael Thomas leading the way. Mark Ingram filled the workhorse role with one less mouth to feed following the Adrian Peterson trade. Ingram carried the ball 26 times for 113 yards. Alvin Kamara added 39 rushing yards, a touchdown, and two receptions. Cameron Jordan recorded a sack for the third straight game. It was the only one by either team.
- Kownack: Patriots 35, Jets 17 / Madden: Patriots 24, Jets 27
My Take – Think back to August. If you checked the schedule and tabbed week six Patriots-Jets as a battle for the AFC East lead, go purchase a lottery ticket. You were the only one. New York has won three games in a row against Miami, Jacksonville, and Cleveland. The only impressive win in the bunch is Jacksonville, but the Jaguars are still a team riddled by inconsistent play. New England will stomp on the feel good story at the Meadowlands. Although the Patriots’ defensive improvements could have been a mirage thanks to Tampa Bay’s inability to adjust, the team certainly has reached a level capable of limiting New York’s offense. There’s no way Josh McCown outscores Tom Brady.
Madden’s Take – We are officially in The Upside Down according to Madden. The Jets scored a go-ahead field goal on the first play after the two minute warning, which left Tom Brady plenty of time to pull yet another victory out of the shambles that is New England’s defense. New York miraculously forced an interception instead. Brady threw for 333 yards on 40 passes compared to McCown’s 199 on 19. Matt Forte returned for less than 50 yards on the ground but did notch two scores. The difference in the game was likely the fact the Rob Gronkowski managed only three catches and 39 yards.
- Kownack: Rams 24, Jaguars 28 / Madden: Rams 24, Jaguars 22
My Take – Here’s another surprising matchup of two first place teams. The Rams are tied for first in the NFC West and have an opportunity to move into sole possession due to Seattle’s bye. The Jaguars sit atop the AFC West at 3-2 and are fresh off an undressing of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Jacksonville’s loss to the Jets is troublesome, but they can defeat Los Angeles by installing the same game plan from last week. Jacksonville stacked the box against Le’Veon Bell to force Big Ben into 55 throws (and five interceptions) against their vaunted pass defense. If the Jaguars clamp down on Todd Gurley in similar fashion, Goff has proved capable of making mistakes in critical situations.
Madden’s Take – As expected, neither quarterback set the world on fire. Blake Bortles threw for 211 yards and recorded a touchdown on the ground. Jared Goff tossed two scores but threw for a measly 177 yards. Instead, the ground game took center stage. Todd Gurley ran himself ragged, carrying the ball 30 times for 142 yards. Leonard Fournette managed 96 yards and a touchdown on 10 less carries. Jacksonville didn’t have a pick six this game, but they did add another interception, bringing their season total to 11. The game came down to a failed two-point conversion with 1:02 remaining in the fourth quarter.
- Kownack: Steelers 17, Chiefs 30 / Madden: Steelers 14, Chiefs 27
My Take – Pittsburgh and Kansas City faced off twice in 2016. Their first matchup came on a Sunday night in October. The Steelers embarrassed the Chiefs 43-14. The second 2016 matchup, an 18-16 playoff loss, convinced Kansas City to trade up for Patrick Mahomes. The Chiefs couldn’t outscore a team that they held to six field goals. Alex Smith wasn’t capable of leading a team to a Super Bowl. Out of nowhere, the Mahomes decision finally turned Alex Smith into the player Kansas City always needed. Ben Roethlisberger would probably love to prove doubters (and himself) wrong about being washed up, but this will be a statement game for Smith instead. He’s going to come out firing against a reeling Steelers team. Chiefs improve to 6-0.
Madden’s Take – The good news is that Big Ben avoided turning the ball over. The bad news is that his one touchdown to Martavis Bryant was not nearly enough to hand Kansas City their first loss. Expect more Antonio Brown tirades, because he only had three catches for 53 yards. Alex Smith was efficient once again with 299 passing yards and two touchdowns, which would give him 13 touchdowns and 0 interceptions on the year. Kareem Hunt is clearly a man possessed. He ran for 122 yards and a touchdown. All of Pittsburgh’s points came in the first quarter. They were outscored 20-0 after that. The AFC North is up for grabs at this point.
Pick a Lock
* Madden’s selection based on biggest margin of victory. Result is worth two wins/losses.
Kownack: Broncos (vs. Giants) – At Mile High against an 0-5 team that lost basically every receiver on its roster? This is going to get messy. The Giants can bring back Victor Cruz. They can take Terrell Owens up on his twitter offer. They can even hold a tryout for Vince Papale. It won’t make a difference.
Madden: Falcons (vs. Dolphins) – Madden doesn’t see the Dolphins scoring a touchdown this week. Shocking, I know. Jay Cutler was 9/22 for 94 yards passing. The Falcons raced out to a 28-0 lead by halftime before taking their foot of the gas to finish with a comfortable 35-6 victory.
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