Observer Roundtable Week 6: Three top-25 duels, undefeated NFL teams highlight weekend
Notre Dame is a Catholic university. But if there’s ever a time to believe in the football gods, it’s right now. Last week, sportswriter Patrick Gallagher hit on his fifth straight upset pick (underdogs of at least 7 points), with yet another double-digit underdog pulling through, as he continues to expand his lead on his fellow Roundtable members.
Florida State stunned No. 5 UNC as a 13.5-point underdog, making it the second biggest upset call of the year — after Patrick nailed the Mississippi State week 1 upset over LSU. Can anyone catch up to him? Probably not if he keeps nailing these upset picks, but it doesn’t mean we’re done trying. Check out what the Roundtable has to offer for this week’s top games!
Patrick Gallagher – 80 points (12)\
Liam Coolican – 64 points (7)
Aidan Thomas – 50 points (9)
Dominic Gibson – 49 points (5)
Nate Moller – 49 points (5)
No. 23 NC State @ No. 14 UNC (-15.5)
No. 17 Iowa State @ No. 6 Oklahoma State (-3.5)
No. 9 Cincinnati @ No. 16 SMU (-2.5)
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Tennessee Titans (-1.0)
Carolina Panthers @ New Orleans Saints (-7.5)
Seattle Seahawks (-3.5) @ Arizona Cardinals
This 15.5 spread seems massive for a ranked game, considering UNC is coming off an upset loss and NC State is red-hot. I think NC State is a really solid team and they’re going to enter this rivalry clash amped up on the strength of three straight wins. I’m going to stick with the Tar Heels…but just barely. I think this one comes down to a field goal, maybe even overtime. UNC wins but does not cover.
Although Oklahoma State’s defense hasn’t been tested with the highest-quality offenses, they’ve been very impressive in giving up nine points per game so far en route to a 3-0 start with their backup quarterback. I think the Cyclones are pretty good and have a good offense with a shaky defense, but the Cowboys are the team to beat in the Big 12 right now, and they prove it by winning by a touchdown. Oklahoma State wins and covers.
This should be another enthralling Group-of-5 clash that pits strength against strength in SMU’s explosive offense against Cincinnati’s stingy defense. The Mustangs are lower ranked but considered favorites, and I do like them to pull out the win in this one. Expect them to cover the spread, albeit not by much, as this one should come down to the wire.
Raise your hand if you thought Ben Roethlisberger vs. Ryan Tannehill would be a Week 7 duel of undefeated NFL quarterbacks this season. Now stop lying and put them back down. These two teams being undefeated is a very 2020 thing to be happening, but both squads appear to be very good, and I anticipate an absolute nail-biter. So much so that I’m going to call about as close a game as you can get… Steelers win 28-27 is my score prediction. This clash is worthy of you abandoning your Sunday homework to watch.
I’m very curious to see this contest between an overachieving Carolina team and an underachieving Saints squad. A win by the Panthers may plant them truly in the middle of the NFC South race, while a loss likely signifies that it will be a two-horse race between the Saints and Bucs. I like another battle here, but the Carolina offense has been struggling a little bit recently, and Drew Bees should do enough against their young defense to claim a win. Saints win but don’t cover.
The Seahawks offense showed weakness last time out, but Minnesota did late-game Minnesota things, choking away a victory and keeping Seattle unbeaten. Arizona looked scary last week, even if it was against Dallas, in that Kyler Murray looked pretty off all night, couldn’t connect with DeAndre Hopkins, and they still put up 38 points. I think Arizona does enough to victimize a spotty Seattle secondary, as Kyler engineers the upset. Cardinals win outright.
And finally, it’s time for the upset pick. I’m tempted to just copy Patrick at this point, but I’ll hold onto my pride as I stare up the leaderboard in growing despair. I’m going for one of the new conferences in play this weekend, as I’m shouting out the Utah State Aggies to take down the Boise State Broncos as 16.5 point underdogs. Boise State’s toughest games are considered to be Air Force and BYU in the two following weeks, so I expect them to overlook Utah State in the opener. That combined with starting a sophomore QB who missed parts of his freshman season due to injury, I think there’s a lot playing against Boise State, who may be dealt a shocking loss.
After being brought back down to reality, UNC should rebound nicely against a middle of the road NC State team. The Tar Heels demonstrated some toughness last week as they held the Seminoles scoreless in the second half while almost completing a 24-point comeback. If Coach Brown can inspire Carolina to play a more consistent game from start to finish, the Wolfpack should not cause many issues. UNC will achieve victory but will not be able to cover the sizable spread.
The Cowboys have yet to be truly tested this year, but their offense has steadily improved. Quarterback Shane Illingworth boasts a 73.3% completion percentage while running backs Chuba Hubbard and La’Darren Brown have combined for an explosive rushing attack with 540 yards between them. Iowa State has looked like a different team after their embarrassing season-opening loss to Louisiana as they have averaged 35 points in the last three matchups. However, their defense allowed more than 30 points in three of four games this year, and Oklahoma State will take advantage of this weakness covering the spread.
Cincinnati seems to have one of the better defenses in the Group of 5 as they have held their opponents to 12.3 points per game while not allowing rival offenses to throw for a single passing touchdown all year. The latter statistic will most certainly change due to the star power of SMU quarterback Shane Buechele; however, the Bearcats’ secondary will slow him down enough to secure an outright victory.
After completely obliterating my Browns, I have to admit that Pittsburgh is a legitimate Super Bowl contender in the AFC. The Steelers’ defense is widely considered to be the best in the league as they rank near the top in both rushing and passing defense. Although they have scored 30 or more points in every game since week one, Ryan Tannehill and the Titans have yet to face a defensive line as formidable as Pittsburgh’s and will not look as dominant as usual. Roethlisberger has plenty of options in his young receivers as well, so I believe that the Steelers will win and cover.
Drew Brees showed some flashes of his past form as he threw for 325 yards in a comeback victory against the Chargers. He will be tested against the Panthers’ above average passing defense, but I believe that Brees will be able to outperform Carolina’s Teddy Bridgewater, who threw two interceptions last week. The Saints will play with some extra motivation as they must keep pace with an improving threat from Tampa, and, with the likely possibility of Michael Thomas’ return, New Orleans should take care of business and cover.
Russell Wilson is having a stellar 2020 season as he has an 81.8 QBR along with a league-leading 19 passing touchdowns. Wilson is playing so well that he often overcomes Seattle’s inconsistent defense that has given up more than 20 points in every game. The Cardinals are on a hot streak, but their only quality win came against the 49ers in week one as they have yet to beat a team with a winning record. That streak will continue against the Seahawks, who will win and cover.
For my upset pick, I predict that Maryland will overcome a formidable Northwestern defense in their first game of the year. The Terps have two talented, youthful options at quarterback in Lance LeGendre and Taulia Tagovailoa, and, with the help of a veteran receiving core known for their big play ability, their offense should be able to outshine Northwestern, who only scored more than 25 points on three occasions last season. Coach Locksley will also be eager to prove himself after only winning one conference game in 2019, so I would not be surprised if Maryland played with a little extra energy this weekend.
NC State has been one of the better teams in the ACC over the last few weeks. However, losing their starting quarterback to injury is a significant blow. UNC will be hungry after the upset loss last weekend, and knows they need a win to stay in the ACC title hunt. This game will be close, and will come down to the fourth quarter, but Sam Howell will make another big play and the Tar Heels prevail, but don’t cover.
Iowa State has been one of the most impressive teams in the Big 12 since their shocking season opening loss to Louisiana. Brock Purdy is finally hitting his stride, and their offense is prolific. Oklahoma State has also been very good, albeit against subpar opponents. However, the Cowboys haven’t played for two weeks, and they could struggle to gain a rhythm. Add in the fact that Iowa State has one of the best rush defenses in college football, and you’ve got a recipe for an upset. Iowa State wins outright.
If you haven’t been watching the AAC this year, you’ve been missing out. This should be another great game, between arguably the two top teams in the conference. SMU certainly has the offensive edge, with star players such as Shane Buechle and Ulysses Bentley IV. The Bearcats defense is very good, but they haven’t been tested yet. In what should be a close game, I simply trust the Mustangs offense more to make a big play down the stretch. SMU wins and covers
Can the Steelers stop Derrick Henry? That’s the question that will decide this game, and I lean towards no. Pittsburgh also just lost inside linebacker Devin Bush for the season, which will make it even more difficult. The Titans defense has looked poor at times against bad opponents this season, but I trust the Tennessee offense to make big plays down the stretch and win this game, and cover the spread, in a high-scoring affair.
Saints fans everywhere (and my fantasy team) will celebrate the return of Michael Thomas from an injury. The Saints need this win badly on Sunday to keep pace with the Buccaneers, and the return of Thomas will allow Brees to throw the ball down the field more often and test the Panthers inexperienced defense. I think New Orleans scores a lot of points this weekend, and their defense will limit what Carolina can do offensively. Saints win and cover.
As a Seahawks fan, I am thrilled with the 5-0 start. However, the Seahawks have struggled to win road divisional games at times, and it’s hard to ignore the one glaring weakness the team has: the pass rush. A mobile quarterback like Kyler Murray will only amplify that. Russell Wilson will lead another valiant fourth quarter comeback attempt, but it won’t be enough. Cardinals win outright.
For my upset pick, I’ll turn back to the Big 12, where there have been plenty of them so far. Baylor has only played two games this year due to COVID-related postponements, but they’ve played well in each of them. The Bears clearly have one of the better defenses in the conference. It’s trendy right now to pick against Texas, but for good reason. Their defense is abysmal and their offense hasn’t gotten it done when it matters most. Baylor will win this one and Tom Herman will officially be on the hot seat, if he isn’t already.
Since losing their second game of their season in embarrassing fashion to Virginia Tech, NC State has won three straight games and appeared to find their identity on both sides of the ball. They will face off against a talented Tar Heels team who is coming off of a big upset loss to Florida State. I think Saturday will tell us a lot about what the Tar Heels are made of, and I see them edging NC State out but not covering.
Oklahoma State is arguably the Big 12’s only chance at making the college football playoff, and they have a crucial game this weekend against an Iowa State team that appears to have turned the tables on their season opening loss to Louisiana. Brock Purdy has not been on his best game yet this season for the Cyclones, but I think he plays well Saturday. Give me the Cyclones in an upset victory.
I really like this Cincinnati team. I think they are one of the most balanced, talented non-power five conference teams out there, and they will face a big test this weekend against SMU. The Bearcats missed last week’s game because of some positive COVID-19 tests, so I can see them starting out a little shaky, but I like the Bearcats to win this one outright.
The Steelers really surprised me last week. To be honest, I did not know if Ben Roethlisberger had another strong year in him, but he appears to be as good as ever after dismantling the Browns last weekend. This weekend’s game against the Titans is a huge game between two 5-0 teams, and I think it will come down to the wire. The Titans have squeaked by a couple of times this year, though, so I’ll take the Steelers to win and cover.
The Saints have underperformed to say the least this season. Nevertheless, they sit only a half game behind the Buccaneers in the NFC South. This weekend they will face the Teddy Bridgewater-led Panthers in a crucial NFC South game. I think Drew Brees and the Saints’ offense finally finds their stride. Saints win and cover easily in this one.
The Seahawks have been contenders in the NFC West for what seems like forever, and they will face the up and coming Cardinals this weekend in a 1-2 division battle. The Cardinals seem to be a different team each week and their youth tends to show at times. That isn’t going to be good when they are facing a Seahawks team led by veteran Russell Wilson. Seahawks win and cover.
Wake Forest is currently sitting at 2-2, and they haven’t looked horrible this year. Their 24-point loss to Clemson in the opener seems more than respectable, and their only other loss was a three-point one to NC State. The Demon Deacons also handled Virginia easily last week, beating them 40-23. I like the Demon Deacons to upset Virginia Tech this weekend and continue their winning ways.
After losing a stunner to Florida State, the North Carolina Tar Heels will be looking to rebound against NC State. This game should be a true test to see how Mac Brown’s team responds. NC State will be putting their three-game win streak on the line and have looked like a very solid team since their loss to Virginia Tech. Despite this momentum, North Carolina has a lethal attack on the offensive of the ball that will put up points en route to a victory. UNC wins but does not cover.
This Big 12 matchup could have some major implications on a conference title game spot and even a trip to the playoffs. The Cowboys certainly have a potent run game, however, some of those numbers may be a bit inflated thanks to matchups against teams like Kansas. Brock Purdy and the Cyclones have found their rhythm and have put up impressive numbers since their opening game loss. The Iowa State defense has a few issues that may be detrimental to their efforts in this one while the Cowboys have limited their opponents to just 27 points in their three contests. OK State wins and covers.
SMU’s offense looks to be scary good this season and it will need to continue that trend if they are going to beat Cincinnati. The Bearcat’s defense has been their strength, especially their run stopping ability. In a contest that will put the offensive power of SMU against the stingy defense of Cincinnati, I’m more inclined to take the team that has the power to outscore their opponents with more ease. SMU wins and covers in what should be an outstanding contest.
I doubted the Steelers last week and predicted they would slow down against the Browns. I was proven wrong by a huge margin. Big Ben has shown that he still has what it takes to lead a successful team and their 5-0 record reflects that. The big question for the Steelers and their defense will be if they can stop Derrick Henry. While the Titans are 5-0 as well, their wins have not been quite as convincing as some from the Steelers. While this should be a very entertaining game, I expect Pittsburgh to win this one.
While the Saints have not been the powerhouse they were pegged to be so far this season, they still sit in position to overtake the Bucs in NFC South. They will need to have a big game against the Panthers, and the potential return of Michael Thomas should make their lives a little easier. New Orleans should see a jump in offensive production and I expect them to win and cover.
Seahawks fans everywhere should be rejoicing for the first 5-0 start in franchise history. Russell Wilson has the offense humming and the emergence of DK Metcalf has put the league on watch. This one weakness of this team is the defense. Despite the hot start, the Seahawks are due for a let down game and one against a divisional rival on the road seems like the perfect storm. Kyler Murray is a mobile threat that has the potential to give Seattle trouble all night. Cardinals win outright.
For my upset pick, I’m looking at something a little closer to home. The Pitt Panthers may be in a position to give Notre Dame some trouble this weekend. ND has had to rely heavy on the run game to get things done. While the Irish passing game has not been ineffective, they haven’t exactly shown they can take over games either. Pitt boasts a stout pass rush and a run defense that might be enough to stop the Irish.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.