Week 5 is allegedly the week when football starts to take some sort of comprehensible shape, but the truth is that hope doesn’t actually thrive or die until Week 7.
You can pretend a 1-3 team still has dreams and aspirations and must-win situations, but if you’re 1-5, you really don’t. Even allowing for last year’s other Los Angeles team, which started 0-4 but wasn’t eliminated from playoff contention until Week 17, the first four games are all within everyone’s hope/despair margin for error.
But there is a point at which games start making sense in a non-granular way, which is to say conclusions can be drawn that those upon whom those conclusions apply can no longer object. In other words, granular starts becoming non-granular pretty quickly now.
Example: If San Francisco (-3½, for those of you with such a mind for that kind of thing) and its sub-optimal defense cannot contain the horrific Arizona offense, the San Francisco defense cannot be saved. This is a statement game, in that at day's end you will be able to state what unit is not very good and which is irredeemably bad.
Example: If Jacksonville (+3) cannot make Patrick Mahomes sweat any more than Denver did last week, then defense is dead and every game is Big Ten basketball. And Mahomes is the new Dan Marino.
Example: If Oakland (+5) only allows Los Angeles five plays over 25 yards in America’s Neutral Site Stadium, they’ll be below league average. This will not mean they win, but it may mean that you never can tell exactly when Los Angeles is going to channel its San Diego roots the only way it can. In short, you'll be guessing on whether this is a hunch rout or just Los Angeles hunched over again trying to spit up a game they should have won by halftime.
Example: If you watch Baltimore (-3) play Cleveland Sunday morning, you may be watching Hue Jackson’s last game. Also, you’re almost certainly in a Cleveland bar and may want to keep your fandom down.
Example: If you think the winner of Minnesota (+3)-Philadelphia is a conference title game contender, you may be four weeks out of the time stream, which means you may be Doctor Who.
Example: If you like Green Bay (+1) at Detroit, you have learned how to bet against the public, and you will thrive.
Example: If you watch Atlanta (+3) at Pittsburgh, you will understand why anyone who complains about the dirt infield at the Coliseum is an idiot. Heinz Field has dreadful turf, and it rained throughout Syracuse-Pitt Saturday. Also, you will know that the dirt will have been sodded by the time the Raiders play there again, which is bad news for Oakland (31-24 on God’s own dirt since 1995, 53-76 on Oakland’s own grass).
Example: If New York (+1) strikes you as a good investment against Denver, you will have no problem finding someone to take your action, and that’s because you’re crazy. It’s the worse New York team, remember?
Example: If you thought Jacksonville-Tennessee was tedious two weeks ago, you’re going to want to hate Tennessee (-5½, 39½)-Buffalo. That is, unless it is really true that a healthy Marcus Mariota is the difference between a modern offense and what it is the Titans usually do.
Example: If you think Cincinnati (-6) should have no trouble with freshly exposed Miami, you’re playing with fire, because even these new offensive-line-enriched Cincinnati is just the Miami with less national interest.
Example: If you’re hoping that Seattle (+7½) is going to teach Los Angeles a lesson in the Great Northwest, you’re forgetting that Seattle isn’t Seattle any more, and it’s going to be years before it is Seattle again. Pray for Russell Wilson. You know he will be.
Example: New York (+6½) is a consistent ratings draw, but its game at Carolina is scheduled only to remind Bay Area fans that theirs is not the worst two-team dumpsite.
Example: Dallas (+3) at Houston is only on the schedule to remind you that Jerry Jones has been the worst thing to happen to football since the last lockout, and Bob McNair isn’t close behind. They are just two teams who always think they’re going somewhere but end up in the same part of the hamster wheel as always.
And Example: If you believe the first four weeks of the season actually can tell you some things about the future, expect Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas of New Orleans (-6, 52½) to crush Washington by themselves. Washington is lousy agaimst the run and the oither team's best receiver, and Kamara and Thomas are big-time badasses in each category.