The NFL gave you two choices for this week's schedule, feast or famine. Maybe that's for the best. Maybe fans need a breather from the excitement in the first quarter of the season, a month dominated by comeback wins. Through four weeks, four teams scratched their way out of 20-point holes to win, already tying an NFL record. Another 15 games have seen teams hop a ten-point hurdle for victory.
Week 5 has more than enough potential for dramatics, even with a couple teams opting to forego their usual pregame verbal jabs. This week also has a fair number of games that will be of, um, a more limited interest, as the NFL forces NFC West teams to continue their season. This week's list naturally features some big games between top teams. It also features a nod to the have-nots, with a game between two prideful teams not wanting to concede so easily despite that prize atop the draft board.
Much to the chagrin of bloggers and the media, both sides have really tamped down the verbal pot shots ahead of this game, except for Santonio Holmes. A wise move, neither team has exactly been flawless this year. This beauty of this game lies in the Xs and Os of the matchup. New England's prolific pass offense faces off against Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie. The Jets have six interceptions so far, tied for third most, and have not allowed a passing touchdown since week one. After relying on Tom Brady and Wes Welker, the Patriots got their running game working against the Raiders last week, thanks to rookie Stevan Ridley. Bill Belichick's defense ranks among the worst in the league, an inviting target for Mark Sanchez and the suddenly pass-happy Jets.
The Eagles and Bills make this list every week. Love 'em or hate 'em, both teams make for some interesting games. Except for a Week 1 drubbing of Kansas City, all of the Bills' games have been decided by three points. Philadelphia's last three games have been decided in the fourth quarter, but don't wait until the final frame to flip over to this game. The Bills got their first loss of the season last week, falling to the Bengals in a classic trap game. Chan Gailey needs a win here lest people start whispering.
Nobody bothered to whisper about the Eagles, skipping right to the cacophony of schadenfreude reserved for big spending sports teams. If both teams are smart, they'll each run the ball...often. Buffalo's defense gives up rushing yards and big plays at about the same clip as the Eagles' widely panned unit. The combination of Michael Vick and LeSean might be too much for the Bills. Then again, Fred Jackson and his 5.8 yards per carry average could rip them apart. If Philadelphia does lose this game, the ensuing media circus should provide more than enough entertainment for the weekday news cycle.
Primetime games have not disappointed this year; even the lowly Colts came within three points of taking down the Steelers on Sunday night. A rematch of the NFC Divisional game last year, most expected this game to be a preview of the NFC Championship. Instead, Atlanta, at 2-2, has disappointed. To be sure, scoring 22.5 points per game was not what Atlanta had in mind when they traded an arm and a leg to get Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones in the draft this year. Meanwhile, Green Bay's offense looks even better than it did last season.
Should be a slam dunk for Aaron Rodgers, right? I don't think so. Matt Ryan and the Falcons need this game to establish their place among the upper echelon. After being nearly being embarrassed by Tarvaris Jackson and the Seahawks last week, Mike Smith doubtlessly made the stakes clear to his defense. Smith's roots are on the defensive side of the ball, and he came to Atlanta after coaching some tough Jacksonville defenses. If Atlanta fails to play up in this game, pundits will start writing their 2011 obituary Monday morning.
The Lions are 4-0, in case you haven't heard. Matt Stafford and Ndamukong Suh improbably rank among the most recognizable players in the NFL right now. Rightfully so. They lead a talented team, that won just eight games before this season. Here's what I can't get past. Their toughest games have come against teams that are good, yet inconsistent. Last week, they stormed back against Dallas, and in Week 1, they beat Tampa Bay in spite of some big mistakes. Oh, they also had to fight their way back for a win over the Vikings.
Lovie Smith's Chicago Bears are impossible to read. After a big road win over the Falcons to start the season, they gave New Orleans and Green Bay little trouble. Carolina presented more of a challenge than anyone would have expected before the season started. This game depends entirely upon which Chicago team shows up in Detroit. If it's the gritty group that won the NFC North last year, they can give Detroit some problems.
You're laughing, and I don't blame you. Most have this down as a key battle in the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. Who am I to deny that it is. I can tell you this. Few things bring more certainty of fireworks than coaches and their quarterbacks in a sideline pissing contest. Todd Haley looks positively unhinged. You can't find better theater to watch than berserk coaches.
Colts coach Jim Caldwell possesses the aura of a war movie stereotype, the platoon's overwhelmed and doomed lieutenant. That's what coaching a Peyton Manning-less Colts will do to a man, especially with all the drama in suites. The sad truth is that these teams are pretty evenly matched, both showing a few faint signs of life. This might be a pretty good game, certainly the best chance of winning either of these teams are going to have for a few weeks. Promises of future bounties to be had in the draft matter little, if at all, to crazed and desperate coaches.