The game plan: Week 5 in the NFL is bigger than Tom Brady and Peyton Manning

The Star-Ledger-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

The first month of the NFL season has been filled with surprises. Will the little guys keep doing big things in Week 5?

It's turning out that 2012 is a year of surprises. The NFC West is good. The Vikings are 3-1. Preseason favorites like the Steelers and the Patriots have shown their soft underbellies. Any given Sunday isn't just a marketing pitch these days. So what about Week 5 in the NFL?

Here's a nice orderly list to suggest which of the 14 games being played this week will be most worth you time.

1. Denver Broncos at New England Patriots

Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS

The twilight of empires. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are both closer to the end than they are their prime. We'll have more on this game later in the week. You should probably watch it just because the chances of a good game between these two decline everyday as the ravages of age take their toll.


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2. Philadelphia Eagles at Pittsburgh Steelers

Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, FOX

Much to the surprise of everyone, the Eagles keep on winning. Turns out they have a pretty good defense ... who knew that linebackers could be so important. Pittsburgh's defense gets some help this week with the expected return of Troy Polamalu and James Harrison. The Steelers are an up and down team this season but fully capable of getting up for a game like this.

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3. Tennessee Titans at Minnesota Vikings

Sunday, 4:25 p.m., CBS

The Vikings now have three wins. How many do they have to get before the world accepts them as something more than a fluke. Tennessee doesn't present much of a problem for a team that knocked off the Lions and the 49ers. But therein lies the conundrum of the Vikings. Do you trust them completely to win this game? Of course not, and that's why it could be a pretty good one to watch this week.

4. Atlanta Falcons at Washington Redskins

Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, FOX

The Falcons are rolling right now but got a scare from the Panthers last week. Here, they are in soggy places around the Capitol, taking on RGIII a week after the already prodigal rookie led an last-minute comeback for a win. Of course, Matt Ryan and his receivers should tear up the Washington secondary.


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5. Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers

Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, FOX

Which version of the Panthers are we going to see this week? If it's the same team that took Atlanta down to the wire, the one that featured a three-touchdown performance from Cam Newton, this could be a pretty good game. Seattle's defense continues to be outstanding through four games this season.

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6. Green Bay Packers at Indianapolis Colts

Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, FOX

I realize the outcome of this game is virtually preordained. This is a defense that leans on Justin King as its nickel corner, which will be particularly inviting to Aaron Rodgers. What makes this game so filled with possibility is Andrew Luck. He and Rodgers share so many similarities, and this game will be the chance for fans to see that, to witness two of the game's top quarterbacks on the field together.

7. Buffalo Bills at San Francisco 49ers

Sunday, 4:25 p.m. CBS

Expectations can be a tricky thing. I had high hopes for the Bills coming into the season, but they somehow feel underwhelming so far. Then again, they are 2-2 and keeping things close in the AFC East. The defense is a little underwhelming. I really expected them to challenge the Patriots last week, not walk away with a single sack on Tom Brady. The Bills' offense has been solid, but the 49ers, something of a sleeping giant right now, will be the toughest test yet.

8. San Diego Chargers at New Orleans Saints

Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC

Ever been to a football game and a basketball game breaks out? If not, you may want to tune in on Sunday night when the Chargers and Saints exchange touchdowns until the last one to score wins. As tired as I am of the whole Saints thing, it's probably best to root against the Chargers so Norv Turner will finally go away.

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We feel much the same way, Norv.

9. Arizona Cardinals at St. Louis Rams

Thursday, 8:20 p.m. ET, NFL Network

Seeing this game on the prime time schedule in April did nothing to drive cable subscribers to the phones, pestering their providers to carry the NFL Network. How wrong you were, we all were. The Cardinals are 4-0, and the Rams have a defense capable of stealing games against almost any opponent, with a little help from a kicker that can hit 60-yard field goals with nary an extra step in his approach.

10. Houston Texans at New York Jets

Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

We're into the dumpster fire section of this week's games, where one of the league's iron horses chargers headlong into a 10-year old Dodger Neon abandoned on a railroad track. The Jets now have major injuries to deal with this season. Revis is out for the year; Holmes could be. It's fair to ask, between now and the end of the season, whether or not this is the week the inevitable Tebow issue blows up. It's going to at some point. J.J. Watt could force the issue, if the media does not.


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11. Baltimore Ravens at Kansas City Chiefs

Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, CBS

Somewhere along Highway 13 there is a sheet metal quick stop, what folks in rural Missouri call a pole barn, with a fading Budweiser Chiefs logo attached to the front of the building. A parade of bass fishermen trickle in and out, picking up tall boys and Winstons. They exchange desperate complaints with the clerks about Romeo Crennel, Matt Cassel, Scott Piloli, etc. Things are off in the land where the Chiefs are king. The Ravens can only make things worse.

12. Cleveland Browns at New York Giants

Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, CBS

Surreal tidbit of the day: The last time these two teams played each other, the Browns won 35-14. It was one of four games the Browns won that year, and it was one of four games the Giants lost. History probably isn't going to repeat itself, not this week, but it's a fun reminder of just how much things can change. Or maybe it's a reminder of just how random and chaotic the universe can be, in which case you might think about putting a few bucks on the Browns to beat the nine-point spread. There is much we know about football but so little about cosmic circumstance.

13. Chicago Bears at Jacksonville Jaguars

Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET, FOX

Yeesh. The AFC South is the Salton Sea of pro football, a salty wasteland filled mostly with dead fish (with the Houston Texans gleaming like an EPA Superfund project in the midst of the division). The Bears defensive line should feast on the Jaguars front five, with Blaine Gabbert's carcass a tasty morsel waiting on the other side. If you ever watched your uncle's VHS copies of "Faces of Death" and enjoyed it, this game is for you.

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14. Miami Dolphins at Cincinnati Bengals

Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, CBS

Andy Dalton once stood where Ryan Tannehill does, just a year ago actually. He too was sort of a maligned draft prospect, a quarterback with potential that nobody could really love. Dalton had A.J. Green there for him. Tannehill has Brian Hartline. All things considered, the Dolphins' rookie is doing just fine, but he's surrounded by a team that will make winning difficult throughout the season.

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