Week 6 is upon us, and here's your guide to what's in store for Sunday's NFL action.
1. Carolina (1-4) at Atlanta (2-3): How good are the Panthers in the first year of the Cam Newton era? They haven't lost by more than seven points to anybody, but they'e already on the outside looking in nonetheless. Newton has been impressive (1,610 yards in 5 games), and Falcons QB Matt Ryan has been mildly disappointing (7 TD's, 6 ints), so it's not an easy pick here. It's easy to wonder if the real Falcons (the ones who went 13-3 last year) are ever going to show up. Are they? Or has their window come and gone? At 2-3 they are facing a must win home game vs. an upstart team that is playing with little to no pressure.
2. Indianapolis (0-5) vs. Cincinnati (3-2): The Bengals have played solid D all year, and Andy Dalton is not only learning the ropes of the NFL quarterback position, he's grabbing a few wins along the way. The hapless Colts are good at making games interesting, but even better at losing them in the name of drafting the next Peyton Manning aka Andrew Luck, in the first round next year. It seems to be a good formula for them, and I'm sure the Bengals won't mind being 4-2 when it's all said and done.
3. San Francisco (4-1) vs. Detroit (5-0): The Lions are 5-0 for the first time since 1956. They didn't make the playoffs that year but they did beat the 'Niners to go 6-0. The Lions look like the slightly better team on paper, but the 'Niners boast a formidable front 7 and have stopped not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 27 consecutive games. In a quarterback driven league, you have to think that the team with Matthew Stafford has the upper hand, but Alex Smith has thrown 7 TD's and only one interception this year. This one could come down to the turnover battle.
4. Green Bay (5-0) vs. St. Louis (0-4): The Rams couldn't do anything with their starting cornerbacks, so maybe the fact the both of them will be out this week will be a good thing. Everything about this match-up says blowout. The Rams have the league's worst road record over the last 4 seasons and the Packers juggernaut just seems to get more lethal every week. Green Bay will boast some throwback uniforms on Sunday at Lambeau, and they should cruise to their 8th consecutive home win.
5. Buffalo (4-1) vs. New York Giants (3-2): The Bills have already intercepted 12 passes in five games, just one short of their total in 2010. So, are they lucky, or can we expect more of the same against Eli Manning? Manning threw 3 interceptions last week in a discouraging home loss vs. Seattle, but he's been pretty decent this year, ranking 4th in QB rating and only throwing for 5 interceptions total. The other interesting storyline here is that the Giants defensive Coordinator Perry Fewell was with the Bills through 2009. He was passed up for the head coaching position and I'm sure he'd like nothing more to bring the Bills down to earth. (The Bills are a + 11 in the turnover count -- how long can they keep that up?)
6. Jacksonville (1-4) vs. Pittsburgh (3-2): Rookie QB Blaine Gabbert should give the Steelers D something to chew on Sunday. They will likely spit him out too. The Steelers have the league's second toughest defense on paper, Jacksonville has the league's worst, and the more banged up Ben Roethlisberger seems to be, the better he seems to play. This one smells like a rout.
7. Philadelphia (1-4) vs. Washington (3-1): Is it time for order to get partially restored to the once proud NFC East. Common sense says the Eagles have to win. If they are willing to work so hard to protect Andy Reid during the week, they should do the same on the field on Sunday. That said, now that the news has broken about the dysfunctional Red Sox, could the Eagles be the NFL version of that? A plethora of personal problems, higher than high expectations, and -- who knows -- maybe a few too many pills?
8. Houston (3-2) vs. Baltimore (3-1): If it is the year for the Texans in the AFC south, then they'l l have to do a lot of the dirty work without their best offensive player and their best defensive player. That's a lot to ask for any team, let alone one that is badly in need of a franchise-defining season. The Texans are solid on both sides of the ball, but the squad seemed deflated after Mario William's injury at home vs. the Raiders last week. Meanwhile, those who were puzzled by the Ravens one-sided loss to the Titans earlier this season got a fresh reminder of how the Ravens can dominate a football game -- particularly at home -- with their frenetic, smashmouth brand of defense.
9. Cleveland (2-2) at Oakland(3-2): Oakland is coming off a high. They won a close game on the road in Houston, and they've been reminiscing about their brash and beautiful life of their owner Al Davis for a week, but the reality is that they are a team with a lot of room for improvement. So is Cleveland. So, who wins? The better team, of course.
10. Dallas(2-2) at New England(4-1): Tony Romo has basically ran the gamut from high to low, but his results come out a net zero. He's won a few games and lost a few games, and as much as we love to hype this guy as the "possible" second coming of touchdown Jesus, in the end it's about winning more than you lose -- not winning as much as you lose. Romo should have plenty of opportunities to get his Cowboys in the win column against that swiss cheesey thing the Pats are calling a defense. But will he? We know he'll keep us all entertained -- maybe even confused or inspired -- but in the end, will it be just another reminder that great quarterbacks like Tom Brady find a way to win, while goofy quarterbacks like Tony Romo find a way to almost win.
11. New Orleans(4-1) vs. Tampa Bay (3-2): The Saints have a nice well balanced offense that can hurt you deep or nickel and dime you to death with play action passes. And Drew Brees has engineered two fourth quarter comebacks in consecutive weeks. The Bucs, meanwhile, are looking to respond to their worst whooping in franchise history. QB Josh Freeman's .5 TD to INT ratio is the worst in the NFL, and to make matters worse, RB LeGarrette Blount and DT Gerald McCoy will miss the game. The road team has won the last four match-ups, and from the looks of things, this one shouldn't be any different than the last four.
12. Minnesota(1-4) vs. Chicago(2-3): Sunday Night Football, black and blue style: the banged-up Bears vs. the beleaguered Vikes. With Jared Allen on pace to break the all-time NFL sack record after five games, the big question might be: can Jay Cutler survive another physical beating? Don't expect his offensive line to help. We saw what they can do last Monday against Detroit, and boy, it wasn't pretty.
13. Miami(0-4) vs. New York Jets (2-3): Gang Green has been looking pretty innocuous in its first five starts. The Jets should be fine against a Dolphin team who will start Matt Moore on Monday, but the long-term implications are far less clear for the J-E-T-S.