This is usually about the time of the season that we find out which teams are for real and which are the weak links in the division. This year may be the exception, though.
Teams we expected to be toward the top of their division (i.e. Tennessee, Baltimore/Pittsburgh, Dallas etc.) currently find themselves inching towards the panic button. Well, actually just Tennessee, at this point. Even more so surprising than Tennessee's 0-5 start is the Josh McDaniel's-lead Denver Broncos' strong 5-0 start. Denver most recently knocked off Tom Brady's Pats this week in OT.
Here is a recap of this past week's action, which I am hoping to get back to doing every week just like the good 'ol AGM days:
Browns' six-point performance gives them first W of season
Hard to believe, but Cleveland's QB controversy just got a whole lot worse, even after the win. Players of the game, RB Jamal Lewis (117 rushing yards) and kicker Billy Cundiff (hit game-winning 18-yard FG with :23 to spare in game), were the only two reasons Eric Mangini's Browns are no longer winless, dropping the hapless Bills to 1-4. Derek Anderson had, possibly, the worst performance in his four-year quarterbacking career. Anderson, who Mangini started over the 24-year old Brady Quinn on Sunday, completed just two of his 17 pass attempts for 23 yards and an interception, compiling a horrific QB rating of 15.1 on the day. Turnovers (3) and penalties (13-75) destroyed any hope the Bills had in this low-scoring affair..end of story. Glad we got this recap out of the way, now lets get on with Sunday's good games.
Mendenhall continues to thrive as Parker's replacement
Second-year running back Rashard Mendenhall got the start for the second straight week with regular starter, Willie Parker, sitting out with am injury. Mendenhall put out another fine performance, rushing for 77 yards and a TD on 15 carries. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw for 277 yards and three touchdowns in Pittsburgh's eight-point victory. Detroit's offense struggled with rookie QB Matthew Stafford and Pro Bowl wideout Calvin Johnson missing time with injuries. Culpepper made the start, but was sacked seven times by Pittsburgh's stingy defense. Three of those seven were recorded by All-Pro linebacker James Harrison, which gives him a total of six in five games this season. Pittsburgh is now in a two-way tie for second place in the AFC North with a 3-2 record. Detroit drops to 1-4, fourth place in the NFC North.
Romo, Austin team up for OT thriller
Dallas Cowboys wideout Austin Miles had a career game against the 0-5 Chiefs, catching 10 of Romo's passes for 250 yards and two TD's, which includes a 60-yard game-winning hook-up halfway through overtime. Romo started the game off a little slow as the Cowboys went into the half down 10-3. But, Romo finished strong as Romo lead his offense to a late surge, outscoring the Chiefs 23-7 in the last three quarters of play (third, fourth and OT). As a whole, Dallas' offense was two yards short of breaking 500 total, which allowed them to cruise to victory despite a plethora of penalties (13 for 90 yards) and turnovers (two lost fumbles).
Vikes continue hot streak; Favre cruises to first 5-0 start in his prolonged NFL career
Minnesota put up 38 points on the winless St. Louis Rams, but it was a total team effort. The veteran Favre posted a rating of 101.4 (232 yards, 1 TD), Peterson ran for 69 yards and two TD's and the ball-hawking Minnesota defense limited the Rams to 10 points and forced four turnovers. Quick, powerful defensive end Jared Allen added a defensive score, as well, running back a St. Louis fumble 52 yards for a touchdown in the opening quarter. Minnesota remains in the thick of things in their division as well as the NFC after putting up 30+ points for the third time this season. They haven't really had much of a test quite yet (Cleveland, Detroit, San Fran, Green Bay and St. Louis) but will have the perfect chance to prove they belong at the top after taking on the Baltimore Ravens this weekend. Hard to judge just yet, but we sure will be able to after week six.
Eli shreds Oakland D to stay undefeated
New York quarterback Eli Manning left the game early with a foot injury but still managed to throw for 173 yards and two TD's on 10 pass attempts while Ahmad Bradshaw ran for 100+ yards and two TD's. New York held the ball for close to 40 minutes and forced three Oakland turnovers in their dominating, 44-point game against the 1-4 Raiders. New York shut down the Raiders through the air and on the ground, outgaining them 483-124. This week Manning said he has had no setbacks and expects to play this Sunday against the 4-0 New Orleans Saints, which I expect to be a very high-scoring shootout. As for Oakland..well, lets just say they have a long ways to go.
McNabb picks apart Tampa in return
Donovan McNabb sees his first game action since his rib injury in Philly's week one matchup with Carolina and he looked stellar, passing for 264 yards and three TD's. Even more impressive was rookie WR Jeremy Maclin's breakthrough performance in which he caught six passes for 142 yards and two TD receptions. This performance should be enough for him to be voted NFL's rookie of the week. Tampa held the ball for nearly 35 minutes and young QB, Josh Johnson, making his second career NFL start, threw for 240 yards and two TD's but his three interceptions hurt Tampa's chances, who remain winless.
Campbell goes mistake-less; Skins still fall to 2-3
One of the Redskins biggest problems this season has been offensive turnovers and the inability to get the ball in the end zone. Campbell has thrown five interceptions this season and has fumbled two more times, but the real problem may be in the running game. Washington has yet to have a 100-yard rusher (though Clinton Portis has come close a couple times), and has scored on the ground just two times. Capitalizing on red zone opportunities is very important in this league and it seems as though the Skins have struggled with that through the first five weeks. Campbell went INT-less against the Panthers defense on Sunday, but Carolina managed the clock well and outscored the Skins 18-7 in the second to successfully erase a 15-point deficit in the third. Let's face it, the Skins need to control the game on both sides of the ball to pull off a win. Washington fell to 2-3 as Carolina picked up their first win of the season (1-3).
Bengals knock off yet another AFC North rival
For the third straight week the Cincinnati Bengals defeated a rival from the AFC North (Pittsburgh 23-20, Cleveland 23-20 in OT, Baltimore 17-14), extended their win streak to four. Running back Cedric Benson, who rejuvenated his troubled career after coming to Cincinnati last season, ran for 100+ yards for the second time this season. His 120 yards on the ground snapped Baltimore's 39-game streak without allowing a 100-yard rusher. Cincy's offense, led by Pro Bowl quarterback Carson Palmer, outgained Joe Flacco's Ravens 403-257 and nearly doubled them in first downs (22-12). Many Ravens' fans have claimed the officials blew the game for Baltimore (which may be true to some extent), but really, this usually stout defense blew the game for the now 3-2 Ravens, who are now on a two-game losing streak. Baltimore's defense allowed Palmer to convert a late fourth down with his legs and Ray Lewis gave Cincinnati another 15 yards with an illegal helmet-to-helmet hit on Chad OchoCinco. At the end of the game, Baltimore committed a total of 10 penalties for 76 yards. But, besides the penalties, it's really hard to win a ballgame when your defense is giving up 400+ yards and your offense holds the ball for less than half the game. This victory gave Cincinnati sole possession of first place in the North. Let's see how Baltimore responds to two straight losses when they face off with Brett Favre and Adrian Peterson this Sunday.
Second-year QB Ryan leads Atlanta to 3-1 start
It's rather clear that San Francisco misses Frank Gore in their backfield, especially since SF's leading rusher was quarterback Shaun Hill (53 yards on four carries). But the story of the game was certainly second-year quarterback Matt Ryan, who threw for 329 yards and two TD's in Atlanta's 45-10 beating of the Niners. Roddy White finally had his breakout game of the season, catching eight of Ryan's passes for 210 yards and two TD's (31 yards, 90 yards). Running back Michael Turner had a fantastic game for Atlanta, as well, rushing for 97 yards and three TD's. San Francisco's offense, with Shaun Hill under center, held the ball for just 23 minutes and managed just 13 first downs on 279 total yards. The now 3-2 Niners will look to bounce back in two weeks when they face Houston after their bye week.
Hasselbeck dominates in first game back from rib injury
Not really much to say about this game as Matt Hasselbeck led his 2-3 Seahawks to a 41-0 beating of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Seattle led 20-0 at the half thanks to two of Hasselbeck's four TD passes on the day and a little extra help from kicker Olindo Mare (two first-half FG's). Seattle dominated the game clock (held ball 34+ minutes) and sacked opposing QB David Garrard five times, forcing two Garrard lost fumbles while they were at it. The other two of Hasselbeck's touchdown tosses came in the third quarter and rookie DE Nick Reed wrapped up the scoring with a 79-yard fumble returned for a TD early in the fourth quarter. Both teams remain in the mix in their respective divisions with 2-3 records after five weeks.
Cards' Warner wins shootout with Houston's Schaub
Just as I suspected, both teams were pass-happy in this matchup. Both teams ran the ball for just over 40 yards, but both QB's had 300+ yards through the air and two TD's. Looking at the box score you would think the Texans would have come out winners but Matt Schaub's only mistake proved costly as Arizona's young defensive back, Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie returned a Schaub INT back 49 yards for a score with just over two minutes to play in the game. Schaub finished with 371 yards on 50 pass attempts (completed 35 of those attempts) as his All-Pro receiver Andre Johnson caught eight balls for 101 yards and both Schaub's touchdowns. Houston fell to 2-3 as the Cards evened out at 2-2, good enough for second-place in the NFC West.
McDaniels' Broncos defeat Belichick and Pats in OT
First-year head coach Josh McDaniels, whose Broncos are now 5-0 and first in the AFC West, faced his mentor, Bill Belichick, for the first time ever this past Sunday. Belichick's Pats held the lead for most of the game, but Kyle Orton and Denver's offense played a spectacular second half and tied the game up late with an 11-yard pass from Orton to troubled receiver Brandon Marshall (who now seems to be over his recent problems, for now at least). Orton outplayed the great Tom Brady, throwing for 330 yards and two TD's as rookie RB Knowshon Moreno ran for 88 yards on 21 carries in Denver's win. The game went into overtime, where Denver kicker Matt Prater nailed his second field goal of the game from 41 yards out. McDaniels, not surprisingly, went crazy on the field after the game, running around high-fiving his players and getting hugs from certain players. It will be interesting to see if Denver can keep this up, especially against teams such as San Diego, Baltimore and Pittsburgh (their next three opponents).
Manning continues campaign for second straight MVP award
Indianapolis Colts' QB Peyton Manning threw for his fifth straight 300+ yard game and added three touchdowns against division rival Tennessee (who are now 0-5) to improve their record to a perfect 5-0. Manning, who currently leads the league in passing yards and touchdowns, is on pace to win his fourth career league MVP award. It's just amazing what he has been doing, especially at age 33, and he has proven that his success is not due to the fact that he had a very strong supporting cast on offense. He has allowed young guys such as Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie to be top fantasy pickups over the last few weeks. Expect more of the same from Manning and his Colts in the next several weeks, especially since their next several weeks are against St. Louis, San Francisco and Houston. M-V-P, M-V-P, M-V-P. Hmmm Tennessee, get ready to press that panic button anytime now..
Wildcat formation leads Miami to another win
Chad Henne, making his second start, had a solid game, throwing for 241 yards and two TD's against this blitz-happy Jets defense. But, the credit Miami's 31-27 victory should probably go to running back Ronnie Brown, who had Rex Ryan's defense on their toes all game. Brown was a threat on the ground, rushing for 74 yards and two TD's, and in the passing game(1/2, 21 yards). Everytime he lined up behind center in the wildcat formation he had the Jets defense guessing, which allowed Chad Henne to breakthrough for his big game. No one runs this formation better than Ronnie Brown and the Phins. The Jets' offense played solid behind rookie Mark Sanchez (12/24, 172 yards, 1 TD) and Braylon Edwards had a solid Jet debut (5 catches, 64 yards, 1 TD) but even New York's 138 rushing yards wasn't enough to knock off Ronnie Brown's Dolphins, who are now just one game behind the Jets in the division with a record of 2-3.
Top 5 after first five weeks of play:
5. Bengals (4-1)
Knocking off your divisional rivals in three straight weeks is a very tough thing to do (even if one of them is the struggling Cleveland Browns). This is exactly what Cincinnati did, and they are currently on a four-game win streak. Their renewed run offense and smashmouth (surprisingly enough) defense has kept them in games and this offense could be especially scary if OchoCinco played up to his ability week-in week-out like the good old days. The fact that their only loss came against a 5-0 Denver Bronco team certainly helps their case.
4. Vikings (5-0)
Adrian Peterson really hasn't gotten the ball as much as you would expect, just yet, which is why this is so scary. Once Favre starts getting that inevitable fatigue in his throwing shoulder, AP will get the ball more and actually start burning defense for 150-160 yards and three TD's. The defense has been able to get to opposing QB's and force turnovers, as well, which is always a plus. The only thing keeping them out of the top three is the strength of the teams they have played so far, which has not been all that great.
3. Saints (4-0)
Drew Brees has cooled off a little bit over the last week or two (two straight games without a touchdown toss) but the Saints, mainly because of the fresh play from the defense, has been able to come away with wins. The return of Pierre Thomas has helped out a whole lot as well. If the Saints can defeat the 5-0 Giants this weekend, they will surely move up on this list.
2. Giants (5-0)
Eli Manning has been nearly flawless, even when he left the game in the second quarter last week he had already thrown for two touchdowns. If the foot injury isn't all that seriously, like we have been told, then Manning will continue to lead this team to victory. They will surely be tested this week against New Orleans, but it is certainly an obstacle that is manageable.
1. Colts (5-0)
This Colts team is as strong as ever, even with Peyton Manning aging (now 33 years old). Manning, in fact, is playing as well as ever--passing for his fifth straight 300+ yard game this past Sunday--he currently leads the league in passing yards and TD's (like I stated earlier in this article) and is well on his way to another MVP season. With Dwight Freeney back to full strength this defense is very dangerous, too. Indy, after week five, is without a doubt the best team in the league.
Week 6 Preview:
Bengals over Texans
Matt Schaub has shown weakness this season, especially against the Jets in week one, and Houston's opponents haven't exactly given him much of a challenge (Houston as played two winless teams in Tennessee and Oakland). With the surge this Bengal defense has been showing against Baltimore and Pittsburgh, I definitely think Carson Palmer's offense can keep up with Schaub. Cincy wins to improve to 5-1.
Packers over Lions
I would say that this is winable for the Lions IF Stafford was full health, but he's not and the Lions may have to go with Daunte Culpepper again if they decide Stafford hasn't made any progress during practice. With Calvin Johnson still a little shaky (did not practice today) the Lions will most likely be one-dimensional against this Packer defense, which will surely limit their chances of scoring. Aaron Rodgers has a cannon of an arm and I expect him to have a good day passing against this Lion defense, Packers win big.
Vikings over Ravens
Cedric Benson's 120-yard day against this Ravens' defense surely gives the Vikings more confidence in their star running back Adrian Peterson. We all know he can run and that he will get plenty of opportunities to break through the line, because of this I think the Vikes will come out winners in a very close, exciting matchup in Minnesota. It may even come down to overtime.
Giants over Saints
Hmmm, if you don't think the Ravens/Vikings matchup is the game of the week then this one surely is. Two unbeaten teams (with top-tier QB's) guiding their teams downfield. This may be a bigger shootout than last week's Warner/Schaub matchup. This high-scoring affair will come down to the last minute with the younger Manning brother coming out on top, improving New York's record to 6-0.
Steelers over Browns
This should be one ugly game and, yes, I will be in attendance! My first ever game at Heinz Field. How exciting. Ben Roethlisberger will burn this weak Cleveland defense for 300 yards and two-three TD's while Mendenhall has another great performance in place of Willie Parker. The one thing I am not excited about is Aaron Smith season-ending shoulder injury. This will eventually catch up to the Steelers' front line, unfortunately. Cleveland will fall to 1-5 on the season and continue to rot at the bottom of the division.
Panthers over Buccaneers
If QB Jake Delhomme can limit any turnovers and Carolina's defense can get to the Bucs' quarterback than there should be no problem in winning this game. Delhomme can basically just manage the game and hand the ball to DeAngelo Williams and not try to do too much with it. Bucs will continue to have questions at the QB position and fall to 0-6.
Redskins over Chiefs
Jason Campbell played a solid game last Sunday but was unable to get to the end zone often enough. If Washington can force some Kansas City turnovers and actually capitalize on them then they should (I repeat SHOULD) cruise to a 21-10 victory as Kansas City continues to find ways to lose ballgames.
Jaguars over Rams
David Garrard will have a field day against this defense, which has given up far too many points this season. St. Louis has been outscored 143-34, given up 30+ points three weeks straight and has been shutout twice already. Jacksonville, though coming off a 41-0 shutout loss last week, has put up 30 points twice this season (against division rivals Houston and Tennessee in back-to-back games). I smell a lot of fantasy points for Garrard and Maurice Jones-Drew this week.
Seahawks over Cardinals
Arizona and quarterback Kurt Warner are coming off a fantastic offensive performance against Houston last week but they will be facing a Seattle defense that is coming off a 41-0 victory over Jacksonville. Seattle has two shutouts this season and has given up 30+ points to just one team--the 5-0 Indianapolis Colts who have a three-time league MVP under center.
Eagles over Raiders
Well, Donovan McNabb seems to be healthy once again and I sense a struggle for JaMarcus Russell at the quarterback position for Oakland, especially against a defensive unit as good as Philadelphia's. Brian Westbrook also seems to be healthy, so look for a productive day offensive and defensive-wise for the Eagles in their 31-10 victory over the pitiful Raiders.
Patriots over Titans
Looks like an 0-6 start for the Titans from Tennessee, especially with the struggling Kerry Collins behind center against a defensive unit which just added retired LB Junior Seau (don't underestimate him just because of his age; there's certainly a reason why Belichick brought him back). With Lendale White struggling to gain anything more than two yards, the Titans' run game is in trouble..Chris Johnson relied on him a lot in his impressive rookie campaign last season. Pats win 28-14.
Jets over Bills
Buffalo's defense was hit with another lightning bolt after finding out LB Kawika Mitchell will miss the rest of the season. Buffalo will struggle to put pressure on rookie QB Mark Sanchez, allowing him more time to throw pretty passes to the likes of Jerricho Cotchery and, of course, new Jet Braylon Edwards, who caught a TD pass in his first game with New York. Trent Edwards will get banged up against this smashmouth defense of Rex Ryan's, forcing him to throw 2-3 INT's, costing Buffalo any chance they had to begin with.
Falcons over Bears
I like what I'm seeing from Matt Ryan so far, and I expect another solid performance from Michael Turner coming out of the backfield for Atlanta. This Bears' defense has nothing on Atlanta's powerful offense, especially without Brian Urlacher in uniform. I predict a 250+ yard, 2 TD performance from Ryan in Atlanta's 31-14 victory over Jay Cutler's Bears.
Broncos over Chargers
After an impressive game from Denver against New England, I expect nothing less than that against San Diego, who is coming off a bye last week. Orton will play wonderfully and rookie Knowshon Moreno should play up to his ability against this San Diego defense, as well. It will be a close, back-and-forth game, but I expect to see Denver 6-0 after this MNF matchup.