NFL TV Schedule Week 5: Breaking Down the Can't-Miss Matchups
That's a quarter of the 16-game season in the books. A lot can happen in that time.
From the entire debacle that was the replacement referee saga to the dazzling starts from some of the rookies and younger players in the league, this season is off to an exciting start.
While we've seen preseason favorites excel and traditional cellar-dwellers continue to dwell, we've also had our fair share of surprises.
For one, the Arizona Cardinals currently sit at 4-0. A large part of their success is due to backup quarterback Kevin Kolb and a defense that has played at a surprisingly elite level.
On the other hand, the New Orleans Saints have stumbled to a 0-4 start. Shocking when you consider that the Saints only lost three games all of last season. Brees has done his part; however, the defense currently ranks last in total defense while allowing 32.5 points per game.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
This season is finally getting into the swing of the things. This is the stretch of the schedule where we find out who the contenders are and who the pretenders are.
With that in mind, here are five can't-miss matchups to keep an eye out for in Week 5.
1. Buffalo Bills Running Attack vs. San Francisco 49ers Defense
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Why it’s interesting: The Bills come into the contest ranked No. 4 in rushing offense, averaging 158 yards per game. The attack is led by C.J. Spiller, who has 341 yards and three touchdowns on 41 carries this season.
On the other hand, the 49ers come in boasting the No. 5 rush defense in the league. Opposing running backs have only been able to manage 79.5 yards with just one touchdown.
Something's got to give.
What to watch for: Spiller has been absolutely electric on the ground.
His 8.3 yards per attempt currently leads the league. He is also currently tied for the league lead in runs that have gone for 20 yards or more.
Conversely, the 49ers defense only allows 3.2 yards per attempt, with the longest run they've allowed only going for 23 yards. In fact, opponents have only two rushing attempts that have went for more than 10 yards.
Ball security is also another possible tipping point.
The Bills have had trouble protecting the ball, putting it on the ground three times already. That's an area of concern when you consider that the 49ers are tied for the league lead in fumbles forced with four.
While the return of Fred Jackson should have made the Bills rushing attack more formidable, it did exactly the opposite in their 52-28 loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday. The Bills looked confused as they struggled to divvy up the rush attempts between Spiller and Jackson.
Expect the 49ers to capitalize on that, as well as limit the yards per attempt by Spiller to a more manageable number. Also, expect the 49ers defense to be going for the strip against a fumble-prone backfield.
2. Aaron Rodgers vs. Andrew Luck
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Why it's interesting: This is a tale of two quarterbacks who are at two completely different points in their careers.
Aaron Rodgers is 28, a Super Bowl winner and is on a quest to solidify his status as one of the elite quarterbacks in the league. Andrew Luck is 23, the first overall draft pick and is on a quest to accomplish the difficult task of replacing Peyton Manning.
On Sunday, their respective journeys will collide head-on in Indianapolis.
What to watch for: Rodgers has had quite a puzzling season thus far.
After starting with only three touchdown tosses through the first four weeks—including none in the controversial loss to the Seattle Seahawks—Rodgers got back to business as usual with four in a thrilling 28-27 victory over the New Orleans Saints.
While his three interceptions are already half of the amount he threw all of last season, there couldn't be a better defense for Rodgers to face coming off a superb performance than that of the Colts.
Opposing quarterbacks have averaged a quarterback rating of 102.5 against the Colts. Add to that the fact that they've only registered one interception and seven sacks in three games, and the only thing that should end up stopping opposing quarterbacks are themselves.
In comparison, Luck has had his fair share of ups and downs as well.
In his NFL debut, the former Stanford signal-caller threw three interceptions in a 41-21 defeat to the Chicago Bears. However, although he posted a quarterback rating of 52.9, he still managed to top the 300-yard mark.
Since then, Luck has looked more mature and poised in the pocket, throwing for four touchdowns with only one interception. His standout performance was a 23-20 victory over the Minnesota Vikings in which Luck was 20-for-31 for 224 yards and two touchdowns. He posted an impressive quarterback rating of 107.5 for the game.
The biggest concern, however, has to be his 53.3 percent completion rate.
It's something the Packers defense might look to capitalize on.
Coming into the contest, the Packers rank No. 6 against the pass, only allowing 201 yards per game through the air. Led by Clay Matthews, the Packers are tied for third in the league with 14 sacks.
Advantage: Aaron Rodgers.
Experience pays off, and Rodgers has seven more years under his belt than Luck. Not to mention, a more favorable defensive matchup.
The Colts secondary has yet to face a true passing threat such as Rodgers, yet they've still performed well below-average. Coming off his best game of the season, look for Rodgers to light it up.
On the other hand, expect the Packers to continually get pressure on Luck and force him into some bad decisions. There's a chance this one could become much worse than the result in Chicago.
3. Robert Griffin III vs. Atlanta Falcons Secondary
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Why it's interesting: Robert Griffin III has easily been the story of the year so far this season.
Much like Cam Newton did last season, Griffin III has taken the league by storm with both his arm and his legs.
Through the air, Griffin III ranks No. 11 in the league with 1,070 yards. He has four touchdowns to only one interception. He also has the fourth-best quarterback rating in the league at 103.2.
On the ground, Griffin III ranks No. 16 with 252 yards. His four touchdowns are tied for the league lead, and his 6.5 yards per carry have him ranked second behind C.J. Spiller.
Put simply: Griffin III is proving to be a nightmare to defend for opponents.
While his numbers are fantastic, Griffin III has yet to face a top-10 pass defense. That's set to change this weekend when the 4-0 Atlanta Falcons come into town.
The Falcons rank No. 9 against the pass, allowing only 207 yards per game. They've only allowed four touchdowns to opponents while bringing in seven interceptions. The seven picks rank them No. 2 in the league, only behind the St. Louis Rams' eight.
Will Griffin III prove to the rest of the league that he should be seen as a viable passing threat, or will he choose to rely heavily on his rushing ability?
What to watch for: After getting double-digit carries in both his two previous games, Griffin III only rushed a mere seven tines in Sunday's victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
You'd have to believe that that's a direct result of head coach Mike Shanahan trying to reduce the number of big hits Griffin III has been taking at the end of runs.
Against a stiff Falcons pass defense, Shanahan might have to risk it if he wants to win.
The Falcons rank No. 29 against the run, allowing a whopping 146.3 yards per game. Their six touchdowns allowed on the ground have them tied for second-most in the league.
That's an area that Griffin III and the Redskins have to capitalize on.
Bolstered by the duo of running back Alfred Morris and Griffin III, the Redskins boast the No. 1 rushing offense in the league, averaging 175.5 yards per game. Their eight touchdowns also lead the league.
Advantage: Robert Griffin III.
Yes, the Falcons are 4-0, but with a rush defense as vulnerable and incapable of stopping the run as the Falcons', you can't help but believe that the Redskins will thrive. Griffin III must be licking his chops.
The Falcons might be able to stop the pass, but that might not even be necessary if they can't stop the Redskins from moving the ball on the ground.
4. Mark Sanchez vs. Tim Tebow
Why it's interesting: Just when you thought it was over.
Sanchez proved stellar, going 19-of-27 through the air for 266 yards and three touchdowns. He would finish with a 123.4 quarterback rating—the third highest of his career.
Since then? Not so much.
Over the last three games, Sanchez has struggled to find his mark (no pun intended). He's failed to throw for more than 150 yards in two of the games and completed less than 50 percent of his passes in all three.
For the season, Sanchez has thrown for five touchdowns and four interceptions while completing only 49.2 percent of his passes. His quarterback rating is a lowly 69.6.
The slip in play has given life to speculation that suggests Tebow may see more time.
What to watch for: It's Monday night football. With the entire league watching, there's not a bigger stage in football in any given week. Add to that that the 4-0 Houston Texans are coming to town, and Ryan might want to throw in a few surprises.
Knowing his reputation of loving the spotlight, this might be the perfect time to introduce a little more Tebow into his offense.
But besides the obvious publicity and outcry that such a move would garner, the numbers might actually back up this move.
At the current rate Sanchez is playing, is it really that much better than Tebow's career stat line?
In two seasons, Tebow has a 9-8 record as a starter. He's completed 47.5 percent of his passes while tossing 17 touchdowns to nine interceptions. He has a career quarterback rating of 75.2.
This season, he's only attempted one pass and rushed nine times for 38 yards.
If he doesn't start, you've got to expect Ryan to at least utilize Tebow a little more than he has in previous games.
Advantage: Mark Sanchez.
Although Sanchez seems to be getting worse with every pass attempt, I still believe he is their best bet at quarterback.
If he can put together a performance similar to the one he displayed in Week 1, against the No. 1 Texans defense, he will no doubt solidify his position as the starting quarterback in the depth chart. With it, putting an end to this argument once and for all.
And if he gets clobbered similar to what the 49ers defense did to him?
Well, that's a story for a different a article.
5. Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning
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4:25 p.m. ET - Denver Broncos at. New England Patriots (CBS) Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA
Why it's interesting: Well, this sounds familiar.
Peyton Manning and Tom Brady—the NFL’s variation of the NBA’s Magic-Bird rivalry—will get together for their 14th head-to-head meeting. Brady currently holds an 8-5 advantage. However, Manning has won five of the last seven.
Although Manning is now in Broncos gear, the feelings between the two future Hall of Famers will remain the same.
Together, the two combined for six NFL MVP awards in a span of eight years from 2003-2010. Both have lifted up the Lombardi Trophy. Both have set countless NFL records.
But most of all, both want to beat the other badly.
This Sunday should be no different.
What to watch for: Both teams come into the contest 2-2, which is unusual for their rivalry's standards.
However, after getting off to a shaky 1-2 start, both quarterbacks stepped up to take it to another level this past weekend. A dominant, more familiar level.
After falling behind 21-7, Brady rallied the Patriots to a 52-28 victory. Brady threw for 340 yards on 22-of-36 passing to go along with three touchdowns. His quarterback rating was 120.1 for the game.
Manning, on the other hand, was near perfect throughout the Broncos' 37-6 victory over the Oakland Raiders. Manning was precise through the air, going 30-of-38 for 338 yards and three touchdowns. He registered a quarterback rating of 130.0 for his efforts.
Both quarterbacks have played fairly similar thus far.
They've both had one game where they just couldn't seem to figure it out—against the Arizona Cardinals for Brady and against the Atlanta Falcons for Manning.
But now, they get back to something they're fairly familiar with: putting on great duels.
The last seven meetings between these two quarterbacks have been decided by seven points or less.
Sunday's contest looks to be no different.
Advantage: Tom Brady. Slightly.
It's always tough picking between these two. Their rivalry always seems to bring out the best in each other. However, it might just be too early on in the season to expect that from Manning.
Although his overall numbers look great, Manning has struggled with his accuracy. For the last time Manning had a completion percent under 65 percent—he's currently at 64.7 percent—you would have to go all the way to 2001.
While his last performance displayed signs that he is regaining his old form, it's too early to tell.
All stats used in this article were provided by ESPN.com
You can follow Sebastian on Twitter at @SP7988