One of the great things about the NFL is how the pieces to the puzzle always make for a much greater whole.
Sure, you can tell people that the New York Giants won the Super Bowl last year, but what made it so enthralling was the story that came before their victory over New England. Here was a team that was buried with two weeks to play, won its last two games to sneak into the postseason and wound up winning its second title in five years.
As we reach Week 5 of the NFL season, the pieces appear to be in place for a few teams to run away with their divisions. Everything else is still very much up in the air. You can make a strong case for at least 17 teams to sneak into the postseason.
The best way to prove your worth in the NFL is to win on the road. Sometimes we can overrate how much playing at home matters, but there is a psychological element at play when a team travels hundreds or thousands of miles to play in front of 70,000 fans who want to see them fail.
Winning on the road is the key to any championship season. Week 5 features a few teams taking their impressive home act on the road to show what they can do. Here are the ones that have what it takes to pull off a surprise.
Philadelphia Eagles at Pittsburgh Steelers
There are a lot of things not to like about the Eagles. They turn the ball over too much, though they did correct that for at least one game against the Giants. They never play up to their full potential. Michael Vick is one hit away from being out for the year.
Yet somehow, someway, they are getting the job done this season. It isn't always easy to watch—sometimes it is downright painful—but a win is a win.
The Steelers, much like the Eagles, look like an enigma. They played a mediocre game against Denver and paid for it. They beat the Jets, but who doesn't nowadays? They gave up 13 points in the fourth quarter to a Raiders team that looks like one of the worst in football.
So who are you supposed to trust?
I wouldn't be willing to bet my house on either team, but if I absolutely have to pick one, I have to go with the team that wins even in the ugliest of situations. The Eagles don't need to be sexy to win, as we have seen.
Eagles 27, Steelers 23
Cleveland Browns at New York Giants
Before everyone rips me to shreds, I will say that I am not picking the Browns to win. I am, however, expecting this game to be much closer than the experts would have us believe.
There are a few reasons for my belief, which I will share with you now.
First, the Giants rarely win games by a wide margin. They are good enough to win more than they lose, but there are always a handful of those games every year where they play down to the competition. Just look at the first two games this season against Dallas and Tampa Bay.
Second, aside from a great defensive line that hasn't looked great this season, the Giants have plenty of holes that can and have been exploited. They don't defend the pass well, which makes their pass rush that much more important. They haven't been able to stop the run with any kind of consistency.
Third, the Browns aren't as bad as you might think. They aren't going to flirt with a .500 record, but their four losses have come by a combined 25 points. They have not been blown out in any game. The defense, while the numbers aren't there, is performing as well as can be expected considering the burden they have to carry due to their offense.
Plus, Brandon Weeden has started to throw the ball better. He needs to be more consistent with his accuracy, but overall, he looks much more comfortable and can put up a lot of yards against the right defense. He had 320 against a Baltimore defense that is better than what the Giants run out there.
Don't be shocked to see this game come down to the wire.
Giants 28, Browns 24
Tennessee Titans at Minnesota Vikings
One of the pleasant surprises this season has been the play of the Vikings. Percy Harvin is the most dangerous weapon in the sport. Adrian Peterson is slowly but surely returning to form. Christian Ponder is playing mistake-free football. The defense is running over everyone.
So why don't I like them much this week against an inferior Titans team that is without Jake Locker?
For starters, the Vikings have gotten a lot of things to go right. Their victory over San Francisco was well-deserved. They were the better team and took it to the 49ers, but last week was nothing more than special teams blunders by the Lions, and they needed overtime to beat Jacksonville in Week 1.
Plus, the Titans finally found something to pull Chris Johnson out of his massive funk. He ran for 141 yards on 25 carries against a Houston defense that some tout as the best in the NFL. The Vikings boast a strong run defense, but Johnson showed a lot last week.
Eventually Ponder is going to have to make some plays with his arm to win a game. The Titans don't have a strong defense, so it is not out of the realm of possibility for him to do it. But don't sleep on the Titans in this spot.
Titans 24, Vikings 21