A threesome of NFL teams are off to fast starts host Week 5 home games, and all have golden opportunities to improve to 4-1 on the season.
Two of the three are beating back condescending expectations, while one heavy favorite has picked up right where it left off from last season's impressive run. Here is the hosting trio to bet on in this weekend's action.
Minnesota Vikings over Tennessee Titans
Christian Ponder continues to be remarkably efficient under center for Minnesota and Adrian Peterson continues to shock with his drastically quick recovery from his blown out knee.
Head coach Leslie Frazier finally has his team playing defense the way he expects, largely thanks to the presence of first-round pick Harrison Smith at free safety. Thanks must also be lent to the team's veteran All-Pro cornerback Antoine Winfield.
In a report by the Pioneer Press, Brian Sansevere notes that Winfield—typically not one to be vocal in the locker room—tersely addressed the team after its loss in Week 2 to the Indianapolis Colts. Winfield summarized the message he gave to the team himself:
The first two weeks we were giving up some plays we shouldn't have...Guys know once I'm on the field, I'm giving a hundred percent. They know I'm studying hard. I just want them to do the same thing.
After the speech, a win over the heavily favored San Francisco 49ers ensued and hope was officially established for the 2012 Vikings.
Peterson is ready for a true breakout game and will face a very leaky Tennessee defense with the added incentive of outperforming his counterpart, Titans running back Chris Johnson. CJ2K will be without his starting quarterback Jake Locker, although veteran Matthew Hasselbeck isn't likely to do anything to cost his team the game.
This will be closer than experts might speculate, because the Titans have their season on the line and will be playing desperate football. Johnson will be eager to show that his strong Week 4 performance wasn't an aberration and Hasselbeck will obviously be playing with a chip on his shoulder.
The Vikings should control the clock well enough, and the matchup problems Kyle Rudolph and Percy Harvin will present in the passing game will allow Minnesota to get the "W" at home.
Final score prediction: Vikings 23, Titans 17
Cincinnati Bengals over Miami Dolphins
Sophomore slump for Andy Dalton? I don't think so.
Perhaps it looked that way after the embarrassing season-opening loss to the Baltimore Ravens, but Dalton has responded in a huge way. Between him, superstar wide receiver A.J. Green and offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, the Bengals have quietly built a Top 10 passing attack.
The addition of BenJarvus Green-Ellis to the Bengal backfield hasn't been a raging success so far, but Cincinnati will have to look to the air anyway. Miami has the No. 1 rush defense in the league.
It isn't an ideal matchup for the Bengals, because Dolphins running back Reggie Bush will get a shot at the league's 23rd-ranked rush defense. The key is that Ryan Tannehill will be facing a veteran defensive coordinator in Mike Zimmer, who will be able to confuse the rookie and force him into a couple of mistakes.
That is not to take away from Tannehill's spectacular, 431-yard showing against Arizona last week, but he still turned the ball over multiple times in that game.
In another heart breaker for Miami, the combination of Dalton and Green at home proves to be too much. The Dolphin offense can't quite make enough plays, as Zimmer clogs the box to put the game in Tannehill's hands. It becomes another learning experience for the No. 8 overall pick.
Final score prediction: Bengals 27, Dolphins 24
San Francisco 49ers over Buffalo Bills
Two of the top four rushing attacks in the league square off in Candlestick Park on Sunday afternoon, so something has to give.
Here's the problem for Buffalo, though: the Niners also have a top-flight rush defense, while the Bills let up 137 yards per game on the ground.
The quarterback battle is somewhat similar. Both Ryan Fitzpatrick and Alex Smith don't have elite physical tools, but can make enough plays and lean on the running game to put points on the board.
Fitzpatrick makes more plays than Smith does, but he also makes many more mistakes. Against such a stout defense like San Francisco's, it's going to be a waking nightmare if the Bills can't establish the run.
Maximum protection isn't commonplace in the Buffalo passing game, and Stevie Johnson is the only truly dangerous target for the Bills. The Niners will cover him up, and Fitzpatrick will have to count on T.J. Graham, Donald Jones, and others to get the job done.
That terrifying defensive line that was supposed to be anchored by Mario Williams hasn't been consistent for Buffalo in 2012. Against the likes of Frank Gore and the punishing nature of San Francisco running game, that isn't a recipe for success.
Long story short: this is a mismatch in almost every discernible way.
Final score prediction: 49ers 30, Bills 13
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