Week 5 begins the point of the NFL season where the contenders and pretenders begin to separate. All the teams have gotten their normal routines down and have established the identities of their playing style. The Houston Texans have challenged all offenses to beat them. The Atlanta Falcons feel as if they can score at will.
With so much parity in the NFL, Weeks 5-8 will lay the foundation of the teams heading to the playoffs and the teams that need to start preparing for the offseason.
Here are my predictions of the MVP for each game this coming week. Remember, the MVP is awarded to the winning team.
Brian Hartline is having a breakout season for the Dolphins in 2012, and this trend will continue in Cincinnati. Hartline leads the NFL in yards receiving per game with 113.8 and has four receptions for over 40 yards. Hartline is coming off of a season-best 253-yard receiving game versus the Arizona Cardinals in Week 4.
The Bengals are finally getting healthy in the secondary, with cornerbacks Nate Clements, Leon Hall and Dre Kirkpatrick all expected to suit up. But the chemistry will not be there just yet for the Bengals' back half, and Hartline should be able to exploit them.
The former Ohio State Buckeye and rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill seem to have that chemistry. Look for Hartline to eclipse the century mark and get into the end zone again as well.
The Packers defense is a top-10 unit after the first four weeks of the 2012 season, and Clay Matthews is the main reason why. Matthews is second in the NFL in sacks with seven and has been a force in stopping the run.
The Colts do not have a top-notch rushing attack, so look for rookie quarterback Andrew Luck to have to pass the football quite a bit. Behind a beat-up offensive line that has injuries to starting left guard Joe Reitz and his backup Seth Olsen, Luck may never get comfortable in the pocket. Right tackle Winston Justice has had much trouble handling Matthews in the past.
Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers lines Matthews up all along the line of scrimmage and will work to exploit the Colts’ offensive line woes. Matthews will finish the game with at least two sacks and will either a cause or recover a fumble that will lead to a Packers score.
Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel struggled last week in the loss to the San Diego Chargers and already has thrown seven interceptions on the season. The Chiefs passing attack has been hot and cold in 2012, but Cassel’s recent issues are just the remedy for a Ravens defense that has been average at best in the first four weeks of the season.
With only eight pass completions against his name, Webb is rated the No. 1 cornerback by Pro Football Focus in that regard.
After a total of five interceptions last season, Webb has not yet recorded a pick through the quarter mark. Look for Webb to get his first pick of the year off Cassel and record double-digit tackles in a blowout win for the Ravens.
The Titans pass defense is ranked 27th in the NFL and gives up an average of 285 yards a game. The defense has already allowed 151 points after just four games—the most in the league.
Ponder is playing very efficient football. The second-year pro from Florida State is the only starting quarterback who has not thrown an interception in 2012, and is completing 68.3 percent of his passes.
Ponder is nursing a knee injury, but has shown his toughness and leadership ability for the surprising Vikings offense this season. Ponder will throw for his first 300-plus yard game of the year and keep Minnesota undefeated at home for the season.
White is a Pro Bowl receiver, yet before the season, pundits like myself said White would take a backseat to receiving counterpart Julio Jones. While Jones has played solid, White is still the go-to playmaker for quarterback Matt Ryan.
White has 413 receiving yards and three touchdowns on the year. Against the Redskins secondary, which has allowed 20 receptions of 20 yards or more, look for White to have a career day. The Redskins have allowed 11 passing touchdowns on the season and six receptions over 40 yards.
White will help the Falcons stay undefeated by catching at least one touchdown and producing over 150 yards.
In the upset pick of the week, the Browns win their first game of the year versus a banged-up Giants squad. D'Qwell Jackson will win the MVP by posting double-digit tackles, recording a sack, and being involved in a turnover that will swing the game to the Browns.
The Browns offense is plagued by dropped passes but showed improved growth in last week’s loss to Baltimore Ravens. The extra rest from playing on a Thursday will also help give the Browns the edge.
The Giants have injuries to receivers Hakeem Nicks and Ramses Barden. Offensive lineman Chris Snee is hobbling due to a hip injury, and the Giants secondary is a mess with injuries. Jackson has three sacks and two interceptions on the year and will be the catalyst to the Browns victory.
The Eagles defense is one of the better units in the NFL, but the Steelers are coming off a bye week, and the entire team is rested and healthy. The Eagles defense has also not faced an offense with the weapons the Steelers have at their disposal.
Wide receivers Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown are both game-breakers, and tight end Heath Miller is one of the best in the game. Roethlisberger is also playing some of the best football of his career through three games. His only interception was the return for a touchdown versus the Broncos, and Roethlisberger countered that pick-six with eight touchdown throws of his own on the year.
In a hard-fought game, Roethlisberger will make more plays than his adversary, Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, and the Steelers will pull off the Pennsylvania championship.
Chris Clemons has five sacks for the No. 2 defense in the NFL, and the Panthers offensive line will be without starting right guard Geoff Hangartner. While Clemons lines up over the left tackle Jordan Gross most of the game, the loss of Hangartner does not seem like a huge advantage for Clemons.
But backup Garry Williams will be asked to replace Hangartner, and the entire offensive line will be stretched thin trying to help Williams. The Seahawks defensive front is one of the most formidable in the NFL and will put pressure on the struggling Cam Newton all day.
With pressure up the middle due to the loss of Hangartner, Newton will be forced out of the pocket and into space, where Clemons does his best work. The Seahawks DE finishes with at least one sack and helps contain Newton for the Seahawks victory.
The Jaguars defense may be without their best defender, linebacker Daryl Smith, versus the Bears, and Forte showed last week that he is getting back to 100 percent by rushing for 52 yards in the win versus the Dallas Cowboys.
Jacksonville’s defense allows 150.2 yards a game on the ground and has given up six rushing scores. Look for Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice, a former coach for the Jaguars, to keep the ball on the ground and wear out the Jaguars D.
Forte will get plenty of touches to get his legs back under him and to build his confidence. The former Tulane star will produce over 150 yards in total offense and score at least once, as the Bears get an easy win on the road.
Every football fan is excited to see old rivals Peyton Manning and Tom Brady go at it again. Brady is facing a top-10 defense in the Broncos. New England’s defense, while giving up an average of 285 yards a game versus the pass, has played very stout and shut down the Buffalo Bills in the second half of Week 4.
In a game that will be close at the end, Broncos placekicker Matt Prater will win the game with a last-second field goal. Prater is 7-of-7 on field goals this season, with a long of 53 yards, and perfect on extra points as well, making all 11 PATs.
One of the best games of Week 5 will be decided by a kicker, and so the MVP goes to Prater.
The Bills defense is struggling and is allowing 4.8 yards a rush. The Bills allow their opponents 137 yards per game on the ground and have given up six rushing touchdowns.
Gore has had to share carries with Kendall Hunter, and Brandon Jacobs is now healthy as well. But Gore still runs with power and is due a big game. The 49ers should build their lead early and will be looking to keep the ball on the ground and eat up the clock.
Look for Gore to get over 100 yards rushing for the first time since Week 1 and to add a score as well.
The hype going into the game is going to be all about Saints quarterback Drew Brees. Brees has a chance to break former Baltimore Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas’ record of consecutive games with a touchdown. Exiled coaches Sean Payton and Joe Vitt are allowed to be on hand.
Brees will break the record, but his team will not win the game. The Saints still have the worst defense in the NFL, and all of Brees’ magic cannot change that. Rivers has not had a great year statistically, but he is their leader and the Chargers find a way to win.
Rivers will make this a sweet homecoming for wide receiver Robert Meachem and help the former Saint get a touchdown. Philip Rivers will throw for over 300 yards and two touchdowns as the Chargers beat the Saints in New Orleans.
The New York Jets have the 21st-ranked defense in the NFL and are coming off a beating at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers. The Texans are a well-balanced offensive team that runs and passes the ball with equal effect.
Andre Johnson is having an off year by his standards but should rectify that versus the Jets. Without cornerback Darrelle Revis, the Jets secondary is average at best, and Johnson will exploit them this week. Look for Johnson to get his first 100-yard-plus game since Week 1 and find the end zone at least once.