Every NFL Team's Biggest Key to Victory in Week 6
It’s mid-October and that means the NFL is in full swing.
The league is down to three unbeaten teams in the Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs and New Orleans Saints. All three clubs have gotten off to similar starts this decade.
Of course, in the case of the Chiefs and Saints, 2013 has already been an amazing reversal of fortunes. Kansas City won just two games a year ago while the Saints opened 0-4 and finished 7-9 in 2012.
Speaking of winning, here’s a look at each team’s key to victory in Week 6.
First, there’s a look back to Thursday night and how the Chicago Bears kept the New York Giants winless in 2013. And we will also take a look back at the seasons for the Atlanta Falcons and Miami Dolphins, who are both off this week.
Final: Chicago Bears 27, New York Giants 21
The formula for success for the 2013 Chicago Bears continues to be the ability to keep Jay Cutler out of harm’s way.
The formula for disaster for this season’s New York Giants remains the inability to hold on to the football.
The Bears held on for a 27-21 Thursday night win after intercepting New York quarterback Eli Manning three times, the final theft coming with just under two minutes to play. The Giants, 0-6 for the first time since 1976, have now committed a whopping 23 turnovers this season. That’s two more than they totaled in 2012.
Meanwhile, Cutler finished the night with 262 yards passing and connected on a pair of scores with wide receiver Brandon Marshall. More significantly, he managed to maneuver his way out of trouble, running three times for 20 yards, and was not sacked on the evening.
In four wins this season, Cutler has been sacked a combined three times. In the Bears' losses to the Detroit Lions and New Orleans Saints, the strong-armed signal-caller was sacked three times in each game.
Yes, it’s been a simple formula indeed for Marc Trestman’s 4-2 squad.
Atlanta Falcons (1-4) and Miami Dolphins (3-2): Off
Atlanta Falcons: Not that they aren’t capable, but the Atlanta Falcons would have to win eight of their last 11 games to avoid their first losing season under head coach Mike Smith.
Then again, are they capable? Things went from bad to worse following the Falcons' 30-28 loss to the New York Jets on Monday Night Football. Wide receiver Julio Jones, the NFL’s leader in receptions after five weeks of play, is now lost for the season.
Lost is what the Falcons are these days. The team has allowed 134 points in five games—131 of that in the final three quarters.
The running game, with or without Steven Jackson, has been a disappointment. But perhaps we’ll see the Rams’ all-time rushing leader when Atlanta returns to action against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 7.
Miami Dolphins: The euphoria of the team’s first 3-0 start since 2002 has been tempered by two losses in the span of seven days.
One week after being handled on a Monday night at the Superdome by the New Orleans Saints, Joe Philbin’s Miami Dolphins dropped a 26-23 decision to the Baltimore Ravens.
The team’s offensive line continues to be an issue. Against the defending Super Bowl champions, the Dolphins ran for 22 yards on 11 carries. It was the second time this season that Philbin’s club had failed to rush for at least 25 yards in a game.
Meanwhile, quarterback Ryan Tannehill was sacked six times by the Ravens. In five games this season, the second-year pro has been dumped 24 times.
The Dolphins have a little extra time before they host the Buffalo Bills in Week 7, their first game versus a divisional opponent in 2013.
Carolina Panthers (1-3): at Minnesota Vikings (1-3)
These sluggish starts have got to stop if Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera is going to go on.
Two weeks after manhandling the New York Giants, 38-0, quarterback Cam Newton and Co. were shackled by the Arizona Cardinals, 22-6. Dating back to 2011, the Panthers have now started the last three seasons 2-8, 2-8 and 1-3, respectively…and counting.
This week the opponent is Minnesota, who, like Carolina last Sunday, is coming back from its off week. Leslie Frazier’s defense has had a lot of problems covering tight ends this season.
Enter Greg Olsen, who leads the team in receptions (21) and receiving yards (273) this season but has only scored one touchdown. Seems like a pretty logical game plan for Rivera and his sluggish but talented team.
Minnesota Vikings (1-3): vs. Carolina Panthers (1-3)
We haven’t seen that much of the Minnesota Vikings' pass rush to date in 2013.
But that could be getting ready to change. In the Vikings’ last outing two weeks ago against the Pittsburgh Steelers in London, Leslie Frazier’s club sacked quarterback Ben Roethlisberger five times. In their previous three games, the Vikings totaled only four sacks.
Last Sunday, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was sacked seven times in a loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
That means Vikings defensive end Jared Allen (3.5 sacks in 2013) has to be licking his chops in anticipation of spending some time in the Carolina backfield.
However, Frazier’s team may be doomed if Allen and friends don’t force Newton into a few costly mistakes.
Cincinnati Bengals (3-2): at Buffalo Bills (2-3)
For the Cincinnati Bengals to score more than 19, they apparently are going to need more from No. 18.
Nineteen is the point total for Marvin Lewis’ club the last two weeks combined. The No. 18, of course, is wide receiver A.J. Green, who has not put up big numbers after making a big splash in Week 1.
In the season opener against the Chicago Bears, the two-time Pro Bowler totaled nine receptions for 162 yards and a pair of scores in what proved to be a 24-21 loss.
In the four games since, Green has caught just 22 passes for 199 yards and one score. His longest reception over that span is just 20 yards.
Against a Buffalo Bills defense that has been better but still vulnerable this season, Green hopes to do some damage against a unit that has already allowed nine touchdown passes in five games.
Buffalo Bills (2-3): vs. Cincinnati Bengals (3-2)
Perhaps it is only fitting that the Buffalo Bills would have their share of Williams' on the roster and most notably on defense.
Under coordinator Mike Pettine, the Buffalo Bills have already totaled 18 sacks and forced 11 turnovers in five games this season. Those numbers are both halfway to last year’s totals for the team, when Buffalo amassed 36 sacks and 21 takeaways.
Defensive end Mario Williams leads the team with 7.5 sacks while third-year strong safety Aaron Williams is tied for the club lead with four passes defensed and has a pair of interceptions.
And there’s defensive tackle Kyle Williams, who does the dirty work. The former Pro Bowler has totaled 22 stops and two sacks and teams inside with emerging defender Marcell Dareus.
If the Cincinnati Bengals offensive line can’t control the Bills’ talented front, it could well be another frustrating afternoon for quarterback Andy Dalton and a Bengals team struggling to score points these days.
Detroit Lions (3-2): at Cleveland Browns (3-2)
Although he has missed one game this season, running back Reggie Bush has been what the doctor ordered for the Detroit Lions.
The eight-year pro leads the team with 298 yards rushing on 61 carries despite missing a game. Bush has also added 204 yards on 15 receptions, and he’s scored one touchdown both rushing and receiving.
While we’re not totally sure of wide receiver Calvin Johnson’s availability on Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, the Lions would like to get off to a fast start. The Browns will once again start quarterback Brandon Weeden, who struggled to put points on the board the first two games of the season before giving way to Brian Hoyer.
Look for Bush to take advantage of an aggressive Cleveland defense via the passing game.
Cleveland Browns (3-2): vs. Detroit Lions (3-2)
Will we see Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson this week when the team squares off against the Cleveland Browns?
If we do, it's guaranteed that Browns cornerback Joe Haden will be seeing Johnson more than anyone on Sunday.
Haden is having a solid season for an emerging Cleveland defense, totaling 20 tackles (17 solo) while knocking down six passes.
If Rob Chudzinski’s team is to make it four straight wins, Haden and Co. will have to come up very big against a potent Detroit offense. And the Browns are certainly capable. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton’s unit is fourth in the NFL in total yards allowed and ranks in the top 10 in both rushing and passing yards allowed.
It makes for an intriguing matchup between two clubs that are both close to reaching their win totals of 2012.
Green Bay Packers (2-2): at Baltimore Ravens (3-2)
A seal here and a seal there?
Those are the paraphrased words of Pro Football Hall of Fame head coach Vince Lombardi when illustrating the Green Bay Packers’ fabled running game of the 1960s.
To date in 2013, the Packers' ground attack looks pretty good as well. Mike McCarthy’s team is averaging 141.0 yards per game rushing, a noticeable improvement from recent seasons.
Running backs James Starks (187 yards), Eddie Lacy (150 yards) and Johnathan Franklin (104 yards) have all had their moments this season.
Still, it won’t be easy going against a Baltimore Ravens defensive unit which is allowing only 89.8 yards per game rushing. But it would be a good idea to keep quarterback Aaron Rodgers away from a pass rush that has already totaled 19 sacks in five games.
Franklin could be the wild card here as his quickness figures to test a veteran Ravens defense that has not allowed a touchdown in two home games this season.
Baltimore Ravens (3-2): vs. Green Bay Packers (2-2)
Yes, linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed are no longer with the Baltimore Ravens. But veteran outside linebacker Terrell Suggs has returned…in more ways than one.
Last season, the 2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Year missed eight regular-season games but was around for the team’s playoff run, one that culminated with a win in Super Bowl XLVII.
This season, Suggs has already accumulated seven sacks in five games, three of those in last week’s win over the Miami Dolphins.
On Sunday, the 11-year veteran hopes to give Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and his offensive front something to think about all afternoon.
Oakland Raiders (2-3): at Kansas City Chiefs (5-0)
Here’s a number that may surprise many people: The Oakland Raiders have beaten the Kansas City Chiefs six straight times at Arrowhead Stadium.
That’s pretty good, considering the Silver and Black haven’t done much in terms of winning for more than a decade.
Here’s another surprise for some: Quarterback Terrelle Pryor is emerging as a solid quarterback. In four games this season, the third-year pro is completing 68.3 percent of his passes and has thrown four touchdown passes. Pryor has only committed two turnovers, both interceptions, and leads the team with 229 yards rushing.
This week, the Raiders head to Kansas City looking for another road win in the series. And it will be interesting to see if Andy Reid’s defense—which has held each of its first five opponents to 17 points or less—can put the clamps on the improving Pryor.
Kansas City Chiefs (5-0): vs. Oakland Raiders (2-3)
The Kansas City Chiefs have almost caught up to their talented roster.
Last season, the team finished with only two wins. But much was made about the fact that the club had six players named to the Pro Bowl.
So, it is simple math. One more win for the Chiefs in 2013 and they will have evened the score.
All kidding aside, the great start by Andy Reid’s team can be attributed to a lot of factors. And one that can’t be ignored is the play of running back Jamaal Charles.
The workhorse runner has also become the team’s workhorse pass-catcher this season. Charles leads the Chiefs in rushing yards (397) and receptions (28) and has scored five of the team’s 10 offensive touchdowns.
Charles is also second in the league with 647 yards from scrimmage, trailing a former Reid runner in the Philadelphia Eagles' LeSean McCoy (700).
And that’s about the only trailing the Chiefs have done so far in 2013.
Philadelphia Eagles (2-3): at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-4)
It appears likely that quarterback Nick Foles will make his first start of the season on Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Foles starting for the Philadelphia Eagles is not necessarily breaking news—he did it six times in 2013 and managed a 1-5 record.
Last week, the second-year quarterback stepped in for an injured Michael Vick in the second quarter, throwing for 197 yards and a pair of scores in the Birds’ 36-21 victory over the New York Giants.
But which offense will we see from Chip Kelly on Sunday?
Forget Foles for a second. Last week vs. the Giants, the Eagles ran 45 plays for 303 yards in the first half. It was reminiscent of the team’s Week 1 performance against the Washington Redskins when Kelly’s club totaled 322 yards on 53 plays in a 33-27 win.
Is Kelly saving his high-octane stuff for his divisional foes?
We shall see this Sunday at Tampa.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-4): vs. Philadelphia Eagles (2-3)
It’s been a good start for Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson.
Last week in a win over the New York Giants, the speedy bird caught seven passes for 132 yards and a score in a 36-21 win.
For the season, Jackson has totaled a team-high 28 catches for a gaudy 525 yards (18.8 yards per reception) and three touchdowns.
This Sunday, Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Darrelle Revis will try to put the clamps on Jackson, who has totaled 100 or more yards receiving in three of the team’s five games this season.
The winless Bucs seem to be doing something right, at least on defense. Last season, the club ranked dead last in the NFL in passing yards allowed. This season, Revis and Co. have allowed only five touchdown passes in four games while totaling six interceptions.
It shapes up as an interesting duel between one of the league’s top playmakers and one of the game’s heralded corners. Enjoy.
Pittsburgh Steelers (0-4): at New York Jets (3-2)
Pittsburgh Steelers rookie running back Le’Veon Bell was somewhat busy during his NFL regular-season debut.
That was two weeks ago in London, England, when he totaled 20 touches for 84 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to overcome the Minnesota Vikings.
A closer look at the numbers from that game two weeks ago shows that Bell totaled 16 carries and caught four passes.
Against a very talented, aggressive New York Jets defense, look for the rookie runner to try to do some early damage as a pass-catcher.
While that may be easier said than done for Bell and the Steelers, it may be one way for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to stave off the Jets pass rush…at least early on.
New York Jets (3-2): vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (0-4)
Future opponents of the New York Jets need to take notice…quickly.
Only the Houston Texans have allowed fewer yards per game and only the Denver Broncos have given up fewer yards per outing on the ground this season than the Jets.
In reality, it’s pretty horrible news for the Pittsburgh Steelers this weekend. Entering Week 6, only the New York Giants have rushed for fewer yards per game than Mike Tomlin’s team. Pittsburgh has totaled just 232 yards on the ground in four contests—a mere 58.0 yards per outing.
While the Jets have gotten tremendous play from veteran linebacker David Harris and rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, left defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson is emerging as one of the league’s best defensive linemen.
And it is hard to believe that Steelers right tackle Marcus Gilbert won’t be able to handle the emerging defender without a little help.
St. Louis Rams (2-3): at Houston Texans (2-3)
We know all about the horror show that has been Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub’s 2013 season.
But the St. Louis Rams' 2-3 start this year has been pretty disappointing as well. Jeff Fisher’s club comes off a 34-20 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars but the team’s defense has failed to answer the bell this season.
The Rams defensive unit has allowed 16 touchdowns in five games, including 11 scores through the air. And to make matters worse, Fisher’s defense has intercepted only three passes.
None of those interceptions have come courtesy of cornerbacks Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins.
Jenkins ran back three interceptions for touchdowns during his rookie season in 2012. Is he ready to get his first pick-six of the season courtesy of the obliging Schaub?
Houston Texans (2-3): vs. St. Louis Rams (2-3)
From 2-0 to 2-3, it’s been a rough stretch for the talented Houston Texans.
But it’s hard to blame the defense. While Gary Kubiak’s team has given up a disturbing 139 points in five games, the Texans defensive unit has allowed only 11 touchdowns. Meanwhile, Houston’s offense and special teams have given up five touchdowns, four of those by way of Matt Schaub interceptions.
All told, the Texans lead the league in fewest yards allowed and have yet to give up 300 total yards in any game this season.
What’s a defense to do? Take matters into its own hands. Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton can tell you that Texans defensive end J.J. Watt knows how to intercept a pass and take it in for a score. See the 2011 AFC playoffs.
So when the St. Louis Rams come to town on Sunday, we’ll predict that Watt catches one of those deflected passes from quarterback San Bradford and put points on the board for his team.
Jacksonville Jaguars (0-5): at Denver Broncos (5-0)
So what are the Jacksonville Jaguars to do?
The franchise is off to the worst start in its brief history. Gus Bradley’s team has scored a total of 51 points—the same amount of points that the Denver Broncos managed last Sunday.
There was at least one bright spot in last week’s 34-20 loss to the St. Louis Rams. Jaguars wideout Justin Blackmon made his season debut following a four-game suspension and totaled five catches for 136 yards and a touchdown.
No matter how you slice it, and regardless of the reasons, the Broncos have given up 11 touchdown passes in five games and 347.0 yards per game through the air.
You have to think getting the ball to Blackmon is easily the Jaguars’ best option.
Denver Broncos (5-0): vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-5)
It’s not that the Denver Broncos' pass-catching corps isn’t getting its due this season.
Still, it’s worth noting the amazing play of tight end Julius Thomas, easily the least-known of quarterback Peyton Manning’s top targets.
Thomas ranks fourth on the team with 27 receptions but is third in receiving yards (359) and trails only another Thomas, Demaryius (seven) in scoring catches (six).
The 0-5 Jacksonville Jaguars have allowed 163 points in five games and have been outscored a combined 99-18 in the first half alone. The Jaguars have also already given up a dozen touchdown passes this season.
Thomas has scored at least one touchdown in four of his five appearances in 2013. The odds are good he may make it five out of six this Sunday.
Tennessee Titans (3-2): at Seattle Seahawks (4-1)
Is this the week we see a breakout game from Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson?
The workhorse runner has yet to reach the century mark in five games this season, although he’s gotten close twice in 2013.
This week, Mike Munchak’s team heads to Seattle and faces a Seahawks team that has won 10 straight home games and averaged over 30 points per contest.
But this is also a Seattle defensive unit ranked just 19th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed. Keeping quarterback Russell Wilson and running back Marshawn Lynch on the sidelines would be a good game plan for the Titans.
And running Johnson early and often may even be better.
Seattle Seahawks (4-1): vs. Tennessee Titans (3-2):
Last season proved to be a banner year for Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.
The third-round pick from 2012 tied the rookie record for touchdown passes (26), and led his team to an 11-5 record and a playoff victory.
Wilson’s passing numbers last season shows that he threw only 10 interceptions. He also fumbled just six times, losing three, meaning he committed a total of 13 turnovers in 16 regular-season games.
But the Pro Bowl quarterback of a year ago has had some issues with ball security this season despite the team’s strong 4-1 start. Wilson has thrown eight touchdown passes but has been picked off four times. And the second-year pro has already fumbled five times, losing three of those bobbles.
It’s safe to say that Wilson may have to play a little better as the season wears on. And can you imagine just how good this Seattle team could be minus those miscues?
New Orleans Saints (5-0): at New England Patriots (4-1)
And don’t forget running back Darren Sproles, who has also been a huge part of Sean Payton’s offense this season.
In five games this season, Brees has thrown for 1,722 yards—more than half of those yards thanks to the combined efforts of Graham (593) and Sproles (308).
Tight ends and running backs have been a big part of the Saints' attack this season. Brees has thrown a dozen touchdown passes, with 10 of those scores going to tight ends (seven) and running backs (three).
And don’t forget the impact Sproles has on special teams, averaging 8.7 yards per punt return and 20.0 yards per kickoff return. And that could be the real deciding factor in this week’s showdown with the New England Patriots.
New England Patriots (4-1): vs. New Orleans Saints (5-0)
Last week against the Cincinnati Bengals, the New England Patriots were without running back Stevan Ridley.
And by game’s end, Bill Belichick’s team was also without a touchdown in a frustrating 13-6 loss.
This week against the New Orleans Saints, the former LSU product may or may not return to the field. That means veteran running back LeGarrette Blount will make another start and against a familiar foe.
The former Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back has run into (and over) the Saints on more than one occasion. But this is a new-look New Orleans defense, a big factor in the team’s undefeated start.
The Patriots will need Blount, who ran 12 times for 51 yards at Cincinnati, to be a bigger factor on Sunday.
Arizona Cardinals (3-2): at San Francisco 49ers (3-2)
What a difference a return makes.
Return, as in the 2013 season debut for Arizona Cardinals inside linebacker Daryl Washington. Last week, the 2012 Pro Bowler totaled two of the team’s seven sacks of Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton in Arizona’s 22-6 win.
How much did Washington’s presence aid the defense? The Cards had totaled just seven sacks in their first four games this season. Washington, who totaled a team-high nine sacks last season, also amassed a team-high nine tackles and an interception in the victory.
This week against the San Francisco 49ers, Washington will be concentrating more on the Niners' running game, which is ranked sixth in the NFL this season.
And it’s safe to say that Jim Harbaugh’s offensive front will be concentrating on Washington.
San Francisco 49ers (3-2): vs. Arizona Cardinals (3-2)
You take one look at San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis’ numbers in 2013 and you are probably somewhat surprised.
Davis has totaled just 14 receptions for 224 yards in four games this season. But he has also caught four of the six touchdown passes thrown by teammate Colin Kaepernick in 2013. The big-play tight end has scored at least once in three games this season.
Maybe just as surprising is the fact that Davis ranks second on the Niners in catches. In fact, only he and Anquan Boldin (26) have totaled at least 10 receptions for Jim Harbaugh’s club this year.
With Boldin expected to face a stiff challenge from Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson on Sunday, we could see a very big performance from Davis against the Arizona defense.
Washington Redskins (1-3): at Dallas Cowboys (2-3)
Anyone remember the last time the Dallas Cowboys defense got a glimpse of Washington Redskins running back Alfred Morris?
It was in last year’s regular-season finale at FedEx Field. And Morris absolutely and positively did a number on the Cowboys defense, rushing for 200 yards and three touchdowns on 33 carries in the team’s 28-18 victory.
This season, Morris has rushed for only 296 yards and two touchdowns on only 56 carries in four games. But he could get be getting ready for a big night in terms of carries against the Cowboys.
Last season, Morris totaled at least 20 rushing attempts in 10 of 16 games. This season, he’s yet to get 20 carries in a game. Look for that to change on Sunday night in Big D.
Dallas Cowboys (2-3): vs. Washington Redskins (1-3)
All week, all over the country, fingers have been pointed at Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.
Make that a single finger…as in one…as in one interception.
Romo’s miscue late in the fourth quarter against the Denver Broncos last Sunday put a damper on a game in which he threw for 506 yards and five scores.
But what happens to the Cowboys if Romo doesn’t put up the numbers that he does?
Over the last two games, Dallas has blown 21-10 and 14-0 leads to the San Diego Chargers and Broncos, respectively. The Cowboys have allowed a whopping 81 points in their last two outings and are giving up 27.2 points per contest this season.
For now, Romo, wide receiver Dez Bryant and the rest of the Dallas offense may need to pile up the points until their defensive compatriots regain that six-takeaway touch of Week 1.
Indianapolis Colts (4-1): at San Diego Chargers (2-3)
While some of the rankings don’t scream improvement, this is a better-looking Indianapolis Colts defense in 2013.
Some will remember that Chuck Pagano’s team did give up more points (387) than it scored (357) last season.
This year, the Colts have allowed just 79 points in five outings. And the team’s defensive unit has permitted just eight touchdowns. And a team that forced only 15 turnovers in 2012 has totaled 10 takeaways so far this season.
It has also been a big year for outside linebacker Robert Mathis as well. Indianapolis has totaled 15 sacks this year and 9.5 of those have come from Mathis, the league leader in that category.
It figures to be an interesting matchup with the San Diego Chargers on Monday night. An improved Chargers front has allowed only eight sacks in five games this season—quite a turnaround considering quarterback Philip Rivers was sacked 49 times in 2012.
San Diego Chargers (2-3): vs. Indianapolis Colts (4-1)
It has already been an interesting season for the San Diego Chargers.
So what else is new?
On opening weekend, Mike McCoy’s team blew a 28-7 lead en route to a 31-28 loss to the Houston Texans. There was a win over the Philadelphia Eagles and a loss to the Tennessee Titans. All three of those games were decided in the final 15 seconds.
Last Sunday night, the Chargers followed up a come-from-behind win over the Dallas Cowboys with a mistake-plagued 27-17 loss to the Oakland Raiders. In that game, Chargers running back Danny Woodhead led the team with nine receptions, good for 58 yards and a score.
The former Patriots performer has been targeted 36 times by quarterback Philip Rivers this season and the duo has connected 31 times. Woodhead has also caught three touchdown passes in the last two games and figures to present some problems for the Indianapolis Colts linebacking corps.