Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins stumbled out of the gate to a 0-3 record, but their playoff hopes are far from dead. They grabbed a much-needed first win in Week 4 against the Oakland Raiders. Despite the unattractive 1-3 record, the Skins are just one game behind the Dallas Cowboys for first place in the division.
Washington is on a bye in Week 5, but it will face the Cowboys in Arlington in Week 6. When this game takes place, it could be for sole control—or at least a share—of the division lead. Dallas plays the Denver Broncos at home in Week 5, and if Peyton Manning and Co. remain as awesome as they have been all season, the Cowboys could be looking at their third loss.
That would put the Skins just a half game behind them going into their head-to-head matchup. A win would vault the Skins ahead of Dallas in the standings. The Philadelphia Eagles are currently 1-3 as well, and they have two winnable games ahead of them.
The Eagles play on the road against the winless New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. However, if the Eagles were to drop one of those games, the Skins could be alone in first place with a win over the Cowboys.
That would be quite a departure from the doom and gloom surrounding the team after the season-opening three-game skid. The Skins aren’t the only struggling team with a strong shot at turning their early-season fortunes around.
Cam Newton and the Panthers are just 1-2 coming off their bye week, but that record doesn’t reflect how well they’ve played this year. They have lost their two games by a combined six points. In Week 1, Carolina nearly pulled the massive upset win over the undefeated Seattle Seahawks.
In Week 2, the Panthers lost by a point to an underrated Buffalo Bills team. This past week, the Panthers took out their frustrations on the hapless Giants, defeating them 38-0.
Looking ahead, the combined record of Carolina’s next five opponents is 5-17. If the Panthers ever had a time to right the ship and position themselves for a run at a playoff spot, it’s now. The team is healthy per NFL.com’s injury report, and its rushing attack ranks third in the NFL, per ESPN.
Newton, DeAngelo Williams and the offensive line will face a challenge moving the ball on the ground against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 5. The Cards have the second-best run defense in the NFL through four weeks. The game will also be played in Arizona, so the Cards will have the home-field advantage.
That said, Arizona has struggled to score points the last two weeks. It has only produced 17 combined points against the Bucs and New Orleans Saints.
The Panthers have more weapons on the offensive side of the ball with Newton, Williams, wide receiver Steve Smith and tight end Greg Olsen.
This is a road game the Panthers can and must win to avoid a 1-3 start.
Green Bay Packers
All of the talk in the NFC North is about the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions. Both teams are 3-1, and the Lions just defeated the Bears in Week 4 to earn the early tiebreaker in the division. The Lions and Bears are obviously playing well, but no one should forget about the Packers.
Green Bay has had a tough schedule to begin the season with two tough road games against the San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals. Coming off a much-needed bye week in Week 4, the Packers will go head-to-head with the Lions at Lambeau Field in Week 5.
A win won’t pull them even with the Bears or Lions in the standings, but it would serve notice that the Pack aren’t ready to surrender control of the division just yet.
Detroit hasn’t won at Lambeau Field since 1991, and despite the Packers’ issues stopping the pass (they are 28th against the pass this year, per ESPN), there is no way the Lions defense can contain the Packers at home. Even in its slow start, Green Bay hasn't scored less than 28 points in a game.
The Lions defense is ranked 21st and 20th, respectively, against the pass and run, per ESPN. Matthew Stafford was less than sharp against the Bears on Sunday. The Bears only picked him off once, but he overthrew receivers for most of the game.
In a shootout on the road against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, I’m betting Stafford will blink first. The Packers will keep the Lions struggling in Wisconsin and remind people they are still the team to beat in the NFC North.
Here’s a complete NFL power-rankings list heading into Week 5.
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