Week 6 seems to be centered around replacements for the recently injured and the return of those who once were. However, in the midst of all of that, we have some incredible matchups between some of the league’s most amazing talents going head-to-head with a lot on the line.
With 14 different games to choose from and only a limited amount of time to dedicate to football, I provide my weekly rundown of the most entertaining storylines and matchups the NFL has to offer.
So, without any further delay, check out what’s on the menu for this action-packed weekend from around the league.
With Thaddeus Lewis’ recent elevation from the practice squad to starting quarterback in just a matter of weeks, a few eyebrows have been raised and at least a few questions are being asked in and around Buffalo.
First of all, how does the team justify such a dramatic promotion?
While Lewis might be a practice squad quarterback, he’s still actually the more experienced option between him and rookie Jeff Tuel. Lewis has actually started one game in the NFL, which came for the Cleveland Browns last year against the notorious defense of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
During this lone opportunity, he posted decent numbers, going 22-of-32 for 204 yards with a touchdown pass and an interception.
Secondly, if Cincinnati’s defense can turn future Hall of Famer Tom Brady into a sub-par quarterback, what should we reasonably expect from Lewis?
When you consider the Bengals defense has only allowed 23 points in the last two games, there shouldn’t be much room for optimism when it comes to the Bills offense racking up big numbers in this one.
Buffalo is at home for this contest, which could be deemed as a positive—except for concerns regarding the added challenge of expected rain in the forecast. If this game gets sloppy, the team with the most effective running game could have the significant advantage.
This one game could propel Lewis’ career into an entirely new stratosphere should he impress. These are the days when fresh new faces either step to the forefront of NFL stardom or shrivel under the spotlight.
Two weeks ago, rookie running back Le’Veon Bell made his NFL debut against the Minnesota Vikings and looked like just the spark the team needed to possibly turn its disappointing season around.
Despite the loss, Bell looked promising in his return from a foot injury, carrying the ball 16 times for 57 yards to go with a pair of touchdowns. He also had four catches for another 27 yards, helping the Steelers score a season-high 27 points.
With Bell in the lineup, Pittsburgh has more of a chance to return to its roots as a run-first team with an emphasis on smash-mouth football. Its talented ball-carrier was a second-round pick in last April’s draft and weighs an impressive 230 pounds.
Even with the build of a power runner, Le’Veon happens to be one of the more physically gifted rookies of the 2013 draft class.
Though he may not be a miracle worker, look for the Steelers to be an improved team with Bell in their arsenal.
With Calvin Johnson considered a game-time decision due to a lingering knee injury, we’ll have to wait and see whether or not he suits up against the Cleveland Browns. If he doesn’t, we can consider the Browns an instant favorite to win the game. However, if Megatron is indeed ready to rock, the Lions should have the advantage.
This is the type of impact Johnson has on the game. Without his presence on the field, the Browns defense will tee off against a marginal crop of receivers and focus in on Reggie Bush almost exclusively. With Johnson in the game, coverages and defensive play-calling must take No. 81's whereabouts into account.
Assuming he plays on Sunday—which I expect him to—Johnson will be paired up most, if not all, of the day against one of the best cover corners in the entire league, Joe Haden.
Haden has not allowed a touchdown reception all year while forcing quarterbacks to 60.1 passer ratings, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
The size disparity between the two players should be cause for concern for the Browns when the 5’11”, 190-pound Haden tries to contain the 6’5”, 239-pound Johnson. For this reason alone, we should assume Haden will always have some sort of assistance over the top at all times, but how much he requires could go a long way in determining the victor of this matchup.
Watching these two elite talents go head-to-head is what football is all about—especially when the winner of this individual matchup will likely determine the outcome of the entire game
This showdown between elite quarterbacks is undoubtedly one of the most anticipated games of the 2013 season.
The Saints defense has yet to allow 20 points in a game, while Drew Brees is one of the hottest quarterbacks in the NFL. He’s currently second in the league in passing yards, behind only Peyton Manning. Meanwhile, he’s fourth in yards per attempt, completion percentage, touchdown passes and passer rating.
Tom Brady, on the other hand, is coming off one of the worst games of his career, as the Patriots failed to find the end zone a single time. This effectively ended his 52-game streak of having thrown at least one touchdown a game.
According to Sports Illustrated’s Chris Burke, “Brady finished with a QB rating of 52.2, the lowest for him in a regular-season game since a 51.5 showing against the Jets in 2007.”
While Brees is having a typical year for himself, Brady is struggling like never before with a young and injured receiving corps.
Fortunately, the Patriots will host the Saints on Sunday as they look to redeem themselves from a miserable showing a week ago.
This will be a big game for two teams who have only a single loss between them.
Anytime you get to see two first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterbacks go head-to-head, you have to appreciate it for what it is. There's no telling how many more times, if ever, we'll see these two face each other again.
Rookie running back Zac Stacy was thrown into the starting lineup for the first time last week against the Jaguars, where he managed to rack up 78 yards on 14 carries. Comparatively, Daryl Richardson had only 48 yards on one less carry in the same game.
Stacy was the Rams’ fifth-round selection out of Vanderbilt and was considered by many draft analysts, including myself, to be one of the best steals of the later rounds.
The youngster is short but also quick and powerful for a running back, with ideal thickness in his lower body. He is a one-cut-type runner with a good stiff arm and the potential to run away with the Rams’ starting running back job, which has been in flux since Steven Jackson left.
Sunday’s matchup against a top-ranked Texans defense should be a good test for the young running back. Although the Texans are ranked first in passing yards allowed, they can be run on, evidenced in their 126-yards-per-game average (28th).
A healthy running game would provide the Rams with the burst they need to really get their offense going. It will be interesting to see if Stacy can continue his early success and show head coach Jeff Fisher he’s the answer they’ve been looking for.
Few defenses have been able to slow down DeSean Jackson's big-play ability, as he has been one of the bright spots on a struggling Eagles roster. Jackson is averaging 18.8 yards per reception and is fifth in receiving yards with 525.
He should be covered most of the day by the best cornerback in the NFL: none other than Mr. Darrelle Revis.
Three days ago, Jackson made headlines with his comments to Eagles reporter Phil Sheridan of ESPN:
I'm sure [Darrelle Revis] will follow me around. He followed me around when he was with the New York Jets two years ago. I'm sure his coaches are confident in him. But I don't think he can run with me. I don't think he's as fast as me.
Although this may be true regarding the speed difference, Revis is a tactical genius when it comes to shutting down receivers. He rarely gets beaten over the top by anyone and should be able to give Jackson a run for his money come Sunday when these two stars collide.
Both teams are looking to reverse their early-season struggles, and a win in Week 6 would be huge.
Last week, second-round rookie quarterback Geno Smith took an enormous step forward in his maturation with a bounce-back game against the Falcons.
In Week 4 against the Tennessee Titans, Smith was a turnover machine, as he looked to be doing his best Mark Sanchez impression. He threw a pair of interceptions and lost two fumbles in the Jets' 38-13 loss.
Last Monday was an entirely different story for Geno, as he threw for three touchdown passes while managing to avoid a single turnover. As a result, the Jets came away with a huge upset and a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter.
Perhaps the most important takeaway from that game was Smith looked every bit the part of a franchise quarterback, as he completed 80 percent of his passes on the day.
But how will the Jets perform when they play favorites against the winless Steelers?
Head coach Rex Ryan does his best motivating when everyone is against him and his team. Will the Jets be able to play with the same passion in a game they’re expected to win?
The answer to that question is likely going to be determined by Smith's play. So which version will show up—good Geno or bad Geno?
Ryan Riddle is a former NFL player and current Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report