Although Week 5 of the NFL season isn’t anywhere near the five-star weekend that Week 4 was, there are still some juicy matchups worthy of grabbing a seat for. Week 6 promises to be another couch and recliner fest but you can’t go forward until you deal with the present right? Right! So without further adieu, my predictions for the weekend.
This may not get your vote for best game of the weekend, but it’s the most important one by far. The battle for first place in the AFC North will be on the line at M&T Bank Stadium. The Ravens were the hot team just a couple of weeks ago before a controversial loss to the New England Patriots cooled their sails just a bit. Strangely, Cincinnati enters the game as the hottest team in the division, winners of three-straight.
Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer is slowly regaining the form that had everyone calling him the next big thing just a few seasons ago and entertaining but explosive wideout Chad Ochocinco is back to terrorizing secondaries after an off year last season. Ironically, the most impressive unit isn’t the Cincy offense but their all-of-the-sudden stingy defense. The Bengals are the 11thranked defense in the league and the unit has scored touchdowns in back-to-back weeks. Defensive end Antwan Odom is tied for the league lead in sacks and that could spell trouble for a Baltimore team that will probably be without their starting left tackle, Jared Gaither, who sustained an injury last Sunday.
But Baltimore’s offensive line is deep enough to sustain the absence of Gaither and look for the Ravens to get back to running the ball, something that eluded them in last week’s loss. Baltimore signal caller Joe Flacco Flacco threw the ball a career-high 47 times last week. While Flacco may be the real deal at QB, Baltimore should be reluctant to place all of their fortunes in the sophomore’s lap. The Ravens only ran the ball 16 times against New England, odd for a team that was one of the leading rush units in ‘08.
This is a game Cincinnati can certainly win. The Bengals are talented on both sides of the ball and their win against the Pittsburgh Steelers in week 3 proves that they shouldn’t be taken lightly but the Ravens won’t take them lightly with first place on the line. If Baltimore gets back to running the ball and finds a way to contain Palmer and Ochocinco, they’ll win by two scores. Ravens 28-14
New England Patriots (3-1) vs. Denver Broncos (4-0)
Both the Broncos and Patriots are coming off of big wins last week against quality ball clubs. Ironically, both wins came courtesy of critical plays by wide receivers. New England barely squeaked by Baltimore after a dropped pass by Raven receiver Mark Clayton yards away from the end zone gave them the win. Denver’s Brandon Marshall made the play of the season when he displayed his catch and run abilities on a 51-yard reception in which he skied over Cowboy cover corner Terrence Newman then eluded about six or seven defenders on a cutback run to the end zone.
Denver’s defense pressured Tony Romo into a 67.1 quarterback rating and limited the usually potent Dallas offense to a 10 point game. The Broncos offense wasn’t spectacular but they limited their mistakes and made plays when they had to. Denver played a gritty game and proved that they need to be respected.
It’s hard to explain New England’s offense. They weren’t at their best on Sunday but they still put up 27 points. Some teams would kill for that type of output but for a Patriot offense that routinely put up 30 and 40 point games in the ‘07 season, 27 points is unacceptable to them.
New England’s defense was pretty solid as well on Sunday, limiting a high-scoring Baltimore offense to just two touchdowns. Denver is coming off an emotional win against Dallas so a letdown could be on tap for Sunday. A story that’s really going untold is former New England offensive coordinator and current Denver head coach Josh McDaniels going up against his old buddies. The combination of Denver’s effective defense and McDaniels’ familiarity with the New England system should lead to a low scoring game but Denver’s offense may not be able to put up enough points to take advantage. Patriots 21-17
No one wants to say it, but the 49ers might be the best team in the NFC West. Head coach Mike Singletary has the defense playing inspired and physical football and their 35-0 domination of the lowly St. Louis Rams is what good teams do to bad teams. The Niners are a last second Brett Favre pass away from being undefeated and will certainly be game to try and get their first win this season against an opponent with a winning record.
Atlanta is coming off a bye week, two weeks removed from their 26-10 loss to the Patriots. Sophomore quarterback Matt Ryan has a bunch of weapons at his disposal and the Falcons may go into the game trying to get running back Michael Turner back on track. Turner is only averaging 75.3 yards per game and 3.5 yards per carry after a ‘08 season that saw him explode on the scene with close to 1700 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns. But the 49er defense isn’t the unit for a team to try to reestablish the running game against so expect Ryan to have a heavy influence on who wins the game.
With running back and focal point Frank Gore out for San Francisco, it’s going to take a total team effort on offense, defense and special teams to beat the Falcons. Atlanta doesn’t have a strong defense but the Niners don’t have the type of offense that can exploit that mismatch. Although San Francisco put up 35 against the Rams, 21 of those points were courtesy of the defense and special teams.
If Atlanta can limit their mistakes, they stand a good chance of winning a critical road game. San Francisco has only passed for over 200 yards one time this season which makes them the type of team that needs a lot of things to go right in order for them to win. So far in three games, things have gone in their favor but facing a potent attack such as Atlanta’s, the Niners are going to have be on their “A” game to get a win. 49ers 20-14