We have finally hit Week Five in the NFL, which means it is now time to separate thecontenders for the Lombardi Trophy from the pretenders. Is your team a contender or a pretender? We break out the crystal ball to find out!
Cincinnati Bengals (3-1) @ Baltimore Ravens (3-1)
This game seems to be pretty even, with both teams pulling off improbable runs to this point.
The Bengals come into this game with a lot of confidence, with their only loss being a hard-luck one to the 4-0 Broncos in Week One and good victories over the Packers and the Steelers. Chad Ochocinco has not been as much of a distraction as people thought he would be, so he, along with Carson Palmer, should be able to lead this team to a victory this week.
The Ravens have been great this season, however, they have a big laundry list of injuries, including tight end Todd Heap (back) and Ray Lewis (head) who is, arguably, the emotional leader of the team. If the Ravens find that both of them are inactive, this could be a long week for the Ravens, and they will have to go into a very tough part of their schedule 3-2.
Prediction: Bengals 30, Ravens 20.
Cleveland Browns (0-4) @ Buffalo Bills (1-3)
After trading away Braylon Edwards and losing Phil Dawson (right calf), Jamal Lewis (knee) and punter Dave Zastudil (right knee), the Browns are left with one viable option, according to the Browns: wide receiver Josh Cribbs.
This does not bode well for the Browns, who are just one miserable loss away from being on the same level as the Rams. This might be the game in which that happens, unless they can somehow find a “Tom Brady” (a player who was mired in the depth chart until someone got injured and suddenly, they become a superstar).
The Bills, after a narrow loss at New England and a victory at a deplorable Tampa Bay team, they somehow managed to get decimated at New Orleans and at Miami, who was 0-3 at the time.
Birthday boy and linebacker Paul Posluszny (forearm), safety John McCargo (calf), and safety Donte Whitner (thumb) are all out for the Bills, which makes a bad situation in Buffalo even worse. The offense will really have to step up this week, and to be honest, I don’t think they will. This game is the lesser of two evils, and the Browns seem to be the lesser.
Prediction: Browns 20, Bills 10.
Washington Redskins (2-2) @ Carolina Panthers (0-3)
The Redskins have been playing Jekyll-and-Hyde ball: really good one week (like in St. Louis and Tampa Bay) then really bad the next week (like in New York and Detroit). Clinton Portis (calf) might not play this week, so the passing game might have to step up. Santana Moss, Chris Cooley, and Malcolm Kelly might be able to fill the bill, but it might not be enough to give the Panthers their first win.
The Panthers have been playing absolutely horribly this season, but they did have a week off last week to get healthy. Consequently, they have no major injuries to speak of. However, they really have major deficiencies on both sides of the ball. Jake Delhomme has been bad, and the rest is worse. They really need to improve to beat anyone, but they need another week to do it.
Prediction: Redskins 10, Panthers 0.
Pittsburgh Steelers (2-2) @ Detroit Lions (1-3)
The Steelers are still hurting without Troy Polamalu (knee). They’ve gone 1-2 since he went down in the home opener, and the defense has been particularly down. As a result, the offense has had to step up, which has resulted in injuries to Willie Parker (toe) and center Justin Hartwig (ankle).
The big question is whether they can make it the next two weeks before the bye week (what should be an easy game against Cleveland before a big game against Minnesota) without any more major injuries.
Matthew Stafford, the player the Lions hoped would bring them back to respectability, has gone down with a knee injury and has sat out most of the week’s practices. If he returns, the Lions might have a chance against a decimated Steelers defense.
This is certainly a game with teams that have been decimated by injuries. Whoever rises above their injuries will win the game, and the Steelers have learned to live without Polamalu. I don’t think the Lions have learned to live without Stafford (yet).
Prediction: Steelers 20, Lions 7.
Dallas Cowboys (2-2) @ Kansas City Chiefs (0-4)
The Cowboys look pretty good going into this game, which should be easy. As a matter of fact, injuries to Marion Barber (thigh) , Flozell Adams (shoulder) and DeMarcus Ware (neck) shouldn’t affect them too much, as they have enough depth to get them through this week. This should be a cakewalk for the Cowboys.
The Chiefs, on the other hand, are not as lucky. Matt Cassel is panning out to be a one-season wonder after his great season with the Patriots. On top of that, one of their best receivers, Dwayne Bowe, might not play this week (hamstring).
This puts a big hole in their offense, one that the very good defense of the Cowboys will be able to exploit. If the Chiefs win this game, it will be nothing short of a miracle.
Prediction: Cowboys 40, Chiefs 10.
Oakland Raiders (1-3) @ New York Giants (4-0)
The Raiders might have a chance if Eli Manning (heel) doesn’t play after missing two straight practices. They caught the Giants at an advantageous time, as most of the main players for the Giants, including Hakeem Nicks (foot), lineman Rich Seubert (shoulder), and running back Ahmad Bradshaw (ankle and foot) are all out with injuries.
However, the Raiders have looked absolutely miserable, scoring only nine points in their last two games combined. Not only that, the cloud of coach Tom Cable’s absence from the team hangs over them. Will the Raiders be able to bounce back?
The Giants have won their last two games by a combined score of 51-16. However, those were against teams that have no chance of making the playoffs (Tampa Bay and Kansas City).
After Oakland, the Giants need to get healthy quick, because they have four games against teams that have the potential to make the playoffs before their bye week. With all the problems facing the Raiders, the Giants shouldn’t have a problem, even with all their injuries.
Prediction: Giants 10, Raiders 0.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-4) @ Philadelphia Eagles (2-1)
The Buccaneers have a laundry list of injuries that make the climb back to respectability harder, including quarterback Byron Leftwich (hip), Antonio Bryant (knee) and Cadillac Williams (knee). This makes the starting lineup look like the Second-String All-Stars. If they want to beat the Eagles this week, the second string will have to step up big-time.
The Eagles got a big boost in their defense when Jeremiah Trotter signed a contract with them last week. They have no injuries to speak of, and to top it all off, they got Donovan McNabb back from his broken ribs. This makes the job for both sides of the ball much easier. This should be a walkover for the Eagles, as they will have no trouble with the banged-up train wreck that is the Buccaneers.
Prediction: Eagles 49, Buccaneers 3.
Minnesota Vikings (4-0) @ St. Louis Rams (0-4)
Truly, this is a game of two teams going in separate directions.
The Vikings have won three of their last four games by seven points or less. This week should be much easier in the Edward Jones Dome. Their defense has been dominating (Jared Allen has averaged over a sack per game) and their offense has been unstoppable (the tandem of Brett Favre and Adrian Peterson keeps defenses guessing). With their yawner of a schedule, the Vikings are a team that could be 13-3 by the end of the season.
On the other side, the Rams have only scored 24 points in four games with two shutouts (to Seattle and San Francisco) and are all but a lock to win the #1 draft pick in April. (Sure, the Titans, Browns, Chiefs, Panthers and Buccaneers are also winless, but they don’t look as bad as the Rams.)
Kyle Boller was a shaky starter in Baltimore, and now that he has been thrust into the spotlight in St. Louis, confidence is not high in the Rams locker room.
Vikings win this one in a laugher, and only give up two points because of a muffed punt that somehow rolls into the end zone (I’m kidding, of course, but you have to give them something).
Prediction: Vikings 48, Rams 2.
Atlanta Falcons (2-1) @ San Francisco 49ers (3-1)
Somehow, through four injury-filled weeks, the Falcons have somehow remained healthy, with only two players (wide receiver Harry Douglas with a torn ACL and defensive lineman Peria Jerry with a left knee injury) on injured reserve and no players in doubt for the game on Sunday.
The Falcons look to be in good shape, and if the Falcons can keep Matt Ryan healthy, they should be able to turn what is a very tough schedule into a very easy playoff spot.
This will be the week that the 49ers will show what kind of team they can be, as to this point, they have beaten teams that have a combined 2-9 record. Fortunately, after this, they do have a bye week, so that should give them some time to get the aforementioned Frank Gore (ankle and foot injuries) healthy. If they can just get through this week without Gore, they should be able to get into the bye week with only one loss (thankfully).
Prediction: 49ers 27, Falcons 21 in overtime.
Houston Texans (2-2) @ Arizona Cardinals (1-2)
The Texans look pretty good going into this week, despite all the injuries they have. Matt Schaub has been respectable, but seems to be overshadowed by Peyton Manning and David Garrard. The defense looks great, but again, is over shadowed by the Colts and the Jaguars. If they play their game, they should be able to win in the Arizona heat.
Cardinals’ coach Ken Whisenhunt believes that they can erase the mistakes of the past three weeks by playing well this week. Admittedly, this is true. They have had to play some pretty tough games, with losses to three really good teams (the Broncos, 49ers and the Colts). If they play to the level they played the Jaguars (who were 2-1 at the time), and Kurt Warner plays as well as he has, the Cardinals should win.
This is a pretty even game this week, but I believe the Cardinals should play to the level everybody expects and get back to .500.
Prediction: Cardinals 13, Texans 10 in overtime.
New England Patriots (3-1) @ Denver Broncos (4-0)
The Patriots have finally hit their stride, with convincing victories against teams with the potential of making the playoffs (the Falcons and Ravens). They have some injuries that might hurt the team, with defensive lineman Vince Wilfork (ankle) and wide receiver Wes Welker (knee) questionable for the game. If they just play the way they have been playing, they should be able to pull out a victory.
The Broncos are the Little Team that Could, winning almost improbable victories every week so far. This week, they face their first test in the Patriots. With Brandon Stokley (thigh) possibly not playing this week, the chances look incredibly slim for the Broncos to keep this Cinderella story going.
The Patriots defense is just too strong, and this is their toughest game yet. However, with the great offensive tandem of Kyle Orton and Correll Buckhalter, I think the Broncos might just pull off the miracle again.
Prediction: Broncos 20, Patriots 14 in overtime.
Jacksonville Jaguars (2-2) @ Seattle Seahawks (1-3)
After two losses in which they only scored 29 points combined, the Jaguars have roared back (no pun intended) to score 68 points combined in two wins, although those teams have a combined 2-6 record. Mike Sims-Walker has emerged as a receiving threat for Jacksonville, leading the team in receptions and receiving yards.
This adds another threat to what has become a very powerful offense. If David Garrard and Maurice Jones-Drew hold up this week, they’ll be 4-2 by the bye week (they play golf-course bound St. Louis next week).
The Seahawks are plagued by what plagues them every year: injuries. Matt Hasselbeck probably won’t play this week (ribs). Safety Jordan Babineaux (shoulder) and linebacker Lofa Tatupu (hamstring) might not play this week.
With all that, they’ve had to rely on the arm of Seneca Wallace, and without their emotional leader on defense. If they can bounce back from these injuries (which seems very unlikely), Seattle should be able to get into the bye week and get Hasselbeck healthy. Until then, it’s a long, bumpy road.
Indianapolis Colts (4-0) @ Tennessee Titans (0-4)
The Colts have outscored their opponents a little bit over 2-to-1 over the past two games. While the offense has been clicking, the defense has hit a slight bump in the road. Defensive lineman Dwight Freeney (quadriceps) and linebacker Gary Brackett (knee) might miss the game, which might leave a big hole for the Titan running game to go through.
Fortunately, their bye week comes next week, so that leaves those injured Colts to get healthy.
The Titans have not made a first down in the first quarter in their last two games, and go three-and out a third of their total possessions, even though they have the second-most possessions in the league.
They may be without two big cogs on their offense and defense as well, as cornerback Cortland Finnegan (hamstring) and running back LenDale White (illness) might not be available for the game. This leaves a big hole in the Titan defense and leaves Chris Johnson to shoulder the load in the running game.
Can this team get out of the Winless Club? With Indianapolis this week and New England looming next week, it doesn’t look likely.
Prediction: Colts 30, Titans 10.
New York Jets (3-1) @ Miami Dolphins (1-3) (Monday)
Braylon Edwards was traded from the Browns to the Jets on Wednesday, which adds another weapon to a receiving corps that already has Jerricho Cotchery. However, they did lose Lito Sheppard (quadriceps), which does make the Jets defense that much weaker. The good news is that they have a couple of easy games coming up (1-3 teams Buffalo and Oakland before playing Miami again), so they might not need him that much.
Joey Porter is back for the Dolphins after missing last week with a sore hamstring. This gives them more danger in an already dangerous defense.
Chad Henne looked great as Chad Pennington’s replacement last week against Buffalo. However, this week will be a test of his maturity, as he faces a pretty talented team in the 3-1 Jets. How he keeps his cool under pressure will be the X-factor this week. Personally, after taking on such pressure situations as Ohio State, I think Henne will do just fine, as will the rest of theDolphins.
Prediction: Dolphins 20, Jets 10.
There you have it: Week Five in the NFL. Who will be sitting pretty at the end of this week? Who will be scrambling to get healthy for a tough run? You’ll just have to watch to find out!