The NFL is a league of parity.
We see it every Sunday. Every week, an underdog outperforms a supposedly superior opponent and is able to steal a victory.
In Week 1 it was Kansas City over San Diego. Week 2's was Cincinnati defeating Baltimore. Then St. Louis beat Washington. Most recently, Jacksonville's late-game heroics shocked Indianapolis.
This weekend will prove no different, as there will surely be a handful of games between teams that are much closer than anticipated, and some whose final outcome will shock.
Following are five upsets to watch out for in the NFL's Week 5.
The darlings of the NFL after beginning the season 2-0, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers came back down to earth in Week 3 after a humbling 38-13 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. After a bye last week, they will try to get back on the right track this Sunday at the 2-2 Cincinnati Bengals.
On paper, this is a game that the home team should be in control of from start to finish. The Bucs have a mediocre offense, possessing no run game to speak of and inconsistent play from second-year QB Josh Freeman. On the other side, the Bengals have a solid defensive unit to go along with a sizable home-field advantage. After a loss to the underrated Cleveland Browns last week, Cincinnati fans will be raucous as they look to help their team keep pace in the AFC North.
However, thus far this season Bengals QB Carson Palmer has been a shell of the player who was one of the league's best signal callers in the middle of the last decade. Despite Palmer's having thrown only three interceptions, several have been blatantly dropped by the opposition. Against an opportunistic and underrated Tampa Bay secondary, led by the CB tandem of Ronde Barber and Aqib Talib, Palmer will have a tough time not committing turnovers if his poor play this season continues on Sunday.
Additionally, look for TB head coach Raheem Morris to open up the playbook for Freeman, as the Buccaneers rushing attack has proved wildly ineffective thus far this season. A player with Freeman's natural tools has the ability to light up the scoreboard, and Morris should give him every opportunity to do so.
This game could come down to the wire, and it will be because of superior QB play from Freeman, while Palmer continues his 2010 struggles.
Coming off their first victory of the young season, the Cleveland Browns have played much better in 2010 than their 1-3 record indicates. The Browns lost the year's first two games by a total of five points, and followed that up with a valiant effort in a seven-point loss on the road against the Baltimore Ravens.
Despite that, they are heavy underdogs this week as they face trendy Super Bowl pick, the Atlanta Falcons. After literally stealing a victory last week, Atlanta should be ripe for the picking by the Browns, who possess one of the league's best home-field advantages.
Falcons QB Matt Ryan, for all his hype and talent, has been one of the league's most inconsistent field generals in 2010. He's been fantastic in Atlanta's wins over Arizona and Super Bowl Champion New Orleans, but dreadful versus Pittsburgh and San Francisco. Such conflicting play makes sense, as the defenses of the Steelers and 49ers are vastly superior to those of the Cardinals and Saints. Cleveland's defensive unit is one of the league's most underrated. Coupling that with what is sure to be a feisty and fiery Cleveland faithful, look for Ryan to struggle on Sunday.
While the Browns certainly don't boast the NFL's best offense, they have enough playmakers on the roster to upset the Falcons. QB Seneca Wallace, WR/RS/Wildcat QB Josh Cribbs and RB Peyton Hillis all have enough ability to give the middling Atlanta defense fits. As head coach Eric Mangini looks to get his team's record to .500, expect heavy doses of Cribbs, and look for trickery involving him and the speedy Wallace.
Behind a stingy defense, a raucous Dawg Pound, and imaginative and explosive plays on offense, the Browns have a better chance than most are giving them this Sunday against the Falcons.
The NFL's lone remaining undefeated team, the Kansas City Chiefs are riding high coming off their Week 4 bye. Possessing one of the league's best rushing attacks, and perhaps its most improved defenses, the Chiefs have shocked the sports world with their hot start.
In Week 5 at Indianapolis, Peyton Manning and the Colts will try to stop KC's momentum and prevent them from gaining a leg up in the playoff race. Despite Indy's 2-2 record, they are heavy favorites at home against the Chiefs this week. However, given these teams' matchups, KC has a realistic opportunity to pull off the upset on Sunday.
The Chiefs boast the No. 3 rushing offense in the NFL, led by the one-two punch of electric RB Jamaal Charles and bruising RB Thomas Jones. In the season's first three weeks, KC has averaged 160.7 yards on the ground, good for third-best in the league. Additionally, Charles and Jones are the only set of teammates who rank in the NFL's top 12 in individual rush yards per game.
The Colts, to KC's great advantage, are on the worst teams in the league at stopping the run, ranking 29th overall in that department. Clearly, this is a mismatch in terms of the run game. With ball control and sustained possessions heavily featuring Charles and Jones against Indy's weak run defense, Manning will be kept off the field, an aspect vital to KC getting the victory.
Defensively, there is only so much KC will be able to do when Manning and his offensive mates are on the field. However, they showed a newfound ability to rush the passer in their Week 3 domination of San Francisco, when OLB Tamba Hali accounted for three sacks. In CB Brandon Flowers, the Chiefs also possess one of the league's premiere ball-hawks. If they want to defeat the Colts, pressuring Manning and creating turnovers are absolutely necessary. Furthermore, KC has an ace in the hole with their explosive return ability on special teams, which is capable of multiple explosive plays in a single game.
If the Chiefs offense is able to run wild over the Colts and keep Manning on the sidelines, their defense and special teams may be able to do just enough to pull off the upset and leave them the NFL's lone undefeated team.
The San Francisco 49ers, an overwhelming preseason favorite to win the NFC West, have endured a dismal start to the 2010 season. Their record standing 0-4, the Niners gave away a victory last week at Atlanta.
If their season has any chance at being salvaged, they have to win this week at home against the Philadelphia Eagles. Philly QB Kevin Kolb has been shaky at best when on the field this season, and is a huge question mark in his team's quest for the postseason.
Possessing a .500 record, the Eagles have one of the NFL's worst run defenses. They rank a grim 27th in the league in that department, and allow nearly 140 rushing yards per game. Fortunately for the winless 49ers, RB Frank Gore is their best offensive weapon. QB Alex Smith has gotten worse as the season has progressed, and as a result Gore will become an even bigger focal point of the San Francisco offense. Though he's struggled to just 3.7 yards per carry this season, Gore has been one of the NFL's consistent RBs the last few seasons, and it seems only a matter of time before he gets his game back on track. There is no better time for him to do so than in Week 5 against the Eagles porous run defense. Expect Gore to have a big day and get SF's offense moving against Philadelphia.
Other than Gore, the 49ers' biggest advantages coming into this football game are a sense of desperation and an Eagles team that is without QB Michael Vick. If they have any chance at getting something out of the 2010 season other than a high first-round draft pick in April, San Francisco must win this game. There is simply no other option. As for the Eagles, their offense is in disarray as they again switch back to Kolb from Vick at starting QB. The Philly offense currently has no identity, and the 49ers have enough talent on that side of the ball to make things even worse for them.
If Gore can get over 100 yards on the ground and Smith can play mistake-free football, the 49ers defense should frustrate Kolb enough to ensure their first win of the 2010 season, and begin San Francisco's long, steep climb toward the playoffs.
Considering the 2010 season "Super Bowl or bust," the Minnesota Vikings have had a humbling start to the year. Their record standing at 1-2, Minnesota needed a spark to get their season going in the direction they thought it would.
Well, they got it with the addition of WR Randy Moss, a former Viking and one of the league's most talented if malcontent players. Moss will provide QB Brett Favre with the deep threat he was lacking, and will provide instant impact on Monday night against the New York Jets, another team with championship aspirations.
In many ways, the acquisition of Moss couldn't have come at a better time for Minnesota. This game was circled on the calendar by all NFL fans as one of the year's best, one that would go a long way in determining which of these teams was a legitimate contender. After a month of uninspiring play, Moss gives Minnesota the jolt they need going into what is arguably the biggest game of their season. Additionally, the Jets are one of the NFL's best defensive teams. Favre will need all the help he can get against CB Darrelle Revis, LB Bart Scott, and company. Moss will provide a deep threat that the NYJ secondary must respect, giving Favre another weapon and opening running lanes for star RB Adrian Peterson. If Peterson has an effective day against the Jets, his team will almost assuredly come away victorious.
If Favre and Moss can make a couple big plays in the passing game, run lanes will open up for Peterson, and Minnesota will have a chance to take down the Jets at the Meadowlands.