NFL Week 5: What's at Stake for Teams, Players This Weekend?
The NFL landscape is ever-evolving on a weekly basis. How your team is viewed is directly tied to the previous week. That puts a big emphasis on what’s at stake for teams and players in every game.
Particular matchups directly decide some games. The better, more talented team doesn’t always win because of the importance of style and the ability to adjust. But that is often overlooked because winning is really what matters in the big picture.
The season is well underway now. Teams must work out any kinks immediately, if they haven’t already. Falling behind any more than one or two games could be costly come playoff time.
We’ve highlighted seven key storylines on the following slides that will determine whether or not these teams are successful in Week 5. Several critical divisional matchups could put certain franchises at great risk of being eliminated from the playoffs earlier than imagined. That doesn’t mean Week 5's results will end anyone's season, but they could set up particular teams for a big hill to climb.
Chip Kelly: It’s Time to Right the Ship
Even invoking Chip Kelly’s name is sure to spark a lively discussion. His personality and bold moves this past offseason haven’t endeared him to Philadelphia Eagles fans after a 1-3 start. But the schedule favors the Eagles to turn things around quickly.
It starts this week against the New Orleans Saints. The Saints are free-falling from what they were just a few short years ago. This is an opportunity for the Eagles to jump-start their running game, if they ever will.
This thing is a powder keg ready to blow up, because as you guys know, you talk to the players, I've done their games, even when they're 10-6 the last two years, the players aren't real fond of the way they do business and the way they practice. They feel like they're being treated like college players.
Things always come out when a team is losing. Winning cures all ailments in the NFL, and Kelly likely knows this. He must get his team playing more efficiently, or else we’ll likely hear more troubling murmurs.
Todd Gurley: Can He Keep the Rams Close to Green Bay?
The St. Louis Rams have been a team of two identities this season. When they face divisional foes, they look like a playoff team. Against divisional opponents and Super Bowl contenders Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals, the Rams are 2-0.
Their other two matchups have been disastrous, though. The Redskins dismantled them, and the Rams lost a close game to a Mike Vick-led Pittsburgh Steelers team. Those types of performances are far from playoff-worthy.
St. Louis will now face the Green Bay Packers, who are arguably the best team in the NFL right now. To win, the Ram must rely on their newfound running game and elite defensive line. That puts a lot of pressure on rookie Todd Gurley.
Gurley is coming off a 19-carry, 146-yard performance against a talented Cardinals defense. He took over in the fourth quarter as his offensive line began to create running lanes. He showed why he was picked 10th overall in the 2015 NFL draft. Now the team will rely on him to stay in this game.
Green Bay’s defense will likely zero in on stopping Gurley. If the Rams cannot get him going early, this could be a long game. The Packers have shown they’ll rack up points as quickly as you can blink.
Buffalo Bills: A Win Keeps Them Relevant
Despite a seemingly impressive start to the season, the Buffalo Bills are now somewhat questionable a month into the season. Their two victories have been over a struggling Colts team that was overrated to begin with and a Miami Dolphins team that has already fired its head coach. Their resume doesn’t look as strong as it had at the time.
There’s plenty of time for the Bills to boost that resume with strong victories, though. Week 5 is one of the better matchups for the Bills to take advantage of. The Tennessee Titans theoretically shouldn’t have the upper hand, as several key areas play into the Bills’ favor.
The first is the Bills’ monstrous defensive line against a porous Titans’ offensive line. Buffalo should feast in this matchup and create havoc for quarterback Marcus Mariota. The rookie simply hasn’t seen a front as talented as what the Bills have.
The second is the Bills secondary. The cornerback duo of Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby is among the best in the NFL. Tennessee has several intriguing young receivers, but Kendall Wright will have a lot on his plate as the slot man. These two factors should help the Bills win and get back on track this week.
Derek Carr: Can He Continue Playing Well Against the Broncos?
The transformation we’ve seen from Raiders quarterback Derek Carr has been quite drastic from what he was in 2014. Some of this is scheme-related, while credit also must go to general manager Reggie McKenzie for adding more talent around him. But Carr has thrived in a more aggressive and vertical offense.
He came back down to earth a little against Chicago last week, as he saw a drop in completions, yards and turnover rate. His play against two terrible defenses in Cleveland and Baltimore may have been somewhat of a mirage based on those bad units. So what can we expect moving forward?
This week will be a huge test for Carr and the Raiders offense. Denver has one of the most talented defensive units in the NFL and will easily be the best defense Carr has faced since Week 1. A big performance would be an impressive statement about where he is at in his development.
Even if Carr struggles, there’s no need to panic. Oakland is a tough team that is coached well. A divisional win at home would certainly make a statement, though.
New York Giants: Losing to San Francisco Would Be Devastating
It turns out that the San Francisco 49ers are who we thought they were. A blowout win in Week 1 was one of those strange results that can happen in prime time early in the season. The 49ers now appear to be one of the worst teams in the NFL.
Their season is in jeopardy of being over quickly, while the New York Giants are looking to re-enter the NFC East race. At 2-2, the Giants have recovered from an 0-2 start by beating two worthy opponents handily. Now it is time to beat a team they shouldn’t have too much trouble with if they’re a legitimate threat to win their division.
An overachieving offensive line and revitalized passing attack are behind New York's resurgence. Offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo has done a great job of building an offense that gets the ball out quickly to talented playmakers. It’s helped quarterback Eli Manning achieve career-high efficiency numbers, as well.
The Giants must be wary of the 49ers’ youth in this game. San Francisco is inconsistent because it is young, not necessarily because it lies down because of talent issues. A veteran team such as the Giants must recognize this and take control of the game early.
San Diego Chargers: A Loss to a Backup Quarterback Is Unacceptable
Barring a crazy change of events, the San Diego Chargers will be playing Mike Vick’s Steelers on Monday Night Football. If Ben Roethlisberger were healthy, this marquee matchup would be much more exciting as a potential scoreboard shootout. That’s not the case due to Roethlisberger’s knee injury, and now the Chargers must win this game.
At 2-2, San Diego is right in the mix for the divisional crown. Falling below .500 is one thing, but it is not acceptable now that Vick is in the lineup. He is capable of creating big plays, but his consistency issues should allow the Chargers to outscore the Steelers. His struggles against the Rams and Ravens in the previous two weeks show that Vick cannot utilize the Steelers' deep playmaker corps.
One major eyesore the Chargers must overcome is the inside linebacker position. Young linebackers Manti Te’o and Denzel Perryman have thus far failed to make a positive impact overall, and the Chargers defense is greatly suffering. Don’t be surprised if Perryman starts to get more snaps than Te’o, as the Chargers’ patience in Te’o should be wearing thin.
Jameis Winston: Can He Bounce Back After Throwing 4 Interceptions?
The lazy analyst may look at Jameis Winston’s numbers this season and declare him to be a bust. What other conclusion can one come to when Winston has seven interceptions to six touchdowns and a completion percentage of 54.9? Well, a lot happening in Tampa Bay has contributed to those numbers.
Winston has been borderline brilliant at times (see the drive before halftime against the Saints in Week 2) and has showed his youth at other times (two of his interceptions against Carolina were badly telegraphed). His roller-coaster first season should have been expected, as he’s dealing with a defense that is allowing 29.3 points per game. That leaves the Buccaneers in a position to throw early and often, which is dangerous with a porous offensive line unit.
Winston isn’t blameless in making mistakes. But his learning curve has featured numerous moments that show his potential. He is calm in a hectic pocket and has the anticipation needed to become a great player.
For the Buccaneers to win against the Jacksonville Jaguars this week, Winston must cut down on the dangerous passes. Three of his interceptions last week were because of bad passes, while the other was a tipped ball that should have been caught. Reducing the negative plays will help Winston transform into the quarterback many believed he’ll become in due time.
All stats used are from Pro-Football-Reference.com.
Ian Wharton is an NFL Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.