Week 5 NFL Preview

Bills & Titans Go For 5-0, Giants 4-0; Eagles-Redskins Clash, In NFC East; Ex-Division Foes Square Off
Three teams seek to remain spotless…two keep a division steaming…and one finally returns home.

It all adds up to one thing: a lot is happening in the NFL this week. A few examples:

Two teams – the Buffalo Bills (4-0 for the first time in 16 years) and Tennessee Titans (4-0 for the first time in their history) will go for 5-0 records. But it’s only Week 5, they both say. “We still have a chance to go 4-12,” says Titans linebacker KEITH BULLUCK.

Another team – that other club in New York, the Super Bowl champion Giants who were quiet in their bye week while BRETT FAVRE was throwing six touchdown passes — will look to up their record to 4-0 for the first time since 1990.

One game features a team (Tampa Bay) that has won its last three games after losing its first vs. a club (Denver) that won its first three and lost its last. But “there’s a lot of football left,” says Broncos quarterback JAY CUTLER. “We can’t go in a panic here.”

Another game – the Indianapolis Colts at the Houston Texans – will be the first home game of the season for the Texans and signal some return of normalcy to Houstonians after the devastation of Hurricane Ike.

All that – and a whole lot more – is in store for Week 5. As NFL teams either conclude the first quarter of their season, or start the second, who knows what’s in store? “That’s the NFL,” says Pittsburgh Steelers head coach MIKE TOMLIN, fresh off a thrilling Monday night win over Baltimore. “That’s what makes this thing so awesome. You can’t blink.”

So, as the NFL scoring average per game (45.2) through four weeks ties 1989 for second highest since 1980 after the 45.3 of 2002, here are some, but far from the only, “can’t blink” Week 5 games:

So, as the NFL scoring average per game (45.2) through four weeks ties 1989 for second highest since 1980 after the 45.3 of 2002, here are some, but far from the only, “can’t blink” Week 5 games:




STORYLINE: Another week, another NFC East knock-down, drag-out!


The history built into the division makes every game seem epic. This Sunday, it’s Redskins-Eagles.


Washington comes off an invigorating defeat of division-rival Dallas. Philadelphia was edged by Chicago, the first loss of an NFC East team outside the division. But that was last week. In the NFC East, who knows what’s in store this week?


Philly is aware that head coach JIM ZORN appears to be opening up the Redskins’ passing game. Washington’s JASON CAMPBELL – the only ranked QB in the league without an interception – still concentrated on the underneath game against Dallas, but also opened up more with long strikes.


“I’m loving it,” says Redskins WR SANTANA MOSS of Zorn’s West Coast scheming. The focal point of Sunday’s matchup should be the deep game that is accelerated by the speed of Moss and Eagles rookie WR DE SEAN JACKSON, who both rank in the top 10 in NFL catches and receiving yards.




CAMPBELL & MC NABB HIGH SCHOOL COACHES: USA FOOTBALL has named the high school coaches of QBs JASON CAMPBELL of Washington and DONOVAN MC NABB of Philadelphia, who face each other this Sunday, to its 2009 Junior National Team coaching staff. MARCUS BOYLES, Campbell’s coach at Taylorsville (Mississippi) High, and FRANK LENTI, McNabb’s coach at Chicago Mount Carmel, will be part of a 10-member staff leading America’s first national football team of high school players against seven other national teams in Canton, Ohio next summer.





STORYLINE: Seven straight vs. top “D.”


And that’s just one of the notable matchups in this meeting of former AFC Central rivals.


The Titans have the longest current victory streak in the NFL with seven wins in a row. To continue that, they are going to have to penetrate the No. 1 defense in the league (186.7 yards per game) and the top pass defense (117.0).


But there’s more. Tennessee rookie RB sensation CHRIS JOHNSON – seventh in the league in rushing with 337 yards – will confront a defense that has not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 22 consecutive games, the best such mark in the league.


Meanwhile, Ravens rookie QB JOE FLACCO (who, says Baltimore WR DERRICK MASON, “didn’t get rattled and showed the poise of a veteran” Monday night when Pittsburgh threw numerous fronts at him) will be tailed by the league leader in interceptions, CB CORTLAND FINNEGAN (four, with one TD).




STORYLINE: Another Griese homecoming.


Two weeks ago, Buccaneers QB BRIAN GRIESE (3-0 this year) defeated Chicago, his team the past two seasons, in overtime (27-24) while throwing 67 times for 407 yards. This week, he takes on his first NFL club (1998-02), for which he ranks as the highest-rated passer in history (84.1). “I always enjoyed Brian,” says Broncos head coach MIKE SHANAHAN. “He is as smart as they come.”


It will be a power vs. stealth matchup of offense and defense. The Broncos, under QB JAY CUTLER, lead the league in offense (435.5 yards per game). The opportunistic Bucs tie for the NFL lead in interceptions and come off a three-pickoff, three-sack game against Green Bay with a fumble-return TD thrown in.




STORYLINE: Second division game in a row for the Steelers?


No, but they well might think so. These two were AFC Central Division rivals from 1995 (the Jaguars’ first year of existence) until realignment in 2002 while splitting the season series every year but one (1999, Jaguars). And they’ve played every year since realignment except 2003. The average winning margin in those six games since ’02? A minimal 4.5 points. That includes last season’s 31-29 Wild Card win by Jacksonville in which QB DAVID GARRARD’s memorable 32-yard fourth-down run set up the winning field goal with 37 seconds left.


Now it’s ’08, both come off overtime wins, and will be ready for more nail-biting. Pittsburgh may have to go with MEWELDE MOORE – signed in the offseason primarily as a kick returner – at running back due to injuries. No problem. Monday night, Moore made two key catches in overtime to position the game-winning kick.


The Steelers will have to get ready for the “Jones Gang.” WR MATT JONES leads the Jaguars in catches (21) and receiving yards (244) and has not had a game this year of under five receptions. And FB GREG JONES is a key to the Jaguars’ offense as a blocker springing RBs MAURICE JONES-DREW and FRED TAYLOR on their jaunts.


MINNESOTA VIKINGS (1-3) at NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (2-2) (Monday night, ESPN, 8:30 PM ET)


STORYLINE: Top pass offense vs. tough defenseand Reggie vs. Adrian.


Who will dominate?


Will the Saints continue their offensive onslaught that has produced the No. 1 passing game in the NFL, even without their starting receivers? Or will it be the Vikings’ defense — particularly their dominant front four – that will control things?


New Orleans QB DREW BREES comes off a 363-yard, three-TD game against San Francisco. Those yards were mostly distributed to backup receivers LANCE MOORE, ROBERT MEACHEM and DEVERY HENDERSON, who all got good playing time due to injuries to the starters.


Monday night will be the first NFL meeting of two the league’s most explosive young players – RBs ADRIAN PETERSON of the Vikings and REGGIE BUSH of the Saints. Last time they met? In the 2005 Orange Bowl national championship game when Bush’s USC Trojans defeated Peterson’s Oklahoma Sooners 55-19. Sophomore Bush accumulated 149 all-purpose yards, and freshman Peterson ran for 82 yards on 25 carries.


(Home team in CAPS)

Byes: Detroit, Indianapolis, Miami, New England, N.Y. Giants, Seattle


Sunday, September 28

Sunday, September 28, Cont.’d.

CAROLINA 24, Atlanta 9

San Diego 28, OAKLAND 18

Cleveland 20, CINCINNATI 12

Buffalo 31, ST. LOUIS 14

JACKSONVILLE 30, Houston 27 (OT)

Washington 26, DALLAS 24

KANSAS CITY 33, Denver 19

CHICAGO 24, Philadelphia 20

NEW ORLEANS 31, San Francisco 17


N.Y. JETS 56, Arizona 35

Monday, September 29

TAMPA BAY 30, Green Bay 21

PITTSBURGH 23, Baltimore 20 (OT)

TENNESSEE 30, Minnesota 17



(All times local)

Byes: Cleveland, N.Y. Jets, St. Louis, Oakland


Sunday, October 5

Sunday, October 5, Cont.’d.

Tennessee at Baltimore, 1:00 PM

Tampa Bay at Denver, 2:05 PM

Kansas City at Carolina, 1:00 PM

Buffalo at Arizona, 1:15 PM

Chicago at Detroit, 1:00 PM

Cincinnati at Dallas, 3:15 PM

Atlanta at Green Bay, 12:00 PM

New England at San Francisco, 1:15 PM

Indianapolis at Houston, 12:00 PM

Pittsburgh at Jacksonville, 8:15 PM (NBC)

San Diego at Miami, 1:00 PM


Seattle at N.Y. Giants, 1:00 PM

Monday, October 6

Washington at Philadelphia, 1:00 PM

Minnesota at New Orleans, 7:30 PM (ESPN)