Sunday October 5th, 2014

Eight teams improved to 3-2 with wins on Sunday.

Of those victorious clubs, four -- Buffalo, Carolina, Green Bay and Indianapolis -- either pulled into a first-place tie or grabbed the division lead outright during the early-afternoon action. Which of those division leaders look the most dangerous moving forward, based on their latest performances? 

4. Buffalo Bills

Full credit to the Bills for finding a way to win in Detroit, much like they did at Chicago back in Week 1. EJ Manuel was the quarterback in the earlier win and Kyle Orton was under center against Detroit. Considering that the Bills made their quarterback switch earlier this week, they could have chalked this one up as a learning experience (and a loss) after the Lions raced out to a 14-0 lead.

Bills coach Jim Schwartz carried off the field in win over Lions

Instead, the Jim Schwartz-led defense leaned on a Detroit offense that was without Joique Bell and lost both Reggie Bush and Calvin Johnson during the game. Orton and the Bills' attack found just enough in the fourth quarter to scrap together 11 points for the comeback win.

A bit of a smash-and-grab job, sure, but the wins all count the same.

Now, can Orton and Co. turn Sunday's dramatic triumph into a multi-week breakthrough? That all may depend on Orton. Schwartz's defense entered Week 5 as a top-10 group in both yards and points allowed, so its solid showing ought to have come as no surprise. The offense, on the other hand, slumbered through three quarters until Orton found Marquise Goodwin deep to set up Buffalo's lone touchdown.

In the struggling AFC East, the Bills definitely have as strong a case as anyone right now. Orton, though, still has to show that he can hang some points on the scoreboard.


3. Carolina Panthers

Another come-from-behind win here, as the Panthers erased deficits of 21-7 and 24-21 to steal one from the Bears. That outcome coupled with the Falcons' second straight loss leaves Carolina as the lone NFC South team above .500. 

But are the Panthers any good?

Browns rally from 25 points down on Sunday full of remarkable comebacks

They've only really hit the gas in spurts: a Week 2 drubbing of Detroit and the final two-plus quarters Sunday. In between, Baltimore and Pittsburgh blew them out by a combined score of 75-29. 

The Panthers defense finally showed some signs of life again in Week 5, forcing four Chicago turnovers, including a Matt Forte fumble that led to what ultimately stood as the game-winning score. Remember, this was the second-ranked defense in the league last season, but it hardly has approached that level for long in 2014.

Considering how well Cam Newton continues to play, in spite of a barren depth chart at running back and issues all around him, a return to form on D may be enough to get Carolina back to the postseason.


2. Green Bay Packers

Heck of a Sunday for the idle Packers, who received two huge assists from the teams listed above. Thanks to the Buffalo and Carolina wins, Green Bay leapfrogged back into first in the NFC North, tied with the Lions. 

Packers roll over Vikings, Ponder in yet another Thursday Night Dud

The Pack could stay there awhile, too, if its last two outings are any indication. After slipping to 1-2 with a lackluster loss in Detroit, the Packers came back with a 21-point romp over Chicago and a 42-10 smackdown of Minnesota on Thursday night. 

The best news of all from that mini-win streak: Eddie Lacy's re-emergence. He trucked Minnesota to the tune of 105 yards rushing and two touchdowns. If he returns to his 2013 form, the Packers offense still has the potential to be a top-five unit -- heck, guys like Aaron Rodgers don't grow on trees. An uptick from Lacy and the line in front of Rodgers would make this team a very tough out the rest of the way.


1. Indianapolis Colts

With Andrew Luck at quarterback and no more than a two-team race unfolding in the AFC South, the stars are aligning for the Colts to reclaim their spot atop the division. They've now run off three consecutive victories after dropping games to Denver and Philadelphia out of the gate. And, amazingly, the Colts face just two more 2013 playoff teams the rest of the season.

In other words, that 0-2 start could turn into 12-4 or 13-3 without any surprises.

There is more than just the schedule at work here, however. While Luck remains a little too turnover-prone, he's also posting incredible numbers through five games, with an improving run game and defense to back him. Sunday, the Colts outgained Baltimore on the ground (137-90), forced three turnovers, sacked Joe Flacco four times and held the ball for nearly 39 minutes.

The Colts have been contenders in each of Luck's first two seasons at quarterback. When all is said and done, this could be the emerging superstar's best team yet.


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