NFL Week 5 storylines: Brady-Manning one of many QB showdowns
We talk a lot about quarterback play in the NFL, often putting too much of a premium on one position. That said, if you're a fan of the QBs, then Week 5 is right up your alley.
There's Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning in New England, Philip Rivers vs. Drew Brees in New Orleans, Michael Vick vs. Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh and, of course, Robert Griffin III vs. Matt Ryan in Washington.
No matter where you look Sunday and Monday, there's some intrigue under center, the majority of those quarterback duels set to occur within the context of important early-season matchups.
A look ahead to Week 5:
• Tom Brady, Peyton Manning meet again
As soon as Peyton Manning announced that he would be joining the Broncos this season, people started circling this game on their calendars. Who could blame them? Brady and Manning are arguably the two best quarterbacks of their generation and probably two of the best all time.
Beyond the QB matchup, though, this is a huge Week 5 line in the sand for both teams. The Patriots and Broncos carry matching 2-2 records into Sunday -- that's good enough for New England to be tied for first in a struggling AFC East, but Denver finds itself looking up at San Diego in the West. This game could loom large once the playoff race begins to sort itself out later in the season, especially if the winner eventually gets to host a postseason rematch.
• Can Pittsburgh get healthy against Philadelphia?
Usually, teams don't want to draw that Week 4 bye, as it then leaves a daunting 13 straight games without a break to finish the season. But for Pittsburgh, it came at a perfect time. A banged-up Steelers team limped out of the gate to a 1-2 record, which has them trailing well behind Baltimore and Cincinnati in the AFC North.
They'll return to the field with a tough test, as the 3-1 Eagles visit Heinz Field for one of Sunday's marquee matchups. Pittsburgh will be as close to full strength as it has been all year -- James Harrison, Troy Polamalu and Rashard Mendenhall are all expected to suit up. Considering the Steelers hit the road for three of their next four, this constitutes a massive moment in their season.
• AFC North leaders shoot for 4-1
And while Pittsburgh is busy dealing with Philadelphia, both Baltimore and Cincinnati will be favored in their games, with matching chances to open the season 4-1.
Cincinnati welcomes in a Miami team that has improved since the start of the season and possesses a pretty stout defense. Baltimore, meanwhile, heads into Kansas City to play a Chiefs team that everyone expected to be better than 1-3 (and 0-2 at home).
• Will Washington end Atlanta's undefeated run?
Cam Newton nearly knocked the Falcons from their unbeaten perch last week; if not for his late fumble and a Matt Ryan-to-Roddy White bomb, he may have. Robert Griffin III will get his shot in D.C., Sunday.
The Falcons have dominated away from home this season, pasting Kansas City by 16 in Week 1 and then rolling San Diego by 24 in Week 3. Is Washington better than those teams? That's somewhat up in the air. The Redskins' offense certainly has been exciting with Griffin and rookie running back Alfred Morris leading the charge.
Can the Washington defense hold up against Atlanta's explosive attack, though? If not, it will take all of Griffin's talents just to keep the Redskins close.
• Must-win games for Giants?
OK, so being 2-3 after five weeks of the NFL season doesn't exactly eliminate a team from the playoffs. Still, if the defending champs follow up a tough loss in Philadelphia by stumbling at home against the 0-4 Browns, Giants fans will be ready to push the panic button again -- especially with a Week 6 trip to San Francisco looming. This appears to be a great chance for New York to right the ship ... but Cleveland has played teams tough this season.
Johnson awoke from his season-long slumber to put up 141 yards on the ground against Houston (of all teams) last week. And Johnson says he wants to follow that up by outrushing Adrian Peterson on the ground this Sunday in Minnesota. Good luck.
Peterson has shown no ill effects on last year's devastating knee injury. He put up 102 yards rushing in Minnesota's Week 4 win at Detroit and has averaged 4.2 yards per carry this season. Whichever team wins on the ground Sunday, when Tennessee visits the Vikings, will have the inside shot on a victory.
• NFC North vs. AFC South
That Tennessee-Minnesota game is just one of three that pits the AFC South against the NFC North. Take the 4-0 Texans out of the mix, and the South does not appear all that formidable this season -- Indianapolis, Jacksonville and Tennessee are a combined 3-8 thus far.
The Titans have to hit the road to battle Minnesota, but the Colts (vs. Green Bay) and Jaguars (vs. Chicago) will host NFC North foes Sunday. Both seem to be NFC North-heavy mismatches. Can the AFC South pull off an upset or two?
• Is San Francisco back on track?
The 49ers stubbed their toes in Minnesota in Week 3 -- a loss that might not look so bad down the road, if the Vikings continue to surprise people. They refused to let that loss linger, however, turning around to smack down the Jets, 34-0, in Week 4. Next up for one of the NFC's Super Bowl favorites: Buffalo.
The Bills have been a Jekyl-and-Hyde team thus far, but have allowed a staggering 100 points combined in their two losses (48 to the Jets, 52 to the Patriots). San Francisco does not have the league's most explosive offense, but Buffalo has to be much better to hang around.
• Matt Flynn watch in Seattle
The Russell Wilson honeymoon may be ending soon in Seattle. The Seahawks' offense has struggled to consistently generate points, especially away from home, so the calls for Matt Flynn have grown a bit louder. Wilson has a favorable matchup Sunday against the 23rd-ranked Carolina defense. If Wilson can't light up the scoreboard a bit, Pete Carroll will have a decision to make.
• Are the Saints ready for a breakthrough?
New Orleans took some steps in the right direction last Sunday, nearly knocking off Green Bay in Lambeau. So, even though New Orleans finds itself a stunning 0-4, there are some reasons for optimism as the 3-1, AFC West-leading Chargers visit Sunday night.
Adding to the intrigue: Suspended coach Sean Payton, linebackers coach (and eventual interim head coach) Joe Vitt and GM Mickey Loomis have been granted a one-game waiver by the league, allowing them to attend this contest. Will they show? And, if they do, will the Saints pick up a spark from their presences?
• Do the Jets have a prayer against Houston?
Based on what we've seen from the two teams so far -- and, in particular, what the Jets showed against San Francisco last week, the answer appears to be no. Talk about a brutal back-to-back, even at home: The Jets drew the short straw having to play the 49ers and Texans back-to-back. Those teams may wind up meeting in New Orleans in February. New York would like to pretend its a contender, too, especially given its spot tied atop the AFC East right now. Season-ending injuries to CB Darrelle Revis and WR Santonio Holmes, however, have more or less ended any dreams the Jets had of making a run in 2011. They could send a message to the league Monday night by dropping Houston from the ranks of the unbeatens. It's just hard to envision how they would pull that off, considering how well Houston has been playing.