The end of the first quarter of the NFL season marks the first point where the truly good teams begin to separate themselves from the pretenders.
Teams like the Houston Texans (2-2), Atlanta Falcons (1-3), and Baltimore Ravens (2-2) are looking to win this weekend to avoid going too far in the hole, while cream-of-the-crop teams like the Denver Broncos (4-0) and Seattle Seahawks (4-0) look to stay perfect on the road against division leaders Dallas Cowboys (2-2) and Indianapolis Colts (3-1). While those match-ups will surely fascinate, here are your must-see games for Week 5 of the NFL season.
The Chicago Bears and Cincinnati Bengals, both preseason playoff hopefuls, host the undefeated New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots respectively, while the Detroit Lions travel to Lambeau Field to take on a Green Bay Packers team desperate for a win.
Following a marquee win against the Atlanta Falcons, the Patriots’ (4-0) difficult schedule continues as they travel to Paul Brown Stadium to face the hungry Bengals (2-2). The Bengals are coming off a shocking loss at Cleveland where their offense was held in check for the entire game, only managing 6 points. Andy Dalton will hope to reestablish his passing attack by looking early and often to star wide-out A.J. Green, with whom he has an excellent rapport.
The match-up to watch will be Green versus the Patriots’ standout cornerback Aqib Talib. Talib impressed last week against the Falcons, making the game-saving play to deny a touchdown pass to Roddy White.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick took notice of this clutch play, as he told WEEI Radio, “He’s stepped up in every game and played well, played the ball well and played against good receivers. He’s tackled well. He’s done a good job for us.”
Tom Brady will continue to build an understanding with his new wide receivers as he eagerly awaits the return of All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receiver Danny Amendola. The Bengals strong run defense will look to stop Patriots rushers in early downs and get Brady into obvious passing situations. The goal will be to spread the ball around the field and keep the Patriots in manageable down and distances. If the Patriots can keep the Bengals guessing, they will survive without key defensive tackle Vince Wilfork in their second tough road test, to keep their unbeaten streak alive.
The Detroit Lions (3-1) take their potent offense on the road to face the Green Bay Packers (1-2), who come off a bye week ready to make a statement win. Last week, the Lions took it to the division-leading Bears in a 40-32 win that was far less close than the score indicated. They look to build off of their offensive success this week against a Packers defense which ranks 28th against the pass.
The Lions’ off-season investment in running back Reggie Bush seems to be paying dividends as Bush has already racked up 254 rushing and 179 yards receiving in his three starts this season. The Packers will need to shadow Bush everywhere he goes to limit his big-play potential.
Detroit head coach Jim Schwartz is well aware of Bush’s growth, as he told ESPN.com, “Eventually, teams are going to have to loosen up on Calvin, or Reggie is going to continue to have big days like that. That’s a good position to be in offensively.”
Aaron Rodgers will have to be his usual sharp and efficient self to keep the Packers in the game. The Packers have weapons of their own in Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson who will look to stretch the field to open up the intermediate and short opportunities. With Detroit featuring the 21st ranked passing defense, you can bet on a shootout that will be sure to keep fans entertained and fantasy owners happy.
While Detroit left Week 4 excited about where their offense was headed, Chicago was still trying to figure out what hit them. The 3-1 Bears were division leaders until last week, and will hope to bounce back strongly in Week 5 as they face the undefeated Saints at home. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler had a lousy showing against Detroit, throwing three interceptions and only completing 57% of his passes. Cutler will want to get back on the same page with his receivers, looking first to get the ball to play-maker Brandon Marshall and then spread the ball to his other weapons.
The Saints are coming off an impressive Monday night blowout against the Dolphins in which Drew Brees threw for over 400 yards and 4 touchdowns. So far this season, opposing defenses have not found a way to stop the Saints’ passing attack headlined by play-makers Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles. Graham has been a headache for defenses since he entered the league in 2010, and following a full off-season working out with Brees, is reaping the benefits of being on the same page with his quarterback, leading the Saints in yards (458), receptions (27) and touchdowns (6), and is on his way to a monster year.
The featured match-up of this game will be Graham versus the linebackers and secondary of the Chicago Bears. While this may not be a traditional match-up, the Bears will know that the only way to stop Graham will be to throw a variety of coverage and players at him to keep the tight end guessing.
Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker knows just how much of a challenge Graham will be for them, telling ChicagoBears.com, “He's a mismatch nightmare. He runs like a fast wide receiver, he's got excellent catch radius, he's a fierce competitor, his quarterback looks for him, and he feels like every ball that's thrown to him he should catch it."
If Cutler can get back on track and the stingy Bears defense can get a few stops against Drew Brees, this game will come down to the wire and you won’t want to miss it.