A total of six teams enter Week 5 of the NFL season with undefeated records. Of those six teams, all but one is going to face a difficult opponent this week. This makes for an intriguing slate of games around the league.
The other main thing to look for as we enter the second quarter of the schedule is how teams that have yet to find a real identity are going to perform.
The Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints will take on one another with both squads looking to avoid a 1-4 start to the season. In the same exact situation, the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens square off in a battle for last place in the AFC North. None of these four teams are completely out of the playoff conversation, but losses on Sunday would surely hurt.
Here is your top storyline for each Week 5 NFL game.
Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans: Andrew Luck’s availability
Andrew Luck ruled questionable for #TNF.
— Indianapolis Colts (@Colts) October 7, 2015
While Luck is officially questionable for Thursday’s game against the Texans, everything seems to be pointing in the direction of him playing. Though, there’s a chance Indy could sit him out after he missed last week’s game with a shoulder injury.
With a short week between games, the situation seems to be more up in the air than if the Colts were scheduled to play Sunday. Considering Matt Hasselbeck is also questionable due to an illness, Indy has to hope that Luck will be able to go.
At 2-2 on the season, the Colts find find themselves in first place in the weak AFC South. A win here against Houston could set into motion a lengthy winning streak for a squad that entered the season with Super Bowl aspirations.
On the other hand, Indianapolis has not played anywhere near its best football. A loss here could lead to more questions for the odds-on favorites to win the division.
Buffalo Bills at Tennessee Titans: time for a more consistent Bills team to show up
At 2-2 on the season, Buffalo needs to find a way to right the ship following a disheartening home loss to the New York Giants that saw Rex Ryan’s squad commit a ridiculous 17 penalties. More than anything else, this needs to change if the Bills are going to compete for a playoff spot in the AFC.
With the New England Patriots looking the part of the best team in the NFL and the New York Jets seemingly vastly improved from previous seasons, Buffalo can’t afford to fall to 2-3 on the campaign.
It most definitely can’t afford to do so against a vastly inferior Titans team. The NFL is all about consistency, and up until this point, Buffalo simply hasn’t displayed that.
Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens: battle for last place
More than simply being a battle out of the AFC North cellar, these two teams need to find a way to move on from early-season struggles that have them at 1-3 heading into Week 5.
For Baltimore, it’s all about turning close losses into wins. After losing its first three games by a combined 14 points, this team took advantage of horrible coaching by Mike Tomlin and the Pittsburgh Steelers to pull off an overtime victory last week.
Whether that late-game win was an outlier remains to be seen. But one thing is clear: Baltimore must find a way to avoid a 1-4 start to the season if it wants to get back to the playoffs.
In Cleveland, it’s the same old story. Substandard quarterback play appears to be holding the team back from contention. In addition to this, another late-game mistake last week prevented the Browns from finding themselves with a .500 record.
An off-sides call against cornerback Tramon Williams negated a last-second missed field goal from the San Diego Chargers, enabling the opposing team’s kicker to re-attempt the game-winning field goal. Like clockwork, Cleveland found yet another way to lose.
Unless Cleveland gets better quarterback play — from either Josh McCown or Johnny Manziel — it will likely find itself in the cellar when all is said and done. That’s only magnified by bonehead mistakes with the game on the line — the story of your Cleveland Browns of the past two-plus decades.
Chicago Bears at Kansas City Chiefs: finding the end zone in Kansas City
Seven scores, seven field goals. That’s how Kansas City tallied 21 points against the Cincinnati Bengals last week. And despite putting up nearly 500 yards of total offense, Andy Reid’s squad lost by 15. Losers of three consecutive, the Chiefs need this to change in short order Sunday against an inferior Bears team.
The key here is going to be Alex Smith finding anyone outside of Travis Kelce and Jamaal Charles in the red zone. In between the 20’s, Smith has excelled in hooking up with new Chiefs wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who is on pace for nearly 1,600 receiving yards this season.
Maybe Smith can find a way to work him the ball near the goal line against a shoddy Bears defense. That would go a long way in Kansas City finding a way to break its three-game losing streak.
Seattle Seahawks at Cincinnati Bengals: road team’s pass protection woes
That's the 6th sack I've counted Russell Wilson escaping. Playground scramble, completion for 21yds to Chris Matthews. #Seahawks up 13-3 3Q
— Gregg Bell (@gbellseattle) October 6, 2015
As I mentioned in a piece earlier this week, Seattle is facing the real possibility of losing Russell Wilson to injury unless it finds a way to pass protect better moving forward. The franchise quarterback has been sacked 16 times in four games while finding himself under pressure 43 percent of the time he’s dropped back to pass.
Through four games, the right side of the line has allowed 17 quarterback hurries. That’s where the Bengals are most likely going to attack, especially with Carlos Dunlap coming off that end.
Wilson is tremendous at escaping pressure, but there’s a limit to what he can actually do on the football field. This was magnified by the two fumbles he lost in the fourth quarter against the Detroit Lions on Monday night — fumbles that very nearly cost Seattle the game.
St. Louis Rams at Green Bay Packers: statement game for Jeff Fisher’s squad
As meaningless as in-season power rankings may be, it’s readily apparent that NFL experts like what they have seen from the 2-2 Rams thus far this season. With wins against the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals, it’s clear that St. Louis has the talent to compete with the big boys in the NFC.
The unfortunate thing here is that the Rams remain one of the most inconsistent squads in the NFL. Unless they are able to actually follow up a solid performance with yet another good outing, this team isn’t going to find itself in the conversation as a playoff contender in the NFC.
Going up against an undefeated Packers team at Lambeau Field, St. Louis has a golden opportunity to prove to itself that it can be in the conversation among top contenders in an ultra-competitive conference. And in reality, the team has a few favorable matchups against Aaron Rodgers and Co.
The likes of Robert Quinn, Chris Long and Aaron Donald should cause major issues for Green Bay’s under-performing offensive line. In addition to this, a new-found running game with rookie Todd Gurley could help take some of the onus off Nick Foles.
In the end, a win here by St. Louis will put it in the conversation. Though, based off what we’ve seen from Jeff Fisher-led squads in recent seasons, it’s hard to imagine the Rams coming out on top.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: can Jameis Winston rebound?
After a four-interception performance against the Carolina Panthers last week, Winston is now on pace to turn the ball over 32 times this season. While we already know this is unlikely to happen, the first-year quarterback needs to get back on track against what is a below-average Jaguars defense on Sunday.
From my estimation after charting Winston’s game against Carolina, 16 of his 39 targeted passes were inaccurate. That’s an insanely high number right there. Though, this really isn’t the main issue right here. As we saw during his college career, Winston struggled mostly with decision making last week.
He can’t continue to throw the ball into narrow windows at the highest level football has to offer. This may have worked at Florida State, but the NFL is on an entirely different level than the ACC.
That’s where the progression needs to be found. It’s going to take in-game experience. It’s also going to force Winston to overcome rookie mistakes and rocky waters.
But at the end of the day, this is where the former Heisman winner needs to improve. Going up against a struggling Jaguars pass defense, there’s a decent chance Winston will find a way to rebound this week.
New Orleans Saints at Philadelphia Eagles: must-win game for both squads
Things are obviously more dreary for the Saints, who still find themselves three games out in the NFC South after defeating the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night. With two teams in that division currently undefeated, New Orleans simply can’t afford to fall to 1-4 on the season. That would make it a near impossibility for the team to earn a playoff spot.
For the Eagles, losing four of their first five after a drama-filled offseason wouldn’t necessarily give skeptics more confidence in Chip Kelly. And every week Philadelphia remains behind Dallas is a week closer to both Dez Bryant and Tony Romo returning to action for the defending NFC East champs.
Yes, this is an absolutely huge game between two teams currently in last place.
Despite just being just one game behind the other three teams in their division, the Eagles can’t afford to fall at home in what may turn out to be one of their most-favorable matchups remaining on the schedule. And if the Saints were to fall to 1-4, it would likely spell the end of their playoff aspirations.
Washington Redskins at Atlanta Falcons: two vastly improved football teams
Most of the talk leading up to this inter-conference matchup is focusing on what has been an elite Falcons offense under first-year head coach Dan Quinn.
Though, the Redskins could easily find themselves talked about in a positive light (imagine that) with a win over an undefeated Falcons squad. At 2-2 on the season, Washington actually finds itself in a three-way tie for first in the NFC East.
Playing potentially the best football of his career, Matt Ryan has put up six touchdowns compared to two interceptions while leading the Falcons to an average of 34.2 points per game this season. One of the primary reasons Ryan has had so much success early on is the balance Atlanta has shown on offense.
The team has put up 100-plus rushing yards in three of the first four games with second-year running back Devonta Freeman scoring seven touchdowns on the ground. For comparison’s sake, Atlanta tallied 100-plus rushing yards just four times while accumulating 11 touchdowns on the ground last season.
Coming off a tremendous late-game victory against Philadelphia, the Redskins have also performed at a much higher clip than last year. While it may seem like a small improvement in the grand scheme of things, two wins in their first four games is a pretty big deal for a downtrodden Redskins squad.
If they are able to win on Sunday, it will be the first time since 2011 that this franchise has entered Week 6 with three wins. Playing much more competitive football, Jay Gruden and Co. have a golden opportunity to prove that their early-season competitiveness isn’t an exception to the rule.
Arizona Cardinals at Detroit Lions: time for the home team to actually win a game
There is a strong argument that Detroit should be 1-3 right now and coming off an unlikely win over the Seattle Seahawks in the Pacific Northwest. That angle has been about as played out as conversations regarding Eli Manning’s elite status.
As Lions head coach Jim Caldwell indicated shortly after the tough loss, it’s simply time for this team to move on.
At 0-4 on the season, it’s safe to say Detroit isn’t going to the playoffs. This doesn’t mean the team should just throw in the towel for the season.
There is still a lot to play for here. Mainly, the Lions might be at the point where they have to start evaluating Matthew Stafford and whether he’s the long-term solution at quarterback.
It may seem crazy, but his lack of success against winning squads is starting to take on a whole new meaning (3-32 against teams that finish with a winning record). Can Stafford, even in what might amount to a lost season, buck this trend? If not, are the Lions prepared to make the decision to move on from him?
New England Patriots at Dallas Cowboys: Tom Brady’s red-hot start
Realistically, the Cowboys only hope of stopping Brady sits with the idea that he cooled off during New England’s bye week. Outside of that, Dallas is going to have a heck of a time stopping the four-time Super Bowl champion. This means that Brandon Weeden and Co. are going to have to pick up the slack on offense.
In his first game since returning from a shoulder injury, Saints quarterback Drew Brees completed 33-of-41 passes for 359 yards and two scores against this Dallas defense.
Now going up against a quarterback in Tom Brady that has thrown 48 touchdowns in his past 17 games, the Cowboys could be in for a rude awakening here.
I just don’t envision a scenario where Dallas is able to hold off Brady enough for its backup quarterback to outscore the future Hall of Famer. If that doesn’t happen, Dallas will find itself losers of three consecutive with the Patriots remaining undefeated on the campaign.
Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders: Jack Del Rio and Co. looking for that signature win
Oakland is one late-game loss to the Chicago Bears from being 3-1 on the season. Alas, that simply isn’t the case as this perennial bottom feeder looks for a big win against Del Rio’s old squad at home on Sunday afternoon.
Oakland has an opportunity to make a major statement in the AFC West. It has the offensive star power to do just that. However, the Broncos are more than primed to show everyone who is boss in what looks to be a significantly weakened division.
With the likes of Aqib Talib and Chris Harris prepared to shut down what has been a surprisingly good Raiders wide receiver group, it’s going to be up to second-year quarterback Derek Carr to find a way to beat what could be the best secondary in football. That’s a mighty tally task for a young Raiders quarterback who is himself playing at an exceptionally high level.
San Francisco 49ers at New York Giants: complete fall from grace for San Francisco?
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) October 7, 2015
Players in San Francisco understand full well the product it has put on the field over the past three weeks. Just ask new wide receiver Torrey Smith:
“We’re a better team than what we’re showing right now. We’re better offensively than how we’re playing. To be honest, we work too hard to go out there on Sundays and play like that,” Smith said on Wednesday. “(Jim) Tomsula doesn’t deserve this. The fans don’t deserve to watch the way we play.”
Anyone who has watched the 49ers play the last three weeks knows exactly what Smith is talking about. In his first season as the team’s head coach, Jim Tomsula is already being placed on the hot seat after four games.
Losing by a combined score of 107-28 during a three-game stretch will do that. Doing so after replacing an extremely successful head coach will only lead to more questions.
Is San Francisco in the midst of a meltdown that would rival some of the teams we saw prior to Jim Harbaugh’s arrival? If so, who will take most of the blame for what might be the worst team in the NFL heading into Week 5? Colin Kaepernick has struggled, the offensive line is a hot mess and coaching hasn’t been up to snuff.
And in reality, those local to the scene in Northern California — media and fans alike — are losing patience. Can the 49ers stem this tide on the road in New Jersey? That’s the question we are all looking to see answered when this team goes in front of the lights on NBC this upcoming Sunday night.
Pittsburgh Steelers at San Diego Chargers: another prime chance for Michael Vick
We already know Vick isn’t the long-term solution in Pittsburgh. Once Ben Roethlisberger returns, the current Steelers starter will find himself riding the pine. This doesn’t mean that Vick can just go out there and continue to lay eggs, much like we saw in a late-game loss to the Baltimore Ravens last week.
Now going up against a desperate Chargers team on the road in another nationally televised game, Vick has to preform better if he’s going to keep Pittsburgh afloat in the AFC North race. The question now becomes whether he can do just that until Big Ben returns.