There are definitely a lot of storylines to follow as the NFL season begins its second quarter. Are the New England Patriots in real trouble after disastrous performances from their defense to start the season? Can the surprising New York Jets get to over .500 against another horrible variation of the Cleveland Browns? Remaining in the AFC East, the Buffalo Bills look to move to 4-1 on the season. Whew.
The NFC isn’t lacking intrigue, either. Green Bay heads to Dallas for a rematch of last year’s divisional round. It does so with the Cowboys reeling following a home loss to the Los Angeles Rams. All the while, those Rams host Seattle with an opportunity to move to 4-1 on the season.
These are among the top storylines for each Week 5 NFL game.
New England Patriots at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Pats looking to get it right
The Patriots’ defense has been an abomination through the first quarter of the season. We’re talking about a defense that ranks dead last in total yards (456.8) and against the pass (324.0). It has also yielded a 116.5 quarterback rating and 11 passing touchdowns. It’s been a downright disaster, especially for high-priced free agent signing Stephon Gilmore. Last week saw Cam Newton put up a perfect quarterback rating when targeting Gilmore. Ouch.
It won’t get much easier for this much-maligned Patriots defense against a quarterback in Jameis Winston who is coming off a three-touchdown performance against the New York Giants. It also comes on the road, where the Pats yielded 429 total yards in one game this season. A loss and another dreadful defensive performance in Week 5 may lead to panic mode in New England.
San Francisco 49ers at Indianapolis Colts: Frank Gore vs former team
For the first time since he left in free agency following the 2014 season, this future Hall of Famer will go up against his former team. At 34 years old, Gore has slowed down considerably.
But he’s still the starting running back for an NFL team and will need just four rushing yards to pass Eric Dickerson for seventh on the all-time list. Imagine him being able to do that against a team he put up nearly 14,000 total yards for in 10 seasons. That would be a most epic accomplishment for this all-time great. It will also come days after Gore indicated he was bitter about San Francisco’s contract offer heading into the 2015 season. He’ll want to prove his old team wrong here.
New York Jets at Cleveland Browns: Can the Jets get to over .500?
It’s an absurd thing to look at. These Jets, as talentless as they are, now boast the same 2-2 record as the defending champion Patriots. Surely this can’t last well into the season, right? But heading into Week 5, New York has an opportunity to begin the second quarter of its season with a 3-2 mark. Considering this team is in full-scale rebuild mode, that’s absolutely astonishing.
There’s also a golden opportunity to be had here. The Jets will head to Cleveland to take on a Browns team that is 1-22 in its past 23 games, including a 1-10 mark at home. Rookie DeShone Kizer was benched last week for Kevin Hogan after turning the ball over eight times in his previous nine quarters of play. Kizer will be under center on Sunday, potentially set to help the Jets to a winning record. Imagine that.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Pittsburgh Steelers: Drama in Steel Town
We’re not too sure where it all started. It could have been Mike Tomlin’s intriguing pre-game decision prior to the start of Week 3’s game against the Chicago Bears. There could be a rift between Antonio Brown and Ben Roethlisberger. Either way, there’s definitely drama unfolding in Pittsburgh right now.
Despite this, the Steelers find themselves at 3-1 on the season and with a clear stranglehold hold on the AFC North following last week’s win over the Baltimore Ravens. It might not show on the field against an up-and-down Jaguars team, but Brown himself could very well be frustrated further taking on an elite corner in the form of Jalen Ramsey.
Los Angeles Chargers at New York Giants: Battle of the winless
Coming off a four-win 2016 campaign and with injuries to key players, most figured the Chargers would struggle in their first season back in Los Angeles. At 0-4, that’s exactly what’s happened. It’s the Giants’ 0-4 record that has some shocked and others shook. New York won 11 games last season. It seemed to upgrade on offense with veteran receiver Brandon Marshall and rookie first-round pick, tight end Evan Engram. None of this has come to fruition.
The interesting dynamic here is that both teams have been competitive. New York’s last two losses have come by a combined five points. Meanwhile, Los Angeles has lost three of its first four games by a combined seven points. Despite owning a combined 0-8 mark, this could actually be a very good Week 5 game.
Buffalo Bills at Cincinnati Bengals: The first-place Buffalo Bills
Buffalo finds itself at 3-1 for the first time since 2011. It’s also looking to be in first place heading into Week 6 for the first time since 2008. For a team that has not earned a playoff spot since the Bill Clinton Administration, this is a big accomplishment. More than anything, the Bills’ success has been defined by a stingy defense.
Led by Tre’Davious White and E.J. Gaines, the Bills have yielded one passing touchdown compared to six interceptions for a 64.1 passer rating. They’ll now take on a quarterback in Andy Dalton who has thrown six touchdowns and zero picks in the past two games. In reality, this could be a season-defining game for the Bills as they look to move to 4-1 on the year.
Carolina Panthers at Detroit Lions: Is Cam back?
A lot was made of Cam Newton’s early-season struggles leading up to Carolina’s Week 4 contest against the Patriots. He had thrown two touchdowns compared to four interceptions while averaging under 200 passing yards in his first three games. This led to some within the Panthers’ organization fearing that Newton was on the verge of breaking down physically. He responded by completing 22-of-28 passes for 316 yards and three scores in a surprising road win over the defending champs.
Now set to take on a Lions defense that’s yielded a 71.6 passer rating on the season, Sunday’s game will be a much more difficult test. Could Week 4’s performance have been more about the Pats’ league-worst pass defense or is Cam on the verge of bouncing back? We’ll learn a lot more this week.
Tennessee Titans at Miami Dolphins: Jay Cutler on thin ice?
Despite gaining the confidence of his head coach after last week’s shut out loss to the New Orleans Saints, one has to wonder whether Cutler is long for the Dolphins’ starting job. Here is a guy that’s averaging less than 200 passing yards en route to leading his team to six total points over the past two weeks.
Miami does boast one of the better backup quarterbacks in the NFL in Matt Moore. So the idea of moving on from Cutler isn’t completely unrealistic. Should the veteran struggle against a Titans defense that yielded 57 points to Houston last week, Gase might finally make the call.
Arizona Cardinals at Philadelphia Eagles: Eagles running game showing itself
The primary concern in Philadelphia heading into the season was what many deemed to be a questionable rushing attack. LeGarrette Blount had signed a free agent contract, but he was overwhelmingly unimpressive during the summer. Meanwhile, Darren Sproles went down with a season-ending injury back in Week 3.
However, the Eagles have had surprising success on the ground since. The team is averaging north of 200 rushing yards the past two games. For his part, Blount has put up 203 yards and is averaging a whopping 7.3 yards per rush during that span. Should this continue, it will only help young quarterback Carson Wentz progress under center. Taking on a Cardinals team that ranks in the top 10 against the run, Week 5 will be a nice test for Philly’s rushing attack.
Baltimore Ravens at Oakland Raiders: Carr-less Raiders look to get back on track
Without the injured Derek Carr for at least this week, Oakland will be turning to EJ Manuel in an attempt to end its surprising two-game losing streak. It’s a home game against a struggling Ravens squad, one the Raiders simply must have in order to avoid likely falling further behind the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs.
More than anything, the onus is going to be on both Marshawn Lynch on offense and the team’s pass defense. After opening the season relatively strong, Lynch has put up just 30 yards on 15 attempts during the two-game losing streak. Taking on a Ravens run defense that ranks in the bottom eight of the NFL, there should be opportunities here.
On defense, the Raiders will be going up against a Joe Flacco-led offense that has scored a grand total of 16 points over the past two weeks. It has to be a get-right game for that unit if the Raiders want to avoid a three-game losing streak.
Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Rams: Statement game for the Rams
At 3-1 on the season and coming off an upset win over the Cowboys in Dallas, Los Angeles is riding high. We also have to wonder whether it is fool’s gold. Remember, the Rams opened last season with a 3-1 mark as well. Though, the landscape of this team has changed dramatically with an improved Jared Goff under center an Toddy Gurley absolutely dominating in Sean McVay’s first season as the Rams’ head coach.
Sunday against the defending NFC West champion Seahawks could very well prove to be a statement game for the Rams. Not only would they move two games ahead of Seattle with a win, it would put Pete Carroll’s squad on notice big time. With wins against Seattle in each of the past three seasons, there’s a track record here. And with a victory on their home field, the Rams will start 4-1 for the first time since 2006.
Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys: Boys looking to overcome inconsistencies
Following a Week 3 win over Arizona, it looked like the Cowboys were going to get right back on track against the Rams. They put up 24 first half points and well over 300 total yards. That’s when things went amiss. Dallas would go on to tally just six second half points in what would ultimately become an embarrassing 35-30 loss in front of their home crowd. In reality, this Cowboys team has not put up four consecutive great quarters of football since Week 1. That has to be of concern for Jason Garrett and Co.
Now set to take on the very same Packers team that eliminated Dallas in the playoffs last season, Week 5 is as close to a must win as we will see in October. Not only would a loss push Dallas to under .500, it would place them behind the proverbial eight ball with both Washington and Philadelphia seemingly improved from a season ago.
Kansas City Chiefs at Houston Texans: Elite vs elite
At this point, it would not be a hyperbole to say that Deshaun Watson is playing elite football in Houston. The rookie quarterback is coming off a five-touchdown performance in a stunning 57-14 win over Tennessee last week. That came on the heels of him tallying 342 total yards in a narrow loss to the defending champion Patriots on the road in Week 3. Needless to say, Watson has his Texans offense playing at its highest level in years.
On the other side, Kansas City heads into Week 5 as the only undefeated team in the NFL. Most will look at Kareem Hunt’s otherworldly performance to start his career. Others will conclude that Tyreek Hill has been the difference maker.
All the while, Alex Smith is absolutely dominating under center. Including a game-winning drive in Week 4 against Washington, Smith is completing 76 percent of his passes for north of 1,000 yards with nine total touchdowns and zero picks. This is definitely an elite vs elite quarterback matchup, one no one could have envisioned at the start of the season.
Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears: Mitchell Trubisky’s NFL debut
The Bears made sure to wait until they were home to give Trubisky his first NFL start. Heck, the team decided against throwing him out there late in a blowout loss to the Packers in Green Bay last week. For John Fox and Co. it’s all about putting the rookie No. 2 pick in the right situation to succeed.
Though, he now takes on a difficult Vikings defense on Monday Night Football. The interpretation of actually putting Trubisky in the right situation to succeed can be left up to the individual. Would it have made more sense to start him against a lesser opponent? That’s definitely left up for debate. What we do know is that Trubisky is now the best option after Mike Glennon laid flat in his first four starts after signing a big-money contract. The era of Mitchell has started. Whether it leads to more success remains to be seen.