Top storylines for NFL Week 5

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Week 5 of the NFL season is filled with so many juicy headlines. It starts Thursday night as a struggling Jared Goff and his Rams head to Seattle to take on the division-rival Seahawks.

Sunday’s slate includes the Green Bay Packers heading to Big D to take on the Cowboys. Both teams are coming off their first losses of the season.

In the nation’s capital, Jay Gruden and the Redskins look to avoid embarrassment against a dominant Patriots team.

Closing out the slate on Monday night, the San Francisco 49ers look to go 4-0 for the first time since 1990 in a home game against a talented Browns squad.

These are among your stop storylines as the NFL opens up October in grand fashion.

Must win for Kirk Cousins and Co.

This is more about Cousins and his ineptitude through the quarterback’s first 20 starts as a member of the Vikings. Cousins has posted a 10-9-1 record during that span. There could very well be a rift growing between Cousins and other member of the Vikings’ underachieving offense, primarily his reluctance to throw down the field.

At 2-2 on the season, Minnesota heads to New York to take on a Giants team that’s won two consecutive games under impressive rookie quarterback Daniel Jones. Imagine both the narratives and optics that would come with Jones besting Cousins in this game.

Big early October AFC North matchup

Surprisingly enough, the Pittsburgh Steelers can match their division counterparts in that of the Baltimore Ravens with a win on Sunday. Baltimore started the season 2-0 before dropping its last two games to the Chiefs and Browns. Meanwhile, the Steelers are coming off a blowout win over Cincinnati after losing their first three outings.

Most figure this should be a get-right game for Lamar Jackson and the Ravens. They are four-point road favorites in Pittsburgh. However, Mason Rudolph has upped his game over the past two weeks. The good news for Baltimore? They have won three of the past five matchups in Pittsburgh.

The Khalil Mack revenge game

The NFL dropped the ball big time by playing this game in London rather than Oakland. We already know how Mack feels about being jettisoned from Northern California by “general manager” Jon Gruden ahead of last season. He’s going to want to want vengeance in a big way. And it could get ugly for Derek Carr across the pond.

Mack has absolutely tormented opposing offensive lines this season, putting up 4.5 sacks and four forced fumbles through the quarter point of the season. On the other hand, Oakland has allowed Carr to get sacked just eight times in four games. How this specific battle turns out could be the difference between Oakland moving to 3-2 or Chicago finding itself returning to the states at 4-1.

Opportunity for Buccaneers to prove their worth

Tampa Bay’s 55-40 win over the Rams in Los Angeles represents the most unreasonable development of the young NFL season. Sans a horrible pick-six, Jameis Winston put up what could have been the best performance of his career. Meanwhile, a much-maligned Buccaneers defense led by Todd Bowles forced four turnovers of Jared Goff.

The question for these Bucs is consistency. They lost by double digits at home against the 49ers in Week 1 before taking out the Panthers the following week. After opening up a big lead against the Giants at home in Week 3, Tampa Bay allowed rookie Daniel Jones to lead a massive comeback. Taking on one of the best teams in the NFL in that of the Saints in New Orleans on Sunday, Bruce Arians and Co. have an opportunity to keep their team in the NFC South title conversation. This is a huge statement game.

Smelling blood in the nation’s capital

It could get ugly when the defending champion New England Patriots head to D.C. to take on a winless Redskins team Sunday afternoon. Speculation has arose that Skins head coach Jay Gruden would be fired. That was ramped up after a lifeless performance in a 24-3 road loss to the New York Giants last week.

New England heads into this game undefeated and yielding less than seven points per game. It is a whopping 15-point road favorite. Tom Brady and Co. will be smelling blood after a lackluster offensive performance against the Bills last week. If Washington were to lose in blowout fashion once again, Gruden might not last the night as the team’s head coach.

Statement game for 49ers on national television

San Francisco continues to fly under the radar despite joining the Chiefs and Patriots as the only undefeated teams remaining in the NFL. There’s logic behind this. The 49ers’ first three wins have come against teams with a combined 3-9 record. Needless to say, Kyle Shanahan’s squad has not faced the best of opposition thus far.

Even then, these 49ers rank in the top five in average point differential, total offense and total defense. This will undoubtedly be put to the test at home against the Cleveland Browns on Monday night. Can the 49ers use their elite pass rush to take advantage of Baker Mayfield’s turnover proneness? Will Jimmy Garoppolo step up under the lights at home Monday night? If so, San Francisco will make a major statement in going 4-0 for the first time since 1990.

Getting right in Philadelphia

At 2-2 on the season, it’s time for Carson Wentz and the Eagles to get on a roll and prove their worth among the NFC’s elite. This process started out well last week in a grand road win against the Green Bay Packers on Thursday night. It’s now all about consistency on both sides of the ball. That includes getting to the quarterback more and finding some receivers to step up on offense.

Philadelphia does have itself an awesome home matchup against a winless New York Jets team on Sunday that is still without Sam Darnold. It’s in this that Doug Pederson’s squad is whopping two-touchdown favorites. Anything less than a blowout would not be good news for the Eagles. That’s magnified by the fact that Philadelphia takes on the Vikings, Cowboys, Bills, Bears, Patriots and Seahawks in their next six games.

Bounce back game for the Bills?

Buffalo’s defense was more than up for the task in a hard-fought 16-10 loss to the New England Patriots last week. Unfortunately, quarterbacks gave the game away en route to the Bills losing their first game of the season. That included Josh Allen turning it over three times.

No matter what happens on offense this week, the Bills’ defense is going to have to step up once again. It is taking on a vastly improved Marcus Mariota in a game that pits two playoff hopefuls against one another. A win here would move Buffalo to 4-1 on the season and lead to playoff contention late into the season. It’s a huge game for Sean McDermott’s squad.

Huge battle brewing in Big D

Both the Cowboys and Packers are coming off hard-fought losses against darn good NFC teams. Dallas could not get anything going against an elite Saints defense this past Sunday night in New Orleans. Meanwhile, the Packers saw their undefeated record go to the wayside in a narrow home defeat to the Eagles.

Not only do the Packers and Cowboys want to remain relevant in the conversation for the NFC’s best team, this conference matchup could have boundless implications when it comes to tiebreakers should both win their division. Is Dak Prescott ready to step up after two subpar games? Can Aaron Rodgers continue where he picked up last week? In what might be the best game on this week’s slate, the answer to these questions will likely tell us the entire story.

Colts look to make run game relevant against the Chiefs

Here’s a stat that some have let fall between the cracks. Kansas City has yielded a whopping 599 rushing yards at a clip of nearly six yards per rush in its first four games. That’s historically bad stuff from this unit. Unfortunately for opposing teams, it really has not mattered much. Kansas City’s offense continues to overbear defenses en route to opening up double-digit leads early. That has made opposing rushing attacks largely immaterial.

Indianapolis hopes to change this on Sunday as the team looks to overcome an ignominious defeat to the Oakland Raiders last week. Led by Marlon Mack, the Colts are surprisingly ranked seventh in rushing offense this season. It won’t matter if the defense can’t hold up its end of the bargain. After all, that side of the ball ranks 25th against the run and is yielding 5.5 yards per attempt. Ouch!

Jared Goff under the prime-time microscope

A total of 13 touchdowns compared to 20 turnovers over his past 12 starts. That’s what we’ve seen from Goff after he dominated to the tune of 50 touchdowns and 16 turnovers in his first 25 starts under Sean McVay. Talk about going in retrograde motion.

Facing a 3-1 Seahawks team on the road Thursday night and coming off a four-turnover outing, Goff’s performance will be under a microscope big time in this one. Los Angeles can no longer be considered the cream of the crop in the NFC after last week’s humiliating home loss to the Bucs. Heck, the NFC West is vastly improved with Seattle and San Francisco. Goff must show out in front of a national audience this week. If not, he’ll continue to be seen as a liability for the Rams.

Battle of the surprising quarterbacks

Raise your hand if you had Gardner Minshew and Kyle Allen as two of the most-productive quarterbacks through the first quarter of the season. Since replacing an injured Nick Foles under center in Week 1, Jacksonville’s rookie sixth-round pick has been nothing short of amazing. Minshew has led the Jaguars to two consecutive wins and has accounted for seven touchdowns compared to one interception.

On the other hand, Allen is now 3-0 as the Panthers’ starter after the team made him an undrafted free agent signing last year. All three wins have come on the road. It’s astonishing given the fact that injured Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has lost each if his past eight starts. In a game between two playoff hopefuls, how this quarterback matchup plays out will tell us a lot.