By Dan Durkin-
(CBS) The first quarter of the NFL season is in the books. With varying opinions on who the top teams are in each conference, it’s clear that the NFL is becoming very top heavy. It’s not unfathomable for the season to end with 10 or so 8-8 teams. An epic quarterback battle is rekindled this weekend in New England. Here’s my take on how Week 5 will play out:
Game of the Week: PATRIOTS 31, Broncos 27
Brady vs Manning, part 13. Brady holds an 8-4 edge, but Manning is 4-2 in their last six meetings. Will Manning make it 5-2 in his first start against Brady as a Bronco? No, no he won’t. The Patriots hung 86 points on the Broncos in two matchups last season and will replicate the formula on Sunday. The Patriots will spread the Broncos out and exploit their nickel package. The Broncos have allowed a tight end to score in three of their first four games, and you know Gronkowski is going to play on Sunday. Give me the Pats at home.
Falcons 30, REDSKINS 24
I’ve said it since the preseason, the Falcons are for real. They’re 4-0 sitting atop the NFC South and will most likely be undefeated heading into their Week 7 bye. Matt Ryan is the NFL’s first quarter MVP, posting a sparkling 112 quarterback rating, completing 69 percent of his passes with 11 touchdowns against two interceptions. Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III is the NFL’s first quarter Rookie of the Year, posting an equally impressive 103 quarterback rating, and an identical 69 percent completion percentage. The Redskins pass defense is atrocious and the Falcons will exploit it en route to a 5-0 record.
Eagles 23, STEELERS 21
Coming off a huge win against the Giants, the Eagles head to Pittsburgh for the battle of Pennsylvania. Hopefully the Steelers found a running game during their bye week, as dropping back 40+ times behind a leaky offensive line won’t go well against the Eagles pass rush. Rashard Mendenhall may make his first appearance of the year, but coming off knee reconstruction, how effective will he be? This will be a very physical game, and I’m going with the more talented team, Philadelphia.
Packers 31, COLTS 16
We saw a glimmer of the Packers offense we’ve become accustomed to last weekend, but something still doesn’t look right in Green Bay. The explosiveness isn’t there, especially in the vertical passing game. They’re only averaging 4.7 yards per play and seem to be searching for an identity. I have a feeling they’ll have a strong showing this weekend. Heavy hearts on the Colts sideline, as head coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia. I wish him a speedy and successful recovery.
GIANTS 31, Browns 17
The Giants came up a few yards short on a game-winning field goal attempt last week in Philadelphia. This week, they get the opportunity to feast on the Browns. Cleveland hung around against the Ravens, showing a lot of grit for a young team. Trent Richardson is the real deal, but the Browns are still searching for answers at receiver. Even with Hakeem Nicks on the shelf, the Giants offense doesn’t skip a beat, it’s just next man up. This will be a one-sided affair.
VIKINGS 24, Titans 20
The Vikings have played efficient football all season on offense, stout defense (especially in the red zone), and stellar special teams. That’s a recipe for success in the NFL. The Titans are a mess on both sides of the ball. People are claiming that Chris Johnson is back on track after his performance last weekend, never mind the fact that he picked up a large chunk of those yards when the game was already way out of hand. Hard to believe it, but the Vikings are going to be 4-1.
BENGALS 27, Dolphins 20
It’s going to be bombs away for the Bengals, as the Dolphins pass defense can’t stop anyone. I ate crow last season for my thoughts on Andy Dalton. His connection with AJ Green gets stronger each week. Green trails only the Dolphins’ Brian Hartline in receiving yards, but that order may change as early as this Sunday. The Bengals defensive will make life difficult for Ryan Tannehill.
Ravens 31, CHIEFS 20
The enigmatic Ravens head to Arrowhead to face the lowly Chiefs. Chiefs General Manager Scott Pioli’s time has to be running out. So many busted picks and curious free agent moves, none worse than Matt Cassel. Cassel is a turnover machine, which doesn’t bode well against the opportunistic Ravens defense.
PANTHERS 23, Seahawks 16
I can’t justify Ron Rivera’s decision to punt the ball on 4th-and-1 last week against the Falcons. Yes, I am saying this in hindsight, but a conversion right there and it’s game over. The Panthers chose to punt, downed the ball at the one-yard line, and then a whole lot of bad coverage took place. What exactly was Harouki Nakamura doing? Unbelievable that he let a receiver get behind him – twice – at the end of a game. The Seahawks have a Pop Warner passing attack, which makes you think Matt Flynn isn’t far away from starting.
Bears 27, JAGUARS 17
Even when Jay Cutler wins, he loses. Cutler was spectacular on Monday night, yet cameras caught him brushing off Mike Tice on the sideline, adding another log to the fire of the tired “petulant” Cutler narrative. I couldn’t care less about Cutler’s body language, his post game interviews, or any of that subjective nonsense. I’ll take talent over intangibles any day of the week, and Cutler has plenty of talent. Just win games. They’re taking off the tarp in a section of EverBank Field in anticipation of migrating Bears fans. Perhaps they’ll allow Jaguars fans to use portions of the tarp to cut out bags for their heads?
49ERS 30, Bills 20
Talk about two polar opposite defenses. The 49ers blanked the putrid Jets last weekend, and I think the Patriots just scored again on the Bills. It may be time to put out an APB in Buffalo for Mario Williams and Mark Anderson. Through four games, the two have combined for 2.5 sacks. I don’t think that’s what the Bills had in mind for $115M. I expect the 49ers to deploy a run-heavy game plan to both gash the Bills poor run defense and keep their offense on the sideline.
SAINTS 30, Chargers 27
The Saints played an inspired game against the Packers and were in a position to win it. This weekend they welcome the Chargers to the Super Dome. The NFL is allowing the suspended trio of Sean Payton, Mickey Loomis, and Joe Vitt to attend Sunday’s game, where Drew Brees can break Johnny Unitas’ record of 47 consecutive regular-season games with a touchdown pass. Seeing that the Chargers have given up seven passing touchdowns already, I think that’s a very safe bet. I like the Saints to get off the schnide and pick up their first win of 2012.
Texans 27, JETS 16
You know what will save the Jets season? More media coverage. And definitely more staged shots of Tim Tebow running shirtless in the rain. Seriously, how foolish does a certain four-letter network’s wall-to-wall coverage at Jets training camp look right about now? Should it be called the boo-yah curse? The Texans, on the other hand, may be the best team in football. That’s debatable, but there’s no debating that they’re the best team in this matchup.
Dan Durkin joined The Score’s columnist community after finishing runner-up in the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois where he was a member of the men’s football team (despite his best efforts to join the women’s team). Dan is a longtime Scorehead, known as Dan in Wicker Park – even though he no longer resides in Wicker Park – who will be sharing NFL analysis and opinions. You can follow Dan on Twitter @djdurkin. To read more of Dan’s blogs click here.