By Dan Durkin
(CBS) Who would’ve thought that five weeks into the season, two of the three remaining undefeated teams would be out of the AFC West? Both the Chiefs and Broncos look to be in prime position to remain unbeaten, but the third team – the Saints – have a tougher challenge.
Here’s my take on how Week 6 will play out.
(Home team in all CAPS)
Game of the Week: Saints 27, PATRIOTS 24 – 3:25 PM
Of all the teams in the league, it seems feasible to think that Bill Belichick will be able to create a blueprint to neutralize Jimmy Graham. Graham is the league’s biggest mismatch and best weapon right now. Head coach Sean Payton constantly schemes ways to get Graham singled up, but with the extra attention, look for the Saints other weapons to make an impact this week. The Patriots offense didn’t score a touchdown last week, that won’t be the case this weekend. Drew Brees is playing at a level elite to Tom Brady, and will again this weekend on the road.
CHIEFS 20, Raiders 16 – Noon
AFC West showdown in Arrowhead, as the undefeated Chiefs host the Raiders. Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie miscalculated the value of Matt Flynn – whom he had familiarity with in Green Bay – and Flynn was finally released this week. Terrelle Pryor has been a revelation. His athleticism is a boon on the read option and he uses his feet to keep plays alive in the passing game. The Raiders have had success running the ball, but their backs are banged up. The Chiefs will play their usual ball-control offense and rush the passer en route to their sixth straight win.
Eagles 24, BUCS 17 – Noon
No Michael Vick for the Eagles this weekend, but Nick Foles was very efficient throwing the ball last week in relief. The key to the Eagles offense is tempo, but look for them to slow it down this week with Foles at the helm. Foles can’t run the zone read, but is an upgrade in terms of accuracy and ball security. The Bucs have lost nine of their last 10 regular season games and are still bringing along rookie quarterback Mike Glennon. Two of the Eagles three losses are against undefeated teams, so I like them to remain on their perch atop the NFC East.
Packers 27, RAVENS 24 – Noon
Two of the last three Super Bowl winners battle it out in Baltimore. The Packers’ 2-2 record is a byproduct of a difficult schedule. Yes, they’ve been sloppy – particularly on defense – but both of their losses came on the road against 2012 playoff teams. Compounding problems, they’ll be without their best defensive player, Clay Matthews (thumb surgery). The Ravens offense has yet to find a balance and their run game is not producing. This game will come down to which offensive line protects better, but I expect Aaron Rodgers to make more plays than Joe Flacco.
Lions 23, BROWNS 20 – Noon
The status of Calvin Johnson will have a profound impact on this game. Defenses play dishonestly when Johnson is in the game, dedicating safety attention, which creates space underneath for Reggie Bush. If Johnson plays, the Lions insist he won’t be a decoy, but how effective will he be? The Browns have won three straight games and their defense is quietly emerging as one of the league’s best. Even if Megatron plays, Joe Haden is a true lockdown corner. Close game, but Brandon Weeden is a statue in the pocket and the Lions defensive line will feast.
Panthers 24, VIKINGS 20 – Noon
The Vikings are cornering the market on overpaid and underwhelming quarterback prospects. Josh Freeman was brought in this week – and should become the eventual starter this season – but Matt Cassel is under center this weekend. Without a passing threat, teams will continue to stack the box to try and neutralize Adrian Peterson. The Panthers defense is stout against the run, so it’s strength versus strength. Cam Newton will make plays against a young and vulnerable Vikings secondary for the win.
TEXANS 23, Rams 17 – Noon
I figured it out a few weeks ago, Matt Schaub is the Carson Palmer of Matt Hasselbecks. Schaub set a dubious NFL record last week, throwing a pick six in his fourth straight game. Regardless of Schaub’s struggles, the reports of some yokel pulling into his driveway to shout obscenities at him is just wrong. Get a life and some perspective, you gomer. It’s a game. Schaub remains under center this week in what could be his last chance. Oddly, I expect Schaub to rebound against a questionable Rams secondary.
Steelers 23, JETS 20 – Noon
Prior to the season, you would’ve predicted the records of these teams to be flipped at this point, but that’s why they play the games. The Steelers just don’t have the beef up front on both sides of the ball to control the line of scrimmage. The Jets on the other hand are out to an impressive start, buoyed by a dominant defensive front. Geno Smith played his best game of the season this past Monday, confidently delivering the ball from the pocket. All that said, with a week off, it’s gut-check time for the Steelers.
Bengals 24, BILLS 17 – Noon
Something named Thad Lewis will be quarterbacking the Bills this weekend. After the Bengals halted Tom Brady’s passing touchdown streak, it’s hard to imagine Lewis having much success this weekend. The Bengals are hard to get a read on. Without AJ Green, Andy Dalton would be a backup-caliber quarterback. In reality, that’s exactly what he is, a game manager. Look for the Bengals to load the box to neutralize CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson, and force Lewis to beat them, which he won’t.
SEAHAWKS 31, Titans 14 – 3:05 PM
Since Russell Wilson took over as the Seahawks starting quarterback, they’ve yet to lose a game at home. That my friends, is a trend. After back-to-back road games, dropping the most recent in Indianapolis, the Seahawks will be salty, which spells bad things for the Titans. Prior to last week, the Titans had yet to turn the ball over. Coincidentally, that was also Ryan Fitzpatrick’s first game. The Seahawks will frustrate Fitzpatrick in a rout.
BRONCOS 45, Jaguars 10 – 3:05 PM
Other than the coin toss, the only thing the Jaguars have a chance of winning in this game is a challenge. Honestly, what plausible argument can be made for the Jaguars? None. Some fun with numbers: the Jaguars have scored 51 points this season, the Broncos have scored 52 and 51 points in their last two games. In multiple games this season, the Broncos have outgained the Jaguars in one half. This game will be over at the end of the first quarter, as the Broncos win their 16th straight regular season game.
49ERS 27, Cardinals 17 – 3:25 PM
Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington’s return paid immediate dividends to an already strong defense. Washington’s speed and ability to chase in space will be a benefit against Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick is in a bit of a sophomore slump. Yes, he’s working with limited weapons in the passing game, but he’s been inaccurate, completing just 56% of his passes. However, the 49ers bread and butter is the running game, and they’ll stick to it this weekend behind their powerful offensive line.
COWBOYS 31, Redskins 23 – 7:30 PM
What a performance by Tony Romo in last week’s “defense optional” game against the Broncos. That is all the way up until crunch time, when Romo got his feet tangled up and floated a pass over the middle that was intercepted, leading to the Broncos game-winning field goal. Still, it has to sting to lose a game when your quarterback did seemingly everything possible to win. He can’t play defense. The Redskins have had an extra week to prepare, but it won’t matter. The Cowboys will move the ball at will against the Redskins.
Colts 27, CHARGERS 23 – 7:40 PM Monday Night
With four receptions, Reggie Wayne can become the ninth player in NFL history with 1,000 catches and the Colts can become the first team in NFL history with two receivers with 1,000 yards with the organization. Impressive stuff. The Colts have emerged as a legitimate contender in the AFC, exceeding all expectations. Over the past three weeks, they’ve beat two elite teams – 49ers and Seahawks – and now travel to San Diego. With Denver looming in Week 7, the Colts may be looking ahead a bit, but will beat a Chargers team that can’t get anything going in the run game.
Season Record 50-28
Follow Dan on Twitter: @djdurkin