October opened with only Arizona falling from the ranks of the unbeaten, leaving six perfect teams entering Week 5.
New England and Tennessee become the first teams to come off a bye, while four others take a breather as we come up on the first week with just 14 contests. Let’s size up the top 10.
Pro Football – Thursday
Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans: Andrew Luck missed Sunday’s OT win over Jacksonville, but the Colts are confident their star QB will be able to play. Then again, head coach Chuck Pagano was banking on that last week, which makes this a situation we’ll be monitoring until game day.
Indy’s 40-year-old backup Matt Hasselbeck did enough to defeat the Jaguars at home, but this would be a much tougher challenge given the short week of preparation, road atmosphere and embarrassed Texans defense looking to bounce back from being demolished in Atlanta.
Pro Football – Sunday
Jacksonville Jaguars at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: New kicker Jason Myers cost the Jags a pair of opportunities to get to 2-2 with his errant field goals, but the Jags have to be encouraged by how effectively their defense was able to pressure Hasselbeck.
Getting safety Johnathan Cyprien back is definitely a game-changer, so turnover-prone Bucs rookie QB Jameis Winston should have his hands full. The No. 1 pick of the 2015 draft has thrown a league-high 7 INT’s.
Buffalo Bills at Tennessee Titans: The Bills are on pace to be the most penalized team in NFL history, most recently costing themselves points, yardage and rhythm in a lopsided home loss to the Giants. Although Rex Ryan’s team again won’t have LeSean McCoy due to a partially torn hamstring, they could get Sammy Watkins back from a calf injury.
QB Tyrod Taylor badly missed his No. 1 receiver on Sunday. Tennessee comes off a bye and will be looking for its first home win of the Marcus Mariota era. Banged-up targets Kendall Wright and Delanie Walker should benefit from the rest.
Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens: Despite losing at the final gun in San Diego, the Browns did see QB Josh McCown tighten his grip on the starting job with a masterful performance moving the offense down the stretch in a shootout with Philip Rivers. The Ravens defense isn’t what it used to be, so look for Cleveland to be confident in what boils down to an early AFC North elimination game since the loser falls to 1-4.
CB Joe Haden missed the Chargers game but should return to face a decimated Baltimore receiving corps. With Steve Smith Sr., Breshad Perriman and Michael Campanaro all probably out, who is Joe Flacco going to throw to? Kamar Aiken will likely be the top target.
New Orleans Saints at Philadelphia Eagles: After the defense surrendered a Cowboys touchdown in the final minute, Drew Brees-to-CJ Spiller for 80 yards delivered the Saints’ first win in OT. It was an emotional boost and snapped a six-game Superdome losing streak.
The demoralized Eagles can certainly use a pick-me-up after a torturous loss in Landover against the ‘Skins where no one managed to make a play on either side of the ball when the team needed it most. The loser falls to 1-4 here too, so desperation will be a driving force.
St. Louis Rams at Green Bay Packers: After having his way with the Chiefs in his last game at Lambeau, Aaron Rodgers struggled in San Francisco in spite of the Packers 17-3 win. He got hit far more than he had been all season and seemed to lack the usual chemistry with his receivers.
A Rams defensive front that has dominated in every game this season and just beat Arizona on its own field will provide a stiff challenge. Offensively, it appears St. Louis is starting to figure out how to maximize Tavon Austin’s skill set.
Seattle Seahawks at Cincinnati Bengals: A road game on a short week coming off a Monday night game always comes with built-in obstacles, so the fact the opponent is the unbeaten Bengals complicates matters even further for the Seahawks.
Andy Dalton is playing with a level of confidence we haven’t seen from him as a pro, so facing off against the Legion of Boom provides a tremendous opportunity to truly turn the corner.
New England Patriots at Dallas Cowboys: Tom Brady vs. Brandon Weeden doesn’t have the same allure as what we envisioned seeing when the schedule was released, but considering the Cowboys are 0-2 since losing Tony Romo, this one’s big.
Expect the Cowboys to pull out all the stops here, but it would really help to have LB Sean Lee cleared from a concussion suffered on Sunday night. They will have DE Greg Hardy and LB Rolando McClain back from suspension to try and help slow a Patriots offense averaging 39.7 points per game.
Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders: The Broncos defense is allowing a league-best 17.25 points and has been the driving force behind an unblemished record, so the story here is them getting a look at a much-improved Derek Carr and his new top target, Amari Cooper.
Oakland’s coaches have to be kicking themselves for conservative play-calling late in their upset loss at Chicago. The Raiders should be 3-1, so expect them to command Denver’s full attention.
Pro Football – Monday
Pittsburgh Steelers at San Diego Chargers: Michael Vick leads the Steelers onto another primetime stage after doing his part in giving his team a chance to bury Baltimore last Thursday night. Kicker Josh Scobee, the main culprit in the defeat, has been replaced, but the Steelers had issues on both sides of the ball in falling short in OT.
Tony Mejia is a national sports writer and senior contributor at VegasInsider.com. He’s also the owner and operator of Antony Dinero, the most successful documented volume handicapper in the industry. View his analysis daily at VegasInsider.com. Email: [email protected].