Feels like NFL rivalry week, kids.
It starts with the undefeated Falcons visiting the desperate Saints, ends with the Eagles and Giants playing for NFC East supremacy and Baltimore’s John Harbaugh visiting San Francisco. The marquee game will be the Deflategate Bowl, as Tom Brady leads the Patriots into Indianapolis on Sunday night. Let’s dive into Week 6’s top 10 matchups.
Pro Football – Thursday
Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints: Although he’s been on the injury report every week, Julio Jones actually looked injured in the Falcons OT win over Washington. Word is he significantly aggravated a hamstring strain in practice last Thursday, which doesn’t bode well for the Falcons given this short week.
It does help to be facing a Saints defense that got lit up by an inconsistent Sam Bradford and hasn’t beaten an NFL starting quarterback yet. Drew Brees isn’t 100 percent either, so we’ll see how his injured throwing shoulder responds to having to play two games in a five-day span. The Saints have won 7 of 9 at home in this series, but lost at the Superdome last December 30-14.
Pro Football – Sunday
Denver Broncos at Cleveland Browns: Beating the Ravens quiets Johnny Manziel talk for another week, especially since Josh McCown has shown great poise in leading Browns comeback bids the past two weeks. He’ll have to face a tremendous Broncos defense that has undeniably been the primary reason for their undefeated start, so he won’t be throwing for 457 yards like he managed to in Baltimore.
McCown has developed a great relationship with tight end Gary Barnidge, who should be a main focus of Denver’s defensive game plan. The Broncos haven’t given up a touchdown to a tight end all season, but do rank among the worst in yards per catch against that position.
Cincinnati Bengals at Buffalo Bills: The Bills were amazingly not the most penalized team on the field in Sunday’s 14-13 win in Tennessee, being whistled for seven infractions after 17 in Week 4 had them on pace to become the most penalized team in NFL history. Buffalo won in spite of just 3.2 yards per pass attempt, but Rex Ryan praised Tyrod Taylor’s heart as the difference in coming back from a 10-0 deficit.
Taylor became the second QB since 1966 to throw for at least 100 yards, run for at least 70 and catch a pass. He’ll hope for more help than he had last week with rookie RB Karlos Williams (concussion) and Sammy Watkins (calf) potentially back. LeSean McCoy is likely still out with his hamstring tear as the undefeated Bengals come to town fresh off their stunning comeback win over Seattle.
Washington Redskins at N.Y. Jets: Coming off a bye week after an impressive performance in London that ended the Joe Philbin era in Miami, the Jets are looking to remain firmly entrenched in the AFC playoff picture. First-year head coach Todd Bowles adds talented DT Sheldon Richardson to the defensive line rotation, fortifying a unit that has already been the driving force behind surrendering the fewest points in the league.
Kirk Cousins’ final pass this past Sunday was returned the other way by Atlanta for a game-ending score in OT, so he’ll have atonement as added motivation here. He’s had three multi-interception games this season and Washington hasn’t survived them once. The ‘Skins are 2-0 when he’s not picked off.
Arizona Cardinals at Pittsburgh Steelers: The Cardinals bounced back from their first loss with a lopsided win in Detroit and have now outscored opponents by a full 100 points through the first five games.
All four of Arizona’s wins have come by double-digits, so the Steelers will have their work cut out for them on a short week coming off the Monday night game in San Diego. With Ben Roethlisberger still out, Michael Vick will be facing by far the best defense he’s seen to date.
Carolina Panthers at Seattle Seahawks: The Panthers come out of their bye week hoping that linebacker Luke Kuechly will be cleared after spending the last month unable to clear the NFL’s concussion protocol. Although the Seahawks have a losing record in common with Carolina’s first four opponents, they’re by far the best team Cam Newton and Co. will have seen to date.
Panthers’ victims Jacksonville, Houston, New Orleans and Tampa Bay are a combined 4-15, so this will be more of a test, especially on the road where Seattle is so dominant. Coming off a devastating OT loss in Cincinnati, the Seahawks will undoubtedly be cranky.
San Diego Chargers at Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers’ interception-less streak ended in Sunday’s 24-10 win over St. Louis, but the Packers did win their 11th consecutive game at Lambeau Field. The Chargers haven’t played in Green Bay since 2007 and haven’t won there since 1984, so we’ll see if Philip Rivers can find a way to break through.
Green Bay’s defense hasn’t received the attention it deserves due to Rodgers’ brilliance, but they’ve allowed just 16. 1 points per game, tops in the NFC and good for third in the NFL behind the Jets and Broncos.
Baltimore Ravens at San Francisco 49ers: Colin Kaepernick’s slump finally ended in a terrific Sunday night effort against the Giants, throwing for a pair of TDs and completing 23 of 35 passes for 262 yards. Anquan Boldin was targeted 12 times with Vernon Davis still absent, while Torrey Smith caught both balls that came his way, so the passing game may finally be starting to gain traction.
The banged-up Ravens arriving with Harbaugh in tow will generate plenty of headlines, but he may not be able to avenge his brother’s departure considering the state of a defense that now may be without LB Elvis Dumervil, who aggravated a groin injury in Sunday’s OT loss to Cleveland.
New England Patriots at Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck should be back after missing the last two games with an injury to his right throwing shoulder and faces pressure since Matt Hasselbeck has managed to go 2-0 in spite of an inconsistent O-line.
The Patriots will certainly have revenge on their minds given what they went through the entire offseason after the Colts blew the whistle on them, sparking a controversy over the deflating of footballs in the first half of January’s AFC Championship Game loss.
Pro Football – Monday
NY Giants at Philadelphia Eagles: Despite well-documented struggles with injuries and inconsistency, the Eagles are home with an opportunity to climb to the top of the NFC East if they can hold serve against the visiting Giants. Eli Manning shattered Phil Simms’ long-standing single-game record for most completions with 41 against San Francisco.
We’ll see if he’ll finally get Victor Cruz back, which is more of a necessity since Rueben Randle is now nursing a hamstring injury. Chip Kelly is 3-1 against New York and seems to have a firmer grip on what he wants to accomplish offensively.
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].