By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
Sunday NFL Preview: Week Six
PHILADELPHIA – As hard as it is to believe the NFL season is moving closer to being half over. But the important thing for everyone is to enjoy the wackiest and quickest league around while it is lasts.
I am dubbing this week’s games in the NFL “Moving Week”. This is the time where teams start to distinguish themselves as they move toward key November and December games with playoff implications or move back further causing more study of their April draft board.
The current standings show that there is little separation in the parity-laden league as there are only two undefeated teams (Giants 4-0 and Titans 5-0), six (4-1) teams –Broncos, Steelers, Redskins, Cowboys, Panthers, and Bills – and the (3-1) Patriots that have truly distinguished themselves as elite teams at this time.
But even these elite teams can stumble to lower ranked teams in the “Any Given Sunday” NFL – just ask the Broncos who were pounded by the 1-win Kansas City Chiefs in week 4. The rest of the NFL teams worth caring about are all bunched with aspirations of jumping into the league’s upper echelon.
There are four (3-2) teams — the Bears, Buccaneers, Falcons, and Cardinals – four (2-2) teams – Ravens, Jets, Dolphins, and Colts – and a glut of seven (2-3) teams – Vikings, Saints, Jaguars, Chargers, Eagles, Packers, and 49ers – who could all very easily move up or down in the coming weeks.
The division leaders after 5 weeks features some unexpected leaders — NFC South: Carolina Panthers (4-1), NFC East: NY Giants (4-0), NFC North: Chicago Bears (3-2), NFC West: Arizona Cardinals (3-2), AFC South: Tennessee Titans (5-0), AFC East: Buffalo Bills (4-1), AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers (4-1), and AFC West: Denver Broncos (4-1).
Only time will tell, which teams live up to their early season expectations (my picks are the Cowboys, Patriots, and Giants) or wilt from not living up to pre-season hype (my picks for this category are the Browns, Packers, and Jets). One thing for certain is that games are more exciting than ever as scoring is up around the NFL.
Through five weeks of the season, NFL games are averaging 45.0 points – good for the second-highest mark at this point since 1970 (45.7 in 2002). I don’t know if the scoring outbursts are due to the new pass happy NFL, more playmakers on offense, rules that favor offenses, or defenses not performing (i.e.: No Pressure on the quarterback, defensive backs getting beat, etc). But each week there are several high-scoring pinball machine type games that even make this run the ball grind it out kind of guy smile.
Another surprising stat is that the Washington Redskins though five games have committed only one turnover — only the third team since 1933 with one or fewer turnovers in the first five games of a season joining the 1960 Cleveland Browns (one) and 1998 Cincinnati Bengals (one).
If they continue their trend, the ‘Skins could become the first team in history to commit zero or one turnovers in the first six games of a season. Incredibly Jim Zorn’s young team has not committed an offensive turnover with their lone turnover this season coming on special teams. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see if the offensive turnovers come fast and furious versus the so far winless St. Louis Rams.
You never know when the turnover bug will strike – only need to look at Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner’s 6 turnovers in a 56-35 loss to the Jets — but until the turnovers come, you have to admire the way Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell is protecting the football.
Some week 6 games outside of our featured game that I have my eye on are:
Giants at Browns - This ESPN Monday Night Football game is the most recent cupcake on the Super Bowl champs schedule. But you know the Browns will have one last stand to help save their pride at home and maybe keep Romeo Crennel from the unemployment line. I will be interested to see if things continue to go wrong for Browns quarterback Derek Anderson if Brady Quinn finally gets his shot.
Dolphins at Texans – It will be interesting to see if the winless Texans go with turnover-prone Sage Rosenfels or injury-prone Matt Schaub at quarterback versus an aggressive red-hot Dolphins team. Also look for the return of the “Wildcat” single-wing offense as 2008 first overall pick Dolphins offensive tackle Jake Long opposes 2006 first overall pick Texans defensive tackle Mario Williams.
Ravens at the Colts – Lucas Oil stadium will be rocking as future hall of fame players Ravens LB Ray Lewis and Colts QB Peyton Manning take center stage. Whenever these two teams lock horns there are always some fireworks, because of the way the Colts left the Charm City way back in 1984. Last year in Baltimore, Manning passed for four TDs and the Colts scored 37 first-half points on their way to a 44-20 rout win, which they felt ended the Mayflower Truck feud. But I don’t expect as many points as the Ravens have the top-ranked defense in the NFL (total yards, rushing yards, and passing yards allowed). It will be interesting to see how Ravens rookie quarterback Joe Flacco reacts to Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney and his mates bearing down on him as he is playing behind a patchwork offensive line.
Patriots (3-1) at Chargers (2-30) 8:15 PM ET (NBC)
Broadcast Team: Al Michaels, John Madden, and Andrea Kremer
In a NBC Sunday Night Football game that has been circled on many NFL Calendars for months, the Bolts will be looking for revenge at home against a Patriots team that has knocked them out the playoffs for two straight years. No doubt about it these two teams have “history” between them.
The Patriots knocked the Chargers from last year’s AFC Championship Game as the Bolts held New England’s record-setting offense to 21 points, but they didn’t score a touchdown in the redzone having to settle for four field goals in a 21-12 loss.
The marked player in this game will surely be Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who is nursing a toe injury. I am sure L.T will be hyped as he did not play much in the 2007 playoff loss and in ’06, the Pro Bowl runner questioned the sportsmanship of the “Evil Empire” and their Darth Vader like head coach Bill Belichick.
You could sense all week that L.T feels urgency from a 2-3 start, trailing the Broncos by 2 games, and coming of a bad 17-10 loss to the Dolphins last week declared this game a “must-win”. The normally calm L.T has been vocal in the lockerroom and you have to wonder if it has sunk in to a group that was supposed to waltz into the AFC Championship this year withouth any problems.
Well the problems have been plentiful for the Chargers so far this season. They have lost there best player Shawne Merriman for the the season with a knee injury, their defense has been a seive (ranked 28th overall and 32nd against the pass), head coach Norv Turner is reverting back to his Redskins form, their go-to receiver Chris Chambers could miss Sunday’s game (leg injury), and the Broncos of course got the call the century from Ed Hochuli earlier in week 2 with the Broncos moving forward and Chargers ending up with a losing record. The Chargers will try to change their fortunes on Sunday by breaking out their 1960′s powder blue uniforms and we will see if that is enough.
The Patriots on the other hand are on a mission to show the entire NFL that they are not a one-man show. Without all-world quarterback Tom Brady – had knee surgery this week to repair a torn ACL – there have been ups and downs with more ups.
Surprisingly the Patriots look more like their 2001 version of themselves with an emphasis on an attacking defense and running the football on offense behind Sammy Morris, Lamont Jordan, Kevin Faulk, and Laurence Maroney. Last week’s 30-21 win over the tougher than expected Niners typified the Pats’ new style as they piled up 144 rushing yards and produced three key turnovers wrapped around a huge Matt Cassel to Randy Moss long touchdown.
Belichick kept his team out on the West Coast preferring to keep his team focused and fresh by practicing at San Jose State rather than going back and forth to Boston during the week.
So the Patriots will look to native Californian Cassel to bring some West Coast magic to Belichick’s Northeast tough team. Make sure you watch for a Chargers secondary with potential stars Antonio Cromartie, Paul Oliver, Clinton Hart, Eric Weddle and Quentin Jammer vs. Randy Moss.
LV’s Pick: In analyzing this game, I have gone back and forth over why the chips maybe stacked in the Chargers favor. Turner’s group is at home, the Patriots maybe out of their routine, L.T has thrown down the gaunlet, and lastly desperation is definitely in the air for a team that needs to get back on track.
On the other hand we are talking about Belichick vs. Turner, which everyone knows is a colossal mismatch. However I do believe fueled by already knowing that the Broncos lost earlier in the day to Jags, the Chargers desperation wins out 27-24 as L.T finally gets his revenge by scoring 3 touchdowns in rollercoaster type game.
Week 6 Games
CIN @ NYJ 1:00 PM (CBS)
STL @ WAS 1:00 PM (FOX)
MIA @ HOU 1:00 PM (CBS)
CAR @ TB 1:00 PM (FOX)
OAK @ NO 1:00 PM (CBS)
BAL @ IND 1:00 PM (CBS)
DET @ MIN 1:00 PM (FOX)
CHI @ ATL 1:00 PM (FOX)
JAC @ DEN 4:05 PM (CBS)
GB @ SEA 4:15 PM (FOX)
DAL @ ARI 4:15 PM (FOX)
PHI @ SF 4:15 PM (FOX)
NE @ SD 8:15 PM (NBC)
NYG @ CLE 8:30 PM (ESPN)
Byes: Bills, Chiefs, Steelers, Titans.