NFL Week 5 could be labeled survival weekend for almost one fourth of the teams in the league. The weekend should feature plenty of competitive matchups, but not always the top teams going against each other.
Consider this: Week 5 will feature three games in which all six teams have 1-3 records. The Jacksonville Jaguars travel to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the battle of Florida flops so far. The New Orleans Saints travel to the Philadelphia Eagles in a battle of NFC disappointments to date. And the Chicago Bears travel to the Kansas City Chiefs in a game of Midwest mediocrity.
But we’re not here to talk about losing teams. We want those that are battling for the top of a division or setting themselves up for a playoff push in the coming months.
Here is our “three-and-out” best matchups of the weekend.
Washington Redskins (2-2) at Atlanta Falcons (4-0)
The last time these two teams faced off, it was a one-point win for the Falcons, but that’s when it was Steven Jackson running the ball and Tony Gonzalez playing the part of leading receiver. The scary news for the Redskins is that the Falcons might be better in both aspects of offense this time around, and QB Matt Ryan is 3-0 against Washington.
Now it’s Devonta Freeman, who already has a NFL-leading seven rushing touchdowns and 252 yards on the ground, carrying the ball for the Falcons, but his task won’t be easy. Washington has the second-ranked run defense in the league.
Of course, the Falcons, who average more than 400 yards per game, have Julio Jones in the passing game, leading the NFL with 38 catches and tied for first with 478 yards receiving. Incredibly, Jones has 1,091 yards and six touchdowns in his past eight games, meaning he would be a 1,000-yard receiver in only half a season.
How can the Redskins keep the high-flying Falcons out of the air? Simple, at least in theory: by using their multi-back, balanced running game, which is the top-ranked in the NFL. Alfred Morris has 261 yards on 66 carries and rookie Matt Jones has 200 yards and two touchdowns on 43 rushes. Even so, going up the Falcons’ fifth-ranked run defense, Kirk Cousins will have to carry his water for the Redskins and likely use plenty of play-action and keep his leading receiver, TE Jordan Reed, involved to get the upset.
A final key factor: Washington is minus-4 in turnover differential and Atlanta is plus-six.
Seattle Seahawks (2-2) at Cincinnati Bengals (4-0)
This could be where we find out just how good the Bengals are, or just how shaky the Seahawks might be. Seattle needed a controversial non-call on LB K.J. Wright batting the ball out of bounds to seal a three-point win over the still-winless Detroit Lions. If Seattle really wants to prove it hasn’t lost its Super Bowl mojo, a definitive win over the unbeaten Bengals would go a long way.
They haven’t faced each other in almost four years, so any history between them is moot.
Both quarterbacks – Russell Wilson for Seattle and Andy Dalton for Cincinnati – are playing high-level games. Wilson has thrown for 979 yards, five touchdowns, two interceptions and a 100.5 rating. Dalton has been one of the best quarterbacks in the league so far, amassing 1,187 yards, nine touchdowns, just one interception and a 123.0 rating in leading the NFL’s second-ranked offense.
With Marshawn Lynch day to day with a hamstring injury, Wilson is also the Seahawks’ leading rusher with 177 yards on 34 carries. Cincinnati counters with a more traditional rushing leader, Giovani Bernard, who has 297 yards and a 5.5-yard average and is averaging 126 scrimmage yards per game this year.
The Bengals also have the better passing attack, with A.J. Green second in the AFC with 417 yards receiving, a 16.7-yard average and three touchdowns. Doug Baldwin is Seattle’s leader with 198 yards, but is this the game where the Seahawks finally get TE Jimmy Graham involved? Since 2011, he leads NFL tight ends in catches (373) and yards (4,570) and is tied for first in touchdowns (48), but through four games with Seattle he only has 18 catches for 174 yards.
While Cincinnati has the second-ranked offense, the Seahawks have the second-ranked defense, despite having a minus-1 turnover differential (the Bengals are plus-3), and Cincinnati is looking for its first 5-0 start since 1988.
New England Patriots (3-0) at Dallas Cowboys (2-2)
Bill Belichick has won his last four games against the Cowboys and has the advantage of his Patriots coming off the bye and playing the Cowboys without Tony Romo. But what’s interesting is that the Patriots have only a 15-11 record after bye weeks – a solid number in general, but given the Patriots success of late you would think it would be even better.
Although Brandon Weeden has put together a 108.2 passer rating in Romo’s absence, it’s still below Tom Brady’s 119.6 rating, which is third in the NFL, not mention his 1,112 yards and nine touchdowns passing in three games. Brady is only the second player in NFL history to throw for 1,100 or more yards, nine or more touchdowns and no interceptions in his team’s first three games, joining Peyton Manning from 2013. Wasn’t it just a year ago when the talk was about Brady’s being at the end of his productive years?
The Patriots lead the NFL in average yards per game (446.3) and have a plus-3 turnover differential to the Cowboys’ minus-3.
What New England hasn’t shown is much of a running game (ranked 27th), but that’s hardly been a concern given Brady’s numbers. However, the Cowboys are getting pass-rushing terror Greg Hardy back and he’s talking big about … well, just about everything – Brady, his wife, his wife’s friends. That should go over well with one of the best quarterbacks of all time. And he has been spreading the wealth in the receiving game with four receivers with 10 or more catches (Julian Edelman 30, Rob Gronkowski 16, Dion Lewis 15, Aaron Dobson 12).
The Cowboys have been searching for an identity, but being average will have to do for now without Romo and WR Dez Bryant. The backfield has been a timeshare between Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden, but neither of them averages even 4 yards per rush. The passing game has featured a mix of Jason Witten (25 catches), Lance Dunbar (21), Cole Beasley (18) and Terrance Williams (12).