Sunday features only three games in which both teams have a winning record, despite six teams entering Week 6 unbeaten.
Atlanta, Cincinnati, Green Bay and Denver were all 5-0 (Atlanta lost Thursday night), with New England and Carolina having a chance to reach 5-0 this week after having their bye weeks already. The NFL record for most 5-0 teams in a season is five, so if the Panthers and Patriots can pull off their wins this week, it would break the 2009 mark.
The Patriots, in a DeflateGate rematch with the Colts, are one of our featured matchups in this week’s “three-and-out” series, but the Panthers were narrowly edged by two other games that feature both teams with winning records.
No doubt the Panthers (4-0) and Seahawks (2-3) should provide good drama with Cam Newton and Russell Wilson both having the ability to improvise and the Panthers leading the league with a plus-eight turnover differential, sparked by CB Josh Norman, who leads the NFL with four interceptions, including interceptions in three of his last four games and two that were returned for touchdowns.
But while Bill Belichick is “onto Indianapolis,” we’re onto our featured matchups for Week 6:
Cincinnati Bengals (5-0) at Buffalo Bills (3-2)
On its face, this might look easy. The Cincinnati Bengals are undefeated, but the Buffalo Bills have won 10 of the past 12 against the Bengals, and new Bills coach Rex Ryan is 3-1 against the Bengals.
One of the biggest questions entering the game is the status of Bills QB Tyrod Taylor, who has a sprained medial collateral ligament but hasn’t been ruled out yet. Taylor has a solid 103.6 rating, but his mobility has been one of his strengths and that will no doubt be affected by his injury if he is able to play. If not, the Bengals defense will be a tall task for backup E.J. Manuel to handle.
Meanwhile, the Bengals have one of the top-rated quarterbacks with Andy Dalton, who already has 1,518 yards passing (second in the NFL), 11 touchdowns (tied for first in the AFC) and a 115.6 rating (third in the league) – the highest of any quarterback in Bengals history through five games.
But the Bengals are a well-balanced, well-oiled machine and have reached a 5-0 record for the first time since 1988, overcoming a 17-point deficit in the fourth quarter of last week’s game. Giovani Bernard is second in the AFC with 377 yards rushing and a 5.5-yard average. A.J. Green is third in the AFC with 495 yards receiving, a 16-yard average and three touchdowns, and Green has 221 yards over the last two meetings he has with the Bills. TE Tyler Eifert is tied for second in the NFL with five touchdown catches. That’s Bengals balance.
The Bills could be getting RB LeSean McCoy (hamstring) back in the lineup, which would be a boost as he is third in the NFL since 2009 with 9,303 scrimmage yards. So far, TE Charles Clay has been the team’s leading receiver with 262 yards on 22 catches.
Arizona Cardinals (4-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (3-2)
The Cardinals are riding high with a 4-1 record, but the Steelers have won three of the last four games between the two teams. The big question will be the status of Big Ben Roethlisberger. He is hoping to return to the field this week after a medial collateral ligament injury but is considered a long shot. For now, Mike Vick is expected to get the start.
There are no such quarterback questions in Arizona, where Carson Palmer has been one of the winningest quarterbacks of late, winning 17 of his last 20 starts. He has 1,316 yards passing, 13 touchdowns and a 114.0 rating – all at least top three in the NFC or NFL. Larry Fitzgerald found an early fountain of youth and already has 490 yards receiving and six touchdowns on 35 receptions – all of those marks first or second in the NFC or NFL.
The Cardinals lead the NFL with 190 points scored and a plus-100 point differential, and their backfield is an effective timeshare. Chris Johnson has 347 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns in his last three games. Rookie David Johnson is the first rookie since Gale Sayers with at least two touchdowns rushing, two touchdowns receiving and a kickoff return for a touchdown. And Andre Ellington had a 63-yard touchdown run last week.
Le'Veon Bell’s return to action has provided a boost for the Steelers, with 302 yards, a 4.9-yard average and three touchdowns. In his past nine games, Bell has averaged 156.8 scrimmage yards and has 11 touchdowns.
In the air, the Steelers rely on Antonio Brown, whose 276 catches for 3,720 yards since 2013 both lead the NFL in the timeframe. He needs one more 100-yard game to get to 20 and become the third Steelers receiver to reach that lofty mark.
New England Patriots (4-0) at Indianapolis Colts (3-2)
Sunday night won’t let the air out of NFL excitement and controversy. The two teams that brought the NFL mess known as DeflateGate meet again.
The last time the Colts and Patriots met in the AFC Conference Championship Game, the Colts accused the Patriots of deflating ball below the NFL’s standard of pressure. It caused an offseason of controversy for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, for Tom Brady and for the NFL’s disciplinary process. Brady was initially suspended four games, then reinstated by an appeals court just before the season began.
As if Brady and the Patriots needed any more motivation, you can be sure that will be the storyline of the game. The over-under for in-game mentions and derivations of “DeflateGate” on the in-game TV broadcast has been set at only 2.5, according to Bovada.lv. The Patriots are 4-0, which is also their record against the Colts in their last four meetings, as Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano has never beaten New England. The last time they met in Indianapolis, it was a 42-20 Patriots win and the conference championship game provided a 45-7 domination of the Colts.
Brady’s 121.5 passer rating leads the NFL, his 1,387 passing yards are third in the AFC and his 11 touchdown tosses are first in the AFC. TE Rob Gronkowski has 10 touchdowns in his last 10 games and leads the NFL with 58 touchdown catches since 2010. WR Julian Edelman has 75 catches for 909 yards in his last nine games.
The Colts’ quarterback situation is far less certain. Andrew Luck is trying to work through a shoulder injury. In his last two regular-season meetings with the Patriots, he has 637 yards and four touchdowns. Last week, playing for Luck, Matt Hasselbeck passed for 213 yards and two touchdowns to win back-to-back games in relief of Luck.
But it’s the Patriots that have been dominant this year. They lead the NFL with 423.8 yards of offense and are third in the AFC with a plus-5 turnover margin while the Colts are minus-7.
The pressure is on the Colts.