Week 5 preview

Head coach Josh McDaniels (right) will lead the Broncos against the Patriots and Bill Belichick this Sunday. (Associated Press)

Head coach Josh McDaniels will lead the Broncos against the Patriots and Bill Belichick this Sunday. (Associated Press)

Ample amount of blow-out potential this week, and, to me, five can’t miss games, and a few other interesting divisional matchups.

Here’s a preview of Week 5:

New England at Denver: You have to love this. Josh McDaniels gets a chance to continue his miracle ride against his mentor, Bill Belichick. Who would have figured McDaniels would have a better record when the schedule came out? Denver’s defense looks excellent and this will be a huge test. You know Mike Nolan will be looking to make Tom Brady run, and, to me, one of the most overlooked stories of this season has been the transformation of the Pats’ D. They have gone from a Cover-3/Cover-4 team that drops a lot of linebackers into coverage into one of the heaviest blitzing teams in the NFL, leaving the corners in a lot of Cover-1, press-man situations. The identity of that defense has changed and it is much more high-risk than before. If Denver comes out of this undefeated they might start painting murals of McDaniels in LoDo (lower downtown in Denver). Whodathunk it?

Atlanta at San Francisco: The 49ers’ defense has been diabolical and Patrick Willis is playing some of the best football in the entire league. You would imagine a heavy dose of the run game by San Francisco with the Falcons fresh off the bye. The 49ers have already been tested heavily by their schedule and have the best first-down rushing defense in the NFL. It will be tough for Atlanta, which needs to revive Michael Turner, to get the run game going against the league’s best unit inside its own 30.

Indianapolis at Tennessee: Jeff Fisher‘s last stand. The Colts can deliver the knockout blow here, with a loss leaving the Titans at 0-5 (and 0-3 in the division, and 0-5 in the conference), and the Colts at 5-0. No one gets out of that hole and a loss here would almost have to lead to Vince Young returning under center for the Titans. The offense is not progressing under Kerry Collins this season. The Colts have everything rolling –- they even got Dwight Freeney back ahead of schedule -– and safety Bob Sanders should be a week or two from returning. Peyton Manning is winning games by himself. Can he be stopped?

Cincinnati at Baltimore: The Bengals have put together two last-second wins within the division already. Not sure they can make it three. The Ravens need to sort out their return game — special teams remain a concern — and get back to basics on offense. They can’t continue to abandon the run. I still can’t believe how few runs were called against the Pats and how little Le’Ron McClain and Willis McGahee touched the ball. The Ravens have given Carson Palmer nightmares over the years and the Cincy passing attack is still out of sorts, which surprises me. If the Bengals win this one, their profile will soar. The Ravens played well enough to win at New England last week, but need to curtail the penalties, drops and mental errors that cost them in the end.

N.Y. Jets at Miami: Always a great rivalry game. Mark Sanchez has to bounce back from his first dose of adversity, while the Fins finally got it all together last week. A Miami win would go a long ways to making the AFC East look like more than a two-team race. Could the Wildcat catch that hyper-aggressive Rex Ryan defense off guard? Well, it didn’t in the playoffs when Ryan’s Ravens pummeled Miami. If the Dolphins can get good play from edge rushers like Joey Porter and Jason Taylor, it could make things interesting a week after Gregg Williams‘ Saints defense made Sanchez look like a rookie for the first time.

The best of the rest:

Tampa Bay at Philadelphia: The Eagles are finally healthy and this is our first chance to see Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick coexist on the field in a regular-season game. I’m guessing the Eagles dress three QBs again. I also expect a lopsided game. The Eagles are coming off a bye and while the Bucs are more interesting to watch with Josh Johnson under center, they have a long climb back.

Jacksonville at Seattle: The Seahawks need Matt Hasselbeck and Walter Jones back immediately (actually, they probably needed them back two weeks ago). The Seahawks aren’t finishing drives (24th in red zone scoring). Jacksonville has reversed its fortunes behind the all-hyphen team of Maurice Jones-Drew and Mike Sims-Walker. The Jags won last week despite both starting tackles being out. Have to love the heart they have displayed after a shaky start.

Washington at Carolina: The Redskins have the softest first-half schedule in the league, but aren’t capitalizing and I have a feeling the Panthers get their first win here. Washington’s offensive line is poor and big, physical teams can have their way with them. The Panthers need to return to the two-back, power run game and limit the passing attempts. Carolina’s run-stopping woes are huge, but I expect it to stack the box against Clinton Portis, who is banged up and coming off a big workload in a tight win over the Bucs. With Redskins coach Jim Zorn‘s hot seat more like a 450-degree grill plate, every game is vital.

Houston at Arizona: Should be no shortage of points on the scoreboard here. You would tend to lean to the Cardinals coming off a bye at home (considering they reached the Super Bowl and all), but I just haven’t sensed a good vibe from them dating back to the preseason. The Texans are sort of like the Colts-light, and they no doubt found a few things in that film of the Colts/Cards game to try to duplicate. It’s hard to like the Texans coming off a win, though, in that it generally leads to a de-pantsing by their next foe.

Dallas at Kansas City: This should be a get-well game for the ailing Cowboys. The kind of occasion upon which they traditionally put up huge numbers with a bunch of Tony Romo highlights — enough to get the spotlight back on them and to make people wonder if maybe they can get it together. And then they miss the playoffs again. For the Chiefs, it seems like the pressure to yank Matt Cassel has subsided with four TDs and no interceptions in the last two games.

Oakland at N.Y. Giants: The G-Men return home after a 3-0 road trip. Will Eli Manning play? Who cares? The Giants should steamroll the Raiders even if they had Jared Lorenzen under center. The Raiders are a mess. JaMarcus Russell is gonna have a tough time with this defense (I could probably just repeat that sentence every week at this point), and I can’t see the Raiders traveling well for this one.

Pittsburgh at Detroit: Jerome Bettis returns to his hometown city a conquering hero and leads a ground-heavy attack … Oh, whoops. Shoot. Guess that’s still drilled in my head from that storyline-saturation Super Bowl. Anywho, the Steelers could win this game playing any way they like. The Lions may be wise to let young Matthew Stafford rest that knee this week against that defense.

Minnesota at St. Louis: Sure, the Vikings might/will have an emotional letdown after winning the Favre Bowl on Monday night, and it’s a short week, but whatever. The Rams are just not competitive right now. Even if it’s close in the second half, barring a turnover-palooza, it’s hard to make a case for the Rams in this one.

Cleveland at Buffalo: What percentage of the country do you figure get’s the opportunity to see this one in its entirety? The Bills’ nice start has been sidetracked by a ridiculous run of injuries to vital players. Losing both tackles, starting corners, special-teams standouts. Bad, bad luck. And if ever there was a week for T.O. to bust out, or freak out (should his futility continue), this would be it. The Browns showed a pulse last week and fought hard, but these are two reeling football teams getting together right here.

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