We're not at the halfway point of the schedule yet, but this is a critical point in the season. Teams .500 or better after this weekend usually take a giant step toward the playoffs.
In both 2005 and 2006, 11 of the 12 teams that made the playoffs were .500 or better after Week 6. The only two undefeated teams after six weeks last season, Chicago and Indianapolis, ended up playing in the Super Bowl.
The previous five weekends of this season seemed to have different themes -- a lot of scoring, a lot of interceptions, big upsets. But they all had one thing in common: plenty of intrigue. I think that trend will certainly continue in Week 6.
Here are some of the key matchups to keep an eye on:
Patriots vs. Cowboys
Patriots owner Robert Kraft vs. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones: Okay, this "matchup" might not have a bearing on the outcome of Sunday's game, but they can both take credit for their team's success. Each has won three Super Bowls since taking over his respective team. They both have played a large part in the league's overall success as well, serving on some of the NFL's most important committees.
This will be only the fifth time in NFL history that two teams have met with records of 5-0 or better. The last time was in 2004, when the 5-0 Patriots defeated the 5-0 Jets, 13-7. In a game of this magnitude, there are several key matchups:
Patriots WR Randy Moss vs. Cowboys WR Terrell Owens: These two star receivers have squared off three times -- Moss has four TD receptions in those games, Owens has two. If Dallas CB Anthony Henry is unable to play with an ankle injury, then Moss has a big advantage. Owens, meanwhile, has a five-inch height advantage on New England's best cornerback, Asante Samuel. He has a six-inch advantage over the other CB, Ellis Hobbs.
|Nick Laham / Getty Images|
|Patriots TE Ben Watson poses a major threat to the Dallas defense this weekend.|
Patriots QB Tom Brady vs. Cowboys QB Tony Romo: If the Cowboys are to win, Romo needs to play a perfect game -- he can't afford to make the kinds of mistakes he made against Buffalo. Brady, meanwhile, simply needs to play well. Because New England has a better defense and running game, he doesn't need to be perfect for the Patriots to win.
Patriots TE Benjamin Watson vs. Cowboys TE Jason Witten: This could actually be the key matchup of the game, as both tight ends play an integral role in their team's offense. Both should have an advantage in this matchup -- Watson against Dallas safety Roy Williams and Witten against New England safety Rodney Harrison. In particular, Watson is a tough matchup for Williams because of his speed, and he can be very dangerous when he lines up outside, basically making him a wide receiver.
Giants WR Plaxico Burress vs. Falcons CB DeAngelo Hall
Burress is playing the best football of his career right now. He's got seven TDs and is averaging 17.1 yards per catch. Hall, meanwhile, is one of the best cover corners in the NFL. He held Panthers WR Steve Smith to one catch earlier this season. Both players have speed, but Burress has a seven-inch height advantage. Hall is a prime-time player, and while this should be a great matchup, I think Hall will have a slight advantage.
Giants DE Osi Umenyiora vs. Falcons LT Renardo Foster
On paper, this is the mismatch of the season to this point. Foster is an undrafted rookie free agent out of Louisville (where he played for Atlanta coach Bobby Petrino), and he's pressed into action here due to the season-ending injury to Wayne Gandy. Foster has athletic ability but little experience. We all saw how Umenyiora took advantage of Philadelphia's Winston Justice, so it's clear that Foster needs help. The problem is that if Atlanta uses TE Alge Crumpler to help block Umenyiora, that severely limits Joey Harrington's options in the passing game.
Eagles QB Donovan McNabb vs. Jets defense
Which McNabb will we see -- the one who put up 56 points against Detroit or the one who put up three points against the Giants? It should be the former, as the Jets have only three sacks in five games and have allowed nine TD passes in those game. Also, McNabb plays well on the road against AFC teams and his mobility seems to improve each week. McNabb and the Eagles have played well after a bye week during Andy Reid's tenure and the Eagles have never lost to the Jets.
Titans QB Vince Young vs. Buccaneers defense
Young is 3-0 in road games versus NFC teams. This will be a good test for him, as Tampa Bay plays solid pass defense and Young does not have a good receiving corps. Young needs to avoid mistakes and turnovers.
Raiders LB Chris Clemons vs. Chargers LT Marcus McNeil
McNeil went to the Pro Bowl as a rookie last year, but he has not played nearly at that level in 2007. In fact, McNail's play might be one of the key reasons why San Diego has underachieved thus far in '07. If LaDainian Tomlinson and Philip Rivers are to be successful, McNeil needs to play better. This could be a good place to start, as the Chargers have won seven straight in this series and have averaged over 31 points in that span.
Redskins defense vs. Packers QB Brett Favre
Washington has the third-ranked defense in the NFL, allowing an average of 182 passing yards per game and an NFL-low 2 TD passes all season. Here they'll face the top-rated passing offense - Green Bay averages 305 yards per game and has 9 TDs in five games. Washington held Detroit to 76 passing yards and no TDs last week. Favre, meanwhile, has passed for more than 300 yards in three straight games. Also, he's 2-0 at home versus Washington. If Green Bay is to win, Favre can't make bad plays like the one he did last week on that interception by Brian Urlacher. I don't think Washington will blitz a lot -- they'll play coverage and look to force Favre into bad throws.
Texans offense vs. Jaguars defense
Houston won both games last year in this series and four of the last six. But Jacksonville's defense has been playing extremely well, and I would expect them to come up big against a Houston passing attack that will be without receivers Andre Johnson and Jacoby Jones. The Texans should also have a hard time running on Jacksonville.
Bears QB Brian Griese vs. Vikings defense
We've seen all season long that teams just can't run on the Vikings, who have allowed an average of 62 rushing yards per game and haven't given up a rushing touchdown. Simply put, Griese will have to make things happen through the air.
Interesting note about New england's trip to Dallas: The Patriots played the first-ever regular-season game at Texas Stadium on Oct. 24, 1971. Dallas prevailed, 44-21. The first touchdown in Texas Stadium history was scored 2:16 into that game by Dallas running back Duane Thomas. Ironically, Thomas was later traded to New England -- only to have the trade voided ... The Cowboys are one of three teams the Patriots have never beaten on the road. The others are Washigton and San Francisco ... Romo enters the 16th start of his career with a record of 11-4. After his first 16 games, Roger Staubach was 15-1. Troy Aikman was 2-14.