So far, Week 5 of the NFL season has looked and felt more like the week after the end of the regular season. We have witnessed two head coaches being fired (in St. Louis and Oakland) and an owner hanging out his dirty laundry like no other owner has ever done.
As one GM said to me this week, we need to get rid of the bye weeks because owners act like it's the end of the season. Remember, Matt Millen was fired last week as the Lions headed into their bye.
All that aside, there are some interesting storylines this week heading into the action on the field. These are the 10 I will be keeping a close eye on as the games unfold:
1. Teams coming off the bye
The Texans and Ravens were forced into a premature Week 2 bye because of the hurricane; Houston lost in Week 3 while Baltimore won. Now the Colts, Giants, Lions, Dolphins, Seahawks and Patriots return to the field after a week to heal their injuries and reconstruct their game plans.
|Jim McIsaac / Getty Images|
|After a week off to work on his game, can Matt Cassel show major improvement as he makes his third start for New England?|
The Colts have won three straight games off a bye and have averaged 35 points per game doing it, so the Texans are in trouble. The Giants are 1-4 after the bye and the offense seems to disappear in those games, averaging just 16 points a game. They suspended Plaxico Burress for one game and they play the Seahawks, who also are coming off a bye with their team getting receivers Bobby Engram and Deion Branch back. But Seattle must travel west to east three time zones and that has been a disaster for almost every West Coast team in recent years. New England got a week to figure how to open up the offense for Matt Cassel, who will be making his third start. Note: It was the third game of Tom Brady's career when the Pats opened up the offense. The Lions fired their GM during the bye and it remains to be seen if they get a win -- but the good news is Rod Marinelli has won two straight coming off a bye. Miami is the most intriguing team off a bye, playing the Chargers at home. The Dolphins have won six straight vs. San Diego.
2. Can Atlanta win on the road?
Matt Ryan is going to be a fine quarterback in this league but his offense has yet to score a touchdown in two road games. It's not all his fault, because the running production has varied significantly between home and road games. At home, Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood have combined for 534 yards in two games. On the road, they have only generated 115 yards in two games. With all the injuries in Green Bay, it would be a good time for the Falcons to get a road win.
3. How will the Steelers and Ravens respond?
On Monday night, the Steelers and Ravens put it all on the line in a very physical overtime game. The Steelers won but landed two players on injured reserve, while the Ravens went home in defeat. Both teams have a short week and face very physical teams. Pittsburgh has to go to Jacksonville to play the Jags, who are riding a three-game winning streak vs. the Steelers, without running backs Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall. Ben Roethlisberger went ballistic on his offensive line at halftime last week, and now he faces a defense that sacked him a total of 11 times in two games last season. The Ravens face the undefeated Titans at home and that means a low-scoring defensive battle where one turnover could make the difference.
4. Ghosts of the past
Since free agency began, player movement around the league has been at an unprecentented level. Two guys this week cross paths with ghosts of the past and I will be anxious to see how they do. Brian Griese, the former Broncos QB, takes the Tampa Bay Bucs into Denver. (Speaking of the Broncos and Bucs, both Mike Shanahan and Jon Gruden were once head coach of the Raiders and I'm sure they will spend a minute or two before the game talking to each other about Lane Kiffin and the end of his Raiders career.) The other ghost in the closet is Kerry Collins, who lines up under center for the undefeated Titans and will be staring at Ray Lewis of the Ravens this week. I'm sure it will bring back some memories of the Ravens' Super Bowl win over the Giants.
5. Green Bay sure could use Favre now
Aaron Rodgers admits that his arm strength is in jeopardy after the shoulder injury last week, which means rookie Matt Flynn may start against the Falcons. Flynn has thrown five passes in the NFL. Former Packers QB Brett Favre threw a career-best six touchdown passes last week as a Jet. To make matters worse, he's on a bye this week, and probably will be sitting on his couch Sunday watching his old team play.
6. Patriots at a crossroads?
The Patriots had a chance to make a QB decision during their bye week and, as expected, they stuck with Matt Cassel. I admire the choice and agree with it. But now the team is on the West Coast for two weeks and a loss to the 49ers could trigger the panic button among some fans and media. Heck, the fans in Foxborough booed the team in the Miami loss. It's a rough crowd up there and as one coach said to me this week, "They may be a little spoiled."
|Domenic Centofanti / Getty Images|
|If the Lions throw more to second-year wideout Calvin Johnson, their fans might have reason to smile.|
7. Difference in Detroit?
The Lions are in a tough spot. The owner fired the GM, and the coach is left trying to turn around a winless season. I get the feeling they may come out throwing the ball more than expected against the Bears. The best players on the Lions are the two wide receivers Calvin Johnson and Roy Williams -- and it may be time to set up the run with the pass.
8. Beasts of the NFC East
The NFC East is the strongest division in the NFL, a statement few would argue at this point in the season. It may be that they beat each other enough that a team from another division sneaks in as a wild card instead of a third team from the NFC East. Nobody was factoring in the Washington Redskins two weeks ago, but the win over the Dallas Cowboys got everyone's attention. Now Washington faces the Eagles and a Philadelphia win spins the NFC East upside down.
9. Problems that need fixing
At the quarter pole of the season, most head coaches look at critical factors that drive games and try to fix what is wrong. Here are a few key issues and the teams that lead in these dubious categories. I will be looking to see if there is improvement this weekend:
Penalties: Carolina (44), Green Bay (42)
Negative plays (minus yards): Pittsburgh (34), San Francisco (31)
Points allowed off turnovers: Arizona (38), Tampa Bay (35)
Three-and-out drives: Cincinnati (17 of 47 drives)
Less than 4 yards on first down: Kansas City (75 of 103 first downs), Chicago (66 of 108 first downs).
10. Can the Giants, Bills and Titans stay undefeated?
It may be many years before another team goes undefeated in the regular season like the Patriots did last year. The Bills and Titans are both 4-0 and hit the road this week while the Giants (3-0) stay home to keep their undefeated season going. Last year, three teams made it through to 5-0. Last year it was Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Tony Romo who kept undefeated seasons alive; this year it's Eli Manning, Kerry Collins and Trent Edwards. It looks tougher to do, but time will tell.