Week 5 is the first week in which teams are coming off a bye. Last year, teams went 18-14 after their bye, so I am anxious to see how the first four teams returning -- Arizona, Atlanta, Carolina and Philadelphia -- do this week.
For years, the image of the NFL was one of parity -- lots of teams fighting for a division title. But now things are starting to separate into the haves and the have-nots. Five teams are without a win, and five teams already have two division losses. Bad teams must kick-start their seasons this week, or it'll be over for close to 20 percent of the league.
Here are 10 things to watch in Week 5:
1. Three-headed monster in Philadelphia
I talked with Michael Vick this week, and it was inspirational to discuss where his life is headed and where the Eagles are going in 2009. Vick will be a positive contributor to society and will also be a positive contributor to the Eagles offense. Look for Philadelphia to use multiple spread sets and open up this offense. I would guess Vick sees about 10 to 12 plays, and he may get the chance to throw three to four passes. McNabb has two touchdowns in his 18 pass attempts this season and has demonstrated he can still run (6.8 yards per carry). Kevin Kolb threw for more than 300 yards in the two starts he received. As one coach said, "JaMarcus Russell wouldn't even make this team, let alone start!"
|Hans Deryk / Associated Press|
|Will this be the week Buffalo's Trent Edwards finally gets enough time to find his talented receivers?|
2. How long can this keep up?
How long can quarterbacks stay upright when the sacks and hits are mounting fast? I thought things were bad in Buffalo when Trent Edwards got sacked six times by a Dolphins defense without Joey Porter. Edwards' best offensive weapons are his wide receivers -- Lee Evans and Terrell Owens -- but when he gets sacked once every eight pass attempts the offense can't work. Fortunately for Buffalo, the Browns are coming to town this week, and they are not a great pass-rushing team.
Miami's Chad Henne has it even worse. He has been sacked once every 3.5 attempts, which spells disaster with Rex Ryan's blitz-happy Jets defense coming to South Florida. Thank goodness for Aaron Rodgers that the Packers are on a bye. Rodgers has been sacked once every seven attempts. All three QBs are on schedule for 50-plus sacks and probably another 100 hits. These teams better hope that their backup quarterbacks can play through the season.
3. Jets' Pace set to return
I talked with Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum this week, and he was excited to have linebacker Calvin Pace back from a four-game suspension. Last year, Pace made 19 plays behind the line of scrimmage. As aggressive as the Jets defense has been this year, it only has four sacks and four fumble recoveries. Pace will help the Jets turn up the heat even more for the rest of the season.
4. Favre was awesome ... now slow down
No. 4 is the story of the NFL so far, but to finish strong in the long season, I'm hoping he eases up in his passing attempts. Favre has thrown 71 passes in the last two games. Right now he's on pace for 420 throws in a 16-game season. This week at St. Louis should be a good time to throttle down the pass game. He'll likely be up in the 35-40 range against Baltimore and Pittsburgh in the weeks to come.
5. Love these matchups
Player matchups intrigue me every week. There is a one-on-one battle in every game that probably determines its outcome. This week there are four matchups that will make or break the game:
» Ravens free safety Ed Reed will be hawking Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer. Reed loves to cheat and jump a route. Palmer has beaten the Ravens more than he's lost.
» The Panthers are on a terrible slide, and defensive end Julius Peppers has to get to Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell. Washington left tackle Chris Samuels is in the way, though. Is Peppers, who signed a one-year tender worth $16.7 million, worth more than a million bucks a game? The answer may come on Sunday.
» Falcons running back Michael Turner is off to a slow start, and his team has to keep pace with the undefeated Saints. Turner is up against the most productive tackling machine in the NFL, 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis.
» The Patriots head to Denver, where receiver Randy Moss lines up against cornerback Champ Bailey. Bailey looks better now than he has in years, and Moss has Brady back to deliver the mail.
|Amy Sancetta / Associated Press|
|Taking on the Ravens in Baltimore is no easy task, but Bengals QB Carson Palmer has had some success there.|
6. Not afraid of the Ravens
Baltimore is an outstanding team and probably frustrated that it lives in the shadow of the Steelers in the AFC North. But the Bengals are coming to town, and the boys in purple and black better beware. Palmer is back under center, and he is 6-3 against the Ravens with 12 touchdown passes and eight interceptions. What makes matters worse for the Ravens is that Palmer has won three of five in Baltimore. In the Ravens' favor is that they now have Joe Flacco under center. This should be a very exciting game to watch.
7. Not-so-safe at home
Last week, home teams dominated (12-2). This week sets up as a different story, I think. At least six home teams will struggle: Kansas City hosts the Cowboys, Tennessee welcomes the Colts, poor Detroit rolls out the welcome mat to the Super Bowl-champion Steelers, St. Louis can't be happy about the Vikings coming to town, the Broncos are red hot but here come the Patriots and Tom Brady, while Seahawks fans can cheer as loud as they want, but the team needs to find a way to stop Maurice Jones-Drew and the Jaguars. I would not be surprised to see more road winners than home winners this week.
8. A tale of two backs
Clinton Portis is always thought of as a premier runner, but the 28-year-old back has only two touchdown runs in his last 13 games. In his last 170 carries, he averages 3.3 yards and he hasn't had a run over 14 yards in the last three weeks.
On the other hand, Cedric Benson bounced around before finding a home in Cincinnati. In his last seven games dating back to last season, Benson has touched the ball 179 times and gained 874 yards (125 per game) -- and Cincinnati is 6-1 in those games.
Let's see which guy delivers this week as the Redskins visit the Panthers, and the Bengals visit the Ravens.
9. Are they who we thought they were?
I honestly thought the Dallas Cowboys were on the verge of something special entering this season. But the reality is Dallas is 12-12 in its last 24 games and that spells mediocrity. Tony Romo hasn't thrown a TD in his last two games, DeMarcus Ware doesn't have a sack in 148 pass rushes, and this team has scored fewer points each week (34, 31, 21, 10). This team can be frustrating to watch, but they should dominate the Chiefs this week.
10. What will Braylon bring?
Former Cleveland receiver Braylon Edwards is now a Jet. GM Mike Tannenbaum told me his coach, Rex Ryan, always had trouble with Edwards in his Ravens days. Edwards will start Monday night in Miami, and Tannenbaum said that two of the coaches who had Edwards in Cleveland used the same system as the Jets use now, which helps get Edwards up and running. Look for him to be a factor in the red zone running the fade route, and let's see if the running game opens up as Miami rolls coverage to Edwards and weakens its ability to slow down the run game. I like the trade for Edwards, but he needs to deliver.