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Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady, Falcons-Redskins head Week 5

There's no doubt: Last year was a phenomenal year for the NFL. It was impossible to leave any weekend unfulfilled, right up until a heart-stopping Super Bowl XLVI.

Yet ... I couldn't help but feel like something was missing. For the first time since 1997, there was no Peyton Manning. And that also meant no showdowns between Manning and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

While Manning has switched teams, thankfully we're back in business this year, with Broncos vs. Patriots taking center stage on Sunday. It will be the 13th duel between the two top quarterbacks of their era, players who have combined to earn four Super Bowl rings (in seven total appearances) and six NFL MVPs, creating countless memorable moments in their rivalry along the way. Fourth-and-2 in 2009 and James Sanders' interception in 2010 were only the most recent.

What will Brady and Manning have for us this Sunday in Gillette Stadium? In a week that features zero matchups between teams with winning records, this is the one to watch.

Here is your Week 5 primer, with games ranked in order of intrigue, from 1 to 14:

    • Denver at New England

      Sun 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS Get Tickets
    • Why this game is No. 1:

      Because it doesn't get any better than Manning vs. Brady. They've grown older. Hair has thinned. One faces questions about his arm strength, the other is starting to hear queries about how long he wants to continue playing. And yet, on the football field, perhaps nothing will change. Sure, Manning plays for a different team. But the feeling remains the same; the sense that, no matter the score, no matter the situation, either Brady or Manning will have one final say to put his stamp on an epic rumble. This is one you'll want to watch until the end.
    • What to watch:

      Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia says he believes Manning's arm strength is fine, but the way he instructs his team to play will be more telling. Do the Patriots protect deep against the likes of Demaryius Thomas or do they cover up to 15 yards and tell Manning to go ahead, give it a try? And for Denver's defense, this game will be determined by how well the Broncos pressure Brady. They have 10 sacks on the season, but their potential is even higher. If they can move Brady and get him out of rhythm, they can avoid the kind of destructive effort he laid on the Bills last week. #DENvsNE
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Houston at New York

      Mon 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN Get Tickets
    • Why this game is No. 3:

      Because we, as a society, love to rubberneck. That's why we'll be checking this out on Monday Night. The Jets are a train wreck, having lost star cornerback Darrelle Revis, star receiver Santonio Holmes and likely their minds. How will they respond to facing the NFL's best team? It won't be pretty, though this is another chance to learn about Rex Ryan the coach.
    • What to watch:

      If you're at the game, watch the Jets' sideline. Emotions will be high. If you like football, however, watch the Texans on the field. No drama, no circus atmosphere, just the NFL's most efficient and well-rounded team. What will the Jets' defense be able to take away? Arian Foster in the run game? Receiver Andre Johnson and quarterback Matt Schaub will capitalize. OK, you want to stop the pass? Good luck tackling Foster with seven men in the box. If you haven't checked out the Texans, you'll see why they are so good. #HOUvsNYJ
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Arizona at St. Louis

      Thur 8:20 p.m. ET, NFL NETWORK Get Tickets
    • Why this game is No. 4:

      Who thought a Thursday nighter between the Cardinals and Rams -- combined record for 2011: 10-22 -- would be must-see TV? Not this guy. Suddenly, it's a grudge match in one of the league's two deepest divisions. The Cardinals are fascinating, from their nasty defense to the questions at quarterback that seem to get answered only when they have to have it. Oh, and the fact that they keep winning -- at 4-0, they're one of three undefeateds remaining. As for the Rams -- the completely rebuilt Rams -- this is their chance to announce their new direction on national TV.
    • What to watch:

      Rookie first-round pick Michael Brockers, a defensive tackle, is finally healthy and ready to make an impact for St. Louis. It's needed, as the team hasn't always affected quarterbacks this year. If the Rams get to Cardinals starter Kevin Kolb, he could turn into the Bad Kolb, as opposed to the one who helped Arizona snatch victory from the jaws of defeat against Miami. But the best matchup is the Rams' revamped secondary (with Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins) vs. the Cardinals' receivers (including superstar Larry Fitzgerald and breakout performer Andre Roberts). Arizona has won seven straight in St. Louis. #AZvsSTL
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Philadelphia at Pittsburgh

      Sun 1:00 p.m. ET, FOX Get Tickets
    • Why this game is No. 5:

      Another week, another insane escape by the Eagles. Maybe, at some point, gaffes like turnovers and red-zone disasters will come back to bite them. But not yet. They're 3-1, and yet, they have the potential to be far more explosive. Scary. The Steelers are coming off a bye that helped them return to health. They might get running back Rashard Mendenhall and linebacker James Harrison back on Sunday, which would provide a major boost for this sub-.500 team.
    • What to watch:

      The spotlight shines on Pittsburgh's injury situation, and if Harrison returns, the pass rush smiles. It would be hard to imagine a quarterback getting hit more than Michael Vick; Harrison's return would guarantee Vick at least one hard blow, maybe 11. On the other side is a juicy matchup of strength on strength. The Eagles' pass rush -- a revolving door of attacking defensive linemen -- will get after the quarterback who doesn't seem to mind throwing with guys hanging off him. Will Ben Roethlisberger remain standing? #PHIvsPIT
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Green Bay at Indianapolis

      Sun 1:00 p.m. ET, FOX Get Tickets
    • Why this game is No. 6:

      On the field, this one might not live up to any hype. The Packers, with or without Greg Jennings, should put themselves in position to overwhelm a promising young Colts team that is still working to find its way. But this is compelling because of the sheer emotion filling the Indianapolis locker room. Coach Chuck Pagano has taken a leave of absence following a sudden leukemia diagnosis, and the Colts will be playing for him. It will be the culmination of a trying week, one where football isn't the most important thing.
    • What to watch:

      Longtime NFL assistant Bruce Arians will temporarily take over for Pagano as head coach, his first stint running a team since Temple University in 1988. While he'll no doubt be trying to honor the ways of Pagano, Arians will also be faced with the same tough decisions as any coach on game day. How will he respond? The Packers have spent the season steadily improving, and they broke out a bit offensively against New Orleans last week. But was that just because the Saints can't tackle? We might get a better gauge of the Pack offensively on Sunday. #GBvsIND
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • San Diego at New Orleans

      Sun 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC Get Tickets
    • Why this game is No. 7:

      Until the Saints win a game, they are worth watching. How low will they go? Drew Brees hasn't been himself -- though he showed flashes last week -- and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is learning that defense is harder to teach without an elite pass rusher (or four). And the mercurial Chargers won't be an easy foil. They seem poised to put it all together this year, though when expectations rise, history has shown them to sink. Someone will get a boost from this one.
    • What to watch:

      With just six sacks on the season, while allowing more than 1,100 passing yards, the Saints have been a perfect antidote for any ailing offense. Well, the Chargers aren't ailing. They just haven't hit on all cylinders yet, with their run game specifically flagging. But perhaps this is the week they get Ryan Mathews to play like himself. Injury issues and fumble-itis have made him ineffective. Will the Chargers give him the chance to rebound? #SDvsNO
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Baltimore at Kansas City

      Sun 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS Get Tickets
    • Why this game is No. 8:

      The high-flying Ravens are 3-1 with wins over the Patriots and Bengals. But what about the Patriots Jr.? On paper, this doesn't look like much of a game. But the Chiefs are playing at home, in front of a raucous crowd, and that won't make it easy for quarterback Joe Flacco to run his no-huddle. The Chiefs believed they improved their secondary this year, even while letting Brandon Carr go, and the key is keeping Baltimore from getting deep on them.
    • What to watch:

      An old-school battle of strength vs. strength. The Chiefs can pound it, and they will run the ball at Baltimore because that's what they do. And that's the only way to protect quarterback Matt Cassel. Super runner Jamaal Charles will go right at the Ravens, who are allowing a measly 3.2 yards per rush. While Baltimore's best defenders are up the middle, starting with Haloti Ngata up front, Charles will attack the edges. #BALvsKC
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Miami at Cincinnati

      Sun 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS Get Tickets
    • Why this game is No. 10:

      The Dolphins have shown promise; the Bengals have recorded wins. Big difference. Still, I think this game could be closer than it appears it should be. Rookie Ryan Tannehill has exceeded expectations early, finding leading receiver Brian Hartline again and again. A potentially tough matchup for a team void of corners like the Bengals.
    • What to watch:

      Only two teams are allowing more passing yards than the Dolphins, and that's an area Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton and receiver A.J. Green can exploit. Ah, who am I kidding? That duo can exploit most teams. Also, it will be interesting to watch how BenJarvus Green-Ellis reacts to an uncharacteristic game in the ball-security world. He's not a guy who fumbles. How will he bounce back after putting the ball on the turf twice (losing one) against Jacksonville? #MIAvsCIN
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Seattle at Carolina

      Sun 4:05 p.m. ET, FOX Get Tickets
    • Why this game is No. 13:

      If there's one thing to like about this game, it's the Seahawks' ruthless pass rush -- the unit that sacked Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers eight times in a half -- taking on the league's best running quarterback threat. Sure, Seattle wants to pressure Cam Newton. But do they really? If he takes off and gashes the defense, is that helpful? Lots of good X's-and-O's chess here, just as far as how to defend Newton with such an aggressive defense.
    • What to watch:

      Seattle coach Pete Carroll has been adamant that Russell Wilson is his starter, though it's starting to become apparent that the rookie is riding this offensive bike with training wheels. He hasn't crashed yet, but he's wobbled plenty. If problems come early, does Carroll see what Matt Flynn can do? #SEAvsCAR
    • Watch: Game Preview

Follow Ian Rapoport on Twitter @RapSheet

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