This week's NFL action is loaded with intriguing matchups. Two Hall of Fame quarterbacks will face each other; arguably the league's top pass rusher and pass protector will square off; and two of the sharpest coaching minds in football will match wits against one another. Those are just a few of the reasons to follow this weekend's action.
Here are my top six matchups for Week 5:
Drew Brees vs. Philip Rivers
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In order for Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints to pick up their first win of the 2012 season, they will have to knock off Brees' former team, which is led by his former backup quarterback. Brees spent five seasons in San Diego after being selected in the second round of the 2001 NFL Draft. His backup during those last two years was current San Diego starter, Philip Rivers. Rivers has been very solid for San Diego, but Brees has put up better numbers in New Orleans and he's also collected a Super Bowl title.
Rivers and the Chargers do have some momentum coming into this game following their dominant road win over the Kansas City Chiefs. They should be very confident about their ability to move the ball up and down the field against a very suspect Saints defense. This game has shootout written all over it. If that isn't enough to get you excited about this game, there is one other reason to tune in: If Drew Brees tosses a touchdown, he will break Johnny Unitas' record of 47 consecutive games with a touchdown pass. That record was set in 1960.
Dwayne Bowe vs. Lardarius Webb
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne Bowe is one of the most difficult matchups in the entire league. Over the past two seasons, he's combined to catch 20 touchdowns and racked up more than 2,000 receiving yards. He has already caught 25 balls and three touchdowns through the first four weeks of the 2012 campaign. A combination of size, strength and ball skills allows him to make plays with defenders draped all over him.
Baltimore Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb has quietly developed into one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL. Last season, he picked off five passes and collected 20 pass breakups. He might lack ideal size, but his quickness, agility and instincts always put him in excellent position to make plays on the ball. He won't be assigned to Bowe on an every-down basis, but these two should match up more than a few times in this contest. For the Chiefs to pull off the upset Sunday afternoon, they will need Bowe to post big numbers against Webb and the rest of the Baltimore secondary.
Joe Thomas vs. Jason Pierre-Paul
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Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas has been to the Pro Bowl in each of his five NFL seasons and has been the league's most consistent pass protector during that period of time. He has everything you could want in a blind-side protector. He has excellent quickness, balance and awareness. Those skills will come in handy this week, as he goes up against one of the NFL's most dangerous pass rushers.
Last season, Jason Pierre-Paul exploded for 16.5 sacks during his second NFL campaign. His freakish length, explosive first step and non-stop motor created havoc for opposing offenses. His sack production is down compared to last year's first four games (4.5 in 2011, 1.5 in 2012), but he's still been extremely disruptive. Teams are constantly double-teaming him or chipping him with a running back. It will be interesting to see if the Browns give Thomas any help or simply allow these two studs to square off one-on-one.
Last week, the Panthers and Seahawks both lost very close road games inside their respective divisions. They will each look to get back on track when they square off in Charlotte this weekend. One of the main keys to this game will be whether or not the Panthers can effectively run the ball against a very talented defensive front seven.
The Panthers rushing attack is averaging 122 yards per game, while the Seahawks defense is holding opponents to 62.8 rushing yards per game. The Panthers have three quality running backs (Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert) and quarterback Cam Newton is a dynamic runner, as well. Fortunately for the Seahawks, they have a very deep, physical defensive line and two of the better young linebackers in the NFL, K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner.
Andy Reid vs. Dick LeBeau
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One of the biggest games of the weekend will take place in Pittsburgh, as the Steelers play host to the Philadelphia Eagles. The key to this game will be whether or not the Eagles can protect quarterback Michael Vick. Coach Andy Reid and his offensive staff did an excellent job of helping the Eagles' offensive line in last week's win over the Giants. The decision to commit to the running game prevented the Giants' edge rushers from pinning their ears back. Then, when the Eagles did throw the ball, they had their running backs and tight ends chip the Giants' ends before releasing into their pass patterns. Reid and his staff will need to have a similar plan in place this week.
Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is known as the architect of the zone blitz. He loves to bring exotic blitzes from his quartet of linebackers while one of his three down linemen drifts into pass coverage. These types of blitzes have caused major problems for Vick during his career. Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton is one of LeBeau's former assistants. Horton utilized several of these blitzes to constantly harass Vick during the Eagles' Week 3 loss in Arizona. This will be a fascinating chess match between Reid and LeBeau.
Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady
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This will be the 13th time Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have faced each other in the NFL, but it will be their first meeting since Manning joined the Denver Broncos. Aside from the first quarter against the Falcons, Manning has been very accurate and efficient. He seems to be getting more comfortable with his supporting cast with each passing week. He will need to put up good numbers in order to keep pace with Brady and the Patriots' top-ranked offense.
Brady is the NFL's sixth-rated passer and he has only thrown one interception this season. He has been without TE Aaron Hernandez for the past few weeks, but he's still been effective, spreading the ball around to the rest of his weapons. The emergence of New England's running game has helped Brady avoid taking too many unnecessary hits. Brady has won eight of 12 games against Peyton.