Week 6 Game Rankings: Brees vs. Brady highlights lackluster lineup
There aren't a lot of games in Week 6 that look intriguing on paper, but a Saints-Pats showdown should deliver. Jason La Canfora evaluates this week's NFL menu.
This was almost the week I did it.
I came really close to forgoing the footlong entirely. In the end, I felt like the chance to see Tom Brady against Drew Brees for possibly the last time ever was worthy enough of that designation. One could make the case it has the chance to be a Super Bowl precursor. Even with the Pats being up and down from a watchability standpoint on offense, you know that Brady gets fired up for these kinds of games and the Saints seem out to prove a point each week they take the field with Sean Payton back leading them.
Otherwise, this is one of those inevitable dips in the schedule. Five games are between AFC and NFC teams, and most of them don't exactly leap out with viewership appeal. The slate of divisional games is tepid at best, with the Redskins and Cowboys perhaps the most meaningful of the bunch, with that more a reflection of the overall state of the NFC East than the quality of these teams themselves.
So overall, I am less than overwhelmed with Week 6. As always, I am sure there is a game or two that looks like a complete dud that will end up more than holding our collective attention.
New Orleans at New England
Sunday, Oct. 13, 4:25 p.m. ET (Fox)
Why to watch: Here are two Hall of Fame quarterbacks nearing the twilight of their careers -- though doing a stellar job of making us forget about that for the most part. The Saints have yet to lose and the Patriots come in off their only loss of the season. New Orleans is building more of a Super Bowl buzz by the week. The more road wins they can string together the more you have to like their chances of securing the first seed in the NFC, considering how rarely they lose at home. Brady needs to get back on the same page with his receivers and New England is still striving for balance on offense. Could the Patriots fall into a mini-slump? How long can the Saints remain undefeated?
What to watch for: Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham may be the two best tight ends in the game, but how much can Gronkowski do in his first game back from multiple offseason surgeries, if he does play? And how will the Pats try to cover Graham? He's going to command a double team and the Pats don't have the safeties to stick with him. ... WR Danny Amendola was still hobbled last week when he came back from a lengthy groin injury, and they will need him to be more of a presence in the slot. ... Brady's streak of consecutive games with a TD pass ended at 52, meaning Brees' record (54) is safe. ... New England could get healthy at running back here, but the loss of Danny Woodhead has not been insignificant; they are struggling in short-yardage situations (30th in the NFL) and the Saints rank seventh in the league in stopping opponents on third- or fourth-and-1. ... Darren Sproles is dominating defenders and Brees will feature him against this defense.
Green Bay at Baltimore
Sunday, Oct. 13, 1 p.m. ET (Fox)
Why to watch: I'm still waiting for the Packers offense to do what I imagined it might. They came out of their bye still looking groggy and they are pretty much right at the league average for red-zone scoring, settling for more short field goals than you figure an Aaron Rodgers-led offense would. That remains a source of frustration. The Ravens are relying increasingly on their defense to keep them in games while their offense inches along. Still, Rodgers and Joe Flacco are two of the more recent Super Bowl MVPs, and while neither is winning as pretty as they have in past playoff runs, it's not always about stats. What Green Bay hasn't done yet this season is win on the road -- most recently blowing a late lead at Cincinnati -- and Baltimore is as tough a place to go as any.
What to watch for: Ray Rice, Ray Rice, Ray Rice. With Baltimore short on pass catchers he is going to be a workhorse in the run and passing games. He and Bernard Pierce got better as last week's game went along and the Ravens seemed to remember that if they stick with the ground game they can tire out opposing defenses in the second half. ... Packers LB Clay Mathews is out with a hand injury; who replaces the push he gets off the edge? And his loss could show up in the screen game as well. ... The Packers' offensive line is still a concern and Terrell Suggs is back to his top form. The Ravens will switch him over either tackle. Baltimore has been able to get a push with just four linemen fairly frequently this season. ... The interior of the Ravens' offensive line is vulnerable. ... Expect Eugene Monroe to make his first start for Baltimore at left tackle. He was acquired from Jacksonville last week. ... Green Bay's ground game is far too often overlooked -- 362 yards on the ground the past two games against what should be stout defensive lines (Lions and Bengals). Receiver Randall Cobb, on reverses and end-arounds, is a big part of that. ... Opposing QBs have a 98 rating against Green Bay when the Packers blitz; opposing teams have a 117 rating against the Ravens when they blitz. Pragmatism and sound coverage might be the rule in this game, with whichever team is able to collapse the pocket rushing only four probably the winner.
Oakland at Kansas City
Sunday, Oct. 13, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)
Why to watch: The Chiefs keeping winning and the Raiders keep refusing to become irrelevant this season -- an accomplishment in itself. Oakland has a different demeanor when QB Terrelle Pryor is under center -- as evidenced in the way the Raiders stormed through the Chargers last week -- and this is a dangerous team. Yes, they will still do some boneheaded stuff, and they aren't mature enough to string together a long winning streak yet, but they are young enough to not know any better about rolling into Arrowhead and handing their rivals their first loss under Andy Reid. After this game, Oakland's next three opponents have a combined two wins, and I get the feeling this bunch is out to surprise people this season. And kudos to the Chiefs, who faced some adversity last week at Tennessee and rallied late after that game appeared to be slipping away.
What to watch for: Kansas City is one of the rare teams to have the edge speed and ability to thwart an athletic quarterback like Pryor when he takes off and runs. However, Ryan Fitzpatrick had some success against them last week when galloping up the gut on draws or busted plays. ... The Raiders' defense will take chances and they got Philip Rivers -- who had been so sound -- to start turning it over again last week. Alex Smith won't gamble much at all with his ball placement, but I get the sense DB Charles Woodson is on a roll and has more big plays in him. ... Wonder if the Raiders look to set a tone and get vertical again right at the start of the game. Seems to suit them. ... Oakland needs to get its issues sorted out in punt coverage. The Chiefs could exploit them in that area. ... Not sure there is going to be that much room for Jamaal Charles on Sunday, but I see him having a huge impact catching swing passes out of the backfield. ... Teams are cracking down on slot receiver Donnie Avery and attacking him. With such an injury history, he may be wearing down. The Chiefs have attempted just four passes that traveled 20 or more yards in the air, with Dwayne Bowe a decoy and opponents increasingly squatting on the underneath stuff that Smith is so adept at hitting.
Tennessee at Seattle
Sunday, Oct. 13, 4:05 p.m. ET (CBS)
Why to watch: Seattle has had its hands full with the AFC South so far, sneaking past Houston and blowing a lead at the Colts last week. The Titans are playing bruising football on both sides of the line, and have put up a fight through all four quarters of every game thus far this season. There is an obvious talent imbalance in this game, and some long travel involved, and while Fitzpatrick is a gamer, he also is a turnover machine. The Seahawks are finally back home after some arduous travel. While this will be anything but an easy game on multiple fronts, the fans will no doubt be bonkers and the Seahawks can't afford to lose many at home as they race New Orleans for the first overall seed.
What to watch for: The Titans pass the ball only when they really have to, and, especially after Fitzpatrick started coughing it up late last week -- starter Jake Locker did not throw a pick this season before getting hurt -- expect a conservative approach in this environment. ... Marshawn Lynch might not be off to his best start running the ball, but did you see him close from about 30 yards and force a fumble after Russell Wilson got picked off last week? That kind of hustle is infectious. ... Wilson is finding Golden Tate more each week. That combination is creating more problems downfield. ... Wilson is good for at least two long runs a game. ... Having Lynch and Jackie Battle running on the same field could cause an earthquake. ... Hard to imagine Kenny Britt gets that much more involved for the Titans at this point; would expect a trade at some point. ... Chris Johnson is still without a rushing touchdown this season; not sure it comes against this defense.
Washington at Dallas
Sunday, Oct. 13, 8:30 p.m. ET (NBC)
Why to watch: One of these teams could easily end up hosting a playoff game despite them being a combined 3-6. It is a storied rivalry and last year their first meeting of the season turned out to be fairly memorable and helped further propel the legend of RG3. This time around, Robert Griffin III and the Skins come in off a bye, with his knee seemingly better by the week and his mobility and confidence seeming to increase as well. The winner of this game is suddenly well positioned for the second half of the season, and the loser, particularly if the Skins were to fall to 0-2 in the division, is in trouble. Everyone will be looking to see how Tony Romo and the Cowboys respond to their "moral victory" over the Broncos last Sunday, as well.
What to watch for: Neither of these teams has been able to attain offensive balance this season. Dallas' run game is not consistent and the Skins were out of whack from a play-calling standpoint in the first quarter of the season, taking to the air far too early and often. ... Alfred Morris is trying to come back from injury, but either way, I continue to get the sense that Roy Helu could keep chipping into his workload, even beyond third down. He has been effective in bursts. ... Dez Bryant should be able to shred this secondary even if triple covered; Dallas is the second-highest scoring team in the NFL this season, Washington's defense has been shredded and its offense has yet to look like it could win a shootout. ... The Redskins need to get Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan going at the same time on the pass rush. ... I like Sean Lee to pick off a pass here.
Indianapolis at San Diego
Monday, Oct. 14, 8:40 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Why to watch: The Colts seem intent on proving they are the most physical team in the AFC. With the Chargers' offensive line in tatters and Robert Mathis leading their pass rush this game might just aid their cause. The loss of former Colt Dwight Freeney seemed to debilitate San Diego's defense last week, as Terrelle Pryor sliced them up early, and they can't afford a slow start against Andrew Luck. The Colts were out West just a few weeks ago to take on San Francisco, but given the way they are playing lately I'm sure that's of little concern now. Philip Rivers again threw for 400 yards last week, but San Diego's points came in garbage time and he needs to get back to protecting the football. With the Chiefs and Broncos off to torrid starts, the Chargers cannot afford a losing streak now.
What to watch for: The Colts' defense is clearly benefitting from the return of coach Chuck Pagano. They have only yielded three more offensive points than Seattle, for instance, and just eight offensive touchdowns allowed all season. ... At one point do you just sit Ryan Mathews and give someone else the ball? Danny Woodhead is an effective jack of all trades in the Chargers' backfield, and Ronnie Brown is not nearly what he was before the knee problems, but I'm trying to find a young back off a practice squad or something and see what kind of burst he has. Mathews, a recent first-round pick who was supposed to be a game changer, has two runs over 10 yards all season and is averaging 3.5 per carry, without a touchdown. ... Similarly, Trent Richardson hasn't exactly been a force since getting to the Colts -- he is averaging a paltry 3 yards per carry since coming over via trade, with a long of 16. ... T.Y. Hilton finally got more involved last week and the odd early season move to have Darius Heyward-Bey featured over him seems to have been corrected. ... Chargers GM Tom Telesco was a former Colts high-ranking official, so he may have some tendencies and tales to pass along. Could be a week where snap counts and audibles change for the Colts.
Philadelphia at Tampa Bay
Sunday, Oct. 13, 1 p.m. ET (Fox)
What to watch for: Neither of these teams has its Week 1 quarterback under center, but for different reasons. Greg Schiano got his wish and Josh Freeman was released (with a $6 million parting gift) and now we get to see what exactly that changes for the winless Bucs. Did the bye week make Mike Glennon more at ease and ready to assume the leadership of this team as a rookie after a difficult outing in his debut? And Nick Foles is now running Chip Kelly's offense with Michael Vick nursing a hamstring injury. Foles filled in admirably in relief last week, albeit against the Giants, which makes it tough to draw too many conclusions considering New York has already allowed 100 more points than it has scored thus far. An Eagles win puts them back to .500; each Bucs loss seems to cast further doubt on how long Schiano's reign will last.
What to watch for: The Eagles will try to confuse Glennon with twists and stunts out of their 3-4 looks, and will probably be effective. Against this small and often-overwhelmed group of defensive backs, Glennon's best option might be repeated jump balls to Vincent Jackson. If Glennon is not ready for this promotion, the frustration and exacerbation will be obvious soon enough on the sidelines. This team spent a lot of money on veterans and thought it was making a move upward this season, not breaking in a third-round passer in the first month of the season. ... Scouts watching the Eagles since the preseason have noted the problems this offense could face in the red zone. When the field gets tight, they lack players who gain separation beyond DeSean Jackson, who, like Vick, is small and susceptible to physical punishment. All the open space that Kelly's philosophy feasts on isn't there in the red zone. In 17 red-zone drives the Eagles have just seven TDs -- fourth worst percentage in the NFL -- while the Bucs have the second-best red-zone defense. Could be where this game is won or lost. ... Tampa Bay has allowed just six offensive TDs in four games. ... Expect there to be no shortage of empty seats and the calls and signs chiding Schiano could be on the increase after another drama-filled week for the team (this time on the bye no less!).
Cincinnati at Buffalo
Sunday, Oct. 13, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)
Why to watch: Just think back to the array of quarterbacks we have seen in a Bills uniform since, like, the second week of the preseason. There was Kevin Kolb still hanging in there, and a brief dance with Matt Leinart and then, with EJ Manuel hurt again, Jeff Tuel got his shot last week. Now Thaddeus Lewis makes his first NFL start after being promoted from the practice squad. And, well, he gets to face an intense defense with a dominant front four in the Bengals, a team that just shut down Tom Brady last week. Good luck with that. (Ever wonder why the Bills didn't just hold on to Tarvaris Jackson, rather than pay him to go away, especially with a raw rookie starting at QB?). Throw in Buffalo's offensive line injuries and, well, it could get ugly out there. But probably not much uglier than the late going of Buffalo's last contest at Cleveland when Tuel was rushed into service.
What to watch for: The Bengals' offense still can't put up points, still isn't getting much going vertically and still isn't tapping into A.J. Green's freakish talent. Buffalo's secondary should be bolstered by the return of top corner Stephon Gilmore. ... Kiko Alonso, though a youngster, has the mind of a vet and I could see him goading Andy Dalton into an ill-advised pass or two over the middle, the kind Alonso has been making plays on. ... Might this be the week for more pistol looks and end-arounds for C.J. Spiller? Especially with another kid in at quarterback, I expect the screens and plays with Spiller and Fred Jackson in the backfield together to be more commonplace. ... The Bills should finally have some stability in the punting game after signing Brian Moorman, a longtime stalwart for them in the past. ... The Bills' situation with S Jairus Byrd is finally coming to a head. Head coach Doug Marrone didn't want him on the field last Thursday night, but he is also their best defensive back and they need to win some games here.
Detroit at Cleveland
Sunday, Oct. 13, 1 p.m. ET (Fox)
Why to watch: Cleveland plays its first full game since losing starting quarterback Brian Hoyer for the season at an ACL injury, and rides a three-game win streak that has it tied for first in the AFC North. The Lions, who seemed a little lost offensively without Calvin Johnson last week, remain tied for the NFC North lead and hope to have Megatron back for this weekend. You could not accurately have a discussion of at least the wild-card spots in both conferences without at least mentioning these clubs, though it remains to be seen if they are equipped to hold up over a four-month season. Still, someone is getting to 4-2 after this is all over, and that will be more than either fan base may have realistically hoped for at this stage of the season.
What to watch for: Brandon Weeden was destined to be riding the bench for the duration of the season had Hoyer stayed healthy, but now the 2012 first-round pick gets a chance to audition for the other clubs out there for 2014 (the Browns will be drafting a quarterback, pretty much, no matter what). He'll need to make quicker decisions and more accurate throws to improve his stock and the Lions will give him fits with what they can throw at him with their defensive line. ... Willis McGahee has his legs under him now and the Browns run game is more effective than it has been in a few years. Still hardly robust, but trending up. ... Reggie Bush could have a long day trying to slither past Phil Taylor and the Browns' front. Cleveland is allowing just 3.3 yards per carry and should be healthier up front after a nine-day layoff.
Jacksonville at Denver
Sunday, Oct. 13, 4:05 p.m. ET (CBS)
Why to watch: This should probably be a slider, in all honesty, as on paper it is the single biggest mismatch we've seen in the NFL in a long time. I wasn't sure if sports books would even put it on the board, with the Jags already no match for 21-point spreads against teams like Seattle (Seahawks covered with ease). If nothing else I am compelled to monitor this game if only to see how much glee, if any, Peyton Manning takes in shredding what must be the worst team he has faced since his days at Tennessee (remember, he was hurt during the Colts' 2-14 debacle and didn't even have to practice against that bunch). Can the Jags keep it close for a quarter? OK, how about for one possession?
What to watch for: How quickly does John Fox start pulling his key starters? Denver has suffered its fair share of injuries already and losing Manning or a top receiver in a game like this -- let's face it, it amounts to an exhibition game -- could be devastating. ... Would anticipate all three of Denver's running backs seeing quite a bit of the ball here. ... Might be a good game to get Joel Dreessen some work as well, with tight ends so important to a Manning-led offense. ... Cecil Shorts has great potential, and makes at least one play a game to get you out of your seat, even when burdened with these Jags quarterbacks. ... Which backup player we have never heard of on Denver's roster ends up with the bizarre fantasy stats in garbage time?
Arizona at San Francisco
Sunday, Oct. 13, 4:25 p.m. ET (Fox)
Why to watch: Don't look now but the Cards have won two in a row and the 49ers are hot, too. This could end up being a blowout, of course, but with San Francisco being pretty one-dimensional these days (the options through the air are limited) and the Arizona defense now in lockstep with what new coordinator Todd Bowles is calling, this could be closer than some assume. Might be a week where we see a little more of the read option for San Francisco.
What to watch for: Carson Palmer is throwing a lot of interceptions under duress, and the 49ers will pressure him. Arizona's offensive line is still shaky, and even without Aldon Smith, the 49ers are getting linebackers involved in the pass rush and Patrick Willis could be back for this one. ... The return of Daryl Washington from suspension provided an immediate boost to the Cardinals' defense last week. ... Suddenly Colin Kaepernick is more in game-manager mode than what we saw during San Francisco's playoff run last season. ... Hope we get plenty of isolated shots of Darnell Dockett battling with the brawling 49ers offensive line. That is always a street fight. ... Would imagine if Patrick Peterson can take Vernon Davis out of the game, then the 49ers will need a big game out of Anquan Boldin, who has had a feast-or-famine season.
St. Louis at Houston
Sunday, Oct. 13, 1 p.m. ET (Fox)
Why to watch: Matt Schaub's future has suddenly become a national story. His pick-sixes are chronicled and analyzed, he was benched for T.J. Yates after another brutal performance Sunday night and he and his coach, Gary Kubiak, might be going down together if this team falls as far short of expectations as they look. Schaub has been guilty of throwing horrible interceptions at the start and finish of games; while the Rams have all kinds of issues of their own, they do have some individuals who can rush the passer and force a passer to get a little jumpy. This game is lacking much appeal, but for a team with the kind of Super Bowl goals of the Texans to have a quarterback quandary this significant and we're barely in October, that's going to dominate the conversation.
What to watch for: Um, Schaub. How he opens the first drive. How he manages a lead if/when the Texans get one. How apparent is his frustration? How loud are the boos from the moment he is introduced until, well, the Texans either win or lose this game? ... The Rams didn't exactly plow through the lowly Jags last week. They still seem like a flawed outfit on both sides of the ball, and something just isn't clicking there. ... On the bright side, rookie Zac Stacy showed signs of deserving more time at running back; to this point no one has been able to claim feature back status. ... The Rams' inability to incubate Sam Bradford will be an issue here, especially if coupled with an inability to run the football.
Carolina at Minnesota
Sunday, Oct. 13, 1 p.m. ET (Fox)
Why to watch: The Josh Freeman watch is on. The Vikings just paid him $3 million to come in midseason, and sure, Matt Cassel is still starting this game, but for how long? And the Vikings' brass loves to say nice things about recent first-round pick Christian Ponder, but is anyone buying it? Freeman was brought in to potentially save the season and if Cassel has a turnover-palooza Sunday, as he has been known to do, then could Freeman enter in relief? Even having just arrived in town? Regardless, it will be all about him now in Minnesota as this team tries to get back to the form of 2012, when it reached the playoffs. As for the Panthers, well, Cam Newton is being dissected after a horrible outing last week, and the offense isn't showing many signs of life.
What to watch for: If the Vikings fall behind, and Freeman is active, how long before players are politicking for him to enter the game? He has the big arm to cash in on play action off of Adrian Peterson pounding away. I would suspect Greg Jennings, for one, would be excited about a better deep-ball thrower under center. ... Newton's body language remains a topic of discussion and the Panthers offense was hitting new lows in frustration last week, collectively. ... Peterson off a bye against this stingy front seven will be something to see. ... Jared Allen is getting hot for the Vikings and the extra rest will have served him well at this stage of his career, too. ... If the Panthers are not competitive here, then talk about coach Ron Rivera's job security will become even more rampant.
Pittsburgh at N.Y. Jets
Sunday, Oct. 13, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)
Why to watch: The Steelers are going to win a game at some point, maybe right here, coming out of the bye. If they don't do it now, when will they? The Jets are on a short week after an emotional win at Atlanta on Monday night, and if the Steelers can't force some turnovers in this game, against this team and this quarterback, then, again, when will they? Can Geno Smith play that well two weeks in a row? This has to be get-right time for the Steelers. Time may already have run out on them with an 0-4 start, but if they find a way to lose this one too, look out. Mike Tomlin will be crankin' heads on his staff and around the locker room. And if Rex Ryan gets the win here, then look out for the return of the swagger. A Jets team at 4-2 could be positioned to make a run at, dare I say it, the playoffs?
What to watch for: Smith has said his confidence never wavered, but Monday's win had to be a huge mental lift for him. A quick start here against a reeling opponent might be just what the Jets need. For whatever reason, their offense has been worse at home than on the road. Maybe this settles some nerves. ... The Steelers have a sorry four sacks all season -– that used to be a good quarter for them. Dick LeBeau with the extra time on the bye should be able to scheme something up to rattle Smith. ... Ben Roethlisberger is reverting to his old ways with footwork and holding the ball too long; this Jets defensive line will cause problems. ... Any chance Levi Brown upgrades the Steelers' offensive line? ... The Jets could make for a long day for rookie RB Le'Veon Bell, but New York's secondary is prone to big lapses. I like WR Antonio Brown to go off. ... The Jets will try like heck to control the line of scrimmage and their three-headed monster at running back could be plenty capable enough of grinding away at an older Steelers defense.
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