Saints-Patriots, Cowboys-Redskins among Week 6 must attend games
Welcome to another week in an NFL season that has defied predictability.
Case in point: The Kansas City Chiefs, who won two games a year ago, are one of only three unbeaten teams. Exhibit B: The New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers, who each claimed two of the last eight Lombardi Trophies, are a combined 0-9. Then there is the NFC East. Considered by many to be the strongest division in the league coming into the season, it doesn't have one team with a winning record.
Here are the can't-miss games in Week 6, which undoubtedly will deliver more surprises.
Like the continued rise of Jimmy Graham. The New Orleans tight end is coming off a 10-catch, 135-yard performance against the Bears -- his fourth consecutive 100-yard receiving game. If he extends the streak to five against New England, he'll break the record he shares with Tony Gonzalez.
For the first time in three years, the Saints were able to have a normal offseason (no coming off a Super Bowl win, no lockout, no contract hassle for Brees) -- and the work Brees and Graham managed to get in together is showing. Graham is second in the league in receptions (37), first in receiving yards (593) and tied for second in touchdown catches (six). Brees targeted Graham 10 times in the Chicago game -- and they collaborated on every one.
There's also the rebirth of the New Orleans defense. One year after yielding the most yards in a single season, it has been dominant under new coordinator Rob Ryan and his 3-4 scheme. With Ryan dialing up copious blitzes and the Saints playing nickel or dime on more than 75 percent of the snaps, no opponent has scored more than 18 points.
Last week, the Bengals handed the Patriots their first loss of the season and also stopped Brady's streak of 52 consecutive games with at least one touchdown pass. New England managed only two field goals in a 13-6 defeat, its lowest scoring performance since being shut out by Miami in 2006.
Here are some other nuggets to chew on in anticipation of this game. New Orleans, the last unbeaten team in the NFC, leads the league in average time of possession (34 minutes and 37 seconds). New England's offense was only one for 12 on third downs against the Bengals. And neither team has been particularly effective inside the red zone; the Patriots have scored only six touchdowns on 17 possessions inside the opponent's 20, and the Saints have scored just eight TDs in 19 shots.
With second-year quarterback Andrew Luck leading the way, the Colts are in first place in the AFC South and pushing to reclaim the division they owned from 2003 to 2007 and again in '09 and '10. Luck is quickly becoming the comeback kid. He already has orchestrated nine game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime -- the most by a quarterback through his first 21 games since 1970.
But the Colts have had more than Luck. After living in Dwight Freeney's shadow for years, pass rusher Robert Mathis has captured the spotlight on the Colts' defense. Last week, he became the 30th player to reach 100 sacks since the statistic became official in 1982. He has had at least one sack in every game this season and leads the league with 9.5.
Just when it looked like Philip Rivers was on pace for a career season, the Chargers quarterback produced a stinker in Oakland late last Monday night. San Diego turned the ball over five times, including three interceptions of Rivers. Adding to the frustration was the loss of running back Ryan Matthews, who left the game with a concussion. The 12th overall pick in the 2010 draft, Mathews just can't stay healthy enough to make it through a full season.
Don't be surprised if Chargers general manager Tom Telesco's fingerprints are on this week's game plan. Telesco spent 15 years working in the Indianapolis personnel department before taking the San Diego GM job last January.
After three straight home games, the Titans travel to Century Link Field, where the visiting team hasn't won a regular-season game since Dec. 24, 2011. With Jake Locker expected to be sidelined several more weeks with a hip injury, Ryan Fitzpatrick will make his second start at quarterback for Tennessee. The Titans' primary offensive weapons are Chris Johnson, who has more rushing yards than any running back except Adrian Peterson since the beginning of the 2008 season, and wide receiver Nate Washington, who has caught at least one pass in 83 consecutive games, including 15 receptions for 266 yards and two touchdowns in his last three.
Seattle is coming off its first loss of the season, but the 34-28 defeat in Indianapolis hardly diminished its standing as a Super Bowl contender. And no NFL team enjoys a bigger homefield advantage than the Seahawks. Second-year quarterback Russell Wilson never has lost at home, where in 10 games he has completed 62.7 percent of his passes for 1,848 yards and 22 touchdowns, with only four interceptions. Wilson may want to keep his passes out of Alterraun Verner's zip code, however. The Tennessee cornerback is tied for the league lead in interceptions (four) and has broken up nine passes.
For a pair of teams that won two of the last three Super Bowls, the Packers and Ravens have yet to look dominant. Green Bay could get a boost with a win in Baltimore where, incidentally, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is 10-0 vs. NFC opponents. A victory could start a roll for the Packers, whose next five games are against Cleveland, at Minnesota, vs. Chicago, vs. Philadelphia and at the New York Giants. But they'll have to do it without pass rusher Clay Matthews, who is expected to miss at least four weeks with a broken thumb.
Flacco, the MVP in Super Bowl XLVII, has been inconsistent, partly because he lost two of his primary receiving targets, Anquan Boldin (traded to San Francisco) and tight end Dennis Pitta (season-ending injury), and partly because of poor play by the offensive line. But with their next three games against AFC North opponents (at Pittsburgh, at Cleveland, vs. Cincinnati), the Ravens have an opportunity to seize control of the division.
The NFC East is down -- way down, as evidenced by the combined 5-14 record of its four members -- but Redskins-Cowboys will always be one of the best rivalries in the league. You know the two quarterbacks, Robert Griffin III and Tony Romo, will be entertaining to watch. And the matchup between Cowboys wideout Dez Bryant and Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall is bound to produce some fireworks. In the two games between the teams last year, Bryant caught 12 passes for 216 yards and a pair of touchdowns.