|Phillip Rivers stellar early season play has seen him emerge as a potential MVP candidate
The sixth Sunday of the NFL season is upon us and it’s becoming clearer and clearer who the teams to beat in each of the eight divisions are. There are, however, some teams who have done well to reverse poor starts, while others have fallen off slightly after setting a blistering early pace. With a 49-27 record so far this year American Football Focus have been reasonably accurate when predicting the outcomes in each of the 76 games that have taken place. Will that accuracy continue through week six? Keep reading to find out.
New England @ Buffalo
Not many people expected Buffalo to be tied for the division lead in the AFC East after five weeks, but that’s exactly where they are as they host the also 3-2 Patriots in upstate New York. Putting Kyle Orton in at QB ahead of E.J Manuel was the correct decision and paid dividends against Detroit last week. The Lions, however, would have won the game if it weren’t for three missed Alex Henery field goals, and it’s unlikely the Patriots will be as generous following their thumping of Cincinnati in week five. Patriots 24, Bill 16
Carolina @ Cincinnati
The Panthers showed great resiliency to overcome a large deficit against Chicago last week, yet their flaws (namely a lack of a running game and a weakness against the run on defense) should make it very difficult for them to beat a good Bengals team. Cincy were terrible against New England in their last game and A.J Green is unlikely to play with a toe injury; nonetheless they’re the better team here especially with Cam Newton still struggling to be effective due to his rib injury.
Panthers 17, Bengals 23
Pittsburgh @ Cleveland
The 3-2 Steelers take on the 2-2 Browns in Cleveland, with the AFC North all of a sudden looking like one of the NFL’s most competitive divisions. Brian Hoyer has kept Johnny Manziel off the field and out of the news with a string of stellar performances, and he’ll need to be on top of his game against Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers if he’s to lead the Browns to victory this evening. Unfortunately for Hoyer and Cleveland, I can’t see their defense doing enough to stop what has become a balanced and effective Pittsburgh offense and giving Hoyer a chance.
Steelers 30, Browns 21
Green Bay @ Miami
Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin faces his former employers in a game that could go a long way to deciding his future in Miami. With their record sitting at an even 2-2 a win would propel them into the AFC East title race, while defeat would increase the distance between them and the division front runners. It’ll be defeat against the prolific Packers, and a step closer to the exit for Philbin.
Packers 31, Dolphins 20
Detroit @ Minnesota
Teddy Bridgewater has looked good since he was handed the reins to the Vikings offense, instantly becoming a threat with both his arm and his legs. He’ll be up against a fearsome Lions front four, however, and the lack of a running game in Minnesota is concerning. Calvin Johnson probably won’t play for Detroit which will force Matthew Stafford to spread the ball around a bit more than he’d like, but still expect the Lions to overcome their NFC North foes and progress to 4-2.
Lions 19, Vikings 16
Denver @ New York Jets
When you’re a head coach under severe pressure, as Rex Ryan is, the last thing you want to do is face Peyton Manning. Unfortunately for Ryan and the Jets that’s exactly what they’ll have to do this evening, and the result won’t be pretty. Brett Favre’s all-time touchdown passes record could be under severe pressure by the end of this one; as could Ryan’s job security. Broncos 34, Jets 14
Baltimore @ Tampa Bay
Tampa Bay have played a lot better since Mike Glennon took over the quarterback job from the injured Josh McCown, but will that be enough against the Joe Flacco led Ravens? Probably not, especially with Justin Forsett getting it done at running back and Steve Smith enjoying a career resurgence at wide receiver. Ravens 27, Buccaneers 20
Jacksonville @ Tennessee
These two teams have a combined one win between them heading into this match-up; thankfully that total will have doubled by the end of the 60 minutes they’ll play in Nashville. With both sides struggling to move the ball and neither defense looking capable of stopping all but the worst attacks, who knows what will transpire in the battle of AFC South doormats. My guess? The Jaguars get in the win column for the first time in 2014. Jaguars 21, Titans 18
San Diego @ Oakland
If Jacksonville and Tennessee are two of the worst teams in the NFL, the Raiders certainly deserve to be in that conversation. San Diego meanwhile have been excellent, led by QB Phillip Rivers who at age 32 is playing as well as he ever has. Antonio Gates has re-emerged as a top tier tight end, while Malcolm Floyd is also enjoying an Indian summer to his decorated career. Big road win, with Rivers continuing to press his case for first-half NFL MVP. Chargers 30, Raiders 16
Washington @ Arizona
Kirk Cousins and the Redskins rebounded somewhat against Seattle last week after a dire performance versus the Giants in week four, and even though they lost they’ll believe they can challenge the Cardinals on the road here in week six. The Arizona quarterback situation is in flux with Carson Palmer questionable, but whether Palmer starts or not should ultimately be irrelevant as the Cardinals running game and stout defense give them the edge over the porous Washington D.
Redskins 20, Cardinals 28
Chicago @ Atlanta
Both of these teams have fallen a bit flat on their face after promising starts to the season, but the Falcons offense at home gives them the edge with the Bears attack looking more and more inconsistent as the campaign wears on. Neither team has much to offer on defense, so expect a fair amount of points on the Georgia Dome turf. Bears 27, Falcons 35
Dallas @ Seattle
As well as the Cowboys have played in recent weeks, almost no one goes to Seattle and comes away victorious. However DeMarco Murray gives Dallas at least a chance, while the battle between Dez Bryant and Richard Sherman should be fascinating to watch. The Cowboys defense has improved with each passing week but this could be their biggest test yet, with Russell Wilson playing the best football of his career and Marshawn Lynch seemingly healthy. I’m going for a predictable home win, although I think Dallas will keep it closer than many people would expect.
Cowboys 23, Seahawks 27
New York Giants @ Philadelphia
Sunday Night Football sees a clash of two NFC East titans, with the 4-1 Eagles welcoming the 3-2 Giants to town. Eli Manning will fancy his chances of lighting up the terrible Philadelphia secondary, while Eagles RB LeSean McCoy could have his first breakout game of the season against the questionable Giants run defense. Even though the Eagles have the better record I’m not sure they’re the better team, which could see New York even their record with Philly’s by this time tomorrow morning. Giants 30, Eagles 21
San Francisco @ St. Louis
The 49ers have saved their season somewhat in the past couple of weeks amid talk of anarchy in the dressing room over the way head coach Jim Harbaugh is running the San Francisco ship. Harbaugh shouldn’t face too many difficult questions next week if form holds true and the Rams crumble under the weight of the 49ers potentially explosive offense. Colin Kaepernick has come into form in recent weeks and with the St. Louis defense struggling to contain anyone this year it could be a long day for Jeff Fisher’s men on Monday Night Football. 49ers 33, Rams 16
What do you think will happen in week six of the NFL season? Have your say in the comments or tweet @fredjstanley