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Sunday, October 09, 2005 

Quick Slants - Week 5

As we hit the second quarter of the season, it's time to start separating the contenders from the also-rans. This week's schedule features several high-profile matchups involving division leaders.

New England (2-2) at Atlanta (3-1)

Richard Seymour is out today, which makes the Patriots task even harder this afternoon in Atlanta. While Michael Vick was downgraded to questionable, the key to this game is whether the Falcons can throw enough to keep the Patriots defense honest. New England was effective against Pittsburgh despite their injuries because the Steelers are a one-dimensional offense. Atlanta falls into the same category, as Vick, Warrick Dunn, and T.J. Duckett are far more effective on the ground than through the air. Vick has just 77 pass attempts this season, compared with 32 rushes, and he is averaging more yards per carry (7.3) than per pass attempt (6.4).

Philadelphia (3-1) at Dallas (2-2)

What a difference a year makes. The Eagles are 3-1, and coming off a great comeback win over the Chiefs last week, but it's crowded atop the NFC East. Washington is 3-0 and the NY Giants are 3-1 (and off this week), so the Eagles need to win to keep pace. Dallas has been a tease all season, with their 19-13 loss to previously winless Oakland a major disappointment. Of course, they also needed to overcome a 12 point deficit to defeat the 49ers the week before, so maybe we shouldn't have been surprised. Every Cowboys game this season has been decided by 6 points or less, which means that Drew Bledsoe has made them just good enough to be competitive, but their offense is not consistent enough to win every week. Look for the Eagles to give the Cowboys their first lopsided game of the season.

Washington (3-0) at Denver (3-1)

Meanwhile, Joe Gibbs faces a similar problem. His Redskins are 3-0, but it's the weakest 3-0 I've ever seen. Washington's total margin of victory is just 6 points, including last week's 20-17 overtime win over Seattle. Add in earlier wins against Chicago and Dallas, and it is hard to be impressed. They did slow down Shaun Alexander last week (98 yards), but Denver has been rolling, and should win this game.

Sunday Night
Cincinnati (4-0) at Jacksonville (2-2)

This is an interesting test for the Bengals. They have looked very good this season, blowing out Cleveland, Minnesota, and Chicago, but they struggled last week against Houston, committing 14 penalties, which concerns me. The combined records of their opponents are just 3-10, but those 3 blowouts were certainly more impressive than how Washington, for example, narrowly defeated Chicago earlier this season.

The Jacksonville defense needs to respond after a poor game against Denver, as they surrendered 188 yards rushing to the 1-2 punch of Mike Anderson and Tatum Bell. Rudi Johnson is sixth in the NFL in rushing with 388 yards, but has only scored one touchdown this season. They also need to pressure Carson Palmer, who has only been sacked 5 times for just 19 yards. Palmer already has 1062 yards passing, and 9 TDs to just 2 INTs. Unless the Jaguars can force the Bengals to repeat their penalty-filled game of a week ago, they'll need to create some turnovers to stay close in this game.

Monday Night
Pittsburgh (2-1) at San Diego (2-2)

This is a marquee matchup, and while the Steelers are coming off a bye week, the Chargers are coming off something even better - a blowout win against the Patriots. Pittsburgh lost to New England two weeks ago, so I'm sure San Diego's success opened a lot of eyes this week. San Diego's defense has the easier task, since if they take away the running game Roethisberger will have a hard time winning the game himself. On the other hand, Pittsburgh has to pick their poison of either the best running back in the league, LaDainian Tomlinson, or an improving Drew Brees. The Chargers know that a 2-3 start will be hard to overcome, especially if they fall two games behind the Broncos, and losing to the Steelers could kill them if they are forced to survive a playoff tiebreaker for a wild-card spot. If San Diego wants to be considered a Super Bowl contender, they need to follow-up their impressive win last week with another big win.

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