Friday, October 06, 2006

5 Questions About Week 5 Of The NFL

This column is back after a one-week absence. There's a lot to be excited about this week. Here are some of the big storylines.

1. Which winless team will finally get on the board this week?
Tennessee visits Indianapolis, Detroit plays Minnesota in the Metrodome, Tampa Bay travels to New Orleans, and Oakland crosses the bay to play San Francisco. Tennessee doesn’t have a prayer unless Vince Young plays like he did in the Rose Bowl, while MAC alumnus Bruce Gradkowski isn’t going to work much magic for the Bucs in the Superdome. Oakland has the weakest opponent, but after the way they collapsed against the Browns last week, I’m not giving them any credit, even against a team that lost 41-0 to a Huard brother last week. That brings us to Detroit. Minnesota is normally tough at home, but they’ve dropped 2 in a row, and Detroit has shown flashes of respectability through the first month of the season. I’ll say they put it together this week and pull off a surprise.

2. Which unbeaten team is poised to fall?
Indianapolis hosts Tennessee, Chicago hosts a feisty Buffalo Bills squad, and Baltimore plays in Denver. The former two are safe, so I’m going to go with Baltimore losing on the road to a tough Broncos team.

3. Culpepper or Harrington?
Daunte’s first season is south Florida is shaping up to be 9 stages of hell for Dolphins fans. It’s not fair to blame him for all of the team’s struggles (they have an abundance of weaknesses), but he’s certainly not helping.

I’ve been a big fan of Joey Heisman ever since his Oregon days. I don’t think he can carry a team, but he could certainly be a very capable game manager. He was in a bad situation in Detroit, and while this one isn’t much better, it could be a decent fit. If Joey finds his groove, he won’t carry the Dolphins on his back, but he also won’t make the costly mistakes that Culpepper is making every week. I say give the kid a chance.

4. Which Team Most Needs A Win This Week?
For me, it’s the defending champion Pittsburgh Steelers. They’re off to a 1-2 start, and this campaign is showing a lot of signs of being a lost season for the black and gold.

Here are some of the problems:

• Having lost Antwan Randle-El, they don’t have a reliable second option at wide receiver.

• Their offense thrives on having someone who can pound the ball between the tackles, and no one has stepped up to fill this role in Jerome Bettis’ absence.

• Ben Roethlisberger got less than 40 snaps of game action in during the pre-season, and following an appendectomy, has looked rusty at times since returning in Week 2.

• They play in a strong division, and have a difficult overall schedule.

Their win this year was at home on opening night over Miami. Against playoff-caliber teams, they were shutout against Jacksonville and gave away a win to Cincinnati. A win over the impressive-looking Chargers will reestablish the Steelers as a top team. A loss will send them to 1-3, and leave them looking up, way up, at the Bengals and Ravens.

5. How many reasons do I have to be excited about the Cowboys-Eagles game?
Lots, beyond the obvious T.O. drama, though that is obviously the story getting the most attention. For me, this game will show us whether or not T.O. is still a receiver. If he is, he’ll shred the Eagles secondary, and if he scores, mock Brian Dawkins’ celebratory Eagle dance (whatever the heck he calls it). If he’s not, he’ll struggle, disappear, then mope on the sidelines, all the while getting heckled by the merciless Philadelphia crowd.

Beyond the T.O. sideshow, we have a matchup of two strong defenses, and two teams who could be the two most talented squads in the NFC East. It’s also important for Drew Bledsoe to put in a strong showing on the road if we’re to consider the Cowboys a contender. As for his counterpart at quarterback, Donovan McNabb just needs to keep putting up huge numbers for my fantasy team, and I’ll be happy.


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