NFL Week 5: The National TV Games

There are six games on the NFL Week 5 schedule that will be seen by all or most of the country, and after previewing the undercard games yesterday, TheSportsNotebook now turns its attention to the marquee items of the NFL lineup, starting with three games in the early 1 PM ET time slot and moving on to the Denver-New England late afternoon battle, to San Diego-New Orleans on Sunday night and finishing with Houston-NY Jets on Monday Night Football.

Philadelphia-Pittsburgh: Can the Eagles finally get a win by more than one or two points? Can the Steelers take advantage of two weeks prep time coming off a bye and get back to .500? Neither Keystone State team looks all that impressive right now, but at least Philadelphia is winning and showing some balance on offense thanks to LeSean McCoy. Pittsburgh has become exclusively reliant on the arm of Ben Roethlisberger.

Philadelphia’s games basically swing on whether Michael Vick’s big plays make up for his turnovers, and Pittsburgh’s defense is built the same way. They’ll come after Vick and have their moments, but the Eagle receivers are better than the Steeler corners, and big play opportunities will be there. I like Philadelphia in this game, and getting 3.5 points against what I believe is very mediocre Pittsburgh team is a bargain.

Cleveland-NY Giants: It’s a CBS doubleheader week and their early time slot is mostly split between this game and the Packers-Colts matchup right below. New York’s still dealing with injuries—Hakeem Nicks is out, David Diehl is doubtful on the offensive line and the secondary isn’t healthy. Cleveland played a credible game in Baltimore last Thursday and has the extra rest coming into this week.

All of those are reasons the Browns might make it competitive, but until they get suspended cornerback Joe Haden back, I don’t see how they contain good passing offenses, which New York still is, even without Nicks.

Green Bay-Indianapolis: Andrew Luck is going to have a lot of problems in this game. The Packers can bring the heat with Clay Matthews, and I don’t see any reason think the Indianapolis running game can keep them honest. And in spite of allowing big numbers to Drew Brees last week, the Green Bay pass defense still ranks 6th in the NFL.

On the defensive side Robert Mathis is handling the adjustment from defensive end to stand-up outside linebacker and has four sacks. But Dwight Freeney hasn’t played in three weeks and Indy needs all hands on deck to attack Aaron Rodgers. In the end, Green Bay controls the game defensively, and manages it offensively.

Denver-New England:  The eyes of the country turn to Foxboro, as Peyton Manning renews his rivalry with Tom Brady. But the difference between these two teams right now is that New England has suddenly found a devastating ground game, with Stevan Ridley and last week’s unveiling of Brandon Bolden.

The Denver defense has done nothing to suggest they could stop Brady in a normal Patriot offense, much less one that can also run it down your throat. New England is a solid 6.5 point favorite and I think that’s justified.

San Diego-New Orleans: The Chargers might be 3-1, but Las Vegas clearly doesn’t believe in them. They’re a 3.5 point underdog at New Orleans. That the Bolts are a road dog isn’t surprising, but I am taken aback by the fact the line crossed the three-point threshold, an indicator that bettors actually think New Orleans is a little bit better on a neutral site. I know San Diego’s wins are just Tennessee, Oakland and Kansas City, but at least they have wins. New Orleans has none, including a home loss to those same Chiefs and to Carolina.

Now…having giving that whole spiel, I’m still picking New Orleans because I think they’re due and that Sean Payton’s permitted presence at the game will be an inspirational factor, even if he won’t be on the sidelines. But I’d never lay more than a field goal.

Houston-NY Jets: Think we might see a few camera shots of Tim Tebow on the Jets sidelines for Monday Night? You’d like to think Rex Ryan’s team could be counted on to come up with a big-time effort in a situation where everyone’s lost belief in them and they’re at home for a national audience.

But is there any reason that a defense that ranks 29th against the run can stop Arian Foster? Is there any reason to think a secondary without Darrelle Revis can contain the Matt Schaub-to-Andre Johnson passing game? Is there any reason to think an offense missing tight end Dustin Keller can handle a defense that attacks you and forces the quarterback to throw underneath? I know anything can happen in the NFL, as the accurate cliché goes, but that’s about the only fig leaf Jets fans can grab on to here.