THE WEEKEND'S BEST
New Orleans at New England
Time: 4:25 p.m. EDT
The line: Patriots by 2 1/2
The story: The Saints are hot. The Patriots are not. Yes, they won four of their first five, but they are coming off a loss where Tom Brady not only failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first time in 53 games but nobody else scored a TD, either.
That is the bad news. The good is that they get New Orleans at Gillette Stadium, where the Patriots are 44-6 since 2007.
Few of those opponents, however, were as balanced ... or as formidable ... as these Saints. You already know about Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham and a quick-strike offense. What you may not know is that the Saints' defense -- the unit that last year was the worst in football -- finally is part of the solution, ranking fourth in points allowed and 11th in yards.
It already shut down Matt Ryan and Jay Cutler, but this is Tom Brady and color him determined after what happened last week. Brady is tough to beat at home and tougher to beat following losses. Dating back to 2003, he is 21-4 in regular-season games immediately following defeats.
But that is not all. The Patriots are liable to get tight end Rob Gronkowski back, and that sound you heard was Brady exhaling. Gronkowski missed the first five weeks while recovering from arm surgery, and losing him meant Brady trying to adjust to receivers who were inexperienced and inconsistent.
Something to consider: Since 2006, the Saints have the second-best road record in the NFL, 35-23. Only New England (44-15) is better.
THREE OTHERS YOU SHOULD CHECK OUT
Green Bay at Baltimore
Time: 1 p.m. EDT
The line: Packers by 3
The story: Forget the early hiccups. Both these teams know how to get to the playoffs, and both scored important victories last week. Green Bay has the edge because it has the better quarterback ... and because oddsmakers figure Aaron Rodgers may do a Peyton Manning on the Baltimore secondary.
Maybe, but Baltimore is vastly improved since its season-opening loss, allowing an average of 15 points per game while winning three of its last four. Also, the Packers are not the Denver Broncos. In fact, their red-zone offense has been little more than ordinary, with Mason Crosby producing five field goals last week, and that will not cut it here.
Reason: The Green Bay defense has too many holes -- especially now, with the loss of linebacker Clay Matthews. Subtracting him means more time for Joe Flacco to dissect a vulnerable secondary -- especially in the red zone, where Green Bay ranks last in defense, with opponents scoring on all 12 possessions, including 10 TDs.
Something to consider: Baltimore won its last 13 starts at home vs. NFC opponents. The Ravens are 35-7 at home vs. everybody under coach John Harbaugh.
Arizona at San Francisco
Time: 4:25 p.m. EDT
The line: 49ers by 10 1/2
The story: No, that is not a misprint in the standings. Arizona is tied with the 49ers for second in the NFC West, though there's a feeling it is nothing but a tease; that sooner or later, the Cards reveal themselves, and gravity takes over.
Maybe, but we will not have long to find out. Arizona plays San Francisco and Seattle in a span of 11 days, and that should tell us who these Cardinals are. Critics contend they have taken advantage of a soft schedule, beating up on opponents that are a combined 4-9, and, while that is true, one of those victories was over Detroit.
Of course, this is not Detroit. The 49ers are one of the league heavyweights, and the problem will be trying to score on a defense that held its past two opponents to 11 points ... and that's sans Patrick Willis.
The 49ers' Frank Gore may have trouble finding daylight in Arizona's third-ranked run defense, but he is not the guy getting squeezed here. Carson Palmer is. That is because San Francisco's offense is solid, and Palmer's offense is not -- with the Cards ranking 30th in third-down conversions, 30th in yards and 28th in points scored.
Something to consider: The 49ers have held opposing quarterbacks to a passer rating of 67.6, second-lowest in the NFL.
Washington at Dallas
Time: 8:30 p.m., EDT
The line: Cowboys by 5 1/2
The story: While the debate over Tony Romo's reliability rages on, it is another quarterback -- Washington's Robert Griffin III --- who takes center stage here. As a rookie, he beat the Cowboys twice, throwing four touchdowns in one game, but he is not the same quarterback now -- unable to move as effectively in or out of the pocket and unable to throw as accurately.
Result: This is not the same Redskins' team, either, though let's be honest: That does not have as much to do with RG3 as it does a defense that leaks like the Costa Concordia. Washington is dead last in overall defense, 31st against the run, 28th vs. the pass and in the bottom fourth of 12 defensive categories.
Of course, Dallas has not exactly been air-tight on defense, either, ranking 28th overall, 31st vs. the pass and failing to produce the sacks that could take heat off a vulnerable secondary. Just a hunch, but look for another track meet at Jerry World.
Something to consider: Washington is the NFC's most successful offense inside the 20, scoring on all but two of its 11 possessions.
MONDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
Indianapolis at San Diego
Time: 8:40 p.m. EDT
The line: Colts by 1 1/2
The story: Once upon a time, San Diego owned the Colts, with the Chargers winning five of the last six games between these two, including two in the playoffs. But that was when Norv Turner coached the Bolts, Peyton Manning quarterbacked the Colts and both were playoff regulars.
Since then, both changed coaches, and one changed quarterbacks. That would be Indianapolis, which went from Manning to Andrew Luck and did not slip. Last year's Colts were a playoff surprise, and this year's Colts look like a legitimate Super Bowl contender after defeats of San Francisco (in Candlestick Park, no less) and Seattle.
So the Colts are OK. And San Diego? Not so much. The Chargers are 26-28 over their last 54 starts (including the playoffs), including a deflating loss to Oakland last week where they had too many mistakes and not enough defense and, sorry, if you cannot figure out Terrelle Pryor there is no hope vs. Luck.
Worse, the Chargers lost receiver Malcom Floyd for the year, are not sure if Ryan Mathews (concussion) plays and continue to shuffle an offensive line that dressed 10 starters in five games. Look for Luck to exploit a leaky Chargers' defense, which means it is up to Philip Rivers (again) to produce big numbers and limit his mistakes ... or else.
Something to consider: One reason Indianapolis makes so many fourth-quarter comebacks is its defense is as good as its quarterback, and you can look it up. Indianapolis allowed only seven fourth-quarter points this season, best in the NFL and tied for best in club history (1959 and 1971), and has not surrendered a fourth-quarter point in its last four starts.
CRUMMY GAME OF THE WEEK
Jacksonville at Denver
Time: 4:05 p.m., EDT
The line: Broncos by 27
The story: Check out the betting line. The last time there was this much of an underdog Jamaica entered the bobsled at the Winter Olympics. It is not simply that Denver is the best team in the league; it is that Jacksonville is the worst, with little hope of a victory in the foreseeable future.
Opposing quarterbacks complete 62.3 percent of their passes vs. the Jags, which is not bad, but they also produce 12 touchdowns and two interceptions. Worse, opposing backs average 4.9 yards per attempt against these guys, so it is not just Manning who should inflate his stats; it is Knowshon Moreno, too.
Something to consider: Manning is 10-1 at home during the regular season, with 36 touchdowns, three interceptions and a 122.8 passer rating.
FIVE GUYS IT IS GOOD TO BE THIS WEEKEND
--1. Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco. For his career vs. the NFC, he is 10-0, with 16 touchdowns, three interceptions and a passer rating of 101.4.
--2. Denver quarterback Peyton Manning. He has already gashed the rest of the league for 20 touchdowns, one interception and an average of 46 points per game. So what do you think happens against winless Jacksonville? No matter what the category is, take the over.
--3. Dallas quarterback Tony Romo. In his last six home games he has 19 touchdown passes and two interceptions.
--4. Dallas kicker Dan Bailey. He's hit all 12 field-goal attempts vs. Washington, including six in one game.
--5. Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson. He is 10-0 at home, with 22 TD passes, four interceptions and a passer rating of 119.9.
BELIEVE IT ... OR DON'T
--1. Tight ends are more productive than ever. Through five weeks, they have 765 catches for 8,992 yards and 76 touchdowns -- the most by tight ends for all three categories through five weeks. Not surprisingly, the four highest years are, in descending order, 2013, 2012, 2010 and 2011. In each of those seasons, tight ends broke the league record for catches at the position.
--2. Andrew Luck's nine game-winning drives in the fourth-quarter or overtime are the most for any quarterback through his first 21 games since the 1970 merger. Luck is tied with former quarterback Jake Plummer for the most game-winning drives in his first two seasons and is seven victories shy of Ben Roethlisberger's record for most victories by a quarterback in his first two. Roethlisberger had 22; Luck has 15.
--3. Dallas is 1-7 in games where Dez Bryant has multiple TD catches.
--4. Since 2010, Alex Smith has the fewest interceptions (23) among quarterbacks with at least 1,000 pass attempts. Tom Brady is second with 27.
--5. Cincinnati is 3-0 vs. three Super Bowl quarterbacks this year, holding Aaron Rodgers, Roethlisberger and Tom Brady to a completion percentage of 63.2, with two TD passes and four interceptions. An individual quarterback's 63.2 completion rate would rank 33rd among NFL quarterbacks through the first five weeks.
--6. If Denver and Kansas City win Sunday, it would mark the second time since the NFL in 1933 went to divisions that two teams from the same division started 6-0. In 1934, the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears each started 10-0.
--7. Another sign it is time to take Indianapolis seriously as a Super Bowl contender: The Colts outscored their two road opponents by 54 points.
--8. Since the current playoff format was adopted in 1990, 14 teams have rebounded from being at least three games under .500 through the first five weeks to reach the playoffs. At least one team has done it in each of the past three seasons, including the 2012 Washington Redskins.
--9. With a victory Sunday, Denver will have run its regular-season winning streak to 17, tying the 1933-34 Chicago Bears for the fourth longest in league history. The 2008-09 Indianapolis Colts rank first with 23, and that team was quarterbacked by Peyton Manning -- Denver's current starter.
--10. Since 2012, the Dallas Cowboys have played in 15 games (out of 21) decided by no more than seven points. That's the most in the NFL. The Cowboys are 8-7 in those contests.
TEN NUMBERS THAT MAY MEAN SOMETHING
--4-1 -- Phillip Rivers vs. Indianapolis
--5.32 -- Green Bay's average yards per carry
--6 -- Consecutive wins for Oakland at Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium
--6-15 -- Green Bay's record vs. the previous year's Super Bowl champion
--10-2 -- Cincinnati's record under Marvin Lewis when the team is tied at halftime
--16-3 -- Darrelle Revis' teams when he has an interception (including the playoffs)
--22-25 -- Dallas' Sunday night record
--27 -- Seattle rushes of 10 or more yards, best in the NFL
--30 -- Games with three or more Tony Romo touchdown passes
--58.3 -- Denver's percentage of third-down conversions
-- Clark Judge, a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange, has covered pro football since 1982 and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selections Committee.
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