Five things I’ll be looking at in the fifth week of the 2017 NFL season:
1. Can the Rams keep on rolling?
The Los Angeles Rams, coming off a victory over the Dallas Cowboys last week, have been a surprise team this year. But Jared Goff and Todd Gurley haven’t faced a defense the caliber of Seattle’s.
On the other hand the Rams have won four of six games against Seattle the last three seasons. A victory over the Seahawks would give the 3-1 Rams a two-game lead over the Seahawks and raise more questions about whether the Seahawks’ window is closing after they were a yard away from back-to-back Super Bowl victories three years ago.
2. Can the Cowboys awaken from their surprising slumber?
The Cowboys are giving a seminar on the importance of a good offensive line.
Last year, they had one of the best lines in the league. But this year it’s not the same line now that Ronald Leary and Doug Free have departed and Tyron Smith isn’t playing as well as he did last year.
The result is a 2-2 start with losses to the Rams and Denver Broncos after going 13-3 last year. And now they play the 3-1 Green Bay Packers in a pivotal game.
The Cowboys are slight favorites because they are the Cowboys, but the Packers have had 10 days to prepare and it won’t be a surprise if the Packers prevail.
If the Cowboys lose, it may not matter whether the NFL wins its battle in court to suspend Ezekiel Elliott for six games.
3. The Chiefs try to slow the Watson Train
The Chiefs, the only unbeaten team in the league, will be trying to boost their mark to 5-0 with a victory over the Houston Texans in the Sunday night game after they barely escaped with a victory over Washington last Monday night.
It’s the first time Deshaun Watson will be playing on national TV for the Texans, and he’s coming off his five-touchdown game against the Tennessee Titans with four touchdown passes and one run.
And the Chiefs defense is playing with injured Eric Berry. On the other hand, Watson is going against veteran Alex Smith, who has led the Chiefs to a 16-4 regular season mark the last two years.
4. Can the Bills continue to surprise?
The Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals are two of the surprise teams in the league. The Bills weren’t expected to be 3-1 and the Bengals weren’t expected to be 1-3.
The Bengals are three-point favorites at home because the Bills have to show they’re for real. But the Bills defense is definitely for real.
It hasn’t given up a passing touchdown in the first four games, although Buffalo hasn’t faced an elite quarterback. And Andy Dalton isn’t elite, either, and is playing in front of a shaky offensive line. So the Bills defense figures to control this game and carry its inconsistent offense to another victory.
Still, the Bills have to show they can avoid a letdown after the big victory over the Atlanta Falcons last week.
5. Can the Giants or Chargers finally get a win?
The game of the weak pits two winless teams, the New York Giants and Los Angeles Chargers at 0-4.
The Chargers were victims of missed field goals early in the year, but they’re also dealing with their lack of a home-field advantage in their tiny soccer stadium with the visiting team drawing more fans.
So playing on the road at MetLife Stadium will not be a negative for them (although they have to fly across country) because it will be a real NFL Stadium with a real NFL atmosphere.
On the other hand, the Giants have been one of the most disappointing teams in the league. A sidebar to this game is that Eli Manning wound up being the Giants quarterback when he refused to play in San Diego and the Chargers made the trade that got them Philip Rivers.