No letdown likely for New England
Coming off a bye, the Dallas Cowboys should be refreshed and ready to start moving up in the NFL standings.
Coming off an emotional revenge victory over a despised rival, the New England Patriots should be ripe for a letdown.
Don't count on either of those scenarios when the teams meet today in Foxborough.
Dallas (2-2) has been one of the most up-and-down teams in the league. Things don't fluctuate from week to week with America's Team, they do so from play to play.
That's no way to perform against the relentless Patriots, who haven't been dominant the last few weeks, but are far steadier than Tony Romo and company.
"You never want that to happen," Romo said of Dallas' split personalities. "We were also fortunate to have all the things go right against Washington and against San Francisco. For every game that's the other way, there's another on the other side. Everyone is good in this league. You have to minimize turnovers in key situations. We did that for two of the games and two of the games we didn't. That's really what it comes down to."
What this could come down to is whether the Patriots (4-1) hit their stride in gaining their measure of vengeance against the Jets last weekend. It wasn't a rout, but it sure felt good to New England after the way New York won the playoff matchup in January.
One thing is certain for this game: Dallas must find a way to slow down Wes Welker, who leads the league with 45 receptions and with 740 yards receiving, the most in NFL history through a team's first five games.
New England has won the last three meetings after Dallas took the first seven in this infrequent rivalry. The Patriots also have won 19 consecutive home games and 22 of the last 23 against the NFC. So even if the good Cowboys show up, it might not be enough.
San Francisco (4-1)at Detroit (5-0)
In recent years, this would have been a dog of a game between mediocre (or worse) clubs. Now, it's one of the highlights of the weekend and a sellout.
The Niners won both of their road games and are a late blown lead against Dallas from also being unbeaten. They are buying into rookie coach Jim Harbaugh's approach, and it showed in particular with a huge comeback win at Philadelphia, then a rout of Tampa Bay at Candlestick Park.
"I think everybody recognized that football was going to be in his future in some way when he wasn't playing anymore," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said of Harbaugh. "(He's a) very good leader. He played quarterback like a coach would."
A very good sign for Detroit was how it didn't play lights-out football on Monday night against Chicago and still won. How San Francisco's ball-hawking pass defense deals with Calvin Johnson could be the key.
St. Louis (0-4) at Green Bay (5-0)
This looks like the mismatch of the year. The Rams, coming off a bye, have been abysmal on defense and even worse on offense. The defending champion Packers, even when not clicking in all facets, win games.
It's also important for the Rams to find a way to slow Aaron Rodgers and his deep collection of receivers. Rodgers has thrown to 12 teammates already this season.
Buffalo (4-1)at New York Giants (3-2)
The NFL's two most successful teams in the red zone meet.
If the Giants can lose to Seattle while getting six sacks, it's problematic what the far-more-advanced Bills' offense might do. Buffalo bounced back nicely from blowing a lead at Cincinnati to handle Philadelphia, and if it can protect Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo might soar.
Houston (3-2) at Baltimore (3-1)
With LB Mario Williams gone for the season with a chest muscle problem, star WR Andre Johnson hobbled and QB Matt Schaub sporting a sore shoulder, the Texans enter this game at a severe disadvantage. The one thing they have done well all season is run the ball with Arian Foster and Ben Tate, but hardly anyone succeeds on the ground against the Ravens.
New Orleans (4-1)at Tampa Bay (3-2)
Until the Buccaneers got annihilated at San Francisco last week, this was an anticipated showdown for the NFC South lead. Tampa Bay has shown far too many deficiencies to be considered a serious threat to the Saints without some major corrections.
Philadelphia (1-4)at Washington (3-1)
Nothing about this game would have made sense when the season began. The Eagles supposedly were the prime contenders to unseat Green Bay in the NFC after their offseason talent haul. Washington allegedly was an also-ran in a tough division.
After five weeks, the NFC East doesn't look so powerful and the Eagles look awful. Philly is 30th in run defense and the Redskins, with a three-pronged rushing attack, provide a difficult matchup. The Eagles also are minus-10 in turnover differential, with a league-worst 15 giveaways.
Jacksonville (1-4)at Pittsburgh (3-2)
Jacksonville is in a downward spiral amid questions about Jack Del Rio's security as coach. But the Jaguars have won three straight at Heinz Field.
Wide receiver Hines Ward re-emerged as a force with two TD catches last week. The 14-year veteran needs 13 yards Sunday to surpass Hall of Famer Michael Irvin for 19th on the career list. He's 108 yards away from becoming the 18th receiver to reach 12,000 — on a team that normally lives by the run.
Carolina (1-4) at Atlanta (2-3)
The Panthers don't win, but they scare everyone, in part thanks to rookie QB Cam Newton's heroics. His hookups with Steve Smith threaten every opponent, and Atlanta was scorched last week by Rodgers and the Packers.
A hamstring injury will sideline rookie receiver Julio Jones, the man the Falcons bartered so heavily to get in the draft. Atlanta needs to rekindle its running game; Carolina is vulnerable on the ground.
Indianapolis (0-5)at Cincinnati (3-2)
Just love those matchups of QBs who were No. 1 draft picks: Peyton Manning vs. Carson Palmer.
Sorry, got carried away there. With Manning (neck surgery) sidelined and Palmer retired (for now), this one takes on a whole new air, with the Bengals favored to keep Indy winless. Cincinnati has the stingiest defense yardage-wise, and the Colts' offense without Manning is anemic.
Miami (0-4) at N.Y. Jets (2-3) Monday night
Oh, the angst there will be on Monday night. Will the Dolphins ever win a game and how long can Tony Sparano last as coach? Will the Jets find their mojo and winning ways before Rex Ryan runs out of one-liners?
More to the point, if New York can't shut down a Matt Moore-led offense or find holes in the 31st-ranked passing defense, then that three-game road losing string was no aberration.
Cleveland (2-2) at Oakland (3-2)
One day after owner Al Davis passed away, the Raiders held on to win at Houston. Now, the Browns enter the Black Hole not quite sure what to expect. A letdown is entirely possible for Oakland, where the emotions everywhere in the stadium before kickoff will be raw as tributes are paid to the Hall of Famer.
Cleveland comes off a bye hoping to have center Alex Mack, a key to its running game, back from an appendectomy.
Minnesota (1-4) at Chicago (2-3)
The bottom half of the NFC North gets the prime-time matchup. Looks like the NFL gave NBC the wrong teams in this division.
Minnesota stopped blowing big leads last week and beat Arizona. Chicago is being routed in the sacks game, allowing 18 and getting nine.