Week 6 is about the time that teams start to look like who they really are, unless they're the New York Giants. This week features an interesting slate of games, a few big-time battles, and a couple of snoozers that may leave you looking for that honey-do list. In lieu of won-loss records, numbers in parentheses are opponent-adjusted rankings from Football Outsiders for offense/defense/special teams.
Oakland Raiders (15/30/29) at Atlanta Falcons (7/10/8)
There's no question that the Falcons should be able to move the ball with their high-octane offense, especially against a Raiders defense that appears to be overmatched against advanced passing games and receivers who can consistently get separation after first contact. But the real story with the 5-0 Falcons is Mike Nolan's defense. Atlanta used to be pretty predictable on that side of the ball, but Carson Palmer will see a lot of stuff pre-snap that won't come true after the fact. The Falcons' secondary is benefiting from the new-look schemes in particular, and this one could get ugly in a hurry for the Raiders.
Pick: Falcons 35, Raiders 12
Cincinnati Bengals (16/28/7) at Cleveland Browns (25/22/9)
The Bengals have a ravenous front four, led by criminally underrated defensive tackle Geno Atkins. Their issues on defense are in the secondary, and that could be troublesome against a Browns offense that throws the ball a lot, if not always effectively. The best available strategy for the Browns in this case might be to run the ball with Trent Richardson down the throats of Cincinnati's defense just enough to open up play action and keep those pass rushers honest, but it's not clear that Cleveland's coaching staff does by the book at all. In the end, the improving rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden should make enough plays to break a Browns losing streak that goes back 11 games, if you count the 2011 season.
Pick: Browns 17, Bengals 13
St. Louis Rams (28/8/10) at Miami Dolphins (19/5/18)
One underrated aspect of the Dolphins' structure should show up pretty well in this game -- a great defense that will affect Sam Bradford's ability to stay poised in the pocket and make consistent downfield throws to an ever-decreasing group of targets. Rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill has improved week by week and is impressing a lot of NFL insiders with his pocket presence and downfield arm, but a killer Rams defensive line led by ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn will test Tannehill's consistency. Add in St. Louis' opportunistic secondary, and the Rams would seem to have a slight edge ... but Bradford has to transcend the troubles around him. This is not the best week to do that. Rookie kicker Greg "The Leg" Zuerlein will be very busy today.
Pick: Dolphins 23, Rams 15
Indianapolis Colts (13/25/26) at New York Jets (31/18/1)
Among the many things that have people in the league buzzing about Andrew Luck, perhaps the most impressive is the rookie's consistent ability to throw under pressure as well as he does. That doesn't mean that he WILL be pressured in this game; the Jets aren't getting after the quarterback at all, and Rex Ryan's defense is unusually porous against the run (Vick Ballard dynasty owners, take note). The quarterback debacle lies with the other team, of course, and the oft-maligned Mark Sanchez was done dirty by his own coaching staff on Monday night against the Houston Texans. Sanchez played well, making several shot plays when needed, but Tony Sparano's insistence on turning his offense into a Looney Tunes cartoon affected the curve. The Colts don't have a great defense, but there are times when the people best stopping the Jets' offense are the guys running it.
Pick: Colts 24, Jets 17
Detroit Lions (6/20/32) at Philadelphia Eagles (24/6/28)
Michael Vick has been carrying a football around the Eagles' facility all week to try and cure his fumbling issues. Lions head coach Jim Schwartz listened to a heavy diet of Philly butt-rock this morning, per his Twitter account. So, both teams have the silly under control. In the actual game, the main thing to watch is how the Eagles' defense, which has no sacks in its last two games, contends with the ever-more-mobile Calvin Johnson. As Greg Cosell told us in this week's matchup podcast, Megatron has lined up all around the formation, and in the slot on about half his targets. Defensive coordinator Juan Castillo has been criticized for his use of elite cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, but moving his best defensive player around might actually make sense in this case. And the Eagles should be able to pin their ears back against quarterback Matthew Stafford, given the Lions' almost complete lack of a run game.
Pick: Eagles 33, Lions 20
Dallas Cowboys (23/13/27) at Baltimore Ravens (10/15/13)
This may be the first time in franchise history that the Ravens are defined by their offense. That's a credit to offensive coordinator Cam Cameron for discovering the existence of the third receiver, but it should also breed concern about a Ravens defense that has not performed up to historical expectations. Problem is, Dallas' offense has been about as inconsistent as any unit in the league, and taking their defense on the road against Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, and Torrey Smith could be a real headache.
Pick: Ravens 27, Cowboys 13
Kansas City Chiefs (30/23/23) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (26/14/21)
Brady Quinn, Starting Quarterback. That's all you need to know about the Chiefs these days. Actually, there's a bit more -- Kansas City's defense actually played pretty well in a loss to the Ravens last week. And Tampa Bay's offense won't be much a challenge. But the matchup that does not favor the Chiefs is that the Buccaneers have a surprisingly strong run defense, and Kansas City likes to run the ball approximately 250 percent of the time. If this is the main game on your regional radar, it might be a good time to find the RedZone channel.
Pick: Buccaneers 13, Chiefs 7
Buffalo Bills (21/32/6) at Arizona Cardinals (27/7/14)
Surprise, surprise: Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is the NFL's best quarterback when blitzed, per STATS, Inc. In blitz situations, Fitzpatrick has completed 25 of 32 passes for 291 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions. That's a good counter to Arizona's impressive defense, and the high number of pre-snap shifts and gap moves Ray Horton schemes up. On the other side of the ball, Cards quarterback Kevin Kolb might find some relief after the beating he took against the St. Louis Rams, because Dave Wannstedt is the Anti-Horton. The Bills' defense is the NFL's worst for many reasons, but you can start with Wannstedt's inability or unwillingness to bring more than his front four on a regular basis. Kolb is a decent player when he's given time, and he should show that today.
Pick: Cardinals 21, Bills 20
New England Patriots (1/17/22) at Seattle Seahawks (22/3/2)
New England's offense vs. Seattle's defense: That might be the marquee matchup of the week. The Patriots are playing a pure spread offense these days, mixing in a brutally effective power running game. The Seahawks counter with a ridiculously fast and aggressive defense with all three phases on full blast. The difference-maker here could be Pete Carroll's willingness to open up the playbook for rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, and the ability of the New England defense to stop it. The Seahawks might be better able to meet that challenge later in the year, but we'll take the experience in this case.
Pick: Patriots 38, Seahawks 24
New York Giants (2/21/12) at San Francisco 49ers (3/24/4)
Now that Kevin Gilbride and Jim Harbaugh have engaged in their own goofiness, and the Giants offense and 49ers defense have already proven that they're equal to any task, it's time to turn it around and look at what Harbaugh's offense has done this season. Alex Smith is commanding a far more multiple passing game, and the San Francisco rushing attack is as complex as any you'll see this season. That's bad news for a Giants defense still looking for consistency in the defensive backfield, and regular quarterback sacks up front.
Pick: 49ers 26, Giants 23
Minnesota Vikings (12/9/3) at Washington Redskins (9/24/31)
Are the 4-1 Vikings the surprise of the 2012 season? Pretty much. Nobody expected Christian Ponder to perform at this level in his second NFL season, few expected Adrian Peterson to be playing like this less than a year after a brutal knee injury, and where did this defense come from? That's what the Redskins will be asking after they face a team that many expected to take years to rebuild. On the other side, Robert Griffin III obviously needs to stop trying to make plays when danger is on the horizon, but one wonders how often he'll be able to do that. We think the Minnesota surprise continues.
Pick: Vikings 27, Redskins 20
Green Bay Packers (5/12/11) at Houston Texans (4/2/30)
My definition of a dominant player in any sport? Take away that player, and the team becomes completely different when replacing him. The Texans are about to find out what they already knew -- linebacker Brian Cushing, lost for the season last Monday night to a knee injury, is just such a player. Look for Houston's front, coverage, and blitz concepts to change with Cushing out, especially when they need to load up to stop the run. Of course, the Packers don't run very often, and when they do, they don't do it very well. That could give the Texans a necessary breather, but if Aaron Rodgers finally gets on track, things could get complicated. Oh -- and apparently, the Packers defense lacks effort. Clay Matthews and his buddies had better wear their big-boy road pants against Houston's boot-action pinball machine.
Pick: Texans 32, Packers 25