This week’s games to watch feature: NFC East rivals whose division roles are reversed from last season; a contest between surprising NFC West and North leaders in the midst of incredible turnarounds; and a former AFC East doormat challenging a perennial NFC East leader.
Philadelphia Eagles @ Washington Redskins (Sunday, 1:00 PM ET on FOX): Coming off a bye week, you should expect the Redskins to be well-rested and prepared for the struggling Eagles. However, the desperation that comes with a 1-4 start to the season makes the Eagles unpredictable; clearly things need to change. The physical play of the Redskins defensive line and linebackers (the “front seven”), led by rookie defensive end Ryan Kerrigan and Pro Bowl-veteran linebacker Brian Orakpo, should have Eagles QB Michael Vick worried. Will the Eagles throw away the Michael Vick-centered playbook and try to establish a more physical in-the-trenches running game? If Vick can avoid throwing interceptions, the Eagles have shown that they can move the ball on defenses. Will the Eagles just try to get the ball out of Vick’s hands as fast as possible and try an aerial attack?
San Francisco 49ers @ Detroit Lions (Sunday, 1:00 PM ET on FOX): The 49ers and the Lions are both red hot right now, and both are in first place in their respective divisions. To say that this is a surprise is an understatement. At this time last year, the combined record of these two teams was 1 win and 9 losses. The Lions are off to their best start since 1956, the last time they started the season 5-0. They also went 6-0 that year, and who did they beat to get that sixth win? The 49ers! The matchups to watch for this week are the 49ers passing defense (ranked 23rd in the NFL) against Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson, and San Francisco running back Frank Gore against the Lions rushing defense (ranked 18th). Can the 49ers keep Calvin Johnson in check, or will Johnson have to start using the San Francisco end zone for his new mailing address?
Buffalo Bills @ New York Giants (Sunday, 1:00 PM ET on CBS): The Buffalo Bills are ranked 4th in the league in rushing yards; the Giants’ rushing defense is a paltry 21st. Last week Bills running back Fred Jackson showed he’s still got what it takes to be a top-tier ball carrier, running the ball 26 times for 111 yards and a touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles. He also caught 6 passes for 85 yards, an eye-catching performance for even the best wide receivers. A successful running game opens up more options for the quarterback, who can exploit the defense’s concern about run plays to seek out opportunities in the passing game. Look for the Bills to establish a running game early with Jackson and their other running back, C.J. Spiller. Can the Giants circle the wagons and contain the Bills, or will it be a stampede down the field?
If you think I missed your favorite team in this week’s must-see games, or if you play fantasy football, remember that the following teams have byes this week: Arizona Cardinals, Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers, Seattle Seahawks, and Tennessee Titans.