We were badly let down last week by, amongst others, an injury to Michael Vick and a Miami special teams meltdown, but it’s not in us to mope, so we’re straight back on the horse with Week 5′s quartet of live games, including an interesting boost to the Vikings’ hopes in New York on Monday night.
Kansas City Chiefs (3-0) at Indianapolis Colts (2-2)
Sunday 6pm, Sky Sports 2
Defeats for Pittsburgh and Chicago last week have left the Chiefs as the only unbeaten team in the NFL, but that record is sure to be tested by a visit to Indianapolis. The Colts are coming off a second defeat by an AFC South foe after losing to a monster last-second field goal in Jacksonville and at 2-2 find themselves in the unusual position of being in a four-way divisional battle.
Look out for:
Dajuan Morgan: Not a household name by any means, Morgan seems set to make his first start for the Colts at strong safety after Pro Bowler Bob Sanders and back-up Melvin Bullitt ruled out indefinitely with injuries. Rookie Brandon King is also in the frame for playing time but Morgan stepped in after Bullitt left the field last week and has knowledge of the Chiefs after being released by Kansas City last month. Bullitt’s injury is a real blow to the Colts as he had been filling in admirably for Sanders, especially in the run game. And that just happens to be the Chiefs’ strength, with the two-headed monster of Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones propelling the team to 160 rushing yards per game, good for third in the league.
Austin Collie: The young wide receiver has been a revelation this season, averaging nearly 100 yards a game and leading the Colts with five touchdowns. Last season’s breakout star Pierre Garcon had been expected to establblish himself opposite veteran receiver Reggie Wayne but a lingering hamstring injury has kept him out and Collie has seized the opportunity to build a real rapport with QB Peyton Manning. Garcon is back this week but Collie will reportedly remain the starter should he overcome a heel problem.
The Colts are really struggling against the run without Sanders and gave up 174 yards on the ground to Jacksonville last week. Quarterback Matt Cassel is no matchwinner, so Kansas City, fresh off their bye week, is certain to pound the ball relentlessly until the Colts show they can stop it. On the other side of the ball, though, the KC defence has yet to face an offence firing on all cylinders, so facing Manning and the quick-strike Indy offence will be their biggest test yet. With the Colts needing to win at home to make sure they don’t fall two games behind the Titans, expect the last unbeaten record in the NFL to fall.
San Diego Chargers (2-2) at Oakland Raiders (1-3)
Sunday 9.15pm, Sky Sports 2
Another divisional battle, this time in the AFC West. This division has been dominated by the Chargers for the past four years, but with former doormats like Kansas City and this week’s opponent Oakland showing signs of life this season San Diego don’t seem as likely to run away with things this time around. It hasn’t been the most convincing start to the season for Norv Turner’s Chargers, especially on the road, where they have slipped to defeats by Kansas City and the Seattle Seahawks. It’s been another rollercoaster start to the season for the dysfunctional Raiders, too, who traded for quarterback Jason Campbell in the offseason but dumped him for back-up Bruce Gradkowski in Week 2, while former first round pick Darren McFadden is doubtful with a hamstring strain.
Look out for:
Antonio Gates: Gates has long being one of the league’s top tight ends, but is on track for a historic season. With Philip Rivers throwing him the ball, Gates has six TDs and 386 yards in four games, on pace to smash the records for both marks in a season. Gates is a fearsome combination of size and speed and the Raiders will be struggling to contain him.
Nnamdi Asomugha: Outside of the Jets’ Darrelle Revis, Asomugha (As-uh-MWAH) is probably the best shutdown cornerback in the NFL. And he’ll need to be at his best this week to stop Philip Rivers and the Chargers.
The Chargers find themselves playing catch-up to the Chiefs early in the season but have been absolutely terrible away from home so far this season. The Raiders, though, have become a less daunting place to go in recent years and would seem to have no answer to the Rivers-to-Gates combo. San Diego should notch up its first road win.
Philadelphia Eagles (2-2) at San Francsico 49ers (0-4)
Sunday/Monday 1.20pm, Channel 4
Under normal circumstances, an 0-4 record would already have you preparing for next year - no team has lost its first four games and made the play-offs since San Diego in 1992 - but this year’s NFC West is far from normal. The 49ers were everybody’s pick to win an awful division for the first time since 2002 but have contrived to lose their first four games through a mixture of inaccuracy and incompetence. Last week’s defeat in Atlanta marked a subtle improvement, however, and a win against the Eagles could leave them as little as one win behind in a division fileld out by the dismal Seattle, Arizona and St Louis squads. Philadelphia’s defeat at the hands of former QB Donovan McNabb and the Redskins cost them more than just a tick in the loss column, as quarterback Michael Vick has been ruled out for several weeks with a rib injury and running back LeSean McCoy is also questionable.
Look out for:
Kevin Kolb: The Eagles traded McNabb to hand the keys to the offence to ‘QB of the future’ Kolb, but a Week 1 concussion and the superb form of Vick relegated him to a back-up until Vick’s injury last week. He’s back behind the wheel again but looked pretty average against the Skins. Second chances don’t come along this quickly that often, Kolb would be wise to seize his.
Alex Smith: Kolb’s opposite number is under as much if not more pressure. The former first overall pick is in his sixth year in the league and on his last life with the Niners but, apart from brief glimpses against the Saints and Falcons has done little to show that this year will be any more of a success in San Fran. In particular, his lack of connection with last year’s top pick Michael Crabtree has been worrying and will have to improvefor the team to haul its way back into the play-off hunt.
The Eagles are banged up physically, the Niners mentally. But San Fran has a good recent track record when it comes to nationally televised prime time games, particularly at home, and will hope that their recent change in offensive coordinator can lift their fortunes and get them back into the NFC West race.
Minnesota Vikings (1-2) at New York Jets (3-1)
Monday/Tuesday 1.30pm, ESPN
Already a hotly-anticpated encounter between two teams with Super Bowl aspirations entering the season, this one got a little more spicy when Minnesota traded a future draft pick for New England receiver Randy Moss this week. Moss, who spent the first seven years of his career in Minnesota, has plenty of history with the Jets, coming from the AFC East and will renew his heated rivalry with elite Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis. The Vikings offence has fallen a bit from last year’s peak, with geriatric (in NFL terms anyway) quarterback Brett Favre looking his age in his three games to date, so the addition of Moss will be more than welcome, despite his reputation as a locker room malcontent.
The Jets have been on fire, winning their last three games by a combined score of 97-51. Known for their defence, their offence has really stepped up and is putting more than enough points on the board to coast to the play-offs.
Look out for:
Jared Allen: All the attention is going to be on Minnesota’s offence but defensive end Allen is key to the Vikings defensive effort. Known for his pass rush, Allen – a keen hunter and author of The Quarterback Killer’s Cookbook, which includes recipes for the likes of Pheasant Nuggets and Elk Wellington – will have to outmuscle a stout Jets offensive line and get pressure on quarterback Mark Sanchez.
LaDainian Tomlinson: Already a certain Hall of Famer after nine fantastic seasons in San Diego, Tomlinson signed on with the Jets hoping to prove wrong all those who thought he was finished at the age of 31 (old for a running back). He was expected to be merely a change of pace back to second-year back Shonn Greene, but has out-Shonn (sorry) the younger man to date, racking up 386 yards and three TDs at over six yards per carry.
Favre had lobbied the Packers to trade for Moss in his final years with Green Bay and finally has his man, but will four days of practice be enough to bed in with the offence and take on Revis and the Jets? There’s no doubt that the Vikings are a more dangerous proposition now and for the rest of the season, but the Jets are at home and on a roll, so I expect them to take a close one.
Picks: Colts, Chargers, 49ers, Jets
Last week: 1-3
Season so far: 7-5