NFL Nation: Final Word NFC 2011 Week 5

Final Word: NFC East

October, 7, 2011
10/07/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 5:

[+] EnlargeEli Manning
Al Bello/Getty ImagesEli Manning has thrown just two interceptions through four games this season.
Eli on the money: New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning has played two straight games without throwing an interception. Not coincidentally, the Giants, who host Seattle on Sunday, have won both of those games. The last time Manning played three straight games without an interception was Weeks 2-5 of the 2008 season, and the Giants won all three of those games too. (They had a bye in Week 4 that year.) During Manning's career as a starter, the Giants are 32-8 in games in which he does not throw an interception and 35-39 in games in which he throws at least one. That includes postseason.

Eagles a fourth-quarter mess: The Philadelphia Eagles have held fourth-quarter leads in each of their past three games and lost all three, but that doesn't tell the whole story of how complete these collapses are. Philadelphia, which plays at Buffalo on Sunday, has been outscored 36-0 in the fourth quarter over the past three weeks. They've been outgained 335 yards to 282. They've converted 2 of 8 third downs and allowed opponents to convert 9-of-14. They've committed three turnovers and forced none. According to ESPN Stats & Information, during their three-game losing streak, the Eagles' nine fourth-quarter possessions have resulted in three turnovers, two missed field goals, two turnovers on downs, one punt and the end of the game. That, folks, is not getting it done.

If I had a nickel: Bills running back Fred Jackson is fourth in the league in rushing yards. He also has the most rushing attempts in the league in situations where defenses employ at least five defensive backs. The Eagles are by far the worst defense in the league against the run when using five or more defensive backs. They allow 11.9 yards per rush when they have at least five defensive backs on the field, 3.3 yards more than the second-worst team in the league, and a first-down conversion percentage of 42.9. It's possible they might want to change at least part of what they do against the run if they don't want Jackson to shred them too badly.

Pierre-Paul's impact: Osi Umenyiora missed the first three games of the year while recovering from knee surgery and Justin Tuck has missed two games with a neck injury. Yet the Giants' defense has still managed 12 sacks so far and ranks fifth in the league in that category. The Giants are on pace to surpass last year's team sack total of 46, and the main reason appears to be the emergence and consistency of second-year defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, the team's first-round pick from the 2010 draft. If the Giants can ever get Tuck, Umenyiora and Pierre-Paul on the field at the same time, they could be downright terrifying.

Seahawks' improving pass game: Seattle was last in the league in passing offense through two weeks, but once receiver Sidney Rice returned from his injury in Week 3, things changed. Rice has the second-best yards-per-catch average in the league over the past two weeks at 17.1, and the Seattle passing attack has ranked 22nd (a big jump from 32nd) over the past two weeks. Seattle's surely not the most dangerous offense the Giants have faced or will face this season, but someone in the secondary is going to have to account for Rice, who has the size and speed to make big plays against anyone.

Final Word: NFC West

October, 7, 2011
10/07/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 5:

[+] EnlargeKevin Kolb
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesKevin Kolb is completing just 38.9 percent of his throws from outside the pocket.
Burden could fall on Kevin Kolb. Beanie Wells' ability to carry the Arizona Cardinals' offense against the New York Giants might not translate to the team's game against Minnesota in Week 5. The Vikings are allowing 76.3 yards rushing per game and 3.3 yards per carry. Both figures rank among the top six in the league. Minnesota's strong run defense could put more pressure on Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb to carry the offense. Kolb hasn't made consistently good decisions on when to bail from the pocket and what to do once he does. He is completing only 38.9 percent of his throws from outside the pocket, one reason he ranks 27th among 32 quarterbacks in Total QBR from there (6.7).

Introducing the real 49ers. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers shut out San Francisco at Candlestick Park last season, the 49ers' first home shutout since 1977. So much has changed for the 49ers since that game, however. Alex Smith has replaced Troy Smith at quarterback. Jim Harbaugh has replaced Mike Singletary as head coach. Joe Staley is back in the lineup at left tackle. The 49ers will have seven different starters on defense, most representing upgrades. One concern: The 49ers are without nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga, a potential concern against a runner as powerful as the Bucs' LeGarrette Blount. And to think, Blount would have been a 49er had he not reneged on an agreement with the team as an undrafted free agent.

Marshawn Lynch's opportunity. The Seattle Seahawks' offensive line took pride in allowing no sacks in its most recent game. A repeat performance on the road against the New York Giants isn't realistic. However, this game does give the Seahawks an opportunity to improve their unproductive ground game. The Giants have allowed 100-yard rushers in their past two games. The Seahawks have failed to top 64 yards rushing in three of their four games. Marshawn Lynch has gained 61 percent of his rushing yards after contact this season, the fourth-highest percentage in the league, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Seattle's line need to keep defenders off him a little longer.

An unlikely interception drought. Few safeties cover as much ground as quickly as the Seahawks' Earl Thomas, but that has not translated to interceptions. Thomas, after picking off five passes in his first 10 NFL games, has intercepted none in his past 12, counting playoffs. A penalty wiped out an interception for Thomas against Arizona this season. Seattle has collected only two of the 125 interceptions thrown in the NFL this season, and the Giants' Eli Manning has cut down on turnovers dramatically. A turnover from Thomas would certainly help their chances in a game few expect them to win. He's playing too well to go much longer without picking off passes.

49ers staring down history. A victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would leave the 49ers with a 4-1 record for the first time since 2002. Long-snapper Brian Jennings is the 49ers' only remaining player from that season. That 49ers team improved to 4-1 with a 28-21 victory over Seattle. How long ago was that game? One of Jennings' current coaches, Bobby Engram, returned a punt 61 yards for a touchdown that day.

Final Word: NFC North

October, 7, 2011
10/07/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 5:

Ford Field debut: Unless you count last year's rescheduled game between the Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants, Monday night will mark the first prime-time regular-season game in the history of Ford Field. It's the Lions' first appearance on "Monday Night Football" since Oct. 8, 2001. This game against the Chicago Bears has long been sold out, and the Detroit Lions sold 2,000 extra standing-room only seats. The building will be flush with people hoping to see more magic from the Lions and receiver Calvin Johnson, while also putting a three-game gap between the home team and their division rival. Here's a tip for those 2,000 of you trying to position yourself in the stadium: Johnson has caught seven of his eight touchdown passes on the right side of the field this season. Just sayin'.

[+] EnlargeNdamukong Suh
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezThrough four games, Lions DT Ndamukong Suh has two sacks and eight tackles.
Protecting Cutler: What's the best way to keep Bears quarterback Jay Cutler off his back Monday night? Improved pass protection or minimal pass plays? I'm sure the Bears would like both, but they might have to settle for the former. The Lions have an opportunistic and feisty defense, but they can be run against. Through four games, opponents are averaging 4.8 yards per rush against them, the 10th-highest mark in the league. The Lions have a modest nine sacks this season, but the Bears don't want to take their chances against Ndamukong Suh and company. As of this moment, it appears the Bears will have a different set of starters on the right side of their offensive line, including right tackle Frank Omiyale, who was benched last week against the Carolina Panthers. Run, Bears, run.

Quick starts: The Green Bay Packers scored 28 points in the second quarter of last year's divisional playoff game against the Atlanta Falcons. That trend has continued in the 2011 season and would be the perfect avenue to taking out what will surely be an electric crowd Sunday night at the Georgia Dome. The Packers rank second in the NFL with 80 first-half points and are tied for the NFL lead with seven touchdown passes in the first half, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Receiver Greg Jennings has 17 first-half receptions, second in the NFL. There is no doubt the Packers will try to jump on the Falcons early, and it wouldn't be surprising to see them use their new no-huddle scheme to do so.

Getting outside: Why did the Falcons trade up in the draft to select receiver Julio Jones? Largely because the Packers' cornerback tandem of Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams dominated their receivers on the outside in last year's pair of matchups. Woodson and Williams limited Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan to 4.6 yards per attempt on passes outside the numbers, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and Ryan finished those two games with a cumulative Total Quarterback Rating of 3.2 on such passes. Both cornerbacks have struggled at times this season, Williams in part because of a bruised right shoulder, and it will be interesting to see if the Falcons try to capitalize with Jones, who has 24 receptions in his first four NFL games.

So close: Will Sunday be the day the Vikings break the ice? They have been historically close to this point; rarely has an NFL team started 0-4 by such a slim margin. The Vikings' four losses have come by a combined 19 points, fewer than all 0-4 teams since the 1970 merger except for the 1991 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13) and the 1974 Detroit Lions (14), according to the Elias Sports Bureau. I think that's why coach Leslie Frazier hasn't instituted personnel changes or shown any indication he plans to veer from his original vision. He believes the Vikings have been too close in their four losses to merit an overhaul. Maybe all they need is a home game against a 1-3 opponent to get things started. Hello, Arizona Cardinals.

Final Word: NFC South

October, 7, 2011
10/07/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 5:

[+] EnlargeMatt Ryan
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesThe Falcons have an opportunity to avenge last season's playoff loss to the Packers in the rematch Sunday.
Playoff rematch. The Atlanta Falcons clearly haven’t been the same team as they were when they went 13-3 in the regular season last year. You can trace all their troubles back to the devastating home playoff loss to the Packers. That game weighed heavily on the minds of the coaches and players during the offseason. Maybe so heavily that the Falcons haven’t recovered. Sunday night’s rematch might be an opportunity for the Falcons to climb back on the horse and exorcise some of the ghosts from that playoff loss.

Paging Mike Williams. The Buccaneers have been starting slowly on offense and haven’t shown a lot of consistency. One way to fix that might be getting receiver Mike Williams more involved. He was clearly Tampa Bay’s No. 1 receiver as a rookie, but he’s been very quiet so far this season. The Bucs, who play at the 49ers on Sunday, say Williams is drawing more attention from defenses and there’s truth in that. But true No. 1 receivers find ways to deal with coverage. Plus, it would help if Arrelious Benn and Preston Parker show enough to take some of that coverage away from Williams.

Saints are well-grounded. On paper, the game between the Saints and Panthers looks as if it should be a shootout between Drew Brees and Cam Newton. It could be. But don’t be surprised if the Saints run the ball a lot. They had great success with the run last week, putting up 177 yards against Jacksonville. The trio of Mark Ingram, Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas is working quite nicely so far this season. It could work even better against a Carolina defense that hasn't stopped the run (31st in league, 143.8 yards per game).

Turning point? It’s obvious the Panthers are way better than they were last season. Newton has made the offense exciting, and the Panthers have lost some close games, including last week in Chicago. They’re 1-3, but you get the sense the Panthers are close to turning the corner. They have a chance to officially make that next step. Defeating the Saints would send a message to the rest of the NFL that the Panthers are for real.

Time for Big-Play Ray. Defensive end Ray Edwards hasn’t recorded a sack since signing with the Falcons in the preseason. Edwards was supposed to beef up an Atlanta pass rush that hasn’t come up with a sack in the past three games. This game is a chance for Edwards to make a statement. He’s very familiar with the Packers because he used to play for their division rival, the Minnesota Vikings. Edwards produced two-sack games in two of his past three meetings against the Packers.

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