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The Four Must-See Matchups for NFL Week 5

If you were going to design a defense to defeat Patrick Mahomes II, it would look a whole lot like the Jacksonville Jaguars’. What else will Week 5 teach us?

Patrick Mahomes II and Blake Bortles Getty Images/Ringer illustration

In Week 5, the bar is high. We now know what teams are capable of this season: Through four weeks, scoring is at record levels. The games are closer than they have ever been. There were more 400-yard, three-plus-touchdown, zero-interception passing performances last week than there were last season, and in the entire 1990s. If you are not producing a high-scoring, competitive game in which someone breaks a record, you are wasting everyone’s time. This is a beautiful time for football—an almost miraculous turnaround from a year ago, when FiveThirtyEight declared that the passing boom was over. Really, the matchup to keep an eye on is every game versus the expectations this season has set for them. Each week so far, the games have won out.

Here’s what to watch in Week 5:

Patrick Mahomes II vs. the Most Talented Defense in Football

The great Mahomes is finally going to face a defense that looks perfectly engineered to stop him. But right now, whether Mahomes can be stopped is a legitimate question.

Jaguars cornerback A.J. Bouye hasn’t allowed a regular-season touchdown reception in more than 700 snaps. His teammate Jalen Ramsey is one of the best cornerbacks in the league, and the Jaguars defensive line is more talented than any other. Sunday’s game should teach us plenty about the Jacksonville unit and the quarterback it’s facing.

Something different is happening in the NFL right now. There are five teams averaging more than 30 points per game this season. Guess how many teams eclipsed 30 points per game last year. Zero. The new bar to compete in the NFL is to score a ton of points. Through the first month, everything else has been secondary. The Chiefs have played the Chargers, Steelers, Niners, and Broncos—all decent teams—and Mahomes and Co. put up at least 27 points in each game. But they have yet to face a defense like Jacksonville’s.

We’ve reached the end of the Mahomes hype cycle, because this is just who he is. He won’t always be the best quarterback in football, as he is at the moment, but when you consider his talent, his supporting offensive cast, and his coach, he should be a reliably great quarterback for the foreseeable future. Mahomes is current a 4-to-1 MVP favorite according to Bovada. Guess who else also has MVP odds.

Mahomes versus Jaguars defense, or Mahomes versus Blake Bortles, if you’re into that particular matchup, would be enough to make this the game of the week. But there’s another layer: Tyreek Hill vs. Jalen Ramsey. Earlier this week, Hill said Ramsey is “all right.” Ramsey then went the semantics route, roasting Hill for making the Pro Bowl as a return specialist and not as an offensive player.

It’s the rivalry I never knew I wanted.

Texans-Cowboys vs. Boredom

Sunday, if you sit in front of your television for the entire day, you will see a delightful string of offensive brilliance for, say, seven hours. By dinner time, you will have seen Mahomes work his magic and Jared Goff torch a Seahawks defense without Earl Thomas. But then you will arrive at … this game. I have long thought the league needed the ability to flex more prime-time games, and Sunday night is a good example. Maybe the Cowboys vs. anyone would rate higher than a solid football matchup, but the nation deserves to see Chiefs and Jaguars in prime time. Well-played football is a driving force in this season’s ratings uptick. People like good football! This, however, will likely not be good football.

The Cowboys looked at least competent last week against Detroit, but their offense has not yet caught up to the point-scoring revolution sweeping the rest of the league. Per Airyards.com, Dak Prescott is down half a yard per attempt this season from last, which in turn was down slightly from the year before. Mahomes’s average target is 3 yards deeper per pass than Prescott’s.

The good news, entertainment-value-wise, is that Deshaun Watson is looking more like Deshaun Watson—even if his own team is doing its best to screw it up. He’s averaging 8.4 yards per attempt, despite an abysmal offensive line. Statistically, Watson is overachieving behind a line that’s allowing him to be pressured 38 percent of the time, the highest rate in the league. Football Outsiders writes: “If anything, it is impressive that Watson does not concede more sacks and bigger losses than he does. Seventeen sacks through four games is certainly a lot, but that number very well could be higher if not for Watson’s mobility and awareness. Watson has also only given up 84 total yards due to sacks, an average of 4.94 yards per sack.”

So that’s where we are with Sunday Night Football: Play-calling will be the undoing of one team. The other will be undone by, uh, everyone except its QB. I recommend DVRing that Chiefs game and just watching it again.

Eagles-Vikings vs. a Lost Season

Last year’s two NFC finalists have not quite picked up where they left off: The Eagles are 2-2, and the Vikings are 1-2-1. It would be silly to suggest that either team’s season is done if they lose Sunday, but another defeat would mean they have an especially tough road to get back to where they were in January. A third defeat so early in the season will put the losing team behind in the race for a playoff bye or home-field advantage.

It is hard to think of a more dull conference-championship rematch in recent history. It’s concerning that both of these teams seem incapable of doing the things that made them great last season. Last year’s Eagles offense was an efficient machine; it’s now 24th in the NFL in offensive DVOA. In 2017, no team turned the hardest situations in football into positive plays as consistently as the Eagles did. But this year they’ve lost that edge:

Can the Eagles offense take advantage of another formerly elite unit, the Vikings defense, which is 25th in 2018 DVOA? And can Philly’s struggling pass rush can contain Kirk Cousins? There’s a case to be made that the Vikings defense hasn’t been the same since the Eagles wrecked them in the NFC title game last January. Minnesota coaches told me they spent the entire summer game-planning to stop the RPOs that so thoroughly stumped them in January.

The problem is that the Vikings can’t stop anything now. But neither can their opponents.

Bills vs. Me Not Knowing What’s Going On

The Bills will play the Titans, one of the league’s early pleasant surprises. Mike Vrabel is the latest young coach to decide that math is good and that going for it on fourth down is worthwhile:

I’m mentioning this game not because I’m particularly interested in the Titans at this point in the season. Despite the Jaguars’ loss to Tennessee last month, I still think they’ll win the AFC South. No, I bring up this game up because I stumbled upon some incredible statistics about the Bills that I can’t stop thinking about. From Rotoworld: “The Bills average drive begins with them trailing by 10.1 points, the largest average deficit in the league. Buffalo is last in the league in yards gained per play on first down (3.1 yards), last in the league in yardage needed to gain on third downs (9.3 yards) and last in the league in third down conversion rate (27.6 percent).”

This means that typically, Bills players enter any given snap thinking, “We’re down 10 points.” Then there’s the amazing third-down statistic. The 9.3 yards-to-gain figure means that if Buffalo did nothing on the first two plays—just spiked the ball into the ground—it would be only 0.7 yards behind its usual field position. You know what? Put this game in prime time.