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Your NFL Week 5 Matchup Preview: The NFL Clears Out the Lane for Packers-Cowboys

With only two late games, the league thinks this NFC showdown is the only game that matters. Plus, the point spreads, injuries, story lines, and everything else you need to know for every Week 5 game.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

There are 13 football games on Sunday, and 10 of them are scheduled for 1 p.m. ET. The decks have been cleared so everyone in America can watch the Cowboys play the Packers at 4:25 p.m. ET. The NFL and its broadcast partners are treating Green Bay’s visit to Dallas the same way the Houston Rockets treat a James Harden drive—everyone else should just get out of the way. Chiefs-Colts is scheduled for Sunday Night Football, but Cowboys-Packers is the real game of the day, and the early slate of games will be a Red Zone Channel bonanza.

Sunday Afternoon Football

Green Bay Packers (3-1) @ Dallas Cowboys (3-1)

Kickoff time: 4:25 p.m. ET
Channel: Fox
Announcers: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Dallas -4
Over/under: 48
Key Packers injuries and absences: Receiver Davante Adams (toe), running back Jamaal Williams (concussion)
Key Cowboys injuries and absences: Left tackle Tyron Smith (ankle), right tackle La’el Collins (back)
What to watch: Dak Prescott’s blindside

It would be much cooler if both of these teams were undefeated, but both lost after failing to score on their final drives last week. The Cowboys’ last possession didn’t just lose them the Saints game but also All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith, who exited with an ankle injury. Without him, Dallas’s blocking often comes apart. Making matters worse is that right tackle La’el Collins is hobbled with a back injury. Through four weeks, the Cowboys are the best pass-blocking team in the league by ESPN’s pass-block win-rate metric and have allowed just three sacks in four games. That’s a far cry from last year, when Prescott was sacked 56 times, the second most in the league. Cameron Fleming replaces Smith, and left guard Connor Williams can replace Collins if necessary, but it’s a tough week for Dallas to be less than 100 percent up front. Green Bay signed pass rushers Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith to replace Clay Matthews this offseason. The Smiths have combined for 7.5 sacks and 15 quarterback hits, the latter of which is tied for most of any teammate combo in football. The onus is on Prescott to be decisive getting the ball out of his hands to avoid the pass rush.

On the flip side of the ball, the Cowboys defense has been stellar, but it has faced Eli Manning, Case Keenum, Josh Rosen, and Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback. Now it gets Aaron Rodgers. The Packers will likely be without no. 1 wideout Davante Adams, but this is still the biggest test yet for Dallas’s nascent defense.

Baltimore Ravens (2-2) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (1-3)

Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Announcers: Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts, Evan Washburn (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Baltimore -3
Over/under: 42.5
Key Ravens injuries and absences: Tight end Mark Andrews (foot), cornerback Jimmy Smith (knee), defensive tackle Brandon Williams (knee)
Key Steelers injuries and absences: Receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (toe), running back James Conner (ankle), tight end Vance McDonald (shoulder), defensive tackle Cam Heyward (quadriceps)
What to watch: Pace of play

Ravens-Steelers used to be about defense. No longer. For the first time in franchise history, the Ravens have allowed back-to-back 500-yard games. Baltimore currently ranks 27th in yards allowed, which would be the lowest the franchise has ranked since their first year in Baltimore in 1996. Last season the Ravens gave up just two passes of 50 yards or longer. This year, they have already given up four. Their defense ranked third in efficiency per Football Outsiders in 2017 and 2018, but this year it has plummeted to 29th.

Luckily for Baltimore, one of its worst defenses is paired with one of its best offenses. Through four weeks Baltimore’s offense is the league’s third-most efficient and ranks second in yards per drive, first in points per drive, and it has run the most plays this season (72.5 per game). Meanwhile, the Steelers have run the fewest (54.8), which by design is to help second-year quarterback Mason Rudolph.

“When you’ve got a young quarterback, sometimes you can assist them by turning a 70-play game into a 50-play game,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin told ESPN.

Whoever controls the tempo will control the game. Pittsburgh may slow things down by using the wildcat, which it used seven times for 46 yards and a touchdown last week against Cincinnati.

Revenge Game

Chicago Bears (3-1) @ Oakland Raiders (2-2)

Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Channel: Fox
Announcers: Dick Stockton, Mark Schlereth, Jennifer Hale (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Chicago -6
Over/under: 41
Key Bears injuries and absences: Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky (shoulder), receiver Taylor Gabriel (concussion), defensive tackle Akiem Hicks (knee)
Key Raiders injuries and absences: Linebacker Vontaze Burfict (suspended), receiver Tyrell Williams (foot), defensive end Clelin Ferrell (concussion), guard Gabe Jackson (knee)
What to watch: Khalil Mack go John Wick

“This is one I’ve been looking forward to,” Bears defensive end Khalil Mack told Deion Sanders on NFL Network on Sunday. “I can’t lie to you, man. I’ve got to let you know how it is. It’s going to be a big one.”

Perhaps Mack is fired up that this is the first game of the year in London. Or maybe it’s because this is the first time the Bears and Raiders have played since Oakland dealt Mack to Chicago a week before the 2018 season started. Since that trade, Mack’s individual pass-rushing statistics are roughly similar to the Raiders’ entire team in fewer games.

  • Khalil Mack (18 games): 17 sacks, 10 forced fumbles
  • Oakland Raiders (20 games): 18 sacks, eight forced fumbles

Mack is tied for the league lead in forced fumbles this year. Look for him to get a strip sack against Derek Carr on Sunday.

Minnesota Vikings (2-2) @ New York Giants (2-2)

Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Channel: Fox
Announcers: Sam Rosen, Charles Davis, Pam Oliver (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Minnesota -5.5
Over/under: 46
Key Vikings injuries and absences: Receiver Stefon Diggs (general frustration), safety Anthony Harris (quadriceps)
Key Giants injuries and absences: Running back Saquon Barkley (ankle), linebacker Alec Ogletree (hamstring), linebacker Ryan Connelly (torn ACL)
What to watch: The Kirk Cousins revival

Minnesota has the second-highest percentage of its salary cap devoted to the quarterback position this year. In exchange, the Vikings have the fewest passes per game (24.8) and the second-fewest passing yards per game (169.0), are tied for the third-fewest passing touchdowns (three), and are one of two teams to have more rushes than passes. Quarterback Kirk Cousins ranks 32nd out of 33 qualified passers in ESPN’s Total QBR. Stefon Diggs may have requested a trade this week, and the anger across the rest of the team is palpable.

But winning cures all, and the Giants, led by former Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, may be the perfect solution. New York had four interceptions last week, but that came against a team playing a rookie quarterback who was inserted midgame on the road against a division rival. The Giants gave up the most passing yards in the first three weeks of the season and only the Dolphins gave up more total touchdowns. Adam Thielen and Diggs may leave New Jersey a lot happier than they came.

Incompetence Bordering on Malpractice

New England Patriots (4-0) @ Washington (0-4)

Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Announcers: Greg Gumbel, Trent Green, Melanie Collins (sideline reporter)
Opening line: New England -13
Over/under: 47.5
Key Patriots injuries and absences: Linebacker Dont’a Hightower (shoulder), left tackle Isaiah Wynn (toe), center David Andrews (blood clots), fullback James Develin (neck)
Key Washington injuries and absences: Quarterback Case Keenum (foot), tight end Jordan Reed (concussion), tight end Vernon Davis (concussion), guard Brandon Scherff (ankle)
What to watch: Quarterback roulette

All week, it was unclear whether rookie Dwayne Haskins, veteran Case Keenum, or longtime backup Colt McCoy would start on Sunday for Washington. On Wednesday, a reporter asked head coach Jay Gruden what his quarterback plan was against the Patriots.

“We don’t have one right now,” Gruden said.

In Gruden’s defense, all of his options are bad. Keenum has a foot injury and was benched last week. Haskins’s first start could be a nightmare. McCoy has only recently begun practicing after breaking his leg last year. New England’s defense has allowed one touchdown since the AFC championship game. Relatedly, the original line of Patriots -13 has moved to -15.5.

New York Jets (0-3) @ Philadelphia Eagles (2-2)

Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Announcers: Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon, Jay Feely (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Philadelphia -13
Over/under: 44.5
Key Jets injuries and absences: Quarterback Sam Darnold (mononucleosis), linebacker C.J. Mosley (groin), guard Kelechi Osemele (shoulder/knee)
Key Eagles injuries and absences: Receiver DeSean Jackson (abdomen), cornerback Ronald Darby (hamstring), defensive tackle Tim Jernigan (foot)
What to watch: Sam Darnold’s spleen

The Jets have never beaten the Eagles—Philly is 10-0 all time—and that is unlikely to change this week. Quarterback Sam Darnold returned to the starting role in practice and could play on Sunday, though he is not sure whether his spleen has healed from mononucleosis or if it is still at risk of rupturing.

Encouraging. Jets head coach Adam Gase told reporters he may change up the starting offensive line this week to figure out the best unit. What could go wrong?

Other Winless Teams

Arizona Cardinals (0-3-1) @ Cincinnati Bengals (0-4)

Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Channel: Fox
Announcers: Thom Brennaman, Chris Spielman, Shannon Spake (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Cincinnati -4
Over/under: 48.5
Key Cardinals injuries and absences: Receiver Christian Kirk (ankle), receiver Damiere Byrd (hamstring), defensive end Zach Allen (neck)
Key Bengals injuries and absences: Receiver A.J. Green (ankle), receiver John Ross (shoulder), tackle Cordy Glenn (concussion)
What to watch: High-pace offenses vs. bad defenses

The Cardinals have played at the fastest pace in the NFL and run their average play in less than 24 seconds, according to Football Outsiders. Cincinnati ranks seventh fastest at 26.7 seconds. Combine that pace with these defenses being among the league’s worst and this could be an entertaining brand of bad football. It could also feature a lot of wait, who? Cincinnati’s healthy receivers are Tyler Boyd, Alex Erickson, Auden Tate, Damion Willis, and Stanley Morgan, while Arizona’s healthy receivers after Larry Fitzgerald are KeeSean Johnson, Andy Isabella, Trent Sherfield, and Pharoh Cooper.

Denver Broncos (0-4) @ Los Angeles Chargers (2-2)

Kickoff time: 4:05 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Announcers: Jim Nantz, Tony Romo, Tracy Wolfson (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Chargers -6.5
Over/under: 44
Key Broncos injuries and absences: Cornerback Kareem Jackson (hamstring), cornerback Bryce Callahan (foot)
Key Chargers injuries and absences: Tight end Hunter Henry (knee fracture), receiver Mike Williams (back), receiver Travis Benjamin (hip), left tackle Russell Okung (blood clots), safety Derwin James (foot), safety Nasir Adderley (hamstring), cornerback Casey Hayward Jr. (back), defensive end Melvin Ingram III (hamstring), kicker Michael Badgley (groin)
What to watch: Packers–Cowboys

ESPN invented a statistic last year called pass-block win rate. It uses computer chips in players’ shoulder pads to calculate how long offensive linemen can hold their blocks. The Denver Broncos rank last. This could be a big game for Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa. Unfortunately, this is the other game scheduled alongside Packers–Cowboys, so we will never find out.

Buffalo Bills (3-1) @ Tennessee Titans (2-2)

Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Announcers: Spero Dedes, Adam Archuleta
Opening line: Tennessee -1
Over/under: 38
Key Bills injuries and absences: Quarterback Josh Allen (concussion), running back Devin Singletary (hamstring)
Key Titans injuries and absences: Tight end Delanie Walker (knee), pass rusher Cameron Wake (hamstring)
What to watch: Other games

These teams play ugly football. Their main difference is the Bills are tied for the most turnovers (10) while the Titans have the fewest (one). It does not matter how good Buffalo’s defense is if the offense is throwing picks that often, nor does it matter whether Josh Allen or Matt Barkley is the one throwing them.

The Dirty South

All of these teams play in the NFC or AFC South, the latter of which is currently in a four-way tie with every team at 2-2.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-2) @ New Orleans Saints (3-1)

Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Channel: Fox
Announcers: Chris Myers, Daryl Johnston, Laura Okmin (sideline reporter)
Opening line: New Orleans -6.5
Over/under: 47
Key Buccaneers injuries and absences: Receiver Chris Godwin (hip), defensive end Shaq Barrett (groin)
Key Saints injuries and absences: Quarterback Drew Brees (thumb)
What to watch: A defensive battle?

In the past couple of years, this game could be penciled in as a shoot-out, but the Saints defense just beat Dallas without scoring a touchdown, and Tampa Bay’s defense has gone from a favorable matchup to a formidable one.

Jacksonville Jaguars (2-2) @ Carolina Panthers (2-2)

Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Announcers: Andrew Catalon, James Lofton
Opening line: Carolina -3
Over/under: 42
Key Jaguars injuries and absences: Quarterback Gardner Minshew II (knee), cornerback Jalen Ramsey (back/trade request),
Key Panthers injuries and absences: Quarterback Cam Newton (foot), guard Trai Turner (ankle), defensive tackle Kawann Short (shoulder), safety Eric Reid (ankle), linebacker Brian Burns (wrist)
What to watch: Two 2-2 big cat expansion teams with a backup QB

I know what you’re thinking: Aren’t Jaguars and Panthers the same thing? It’s complicated. Panthers do not live in the Carolinas, and Jaguars do not live in Florida. The Jacksonville Jaguars’ mascot was chosen in a naming contest in part because Jacksonville had the oldest living jaguar in North America in the Jacksonville Zoo. The biggest cat native to Florida is the Florida panther, which is technically a cougar. The Carolina panther is not a panther, but rather a big cat that has colloquially been referred to as a cougar, a puma, and a mountain lion in American history. Not only is this confusing, but it’s sad. The Carolina panther was officially declared extinct by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last year.

Atlanta Falcons (1-3) @ Houston Texans (2-2)

Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Channel: Fox
Announcers: Kenny Albert, Ronde Barber, Sara Walsh (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Houston -4.5
Over/under: 49.5
Key Falcons injuries and absences: Safety Keanu Neal (achilles), guard Chris Lindstrom (foot)
Key Texans injuries and absences: Receiver Kenny Stills (hamstring/ankle)
What to watch: Julio Jones and DeAndre Hopkins

Neither Atlanta’s Jones nor Houston’s Hopkins is having a stellar season. Jones is tied for the league lead in touchdowns, but has his lowest receiving yards per game (79.3) since 2012. Hopkins is having an even tougher time. His 259 yards this season are 48 fewer than Atlanta tight end Austin Hooper. Hopkins was the consensus no. 1 receiver this year in fantasy football, but he ranks 22nd in point-per-reception scoring, one spot behind Baltimore’s Marquise Brown.

Jones’s and Hopkins’s meeting on Sunday could be the perfect fix for both of them. Atlanta’s pass defense has looked toothless without safety Keanu Neal and Houston’s defense struggled to stop Philip Rivers and the Chargers in Week 3.

Sunday Night Football

Indianapolis Colts (2-2) @ Kansas City Chiefs (4-0)

Kickoff time: 8:20 p.m. ET
Channel: NBC
Announcers: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Kansas City -8.5
Over/under: 54
Key Colts injuries and absences: Receiver T.Y. Hilton (quad), linebacker Darius Leonard (concussion), safety Malik Hooker (knee), running back Marlon Mack (ankle), receiver Parris Campbell (abdominal)
Key Chiefs injuries and absences: Receiver Tyreek Hill (shoulder), running back LeSean McCoy (ankle), left tackle Eric Fisher (groin)
What to watch: Whether Jacoby Brissett can keep up with Patrick Mahomes

There is zero surprise that Mahomes and Lamar Jackson are tied for the league lead with 10 passing touchdowns. What is surprising is that the other person with 10 passing scores through Week 4 is Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett. That’s a major reason the over/under for this game is the highest of the week. This may not be a shoot-out if Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton can’t play, but Brissett has a solid chance to keep the Colts in this game.

Monday Night Football

Cleveland Browns (2-2) @ San Francisco 49ers (3-0)

Kickoff time: 8:15 p.m. ET
Channel: ESPN
Announcers: Joe Tessitore, Booger McFarland, Lisa Salters (sideline reporter)
Opening line: San Francisco -4
Over/under: 47
Key Browns injuries and absences: Receiver Jarvis Landry (concussion/shoulder), tight end David Njoku (concussion/wrist), cornerback Denzel Ward (hamstring), cornerback Greedy Williams (hamstring), safety Morgan Burnett (quadriceps), linebacker Christian Kirksey (chest)
Key 49ers injuries and absences: Left tackle Joe Staley (leg), running back Tevin Coleman (ankle), defensive end Dee Ford (quadricep)
What to watch: The long-term planning bowl

The rarest thing in the NFL is long-term planning, but both the 49ers and Browns were built with the future in mind. San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch both signed matching six-year contracts in 2017 with the understanding from ownership they would rebuild the team together. Three seasons later, they are 3-0. Beating the Browns with an extra week to prepare would go a long way toward proving they are legit after going 4-12 last year. They’ll try to change that against Cleveland. The Browns have gone from laughingstock to leading the AFC North after Browns general manager John Dorsey drafted players with the picks collected by predecessor Sashi Brown and delivered quarterback Baker Mayfield, running back Nick Chubb, defensive end Myles Garrett, and cornerback Denzel Ward.

Byes: Miami Dolphins (thank God), Detroit Lions