The NFL season often sees one particular week of games that prove to be season gut-checks. Whether Week Five this year proves to be such remains to be seen, but ten items jumped out this week -
1 - THE PATRIOTS LOSE AT THE LINE OF SCRIMMAGE - New England's loss to the Bengals was the club's first loss to Marvin Lewis, and there was a lot to dislike from New England's side - but the big story seems to be that the offensive line never won any battle all day, leaving Tom Brady harried and hit while no rhythm on offense was ever established. It was disturbingly reminiscent of the line's poor performance in preseason at Detroit. That the line overall has been excellent is true enough, but losses such as this should irk everyone involved.
2 - THE NFC EAST IS THE LEAGUE'S WEAKEST DIVISION - The Eagles manhandled the NY Giants again and may now begin to string together some consistent muscle, but it wasn't much of an accomplishment after Dallas' deflation to the Broncos; it merely showed how weak the division now is. That the Cowboys had beaten Peyton Manning the previous two meetings appeared to mean something the way the game was going - until Tony Romo showcased why he has no future as a top-drawer quarterback; being the first Cowboys quarterback to break 500 passing yards in a game is a completely empty accomplishment.
3 - THE PANTHERS HAVE BIGGER ISSUES THAN WE MAY THINK - What jumped out in some of the pregame coverage everywhere was the story that the Panthers are already scouting to replace coach Ron Rivera, this after their Bye week. That the Panthers were embarrassed by the Cardinals is the old question of cause or effect, and indicative of dysfunction the team cannot afford to have.
4 - THE AFC SOUTH IS BECOMING A TWO-TEAM RACE - The Colts rallied to shoot down the surging Seahawks, an important win given the Seahawks were trying to establish some kind of consistent muscle on the road; the Seahawks remain the more notorious road losers in the league and that has cost them shots at the Superbowl.
The Colts win put them ahead of Tennessee; the Titans wound up giving up their first loss to Andy Reid thanks to a late collapse by backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, this after he'd rallied the Titans to a 17-13 lead after trailing 13-0. Making it even worse, the Titans now have to travel to Seattle; the task of winning at Seattle is huge for any team.
The Titans nonetheless have a commanding lead on Houston, and the Texans face a bad prospect going forward - they no longer look like an elite team, instead they've become a team that has to question its own quarterback as well as coach.
5 -THE SAINTS EXPOSE JAY CUTLER AGAIN - The Saints under Sean Payton had not won at Chicago, a streak ended pretty emphatically this time around. In the process the Saints proved a point largely lost amid the accolades given coach Marc Trestman et al - Jay Cutler is not a good quarterback, and by now in his career it's not going to get better.
6 - THE BRONCOS LOOK LIKE A TEAM THEY DON'T WANT TO RESEMBLE - The Broncos have exploded in points scored and that's always a desired result for a team, but amid the scoring the game at Dallas graphically made a point largely lost all season - defensively they're not a good team. Only Jacksonville, St. Louis, Philly, and the NY Giants have given up more than Denver's 139 points allowed (Houston is tied with Denver at 139 allowed). They look more and more like the 2011 Packers, the ultimate fraud 15-1 team, a team that scored like crazy, couldn't stop anyone, and got exposed once the playoffs got underway. Peyton Manning's playoff record speaks to the analogy - eight career playoff one-and-outs (more disturbingly for Denver, five of them including last year's insane gag-job against the Ravens were home games). The notion of the Broncos running the table has taken some hold but don't buy it.
7 - THE CARDINALS - IN SPITE OF THEMSELVES - AREN'T GOING AWAY - Carson Palmer has been terrible yet the Cards are 3-2. That they've already gotten this far says something about Bruce Arians, especially after he'd called out the Cards offense as "putrid" and it won despite not looking any better in this game.
8 - WILL THE REAL RAVENS PLEASE STAND UP? - The Ravens are 3-2 yet even in their wins they've left reason for doubt about how they'll do down the road this year. Terrell Suggs' summation ("We weren't perfect, but we made plays when we needed to") reflects the year so far for the Ravens, and they overall showed bounce after last week's bitter loss. But they've become a team where you don't really know what you're getting week in and week out.
9 - FEAR THE BROWNS - Losing their quarterback for the year looked bad, and there are still eleven games left in the year, but Cleveland's win over Buffalo was a slugfest of a game and showed real fight in the Browns, the kind of fight we have not seen out of them since they came back into the league.
10 - THE PACKERS DON'T CONVINCE A LOT OF PEOPLE RIGHT NOW - Like the Ravens (who they face next week), the Packers are a team where one doesn't know what to expect week after week, though here the issues are easier to pin down - the Packers do not have the toughness to rally from down big or down late. This showed again in another home win over the Lions, winless at Lambeau since 1991 - they won 22-9 yet lacked the crispness to buy that they're a real contender.
So be it until the Monday Night Game.