5 NFL Storylines for Week 6: The Battle for First in the AFC East
The 1972 Miami Dolphins have already celebrated the defeat of the last undefeated team, meaning we'll have no ridiculous discussion about whether it's better for a team to lose or go undefeated through the regular season.
The NFL has been a bit crazy this season, with shocking results popping up every week, so it's no surprise that no team has made it through five weeks unscathed. But without an undefeated team to track for the rest of the season, what narratives are there to watch for this weekend across the league?
Get your remote control ready to flip between these games, which feature some of the most intriguing storylines of the weekend.
Strength Versus Strength in Seattle
DeMarco Murray has started off the season in dominant fashion, leading the league in rushing by a wide margin and helping the Dallas offense control games en route to a 4-1 record. A look at our advanced numbers reveal just how good he's been.
Murray is fifth among backs with 60 or more carries in Rushing Net Expected Points, and the best in that group in Success Rate. This means he's one of the most productive, efficient, and consistent backs in the NFL despite a workload featuring 35 more carries than the next closest back.
This week, Murray and the Cowboys take on the Seahawks, who have the third-best run defense in the NFL (and the best run defense on a per-play basis). Seattle has yet to allow more than 38 yards to a single running back but have been a bit more vulnerable to the pass than they were last year.
So which team's strength will win out? Will the Cowboys stick to the run and try to get Murray going, or will they put the game in Tony Romo's hands? This will be a fascinating game to watch, as two of the best units in the league go head to head when Dallas's offense is on the field.
Battle for First in the AFC East
The Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots are tied for first in the AFC East, and their game this weekend will be for sole possession of the lead in the division. Neither team has looked "pretty" so far this season, but they've done enough to set up this first-place battle in Week 6.
The Bills have the second-best defense in the NFL, the Patriots have the sixth. The Bills have the 7th-worst offense in the league, the Patriots have the 11th worst. There's no doubt that this game will be defensive in nature, so which team will have the edge?
Buffalo has only defeated the Patriots once since 2003, so this "rivalry" has clearly been lopsided. But Kyle Orton has brought a bit more consistency to the Buffalo offense, so could that be enough to outscore the struggling Patriots with an obviously declining Tom Brady?
Cat Fight for First Place
The Panthers and Bengals, like the Bills and Patriots, haven't played attractive football this season, but they're in first place, and have a showdown this weekend to remain atop their divisions.
Our power rankings would give the Bengals an edge by a decent margin, as Cincinnati ranks fifth and Carolina ranks 19th. But the Bengals were blown out last week, while the Panthers picked up a victory over Chicago.
Cam Newton has looked all right as a passer so far this season, but he hasn't been running the ball effectively (Joe Flacco has more Rushing NEP this year than Newton). The Carolina offense has also been riddled with injuries, but still feature enough talent to get by.
The Bengals were looking dominant on defense before this past week, when they were picked apart by the New England offense (which had previously struggled). Will the Bengals rebound, or have they fallen back to earth after a hot start?
Can the Backups Earn a Full-Time Job?
But both players have historically been strong against bad defenses, and this week they face a much tougher test that may help prove whether or not they're worthy of a starting job on a permanent basis.
Glennon and the Buccaneers take on the Ravens, who have the seventh-best defense so far this season according to our data. Glennon is 12th among quarterbacks with 100 or more drop backs in Passing NEP per drop back, and that number could be higher were it not for drops by his receivers. The NC State product looks to be much better than Josh McCown, but can he prove to his team that he's better than the top options in the 2015 NFL Draft?
Cousins has been performing even better, ranking 8th in that same per-drop back metric, and he faces the 10th-best defense in the league, the Cardinals. There have been whispers that Cousins could overtake Robert Griffin III and become the long-term starter for Washington, but even if not, games like this will increase Cousins' trade value (and appeal) and make it more likely for him to start somewhere on Week 1 of next season.
Jacksonville Jaguars Already on the Clock?
The Jacksonville Jaguars have started off this season in historically poor fashion and have on of their easiest games of the year this week when they face the Tennessee Titans.
If they're unable to snag a win here, they may find themselves with no more than a single win this season, which would almost certainly result in a first-overall pick in the draft. But just how bad has Jacksonville been so far this season?
Through the first five games, the Jaguars rank second-to-last in defense (only the Saints are worse), and they rank last in offense by a very wide margin. In fact, the gap between them and the 31st ranked offense (Oakland) is the same as the gap from Oakland at 31 to Philadelphia at 21, according to our data.
That all results in a nERD calculation that tells us the Jags would lose by over 16 points to an average NFL team, based on their performances so far this season. The Titans, for comparison's sake, are only a field goal worse than an average team, according to nERD.