NFL WEEK 6: New England-Dallas clash heads up big week

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Coming off a bye, the Dallas Cowboys should be refreshed and ready to start moving up in the NFL standings.

Coming off an emotional revenge victory over a despised rival, the New England Patriots should be ripe for a letdown.

Don't count on either of those scenarios when the teams meet today in Foxborough.

Dallas (2-2) has been one of the most up-and-down teams in the league. Things don't fluctuate from week to week with America's Team, they do so from play to play.

That's no way to perform against the relentless Patriots, who haven't been dominant the last few weeks, but are far steadier than Tony Romo and company.

"You never want that to happen," Romo said of Dallas' split personalities. "We were also fortunate to have all the things go right against Washington and against San Francisco. For every game that's the other way, there's another on the other side. Everyone is good in this league. You have to minimize turnovers in key situations. We did that for two of the games and two of the games we didn't. That's really what it comes down to."

What this could come down to is whether the Patriots (4-1) hit their stride in gaining their measure of vengeance against the Jets last weekend. It wasn't a rout, but it sure felt good to New England after the way New York won the playoff matchup in January.

One thing is certain for this game: Dallas must find a way to slow down Wes Welker, who leads the league with 45 receptions and with 740 yards receiving, the most in NFL history through a team's first five games.

"I don't think you can really look at them and not think this is a little bit crazy," Welker said of his numbers and of quarterback Tom Brady's 1,874 yards, 14 TDs and 109.5 rating through five weeks. "But at the same time I try not to really think about it. Just try to get open and catch the ball and play for my team."

New England has won the last three meetings after Dallas took the first seven in this infrequent rivalry. The Patriots also have won 19 consecutive home games and 22 of the last 23 against the NFC. So even if the good Cowboys show up, it might not be enough.

At least they will be fresh.

"For us, it helped just because we had a lot of guys banged up, myself included just with the ribs and everything," Romo said of the bye. "It was nice to have a couple of days where you felt like you could get your body right. I think that's going to help us going forward."

Elsewhere Sunday, the two unbeaten teams have entirely different opponents. Detroit hosts San Francisco, which sits atop the NFC West at 4-1, while Green Bay is home for tailender St. Louis (0-4).

If both the Lions and Packers get to 6-0, it would be the second time since the NFL split into divisions in 1933 that two teams in the same division started with six wins. In 1934, Detroit and Chicago each started 10-0. The Bears won all 13 regular-season games before losing the championship game 30-13 to the New York Giants. The Lions (10-3) finished second in the Western Division.

Also, it's Buffalo at the New York Giants, Houston at Baltimore, New Orleans at Tampa Bay, Philadelphia at Washington, Jacksonville at Pittsburgh, Carolina at Atlanta, Indianapolis at Cincinnati, Cleveland at Oakland and Minnesota at Chicago.

Monday night, Miami is at the New York Jets.

Off this week are Arizona (1-4), Denver (1-4), Kansas City (2-3), San Diego (4-1), Seattle (2-3), and Tennessee (3-2.)

St. Louis (0-4)

at Green Bay (5-0)

This looks like the mismatch of the year. The Rams, coming off a bye, have been abysmal on defense and even worse on offense. The defending champion Packers, even when not clicking in all facets, win games.

Might Green Bay be headed into a trap?

"My message ... to the team was there's a difference between being real confident and being overconfident," coach Mike McCarthy said. "Mature football teams play with real confidence and immature football teams play with overconfidence after coming off a big win as we had in Atlanta on Sunday night. So it's important for us to spend more time on the Rams than we normally would."

It's also important for the Rams to find a way to slow Aaron Rodgers and his deep collection of receivers. Rodgers has thrown to 12 teammates already this season.

Buffalo (4-1)

at New York Giants (3-2)

The NFL's two most successful teams in the red zone meet.

If the Giants can lose to Seattle while getting six sacks, it's problematic what the far-more-advanced Bills' offense might do. Buffalo bounced back nicely from blowing a lead at Cincinnati to handle Philadelphia, and if it can protect Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo might soar.

Few teams are as banged-up as the Giants, who displayed a penchant for making and allowing big plays against the Seahawks. New York has a killer schedule beginning in November and can't afford to miss another chance for a home win.

Houston (3-2)

at Baltimore (3-1)

With LB Mario Williams gone for the season with a chest muscle problem, star WR Andre Johnson hobbled and QB Matt Schaub sporting a sore shoulder, the Texans enter this game at a severe disadvantage. The one thing they have done well all season is run the ball with Arian Foster and Ben Tate, but hardly anyone succeeds on the ground against the Ravens.

Baltimore, which has won all four meetings with Houston, is rested after a bye and has won 12 of its last 13 home games. The Ravens are playing with a familiar edginess on defense, too.

"They've been the staple of good defenses," Houston linebacker Brian Cushing said. "They've been the staple of playing physical. This is the kind of team you watch growing up and hope to play like theirs one day. We'll definitely be watching them, but at the same time, we're just going to try to match them as best we can."

New Orleans (4-1)

at Tampa Bay (3-2)

Until the Buccaneers got annihilated at San Francisco last week, this was an anticipated showdown for the NFC South lead. Tampa Bay has shown far too many deficiencies to be considered a serious threat to the Saints without some major corrections.

"We're not a finished product by any means," Bucs coach Raheem Morris said. "The thing about it is it gives me a chance to teach great lessons. There are lessons learned when you go out and get your face beaten in."

Most important for the Bucs is patching holes in the pass defense that Drew Brees and his endless array of targets will readily exploit. If this becomes a shootout, all advantages are with New Orleans.

Philadelphia (1-4) at Washington (3-1)

Nothing about this game would have made sense when the season began. The Eagles supposedly were the prime contenders to unseat Green Bay in the NFC after their offseason talent haul. Washington allegedly was an also-ran in a tough division.

After five weeks, the NFC East doesn't look so powerful and the Eagles look awful. Philly is 30th in run defense and the Redskins, with a three-pronged rushing attack, provide a difficult matchup. The Eagles also are minus-10 in turnover differential, with a league-worst 15 giveaways.

An Eagles loss might doom their chances of winning the division, while a Washington victory legitimizes its chances.

"We understand that this is a big game and a division game in the NFC East," coach Mike Shanahan said. "We understand our opportunity to separate ourselves in the division, but we also know that we have to take care of business and do it the right way and play one of our best games."

Jacksonville (1-4) at Pittsburgh (3-2)

Jacksonville is in a downward spiral amid questions about Jack Del Rio's security as coach. But the Jaguars have won three straight at Heinz Field.

Wide receiver Hines Ward re-emerged as a force with two TD catches last week. The 14-year veteran needs 13 yards Sunday to surpass Hall of Famer Michael Irvin for 19th on the career list. He's 108 yards away from becoming the 18th receiver to reach 12,000 - on a team that normally lives by the run.

"That's Hines," fellow receiver Antonio Brown said. "He's passionate. He's tough. He's a guy you can learn from because he's been doing it at a high level for so long."

Carolina (1-4)

at Atlanta (2-3)

The Panthers don't win, but they scare everyone, in part thanks to rookie QB Cam Newton's heroics. His hookups with Steve Smith threaten every opponent, and Atlanta was scorched last week by Rodgers and the Packers.

A hamstring injury will sideline rookie receiver Julio Jones, the man the Falcons bartered so heavily to get in the draft. Atlanta needs to rekindle its running game; Carolina is vulnerable on the ground.

Indianapolis (0-5) at Cincinnati (3-2)

Just love those matchups of QBs who were No. 1 draft picks: Peyton Manning vs. Carson Palmer.

Sorry, got carried away there. With Manning (neck surgery) sidelined and Palmer retired (for now), this one takes on a whole new air, with the Bengals favored to keep Indy winless. Cincinnati has the stingiest defense yardage-wise, and the Colts' offense without Manning is anemic.

Miami (0-4) at N.Y. Jets (2-3), Monday night

Oh, the angst there will be on Monday night. Will the Dolphins ever win a game and how long can Tony Sparano last as coach? Will the Jets find their mojo and winning ways before Rex Ryan runs out of one-liners?

More to the point, if New York can't shut down a Matt Moore-led offense or find holes in the 31st-ranked passing defense, then that three-game road losing string was no aberration.

Minnesota (1-4)

at Chicago (2-3)

The bottom half of the NFC North gets the prime-time matchup. Looks like the NFL gave NBC the wrong teams in this division.

Minnesota stopped blowing big leads last week and beat Arizona. Chicago is being routed in the sacks game, allowing 18 and getting nine.


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