NEW ENGLAND at DALLAS
The Patriots right now are about as dominant across the board in our Quality Stats as we've ever seen. They hold the No. 1 spot in four of our seven Quality Stats and their worst ranking is No. 7 in our Bendability Index. New England fans have lamented the team's inability to stop opposing offenses in the red zone, and there's where it shows up. If the Patriots were able to come up with just a couple more red-zone stops, their ranking in Bendability would be even higher than it is now. But when that No. 7 ranking is your weak link, you're doing O.K.
Of course, the Cowboys aren't far behind. They actually rate ahead of the Patriots in two key Quality Stats: Offensive Hog Index and Defensive Passer Rating. Tom Brady will face his toughest test yet against a Dallas secondary that's finally playing up to its hype.
The Quality Stats in this instance generally confirm what we've all seen and expect from two 5-0 teams: this should be one hell of a match-up between, perhaps, the best teams in their respective conferences and two definite Super Bowl contenders.
New England fans are a little giddy, expecting the kind of beat-down the Patriots have shown in their first five games, outscoring opponents by better than 23 PPG.
They should be a little more realistic.
New England has looked dominant, but they've looked dominant against bad teams. The Patriots are the only team in football that has yet to play a single Quality Opponent. To put it most simply, all those stats wouldn't look so impressive if the schedule had been a bit tougher. And Dallas certainly represents New England's toughest challenge to date.
Of course, the Cowboys haven't exactly faced murderer's row, either. Their lone game against a Quality Opponent was a 45-35 win over the N.Y. Giants.
Bottom line: this will be a big-time test for both teams. And, at the end of the day, New England just has a little bit more than Dallas in too many different areas, not the least of which is big-game experience. We saw Tony Romo have a meltdown last week in a nationally televised game against an inferior opponent.
We don't expect him to have a meltdown again this week, but we also don't expect him to be able to match one of the best big-game quarterbacks in history. Brady has won these Big Games in the past throwing the ball to the likes of Dedric Ward, J.J. Stokes and David Patten. This time, for the first time, he marches into Big Game battle with a quiver full of deadly weapons, as evidenced by his league-leading 8.47 Passing YPA - just one spot ahead of Romo and the 'Boys.
One way or the other, this will be fun ... and close.
The score: New England 30, Dallas 24
WASHINGTON at GREEN BAY
The Packers and the revival of the cryogenically frozen 1996 version of Brett Favre have been the feel-good story of 2007.
Fortunately, we don't have feelings, so we don't feel good about anything, unless we have a few shots of Tennessee sour mash in the system.
We saw the first sign of mortality for Favre and the Packers in the dreadful second-half of their 27-20 loss to Chicago. We expect the trouble to continue at home, this time against the Redskins, who are fresh off their most impressive win in a long time.
The Redskins have played two Quality Opponents in their first four games, compared with just one in five games for the Packers, yet still rank higher in almost every single one of our Quality Stats. That spells a hard-fought road upset for the Redskins.
The score: Washington 23, Green Bay 21
HOUSTON at JACKSONVILLE
Both teams sport somewhat surprising records: Houston has a winning record for the first time, well, ever. And Jacksonville, if it can win Sunday, will head into its Week 7 battle at home against the mighty Colts with a 4-1 record, setting the stage for one of the most pivotal games of the first half of the year.
But first the Jaguars must get past the Texans.
Despite having winning records, neither team looks particularly stout when measured by our Quality Stats. The Texans have been led by the solid play of newcomer Matt Schaub (No. 4 in Passing YPA) and a surprising slate of Big Plays on both sides of the ball. With 18 Big Plays in their favor, the Texans are tied with explosive New England in that category, and four Big Plays ahead of the 5-0 AFC South-leading Colts.
But the Jaguars have had their own surprising play from a quarterback, in their case David Garrard, who has led the Jags to a No. 9 spot in Passing YPA (great by their historic standards). Jacksonville also boasts the toughest defense to score upon in the NFL, as measured by their No. 1 ranking in our Bendability Index. Jacksonville forces opponents to crank out 166 yards of offense just to score a single touchdown. That equates to tough, smart opportunistic football on both sides of the ball.
And it equates to a Jacksonville victory at home and a big-time showdown next week against the 5-0 Colts.
The score: Jacksonville 20, Houston 13
TENNESSEE at TAMPA BAY
'Member when people thought Matt Leinart was a better QB than Vince Young?
Do you 'member?
In any case, this is the Once Under-Appreciated Quarterbacks Bowl. Young has done nothing but win football games since his high school days, yet somehow lost out on the Heisman to Reggie Bush, when he was the was the nation's top-rated passer and led the nation's No. 1 scoring offense ... but we digress.
Tampa's Jeff Garcia has done nothing but win football games since his CFL days, yet somehow can't keep a gig. He backed up Doug Flutie in the CFL, Steve Young with the 49ers and Donovan McNabb with Philadelphia. Yet anytime you put him in there, he puts up big numbers ... or small ones, such as has 0 INTs in 113 pass attempts this season.
He's the top dog these days in Tampa and, even at a long-toothed 37 years old, has been a key figure in the turnaround of a team that was a dreadful 4-12 last year and hasn't won anything meaningful since Super Bowl XXXVII.
Garcia clearly gives the Bucs an edge in the passing department over the Titans, as evidenced by Tampa's 7.13 Passing YPA, good enough for 7th in the NFL. Young and the Titans, meanwhile, average a brutal 5.35 Passing YPA.
But Garcia will have his work cut out for himself in this one: in one of the most shocking Quality Statistical findings of the young season, the Titans rank No. 1 in Defensive Passer Rating, allowing opponents to generate a mere 59.7 rating through four games.
The Titans have actually been fairly solid up and down the board, with a Top 10 ranking in five of our seven Quality Stats. And though their performance passing the ball has been poor, the Titans are actually fairly efficient on offense, as evidenced by their No. 9 ranking in our Scoreability Index.
And, in general, any time a winning team from the AFC matches up with a winning team from the NFC, you can expect the AFC contender to carry the day, even an underdog on the road.
The score: Tennessee 24, Tampa Bay 14
OAKLAND at SAN DIEGO
Who'd have thunk it? Oakland at San Diego in a pivotal battle for first place in the AFC West.
If Norv Turner's Chargers are going to rebound, this is the week to do it. They're fresh off a 41-3 destruction of Denver, they're playing at home and they're facing a team that, last year, couldn't get out of its own way.
The Raiders do boast the best ground game in the NFL, but that plays into one of the (few) strengths of the Chargers, who rank No. 12 in our Defensive Hog Index. (Believe it or not, that's the highest ranking in our Quality Stats for a team that went 14-2 last year; the Turner deconstruction of the 2006 AFC West champs has been nothing if not all-encompassing.)
The statistical match-up tends to favor the Raiders. But we just have trouble believing that they're actually better than the Chargers. Really, Turner can't be worse than we already think he is, can he?
We do believe San Diego should be favored, but not by the 9.5 points Vegas has them pegged at.
The score: San Diego 31, Oakland 28
CAROLINA at ARIZONA
This game has history written all over it: it's the first time since their 11-1 season of 1948 that the Cardinals are playing a meaningful game in October.
We'll sum up this game in four grizzled old words: Kurt Warner. Vinny Testaverde.
The former is one of the most productive quarterbacks in NFL history. He's playing well. And he's playing for Arizona.
The latter is one of the oldest quarterbacks in NFL history. He hasn't taken a meaningful snap in years. And yet the 1937 Heisman Trophy winner may be starting for Carolina after being picked up off the street Wednesday while hitch-hiking to Shady Acres nursing home.
Call us crazy, but we're not even going to look at our Quality Stats (which do generally favor Arizona). It's a quarterback's league, and only one team in this game actually has a quarterback. You may never hear these words again, but we like the Cardinals.
The score: Arizona 24, Carolina 10