The Ravens enter Week 5 with a 3-1 record and the top spot in the AFC North. From an expectation standpoint, they're on par with a lot of experts' predictions and are on their way to making another postseason run.
This weekend, however, is their bye week. On a personal note, I'm not a huge fan of having a bye week so early. If I'm a head coach, I'd prefer my team's off week later in the season, when players can earn some time to heal and rest for the final few games. But I realize it's not up to the coaches and, for the Ravens, they certainly have their share of guys who could use this Sunday to get healthy, so I digress.
In spite of the Ravens' bye week, however, there are still quite a few storylines around the NFL this weekend, with plenty of interesting matchups to watch...
Amid the slate of 1 p.m. games is potentially the best quarterback matchup, or at least the most interesting one. When Drew Brees and the Saints roll into Carolina, they'll go up against rookie gunslinger Cam Newton, who is on pace to shatter the rookie passing record.
Granted, Brees and Newton have no business being compared to each other in terms of accomplishments or even skill level, but with only four games to his resume, it's hard to hold anything against the Panthers' rookie. So far, Newton has thrown for 1,386 yards, third best in the league. He trails only New England's Tom Brady and - guess who? - Brees.
It'll be interesting to see how this young guy develops, particularly on a team that, similar to Newton, still needs a lot of work before thinking about a Super Bowl. Brees is surely thinking about another one, though, and this contest could be a big part in determining who takes the NFC South crown.
In the later games, I'll take the showdown between the Jets and Patriots. Storylines abound in this divisional clash, beginning with two head coaches molded from completely different pedigrees.
Bill Belichick wouldn't show emotion if he won the lottery. Rex Ryan tears up at the mention of free cake in the team conference room. Both are darn good coaches, though, and have established a nice little rivalry in the AFC East.
Their quarterbacks are constantly under the microscope, too. Brady is doing what he always does, passing for more yards than anyone and playing backyard catch with his favorite target, Wes Welker. Mark Sanchez, meanwhile, is still trying to establish himself among the top tier of quarterbacks. And with the Jets at 2-2, they'll need Sanchez to get to work if they're to avoid a sizeable hole in the division.
Prime time brings up the two undefeated teams left in the Packers and Lions. Green Bay travels to Atlanta on Sunday night, a rematch of last year's NFC divisional playoff. Aaron Rodgers went pass-happy against the Falcons a year ago and could do the same to push the Packers to 5-0.
On Monday night, the Lions aim to keep their storybook season perfect, facing the Bears in a key divisional clash (hmm, I sense a theme this weekend). I can't remember the last time the Lions were on "Monday Night Football," but I'm guessing Barry Sanders was running wild in the backfield. For those who haven't seen them yet, this team is fun to watch and yes, they're legitimate. Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford are a lethal combination on offense and that defense is improving.
All in all, despite the Ravens' bye week, this weekend's games certainly pack some punch. So cut your lawn, clean your house, cook a nice dinner, but do yourself a favor and don't turn off the TV.