Entering Week 6, there are 17 teams with a .500 or better record. That’s three behind the most such teams (20) through the first five weeks of a season in NFL history (2001, 2010).
“It’s hard every week,” says New England Patriots head coach BILL BELICHICK about the competition in the NFL. “Every week we go against another good team, good players and good coaches. It’s hard every week. This is the National Football League.”
And in the National Football League, the only thing predictable continues to be the unpredictability.
Of the 17 teams with a .500 or better record, more than half of them (nine) won eight games or fewer a year ago. Those nine clubs, who have a combined 28-15 (.651) record this season, finished 2011 with a 54-90 (.375) mark.
“It’s still early and there’s so much more football to be played,” says head coach LESLIE FRAZIER of the 4-1 Minnesota Vikings, a team that has already surpassed last season’s win total (3). “We all know there have been a lot of teams that have gotten off to great starts and then you don’t see them in December. We don’t want to be one of those teams. We’re going to work as hard as we can and play one game at a time and do our best to get prepared for our next ball game.”
Two teams – Atlanta (5-0) and Houston (5-0) – lead the way with undefeated records. There are five teams – Arizona (4-1), Baltimore (4-1), Chicago (4-1), Minnesota (4-1) and San Francisco (4-1) – right behind them with just one loss.
“Right now, 5-0 is just a start,” says Falcons head coach MIKE SMITH. “It’s just a start. That’s all it is.”
Some of the key games this weekend:
PITTSBURGH STEELERS (2-2) at TENNESSEE TITANS (1-4) (Thursday, NFL Network, 8:00 PM ET)
The Steelers travel to Nashville for a Thursday-night contest to kick off Week 6.
Pittsburgh evened its record at 2-2 with a 16-14 win over Philadelphia last week. SHAUN SUISHAM kicked a 34-yard field goal as time expired to give the Steelers the victory. The team got a boost from the return of running back RASHARD MENDENHALL, who rushed for 81 yards and a TD in his season debut. With Mendenhall back, the Steelers gained 136 yards on the ground in Week 5. In the team’s previous three games, Pittsburgh had rushed for a total of 195 yards.
“It felt great to be back,” says Mendenhall. “But there is a lot more work to be done.”
That work will continue in Tennessee where the Titans will look to get back on track.
“We have a game on Thursday night against a very good football team,” says Titans head coach MIKE MUNCHAK. “Playing in four days against a good team might be the best thing for us. We can play much, much better. This is the group we have and with this group, we have to play much better, and we have to do it quickly.”
NEW YORK GIANTS (3-2) at SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (4-1) (Sunday, FOX, ESPN America 4:25 PM ET, PULS 4 22:20 MEZ)                
The Giants will return to San Francisco for a rematch of last season’s NFC Championship Game, which was won by New York 20-17 in overtime en route to a victory in Super Bowl XLVI.
Last week, the Giants defeated Cleveland 41-27 as running back AHMAD BRADSHAW rushed for 200 yards and wide receiver VICTOR CRUZ had three touchdown catches. It marked the first time since 1960 that a team had a 200-yard rusher and a player with at least three TD catches in a game. On December 18, 1960, St. Louis’ JOHN DAVID CROW (203 rushing yards) and SONNY RANDLE (three receiving TDs) accomplished the feat.
New York’s offense ranks second in the NFL and leads the NFC averaging 429.2 yards per game. The Giants have gained 1,877 yards in their past four games, the highest total over any four-game span in franchise history.
“San Francisco is a very good team,” says Giants head coach TOM COUGHLIN. “We’ll have to be at our best.”
The 49ers recorded a franchise-record 621 yards last week in a 45-3 win over Buffalo. In the victory, San Francisco became the first team in NFL history to gain at least 300 yards rushing (311) and 300 yards passing (310) in a game. The 49ers have won each of their past two games by 30+ points, the first time the team has accomplished that since 1961.
“I’m very pleased with our guys,” says San Francisco head coach JIM HARBAUGH about the team’s Week 5 performance. “Good football. Good team victory. A lot of plays were made. It was a great team victory.”
The 49ers had a 300-yard passer (ALEX SMITH, 303 yards), 100-yard rusher (FRANK GORE, 106 yards), and two 100-yard receivers (MICHAEL CRABTREE, 113 yards and VERNON DAVIS, 106 yards) in the same game for the first time since November 19, 1961.
“The Giants are an outstanding team,” says Harbaugh about his club’s Week 6 opponent. “They’ve got an explosive offense. They’re very balanced. They’re just an all-around top team in the league.”
GREEN BAY PACKERS (2-3) at HOUSTON TEXANS (5-0) (Sunday, NBC, 8:20 PM ET)                
Houston, one of the two remaining undefeated clubs in 2012, will host the Packers, last year’s final unbeaten team.
Two of the premiere defensive players in the NFL will be in the spotlight on Sunday night: Green Bay’s CLAY MATTHEWS and Houston’s J.J. WATT. Watt leads the NFL with 8.5 sacks and Matthews ranks second with 8.
The Texans improved to 5-0 with a 23-17 win at the New York Jets on Monday night. Houston running back ARIAN FOSTER had 168 scrimmage yards and reached the 5,000-yard mark in his 40th game, the third-fastest in NFL history to do so (EDGERRIN JAMES, 36 games and Pro Football Hall of Famer ERIC DICKERSON, 39).
“Arian stepped up and played huge,” says Texans quarterback MATT SCHAUB. “We’re very excited to be 5-0.”
The Packers aim to get back to .500 after dropping to 2-3 with a 30-27 loss at Indianapolis.
“We’re not quite where we need to be,” says Green Bay head coach MIKE MC CARTHY. “We’re 2-3 and that was a tough loss. I’m focused on the specifics of our football team and that we’re not where we need to be.”
DENVER BRONCOS (2-3) at SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (3-2) (Monday, ESPN, 8:30 PM ET)                
San Diego will host Denver on Monday night as the top two teams in the AFC West clash in primetime. The Chargers enter Week 6 in first place in the division, one game ahead of the Broncos. Both teams are looking to bounce back from a loss in Week 5.
In his career, Denver quarterback PEYTON MANNING has won 11 of his 15 Monday starts and has a 96.3 passer rating in those contests. Last week, Manning registered the 66th 300-yard passing game of his career, the most in NFL history.
“It’s important that we improve throughout the season in some areas,” says Manning. “We’re not quite where we want to be. Obviously, we’d like to be 5-0 and have a winning record. We’re 2-3 and have a pivotal division game, so the key is that we keep making progress.”
San Diego’s PHILIP RIVERS is 7-3 on Monday nights and has 17 touchdowns and a 105.2 passer rating in those 10 games. Rivers is 40-8 (.833) in his career when he starts and posts a rating of at least 100.
“This team is close, believe me,” says Rivers. “I hate losing, but the way we fought (against New Orleans in Week 5), that’s something good.”
NFL FACTOID: Pro Football Hall of Famer JOHNNY UNITAS’ 47-game streak with a touchdown pass was 113 percent longer than the previous record (22 games by CECIL ISBELL). New Orleans Saints quarterback DREW BREES, whose 48-game streak is now the longest in NFL history, would need to extend his active streak to 100 consecutive games to surpass Unitas’ mark by 113 percent.

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