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Milt Northrop’s Sunday Playbook: Strengths collide as Falcons meet Broncos

This is what pro football has become: The big news in Week Five is the release from NFL prison of quarterback Tom Brady of the New England Patriots and Marcell Dareus and Seantrel Henderson of the Bills. Last week, Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell got out of the big house.

Three teams are unbeaten after four weeks of the season – Denver (4-0), Minnesota (4-0) and Philadelphia (3-0). The Broncos would seem to be in the greatest danger Sunday even though they are playing their third home game in five starts. Denver is facing the hottest offense in the league in Atlanta, led by the passing of Matt Ryan to Julio Jones and running back Devonta Freeman, who ran for 11 TDs in 2015 and is second in the league in rushing.

Minnesota will get tested at home against the Houston Texans minus J.J. Watt, and Philadelphia with its rookie quarterback Carson Wentz goes on the road for the second time, facing the Lions in Detroit.

Here’s a capsule look at the Week Five games:

Game of the day

Falcons (3-1) at Broncos (4-0)

Kickoff: 4:05 p.m.

The line: Broncos (-5½).

The scoop: Denver QB Trevor Siemian was limited in practice during the week after leaving last week’s win at Tampa Bay. Rookie Paxton Lynch may get first NFL start. ... This one pits NFL’s No. 1 offense (Falcons, 478.8) against the No. 4 defense with league leader in sacks, Von Miller (5.5). ... Matt Ryan of Falcons leads league with 1,473 passing yards, 11 TDs and 126.3 passer rating.

Outlook: Can Broncos shut down Ryan to Julio Jones? Maybe, just enough for a 26-24 victory.

Top attractions

Bills (2-2) at Rams (3-1)

TV: CBS, 4:25 p.m.

The line: Rams (-2½).

The scoop: Can the Bills come up with another offensive masterpiece against a Rams defense that actually is giving up more yards per game (379.5-356.5) than the Bills? ... One concern: Rams RB Todd Gurley is due to break out. He’s averaging only 2.6 yards per attempt with a long run of 16.

Outlook: If Rams can’t hogtie an offense averaging only 269.0 yards per game, then how good are they? Bills, 20-17.

Eagles (3-0) at Lions (1-3)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Eagles (-3).

The scoop: Philadelphia is coming off a bye week. Eagles rate as the NFL’s biggest surprise in early season with Wentz (5 TDs-0 INTS, 103.8 rating) and third-ranked defense (274.3). ... Lions play just well enough to tease, but can’t seem to get it done.

Outlook: When will Wentz wake up and realize he’s in the NFL? Eagles, 27-20.

Texans (3-1) at Vikings (4-0)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Vikings (-6½).

The scoop: How good are the Vikings? Can they win if they don’t keep on getting turnovers (plus 10)? Their offense is averaging only 290.5 ypg. ... Texans are 0-3 all-time vs. Vikes, but teams haven’t met since 2012.

Outlook: Texans, with 11 sacks so far, can put the heat on Vikings’ Sam Bradford. Minnesota, 17-14.

Bengals (2-2) at Cowboys (3-1)

Kickoff: 4:05 p.m.

The line: Pick’em.

The scoop: Dallas QB Dak Prescott has not thrown INT in first 131 NFL passes. Most ever, although Eagles’ Wentz had no picks in his first 102. Cowboys rookie RB Ezekiel Elliott leads league with 412 rushing yards. ... It will be up to Dallas CBs Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne to cool off Bengals’ WR A.J. Green, who leads league with 32 receptions and 468 receiving yards.

Outlook: Can’t see Andy Dalton returning to Texas and beating ’Boys in House that Jerry Built. Dallas, 30-21.

Giants (2-2) at Packers (2-1)

TV: NBC, 8:30 p.m.

The line: Packers (-7½).

The scoop: It’s not quite Princeton versus Rutgers, but first Giants-Green Bay game was in 1926. Over the years they met four times for NFL championship and once for NFC title. Giants have won last three playoff games at Lambeau, including two en route to Super Bowl wins in 2007 and 2011 seasons.

Outlook: Supposedly improved Giants defense has to come up big against Aaron Rodgers and Co. Green Bay, 24-21.

Best of the rest

Redskins (2-2) at Ravens (3-1)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Ravens (-3½).

The scoop: Baltimore, not Denver, Minnesota or Seattle, leads NFL in defense (256.0), but Ravens faced high-powered offense for the first time last Sunday and gave up 35 points to Raiders. ... Washington is not that potent but has receivers in Jordan Reed, DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon to test Ravens’ secondary.

Outlook: Looking for 28-24 Redskins win in D.C.-Baltimore neighborhood rivalry.

Patriots (3-1) at Browns (0-4)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Patriots (-10½).

The scoop: Tom Brady is free at last. The expectation is he will come out and riddle the Browns with passes. Maybe. If they’re not totally discouraged after losses to Miami (OT) and Washington in games they led late, Browns can be pesky even with QB rookie Cody Kessler.

Outlook: Last time Pats visited Cleveland, they were routed, 34-14, in 2010. Not expecting that this time, but gritty Browns will make it interesting. Patriots, 24-17.

Titans (1-3) at Dolphins (1-3)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Dolphins (-3½).

The scoop: Mike Mularkey needed a scapegoat so veteran special teams coach Bobby April took the fall after a 67-yard punt return in the third quarter beat them at Houston last week. It wasn’t April’s fault the Titans couldn’t come back with any points in fourth quarter.

Outlook: Look for a lot of INTs when Ryan Tannehill faces Marcus Mariota. Dolphins, 28-20.

Jets (1-3) at Steelers (3-1)

TV: CBS, 1 p.m.

The line: Steelers (-7).

The scoop: Ryan Fitzpatrick can’t have three nightmare games in a row, can he? Fitz has thrown seven fourth-quarter picks in last two games versus Chiefs and Seahawks. ... Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is only 2-3 against Jets.

Outlook: Ben Roethlisberger of Steelers has passed for at least three touchdowns in last six home games, including five TDs in rout of Chiefs last week. Can’t see that happening to Jets. Steelers, 31-27.

Chargers (1-3) at Raiders (3-1)

Kickoff: 4:25 p.m.

The line: Raiders (-3½).

The scoop: Chargers had a 13-point fourth quarter lead at home against winless Saints last week and managed to blow it. Raiders, on other hand, fell behind at Baltimore and connected on 23-yard TD pass from Derek Carr to Michael Crabtree to win it.

Outlook: Last week should be a clue that Raiders finding ways to win and Bolts finding a way to lose. Oakland, 30-24.

Buccaneers (1-3) at Panthers (1-3)

TV: ESPN, Monday, 8:30 p.m.

The line: Pick ’em.

The scoop: Cam Newton (concussion) will sit out, meaning veteran Derek Anderson gets the start. Bucs QB Jameis Winston (8 TDs-8 INTs) has been erratic after hot start. ... Carolina tries to rebound from 48-33 rout at Atlanta while Tampa Bay was outclassed at home (only 219 yards of offense) against Broncos.

Outlook: Bucs a disappointment so far after winning opener at Atlanta. Carolina, 24-13.

Dog of the week

Bears (1-3) at Colts (1-3)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Colts (-4½).

The scoop: They met in historic 2006 Super Bowl with two African-American coaches meeting for the first time in the big game. Don’t expect either to get to Houston Feb. 5. Bears got first win at home versus Lions last week while Colts lost to Jaguars in London.

Outlook: Not much to get excited about here. Colts, 24-16.

Last week’s record: 6-7 straight up; 6-7 vs. spread.

Season’s record: 35-24 straight up; 30-28-1 vs. spread.


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