Opportunity knocking in AFC East

The NFL prides itself for having close, competitive games. The competition committee always tries to make sure bad teams have every opportunity to improve.

Which brings us to last week. Week 4 was filled with blowouts. Eight of the 13 games were decided by 19 points or more. Last year, 131 of the league's 256 games were one-possession decisions (eight points or fewer). It's great when 50.8 percent of a season's games are close.

So far this year, 24 of the 61 games have been decided by eight points or fewer, a drop-off to 39.3 percent.

The forecast for Week 5 is encouraging for good games. The New Orleans Saints are 10½-point favorites over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but that's the only game with a spread larger than seven points. Week 5 features a change in quarterback for the Buffalo Bills along with plenty of themes.

Here are the trends for Week 5.

1. Surprisingly, AFC East is an open race: The last time the AFC East title was open to teams not in New England was in 2008, when quarterback Tom Brady blew out an ACL. That season, the AFC East played out-of-division games versus the then-weak AFC West and NFC West and piled up wins. The Patriots finished 11-5 with Matt Cassel at quarterback, but the Miami Dolphins won the division with a tiebreaker.

This year, a 2-2 start, a bad interior offensive line, and weak outside threats at receiver have even Brady questioning whether this offense can max out for points and yards. The question is whether the other three teams in the division can step up.

The Dolphins are on a bye after their win over Oakland in London, so the pressure is on the Bills and New York Jets. The Bills travel to Detroit after benching QB EJ Manuel for Kyle Orton. For the Orton move to work, he has to give Buffalo's offense a significant boost. Lions QB Matthew Stafford beat the Jets in Week 4 despite Calvin Johnson catching only two passes. If Johnson's ankle is a little better, the Lions figure to score 24 or 27 points this week. Can Orton match that? In 70 career starts, Orton's offenses have averaged 20.51 points per game. That's great for a backup, and Orton has been one of the NFL's best backups for years. The question is whether it will be good enough Sunday in Detroit.

The Jets are on a three-game losing streak, and pressure is mounting to bench QB Geno Smith. They play San Diego, which is averaging 25.5 points a game. With Smith behind center, the Jets are averaging 19.8 this season and only 18.6 during his career. If he doesn't picks things up, the Jets might have to seriously consider using Michael Vick or forget about the AFC East title.

2. Patriots face Bengals at the worst possible time: For a couple of years, the Patriots' offense was ahead of the rest of the NFL. Coach Bill Belichick traded for Wes Welker years ago and installed many of the routes that had made him a success at Texas Tech. The Pats were the first to use the fast-paced Oregon attack in the NFL, allowing Brady to run as many as 74 plays a game.

After four games, though, the Patriots look as though they have gone from being an HDTV to a black-and-white television with a rabbit-ear antenna. Brady is huddling more and getting less out of the offense. The decisions to deactivate Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins leaves the Patriots without a pure outside threat. Brady has been one of the worst downfield passers this season because there isn't enough speed in his receiving corps. The team might be seeing only 65 percent of tight end Rob Gronkowski's ability as he works off the rust from last year's ACL knee surgery.

All of the above paints a bleak picture against the Bengals, who are challenging the Denver Broncos for the title of best team in the AFC. The Bengals had a bye in Week 4 to study the struggling Patriots' offense and are well-rested heading into Sunday night's game. If the Pats fall to 2-3, there will be panic in New England.

3. Breaking point for injuries: Fans don't like to hear excuses, but teams break down because of injuries. The 2013 Atlanta Falcons were the classic example. They lost five starters to injury in the first half of the second game and never recovered. They finished 4-12.

Here are two games to watch this weekend for offensive line injuries: St. Louis Rams-Philadelphia Eagles and Falcons-New York Giants. Though the Eagles welcome the return of right tackle Lane Johnson after a four-game suspension, they still are missing center Jason Kelce, guard Evan Mathis and top backup Allen Barbre. Down four linemen last week, the Eagles had only 12 rushes in a 26-21 loss to San Francisco.

Because Eagles QB Nick Foles is getting hit more, he has watched his completion percentage drop from 64 in 2013 to 57.8 this season. His touchdown-to-interception ratio has fallen from 27-to-2 to 6-to-4. Complicating matters Sunday is that he'll face the deepest and most talented defensive line in football.

Meanwhile, the Falcons' worst problems are also along the O-line. Last week they lost center Joe Hawley and tackle Lamar Holmes for the season. Guard Justin Blalock is a question mark for the Giants game. Plus, the Falcons lost tackles Sam Baker and Mike Johnson for the season with injuries. If QB Matt Ryan doesn't have time to throw, the Falcons could spiral as they did last season.

4. Real test for Cardinals: Bruce Arians was the NFL's best coach in September, and Todd Bowles might have been the league's best defensive coordinator, getting the Arizona Cardinals off to a 3-0 start. Arians used backup quarterback Drew Stanton in two of the wins. Bowles has been doing magic with a defense that's missing Darnell Dockett, John Abraham, Karlos Dansby and Daryl Washington from last year's team.

On Sunday, Arizona faces Peyton Manning and the Broncos. Both teams are coming off byes, and the Broncos had a moral victory in their loss at Seattle in Week 3. They took the game into overtime, a big improvement from their 35-point loss in the Super Bowl. The Broncos have improved their running defense and pass rush and are more aggressive with their pass coverage. If the Cardinals come out of this one 4-0, they are for real.

5. Will Superdome heal the Saints? Like the Patriots, the Saints have been a big disappointment. They are 1-3 and can't seem to do anything on the road, where they've lost all three games. Home has always been heaven for the Saints and Drew Brees. They host the Buccaneers, who are coming off a remarkable comeback victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Saints can't figure out what's wrong with their defense. Last year, coordinator Rob Ryan's defense was the fourth best in football. This season, it is the fourth worst, giving up 396 yards a game. If the Saints lose this game, coach Sean Payton will likely be yelling at Ryan along the sidelines yet again.