What to Watch In Week 4
By: Kim O'Hara | Posted: September 27, 2012
Another week, another installment of What to Watch. Without further ado…
Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens, 8:30pm Thursday
Baltimore has the opportunity to extend its AFC North lead over 1-2 rival Pittsburgh by winning its second divisional matchup Thursday. Cleveland has done some good things on offense (and defense when its secondary is at full strength). Unfortunately, the biggest point of interest for this primetime game will be the grand return of the “real” refs. The Ravens have been among the most vocal regarding the performance of the replacement officials, with quarterback Joe Flacco, linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Bernard Pollard all discussing their distaste to the media. Let’s hope Gene Steratore and company live up to expectations tonight.
Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons, 1:00pm
Poor Carolina. One week after turning over the ball five times to a hungry Giants defense, Cam Newton and company head to Atlanta to face the ball-hawking Falcons secondary. Look to see if the Panthers have spent the week improving its ball security; Atlanta leads the league with seven interceptions through three weeks, along with a league second-best four fumbles. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has complemented the defense well, having yet to turn over the ball this season, despite favorite targets Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez combining for five drops to date. If trends persist, Newton may wind up looking like this again as Atlanta easily soars to 4-0.
New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills, 1:00pm
Expect to hear many references to the last time the 1-2 Patriots had a losing record (Week 1 of 2003) or a losing record after Week 1 (2002). Unfortunately for New England, its difficulties may not desist against the Bills. Quarterback Tom Brady threw five interceptions in their two 2011 matchups, including four in a shocking Week 4 loss in Buffalo. Brady was also sacked four times in New England’s Week 17 winning effort. Don’t be shocked if the Bills’ improved pass rush (which finally began to click last week in Cleveland) renders Brady uncharacteristically ineffective in a third straight loss. By the same token, don’t be shocked if he carves up the secondary. Brady and head coach Bill Belichick don’t do losing streaks.
Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions, 1:00pm
Raise your hand if you’re still scratching your head over Minnesota’s unexpected victory against the 49ers last week. The Vikings looked aggressive on both sides of the ball, and second year quarterback Christian Ponder has continued to impress. The Lions are sure to be licking their wounds after a frustrating overtime loss in Tennessee, but starting quarterback Matthew Stafford may be unavailable due to a mysterious leg injury (he didn’t practice until Thursday, and head coach Jim Schwartz will not reveal his status until Friday). Backup Shaun Hill has taken first team reps this week and could be a serviceable fill-in. Watch to see if Mikel Leshoure, hot off his 100-yard rushing debut, keeps up the momentum against a surprisingly tough divisional foe.
Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans, 1:00pm
The most complete team in the NFL is a toss up between San Francisco, Atlanta and Houston. I give the edge to the Texans due to their undefeated record and rushing tandem of Arian Foster and Ben Tate (Atlanta’s Michael Turner is an effective third down/red zone option, but lacks the dynamism of both Foster and Tate). Watch the Texans continue its domination of AFC South opponents, both current (see: Week 2 thumping of Jacksonville) and former (see: Week 3 victory over ex-Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning). Linebacker Connor Barwin has been effective this season despite his lack of eye-popping stats (he has yet to record a sack), but he’s due for a breakout game. Unfortunately for Titans quarterback Jake Locker, it could be this Sunday.
San Diego Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs, 1:00pm
This time last week, the Chargers looked like the overwhelming favorite in this AFC West matchup. But then Atlanta downed San Diego in decisive fashion and New Orleans continued its downward spiral in a loss against then-winless Kansas City, leaving no clear Week 4 favorite. Yes, San Diego opened up 2-0 for the first time in the career of head coach Norv Turner, but Oakland and Tennessee have otherwise eked out a pair of last-second victories combined. And neither of those teams had Jamaal Charles. The Chiefs running back looked back to pre-ACL form against the Saints, running for an obscene 233 yards. If he produces even half that effort Sunday, both teams could be tied at 2-2.
San Francisco 49ers at New York Jets, 1:00pm
Jim Harbaugh is in just his second season as San Francisco’s head coach, but if I had to venture a guess, I’d imagine he’ll have his Niners squad unrelentingly prepared for the Jets. New York quarterback Mark Sanchez has looked skittish against even the slightest pressure, and linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman should have a field day with Sanchez’ inconsistent protection. Offensive questions aside, the Jets’ defense simply isn’t the same without cornerback Darrelle Revis. After his streak of 249 passes without an interception was broken last week, Niners quarterback Alex Smith’s will begin a whole new streak against New York’s gravely compromised secondary.
Seattle Seahawks at St. Louis Rams, 1:00pm
Seattle wide receiver Golden Tate became the unwitting poster child of all things unholy and wrong about the NFLRA lockout after Monday night’s officiating nightmare. Look to see how he and his teammates come back from the weeklong media/Twitter barrage. The stellar play of Seattle’s defense has been lost in the shuffle, and a unit that posted eight first half sacks against Green Bay (EIGHT!) will come out of the tunnels angry this Sunday. Rams quarterback Sam Bradford has appeared much-improved this season, but he will be running for his life from drive to drive. This will be a statement game from the Seahawks.
Miami Dolphins at Arizona Cardinals, 4:05pm
After a punishing 27-6 defeat over then-undefeated Philadelphia, the Arizona certainly looks like it’s for real. Its offense, particularly the rushing attack, has yet to fully come together, but the defense is carrying its weight, allowing a league second-best 13.3 points per game. Leading the league with 13 points/game? Fellow NFC West bruiser Seattle. Quarterback Kevin Kolb has all but secured his role as starter. His chemistry with receiver Larry Fitzgerald improves by the week; Fitzgerald’s nine catches against the Eagles earned him NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors. Running back Reggie Bush practiced today after suffering a minor knee injury against the Jets, and may be good to go Sunday, but that likely won’t be enough for Miami to pull of a surprise win in Phoenix.
Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos, 4:05pm
The AFC West is wide open at this point, with a mere five victories among the four teams. Despite early setbacks, Denver is still more than capable of running away with the division. It will start this weekend, as quarterback Peyton Manning starts clicking with his receivers against an Oakland team that allowed Pittsburgh to post 31 points last week. The Raiders’ receiving corps, already depleted, is down another man with starting receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey being forced to sit out with a concussion. Running back Darren McFadden had a breakout game against the Steelers, and Oakland will look to him for offensive momentum Sunday. But it won’t be enough.
Cincinnati Bengals at Jacksonville Jaguars, 4:05pm
The Jaguars pulled off a last-second victory last week against AFC South rival Indianapolis, but there will be no such luck against Cincinnati. The Bengals’ defense, struggling up until this point in pass coverage, will be one step closer to full strength with the return of safety Chris Crocker (who hasn’t seen a down since January’s wild card game against Houston and spent much of the offseason as a free agent). Quarterback Andy Dalton looks more impressive with each new week and, despite the first career lost fumble last week, running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis complements the passing game admirably. But Crocker taking his place back in the secondary could result in a long day for Jacksonville’s Blaine Gabbert, as Cincinnati is primed to improve to 3-1.
New Orleans Saints at Green Bay Packers, 4:25pm
It’s inconceivable that these two perennial NFC contenders share but one win between them. Sure, it should be two (regardless of what Goodell will or won’t admit), but Monday’s egregious result stands and it’s now up to Green Bay to respond. Much like I believe the Seahawks will be out to prove themselves, I don’t doubt that the Packers will be out for blood this weekend. (Not, like, 2009 Saints-style blood… but still.) Remember the defensive fireworks demonstrated by the Pack in Week 2? That was in response to some off-the-cuff remarks from an opposing quarterback. Watch on Sunday to see what this defense is capable of after having a victory visibly snatched away from them. Drew Brees’ sluggish start won’t turn around at Lambeau; he’ll be too busy being Green Bay’s latest victim at quarterback.
Washington Redskins at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 4:25pm
The Bucs will face their third NFC East opponent in as many weeks, still searching for its first win against the division. The Buccaneers’ defense has kept Tampa Bay close in the past two weeks (not including its ineffective, now-predictable victory formation attack), but the offense has been greatly ineffective in the second half, scoring just 13 of its 44 points after the intermission in Weeks 2 and 3. Watch for Tampa Bay to expose Washington’s compromised defense, with quarterback Josh Freeman and Vincent Jackson’s developing chemistry and rookie running back Doug Martin leading the way. Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III faces his stoutest opponent yet in a Tampa Bay secondary that has nabbed six interceptions through three weeks.
New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles, 8:20pm
This game could go one of two ways: either a well-contested, evenly-matched battle between two of the leagues most talented teams or one-sided blowout, with one team performing to the peak of its potential. All eyes will be on Michael Vick, who has looked all too mortal in his first three weeks this season; he’s lost three fumbles and thrown six interceptions to just three touchdowns. Protection has been a major issue for the Eagles, especially after the loss of starting center Jason Kelce, but Philadelphia fans have overwhelmingly designated Vick as the scapegoat. Both teams boast enormously talented defensive fronts, but neither has looked consistently awe-inspiring to this point. The Giants looked fearsome against Carolina last Thursday and will look to make a trend of it against Philadelphia. And if they do, expect jeers and calls for backup quarterback Nick Foles to ring through the Linc.
Chicago Bears at Dallas Cowboys, 8:30pm Monday
After a disappointing Week 2 performance, America’s sweetheart / Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler failed to bounce back convincingly against St. Louis, but didn’t implode any further. He could be in for a tough outing against a Dallas secondary that’s primed for a few takeaways. Despite improved pass coverage, the Cowboys have posted just one interception through three games. Tony Romo will have his hands full as well, facing off against Chicago cornerback Tim Jennings, who has started the season with four interceptions, making him an early contender for Defensive Player of the Year honors. The other major story will be the possible return of running back Matt Forte, who injured his ankle in Week 2 against Green Bay. Backup Michael Bush is a reliable runner, but lacks the speed and elusiveness that makes Forte such an important piece of Chicago’s offense.
Kim O'Hara is the Associate Editor of TheFootballGirl.com. She is an avid fan of sports in general, but the NFL in particular. She has also been a contributor to ESPN the Magazine. Follow her on Twitter: @arahomik
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