The NFL season is almost a quarter over.
Teams are beginning to establish identities, good or bad.
The Falcons and Texans are 3-0, two of only three teams still undefeated.
They are joined in the undefeated ranks by the Cardinals. Yes, the Cardinals.
The Browns are one of only two teams without a win this season. The other? The New Orleans Saints.
The Saints story: Will the undefeated keep a zero in the loss column? Will the defeated finally get a much-needed victory? Will your team pull it out this weekend? For in-depth previews, score and stat predictions for every game in Week 4, continue reading.
Bye Week: Indianapolis, Pittsburgh
All statistics compiled from NFL.com.
Preview: As if throwing four interceptions in his NFL debut against Philadelphia wasn’t enough, Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden is walking into another hit squad in Baltimore.
The Browns offense has struggled since it turned it over to rookies Weeden and running back Trent Richardson. Richardson is a physical, instinctive runner, but the team is in the bottom ten in all major offensive categories (points forced, total yards, pass yards, and rush yards).
Opportunities to score will be hard to come by against a Baltimore team known for having one of the most physical defenses in the NFL. That said, if Cleveland’s offense plays a complete, disciplined game, they have the weapons to do some things against a Ravens defense that has struggled at times this season.
Baltimore has really missed last season’s Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs. He is one of the best pass rushers in the league, and creates turnovers when he gets to the quarterback. Without him, quarterbacks have been able to hold the football slightly longer, and it has shown up in the secondary. The Ravens have the 28th-ranked pass defense.
The Cleveland passing game will go as far as Weeden’s eyes take them. If he locks on to targets and doesn’t look off safety Ed Reed, Reed will find a way to get his hands on the football.
With all the talk about the rookies and the Baltimore defense, the game will really be decided on the other side of the ball. The Browns defense will have to contain Baltimore’s weapons. If the Ravens can score 21 or more points, the Browns do not stand a chance. Quarterback Joe Flacco has too many weapons at his disposal (Ray Rice, Torrey Smith and Dennis Pitta, in particular) for that to happen.
Score: Baltimore 24, Cleveland 13
Player: Torrey Smith continues what will end up being a Pro Bowl season with over 125 receiving yards and a touchdown.
This was written well before the game but was not published until post-game, as I had to go to football practice.
Preview: Atlanta has looked like Super Bowls contenders in the first three weeks of the season. Matt Ryan is completing 72 percent of his passes and has thrown for 798 yards, eight touchdowns and a single interception.
He has, arguably, the best wide receiver duo in the league in Julio Jones and Roddy White. Both are matchup nightmares for any team and are talented enough to request a double-team on any play.
The running game could stand to get going a little more, and a Carolina defense giving up 139 yards a game may be just the matchup Michael Turner needs.
Despite that, the Atlanta offense is rolling. They’ve averaged over 31 points a game, good for third in the league.
The defense should get a lot more credit than they have. The group has seven interceptions thus far, and has the team hovering at plus-10 in the turnover margin.
They will be lining up against sophomore quarterback Cam Newton and a Carolina offense that loves to run the football—they just haven’t been able to move it on the ground. Their leading rusher, DeAngelo Williams, has only 118 yards in three games. Newton follows him with 81 yards and two touchdowns. Neither is averaging four yards a carry.
The Panthers also have limited artillery on the outside. They've got one big gun in the small-in-stature, big-in-heart Steve Smith, who has accounted for 296 of Newton’s 798 pass yards.
If Atlanta can get ahead early and limit the amount of times Carolina can run the football, it’s hard to see Newton beating the Falcons by himself. It’s easy to admit that he has the talent to do so, but Atlanta wins the turnover margin and the game.
Score: Atlanta 31, Carolina 20
Player: Matt Ryan throws for 300 yards and three scores as Atlanta moves to 4-0.
Preview: After losing to Arizona and Baltimore in back-to-back weeks, the Patriots find themselves under .500 for the first time in almost a decade (Week 1, 2003). The New England offensive line has struggled to protect Brady at times, but at others, Brady looks to be pressing and feeling pressure that isn’t entirely there.
Protected or unprotected, Brady is capable of making a defense pay on any play. He is getting comfortable with new toy Brandon Lloyd, who leads the team with 22 receptions this year. He finally got back in sync with Wes Welker on Sunday, actually hitting him for a big gain on the first play of the game at Baltimore. Both receivers and tight end Rob Gronkowski should give the Bills problems, even with Aaron Hernandez out.
Running back Stevan Ridley has been a pleasant surprise for the Patriots. Ridley has carried the ball for 233 yards and a touchdown.
The running game is Buffalo’s this year. The team is third in the league in rushing, but with Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller out, the Bills face an uphill battle to rush against a New England team that only gives up 82 yards a game on the ground.
Spiller had run the ball for 308 yards and three scores before hurting his shoulder last week.
Though Ryan Fitzpatrick has played well, the Patriots should be able to score enough to win on the road.
Score: New England 27, Buffalo 16
Player: Tom Brady throws a pair of touchdowns and accounts for 300 yards against the Bills.
Preview: Detroit hasn’t looked like a team that is ready to compete for a championship.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford hasn’t taken care of the football. They’ve racked up a ton of yards through the air, ranking as the league’s top team in the category, but yards don’t win games.
If Matthew Stafford plays, he will not be completely healthy. If he doesn’t, backup Shaun Hill will get the start.
Regardless of who is throwing the football to him, there are no players in the league that can effectively guard Calvin Johnson. Megatron is going to get his catches and yards regardless of what a defense throws at him.
Defense is exactly what will do the Lions in this season.
The team has surrendered 31 points a game, including 44 in an overtime loss at Tennessee last weekend.
The Detroit special teams unit surrendered two touchdowns, which doesn’t bode well for a unit that has to face Percy Harvin on Sunday.
Minnesota quarterback Christian Ponder has played at a level that no one anticipated. Last week, he played an efficient game against the league’s best defense. He scored three times against San Francisco (two pass, one rush).
Ponder has yet to throw an interception this season against four touchdowns.
Watching Ponder do that against the 49ers makes it easier to “go out on a limb” and say he can play well against a leaky Detroit defense.
With Adrian Peterson looking as good as any human being could nine months after ACL surgery, the Vikings have what it takes to send Detroit to 1-3.
Score: Minnesota 24, Detroit 20
Player: Calvin Johnson Jr. accounts for 125 yards and a touchdown in a loss to the Vikings.
Preview: San Diego and Kansas City is an AFC West clash that pits the strength of both teams against each other.
San Diego’s defense has played very well this season, with the exception of last week against the Falcons. They’ve allowed the sixth-fewest points in the NFL.
Being able to stop the running game has been the strength of the unit, as the team has given up less than 70 yards a game on the ground this year.
The Kansas City Chiefs are going to be looking to change that. The offense is going to run the football—there is no question about that. The question lies in how much success the Chiefs will have in doing so.
Jamal Charles exploded last week for 233 yards in an upset over the Rams in the Superdome. That definitely helped their average of 191.7 rushing yards per game, which is the highest median in the league after three weeks.
A defense that has given up 33 points a game will be the Chiefs' downfall.
San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers is looking to return to form. Though the absence of Vincent Jackson is evident, he still has Antonio Gates, Malcolm Floyd and the newly-acquired Robert Meacham to chuck it around to.
Score: San Diego 27, Kansas City 17
Player: Philip Rivers throws for 300 yards and two touchdowns in a victory that keeps the Chargers atop the NFC West.
Preview: 33 carries for 45 yards.
Have you seen Chris Johnson on the back of a Milk Carton? I haven’t seen him there, either.
Unfortunately for Johnson, the worst is yet to come. Johnson hasn’t even rushed for as many yards in three games (45) as the Texans allow per game (67.7).
The Titans are averaging a mere 39 yards on the ground as a team. Against a great defense like Houston, that is not going to get the job done. Asking Jake Locker to beat Houston by himself is a recipe for catastrophe.
The Houston defense, who has one of the league’s most disruptive 3-4 defensive ends in J.J. Watt and possibly the second-best cover corner in the game in Jonathan Joseph, has only given up 14 points a game to opposing teams.
Yes, the Titans scored 44 points last week, but this is not the Lions.
Locker also doesn’t have a defense to back him up. Allowing 37.7 points a game will not get it done, not on any level, let alone the professional level. The Tennessee defense is one of the NFL’s worst, and the Houston offense has plenty of players to take advantage of that.
Backfield mates Arian Foster and Ben Tate have combined for 500 rushing yards and five trips to the end zone. Throw in Andre Johnson and, well, Houston is a problem.
The Texans will win the turnover differential and the game, easily.
Score: Houston 33, Tennessee 13
Player: Arian Foster and Ben Tate combine for 200 yards on the ground and three touchdowns in a Houston beatdown.
Preview: The New York Jets are done.
Losing Darrelle Revis for the season changes the whole philosophy of Rex Ryan’s defense completely. The team will lean on corner Kyle Wilson to replace the most irreplaceable secondary player in the league.
Antonio Cromartie is extremely talented but has been known to have lapses in technique and awareness.
How can Ryan possibly trust his corners in man coverage now? The answer is simple: he can’t.
Couple this with the fact that the Jets can’t stop the run at the moment and Rex Ryan’s defense, the strength of the team since the former Baltimore defensive coordinator’s arrival, is in major trouble.
The offense that once ran the football at a notoriously high rate is only averaging 3.3 yards a carry. Mark Sanchez has reverted back to the quarterback we all know after an uncharacteristic outing against Buffalo in Week 1.
Now, in come a 49ers team fresh off a loss to Minnesota. By the way, what happened to the Niners up there in Minneapolis?
Against the Jets, the 49ers are going to get back to playing their kind of football. They are going to pound the ball inside, set up the play-action passing game, and rely on their defense to suffocate the Jets’ offense.
Patrick Willis and the Niner defense will gang up on Gang Green, and the offensive line will establish the line of scrimmage against a reeling Jets squad.
Score: San Francisco 20, Jets 10
Player: Frank Gore runs through the Jets for 150 yards and a touchdown.
Preview: First of all, Seattle, the refs stole one for you Monday night.
With that said, expect this game to look like a Woody Hayes-coached Ohio State vs. Ohio State game: a lot of rushing attempts.
Both the Rams and Seahawks have struggled to move the ball consistently through the air, so both teams will look to lean on running backs to carry load.
When is Rams’ quarterback Sam Bradford going to play like a first-overall draft pick? To make things worse for the young pro, his best wide receiver is Danny Amendola. Enough said.
St. Louis has also failed to protect Bradford as well, who has been sacked 12 times this season.
Chris Clemens and Bruce Irvin are licking their chops right about now. Six days removed from sacking Aaron Rodgers eight times in the first half, the Seahawks are going to do something similar to Bradford.
The Seattle defense has played spectacular through three weeks, allowing a league-low 13 points a contest. Their secondary is the most physical in the league, and Rams’ receivers will be fighting just to get off the line of scrimmage. When they do, they will be hearing the footsteps of Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas every time they attempt to catch the football.
In a game of inept passing attacks, it’s an easy choice to take the healthier running back and better defense, especially when that running back is as imposing on opposing defenses as Marshawn Lynch. Expect a lot of “Beast Mode” in a Seahawks' victory.
Score: Seattle 16, St. Louis 6
Player: Marshawn Lynch "Beast Modes" his way to 110 yards and the lone Seahawks touchdown.
Preview: Last week, the Arizona Cardinals faced their biggest test in the young season against Philadelphia. It’s safe to say they passed.
The team held Michael Vick and the Eagles’ high-octane offense to six points. The Cards’ beat up Vick for the entirety of the contest and put a whooping on Philadelphia, 27-6.
Now, the team faces a one-dimensional Dolphins squad.
Dolphins rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill is going through his freshman struggles. He is barely completing half of his passes and has thrown one touchdown against four interceptions.
The only threat the Dolphins have is tailback Reggie Bush, who is trying to get healthy enough to play in the contest.
Although the Cards don’t have a reliable quarterback themselves, the team’s second-ranked scoring defense has enough to get the job done.
Score: Arizona 17, Miami 10
Player: The Cardinals defense sacks Tannehill four times and forces three turnovers in the Arizona win.
Preview: Interesting stat to note: turnover-prone Carson Palmer has thrown one less interception that Peyton Manning this season. Sure, all three of Manning’s came in one quarter against the Falcons, but this is a stat none of us saw coming.
The Oakland Raiders, straight off their upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers, have struggled on both sides of the football. They are the 31st-ranked rush offense, even including Darren McFadden’s 113-yard performance against the not-as-Steel Curtain.
Denver has played well on defense, but hasn’t displayed anything that jumps off the screen, other than the fact that pass-rushing outside linebacker Von Miller can flat out get to the quarterback. The runner up for 2011’s Defensive Rookie of the Year has posted three sacks this season.
The Raiders will probably be without speedy receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, who suffered a concussion after being knocked out on the field last week.
Peyton should do enough against a unreliable Oakland defense, and Carson Palmer eventually finds a way to turn over the football.
Score: Denver 21, Oakland 17
Player: DeMaryius Thomas helps out his quarterback with a seven-catch, 125-yard performance.
What a way to start a ball game.
Cincinnati took the field in the Wildcat formation on the first play last week against Washington. Rookie receiver Mohamed Sanu hit A.J. Green for a 73-yard touchdown on the first play of the game. The Redskins defense clearly bit on the play action (who wouldn’t when the opposing team has a rookie receiver at quarterback.
The recipient of that play is poised and ready to have a huge outing against a Jaguars defense that struggles to stop anything. Cats’ back BenJarvus Green-Ellis will find it a little easier to roam given the Jags’ 31st-ranked rush defense.
The Jags’ offense is just as lacking in weapons as its defense. The only proven playmaker the team has is running back Maurice Jones-Drew. Coming off a lengthy contract holdout, Jones-Drew got it going last weekend against the fellow AFC-South resident Colts. He’s rushed for 314 yards this season and feeding him will be the most effective game plan for the Jaguars.
Rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert has yet to throw an interception this season, but he also hasn’t moved the ball.
With all the names that entered the Jacksonville receiving corps, it is surprising to see Cecil Shorts leading the team in both yards (154) and touchdowns (2). Laurent Robinson, who the team clearly overpaid, and fifth-overall pick Justin Blackmon have been non-existent for a Jacksonville offense that already lacks talent.
Score: Cincinnati 30, Jacksonville 14
Player: Cincinnati’s A.J. Green and Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew account for 100 yards and a touchdown a piece.
That is really all there is to say about so many things involving the Saints and the Packers.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees lost at home on opening day to a rookie. Wow.
The Saints are 0-3 and 0-2 in the Superdome. Wow.
The Packers are 1-2. Wow.
Aaron Rodgers was sacked eight times in one half last week in Seattle. Wow.
Oh yeah, the last play of the game in Seattle that sent the Pack to 1-2. Wow. Wow. Wow.
The Saints are the bigger story because they have the bigger problems. The Saints have struggled in all phases, evident by usually-surgical Drew Brees’ five interceptions and his career-worst 54.7 completion percentage.
The Saints have weapons which should not be overlooked. Any time a team has tight end Jimmy Graham, multidimensional Darren Sproiles, and receivers like Marques Colston and Lance Moore, that team has the ability to score points fast—but opposing teams are scoring faster.
The Saints defense is struggling to get to the sideline, as opposing teams possess the ball for 37:06.
Now, after games against Washington, Carolina, and Kansas City, the team travels to Lambeau Field to take on a Packers team that is upset and ultra-talented.
The Packers offensive line has been the biggest problem for the unit. Giving up eight sacks in two games is horrible enough, but to give up eight in 30 minutes is unheard of (actually, Seattle set a record for sacks in a half). The team also has problems running the football, which has forced the Packers to throw the ball on almost two-thirds of their offensive snaps.
This unbalanced attack is part of the reason defenses have gotten to Rodgers so much. Pass rushers don’t even have to respect the run, which allows them to pin their ears back and beeline straight to the quarterback.
Regardless, the Packer defense has been tremendous on third down. Clay Matthews, the NFL’s leader in sacks with six, will help Rodgers and the offense euthanize the Saints’ playoff hopes for good.
Score: Green Bay 37, New Orleans 24
Player: Aaron Rodgers looks like the league’s reigning MVP with 400 yards and four scores.
Preview: After two close games that the Bucs could have (probably should have) won in New York and Dallas, Tampa get Robert Griffin III at home.
Griffin III has looked pretty damn good in his first three NFL games. If one just looks at his stat line (60/89, 747 YDs, 4 TD, 1 INT and 32 CAR, 209 YDs, 3 TD), it’s easy to see that the rookie has shown the type of weapon he can be. Ten different Redskins have multiple receptions thus far, which shows that Griffin is taking what the defense gives him.
The team has averaged 33 points a game (No. 1 in the NFL), but they have allowed 33.7. Given that the whole point of football is to outscore the opponent, this does not equate to a formula for success.
The team is plus-six in the turnover ratio but sits at 1-2.
On the other sideline, quarterback Josh Freeman looks to spark a stagnant Tampa offense that could not close out the Giants and did not take advantage of the opportunities that were available against the Cowboys. Freeman has to find a way to get it going against the second-worst pass defense in the NFL.
I have a question about the Tampa defense: is the rush defense so tough that teams are simply picking on the secondary, or is the pass defense so bad that teams don’t even need to run the football (Eli did have to throw all day after the Bucs had a big lead)? They are polar opposites in each category (32nd Pass, 1st Rush).
However, after those two close losses to the NFC East, the Bucs beat the team at the bottom of the division.
Score: Tampa Bay 28, Washington 27
Player: Robert Griffin III continues to look the part with 275 total yards of offense and three touchdowns.
Preview: It’s a good thing the league agreed to terms with the real refs. This is the kind of game that could have turned into a boxing match if not controlled.
The hate runs deep between the Giants and the Eagles.
Michael Vick has just not played like the Eagles paid him to after his stellar 2010 season. He’s been intercepted six times and has put the ball on the turf five times, losing three of them.
The quarterback from Virginia Tech has also been sacked nine times, as defenses have been crushing Vick all year.
If the Eagles want to win this game, they NEED to give the ball to LeSean McCoy. The running back is as much of a home-run threat as we’ve had in the league since Chris Johnson in 2009. The Eagles just don’t give him the football.
McCoy, plus the yards Vick is also liable to pick up with his feet, can keep the Giants ridiculous front four from actually killing the Eagles’ quarterback.
That Giants defensive line, which employs Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck, and Osi Umenyiora, will be almost impossible for the Eagles' o-line to stop. Vick is going to have to extend plays with his feet in the passing game, if he intends on finishing this game healthy.
The Giants offense, on the other hand, has looked good since the Cowboys shut them down opening night. Eli Manning has shown, again, that he is still the king of the fourth quarter. Of his 1,011 yards and five touchdowns, 323 yards and three of the scores have come in the fourth.
Manning has, however, put the ball in the wrong colors' hands three times this year, which is something he has always been known to do.
Philadelphia cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie need to win the one-on-one matchups against Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks to slow down the Giants. Martellus Bennet will also factor in to the Giants’ aerial attack.
Score: New York 27, Philadelphia 24
Player: Victor Cruz continues to be Eli’s number one target and reels in over 100 receiving yards.
Preview: J’Marcus Webb meet DeMarcus Ware. He is going to make your quarterback hate you even more.
The Bears offense line has been everything but good in the first three games. Jay Cutler has been sacked 11 times and intercepted six, and his shove of Webb made headlines throughout the week.
A game on the road against Ware and a new-look Cowboys’ secondary will be the ultimate test for Webb and Cutler.
Dallas corners Morris Caliborne and Brandon Carr give Ware the extra ticks he needs to get to the passer, and Ware will give Claiborne and Carr chances to get their gloves on a few of Cutler’s passes. Expect one, or both, to record their first interceptions for the Cowboys.
The Bears offense has talent but will more than likely be without running back Matt Forte. Forte is one of the most complete running backs in the league, and his absence is detrimental to the offense’s success.
The Bears defense, on the other hand, is the reason the team is 2-1. They are getting after the quarterback, and face a Cowboys offensive line that has been just as bad as the Bears’ unit.
The Cowboys are the most penalized team in football, but they also have one of the most talented skill groups in the league. DeMarco Murray, Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten present problems for every defense they face. The question is whether the offensive line can protect quarterback Tony Romo enough to allow him to get the ball in these players’ hands.
Romo can make more than a few moves in the pocket to buy himself extra time. This will be the difference in a close ball game.
Score: Dallas 23, Chicago 13
Player: The Dallas defense sacks Cutler five times and records two interceptions in a Dallas win.