It's Week 4 of the 2012 NFL season, and while it's been a typically wild season across the National Football League, at least some measure of order was restored to the universe with the return of the league's regular officials.
This week features plenty of intriguing matchups, from a game between reeling contenders to a Sunday night NFC East showdown. Here's a preview of each game with my take on how things will shake out once the dust settles.
Update: Early in this game it looked like I was going to be dining on crow, as the Buffalo Bills raced to an early 21-7 lead.
However, The New England offense absolutely exploded in the second half, and propelled by three Tom Brady touchdown passes and 100-yard rushing games from both Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden the Patriots pulled away for a relatively easy win.
Final Score: New England 52, Buffalo 28
After falling to 1-2 for the first time since 2001 and allowing over 500 yards of total offense to the Baltimore Ravens last week, the New England Patriots roll into Buffalo trying to avoid a repeat of last year's contest in Orchard Park, where the Patriots blew a 21-0 lead and lost to the Bills for the first time in 16 meetings between the two teams.
Meanwhile, the Bills ride a two-game winning streak into Sunday's game, and as head coach Chan Gailey told Mike Lipka of the Associated Press (via Yahoo! Sports), the team sees this as an excellent chance to send a message to the rest of the AFC East.
"It is a great opportunity for us," Gailey said. "They are going to be at an all-time focus level for this ball game just because of who they are."
However, Tom Brady torched the Bills in their two meetings last season, and Buffalo is banged up in the offensive backfield, so both streaks will come to an end in upstate New York this week.
Prediction: New England 31, Buffalo 20
Update: So much for the East Coast hangover
The San Francisco 49ers absolutely destroyed the New York Jets Sunday, and after going 13 of 29 for only 103 yards with an interception Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez is going to be feeling the heat from the New York media this week.
Final Score: San Francisco 34, New York 0
The San Francisco 49ers travel east in Week 4 to face the New York Jets in a rare meeting between the two teams, as the two squads haven't faced off in the regular season since 2008.
The 49ers will try to regroup from last week's loss to the Minnesota Vikings, while the New York defense has some regrouping of its own to do after losing cornerback Darrelle Revis for the season with a torn ACL in last week's win over the Miami Dolphins.
With that said, it's the Jets' 28th-ranked run defense that may pose the bigger problem for Gang Green, and the combination of Frank Gore on the ground and San Francisco's stifling defense will be enough for the 49ers to get things back on track.
Prediction: San Francisco 20, New York 10
Update: You can't win them all.
The story of the Rams' somewhat surprising win over the Seattle Seahawks in Week 4 has to be St. Louis kicker Greg Zuerlein, who hit three field goals of longer than 45 yards, including a 60-yarder.
Final Score: St. Louis 19, Seattle 13
Fresh off one of the most controversial endings to a game in NFL history, the Seattle Seahawks take their two-game winning streak into St. Louis to face the Rams in an NFC West battle.
For the Rams to have a chance in this game, they're going to have to improve their pass protection against a Seattle defense that harassed Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers constantly in Week 3, a fact that St. Louis head coach Jeff Fisher is well aware of (via Matt Beardmore of the Associated Press):
We're going to have another week to work together and we'll continue to do the same things that we've been doing with these guys. You coach them up. You put them in position where you think they can be successful and then you've got to adjust.
It's that stingy Seattle defense and the running game of Marshawn Lynch that will propel the visiting Seahawks to a close win on the road.
Prediction: Seattle 20, St. Louis 16
Update: I may have got the winner of this game right, but given how wrong I was about the score this feels like a loss.
As badly as the Carolina Panthers played at home against the Giants they gave the undefeated Atlanta Falcons all they could handle at the Georgia Dome, taking the lead about halfway through the fourth quarter.
Unfortunately they couldn't seal the deal, and the Falcons eked out a two-point win.
Final Score: Atlanta 30, Carolina 28
The Carolina Panthers head into Week 4's NFC South showdown with a bad taste in their mouths borne of a 36-7 blowout loss to the New York Giants in which wide receiver Steve Smith called out quarterback Cam Newton for pouting on the sidelines.
Carolina head coach Ron Rivera downplayed the exchange, according to D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
Steve is one of our team captains, one of our veteran team captains, and he felt like it needed to be said. I told Steve I have no problem saying what he did to Cam. I talked to Cam about it, and he has no issue with it. Cam understands he is one of our leaders and guys will look to him. The only disappointment I had, and Steve and I talked about it, it was made public.
This is the last sort of distraction the Panthers need heading into a game against the undefeated Falcons. Even if the team uses it as a rallying cry of sorts, that's not going to be enough to beat an Atlanta club averaging more than 31 points a game and leading the NFL in turnover differential.
Prediction: Atlanta 37, Carolina 10
Update: Either the defenses played better than I thought they would of the offenses faltered, becuase the score wasn't nearly as high as I predicted.
With said I at least got the outcome correct, as the Minnesota defense stifled Matthew Stafford and the Lions all afternoon and Detroit is in very real trouble at 1-3.
Final Score: Minnesota 20, Detroit 13
The Detroit Lions entered the 2012 season with aspirations of building on last year's 10-6 record and wild-card playoff appearance. But with consecutive losses and starting quarterback Matthew Stafford's status for Sunday's matchup with the Minnesota Vikings in question, the Lions find their season circling the drain.
However, the Lions' biggest issue is likely a defense that has allowed more than 31 points a game so far this season, and Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder is chomping at the bit to exploit it, according to Matt Beardmore of the Associated Press (via Yahoo! Sports):
The more plays I get, the more film I watch, it slows down and I just feel so much more comfortable in what I'm doing. And it helps when the players around you are playing so well.
These are two teams that appear headed in opposite directions right now, and a close Minnesota win in Motown on Sunday is going to send the Lions into panic mode.
Prediction: Minnesota 31, Detroit 27
Update: Um, oops.
Apparently they flipped all the calendars in San Diego's locker room to October, because the Chargers came out firing in this game, opening up a huge first-half lead.
The Chiefs tried to make a game of it in the second half, but in the end three Matt Cassel interceptions (including one returned for a touchdown) proved too much to overcome.
Final Score: San Diego 37, Kansas City 20
The San Diego Chargers are in first place in the AFC West, but you wouldn't know it given the pasting they just received from the Atlanta Falcons at home.
Now the Chargers travel to Kansas City to try to right the ship in a divisional matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs, and as San Diego head coach Norv Turner told Dave Skretta of the Associated Press via the San Jose Mercury-News, the team has prioritized cutting down on the turnovers that plagued them in the loss to Atlanta.
With that said, the Chargers' record in September under Turner has been terrible, and with the Chiefs riding high after their overtime win in New Orleans last week, the friendly confines of Arrowhead Stadium will prove to be the deciding factor in a narrow Chiefs win.
Prediction: Kansas City 21, San Diego 20
Update: Well, I hit this this one just about as close as you can get without being dead-on. J.J. Watt continued his tear through the NFL and it was all Texans all day, but at least Tennessee can take a little solace in the Chris Johnson sighting. (25 carries, 141 yards)
Final Score: Houston 38, Tennessee 14
The Houston Texans may well be the most formidable team in the National Football League right now, riding a punishing defense led by end J.J. Watt and the running of tailback Arian Foster to three straight wins to begin the season.
The Texans have also been very adept at keeping the ball away from their opponent. Houston leads the NFL in time of possession at more than 36 minutes a game, while the Titans rank dead last. Tennessee head coach Mike Munchak knows that has to change for his team to have a chance Sunday, according to John Glennon of The Tennessean.
"It’s huge," Munchak said. "It’s been something we’ve been struggling with as an offense, and it goes back to us talking about finishing drives."
The Titans actually won the last meeting between these two teams, but the Texans are just too balanced and playing too well for a repeat to occur.
Prediction: Houston 31, Tennessee 13
Update: Another game I came very close to hitting right on the head this contest was close in the first half before the Bengals pulled away in the second half.
Cincinnati's win also featured the second big game in a row for wide receiver A.J. Green, who reeled in six catches for 117 yards and a touchdown in the victory.
Final Score: Cincinnati 27, Jacksonville 10
After getting blown out in the season opener, the Cincinnati Bengals have righted the ship somewhat, reeling off two wins a row against teams that have combined for all of one victory so far in 2012.
The marshmallow-soft portion of the Bengals schedule keeps rolling along Sunday when Cincinnati travels to face the Jacksonville Jaguars, although the Bengals will do so with an injury-depleted secondary.
Luckily for Cincinnati, that probably won't matter this week against quarterback Blaine Gabbert and the Jaguars' 31st-ranked passing attack. That, coupled with Jacksonville's 28th-ranked defense, will likely allow the Bengals to win fairly easily.
Prediction: Cincinnati 27, Jacksonville 13
Update: Well, I was half right.
Sure enough the Broncos downed the Oakland Raiders on Sunday in Denver, but I wasn't even close on the score, as Peyton Manning carved up the Denver defense for over 300 yards and three touchdowns and Oakland wasn't able to get anything going offensively.
Final Score: Denver 37, Oakland 6
The Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos enter their Mile High showdown on Sunday afternoon from opposite perspectives, with the Raiders fresh off a huge win over the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Broncos smarting after their second straight loss.
Denver quarterback Peyton Manning has struggled through much of those defeats, but Oakland head coach Dennis Allen bristled at the thought that the four-time NFL MVP's skills have diminished, according to Jerry McDonald of The San Jose Mercury-News:
I'm not falling into that trap. He's Peyton Manning. He's a Hall of Fame quarterback. There is no way that we're going to say in any way that he's not the quarterback that he's been. I've watched the tape. He's still an outstanding quarterback. I don't see much of a drop-off of where he's been before.
If there was ever a game for Manning to rebound in, it's this one against the Raiders' injury-ravaged secondary. That rebound will be enough for the Broncos to eke out a close one at home.
Prediction: Denver 27, Oakland 24
Update: Think the Miami Dolphins are sick of overtime yet?
Rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw for over 400 yards against the Arizona Cardinals and Miami gave the undefeated Redbirds everything the could handle.
For the second straight week the Dolphins took a team to overtime, and for the second straight week they have nothing to show for it.
Final Score: Arizona 24, Miami 21
There's been no bigger surprise to this point in the 2012 NFL season than the Arizona Cardinals, who have not only reeled off three wins in a row, but have done so against a trio of teams that were all considered playoff contenders entering this year.
One of the most surprising aspects of the team's hot start has been the play of quarterback Kevin Kolb, who received the added bonus of beating his former team last week, although according to John McMullen of The Sports Network (via The Kansas City Star), Kolb downplayed the revenge factor of last week's win over the Eagles:
I'm going to enjoy it, don't get me wrong. But the biggest thing is being 3-0. To be 3-0 against the teams we have played and the fashion that we have won, it has been exciting.
The Dolphins have won eight of 10 meetings with the Cardinals, but with top offensive weapon Reggie Bush dinged up, the table is set for the Redbirds to make it three wins in a row over Miami.
Prediction: Arizona 21, Miami 6
Update: You know, I came this close with this one.
However, close doesn't count, and rookie quarterback Robert Griffin led the Redskins on a late drive that ended with the game-winning field goal that left egg all over my face.
Final Score: Washington 24, Tampa Bay 22
Rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III has lived up to his billing and then some with the Washington Redskins this year, but so far that hasn't translated to wins, with the team dropping two straight after the season-opening win in New Orleans.
Much of the same can be said about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who have played with more intensity under rookie head coach Greg Schiano but so far have only a single victory to show for it.
This may well be the hardest game of Week 4 to predict, but playing at home against a Washington defense that can't stop anybody, I'll take the Buccaneers in a squeaker.
Prediction: Tampa Bay 21, Washington 17
Update: Wild game at Lambeau Field on Sunday, with quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees combining for over 750 passing yards in a contest that went right down to the wire.
However, in the end the Packers gained a measure of redemption with a one-point victory, while the reeling Saints fall to 0-4 and continue the nightmare season they can't wake up from.
Final Score: Green Bay 28, New Orleans 27
OK, raise your hand if you thought that the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints would be a combined 1-5 after three weeks this season.
Yeah, me neither.
The Saints come into Lambeau Field searching for their first victory of 2012 against a Green Bay team still smarting from the Monday night debacle, although Packers head coach Mike McCarthy insists that the team has moved forward, according to Santosh Venkataraman of the Associated Press (via Yahoo! Sports):
The fact of the matter is we're about New Orleans. We're in tune with staying true to the integrity of the Green Bay Packers, how we conduct ourselves, being professional during a tough time, during a challenge.
McCarthy's comments aside, the Packers have to be seething after what happened in Seattle, and that anger is going to be taken out on a New Orleans defense that has been absolutely awful this year.
Prediction: Green Bay 34, New Orleans 21
Update: As you'd expect when the Giants and Eagles meet Sunday night's contest was a wild, back-and-forth affair that was all defense in the first half.
The defenses apparently decided to take the second half off, and the Eagles' ability to keep Michael Vick upright and avoid turning the ball over combined with a strong half from running back LeSean McCoy propelled the Eagles to a close win.
Final Score: Philadelphia 19, New York 17
The New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles may share identical 2-1 records heading into their Sunday night NFC East showdown, but their records belie two very different football teams.
The Eagles' propensity to turn the ball over this season finally came back to bite them in last week's loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
With quarterback Michael Vick averaging three giveaways a game so far this season, seeds of controversy have begun to swirl, although head coach Andy Reid offered a halfhearted endorsement of his quarterback earlier this week, according to Ashley Fox of ESPN. "Right now we're with Michael, and that's what we're doing. We'll evaluate as we go," said Reid.
Those winds may pick up speed after Sunday night, as the talented New York pass rush could easily pressure Vick into more turnovers and increase the number of Eagles fans calling for a change under center.
Prediction: New York 24, Philadelphia 14
Update: And we have a winner for the "I could not possibly have been more wrong" award.
It was Dallas quarterback Tony Romo, and not Jay Cutler, that imploded Monday night at Cowboys stadium, and five interceptions (two of which were returned for touchdowns) propelled the Chicago Bears to a rout.
Final Score: Chicago 34, Dallas 18
Week 4's final game features a pair of teams that it's hard to get a bead on. While the Chicago Bears and Dallas Cowboys have each won two of their three games, neither has exactly done so in convincing fashion.
Part of Dallas' issues offensively have stemmed from its inability to move the ball effectively on the ground, and according to Alan Ferguson of the Associated Press (via Yahoo! Sports), Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said the team needs to get running back DeMarco Murray more involved:
We've moved the ball basically the last couple of weeks through the air. We've got to run the ball better. I think we've got to execute better across the board.
That may be easier said than done against the Bears' sixth-ranked run defense, and this game will probably come down to which quarterback makes fewer mistakes with the football.
No way am I counting on the Bears' Jay Cutler in a "fewest mistakes" contest.
Prediction: Dallas 23, Chicago 20