Week 3 of the 2013 NFL regular season is nearly completed, with only Monday Night Football remaining on the schedule. The list of undefeated teams is decreasing, and pretenders are being exposed early in the season.
The question is, what does Week 4 hold, and which games will have the most significant long-term impact?
San Francisco 49ers (1-2) at St. Louis Rams (1-2)
Date: Thursday, Sept. 26
Time: 8:25 p.m. ET
TV: NFL Network
The San Francisco 49ers reached Super Bowl XLVII and began the 2013 NFL regular season with a 34-28 win over the Green Bay Packers. Since then, the Niners have lost consecutive games by a combined margin of 56-10.
Now, the 49ers are in for a must-win game against the St. Louis Rams without superstar pass-rusher Aldon Smith, according to ESPN.com.
Add Smith to the list of absent key players that includes Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham.
The Rams enter this home game at 1-2 after defeating the Arizona Cardinals 27-24 and posting duds against the Atlanta Falcons and Dallas Cowboys. It was the same story in Week 3 as it was in Week 2, with the only difference being that the Rams failed to mount a failed comeback.
A 31-24 loss to the Falcons in Week 2 and a 31-7 loss to the Dallas Cowboys has the Rams reeling and on the brink of losing significant ground in the NFC West.
The 49ers and Rams met twice in 2012, going to overtime in both games and finishing with a tie in one of the two. With the Rams making dramatic improvements and the Niners battling multiple injuries, the potential is present for San Francisco to fall to 1-3.
With the 49ers entering desperation mode, however, it's difficult to bet against the defending NFC champions.
Seattle Seahawks (3-0) at Houston Texans (2-1)
Date: Sunday, Sept. 29
Time: 1:00 p.m. ET
Prediction: 17-13, Seahawks
The Houston Texans and Seattle Seahawks are two teams that are in contention for the AFC and NFC conference crowns, respectively. The Texans have started the season with two close victories and a disappointing loss, while the Seahawks have been dominant en route to a 3-1 record.
Come Week 4, Seattle will travel to play Houston in a momentous game.
Houston escaped the San Diego Chargers with a 31-28 win after coming back from 21 points down. One week later, the Texans earned a 30-24 comeback win over the Tennessee Titans in a game that went to overtime.
In Week 3, Houston was exposed with a 30-9 road loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
The Seahawks began the season with a tough 12-7 win over the Carolina Panthers, responding with a 29-3 decimation of the San Francisco 49ers. One week later, the Seahawks destroyed the Jacksonville Jaguars to move to 3-0.
Expect Seattle to take home another win in Week 4.
The Texans have questions to answer, and they can be found significantly deeper than a 30-9 loss to Baltimore. Against both the Titans and Chargers, the Texans defense was underwhelming, and the offense struggled to produce.
Against a red-hot Seahawks team, Houston will run into trouble.
Chicago Bears (3-0) at Detroit Lions (2-1)
Date: Sunday, Sept. 29
Time: 1:00 p.m. ET
Prediction: 26-21, Bears
Week 4 of the 2013 NFL regular season will be home to a genuine turning point for the NFC North. The Green Bay Packers are on a bye week, the Minnesota Vikings will be looking for win No. 1, and the Chicago Bears will face the Detroit Lions.
The winner of the Chicago-Detroit game will earn the lead in the division.
Detroit enters this game at 2-1 after securing wins over the Minnesota Vikings and Washington Redskins. The Lions' lone loss came at the hands of the Arizona Cardinals, falling 25-21 on the road on a Rashard Mendenhall rushing touchdown with 1:59 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Playing at home, the Lions will have the opportunity to take the lead in the division and earn a 1.5-game lead over the Packers.
The Bears have opened up the season with a string of explosive offensive performances. Chicago won close games against the Cincinnati Bengals and Minnesota Vikings, blew out the Pittsburgh Steelers and will now look to extend its lead in the NFC North.
Chicago will come up with the critical win.
The Bears' key advantage here comes on defense, where the defensive backfield and front seven performs at a superior level to Detroit's. Furthermore, the Bears' offense has been equally as explosive with Jay Cutler, Matt Forte and Brandon Marshall.
It'll be a grind, but the Bears will win.