Week 4 of the 2013 NFL season doesn't quite have the appeal of its predecessors from a matchup standpoint, but we're talking about a league where "any given Sunday" still applies.
Unless you're the Jacksonville Jaguars.
In all seriousness, the upcoming few days of football should offer fans with enough pigskin action to take their minds away from the toils and tribulations of the world.
Heck, there's games between expected playoff contenders (Houston-Seattle), teams who have made their preseason ranking look foolish (Kansas City-New York) and a surprise battle between undefeated foes in prime time (Miami-New Orleans).
And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
With an eye toward the weekend, here's a look at my latest NFL power rankings, complete with an outlook for each team's Week 4 matchup.
1. Denver Broncos (3-0)
Offensive juggernauts will collide when Peyton Manning and Co. will host the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday afternoon. Through three games, Denver (486.7) and Philadelphia (461.7) are first and second in the NFL in total yards per game.
Philadelphia's high-powered offense poses a threat to a defense still finding its way, but Denver has the edge in this expected shootout largely because of No. 18.
2. Seattle Seahawks (3-0)
While offense is the ticket in Denver, it's defense keeping the Seahawks afloat through three games. Ironically, the Jags (17) scored more points against Seattle in Week 3 than San Francisco (three) and Carolina (seven) combined, even though they rank last in the NFL in total offense.
A road game with the Houston Texans will test Seattle's mental fortitude away from the friendly confines of CenturyLink Field and give us a window into where Pete Carroll's team really is.
3. Chicago Bears (3-0)
The Bears are one of the NFL's most surprising teams heading into Week 4. Using a balanced offensive attack and bend-but-don't-break defense, Chicago has made plays when it counts on both sides of the football.
Visiting NFC North rival Detroit is a big challenge for Marc Trestman's team. The Lions have the No. 4 offense in football and are expecting running back Reggie Bush to be healthy for the contest. Factor in the divisional rivalry, and the Bears should be in for quite the test.
4. New Orleans Saints (3-0)
I'm not sure many projected Week 4's Monday night game to feature two undefeated teams, but New Orleans and Miami will both have a chance to start 4-0.
According to Bleacher Report's Jeff Grant, Saints quarterback Drew Brees has no problem with the bright lights of a nationally televised game:
We've all seen Brees and the New Orleans offense look unstoppable before, but it's Rob Ryan's defense turning heads on Bourbon Street. We'll see if that effort continues against an upstart bunch in Miami.
5. New England Patriots (3-0)
The Pats probably wouldn't say no to Wes Welker suiting up for them at this point in the season, but they are undefeated without him and star tight end Rob Gronkowski to date. Facing an Atlanta secondary yielding 296.0 passing yards per game, Tom Brady may have a field day on Sunday night throwing the ball to guys you've never heard of.
The more things change, the more they stay the same in New England.
6. Cincinnati Bengals (2-1)
Coming in ahead of some undefeated teams because of their effort against the Chicago Bears in Week 1, the Cincinnati Bengals are once again looking like a playoff team poised to gain steam as the season rolls on.
Giovani Bernard has three touchdowns in his last two games (both wins) after starting slow in his NFL debut, and he might be the key to the Bengals offense being a matchup nightmare on a consistent basis for opposing defense. The Cleveland Browns will test that theory in Week 4.
7. Miami Dolphins (3-0)
Say what you want about the Browns, but Miami's undefeated mark coming into this game is well earned. Indianapolis and Atlanta are both expected to make the playoffs, and the Dolphins showed physical and mental toughness in close games before pulling out impressive victories.
If Joe Philbin's team descends on New Orleans and takes down the Saints on Monday night, Miami will be without question a top-five NFL team.
8. Kansas City Chiefs (3-0)
It's been some start for Kansas City and new head coach Andy Reid, with the cherry on top of his 3-0 Sunday being able to storm into Philadelphia last Thursday and hand his old constituents another painful loss.
This week the desperate New York Giants come to town with the threat of starting 0-4 looming largely over any conversation. This is a trap game for the Chiefs, who need Alex Smith to continue to shine to help protect Arrowhead Stadium.
9. Indianapolis Colts (2-1)
Divisional rival Jacksonville is on the schedule this week, and expect the offense to continue to evolve around Andrew Luck as T-Rich is integrated more into the fold.
10. Baltimore Ravens (2-1)
Don't look now, but the Ravens have rebounded nicely from a rough start against the Broncos.
By holding the Browns (six) and Texans (nine) to single digits the past two weeks, John Harbaugh has triumphantly spoken to doubters who feel Baltimore will take a step back on defense this season without Ed Reed and Ray Lewis.
EJ Manuel and the Buffalo Bills will be the latest litmus test for the defending Super Bowl champions on Sunday.
11. San Francisco 49ers (1-2)
Questions about the offense are warranted, but questions about why Aldon Smith was on the field Sunday just hours before leaving the team indefinitely resonate more at the moment.
San Francisco won't have the luxury of a full week to answer any questions connected to its 1-2 start. The 49ers will travel to St. Louis on a short week and with a two-game losing streak for the first time in the Jim Harbaugh era, a situation compounded by last season's disappointing results against the Rams.
Is it too early for games to be must-wins for expected playoff teams? This is as close as it gets to that point for San Francisco.
12. Atlanta Falcons (1-2)
Injuries on offense and poor effort on defense are the main culprits behind Atlanta's 1-2 start, but Mike Smith and Co. will not have time to wallow in self-pity as the New England Patriots prepare to visit the Georgia Dome on Sunday night.
As noted by ESPN's Vaughn McClure, Matt Ryan and the Falcons must have a sense of urgency in this one to avoid a 1-3 start; only nine percent of teams since 1990 have made the playoffs after doing so.
13. Houston Texans (2-1)
The Texans have looked mediocre through three games, but are still on the right side of .500 heading into a pivotal home game with Seattle on Sunday.
Look for the offense to lean heavily on the running game after scoring just nine points against Baltimore and using Matt Schaub's arm 35 times in the loss.
14. Green Bay Packers (1-2)
Green Bay was a Johnathan Franklin fumble away from being in the top 10 this week, but that one play has the Packers in a precarious position as a candidate to start 1-3.
With a bye in Week 4, Aaron Rodgers and the rest of the Packers will look to get fully healthy while working out some of the kinks in practice. They will host the Lions in Week 5.
15. Dallas Cowboys (2-1)
The jury's out on whether or not the Cowboys are an NFC contender, but the jury is not out on whether or not Dallas can win the NFC East. The answer to the latter question is yes, but winnable games against teams like San Diego will need to fall on the right side of the win-loss column for Dallas to do so.
The offense has been stagnant at times through three games, but DeMarco Murray had a strong day to build off of against the Rams in Week 3 and the defense is forcing turnovers at an exorbitant rate. Starting 3-1 could be huge in a division where two other teams have yet to pick up a win.
16. Tennessee Titans (2-1)
Jake Locker came to life late in Tennessee's win over San Diego in Week 3, helping the Titans score 10 unanswered points in the final frame while using both his arm and his legs.
With Houston and Indianapolis looking vulnerable at times early in this season, Tennessee needs to continue to pile up wins before divisional matchups with the Texans and Colts commence. An opportunity to get one against the surprising 2-1 New York Jets awaits on Sunday.
17. Detroit Lions (2-1)
Detroit handed Washington a third straight loss on Sunday and set themselves up nicely as the second-place team in the NFC North in the process. A win over the Bears would vault the Lions into first place heading into Week 5.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford will need to avoid the backbreaking turnover and keep Chicago's defense off balance if the Lions want to pull off the upset in this one.
18. St. Louis Rams (1-2)
As mentioned above, the Rams are lossless in the Jeff Fisher era against the 49ers.
A win and an infamous draw occurred in the two games between San Francisco and St. Louis in 2012, and either result would be a delight for Fisher's bunch after an embarrassing display in a 31-7 loss to Dallas this weekend.
Having home-field advantage in a short week helps, but it's still the defending NFC champions we're talking about here. Thursday night might simply come down to which team wants it more.
19. New York Jets (2-1)
Rex Ryan might not be so crazy after all.
On defense, B/R's Erik Frenz notes that what the Jets are doing to limit drives on first and third downs is downright impressive:
Despite a disappointing setback against the Patriots, Ryan has his Jets playing a physical brand of football once again and might have found a lead back in Bilal Powell capable of carrying the load his offense requires.
New York will travel to Tennessee with a chance to quietly start 3-1.
20. Carolina Panthers (1-2)
Carolina has a bye in Week 4, but arguably has the most confidence in football right now after a 38-0 romp of the New York Giants over the weekend.
Say what you will about Cam Newton, Ron Rivera and this bunch with respect to the NFC South, but both of the Panthers' losses so far have been by a combined six points. Things are looking up in Carolina.
21. San Diego Chargers (1-2)
San Diego's second-half woes came creeping in again on Sunday in the loss to Tennessee, but Mike McCoy won't have time to lament his team's problems for long as the Dallas Cowboys make the trip out West this weekend.
Expect the defense to be the key to a victory for the Chargers; the unit is allowing over 470 yards of total offense per game—only Washington is worse in the category.
22. Buffalo Bills (1-2)
The Bills haven't gotten off to a great start in the win-loss column, but things are on the up and up with EJ Manuel under center. A fierce test awaits in Baltimore, but Buffalo has stuck around and had a chance to win every game it has played in so far this season.
23. Philadelphia Eagles (1-2)
Chip Kelly's offense is doing its part, but the defense has been atrocious in Philadelphia and things don't get any easier in Week 4. Don't be surprised if the Eagles score 30 points against the Broncos this weekend, but don't be surprised if Denver drops 50 in the process.
24. Arizona Cardinals (1-2)
Arizona followed up an encouraging win over Detroit with a dud against New Orleans, but I have a feeling that says more about how well the Saints are playing than it does about the state of the Cards.
Bruce Arians has shown his worth through three games, and it will be up to the head coach's offense to engineer a game plan capable of giving the Tampa Bay defense problems on Sunday. Although they are 0-3, the Bucs have been one of the better teams in the NFL at slowing down opposing offenses.
25. Cleveland Browns (1-2)
It was the Brian Hoyer, Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron show for the Browns in Week 3, and fantasy football owners sure appreciate what the Cleveland stars did on the field in a huge win over the Minnesota Vikings.
But Cleveland will have to come down from that high quickly in anticipation of a bitter matchup looming against Cincinnati. The Bengals have won four of the last five games in the series, but it was the Browns who were last victorious in a 34-24 victory in 2012.
26. Washington Redskins (0-3)
These two tweets from NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah sum up Washington's season so far:
The stats are there, but the on-the-field product is not. While Robert Griffin III and the offense have come to life at times, others they are non-existent. The defense is statistically the worst in the NFL.
Washington needs a win to turn its season around, and the Oakland Raiders are the next team on the schedule.
27. Pittsburgh Steelers (0-3)
Facing the reality of a winless start and a trip to London this week for a battle with Minnesota, Pittsburgh simply has more questions than it can answer in key areas of need.
The return of Le'Veon Bell should help the offense, but it won't help the offensive line protect Ben Roethlisberger or the turnover bug that has bit this franchise. The defense is doing its part, but the Steelers simply need more from the offense to turn things around.
28. Minnesota Vikings (0-3)
Despite having the league's most talented running back, the Minnesota Vikings are in shambles on offense.
That should tell you something about Christian Ponder, who can't seem to make it work in Minnesota despite seeing nine-man boxes in running formations and single coverage on the outside more often than not.
While traveling to London to face Pittsburgh this week, decisions about the future of the offense need to be made. The defense has plenty to work on, too, but Minnesota's inability to take advantage of rudimentary favorable matchups is alarming.
29. Oakland Raiders (0-3)
I am encouraged by Oakland's start, though the 0-3 record attached would suggest otherwise.
Terrelle Pryor has had his growing pains, but as he continues to grow, so will the Raiders. Sticking to a philosophy and a group of players is something management has failed to do during the last decade. Hopefully Dennis Allen has staying power and can turn that trend around.
A win against Washington would help that cause tremendously.
30. New York Giants (0-3)
What can you say about the Giants at this point in the season?
The 38-0 loss to Carolina will either serve as a wake-up call to get better or an example of how bad the season will turn out to be. Facing the Chiefs on Sunday, starting 0-4 is a real possibility if the Giants don't find a solution to their problems quickly.
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-3)
Tampa Bay will host the Cardinals this week, and it's hot-seat time for Greg Schiano after making the decision to start Mike Glennon over Josh Freeman on Wednesday. The former Rutgers man needs wins to keep his job, and one over Arizona would be a nice place to start.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-3)
Jacksonville can play spoiler with a win over Indy this weekend, but we all know this team's problems won't be solved until it successfully drafts a quarterback capable of handling the responsibilities that are attached to the position.
It's only Week 4, but the Jags have to be thinking NFL draft after suffering three embarrassing losses to open up the 2013 season. It'll get worse before it gets better in Jacksonville.
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