There aren't many marquee games on the schedule during the Week 4 slate in the NFL, but the few that qualify under that category have the potential to shake up playoff projections moving forward.
Starting on Thursday night with San Francisco-St. Louis and moving through Monday night with undefeated Miami and New Orleans, this is certain to be a weekend where teams are in desperation mode following their early outcomes.
In case you missed it, Bleacher Report Lead Writer and former NFL pro Matt Bowen's breakdown of the upcoming action is worth a read before things kick off at Edward Jones Dome:
Green Bay and Carolina are the only two teams on bye this week, so 15 games are coming your way. I'll toss some predictions your way below for all them, complete with a closer look at three marquee games.
Ethan Grant's Week 4 NFL Predictions
Predictions for Marquee Matchups
San Francisco 17, St. Louis 15
According to this tweet from ESPN's "Numbers Never Lie," this one should have San Francisco written all over it:
But the 49ers are coming off of the first consecutive losses ever in the Harbaugh era, they have questions on offense just two weeks after Colin Kaepernick was defying logic, they didn't beat St. Louis under Jeff Fisher last season and they're having to answer questions about the future of star defender Aldon Smith.
Factor in the NFC West rivalry, and this one is a toss-up.
In a gritty, defensive-minded showdown in St. Louis, I like the 49ers to avoid a disastrous 1-3 start by the slimmest of margins. While Sam Bradford has been solid (891 yards, six TDs, two INTs) through three games, the 49ers are one of the NFL's best teams at stopping the pass so far, surrendering just 197.3 yards a contest.
In a short week, look for the running games to play a huge role in this game for both teams. Since San Francisco's potential dynamic attack gets the edge there, expect the 49ers to exploit a defense that allowed DeMarco Murray to run wild in Week 3.
It won't be pretty—expect at least two turnovers from each team—but San Francisco will take steps toward righting the ship with a tough victory.
Seattle 20, Houston 13
Featuring one of the best defenses in the NFL and an improving offense with second-year quarterback Russell Wilson, Seattle currently resides in the top spot among various NFL power rankings across the land.
Houston, by comparison, has struggled through three games. Injuries to offensive tackle Duane Brown, wide receiver Andre Johnson and safety Ed Reed threaten to mess with Gary Kubiak's game plan against Seattle.
These 2012 playoff teams might be trending in different directions, but Seattle isn't quite the imposing force on the road that it is under the friendly lights at CenturyLink Field.
Expect the Texans to get back to their roots by trying to establish the run early against the Seahawks. Matt Schaub flung 35 passes in Houston's 30-9 loss to Baltimore in Week 3 and, simply put, that's not what the offense in H-town is about.
Unfortunately, establishing the run against the Seahawks won't be easy. Seattle is yielding just 95.0 yards per game to opponents this year and is even better in passing situations (146.7 yards to opposing offenses through the air). Add it all together and the Seahawks currently have the No. 1 defense in the NFL.
By the same token, Houston has a strong set of defenders and currently allows the second-least amount of yards per game—behind only Seattle—to opponents.
Execution on offense is the name of the game in this one, and I give the edge to Seattle in that department, who also has the intangible of momentum from three straight wins.
New England 28, Atlanta 26
If New England is smart, it will smell blood in the water in Atlanta on Sunday night.
The Falcons are beat up on both sides of the ball and are in danger of starting 1-3 and equalling their regular-season loss total from 2012. It's must-win time at the Georgia Dome, but the Patriots must take advantage of a clear opportunity to stay undefeated.
As noted by ESPN's Mike Reiss in this video tweet, the Pats are built to exploit the holes in Atlanta's defense:
Though quarterback Tom Brady has struggled (57.5 completion percentage, five TDs, two INTs) through three games, help is on the way. As reported by NFL.com's Albert Breer, All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski will likely be in the lineup.
Against a defense surrendering nearly 300 yards per game through the air and a 65.7 percent completion percentage to opposing QBs, New England has a great chance to expose Atlanta's defense as fragile yet again.
Miami did it in Week 3, and the Dolphins didn't have a future Hall of Famer under center.
Atlanta is no slouch, and Jason Snelling proved last week he can help fill in for Steven Jackson admirably. However, the difficulties on defense will catch up to the Falcons yet again, giving the Pats an opportunity to start 4-0.
*All stats via NFL.com.
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