Week 4 of the 2013 NFL regular season began with a bang, as the San Francisco 49ers defeated the St. Louis Rams 35-11. This was the first of many games between division foes, and it offered a glimpse into just how important one game can be.
But which games will have the most significant impact on the division title races, and how will they transpire?
Chicago Bears (3-0) at Detroit Lions (2-1)
Date: Sunday, Sept. 29
Time: 1 p.m. ET
Prediction: 30-21, Bears
After three weeks, the two NFC North teams that reached the playoffs in 2012, the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings, have a combined record of 1-5. The two NFC North teams that fell short in 2012, the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions, are a combined 5-1.
The 3-0 Bears will meet the 2-1 Lions in Detroit on Sunday, Sept. 29 to determine which team will hold the division lead at the quarter mark of the season.
The Bears enter this game with wins over the Cincinnati Bengals, Minnesota Vikings and Pittsburgh Steelers. Chicago leads the league in forced turnovers and ranks third in scoring offense at 31.7 points per game.
Behind its smothering and opportunistic defense, Chicago has moved to first in the division and can take a commanding two-game lead with a win over Detroit.
The Lions are 2-1 with wins over the Vikings and Washington Redskins, and a loss to the Arizona Cardinals. Matthew Stafford is fifth in the NFL in passing yards and passing touchdowns, and both Joique Bell and Reggie Bush have been scoring machines for the Lions' high-powered offense.
Unfortunately, Ed Werder of ESPN reports that second-leading wide receiver Nate Burleson could be out until November.
With the Lions down a wide receiver, and a very reliable one at that, they'll be in trouble against Tim Jennings, Charles Tillman and a turnover-crazed Bears defense. With Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall matching Stafford and Calvin Johnson, and Matt Forte providing all-around efficiency, the Bears will win.
A late touchdown will create a two-possession edge, but this will be a close game throughout.
Seattle Seahawks (3-0) at Houston Texans (2-1)
Date: Sunday, Sept. 29
Time: 1 p.m. ET
Prediction: 21-13, Seahawks
The Seattle Seahawks are the front-runner in the NFC West, and the Houston Texans are the top team in the AFC South. Seattle is 3-0 and in control of its own destiny, while Houston is 2-1 and the two-time defending division champion.
On Sunday Sept. 29, the two sides will meet in a game of extreme importance.
Seattle enters this game on a streak of dominant defensive performances, which is especially impressive considering both Brandon Browner and Chris Clemons have been limited by injuries. Even still, the Seahawks have defeated the Carolina Panthers, Jacksonville Jaguars and San Francisco 49ers.
Carolina and Jacksonville may be underwhelming opponents, but Pete Carroll's crew won 29-3 against the Niners.
Houston hasn't been too impressive, but still earned wins over the San Diego Chargers and Tennessee Titans before falling 30-9 to the Baltimore Ravens. The encouraging sign is that Houston allowed just one offensive touchdown against Baltimore.
The discouraging truth is that Houston will now have to take on the Seahawks.
Seattle will win this game and move to 4-0, but it won't be pretty between two defensive-minded football teams. J.J. Watt will lead a ferocious pass rush against a team that's down Russell Okung, but the Seahawks are just too balanced.
There is the genuine possibility that Houston wins, but Seattle has been playing magnificent football and will continue to do so during Week 4.
Miami Dolphins (3-0) at New Orleans Saints (3-0)
Date: Monday, Sept. 30
Time: 8:30 p.m. ET
Prediction: 34-28, Saints
Both the Miami Dolphins and the New Orleans Saints enter Week 4 with perfect records at 3-0. That sets up what should be one of the best Monday Night Football games of the year as the Saints' potent offense goes to war with the Dolphins' physical defense.
When it's all said and done, the home-field advantage will be the deciding factor.
The Saints were a 13-3 football team the last time Sean Payton was on the sidelines, and in 2013, they're reminding the world of that truth. The defense is shining, and New Orleans has earned wins over the Atlanta Falcons, Arizona Cardinals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
It certainly doesn't hurt that Drew Brees is still Drew Brees.
The Dolphins deserve praise, picking up wins over the Falcons, Cleveland Browns and Indianapolis Colts. The pass rush has 9.0 sacks through three games, and the secondary already has five interceptions.
Against Brees, Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston and company, however, Miami will come up short.
Miami will play well and make a statement on Monday Night Football, but the Saints are a tough team to beat in New Orleans. They've won 10 consecutive home games under Payton and will continue that streak during Week 4.
It will be a fun game to watch, but New Orleans will defeat the rising Dolphins at home.
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