NFL Week 4 Preview: 7 Teams That Must Win on Sunday
Is it too early to call some of Sunday's games a "must win?" And is it right to include a 3-0 team on the same list as an 0-3 team?
No. And yes.
It only took three weeks for most individuals to write off the 0-3 Minnesota Vikings, Miami Dolphins, Indianapolis Colts and Kansas City Chiefs.
What's to stop us from writing off teams who go from 1-2 or 1-3?
If we assume nine wins are the mark to make the playoffs, and it is a rather low mark, it means teams who open 1-3 would have to go 8-4 over the last three quarters of the season. It's hard to imagine some of these teams playing that well over such a long period of time.
To all the Rams fans who think their team can climb to the top of the NFC West with a 7-9 record even with an 0-4 start, wait until your teams shows up on the list and their upcoming schedule is revealed.
The teams who appear on this list are in must-win games for numerous reasons.
Some need to keep pace with division leaders, others are fighting for their head coach's job security and others are trying to live up to expectations.
And then there is one team who is undefeated, and yet, they still have something to prove. Don't worry Green Bay fans; your beloved Packers aren't the team in question.
No. 7: Denver Broncos
The only time people talked about the Denver Broncos in the offseason was when Tim Tebow's name was brought up.
It's unfortunate because Denver has some talent on both sides of the ball with Brandon Lloyd, Elvis Dumervil, Champ Bailey and yes, even Kyle Orton.
The Broncos, though, have been plagued with injuries, as all of the players mentioned, minus Orton, have battled injury this year.
A 1-2 record in the AFC West usually is OK because the Chargers tend to stumble out of the blocks and everyone else stinks. This year, though, the Raiders look legit, and the Chargers are finding ways to win more games than give away.
Denver has the toughest task this week as they head out to Green Bay. But if they drop the game and fall to 1-3, no one will care about the excuses and no one will consider them a legitimate threat to the Chargers, or even the Raiders.
The worst part about a loss this Sunday is we may have to endure more talk about you-know-who.
No. 6: Jacksonville Jaguars
Jacksonville is in a similar spot to Denver.
No one really considered this team a playoff contender. But with the Colts looking like one of the worst teams in football, the AFC South is fairly wide open.
There are people who think the Houston Texans are a clear-cut favorite, and it makes sense. They have one of the best offenses in the league with Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson and Ben Tate filling in nicely for Arian Foster. The Texans also have a revamped defense thanks to signing Johnathan Joseph.
But what do the Texans do every year?
Jacksonville needs to keep itself within shouting distance, and a win at home against the New Orleans Saints will certainly complete the task.
If they lose, though, you almost get the sense that everyone will be looking to fire Jack Del Rio, deservedly so mind you, and figuring out the best way to groom first-round draft pick Blaine Gabbert from the University of Missouri.
Like Denver again, the Jags find themselves in a tough spot as they face the New Orleans Saints. Fortunately for Jacksonville they get the Saints at home.
An odd note about the game: Drew Brees is 2-1 lifetime against the Jags with eight touchdowns and no picks.
No. 5: Chicago Bears
Lovie Smith always seems to be on the hot seat in Chicago. A loss on Sunday would almost guarantee he lands back on it.
It certainly wouldn't be good if the Bears opened up the season 1-3 after finishing last year 11-5. The real kicker would be who the Bears lose to if it should happen.
Smith and the Bears host the Carolina Panthers and rookie head coach Ron Rivera.
For those who don't care about the Bears or what has transpired there, you may not understand the irony of a loss.
Back in 2007, Smith decided not to bring back Rivera as the team's defensive coordinator despite the team finishing 13th, first and third in points allowed, according the Chicago Sun Times.
If Rivera goes back to Chicago and knocks off the Bears with a rookie quarterback, everyone in Chicago will wonder why Rivera isn't their current head coach and how much longer they will have to wait until Smith gets the boot.
In the standings, the loss would also be disastrous as the Packers and Lions each sit at 3-0. If both teams win and the Bears squander away a win, Chicago will be three games back at the quarter pole. It's not a position many teams come back from.
No. 4: Atlanta Falcons
Matt Ryan holds a 21-2 record in the Georgia Dome. Remove him from the artifical turf and expose him to the elements, and he turns into a 13-13 quarterback.
In two road starts this year, Ryan is 0-2, with losses to the Bears and Buccaneers.
A loss Sunday on the road to the Seattle Seahawks is not an option at this point. It would drop the Falcons to 1-3 and have them looking up at the Bucs and Saints, who are likely to hold a 3-1 record at the end of the week.
It would be remarkable to see the Falcons drop their third game in four weeks considering they only lost three games in 16 weeks last year.
The Falcons entered this season as a Super Bowl contender, and they need to prove they can act like one. A win against the Seahawks would not ease all worries in Atlanta, and it wouldn't make everyone talk about them amongst the NFL's elite. But it would at least show they have the character to bounce back after a tough divisional game.
The worst part about opening 1-3 for the Falcons is they face Green Bay next week.
No. 3: Philadelphia Eagles
At 1-2, the Eagles are guaranteed to be tied for last in the NFC East, even with a win against the San Francisco 49ers Sunday afternoon.
It's almost hard to comprehend after Philadelphia successfully completed one of the most high-profile offseasons in recent NFL history. They landed Pro Bowl cornerbacks Nnamdi Asmougha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie while also picking up defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins and Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Babin.
It's a shame the Eagles forgot to pursue players who were capable offensive linemen and linebackers.
Andy Reid and company drafted Danny Watkins from Baylor University with the 23rd overall pick in the 2011 draft. He was slated to start at right guard. He now sits on the bench behind Kyle DeVan, who was signed a week before the season opener.
Later in the same draft, Oregon linebacker Casey Matthews went to the Eagles in the fourth round. The younger brother of Clay was thought to be the solution at middle linebacker. He was moved to outside linebacker last week, and now he too is on the bench.
The deficiencies on the o-line and at linebacker have resulted in Michael Vick getting obliterated in the backfield and the scoreboard getting lit up.
The Eagles certainly have the talent to overcome a 1-3 start. History also suggests they can get hot down the stretch, as Reid coached teams are 35-14 in December. Still, this game is a must win for the Eagles and Reid.
No. 2: Buffalo Bills
How can the Buffalo Bills, who are undefeated through three games and coming off a win against the New England Patriots, be placed on this list?
Give it a chance before you have a knee jerk reaction and type in the comment section.
Buffalo pulled off one of the biggest wins in franchise history last week when they ended their 15-game losing streak against the New England Patriots with a heart-pounding 34-31 come-from-behind victory.
The win made the Bills legitimate contenders to win the AFC East and became the nation's feel-good story with the Detroit Lions.
But doesn't a lot of it, if not all of it, go to waste if they go on the road and lose to the Cincinnati Bengals?
It's one thing to pull of an upset, but it's an entirely different story to go out the next week and take care of a team that is clearly inferior.
Losing to the Bengals is not going to take the Bills out of contention for their division. It will, however, create some doubt in the minds of fans and perhaps players that maybe the Bills really aren't the team we have made them out to be so far.
And those great comeback wins against the Raiders and Pats would seem more like flukes. It may seem unfair, but that's how it would shake out.
The Lions, who are also 3-0, are going on the road to face a Dallas team that is every bit as good as, if not better than, Detroit. If the Lions lose in Dallas, no one is going to think much of it and how it could affect the Lions moving forward.
A loss at Cincinnati could lead to a train wreck over their next seven games. The Bills face Philadelphia next week at home and then take to the road for four games in a six-game stretch.
This is not a must-win game in terms of the typical definition. It is a game the Bills cannot afford to lose, though, especially if they want to be considered a legit contender in the AFC.
No. 1: St. Louis Rams
Weren't the St. Louis Rams supposed to emerge as a team that could qualify for the playoffs even if they didn't play in the horrid NFC West?
And wasn't Sam Bradford immune to a sophomore slump?
As it stands, the Rams might not be able to hang with teams in the SEC, and Bradford is doing his best impersonation of Marc Bulger in 2008.
As bad as the NFC West is, the Rams can't afford to open up the season 0-4. Friends at the Elias Sports Bureau are not needed to tell us no team in the current division format has won a division title despite losing each of its first four games.
The good news for the Rams is Washington comes to town. The Redskins head to St. Louis on a short week after losing to the Dallas Cowboys on Monday Night Football. If there was ever a time to get a win, this would be it.
If you really think the Rams can survive an 0-4 start, ask yourself if they can make up ground with an 0-7 mark.
Next week, the Rams are on a bye. After that, though, the Rams go on the road to face the Packers and Cowboys before returning home to face the New Orleans Saints.
The Rams can kiss their season goodbye with a loss. The strange part is, they might be in the running to land the No.1 draft pick and trade it away to the team who wants Andrew Luck this most.