The first three weeks of the 2011 NFL season has brought a mix of pleasant surprises, like the Buffalo Bills, to disappointments like the Indianapolis Colts. A truncated preseason has effected quality of play for some of the younger teams, like the Saint Louis Rams.
Week 4 will separate some pretenders from contenders, but it will also help determine the strength of teams perceived to be of championship material. The defending champion Green Bay Packers have seemingly already shown they are a viable option to repeat.
There will be upwards to at least three games that will be big battles. The upstart Houston Texans will try to rebound from losing last week, but face a Pittsburgh Steelers team that has been on a mission the past few weeks. The New York Jets and Baltimore Ravens will most likely have a defensive struggle, while the New England Patriots and Oakland Raiders may have a track meet this Sunday.
It may be too early to get a true grasp on who is going to be strong this season, but the fourth week is a better indication of what weaknesses each franchise has to work on. This is crucial because bye weeks will begin to start for teams next week.
Chris Johnson has only 98 yards on 48 carries, showing why training camp is so important. But that Titans defense has carried the club, ranking first in the NFL in yards allowed and second in points given up.
Cleveland isn't doing much offensively yet, but their pass defense is ranked third best in the NFL in passing yards allowed. If Johnson stinks again, the Browns will have an advantage.
Titans 20 Browns 17
Who here predicted the Buffalo Bills would start the season 3-0? How about 4-0?
Bills 24 Bengals 20
The Rams will be happy to have star halfback Steven Jackson back in this must-win game against the Redskins. Washington has given up 252 yards on 41 carries to Ahmad Bradshaw, Beanie Wells and Felix Jones the previous three weeks.
That fact, and the fact opponents can always rely on Redskins quarterback Rex Grossman to make several key boneheaded plays each week, might be enough to get Saint Louis their first win this season.
Rams 20 Redskins 17
Frank Gore has struggled to just 148 yards on 59 carries so far. This hurts because the 49ers have one of the NFL's worst starting quarterbacks in Alex Smith. If Gore cannot produce against a beat up Eagles squad that is 30th in run defense, they have no shot.
The Niners are dead last amongst all NFL teams in yards gained, so the Eagles star studded secondary might have to swipe a few of Smith's mistakes and carry their team to victory.
Eagles 23 49ers 20
Houston's defense looked like it was back in 2010 last week by coughing up 40 points after having given up just 20 total points the previous two weeks. The offense, led by halfback Ben Tate, already has 90 points scored.
Pittsburgh isn't scoring yet, getting just 54 points so far, but the defense has given up just 55 in three weeks. Their 2-1 record has been aided by playing two lousy teams the past few weeks.
This is a statement game for both teams. Houston needs to show they are the cream of the AFC South crop, as many have predicted they will be this season. Pittsburgh needs to prove they are still strong Super Bowl contenders, as well as disprove the recent whispers they are an aging team in many important areas.
Houston needs to generate a pass rush against a beat up Steelers offensive line. Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips may have a few special blitz packages drawn up for outside linebacker Mario Williams, especially since Houston has quite a few defenders dinged up with injuries.
The vaunted Steelers run defense has yet to play well, so they need to step up the week. Not only will they have Tate to deal with, 2010 rushing champion Arian Foster will see his first action this year. So it comes down to if the experience Pittsburgh has will prevail over the inexperienced Texans.
Texans 24 Steelers 21
Is there any doubt who wins this game?
Packers 37 Broncos 20
Game of the Week
Oakland has the best rushing attack in the NFL, and are ranked the sixth best in points made. Their defense, however, is near the bottom of the league in many categories.
New England has the best passing attack in the NFL, but they too have a defense ranked near the bottom of the NFL in many categories and they will not have the services of starting defensive end Albert Haynesworth this week. Both teams also share the surprising distinction of losing to the Buffalo Bills late in their respective games.
Both teams need to win to keep from falling in their division. While the Raiders do not play in nearly as talented a division as the Patriots, this game could mean a lot, later in the season to both squads.
It comes down to if the Raiders can stop the pass or the Patriots can stop the run. It also may come down to the final play.
Patriots 38 Raiders 35
The Ravens season has started pretty good, but not great. They rank 13th in the NFL in both yards gained and allowed. While their defense has given up the fewest points in the league, the offense ranks eighth in most points scored.
Jets head coach Rex Ryan knows this team well, having been the Ravens defensive coordinator just a few years ago. But his own vaunted defense is struggling much more than expected, ranking 31st in rushing yards allowed and 12th in points scored upon.
Ray Rice and Ricky Williams will need to have good games here. Both teams will keep it close until the final seconds.
Ravens 16 Jets 13
1. Green Bay Packers
2. Detroit Lions
3. Buffalo Bills
4. Baltimore Ravens
5. Houston Texans
6. Pittsburgh Steelers
7. Tennessee Titans
8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
9. Oakland Raiders
10. New England Patriots
11. San Diego Chargers
12. New Orleans Saints
13. New York Jets
14. Atlanta Falcons
15. New York Giants
16. Dallas Cowboys
17. Philadelphia Eagles
18. Chicago Bears
19. Washington Redskins
20. San Francisco 49ers
21. Seattle Seahawks
22. Cleveland Browns
23. Carolina Panthers
24. Miami Dolphins
25. Jacksonville Jaguars
26. Arizona Cardinals
27. Cincinnati Bengals
28. Minnesota Vikings
29. Saint Louis Rams
30. Denver Broncos
31. Indianapolis Colts
32. Kansas City Chiefs