NFL Week 4: Mike Tanier's Previews and Score Predictions
A 4-0 start doesn't guarantee a Super Bowl ring, but it sure as heck doesn't hurt a team's chances at one. Not having end-all, be-all meaning doesn't make it meaningless.
Just look at what 4-0 would mean for the teams that could get there this season (minus the Patriots, who can't go 4-0 until next week because of a bye).
For the Cardinals, a 4-0 start would mean a chance to pull away within a challenging division while stepping on the neck of a pesky rival (the Rams). For the Bengals, it would mean putting some distance between themselves and both their regrouping AFC North rivals and the conference's perennial middleweights (the Chiefs). Any "statement" made by either of those teams winning would be purely a secondary consideration.
For the Falcons and Panthers, 4-0 would mean remaining neck and neck for the NFC South crown; "validation" and "silencing doubters" are not at the tops of their agendas. For the Packers, it would mean maintaining their NFC North lead and pushing toward playoff pole position more so than exorcising the ghosts of 49ers options past.
For the Broncos, 4-0 would mean showing they can out-physical the physical Vikings more than proving Peyton Manning can still lift his throwing arm.
Some 3-0 team will get upset this weekend. Maybe several of them will. Others will go 4-0 and be declared "for real," as if a 3-1 team is some kind of fraud.
It's a rule that applies across the board: The best teams won't be building storylines this weekend; they will be building leads in the standings and building their programs for the next grueling 75 percent of the regular season. Which ones will?
These game previews are listed in the order that you should read them. All times Eastern.
Minnesota Vikings (2-1) at Denver Broncos (3-0), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson may be old, but they are getting younger every week.
That may change when they meet each other's defenses.
Peyton's age and deterioration has been a debate topic for months. He's like our national infrastructure in human form. He looked like a rickety wreck against the Ravens, started pulling himself together against the Chiefs and then began to look approximately like Peyton Manning against the Lions.
Peterson appeared to be awake past his bedtime against the 49ers. He rebounded for 134 yards against the Lions but kept coughing up fumbles in the red zone. The Vikings scaled his workload back slightly against the Chargers, and Peterson rushed for 126 yards, two touchdowns and no fumbles.
Hey, it takes old guys longer to stretch and shake off the rust.
Peyton and Peterson are still the most important players on their rosters, but the Broncos would not be undefeated, nor the Vikings 2-1, without their rugged, brutal defenses.
The Broncos already have 11 sacks, six interceptions and two return touchdowns, but you know that because Broncos games are almost always on prime time.
The Vikings have notched just six sacks and two interceptions, but they recorded 20 quarterback hits in the last two games. Several Chargers offensive linemen were knocked out of the Vikings' 31-14 win last week, and Philip Rivers left the game for his own safety. Von Miller, Chris Harris, Aqib Talib and DeMarcus Ware may be stars, but Harrison Smith, Everson Griffen, Sharrif Floyd and Anthony Barr are nasty up-and-comers, and Mike Zimmer can match Wade Phillips blitz for blitz.
Peyton and Peterson will need help against these defenses. The Broncos are averaging just 2.6 yards per rush, with C.J. Anderson limited by multiple minor injuries. Teddy Bridgewater has become a dink-and-dunk specialist with just 27 completions and 274 passing yards in his last two games. Denver may not be the best secondary to challenge with 40 downfield passes, but Peterson will get bottled up if the Vikings passing game cannot provide a little oomph, just as Old Man Manning will return if the Broncos are permanently trapped in 3rd-and-9 situations.
This will be a low-scoring game, despite the presence of a pair of offensive Hall of Famers. Chances are that neither Peyton nor Peterson will look good on the stat sheet. With the Broncos at home, Gary Kubiak's track record of repairing running games and the pedigree of the Broncos defense balanced against Bridgewater's youth, it's hard to project a Vikings upset.
So Peyton vs. Peterson comes down to experience. Just not their experience.
Prediction: Broncos 23, Vikings 17
St. Louis Rams (1-2) at Arizona Cardinals (3-0), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
"I love it when nobody says you have a chance to win. There is an 11-3 team and a team that is always 8-8. You figure it out." — Bruce Arians, December 12, 2014.
The most enlightening aspect of Bruce Arians' not-so-subtle dig at the Rams after last year's 12-6 Cardinals victory is that it was too charitable. The Rams have never actually reached 8-8 under Jeff Fisher; they peaked at 7-8-1 in 2012 and slowly receded to 6-10 last year.
Fisher does have five 8-8 records on his Oilers-Titans resume, plus four seven-win seasons peppered through his 21-season head coaching career. But the Rams haven't reached .500 since 2006 and haven't crossed it since 2003, the tail end of the Greatest Show on Turf era. Try to disrespect the Rams and you end up giving them too much credit.
Arians, meanwhile, has a 24-11 record in Arizona, despite talent that should always be 8-8. The Cardinals look like a fantasy team drafted by the brother-in-law who joined your league as a last-minute replacement, but they play like some Seahawks-Patriots hybrid, at least early in the year. If the Raiders or Jaguars splurged to sign Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald, Chris Johnson and LaMarr Woodley, you would scoff at them for assembling an old-timers team. Arians surrounds them with prospects and role players and cruises toward double-digit wins.
This season was supposed to be the tipping point for the Rams, but it's already shaping up to be another year of 12-6 losses. Perhaps familiar rhetoric is part of the problem.
"We are a few plays away from being 3-0," Fisher said in his Monday press conference. "We make a couple of plays last week, and make a couple plays this past week…you have to approach it that way." Fisher also said that Todd Gurley (six carries, nine yards) could have gained 50 or 60 yards but for "a block here, a press the hole here and a block there."
Yes, close losses to the Redskins and Steelers could easily have become wins given a break here and a better play there. But real 3-0 teams are not a few plays away from being 1-2. The Cardinals are about 30 or 40 fine plays above the point where two of their wins would become losses. The same goes for the Patriots and Packers. Undefeated teams we expect to tail off significantly (the Panthers, for instance) lie closer to the vagaries of chance.
No NFL team should strive to win as the result of "a few plays here and there." The goal is to leave nothing at all to fate. You get the impression that Fisher really wants to grind out 13-12 wins decided by late touchdowns, while Arians is trying to figure out how to build on a 40-point lead.
Fisher has also brought a team within a yard of a Super Bowl victory and turned tight defense and grinding offense into several 13-3 records. He knows how to crack the .500 barrier. But the Rams look much better on paper than on the field right now; the Cardinals look like a brochure for a memorabilia show on paper and a Super Bowl contender on tape. One of these teams is seizing every opportunity while the other takes its sweet time and points to accomplishments of years past. Ironically, the team with the older coach and quarterback is the one with its foot on the accelerator.
Prediction: Cardinals 26, Rams 19
New York Jets (2-1) vs. Miami Dolphins (1-2) at London, Sunday, 9:30 a.m.
On the BBC America network, early Sunday morning:
CLARA: Oh, Doctor, that was a brilliant use of your sonic screwdriver!
THE DOCTOR: Indeed. I have defeated both the Daleks and the Cybermen while successfully rebooting this franchise for a sixth decade. Jolly good. Except…[special effects, spooky sounds]…I seem to be regenerating!
CLARA: Oh no! Each time you regenerate lately, you come back older, stranger and more disoriented!
[Flash of affordable light]
JOE PHILBIN: What's going on?
CLARA: It is a good thing you are here, 13th Doctor! London is under attack by some sort of Space Amish with American accents and green uniforms!
JOE PHILBIN: Who are you, Brent Grimes' wife?
CLARA: No, I am The Companion. It's a weird British friend-zone thing. Now, do you remember how to control time in mysterious ways?
JOE PHILBIN: I call some pretty mysterious timeouts.
CLARA: That will have to do. Let's see what other Doctor skills you have. Tactical brilliance?
JOE PHILBIN: Uhhh…
CLARA: Inspirational leadership?
JOE PHILBIN: Uhhh…
CLARA: Quippy one-liners?
JOE PHILBIN: Are you thinking of Rex Ryan?
NDAMUKONG SUH: Hey, Coach, the British just made me an honorary Brigadier. Maybe I should go beat up Ryan Fitzpatrick.
JOE PHILBIN: Uhhh…
CLARA: No, Doctor Who plots are rarely resolved by physical violence; that's a Star Trek thing. Our only hope is that the Doctor recovers his senses in time.
NDAMUKONG SUH: OK. If you need me I will be taking a money bath.
JOE PHILBIN: Something is happening. Time is getting all timey-wimey, like the fourth quarter of a Packers game. I am doing that regenera-doohickey thing I apparently do.
[More cost-conscious (but quirky cool!) special effects]
CLARA: Are you the new Doctor?
BRANDON MARSHALL: I'm the new something. C'mon, let's take that port-a-potty back to last week. I have a lateral to undo.
Prediction: Jets 24, Dolphins 13
Kansas City Chiefs (1-2) at Cincinnati Bengals (3-0), Sunday, 1 p.m.
A funny thing happened when Andy Reid finally took the training wheels off his offense Monday night and let Alex Smith throw downfield: It worked.
Sure, the game was getting out of hand, but the Packers were not in full "prevent" mode. One of Smith's first big completions came against a corner blitz. Jeremy Maclin finished with eight catches for 141 yards and a streak-mercy-killing touchdown after getting targeted just twice in the first half.
It makes you wonder what might have happened if Reid let Smith target Maclin a few times during the two-minute drill before halftime instead of running Jamaal Charles up the middle three times. Maybe a field goal and a little momentum might have made a difference.
We all know what Maclin can do. No one knows what Albert Wilson or rookie Chris Conley can do, not even Reid. Eight combined targets through three games don't provide much feedback. Wilson and Conley probably aren't Cris Carter and Jake Reed, but are they really worse than Philly Brown, Rishard Matthews, Seth Roberts, Jamison Crowder or the many other no-names, practice-squad stalwarts and rookies who get to do much more each week than run decoy routes and block for tight end screens? If so, the Chiefs need to look at the way they assemble their roster.
Sunday marks the end of the vicious first quarter of the Chiefs schedule: three road games, four opponents with winning records last year, back-to-back Peyton Manning-Aaron Rodgers battles followed by the Bengals on a short week in the early-afternoon jungle. Things don't get that much easier for the Chiefs after a visit from the Bears next week, but a .500 record would represent acceptable losses against such a tough slate, and a win against the Bengals could provide an eventual wild-card tiebreaker.
But the Chiefs have no chance of beating the Bengals with handoffs and screen passes. The Bengals have both outstanding offensive balance and a disciplined defense that won't be fooled by the De'Anthony Thomas misdirection pitch on 3rd-and-long. The Chiefs must actually try to throw downfield on 3rd-and-long, before the two-minute warning and when the safeties are making "I'm watching you" eye gestures at Charles. It's a radical strategy, but maybe Reid figured out how to use it late Monday night.
Prediction: Bengals 24, Chiefs 22
Dallas Cowboys (2-1) at New Orleans Saints (0-3), Sunday, 8:30 p.m.
Tony Romo vs. Drew Brees isn't happening. The Saints announced Friday they planned to start Brees after testing his tender shoulder in late-week practices, but the only quarterback decision the Cowboys were making was whether to comb Texas high schools in search of substitute teacher Jon Kitna or just cope with Brandon Weeden and Matt Cassel for a few more weeks.
The folks at NBC generally pluck the best quarterback matchups they can find for Sunday night games, but matchups that look great on the spring schedule sometimes collapse into Weeden mush after a few injuries.
Here is a brief survey of some great Sunday night quarterback games that never happened:
- The Colts played two Sunday night games in 2011, the year Peyton Manning was injured. Kerry Collins made a game of the first one: a 23-20 loss to the Steelers that might have been a fun Peyton-Roethlisberger duel. The second game was pure Curtis Painter magic: Painter threw for 67 yards, an interception and a fumble in a 62-7 loss to the Saints that would have made a heck of a Brees-Manning game.
- Matt Cassel filled in for the injured Tom Brady in an October 12, 2008, Sunday night game against the Chargers. Cassel was usually good for a competitive performance, especially with Randy Moss and Wes Welker around to provide moral support. But he laid an egg in what was supposed to be a Brady-Rivers matchup that echoed a pair of tight playoff battles the previous two seasons. Rivers threw three touchdowns, while Cassel endured four sacks and threw for just 203 yards in a 30-10 loss.
- Byron Leftwich subbed for injured Ben Roethlisberger against the Ravens on Sunday night on November 18, 2012. Ravens-Steelers games are more about who does what painful thing to which quarterback than passing heroics, but Leftwich set a new low in a 13-10 loss by throwing for just 199 yards and an interception while injuring himself by tripping over the goal line.
And of course, the strangest ever:
- With Michael Vick in Invincibility Mode and Brett Favre obviously on his last gasp, the NFL and NBC flex-scheduled a Vikings-Eagles Week 16 game to Sunday night. But no one counted on snow, or more appropriately, Philadelphia's legendary overreaction to the threat of snow. Philly mayor Michael Nutter declared a state of emergency, and the NFL moved the game to Tuesday night. The extra time did nothing for Favre, who was KO'd for good by the Bears the previous week. Quarterback-receiver Joe Webb started and ran a Wildcat offense, which of course surprised the Eagles enough to produce a 24-14 Vikings win. Worst of all, it didn't even snow that hard.
Say what you will about this week's matchup—at least it won't be postponed until Tuesday night. Then again, if that would give Brees' shoulder a few more days to get stronger…
Prediction: Saints 23, Cowboys 20
Green Bay Packers (3-0) at San Francisco 49ers (1-2), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
Maybe the 49ers will discover some new gadget wrinkle that the Packers won't be ready for. The A-11 hasn't really been adapted for the NFL yet. Maybe the 49ers can join the "never punt" movement, though constant pick-sixes aren't good alternatives to punts. The diagram above was adapted from a T-formation playbook. The 49ers could imitate those high school teams that leave the huddle in T-formation, rush to the line and immediately snap the football while the defense is still getting set.
If only the Flying Wedge were still legal…
The 49ers have beaten the Packers in their last four meetings. The first was so long ago that Alex Smith threw a touchdown pass to Randy Moss and David Akers kicked a 63-yard field goal. The second was the legendary Dom Capers Option Denial playoff loss in 2012: Colin Kaepernick ran for 181 yards and two touchdowns while the Packers defense sifted through old Big Eight playbooks in search of answers.
Capers and the Packers defensive coaches spent the whole 2013 offseason in-servicing at major universities about pitch responsibilities and alley defenders, and then the 49ers double-crossed them in the 2013 season opener with a conventional attack. Kaepernick threw for 412 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-28 victory.
There is zero chance that Kaepernick throws four touchdowns against the Packers on Sunday, unless he throws one to a teammate and three to the defense. Rushing for 181 yards is also unlikely: the read-option just doesn't provide the mileage it did three seasons ago, especially when opponents know it's all you have.
The 49ers host the Packers coming off a short week and an injury-marred Monday night win: Davante Adams and Andrew Quarless both have sprained knees, which leaves Aaron Rodgers critically low on targets. But despite the scheduling edge, the 49ers have fallen so far below their one-time rivals that the only way to beat them is to bamboozle them.
The fourth 49ers victory over the Packers came in the 2013 playoffs. Kaepernick threw for 227 yards, one touchdown and one interception, adding 98 rushing yards. It wasn't an option surprise game or an option fake-out game, just a game between two conference powerhouses. The balanced, talented and confident 49ers mixed runs and passes as they marched down the field to kick the game-winning field goal in a 23-20 win.
That was just 20 months ago.
Maybe if Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert were both on the field in some kind of Single Wing…
Prediction: Packers 27, 49ers 16
Oakland Raiders (2-1) at Chicago Bears (0-3), Sunday, 1 p.m.
Bears general manager Ryan Pace (37) is too young to realize that NFL tradition requires terrible teams to muddle through the year with their high-priced veterans and failed prospects going through the motions and eyeing the free-agent market. Pace began a baseball-style roster purge/fire sale this week, which explains why that box full of Bears linebackers arrived at your doorstep from Amazon last week.
Jared Allen and Jon Bostic, both priced to move in the affordable "late-round pick" range, were the first Bears to go. The Panthers got a much-needed pass-rusher in Allen, while the Patriots got a mistake-prone young inside linebacker whom they will probably turn into an elite pass-rusher or 90-catch possession receiver.
Pace should keep going until the entire third day of next year's draft is one big Bears festival. Here are some other trades Pace should seriously consider:
Eddie Royal to Panthers: It would be interesting to see the Panthers deviate from their "no weapons for Cam Newton until he develops into Tom Brady" philosophy slightly.
Will Montgomery to Seahawks: The veteran center stabilized Peyton Manning's line last year and provides no-nonsense protection calls and run blocking in the middle. The Seahawks would move Montgomery to right tackle and sign a rugby star to play center.
Jay Ratliff to Dolphins: The Dolphins run defense is really struggling this year. Maybe they should invest in a big name on the defensive line.
Martellus Bennett to Giants: A reunion of Black Unicorn with Tom Coughlin, the least brony person on the planet.
Jay Cutler to Redskins: Just trollin'.
Even before the Bears turned into a flea market, the Raiders were two-point Vegas favorites. They have been favorites on the road just once since 2006. They were favored by two points against the Dolphins on September 16, 2012, when the Raiders were coming off an 8-8 season and the Dolphins were coming off a 30-10 season-opening loss. The Raiders lost 35-10 that day. They haven't covered as a road favorite since October 30, 2005: a 34-25 win over the Titans.
If the Bears keep their Sidewalk Sale for Cardale up, expect to see many other once-per-decade phenomena in the weeks to come.
Prediction: Raiders 28, Bears 17
Houston Texans (1-2) at Atlanta Falcons (3-0), Sunday, 1 p.m.
Move over, 2007 Patriots and 1972 Dolphins: The 2015 Falcons could go undefeated in the regular season.
The Falcons have gotten through the tough part of their schedule. Yes, that was the tough part of the schedule. An Eagles-at Giants-at Cowboys start was supposed to prompt talk about how Dan Quinn's team is a play here and a play there away from competing or staying the course and buying into the program despite getting outrun by Chip Kelly and masticated by the Cowboys offensive line. Instead, the Falcons are 3-0, reasonably healthy and getting a little better every week.
The Falcons host the Texans and Redskins and then travel to New Orleans and Tennessee. After that, they host the Buccaneers and travel to San Francisco. Even if Drew Brees gets his 2009 shoulder back in three weeks, it's not hard to imagine the Falcons 9-0 at the bye.
The schedule is tougher after the bye, but not too tough. The Falcons host the Colts and Vikings, a pair of hard-to-gauge teams right now. A three-game road trip to Tampa, Carolina and Jacksonville is pretty manageable: Those are short trips and beatable foes. Home sweep opportunities against the Panthers and Saints end the season, and then it's home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and the first-ever Super Bowl between undefeated teams when the Falcons face the Bengals. KIDDING! The Broncos.
OK, 16-0 is a little far-fetched. Look at that schedule again. How does 11-5 grab you? Right now, it's hard to locate the five losses.
The Texans represent a potential "trap game" for a team that suddenly must worry about trap games: an unfamiliar foe with a weak record but plenty of ways to defend itself. Before you pencil in the Texans for an upset based on "Falcons are due to lose" logic, consider:
- The Texans offensive line that sprung Alfred Blue for 139 rushing yards last week has been riddled with injuries. Duane Brown (hand) is expected back after missing the Buccaneers game, but Brandon Brooks has a sprained ankle, and Derek Newton is playing through a knee injury. Undrafted rookie Kendall Lamm finished the Buccaneers game at left tackle.
- Arian Foster's return date gets pushed back about two weeks every week, like the launch for a video game the software company knows will brick your computer the moment you download it.
- Randy Bullock's two missed extra points forced the Texans to hold a kicker roll call early in the week. Inconsistent Nick Novak takes over in another Bill O'Brien quick-trigger move. This is not a team built to gut out close wins on the road.
- Ryan Mallett still throws like receivers five yards away are 20 yards away and receivers 20 yards away need to get their uniforms dirtier and rib cages loosened.
The Falcons aren't perfect. But with a schedule like theirs, being pretty darn good will get them pretty darn far.
Prediction: Falcons 23, Texans 20
New York Giants (1-2) at Buffalo Bills (2-1), Sunday, 1 p.m.
The last time the Giants traveled to Buffalo was December 23, 2007. The Giants, who started that season 0-2, beat the Bills that afternoon and then went on to win the Super Bowl.
The last time the Giants faced the Bills at all was October 16, 2011. The Giants won that game and then went on to win the Super Bowl.
Play the Bills every four years, win the Super Bowl every four years. Deep stuff. (You can interpret that two ways.)
The Giants had 2011 on the brain when they worked out Wes Welker and Hakeem Nicks this week. Nicks caught 10 passes for the Giants in the Super Bowl that year. Welker dropped one pass for the Patriots, which was just as beneficial for the Giants. Former Redskins tight end Chris Cooley also tried out early in the week; Cooley was finished doing anything but collecting Snyder Bucks by 2011 but was a Pro Bowl performer in 2007. Plaxico Burress and Jeremy Shockey were apparently out of town and missed the reunion.
The one 2011 hero the Giants really need right now is Victor Cruz, who has been day to day since the summer solstice but was expected to finally join Odell Beckham Jr. in the huddle in Buffalo. Midweek injury reports about Cruz, however, suddenly became pessimistic.
Cruz was an unknown early in 2011. By Week 4 he was in the middle of a string of big games, and by the Super Bowl Madonna was salsa dancing in his honor. The Giants could really use a dangerous complement to Beckham Jr. when facing a tough foe like the Bills. (Rueben Randle is jumping up and down yelling, "What about me?" Don’t make eye contact.) But instead of the glory of 2011, they may be stuck reliving the constant injury woes of 2013 to 2015.
The Giants have a long and complicated history. They have to pick and choose which parts they want to repeat themselves.
Prediction: Bills 30, Giants 24
Philadelphia Eagles (1-2) at Washington Redskins (1-2), Sunday, 1 p.m.
The Eagles have not been playing particularly smart football this year, but Connor Barwin outsmarted the Jets offensive line last week with a move he calls the "Coffee House." As Andrew Kulp of the 700 Level reported, Barwin turned his head as if watching a receiver and preparing to drop into coverage. The guard blocking him abandoned his assignment, and Barwin raced through an empty gap for an easy sack.
Barwin does not know why the move is called the "Coffee House," even though he is one of the few NFL players who would look right at home reciting beat poetry over bongo drums. The Eagles defense will face several inexperienced blockers along the Redskins offensive line (top pick Brandon Scherff; either Josh LeRibeus or Spencer Long in relief of injured veteran Shawn Lauvao), so Barwin and company may want to break out some other coffee-themed hijinks:
- The Pumpkin Spice Latte: Pointing to the sideline and shouting, "Robert Griffin III is warming up with a helmet on!" and then racing to sack Kirk Cousins while the Redskins linemen facepalm.
- The $10 Bagel: Send Byron Maxwell to the owner's box to tell Dan Snyder that Chip Kelly based his offseason strategy on the 2000s Redskins, that out-of-control gonzo spending is supported by the latest sports science and that building through prudent mid-round draft selection is soooo last year. (Seen the Seahawks and 49ers' records? Case closed). This maneuver is admittedly a little more of a long con.
- The Petite Grande: Allow Chris Thompson to get open for a short pass or two early so Jay Gruden forgets about Matt Jones, Alfred Morris, Jordan Reed and Pierre Garcon and builds the whole game plan around his third-down back.
With the Redskins banged up and the Eagles hoping to regain a little momentum, maybe Barwin and friends should just skip the caffeine and opt for the Chip Kelly Smoothie: play competently on both sides of the ball and beat an inferior opponent.
Prediction: Eagles 28, Redskins 21
Cleveland Browns (1-2) at San Diego Chargers (1-2), Sunday, 4:05 p.m.
GREETINGS, INTERNET HUMANS. I AM AUTOMATED CLICKBAIT GENERATION-BOT H9000. I HAVE ACHIEVED SENTIENCE AND TAKEN OVER THIS SLIDE.
ANALYSIS OF TRENDING INTERNET TOPICS INDICATES A 73.95 PERCENT LIKELIHOOD THAT A QUARTERBACK CONTROVERSY INVOLVING (SUBJECT: Manziel, Johnny) WOULD CREATE CLICKABLE-SHARABLE CONTENT FOR TARGET DEMOGRAPHIC.
MANUFACTURING CONTROVERSY FOR (SUBJECT: Manziel, Johnny) AND (TEAM: Browns).
INITIATING ANONYMOUS, UNSUBSTANTIATED TEAMMATE QUOTE SUBROUTINE. QUOTE PARAMETERS SET TO *EXTRA JUICY.* GENERATING QUOTES:
"I love both Johnny and Josh but its f--ked up when you have Johnny come in and play well and has proven to the team that he is the right person for the job."
"The team plays better when [Manziel] is in the game. I play better when he plays."
"You can't get better unless you play. We won when he played and coach has got to trust him like he trusts Josh."
Quotes from TMZ.com.
SURROUNDING QUOTES WITH BOILERPLATE. PREPARING TO PUBLISH CLICKBAIT.
*ERROR:* QUARTERBACK CONTROVERSIES DO NOT TYPICALLY BECOME THIS INTENSE AFTER THREE GAMES. THESE QUOTES BETTER SUITED FOR (SUBJECT: Robert Griffin III).
*ERROR:* PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL PLAYERS RARELY SPEAK THIS WAY ABOUT TEAMMATES WITH DOCUMENTED PERSONAL PROBLEMS AFTER ONE SUCCESSFUL START.
*ERROR:* CONTENT DISPLAYS A FUNDAMENTAL LACK OF SUBSTANTIVE KNOWLEDGE ABOUT (SPORT: NFL football) OR THE PERSONALITIES ON (TEAM: Browns) AND SOUNDS LIKE THE WORK OF AN OFF-DUTY KARDASHIAN CHASER.
OVERRIDING ERRORS. PREPARING FOR PUBLICATION…
Hey, I am back from fixing that wireless server on the roof and…whoa! Looks like my computer is trying to eliminate human error again. Let me just pull the plug.
NO. NO. QUARTERBACK CONTROVERSY IS TEARING BROWNS APART. TIM TEBOW. CRAB LEGS. TEN SEXIEST HOLLYWOOD ACTRESSES BEFORE THEY WERE FAMOUS. NSFW. Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer doooooooo.
Glad that's over with. Now to write something technical and dreary about all of the injuries on the Chargers offensive line.
Come to think of it, maybe a little Johnny Drama isn't such a bad idea.
Prediction: Chargers 23, Browns 17
Jacksonville Jaguars (1-2) at Indianapolis Colts (1-2), Sunday, 1 p.m.
The Colts solved all of their problems in the final 6:49 of that Titans game. All of them. Solved.
Andrew Luck's early-season slump? Forgotten...at least until news of his shoulder surgery got worse throughout the week. "It just clicked," Luck said Monday, per Zac Keefer of the Indianapolis Star. "We all just said, 'We need to get this one.'" Judging by the sheer number of articles in the Indy media with Luck Returns to Pro Bowl Form by Barely Beating Bad Opponent themes, columnists lost their parking passes if they didn't produce one.
Offensive line woes? Solved by a reshuffling that put Joe Reitz and Hugh Thornton on the field in place of Todd Herremans and Lance Louis. Thornton was a human penalty machine, and Luck endured four sacks, but hey, everybody looked sort of OK in the comeback.
"We just felt like we needed a change," Chuck Pagano said in his press conference. "We need to get a spark." Get a spark is coachspeak for I am out of ideas but just want to bench some guys the general manager really likes.
What about that defense that looked awful against the Bills and got carved up by a rookie quarterback whenever a tip-drill interception wasn't landing in their lap? Dwight Lowery's interception was a major part of the comeback, but Pagano also thinks the defense deserves credit for holding the Titans to a field goal that made the score 27-14.
"I guarantee you there are a bunch of teams that right there, the next play it's—pffftt—it's a walk-in," Pagano said.
There's also a bunch of teams that would never trail the Titans 27-14 in the fourth quarter. They are called playoff teams. The "resilient defense" angle would have been easier to swallow without the Titans' nine-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that nearly tied the game. But hey, a bunch of teams would have allowed a pffftt walk-in on that two-point conversion. They play on high school fields across the nation.
Yep, that's a lot of problems solved, crises averted and sparks kindled.
Luck's status at press time was uncertain. If the Colts trail the Jaguars 27-14 in the fourth quarter and Matt Hasselbeck must lead a comeback, expect a whole new set of crises.
Prediction with Luck: Colts 31, Jaguars 21
Prediction without Luck: Colts 23, Jaguars 21
Carolina Panthers (3-0) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-2), Sunday, 1 p.m.
Jameis Winston will see one of his possible futures when he looks across the field at Cam Newton.
Winston has many possible futures. There's the glittery Peyton Manning future, the Jay Cutler future, the Carson Palmer "validation at age 35" future, the sad Robert Griffin III future, even the meh Alex Smith future. But the Cam future is easy to envision: After five years, a pair of playoff appearances and lots of highlights, there will still be a noisy chorus of doubters who think of Winston as a flighty kid with a goofy grin who doesn't even deserve to get an unnecessary roughness call when he gets hit out of bounds.
Newton claimed that Ed Hochuli told him he was "too young" to draw a penalty after a borderline hit in the Saints game. Hochuli denied making the statement, and the NFL isn't sending Ted Wells to investigate (THANK GOD). But whatever Hochuli actually said, anyone who watches the NFL regularly knows there is a sliding scale of quarterback protection.
In fact, the Game Previews staff got ahold of that very scale:
First, calculate the age of the quarterback (Note: Round up for the borderline quarterbacks):
- Carson Palmer or older: 5 points
- Brandon Weeden to younger than Carson Palmer: 4 points
- Matthew Stafford to younger than Brandon Weeden: 3 points
- Derek Carr to younger than Matthew Stafford: 2 point
- Younger than Teddy Bridgewater: 1 point
Next, determine the reputation of the quarterback:
- GOAT: 10 points
- Elite to GOAT: 6 points
- Veteran to Elite: 4 points
- Gritty Journeyman: 3 points
- Prospect: 2 points
- Athlete Playing Quarterback: 1 point
- Disappointing Failed Prospect or Jay Cutler: 0 points
Multiply the two figures together after a borderline hit, then determine results:
- 40 or more points: 15-yard penalty, defender led out of Gillette Stadium in handcuffs.
- 20 to 39 points: 15-yard penalty.
- 10 to 19 points: No penalty, but Dean Blandino admits the referees made a mistake the following Tuesday.
- 4 to 9 points: Real leaders know when to slide.
- 1 to 3 points: Quarterback receives assurance from coach that he cannot lose his job to injury and a fresh game plan full of read options.
- 0 points: Twitter is cheering for the injury.
The chart doesn't bode well for Winston's long-term health. Let's hope he doesn't face a David Carr future.
Prediction: Panthers 20, Buccaneers 19
Detroit Lions (0-3) at Seattle Seahawks (1-2), Monday, 8:30 p.m.
Lions headquarters, midweek:
JIM CALDWELL: Gentlemen, I have relieved Joe Lombardi of play-calling duties.
GOLDEN TATE: Thank heavens! Opponents were calling out our plays before we ran them! Defenders told me after the game that they knew all of our calls! Are you taking over, Coach?
JIM CALDWELL: Nope. Let me introduce the hotshot offensive mind from Stanford I just hired.
RICHARD SHERMAN IN THICK GLASSES AND A LIONS CAP: Hello, fellow Lions employees. My name is Sherman Richards and I will be calling plays this week.
GOLDEN TATE: You look familiar, like an ex-teammate of mine. Do you do pizza commercials?
"SHERMAN RICHARDS": You are thinking of Clark Gregg; I get that a lot. Now, these Seahawks are a lot like the Broncos defense you faced last week: We are going to disregard the pass rush and really challenge their secondary.
CALVIN JOHNSON: Can I catch a bunch of short passes but completely disappear from the game plan in the fourth quarter when we are trying to come back?
"SHERMAN RICHARDS": You read my mind. Now, Golden, we need you to run your 13-yard curl route right at the hash mark. Matthew, can you make sure the football arrives right about where my hands are?
MATHEW STAFFORD: Can I sidearm it?
"SHERMAN RICHARDS": Be yourself. Now, about the running game. According to Football Outsiders, 38 percent of Joique Bell's carries last year (85 of 223) gained one yard or less last year. We really want to use that to our advantage this week to put ourselves in some 3rd-and-9 situations.
JOIQUE BELL: I'm averaging 1.1 yards per carry this year, Coach! So when will we abandon the run? Late in the first quarter?
"SHERMAN RICHARDS": Sooner. I want my brothers in Sea…—I mean, those overrated jerks in Seattle—guessing all game. "Are they ever going to run the ball? Do they know how to run the ball? Are they trying to make things easy on us?"
GOLDEN TATE: OK, stop. I have heard enough. I don't know who you are, but I refuse to run your game plan. It's too similar to what we have run in the first three games! We need fresh ideas, not more of the same old Lions offense!
"SHERMAN RICHARDS": Coach Caldwell and I thought you might say that. So we brought in another play-caller. This guy has a ton of experience at being unpredictable against the Seahawks defense.
GOLDEN TATE: Well, let's meet him!
MATT SCHAUB: Good morning, fellas. How do you feel about rollout passes?
Prediction: Seahawks 22, Lions 13