It’s already Week Four, and the bye-weeks are upon us, with Arizona, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Denver, Seattle, and St. Louis enjoying the week off.
As for the teams playing, some of the top matchups include the 187th meeting of two storied NFL franchises, the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears, a possible shootout between New Orleans and Dallas, and the “Steve Smith Bowl,” as the Carolina Panthers travel to Baltimore.
Let’s take a closer look at this week’s slate of NFL action . . .
Carolina Panthers (2-1) at Baltimore Ravens (2-1)
On March 13, the Carolina Panthers released wide receiver Steve Smith, perhaps the most iconic player in the history of their franchise. The Baltimore Ravens didn’t waste any time bringing him on board, signing him to a three-year deal a day later. Smith has had this match-up circled since the schedule came out on April 23.
“You think I can’t play, you are going to find out Week Four,” Smith said.
Signing Smith has turned into a masterstroke by Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome, as the veteran wideout leads the Panthers in receptions with 18.
But one potential problem for the Ravens passing game this week is that Joe Flacco’s blindside protector, left tackle Eugene Monroe, is out with a knee injury. He will be replaced by undrafted rookie free agent James Hurst, and this could be a big problem against a talented Panthers front.
Green Bay Packers (1-2) at Chicago Bears (2-1)
Since the Bears opening day debacle against the Buffalo Bills, QB Jay Cutler has been on fire, throwing six touchdown passes in the last two games.
The Bears have been somewhat pass happy this year, in part due to Cutler’s howitzer arm and their outstanding receivers, but also because they can’t run the ball, with the NFL’s 32nd-ranked ground attack.
The Bears injury-ravaged secondary held up last week against the developing Jets quarterback Geno Smith. That might not the case against Aaron Rodgers.
Rodgers will likely rip apart the patchwork Bears secondary.
Considering the state of the Bears secondary, this match-up favors Green Bay.
Buffalo Bills (2-1) at Houston Texans (2-1)
The Houston Texans have the NFL’s fifth-ranked rushing offense, so they should try and stay on the ground as much as possible.
Because it’s not a good idea to get pass-happy with their journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, as we saw last week in his three-interception performance in a loss to the New York Giants.
The Texans keep their fingers crossed that their franchise back, Arian Foster, who is questionable with a hamstring injury, will be able to play.
Speaking of staying on the ground, no team in the league likes to run more than the Buffalo Bills, which is smart with a young quarterback in E.J. Manuel. With that being said, they need a little more from their passing offense, ranked 28th in the league.
This matchup favors the Texans who play at home.
Tennessee Titans (1-2) at Indianapolis Colts (1-2)
It’s unclear if Titans starting quarterback Jake Locker, and his injured right wrist, will play. If he can’t go, veteran backup Charlie Whitehurst will start.
A good matchup in this game is the Titans #2-ranked pass defense vs. Colts QB Andrew Luck, who is coming off one of the best games of his career in a blowout of Jacksonville.
If the Titans aren’t careful, they could be the victims of another blowout, considering Luck’s diversity of weapons, including receivers Reggie Wayne, T.Y, Hilton, two good tight ends in Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, and RB Ahmad Bradshaw, who caught three touchdowns out of the backfield last week. They are loaded!
It’s hard seeing Indy losing this game.
Detroit Lions (2-1) at New York Jets (1-2)
If the Jets are going to take this game, winning the turnover battle will be a big help.
And that is quite possible considering the Lions have turned the ball over six times in the last two games.
And one way the Jets can force turnovers is doing what they do well–putting a lot of pressure on the quarterback. Look for them to exploit the Lions reserve right tackle Garrett Reynolds, with starter LaAdrian Waddle out, along with his regular backup, Corey Hilliard.
This is a much-win game for the Jets, with San Diego, Denver, and New England to follow, and they will likely find a way.
Miami Dolphins (1-2) at Oakland Raiders (0-3)
The Raiders are the home team, but not really, since this game is in London.
This is a huge game for Miami’s quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who is hanging on to his job by a thread. If he can’t beat a winless Oakland team, his job could belong to Matt Moore next week.
Considering the Raiders have the worst offense in the NFL with a rookie quarterback (Derek Carr), and one of their starting receivers is out (Rod Streeter), the Dolphins should be able to find a way to win this game.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1)
Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger must be licking his chops entering a game against a Tampa Bay pass defense that has allowed opposing quarterbacks to amass a 117.2 passer rating against them this season.
Tampa Bay will be starting a new quarterback in Mike Glennon, who takes over for the injured Josh McCown. Considering Glennon inherits the league’s 32nd-ranked passing offense, there is no way he can do any worse than his predecessor.
The matchup favors the Steelers in so many ways.
Jacksonville Jaguars (0-3) at San Diego Chargers (2-1)
The Jaguars are the NFL’s worst defense, and next-to-last offense, so it should come as no surprise that they are 0-3.
They have decided to try rookie quarterback Blake Bortles to give the moribund team a spark.
Considering the Jaguars give up an average of 39 points a game, and Chargers QB Phillip Rivers is on fire (5 TDs, no INTs, 127.1 QB rating in the last two games), it’s going to be a herculean task for the Jaguars to win this game.
One factor that gives them a fighting chance is that the Chargers are very, very banged up.
Atlanta Falcons (2-1) at Minnesota Vikings (1-2)
With QB Matt Cassel out for the year with a foot injury, the Bridgewater era begins in Minnesota.
It would certainly help the kid’s chances a great deal if Teddy Bridgewater had a strong running game led by the NFL’s best back, Adrian Peterson, but that isn’t going to happen anytime soon. Peterson has been deactivated for spanking his son too hard.
Atlanta has the NFL’s best offense, and had 10 days to game-plan for this matchup coming off a Thursday night rout of Tampa Bay. Also not helping Minnesota’s case is they will be without their top linebacker Chad Greenway (hand, rib).
This could get ugly.
Philadelphia Eagles (3-0) at San Francisco (1-2)
The game could be decided by the Eagles depleted offensive line, with three starters out (RT Lane Johnson, LG Evan Mathis and C Jason Kelce), which faces a very talented 49ers front seven.
Look for the 49ers to try to run the ball more this week than in the first three games, against the 26th-ranked defense, playing without inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks.
This is a must-win for the 49ers, and they should be able to find a way to come up with the “W.”
New Orleans Saints (1-2) at Dallas Cowboys (2-1)
This one should be fun with a pair of gun-slinging quarterbacks squaring off, and each facing a defense that has issues.
The Saints are a surprising 1-2, but they lost the two games by a combined five points.
The Saints have the NFL’s #4 offense, and should be able get a lot done against a pedestrian, banged-up Cowboys defense.
This game is a toss-up.
New England Patriots (2-1) at Kansas City Chiefs (1-2)
Tom Brady and the New England Patriots have the 27th-ranked passing offense in the NFL. You don’t see that kind of ranking for this passing unit very often.
A big problem is pass protection. Brady is taking a lot of hits this year, and it’s messing up his timing.
And look for the hits to continue this week against a Chiefs team with three good edge pass rushers in Tamba Hali, Justin Houston, and Dee Ford.
Don’t be shocked if the Chiefs pull the upset here.