NFL Preview: Can Tom Brady Return Save the NFL from Ratings Deflation?

Tom Brady
The Associated Press

NFL TV Rating are down. Is it because of fans getting turned off by the Colin Kaepernick-led national anthem protests?

The NFL doesn’t think so.

“It is worth nothing that we see no evidence that concern over player protests during the National Anthem is having any material impact on our ratings. In fact, our own data shows that perception of the NFL and its players is actually up in 2016,” stated league executives Brian Rolapp and Howard Katz in a memo sent to NFL teams.

Some around the league blame bad early season matchups for the ratings decline. If that is the case, this week will be a good litmus test because of the number of excellent matchups, including Atlanta at Denver, Houston at Minnesota, New York Giants at Green Bay, Cincinnati at Dallas, and Tom Brady’s return to action in Cleveland

Let’s take a closer look at Sunday’s action.

Washington Redskins (2-2) at Baltimore Ravens (3-1)

Washington’s defense is struggling, and not just because of the Iran deal. The Redskins allowed Cleveland Browns rookie quarterback Cody Kessler to complete 67 percent on third down last week.

Baltimore is coming off their first loss of the season at the hands of Oakland, a game in which their vaunted pass rush registered no sacks.

The battle of the beltway could go either way.

Atlanta Falcons (3-1) at Denver Broncos (4-0)

Exciting matchup on paper featuring the NFL’s top offense (Atlanta) against the league’s best defense (Denver).

The Falcons average 478 yards and 38 points per game, but haven’t faced a defense any where near this caliber.

With starter Trevor Siemian nursing a shoulder injury, the Broncos will start rookie Paxton Lynch.

This game is a toss-up.

Houston Texans (3-1) at Minnesota Vikings (4-0)

The injuries keep piling up in Minnesota, but they continue to find ways to win.

They already lost their quarterback (Teddy Bridgewater), star running back (Adrian Peterson), and left tackle (Matt Kalil) for the season. This week they will be without right tackle Andre Smith and an emerging star at receiver, Stefon Diggs.

Perhaps this is the week all these injuries take their toll on the resilient Vikings.

Tennessee Titans (1-3) at Miami Dolphins (1-3)

People are quick to criticize Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill for his pedestrian play this year, but it would help if the Dolphins protected him better. The fourth-year signal-caller has been sacked 11 times in four games.

“I think we can do a better job of actually blocking people,” said Dolphins coach Adam Gase.

Getting franchise left tackle Brandon Albert back from an injury will help.

The Titans 27th-ranked offense doesn’t scare many teams.

The Dolphins at home should figure out a way to win.

New England Patriots (3-1) at Cleveland Browns (0-4)

Patriots QB Tom Brady returns from a four-game suspension, but don’t expect his usual dominating self from the get-go, according to his coach.

“It’s hard for a player not playing football to practice playing football,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

But even as Brady works out the kinks, the Patriots still should have little trouble beating the beat-up, rebuilding Browns.

Cincinnati Bengals (2-2) at Dallas Cowboys (3-1)

While rookie quarterback Dak Prescott has done a solid job helping Dallas to a 3-1 start, he hasn’t faced a defense as good as this.

A big help for Prescott the last couple of games has been the work of fellow rookie, tailback Ezekial Elliott, running behind a great offensive line.

Bengals cornerback Adam Jones joked Elliott hits holes so big “my little girl could run through them.”

Don’t expect that to be the case this week against the Bengals talented front seven, and don’t be surprised if the road team wins this game.

New York Giants (2-2) at Green Bay Packers (2-1)

The Packers are fresh coming off a bye week.

The Giants are coming off a short week following a Monday Night Football road game, and have a ton of injuries in their secondary, which is far from ideal facing Aaron Rodgers.

All signs point to the Packers in this game.

Philadelphia Eagles (3-0) at Detroit Lions (1-3)

The Eagles are 3-0 and healthy coming off a bye-week.

The Lions have lost three in a row and have major injuries problems.

But all the Lions losses have been very close games.

The game could go either way.

Buffalo Bills (2-2) at Los Angeles Rams (3-1)

The Rams are one of the NFL’s surprise teams, getting off to a 3-1 start.

And this with their star tailback Todd Gurley struggling.

A big reason for their success is a stout defense led by coordinator Gregg Williams, one of the game’s best.

The Rams defense, along with game-managing QB Case Keenum, should spearhead a win over visiting Buffalo.

San Diego Chargers (1-3) at Oakland Raiders (3-1)

The NFL season is only a month old, and the Chargers already have 15 players on injured reserve.

One bit of good news on the injury front is that first-round pick, end Joey Bosa, will make his debut after battling a hamstring injury.

While the Raiders look like the clear favorite in this game, it’s always a mistake to count out the Chargers led by their indomitable QB Philip Rivers.

New York Jets (1-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (3-1)

Two weeks ago the Steelers were blown out by the Philadelphia Eagles. Last week, they blew out Kansas City.

What was the big difference in the two games?

“Le’veon Bell,” said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.

Bell, a gifted tailback who was suspended for the season’s first three games, accounted for almost 200 yards of offense in his return last week. He’s not just a superb runner, but an outstanding receiver.

The Jets are a mess right now. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has thrown nine interceptions in the last two games, and their pass defense is one of the NFL’s worst.

The obvious pick in this game are the Steelers, but don’t be shocked if the Jets keep it close. They play better on the road and are desperate.

Chicago Bears (1-3) at the Indianapolis Colts (1-3)

The Colts defense has been awful this year. Why?

“When you pay (quarterback) Andrew (Luck) what we did, it’s going to take some time to build on the other side of the ball,” said Colts GM Ryan Grigson

Even with their defensive issues, the Colts should figure out a way to beat the pedestrian Bears.