It’s Week 4 in the NFL and things continue to change, but like Mike Shanahan’s tan and Bill Belichck’s monotone, the Alphabet remains the same.
Here’s this week’s preview —
A is for Across the Pond: The Viking (0-3) and Steelers (0-3) face off this wseek at London’s Wembley Stadium, and whoever loses should probably just stay there. After all, only one team in NFL history (Marion Butts and the 1992 Chargers) has started 0-4 and made the playoffs.
For all the Steelers struggles, they’ve yet to allow a 100-yard rusher, and unless Adrian Peterson becomes the first, it’s hard to imagine Matt Cassel (starting for the injured/ineffective Christian Ponder) having enough juice to push the Vikings over the top. Not to mention, if Ben Roethlisberger and Todd Haley are ever going to play nice and get the Steelers offense on track, you’d think it would happen against a Vikings defense that currently ranks 29th against the pass, 21st against the run and are one of five teams allowing more than 30 points a game. And it doesn’t hurt that rookie running back Le’veon Bell looks ready to take the field for the first time all season.
For anyone concerned that a match-up between a pair of winless teams will hurt the NFL’s brand in London, just wait until Week 8:
Then again, that mess will sure to be overshadowed by the fall out after Jim Harbaugh greets the Queen with a firm slap on the ass.
B is for the Battle Of Ohio: Over in Cleveland, it’s the 80th chapter the storied Bengals/Browns rivalry! Sure, for the most part, this rivalry has been the equivalent of two barely breathing hobos taking swipes at each other in a junk yard parking lot, but this year it’s only a little like that.
Both teams are coming off enormous wins. Bengals over Packers, thanks to a dramatic fourth quarter fumble return for a touchdown. Browns over Vikings, in the aftermath of a trade that was suppose to secure an 0-16 record. But heading into Sunday, only one team still has Brian Hoyer as their starting quarterback. Advantage: Bengals.
For what it’s worth: Cincy leads the all-time Battle of Ohio series 42-37, although in most of those games, the only loser has been football.
C is for Contrast: The Kansas City Chiefs (the most surprising 3-0 team in the league) host the New York Giants (the most surprising 0-3 team in the league) on Sunday. The Chiefs are one of two teams (Tennessee is the other) that have yet to commit a turnover this season, while the Giants have committed more turnovers (13) than anyone in the NFL. The Chiefs lead the league with 15 sacks, while the Giants are last in the league with three. Alex Smith is one of three starting quarterbacks yet to throw an interception, while Eli Manning leads the universe with eight. The Chiefs are benefitting from the arrival of a grizzled NFL head coach, who himself is benefitting from a change of scenery, while the Giants and Tom Coughlin are stuck in rut.
In typical Las Vegas fashion, KC’s only favored by five points, although I guess that’s understandable. As the season moves on, I doubt the Chiefs will look as good and the Giants will look as bad as they have so far. I’m not sure they could respectively look better or worse. But for one more week, both teams should stay true to their recent form.
In Andy Reid’s case, that means round.
D is for Division Drama: There are only four division games on the docket this week. The first was last night’s show-stopping 49ers/Rams bout. Then there’s aforementioned Bengals/Browns rivalry, the should-never-be-mentioned Colts/Jags game and finally this one — the biggest division game of the week:
Bears at Lions
It’s only Week 4, but there’s a ton on the line here. With a victory, the Bears improve to 4-0, the Lions fall to 2-2 and with the Packers on a bye week at 1-2, Chicago jumps out to an early two-game lead in the NFC North. With a Lions victory, they’ll be 3-1 and join the Bears in a tie atop the division (while picking up an all-important game in the head-to-head series).
Reggie Bush will be back for the Lions which should help offset the hit from Nate Burleson’s pizza party.
E is for Early Hole: Outside of the Packers (who, again, are off this week), Atlanta is the other most surprising 1-2 team, and they’ve got a lot riding on Sunday’s night game against Patriots. Mostly, this —
According to ESPN Stats & Information: Since 1990, only 22 of 258 teams that have started the season 1-3 (that’s nine percent) have gone on to make the playoffs.
The last team to do it, was the 2011 Broncos, and we all know that they had a little more working on their side.
F is for First Impressions: After spending a season and change with Brandon Weeden, anything would have felt like an upgrade for Trent Richardson. But either way, it’s safe to say that the brand new Colt is slightly impressed with his new QB: “Andrew (Luck) is the smartest person I have ever met,” Richardson said this week. “He’s a rocket scientist. This man has about four or five audibles in one play. He is the man. First pick of the draft and the third pick, it’s a blessing.”
Another blessing? Richardson’s second game with Indianapolis comes this week against the hapless Jaguars. The Colts could start an actual rocket scientist in this one and still come out on top.
G is for Go Time: Despite their 2-1 record, it’s been an ugly season for the Texans. They barely pulled out a victory in Week 1 in San Diego and again in their home opener against the Titans. Then, last week, they went to Baltimore and got steamrolled by the short-handed Ravens. It’s obviously early, but between Andre Johnson’s banged up body, Arian Foster’s fading star and Matt Schaub perpetual mediocrity, you can at least start wonder whether the Texans run among the AFC’s elite is already on the down swing.
Or, they could beat the Seahawks this week and shut everyone up.
Seattle won’t arrive in Houston at full strength. Left tackle Russell Okung was put on the short term IR last week, and right tackle Breno Giacomini is unlikely to play this week. That opens the door for JJ Watt to have somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 sacks, seven forced fumbles and five pass deflections.
But unfortunately for Houston, if you can’t score, you don’t win, and Seattle’s defense, which has allowed only 27 TOTAL POINTS is stronger than ever.
Fun fact: The Seahawks are looking for their first 4-0 start in franchise history.
Shocking fact: Did you know that Bill Belichick is actually a year younger than Pete Carroll?
H is for Holes: ”Holes” sounds like it could be the name of new network drama starring one of the secondary actors from Lost, but in this case, we’re talking about the Washington Redskins defense, which by most accounts might be the worst in the history of football.
I guess we should have seen this coming when after two weeks the Skins were pining for the return of Brandon Meriweather, but either way, here’s the ugly truth.
Through three games, the Skins are giving up an average (average!) of 488 yards a game. According the Washington Post the Skins’ 1,464 total yards allowed are the most through a team’s first three games since the 1951 New York Yanks — and the Yanks folded after that season.
One thing that might help the Redskins D: Hmm, maybe a match-up against a team with a non-existent receiving corps and a quarterback making only his third start in six years?
I is for In Like Flynn: Through three weeks, Terrelle Pryor has left Raiders Nation with a very unfamiliar feeling: Hope for the future. So naturally, he was injured last Monday is likely to miss Sunday’s game against the Redskins with a concussion.
Enter Matt Flynn. The former Aaron Rodgers back-up, who became a much sought after free agent, who signed in Seattle before losing his job to a rookie and was then traded to the Raiders before losing his job to Pryor.
That’s not good news for Oakland, regardless of how bad Washington’s defense might be. Although, as I said on Twitter this morning, Flynn might have more success if he goes back to playing under his original name: Matt Walt Jr.
In that case, it’s too bad the Raiders don’t still have “Louis” Murphy. He and Walt Jr. would’ve been an unstoppable combination.
J is for Juggernaut: This just in — Peyton Manning is a fantastic regular season quarterback! In fact, with a win on Sunday at home against the Eagles (1-2), the Broncos will set a franchise record with their 15th straight regular season win.
And as usual, this year and last, Manning’s been the biggest factor in the Broncos pilling up the dubs. Through three games this year, he has a QB rating of 134.7, which is his career best through three weeks. He also has 12 touchdown passes (an NFL record through three weeks) and for good measure, has thrown zero interceptions.
Hey, and guess what? The Eagles come to town with the fourth worst passing defense in the league, and when you consider that they haven’t exactly gone up against murderer’s row of QBs (Alex Smith, Philip Rivers and what’s left of RGIII) Sunday will be a Mile High mess for Chip Kelly’s crew.
K is for Killing Kickoffs: We all know that’s it’s only a matter of time before kick offs no longer exist in the NFL. In five years, they’ll probably just go back to schoolyard rules where every team starts a post-scoring drive on the 20. Not that that would be much different than where we are now.
ESPN’s Kevin Seifert crunched some numbers this week and determined that this year, the NFL has seen touchbacks on 64.7 percent of its kickoffs.
That’s up from 44.1 last year and 43.5 the year before, and that’s painfully boring from an NFL fan’s perspective.
L is for Little Finger: You’ve heard the phrase “ankle breaker” used in regards to an elusive runner, but Darren Sproles took it to another level last week we he actually broke off a piece Cardinals safety Rashad Johnson’s finger.
If you’re not currently eating lunch, Johnson tweeted out some nasty photos of the his hand this week.
Even crazier: Johnson will be back on the field this Sunday against the Bucs.
Note: Despite previous reports, Bucs QB Josh Freeman has NOT played the first three games of the season with the top half of his middle finger missing.
M is for Marquee Matchups: The two coolest/most exciting matchups on the schedule for Sunday?
In Arizona: Larry Fitzgerald vs. Darrelle Revis — Fitzgerald has been slowed with a hamstring, while Revis is still regaining his swagger after last year’s ACL injury. Still, these are two of the best to ever do it, and even if they’re not at 100 percent, it will be a fun sideshow to an otherwise ugly Cardinals/Bucs game.
In Atlanta: Julio Jones vs. Aqib Talib — Roddy White is hurting for Atlanta. Tony Gonzalez is 75 years old. But as those two have struggled early on this season, Julio Jones has emerged (even more so) as a monster and currently leads the league with 373 receiving yards. In the past, this is the kind of guy who would absolutely destroy the Patriots secondary — but that was before Aqib Talib.
Talib, who came over from Tampa last year, is the closest thing the Pats have had to a shutdown corner since Ty Law (apologies to Hank Poteat) and if he can slow down Jones, Matt Ryan and the rest of the Falcons offense will likely crumble under the pressure.
N is for Next Level: Two quarterbacks appear to have made a major leap this season and both have a solid test on tap:
The first is Miami’s Ryan Tannehill, who’s been beyond solid in leading the Dolphins to a surprising 3-0 start. All he has to do this week is keep pace with Drew Brees and the Saints, on the road in the Superdome, on Monday Night Football.
The second is Jake Locker, who hasn’t been quite as good as Tannehill but threw a last second game-winning TD last week against the Chargers pass last week and is one of only three starters not to have thrown an interception on the season.
Locker and the Titans host the Jets this week, and of course, they’re the Jets, but Gang Green’s defense is still pretty solid and you know Rex Ryan should have something special planned.
O is for Out of Work: What’s the opposite of a leap? A plummet? That’s Josh Freeman, who was benched this week in favor of rookie third round pick Mike Glennon.
But going back to the “leap”, that’s certainly what Greg Schiano’s done here. He’s clearly distanced himself from the QB that the previous Tampa regime used a first round pick on, and also had some success with. It’s safe to say that Schiano’s future in Tampa will be tied to the success of Glennon.
And on that note, I’m sure Schiano is ecstatic that both Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams (Tampa’s only two viable receivers) are questionable for Sunday.
P is for Party Bus: Bryant McKinnie, you’ve outdone yourself this time.
From the Vikings Sex cruise to the Ravens stripper bus, you truly are the kingpin of the NFL’s mobile sex party industry.
You ARE the one who knocks.
On a personal note: I’m done trusting strippers named Sweet Pea.
Q is for the Question of the Week: When is the news that you’re starting quarterback is healthy not considered “good” news?
Answer: When that starting QB is Blaine Gabbert.
R is for Runaway: Coming into the season, we expected the NFC East to be the NFL’s most hotly contested division. That didn’t mean the teams would be all that good. For all we knew, they’d all finish 8-8. We just expected it to be close.
Well, with a win against the Chargers on Sunday, the Cowboys can go a long way towards eliminating that possibility.
As of now, the Boys are 2-1 and have a game lead on the Eagles (1-2) and two games on the winless Giants and Skins. Assuming the Eagles will fall in Denver, that leaves Cowboys with only struggling San Diego standing between them and an unimaginable early division lead.
Although, given that this is the Cowboys, “unimaginable” does not mean “insurmountable”
S is for Second Half Stars: They key to the Dolphins early success? Well, besides their stout D and solid QB it’s been their sheer dominance in the second half.
Miami’s outscored their opponents 41-16 in the third and fourth quarters!
One thing that might help on Monday night in New Orleans?
Start trying before halftime.
T is for Timeless Tight Ends: Two of the best to ever do it: Antonio Gates and Jason Witten will face off on Sunday in San Diego (in front of 25 or so fans), and given age and the nature of the NFL schedule, this might be the last time the two future Hall of Famers share the field.
That said, the biggest difference maker on either offense will be Dez Bryant.
The Chargers D ranks last in the NFL against the pass, allowing 340.7 yards per game. With Tony Romo healthier than he’s been since Week 1, he and Dez might combine for 340 alone.
U is for Upset of the Week: Give me the Bills over the Ravens.
Baltimore will be riding high after last week’s big win over Houston, at least somewhat distracted by this week’s antics with Sweet Pea, shorthanded without Ray Rice and perhaps already looking ahead to upcoming games against the streaking Dolphins and the Packers.
Meanwhile, Buffalo’s still a really tough place to play. The Bills have been in every game they’ve played this year. And if a healthy CJ Spiller can keep the Ravens D honest, EJ Manuel will do enough to help Buffalo shock the world.
V is for Verdict: This doesn’t pertain to this week’s on field action, but in NFL legal news, it was reported on Friday that Carlos Ortiz, one of the key witnesses in the Aaron Hernandez case, has changed his story.
On that note, I’ve written it once, so I’ll write it again: Hernandez is going to be found “not guilty” in Lloyd’s murder.
W is for WARNING: According to Brett Favre’s agent, Favre is in the best shape he’s been in in years, and could probably play in the NFL today.
So, just brace yourself in case one or more starting QBs get injured this week. The Favre Storm is on the horizon.
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
X for Xtra Matchup: I forgot about this one initially, but it may be the best WR/CB showdown of the entire week, so I figured why not give it a category all its own?
AJ Green vs. Joe Haden in Cleveland.
Haden’s become one the league’s premiere shutdown corners. AJ Green is AJ Green. And if Haden can take AJ out of the game, there’s a very good chance that Andy Dalton has a meltdown and the Browns will go from tanking the season to 2-0 since the trade.
I still like Cincy to win it (remember: Brian Hoyer), but this matchup has some serious game-changing potential.
Y is for Yogi Berra: “It’s not over til it’s over.”
Z is for Zip It: It’s over.
It’s Week 4 in the NFL and things continue to change, but like Mike Shanahan’s tan and Bill Belichck’s monotone, the Alphabet remains the same.