Week 4 is creeping up quickly, and with nearly a quarter of the National Football League’s regular-season behind us, the palpable jubilation for the pigskin has reached new heights after a bananas Week 3.
Yes, there was a buffet of steamy sizzling Summer finishes with our first taste of Autumn 2017. I’m getting right to the goodies of Week 4 in the NFL — when division foes collide.
Bears @ Packers – Thursday Night Football
Both the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers won close shaves in overtime on Sunday. Green Bay Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers showed us that it’s indeed Mr. Rodgers’ neighborhood, and we’re just living in it. He led the Pack en route to their comeback victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. By the way, congrats to the Bengals for achieving a huge feat – getting on the board with their first touchdown of the season on Sunday. Yippee! Let’s not forget the Chicago Bears’ walk-off “W” against the mighty Pittsburgh Steelers. Talk about a stunner.
A short week is never fun when you’ve been beaten up just a few days earlier. I’ve never been a fan of Thursday night contests. Whatever happened to a full week of rest between league clashes? I don’t have the answer, but excuses won’t win you a football game.
For Chicago in this NFC “Norris” North rivalry, QB Mike Glennon will have to play much better on the road inside the confines of Lambeau Field for the Bears to have any chance against the Pack on Thursday night. It’s likely the Bears will need to again rely on running back Jordan Howard to shoulder the load behind an emerging offensive line. It’s not easy to push around the Steelers’ defensive line, but they did just that on Sunday. Running the rock, moving the chains and churning the clock to keep the juggernaut Packer offense off the field will be key for these Bears. Chicago has already proven that their defense is up to the task when they’re able to pound the pigskin.
Speaking of the Packer offense, Rodgers delivered an absolute ‘shark with freakin laser beams’ dime piece to WR Jordy Nelson to tie the game late against the Bungles. That’s right. . . When you start 0-3 while needing three-games to get a TD, you get referred to as the Bungles. It’s only fair.
Back to the Pack, they have yet another lethal weapon at their disposal. You may not have heard his name before, but WR Geronimo Allison was Mr. Rodgers best wideout on Sunday. Here comes my “balance on offense” talk again. Green Bay’s key will be to establish a running attack on Thursday. Their running game was beyond poor on Sunday. Give your All-Pro QB the ability to involve more play-action allowing for more one-on-one coverage, and it’s lights out and goodnight. Defensively, look for emerging star rookie safety Josh Jones to play a defining role for the Cheeseheads.
Steelers @ Ravens
Now here’s an AFC North slugfest that’s always worth watching. With both boasting 2-1 records, this battle come Sunday will decide who stands alone at the top of the division going into Week 5. Coming off what looks like a bad loss against Chicago, the Steelers must rally with better play in all three phases. Look for stud RB Le’Veon Bell to get more than 15-carries to keep Ben Roethlisberger from having to win the game with another 39-attempts. Big Ben should be able to pick the Baltimore Ravens’ secondary apart if he too can utilize the play-action pass. The Ravens’ defense got sliced open against the Jacksonville Jaguars in their Week 3 matchup in London. Jags’ QB Blake Bortles dissected Baltimore’s “D” as if he were the best coroner in all the land. And let’s face it. . . Big Ben is better than Bortles. Did I really have to say that? C’mon Ravens!
For Baltimore to have any chance of staying atop their division, QB Joe Flacco must produce more than eight completions for 28-yards. The question is, am I being serious here? Indeed, I am. Yikes. With a pile of injuries equaling the size of the state of Maryland, Flacco simply must play better. For goodness sake, this is an All-Pro, Super Bowl-winning QB that can sling it. Look for Flacco to try and target WRs Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin as much as humanly possible. And a running attack would be a nice touch. How about giving RB Alex Collins that pigskin? Dude had nine totes for 82-yards versus the Jags. Now that’s production. The key for the Ravens in this AFC North tussle will be to play better in all three phases to have a chance at surviving.
Raiders @ Broncos
Both bitter AFC West rivals are coming off disappointing losses that leave them 2-1. Currently, the Kansas City Chiefs are sitting pretty at 3-0 atop the division playing stellar defense, running the rock with sensational rookie RB Kareem Hunt and getting it done with the QB to WR connection of Alex Smith to Tyreek Hill. For the Oakland Raiders, they must go full on “Beast Mode” with RB Marshawn Lynch to try and expose the surprisingly good Denver Broncos’ run defense. Denver’s rushing defense was exploited last season, and giving Lynch more than a handful of carries would be a smart move for the Raiders. That being said, the performance of Oakland’s offensive line, an enormous strength for the franchise, was terrifyingly awful against the Washington Redskins in Week 3. Certainly, the O-Line must step-up for Marshawn to wreak any havoc whatsoever. And the Raiders’ OL allowed four sacks, not giving QB Derek Carr the time to get the pigskin into the hands of his favorite targets, WRs Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. Denver’s pass rush is as good as it gets led by All-World outside linebacker, Von Miller. So, the theme for the Raiders is simple – the OL, OL, OL must be leaps and bounds better for Oakland to leave the Mile High City with a victory.
Denver must execute better than they did in Week 3 at the Buffalo Bills. The Bills looked good at home, but the Broncos inevitably beat themselves. Starting with QB Trevor Siemian, he will need to minimize his mistakes – two critical interceptions on forced throws within the last 20-minutes of regulation cost the Broncos dearly. And the Broncos even tried a fake punt in the second half on fourth down in their own territory. . . What are you thinking? Punt the ball away and let your defense create a turnover or hold Buffalo to a three-and-out. Not complicated. Look for the Broncos to run the pigskin more often in this one with RBs C.J. Anderson and Jamaal Charles. This’ll keep Siemian from having to sling it 40-times and, of course, give their playmakers in the backfield more touches. After all, Trevor is at his best under center when he can use play-action. Can you tell that I’m a fan of the play-action pass? Hey, go with what works. Denver will be able to torch a relatively weak Raiders’ secondary if these opportunities present themselves. Just ask Redskins’ QB Kirk Cousins – a 365-yard and three TD aerial assault ending in a “W”.
Mr. Siemian’s go-to-guys will be wideouts Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and Benny Fowler. These horses will create nightmares for Oakland if he has time in the pocket, giving the Raiders’ defense vertigo with his pinpoint accuracy.