BYES: Raiders, Dolphins
Chicago Bears (2-2) @ Carolina Panthers (2-2) , Sky Sports 2, 6pm
Fascinating times for both of these teams. A strong Derek Anderson-fuelled start has given way to the mediocrity predicted for this team before the season. Somewhat amusingly after the team’s widely reported deficiencies on the offensive line, at wide receiver in, the secondary and now at running back it’s the much vaunted front 7 that’s let them down as first LeVeon Bell and then the 5 or so people in the Ravens backfield ran all over them in consecutive weeks. For Chicago it’s all about consistency, or the lack thereof. Still winless at Soldier Field but with San Francisco’s scalp sitting pretty on the mantelpiece it seems the Bears are struggling to find their level this year. Marc Trestman’s offence has mostly picked up where it left off and Kyle Fuller’s one man mission to restore some pride to the D is taking pace, so it’s hard not to fancy the Bears here (particularly as Carolina have no cornerbacks for Jay Cutler to throw to) (by 4-5)
New York Jets (1-3) @ San Diego Chargers (3-1), Sky Sports 2, 9:25pm
The Chargers are for real! The Chargers are for real! Is it time to stop calling Phil Rivers resurgent and start just calling him very good yet? Both on paper and in practice the Chargers are a huge mismatch for the Jets, with Donald Brown likely to see very little work when Rivers has that miserable secondary to throw at all day. Will we see Michael Vick? Will it matter? No, and no. (Chargers by 7)
Cincinnati Bengals (3-0) @ New England Patriots (2-2), Channel 4, 1:30am
Now then. New England’s moustache based thumping in Kansas has raised all sorts of uncomfortable questions, a lot of which are daft and reactionary (there are some people who think they’ll start Garoppolo. Those people, fwiw, are thick) but still, all is not right in Foxborough. The already thin WR corps got even thinner this week as Aaron Dobson was benched for mouthing off to Josh McDaniels and Kembrell Thompkins was chucked overboard. In the past Brady’s made a living out of throwing to whoever Belichick chucks out there but this isn’t the same Tom Brady we’re used to seeing. With the Patriots in turmoil the visit of the AFC’s lone undefeated team isn’t exactly welcome. The Bengals have looked as good as anyone so far with the pressure very much off Andy Dalton thanks to a brick wall of an O-line and a playbook that lets everyone get involved. Also worth noting is the defence that has allowed a league low 11 points per game so far and last season ended Tom Brady’s streak of 52 consecutive games with a TD pass. Belichick rarely loses two games in a row (and haven’t done so for over 2 years) but a bye-week rested Cincinnati are a big, big ask (Bengals by 7+).
Washington Redskins (1-3) @ Seattle Seahawks (3-1), Eurosport, 1:40am (Monday)
Remember when these teams met in the 2012 wildcard match? Since then Seattle have won as many post-season games as the Redskins have won regular season games (4, fact fans). With public opinion of Kirk Cousins changing roughly once a day and the defence haemorrhaging points against some admittedly good teams (and the Giants) there’s no reason to expect any surprises here (if anyone ever expects a surprise really, but you know what I mean) (Seahawks by about 20)
Other non-telly games:
Cleveland Browns (1-2) @ Tennessee Titans (1-3)
This one looks interesting, if only because it’s the first game of the year in which the Browns can’t rely on being plucky underdogs. After an impressive win in Kansas in week one the Titans have been abysmal, so bad that Jake Locker has been benched in order to pave the way for the second coming of clipboard Jesus. The main difference between him and actual Jesus is that actual Jesus had 10 blokes he could trust to either throw to or stop him getting sacked. Manziel watch: no sighting. (Browns by 4-5).
St Louis Rams (1-3) @ Philadelphia Eagles (3-1)
Why isn’t the Rams defence as good as we all want it to be? Why is Shady McCoy rubbish all of a sudden? Are they really going to keep playing Austin Davis at quarterback? (Eagles by 7)
Atlanta Falcons (2-2) @ New York Giants (2-2)
You get the feeling that someone with some sway doesn’t really like Matt Ryan. After finally getting his wide receivers back and a running game that he can rely on to carry the load every now and then his offensive line falls to bits, leaving him relying on Jake Matthews to protect him from the marauding threat of Jason Pierre-Paul and whoever else plays for the Giants these days. Eli Manning needs no such handicaps to be terrible, but at least Rashad Jennings has given him someone else to blame. Two well matched teams, two terrible defences, shootout? (Falcons by 3)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-3) @ New Orleans Saints (1-3)
Bad news: Jairus Byrd is done for the year. Slightly better news: he wasn’t really helping matters. While the blame for the Saints’ early season woes has been dumped like a cat dumping a dead mouse at The Dude’s door the fact is the Saints are dead last in turnover differential due to Brees and his fumble happy crew of receivers turning the ball over 8 (eight) times in three games. Conversely Tampa have decided, once again, that Mike Glennon is the answer at QB just in time for Mike Evans to go down injured. Sometimes you just can’t win (and today Tampa won’t) (Saints by 7+)
Houston Texans (3-1) @ Dallas Cowboys (3-1)
It’s fair to say no-one predicted the Cowboys’ start. Before the season the generally accepted wisdom was that the defence would be historically terrible and that A&M’s Kevin Sumlin was already measuring the curtains in Jason Garrett’s office. 4 weeks later Rod Marinelli has performed some strange voodoo and resuscitated a defence of little or no hopers and both Tony Romo and DeMarco Murray have managed to avoid injury for long enough to actually win a few games. The Texans have also started strongly, but when three of your first 4 games are against the Redskins, the Raiders and the Bills it’s probably harder not to. I still think the Texans will regret not properly sorting the QB position this summer (Cowboys by 7)
Buffalo Bills (2-2) @ Detroit Lions (3-1)
And on the subject of improperly sorted QB positions, a big hello to Kyle Orton who’ll be starting in place of EJ Manuel today. I’m sure Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley are just dying to wish him good luck. Buffalo’s defence will be a sterner test for Stafford and Megatron than the Jets were last week, but it’s hard to see Kyle Orton keeping them off the pitch for long enough to make a difference (Lions by 4-5)
Baltimore Ravens (3-1) @ Indianapolis Colts (2-2)
After Steve Smith made it rain blood or whatever against Carolina it’s fair to say some much needed good feeling has been restored to Baltimore. The same could be said for the Colts, for whom games against the Titans and the Jags and the 85 points scored in those games came after a shaky start against two similarly high-powered offences. The Ravens defence is much stronger, but it’s becoming harder and harder to bet against Andrew Luck (Colts by 3, possibly after overtime).
Pittsburgh Steelers (2-2) @ Jacksonville Jaguars (0-4)
Is it next season yet? (Steelers by 7+)
Arizona Cardinals (3-0) @ Denver Broncos (3-1)
The record doesn’t show it, but Denver haven’t exactly been firing on all cylinders just yet. Losing Wes Welker to drugs/concussions has hit this offence hard but not hard enough to knock Peyton off his stride. Despite missing Carson Palmer and a host of defensive playmakers Bruce Arians continues to perform miracles with this Cardinals team, and that steamroller of a defence will make life very hard for Peyton and co. Think this could be the upset of the week (Cardinals by 4-5)
Kansas City Chiefs (2-2) @ San Francisco 49ers (2-2)
Last but certainly not least is this intriguing matchup in San Francisco. All is not well for the 49ers, with rumours afoot that the more volatile Harbaugh is set to receive his marching orders after annoying everyone he came into contact with (imagine that…). On the field things are…well, not great. The offence is struggling to put points on the board and the defence is desperately missing the steadying influence of Navarro Bowman. The Chiefs welcome back Jamaal Charles and their O-Line is strengthening by the week. With the Broncos still the Broncos and the Chargers #ballin in the AFC West these are the kind of games they’ll need to win in order to repeat last year’s play-off trip (Chiefs by 3).