Week 4 highlighted with divisional matchups
As early as it might be in the NFL schedule, several division games could be considered relatively critical in Week 4.
That includes the best rivalry in the league, the Pittsburgh Steelers against the Baltimore Ravens.
“This game is crazy,” Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger notes. “It’s a special game. I’m still here and (linebacker Terrell) Suggs is still over there. We’ve got a lot of respect for each other in this rivalry. C.J. Mosley, Jimmy Smith, (Brandon) Carr, and (Eric) Weddle now.
“We’ve got enough guys here that have played this physical AFC North game. Both there and here, playoff game or whatever it is. I don’t think it will take long if the young guys don’t know now what it’s going to be about.”
Among other things, it’s for first place in the division. Maybe that doesn’t sound significant at this point of the season, but with both teams 2-1, and Cincinnati and Cleveland both winless, the victor at Baltimore on Sunday takes quick control in the AFC North.
Since the start of 2008, 12 times this game has been decided by three points or fewer.
Suggs echoes Roethlisberger’s sentiments.
“You have to get an extra lift in the weight room,” says Suggs, who has more sacks on Roethlisberger (16 1/2) than anyone. “It is definitely the most physical rivalry in the NFL, and it is because of the two teams’ style of play. You don’t cross paths without some things in common.”
The Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders, another bitter rivalry, features teams salty over stumbles on the road last week. With the Kansas City Chiefs off to a brilliant start, the loser here could be doing lots of chasing in the AFC West.
The juiciest matchup is the Raiders’ dynamic offense against the Denver defense. Denver has shut down elite running backs Melvin Gordon, Ezekiel Elliott, and LeSean McCoy, restricting them to a combined 84 yards on 40 carries for a 2.1-yard average and zero touchdowns. Good luck, Marshawn Lynch.
The Detroit Lions’ opportunistic defense, which leads the NFL with a plus-6 turnover margin, has seven interceptions. They go to Minnesota, where the Vikings have not thrown any.
Perhaps the spotlight should be on the kickers. The Lions’ Matt Prater made field goals of 55 and 57 yards last week, becoming second only to Sebastian Janikowski in NFL history with 10 career 55-plus converted kicks; Janikowski has 13. Kai Forbath has made all 21 field goals attempted since joining the Vikings for the final seven games of last season.
Over that 10-game span, he’s tied with Prater and Jacksonville’s Jason Myers for the most converted.
One reason the Houston Texans have controlled the AFC South in recent seasons is winning five of the past six against the Tennessee Titans. The Texans’ defense must slow down the ground-eating Titans tandem of DeMarco Murray, who had a 75-yard touchdown last week, and Derrick Henry.
Surprisingly, J.J. Watt has no sacks thus far. But he’s gotten to the quarterback in eight straight matchups with Tennessee.
As the New England Patriots prepare for their toughest defensive test of the season from the Carolina Panthers, the offensive line’s ability to protect Tom Brady will be in the spotlight.
Brady was sacked 15 times during his abbreviated 12-game regular season in 2016. That number is already up to 10 this season.
But Brady maintains his recovery time is also better because he has learned how to absorb punishment.
“You do have to learn how to find the way down in a way that you’ll be able to get up and try to play the next play,” Brady said. “There’s some luck involved, but let’s go again, baby. Let’s line them up and play.”
The Panthers have done a good job getting after the quarterback, posting eight sacks. At 37, linebacker Julius Peppers leads the team with 2 1/2 sacks.
The week’s action began on Thursday with injury-riddled Green Bay’s 35-14 home victory over mistake-prone Chicago.