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A Yinzer’s Guide to Week Four in the NFL

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Three weeks in, I’m about as confused as I was when this whole thing started. Of course, there’s a good chance that has nothing to do with the football. Regardless, it’s time to take a look at week four, which actually has a strong chance of providing legitimately competitive football. Oh, and one more thing: Juice is back. More on that in a bit.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers-Minicamp Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Top three storylines that might affect the Steelers

  1. Think about the future, McFly! We are just coming to the end of the first quarter of the NFL season, and it’s far too soon to think about the playoffs. So...it’s time to start thinking about the playoffs. Now, I don’t expect the Ravens to hold on to the top of the AFC North much longer, because they have been a thoroughly unimpressive team despite their 3-0 record. (I promise, though: none of the top three storylines this week is a prediction that the Ravens will lose.) However, should either the Ravens or Bengals win the division, this week’s game for the Steelers could be critical to the wild card. Denver is continuing to get better and looks like they could win the AFC West, so there’s a strong chance Kansas City will be in the wild-card fight. A head-to-head win this week for the Steelers would give them the tie-breaker advantage should the teams finish with identical records.
  2. Speaking of the Broncos... This week’s game in Tampa Bay is intriguing. For one thing, the Broncos will be traveling more than 2,000 miles. The time of the game isn’t going to be an issue like it would if it was an east-coast team taking a trip out west. What will matter, though, is that the Buccaneers are much better at home than on the road over the last several years. Tampa Bay has been a hard team to read so far this year, so it’s possible they just extend their losing streak to three after winning their opener handily. It’s also possible the trip is enough to level the playing field for two young quarterbacks, and Field General Jameis Winston shows up, rather than that imposter who was on the field the last two weeks. I’m putting the odds of Tampa winning at about 30 percent, but that’s not really all that bad when facing the defending champions.
  3. Don’t Tell Phil Simms: the person playing quarterback in New England doesn’t matter. This is going to break Phil’s Tom-Brady-loving heart, but the evidence is clear: just about anyone can play quarterback in the Patriots’ system. I’m pretty sure head coach and mastermind Bill Belichick could go the Pete Rose route if he wanted to -- without the betting — and be both coach and player at the same time, then get under center. He’d probably throw six touchdowns in his debut. This is not a knock on Jimmy Garoppolo or Jacoby Brissett. It’s simply an observation of the facts: my grandmother could strap a helmet on her head and throw a touchdown in that offense. It’s why Carson Wentz has been so good, so fast: the Eagles run an offense similar to the Patriots, leveraging short, timing-based plays and routes that often result in defenders running into one another or a receiver they weren’t covering. That sentence, however, does not exactly inspire confidence within me regarding the Steelers’ week-seven meeting with the Patriots.

Best game of the week with no hypocycloids

Giants @ Vikings

The 2-1 Giants visit the (surprisingly) undefeated Vikings in Minnesota. Eli Manning has been up and down so far this year, but if Good Eli shows up, this has the potential to turn into a minor shootout. Then again, Bad Eli shows up -- and there’s about a 65 percent chance of exactly that happening — Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford is going to put this one out of reach quickly. I never thought much of the Rams’ offense while Bradford was there, but who would have thought he’d turn into this when Philly traded him to the Vikings for a king’s ransom just before the season began? Color me shocked.

Worst game of the week, a.k.a. Today On Springer: I Married My Dysfunctional Cousin!

Detroit @ Chicago

These two teams have been inseparable for decades, and they once again are fighting over who gets to sleep on the mildew-encrusted cot in that dark, dank corner of their grandparents’ basement. Sadly, these teams are microcosms of their parent cities. I’m not sure right now who should be more insulted by that statement: the cities, or the teams.

How bad are they? The Bears, at 0-3, have an NFL-worst -38 point differential. The Lions are the better of the two teams, by far, but right now that’s still roughly the same as saying a moped is the best pedal-powered vehicle: it’s still a moped, and your neighbor still drives a Harley to work every day.

Five pointless points

  1. Vontaze “Jagoff King of the Midwest” Burfict returns from suspension this week. In his return, against the Dolphins (being played as I write this), he had two tackles and an assist. As far as I know, he hasn’t yet taken a cheap shot at a Steeler. But it’s only Thursday; the weekend is still young.
  2. Speaking of returns from suspension, the return of star running back Le’Veon Bell should give the Steelers a big-time shot in the arm. But it begs the question of what to do with backup DeAngelo Willams, who subbed so superbly. From the sound of it, the Steelers are going to get pretty tricky with the two this week. If it’s successful, it could open that dimension that has been missing from the Steelers’ offense so far his season.
  3. Terrell Pryor is breaking the cycle: he’s been in Cleveland for a while now, and he’s getting better every week. Typically, Cleveland is where careers go to die. Just ask, oh, every starting quarterback the team has had since they returned to the league in 1999. Somehow, Pryor is succeeding despite the other 52 players around him (as well as the coaching staff) being a skill-and-ability sink. If this continues, the Browns will be in danger: the fans will begin expecting at least four wins per season. The team can’t possibly keep up with that expectation...can they?
  4. The Houston Texans have scored a total of three touchdowns this season...and they are leading the AFC South. Now, it’s not likely they will stay there now that word has broken that All-Pro defensive lineman J.J. Watt has been placed on injured reserve. What it does show is that, after three weeks, we are still trying to figure out how to read these teams this year.
  5. Homefield advantage? Not so much this year. Through the first three weeks, 48 games have been played. Home teams are 26-22 this year. It’s a minor advantage, but nothing earth-shattering. Which is, in and of itself, pretty amazing.