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Three weeks of the season have come and gone as the month of September comes to a close. Throughout the first three weeks, numerous storylines are beginning to emerge. Contenders and pretenders are beginning to separate from the pack, injuries are starting to mount, and the coaching hot seat is beginning to warm.
Week 4 has plenty of intriguing matchups, from possible playoff predictions to must-win games for some preseason favorites. Below are the previews and predictions for the last week of September.
Rookie Cam Newton regressed statistically last week against Jacksonville, tossing for only 158 yards and a touchdown. The Panthers (+7) were able to eek out a 16-10 win and will travel to Solider Field to take on the Bears, who dropped a home contest to Green Bay 27-17. With three weeks of tape, Lovie Smith and the Bears’ D will shut down Cam Newton to climb back to .500.
Bears 26, Panthers 17
The Bills (-3) stunned the entire league after rallying from a 21-0 deficit to eventually win 34-31 over New England. On the other hand, the Bengals have been engaged in close games in each of their first three games but stand at 1-2. Andy Dalton and A.J. Green are promising rookies that could eventually lead Cincinnati to future success, but Fred Jackson and Ryan Fitzpatrick have led a surprisingly dominant Buffalo offense. Look for the Bills to continue their early season momentum on the road.
Bills 28, Bengals 14
Two rookie head coaches in Mike Munchuck and Pat Shurmur have coached their respective clubs to impressive 2-1 starts and division leads. Peyton Hillis returns to spark the Browns (-1) offense while Chris Johnson will look to get out of his funk in which he has tallied just 98 yards in three games. With Kenny Britt done for the season with a torn ACL, Matt Hasselbeck must rely on Nate Washington for the Titans attack. Look for Cleveland to wear down Tennessee rushing the ball, and expect some key turnovers from the Browns’ D.
Browns 17, Titans 13
Both the Lions (+1) and Cowboys were lucky to escape their Week 3 games. Detroit came back from a 20-0 deficit to win in overtime, while Dallas battled to top Washington 18-16 on Monday night. Miles Austin is rumored to be out for the Cowboys, weakening the Dallas offense. Meanwhile, Detroit appears to be firing on all cylinders. Austin’s absence is key in this apparent shootout, so expect the Lions with their superior firepower to pull this out late.
Lions 31, Cowboys 21
The Donovan McNabb led Vikings (+2) are struggling to open this 2011 campaign, having blown a trio of double-digit second half leads. Kansas City showed signs of life last week against the Chargers before Matt Cassel’s last-minute throw ended up in the gut of Eric Weddle. Vikings’ coach Leslie Frazier is already hearing rumblings of under use of Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin. Look for the Chiefs to finally correct the mistakes and win the battle of the beatens.
Chiefs 17, Vikings 14
Despite a tough Monday night loss to a rival, the Redskins (pick ’em) are ascending to the top of the NFC East. Meanwhile, this season’s preseason sleeper in St. Louis has stumbled out of the gate to an 0-3 start in which no game has been competitive. Sophomore quarterback Sam Bradford has not meshed with offensive mind Josh McDaniels, leading to the sloppy Rams start. Washington possesses a tough defense, play-making special teams, veteran quarterback and solid rushing attack, all of which will be enough on the road.
Redskins 24, Rams 13
Labeled as a “Dream Team,” the Eagles (pick ’em) 1-2 start has been more of a nightmare. A pair of injuries to Mike Vick has cost Andy Reid’s squad a pair of games late in the fourth-quarter against both Atlanta and New York. The 49ers are quietly in first place alone out in the NFC West and have played some inspired ball under new coach Jim Harbaugh. Look for San Francisco to hang tough, but Philly’s superior talent should be enough to even their record at 2-2.
Eagles 24, 49ers 20
The Saints (-8) have again impressed with another fast start, demolishing Chicago two weeks ago before a come-from-behind triumph over Houston last week. The Jaguars had a great opportunity to sit at 2-1, but let that opportunity slip away in the rain against the Panthers. New Orleans is far too talented for this game to be close, especially with the return of Marques Colston, who returns from a collarbone injury.
Saints 41, Jaguars 17
Pittsburgh (+4) has recovered well after their week 1 trouncing at the hands of Baltimore, winning two straight to gain a share of the AFC North lead. Houston once again choked away a pivotal game last week by blowing a two possession lead against the Saints. The Texans continue to showcase their offensive firepower, but questions remain on the defensive side of the ball. Expect a grittier Steelers team to go on the road and upset Houston in a thriller.
Steelers 24, Texans 23
The Kevin Kolb experience has hit a snag over the past two weeks as the Cardinals (+1) have dropped a pair of winnable game to both Washington and Seattle. The Giants appear to be rolling after stomping St. Louis and Philadelphia in consecutive weeks, with Eli Manning tossing four scores last Sunday. Arizona has the offensive firepower to keep this relatively close, but the Giants D is good enough to force a few turnovers to prevail on the road.
Giants 31, Arizona 20
Another must win for the Falcons (-6), who have stumbled against solid teams in Chicago and Tampa Bay. Julio Jones has not sparked the Atlanta offense the way Mike Smith has envisioned, while Michael Turner is showing signs of deterioration. However, those factors will not be enough to lift Seattle to another home victory. Tavaris Jackson’s play has been awful, and with no established running game, the Seahawks must produce scores on both defense and the kicking game to prevail. This won’t happen, so expect the Falcons to get back to .500.
Falcons 28, Seahawks 10
A Superbowl XXXII rematch, the Broncos (+13) travel to Lambeau to take on the undefeated Packers. Aaron Rodgers and the Pack are firing on all cylinders en route to a perfect start, having shutdown the Bears, Panthers and Saints to start 3-0. Denver has played competitive in each of their two losses, while Kyle Orton continues to be a QB playing for his job despite solid numbers and play. The John Fox coached Broncos are tougher than many people realize which should keep this close, but Green Bay will find a way to win at home.
Packers 27, Broncos 17
Tony Sparano can’t find any answers to the Dolphins’ woes, which isn’t a good sign for the coach who appears to be in his final season on the Miami sideline. Despite the emergence of Daniel Thomas, the Fins are a team that struggles in many facets of the game. San Diego’s issues, despite having top-tier talent, appears to be rooted in poor coaching and discipline. Against good teams, that factor matters. Against a terrible Dolphins team, that factor is marginalized. Look for San Diego to have no issues disposing Miami.
Chargers 38, Dolphins 20
Sunday’s marquee matinée matchup pits the last two Buffalo victims against each other. The Patriots’ defense (-5) has been subject to much criticism while Hue Jackson’s Raiders appear to be on the up-and-up after running all over the Jets last week. Bill Belichick’s record after losing a game is top-notch, so New England’s preparation this week will be unmatched. While the Colosseum will be rocking throughout, expect the Patriots to escape this game with a hard-fought, physical win.
Patriots 27, Raiders 24
Rex Ryan Bowl II is the week’s Sunday night matchup, and should be a defensive struggle between these two veteran squads. The Jets (+4) are not receiving production from Shonn Green, forcing MarK Sanchez to pass more than the Jets’ coaching staff would want. Baltimore just lost CB Dominique Foxworth for the season, but their offense is diverse enough to cause opposing coaches nightmares. The Jets’ D is good enough to keep that factor in check and the Jets’ backs are against the wall after a loss to Oakland in Week 3. Expect the jets to weasel a victory late.
Jets 20, Ravens 17
The Curtis Painter era begins for the Colts (+10) who sit win less on the year. Despite a few turnovers against Pittsburgh, Painter did all he did to lead Indianapolis to an improbable last second loss. Tampa Bay has won two straight, including a second-half rally against the Vikings and a crucial division triumph over the Falcons. Bucs QB Josh Freeman continues to emerge as one of the league’s premiere gunslingers, while their young defense continues to blossom. Tampa should have no issues on Monday night.
Buccaneers 31, Colts 13