Week four of the 2017 NFL season features tantalizing division match ups. Below is a look at this week’s most compelling match ups and predictions of who comes out on top.
Chicago Bears (1-2) @ Green Bay Packers (2-1)
Thursday Night Football features the all-time series tie breaker in this longstanding rivalry. The record sits at 93-93-6, with the winner of tonight’s contest earning a one-game lead with another meeting schedule later this season. The Packers swept Chicago last season, winning both 2016 bouts. The last time the Bears played football in Lambeau, Aaron Rodgers and company came away with a 26-10 win.
Chicago is one week removed from an upset victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers for their lone win of the season. The Bears have been somewhat of a mystery thus far. John Fox’s team nearly upset the defending NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons in the week one opener. In week two, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers steamrolled Chicago. The Bears always play the Packers tough, but they will need a solid performance to knock of Green Bay.
The Packers opened their season with a week one win against a tough Seattle Seahawks team. The following week, a slow start in Atlanta led to Green Bay trailing 24-7 at half time. The final score of 34-23 made the game look more competitive than it was, with 13 Packer points coming in the final quarter. Rodgers and the rest of the Pack had their hands full against the Cincinnati Bengals. The winless Bengals took the Packers into overtime, and Rodgers was able to earn his first career victory over Cincy, the only team he had yet to defeat (outside of obviously the Green Bay).
Chicago always plays Green Bay tough and, despite being swept last season, usually splits the season series. Rodgers should not underestimate the Bears. Chicago could go into Lambeau and steal a win. A Bears win could make the NFC North even more interesting four games into the year. Rodgers finds a way to get it done.
GB 24 – CHI 17
Detroit Lions (2-1) @ Minnesota Vikings (2-1)
Another heated rivalry in the NFC North with both teams sitting at 2-1. The Lions edged out the Vikings twice last season, completing the sweep. Both teams have looked tough four games into the season. The winner of this match up could be in sole possession of first place depending on the outcome of Chicago-Green Bay.
Detroit lost a heart-breaking, controversial finish against Atlanta. The Lions could easily have entered this game without a blemish on their record. Wins against Arizona and the New York Giants don’t hold a tremendous amount of weight, but a victory over the Falcons would have. Quarterback Matt Stafford usually performs well against the Vikings. In the past 11 meetings, his touchdown to interception ratio sits at 17/4. He’ll aim to keep the offense moving and scoring.
Defensively, Detroit continues to impress. Last week, safety Glover Quin took an errant Matt Ryan pass to the house. Teammate Darius Slay recorded two picks last week, and has picked off Vikings signal callers twice in the last four contests. The defense will look to disrupt Minnesota’s Case Keenum, who is preparing to start in Sam Bradford’s absence.
The Vikings have fluctuated week to week, but remain in first place. After spoiling Adrian Peterson’s homecoming in a Saints uniform, Minnesota was embarrassed in Pittsburgh. Last week, the Vikings throttled a hot Buccaneers team. The wide receiver combination of Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen currently sit second and third in total receiving yards. Diggs had a phenomenal game against Tampa. Thielan and Diggs will continue to stretch the field and make Keenum look good, while rookie running back – and leading NFC rusher – Dalvin Cook continues to rumble out of the backfield.
This one will be close, which is usually the case. The Lions will likely get the win as Keenum may not be able to have a repeat performance against a tougher Detroit defense.
DET 20 – MIN 17
Oakland Raiders (2-1) @ Denver Broncos (2-1)
This game features two contending teams in arguably the best division in the NFL. Every win matters in the AFC West. Both teams are coming off seemingly stunning upsets. Not many anticipated either the Washington Redskins nor the Buffalo Bills of beating teams in the AFC West, as neither was facing the Los Angeles Chargers.
The Raiders earned a hard-fought win against the ascending Tennessee Titans in week one. Oakland followed that with a dismantling of the New York Jets in which the best highlight featured Beast Mode’s best dance moves. Washington didn’t care, and the defense completely shut down Oakland’s offense.
Both Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper were M.I.A. Marshawn Lynch absorbed a thunderous shot by D.J. Swearinger. The Raiders defense could not stop Kirk Cousins and company. Redskins Chris Thompson torched the Oakland defense, who did not look like contenders Sunday night. Defensively, Khalil Mack has historically been a problem for Denver. In the past three meetings, Mack has amassed seven sacks and two forced fumbles. The Broncos offense must do what they can to keep Trevor Siemien upright.
Denver already has one division win under their belt, as they took care of the Chargers in week one. The Broncos destroyed the Dallas Cowboys in the second game in the Mile High City. As Shannon Sharpe famously stated, “When you go to the Mile High, that’s where dreams go to die”.
There is truth to Sharpe’s words. Denver is a much different team at home. Last week proved that. The Broncos were stunned by the Bills in Buffalo. The Oakland offense has more quality talent, although that didn’t seem so last week. The Broncos beat a Carr-less Raiders team in week 17 of the 2016 NFL season, 24-6.
The “No Fly Zone” will aim to do what Washington did and eliminate the effectiveness of Oakland’s top pass catchers. The “Orange Wall” will prepare to tame the Beast in the backfield, similar to how they ripped Zeke Elliott’s heart right out of his chest. Stud linebacker Von Miller is known to be a thorn for the silver and black. He will strive to wrap up Carr and to lay a thump on the Beast. That will be difficult, as Lynch can sometimes be heartless when carrying the rock.
Denver will hand Oakland their second straight loss and keep the AFC West race close.
DEN 28 – OAK 24
Tennessee Titans (2-1) @ Houston Texans (1-2)
Arguably the two best teams in the AFC South face off Sunday. Houston could easily be 2-1, but lost on a time-expiring touchdown pass from the arm of who many believe to be the G.O.A.T., Tom Brady. Tennessee is in first place of the AFC South and looks to acquire another division win against the defending division champions.
The Texans already have one division loss on their resume. Houston’s week one performance paved the way for berth of “Sacksonville”. The Jacksonville Jaguars, simply put, beat up the Texans. The Jaguars followed their 22 points win over Houston with a 21 point loss to Tennessee, who silenced the noise of “Sacksonville” through physical domination.
In rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson’s first career start, his play through the air and on the ground helped the Texans in the jungle. After watching his soul leave his body on a thunderous Geno Atkins blow, watching zig-zagged his way for a huge touchdown run that ended up being the difference in the ball game.
Watson was polarizing against New England last week, as his rookie growing pains flashed throughout. His two touchdowns passes accompany his two interceptions. It will take more than a season for Watson to work out the kinks in his game, but he has shown some promise. Nearly beating Brady & Bill Belichick in his first meeting would have really been something.
The Texans achilles heel remains their offensive line. Offensive linemen Duane Brown continues to holdout, with no deal close to being reached. The rest of the line has struggled immensely. The poor play caused originally starting quarterback Tom Savage to lose his job halfway through the first game. If not for Watson’s mobility, he too would have had to choose between paper or plastic often.
Defensively, Houston features some tremendous talent, highlighted by J.J. Watt. His 2017 season stat sheet does not do his play justice. Just because he may not have the sack numbers doesn’t mean he isn’t being a nuisance in the trenches. With Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus foaming at the mouth, Tennessee’s offensive line will definitely have their hands full.
For the Titans, facing a tough defense isn’t something new. In fact, the last two weeks have featured games against teams whose defense is the strength. Jacksonville, who worked Houston, was manhandled by Tennessee’s mauling trench-warriors. Last week, the bullies of the NFC West were bullied by the Titans. Two dominating victories over two highly touted defenses provide the Titans with a sense of confidence.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota continues to find the flow of the offense. His slow starts have ended with sharp finishes. This week, he faces Watt for the first time in his career. His two-tone blue bodyguards will do what they can to postpone Watt-Mariota meeting until the post game handshake. In the meanwhile, Derrick Henry and DeMarco Murray are both eager to introduce themselves to Watt. Murray is no stranger. In the past three meetings against Houston, he’s totaled 330 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns.
The Titans offense will be the difference in this game. Texans lose to Tennessee for the first time at home since 2011. The Titans will sit comfortably atop the AFC South mountain.
TEN 34 HOU 20
Other Notable Division Games
Pittsburgh @ Baltimore (PITT), Cincinnati @ Cleveland (CLE), San Francisco @ Arizona (SF)
Stats referenced at NFL.com