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NFL Week Four Preview: Football Comes To London

football

We’re heading into week four of the NFL season now, with just three teams left undefeated at this early point. There are also only three winless teams too, so the league’s competitiveness is there for all to see. Can those three unbeaten teams (the Cincinnati Bengals, Arizona Cardinals and Philadelphia Eagles) continue on their runs, putting a stranglehold on their divisions? This week sees the first lot of byes, with teams getting a crucial week off to fix any on-going issues they may have. We even have a local game, with the first of the London games taking place. Let’s take a look at some of those who will be in action:

Miami Dolphins at Oakland Raiders (London game)

The 0-3 Oakland Raiders come in to London for their “home” game needing to put their first win on the board. The Raiders were very active in free agency, and their defense has played very well. They were only a score away from both the New York Jets and New England Patriots, with an inability to score touchdowns holding them back. They lost heavily in their one home game,to the Houston Texans, so maybe a home game on a different continent actually suits the Raiders.

There’s an interesting backdrop to this London game for the Miami Dolphins; their fans are calling for quarterback Ryan Tannehill to be benched. Tannehill has struggled to move the ball significant distances this season, and was poor in their home defeat to the Kansas City Chiefs, completing less than 50% of his pass attempts, while continuing to take a lot of sacks. A defense giving up nearly twenty-eight points per game has to take its fair share of the blame though, and if they can’t contain one of the lowest scoring offenses in the NFL, then the Dolphins are in for a long year.

Pick: Oakland

Carolina Panthers at Baltimore Ravens

The Baltimore Ravens eked out a tough win in week three, beating the Cleveland Browns on the road via a late Justin Tucker field goal. The run game in Baltimore is still all jumbled up following Ray Rice’s release, with rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro getting the most carries in Cleveland, making 91 yards from 18 attempts. Justin Forsett also impressed, on a day when Baltimore exposed the Cleveland defensive front. Steve Smith has been on fire up to this point, averaging nearly a hundred yards per game. He caught a big pass to set up the winning kick, and you better believe he will be ramped up to play his former team, who cut him in the off-season.  They did lose Dennis Pitta for the season though, limiting Joe Flacco’s options in the air. This is no classic Ravens defense, but having seen the Pittsburgh Steelers outline exactly how to beat Carolina on Sunday Night Football, they will surely fancy their chances of coming out on top at home, but only if the run game finally ignites.

The Carolina Panthers will need to bring their A game on Sunday. Coming in on the back of a pummelling by the Steelers, the last thing they needed to do was travel to Baltimore to face a ravenous Steve Smith. The Panthers were forced to rebuild their entire secondary on the cheap in the off-season, and Smith will look to take advantage of that. They had serious problems trying to cover Antonio Brown, as Ben Roethlisberger picked the unit apart. More surprisingly, Le’Veon Bell  and LeGarrette Blount ran right over the Carolina defensive line, which is supposed to be the strongest part of the team. They are both talented backs, but Carolina should be too good up front to stop two players going for over a hundred yards. Both even cracked a run of over fifty yards. On the other side of the ball, Cam Newton was forced out of the game towards the end, and has not fully recovered from his surgery. Kelvin Benjamin is tearing it up out wide, though.

Pick: Baltimore

Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears

The Chicago Bears got away with one in their win on Monday Night Football against the New York Jets, benefitting from a series of questionable calls. Jay Cutler was also extremely fortunate to finish the night without any interceptions, and Brandon Marshall left the game for a spell through injury, finishing the game with just one reception. A better team than the Jets would have won that game, and Chicago will need to improve ahead of this divisional clash, one that so often decides the NFC North. They couldn’t run much against the Jets, but they will need to have more ground success against the Packers if they are to take this one.

The Green Bay Packers only put up one touchdown in four quarters against the Detroit Lions last week, as they comprehensively lost the battle in the trenches. Coach Mike McCarthy has been openly critical of running back Eddie Lacy’s performances this year, and he is one who must step up for this big clash. The return of Julius Peppers will also be fascinating. Peppers left Chicago for Green Bay in free agency, and got a strip-sack on Matt Stafford, recovering the ball in the process. If Chicago doesn’t deal with him, Jay Cutler is in big trouble. The battle between Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb and the Bears corners could have a big say in the outcome of this one.

Pick: Green Bay

Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts

It has been an inauspicious start to the year for the Indianapolis Colts, losing the first two before mauling the Jacksonville Jaguars in week three. There was little we could learn from the Jags game, but the Colts will have gotten a timely confidence boost from the manner of victory. The story remains the same for Indy- they have to run the ball better to prosper, and that means Trent Richardson has to make bigger gains with ball in hand. He had a good day against the Jags, but all the Colts did well then. This should be a far sterner divisional test for the running back.

It’s hard to tell where the Tennessee Titans are this year. A good win over the Kansas City Chiefs was followed up by big losses to the Dallas Cowboys and Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals are tough, especially at home, but the loss at home to the Cowboys was troubling. Their offense has been middle of the road at best, and Jake Locker really needs to come out firing in this one. The Colts secondary is nothing special, and the Titans also have a strong run game. That Titans defense is solid, and if they can play smart football and not turn it over, they could pull off a shocker in Indy.

Pick: Indianapolis

Philadelphia Eagles at San Francisco Forty-Niners

The San Francisco Forty-Niners are going to become unfashionable in a hurry if they can’t sort themselves out. Their loss to the Arizona Cardinals was littered with outbursts of undisciplined frustration, followed by inevitable yellow flags. Anquan Boldin has started blaming the officials for their losses. That is never a good sign. There has been speculation that all is not well in the Niners camp, and Jim Harbaugh has a big job in holding things together. They are now two games behind the Cardinals in the NFC West, with the Seattle Seahawks also ahead of them. The key to this San Francisco side has been their tremendous defense, and they will continue to lose big games until that unit gets back on track. That being said, the lack of Forty-Niners scores in the second half of games this year is one of the most fascinating trends of this NFL season.

The Philadelphia Eagles came out on top in a classic shoot-out with Washington last week, and yet again it came on the back of a poor start. Nick Foles played better, but a road game against the Forty-Niners calls for real composure and good decision-making throughout. Darren Sproles continues to light it up in Chip Kelly’s offense, as they try to exploit the centre of the field more and more. That might actually play into San Francisco’s hands though, so Kelly’s game-plan will be worth taking note of. A team that starts strong and ends badly against a team that starts badly and ends strong? Maybe don’t give up on this one before it’s over.

Pick: Philadelphia

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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