Parity is becoming more and more prevalent within the NFL. As of now, there isn’t a particular favorite in either conference to reach the Super Bowl, rather a jumble of teams in a perpetual weekly cycle taking turns displaying impressive sequences of dominance. The Onus is on each franchise to keep up with this top bracket of the league because they won’t leave space for an 8-8 or 9-7 team to sneak in the back door of the playoffs. Keeping pace in one’s division is imperative, which is why these games carry an extra level of importance. Here are the games of the week for Week 4.
Carolina Panthers (1-2) at Atlanta Falcons (2-1), Sunday, 12:00 P.M, FOX
The defending conference champions are reeling after running into the buzz saw that is the Vikings’ fearsome defense. The Panthers’ offensive line is struggling mightily, unable to protect quarterback Cam Newton, giving up a league-leading 12 sacks.
Atlanta’s offense is on fire, leading the league in total yards per game, combining a rejuvenated Matt Ryan, who is hitting receivers on time and on target for 323 yards per game at a 70 percent completion rate. Backfield mates Davonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman have also fused together the fifth best rushing attack in the league. Atlanta is Cam’s hometown, and he seems to become overwhelmed by the pressure of performing well there, as evidenced by the Falcons being the only team to beat Carolina last year.
This is an important divisional battle that could potentially handicap the Panthers’ chance at the playoffs, should they fall to 1-3. Linebacker Luke Kuechly and the Panthers defense will have to neutralize either the run or the pass and force Atlanta to be one-dimensional. Atlanta’s key to winning is to keep pressure on Newton and force him into rushed turnovers. I think Atlanta cools down and the Panthers win.
Carolina 27, Atlanta 24
New York Giants (2-1) at Minnesota Vikings (3-0), Monday 7:30 P.M, ESPN
The Vikings’ season was seemingly down the drain once news broke of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s gruesome leg injury during the preseason, and furthermore when it was revealed that running back Adrian Peterson tore his meniscus Week 2. Minnesota had to cobble together a new game plan on the fly, and it has worked wonderfully. Much like Denver last year, the Vikings rely on their defense to keep them in the game, and play as close to mistake free football as they can offensively. The result is a 3-0 start, including consecutive impressive wins over the Packers and Panthers.
The Vikings welcome a Giants team looking to keep pace with the upstart Eagles in their division. Quarterback Eli Manning returned to ‘bad Eli” in the clutch last week, throwing two perfect spirals right to the defense. The Vikings aforementioned defense has a keen sense of being in the right place at the right time to snag interceptions, as they are tied for 2nd with five picks, and with Everson Griffen applying pressure, they should be able to coax a few more out of Eli.
Tempers will flare this game, something receiver Odell Beckham has trouble controlling, and with the way the Vikings are playing, I can’t see them losing their cool or this game.
Minnesota, 20 New York 17
Kansas City Chiefs (2-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1) Sunday, 7:30 P.M, NBC
Pittsburgh got walloped by the Eagles last week 34-3, just one week removed from an impressive win against the Bengals. This substantial variance in week-to-week play should be cause for concern if it continues because divisional foe Baltimore is undefeated and playing lights out. Fortunately, Steelers running back Le’veon Bell is returning from suspension to provide a new level to the offense.
Kansas City has been below average in all aspects of the game, ranking 23rd in total offense and 21st in defense, yet the Chiefs are 2-1. The reason is their completely unsustainable propensity to force turnovers; they’ve already pilfered offenses 11 times, including six, yes, you read that right, six interceptions against the Jets last week. The Chiefs need to get the other facets of their team back on track, especially quarterback Alex Smith. He’s in the bottom 10 in yards per completion, which is indicative of his game-managerial tendencies. The Steelers probably won’t finish with three points again, so to keep up the Chiefs need to take shots down the field. Unfortunately, I don’t think they’ll be able to match a Steelers offense with Bell back, so I’m taking Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh 34, Kansas City 24