Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:56 AM
Sunday's Essentials - Week 4
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Panthers at Texans (-5/47.5), 1 p.m. ET, FOX: Kyle Allen was fantastic in his first start taking over for Cam Newton and will be playing in front of friends and family back where he went to college. Since Newton wasn’t able to throw the ball consistently downfield, we’re seeing Norv Turner digging deeper into his playbook. The Texans are better in the back than Patrick Peterson-less Arizona but have to be wary of wrinkles they haven’t seen on tape. Houston will need to get pressure to keep Allen from finding a rhythm, so J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus will need to take advantage of guard Trai Turner’s absence as the Panthers do some reshuffling up front.
Laremy Tunsil has worked with three different guards next to him since arriving from Miami, so continuity hasn’t been something the Texans have enjoyed up front. Deshaun Watson’s ability to keep plays alive with his feet has been a major factor in the Texans’ early success considering all the moving parts they’ve had to deal with this month, so we could see some progress here in terms of consistency instead of them just popping off big plays. After facing pocket passers Jameis Winston and Jared Goff early, Carolina had to be wary of Kyler Murray last week and will face similar challenges here.
Browns at Ravens (-7/45.5), 1 p.m. ET, FOX: It’s unseasonably warm in Baltimore and will be in the mid-80’s, which could be a factor since Baltimore has stayed remarkably healthy by their standards this early in the season, coming off a productive camp and preseason. Lamar Jackson is off to a much better start than Baker Mayfield, who the Ravens picked off four times last season in splitting a pair of wild games. Jackson only started the finale, getting the Ravens into the postseason with a Week 17 win by running for a pair of scores.
The Browns will have to try and limit big plays without corners Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams, so it’s going to be important that they get to Jackson early because breakdowns are certainly possible. Ward missed the Rams game with a hamstring issue and Williams stepped up but hasn’t practiced this week. The rookie from LSU is also dealing with a hamstring injury, so if he goes, expect the Ravens to see just how large an issue that is. Marquise “Hollywood” Brown could have a big day.
Redskins at Giants (-3/48.5), 1 p.m. ET, CBS: Daniel Jones has a really good shot at back-to-back wins to open his career given the Redskins’ injury-related issues, and it would certainly merit the hype he’d receive in the world’s top media market since he’s going to have to win a game without Saquon Barkley again. After leading the Bucs to a comeback win following Barkley’s second-quarter high ankle sprain, Jones will again be working with Wayne Gallman in the backfield and should have enough in Sterling Shepard and tight end Evan Engram to move the ball against a suspect Washington secondary that even allowed Mitchell Trubisky to look good on Monday night.
Case Keenum is going to try and play through a foot injury that kept him out of practice earlier this week, while top target Terry McLaurin is also likely to go after being held out with a hamstring issue. The electric rookie has scored a touchdown in all three of his games and could be a problem for a New York secondary that had no prayer of stopping Mike Evans and the Bucs’ receiving corps last week and also got torched in Week 1 by Dallas. Clear conditions are expected in East Rutherford, so we could see points if Keenum can stay upright. We could also see Dwayne Haskins debut in relief. The rookie shootout angle would be fun. At this point, Washington has proven incapable of running adequately with Trent Williams still a holdout.
Chargers (-14.5/44.5) at Dolphins, 1 p.m. ET, CBS: The latest astronomical spread involving the Dolphins should give you some pause since the Chargers aren’t unbeaten like the Patriots and Cowboys, in fact coming off consecutive losses. Josh Rosen threw for 200 yards against Dallas and moved the offense down the field before sputtering in the red zone, so Miami may be making some progress as reps set in. The offensive line will have to deal with Joey Bosa, T.J. Watt and a disruptive front seven that should have Casey Hayward in the mix despite his questionable status.
Los Angeles has a number of offensive issues that could be of concern if they’re just trying to kill clock and get out of South Florida with a .500 record and no need for style points. Tight ends Hunter Henry and Virgil Green have been ruled out, WR Mike Williams is sidelined too and speedy Travis Benjamin is considered doubtful. Justin Jackson won’t play, which means we’re likely to see Melvin Gordon debut after ending his holdout. It could be a blessing to have him out there getting carries if you’re looking to put the game away. Keenan Allen has 29 receptions and three touchdowns and figures to be a major part of the Chargers’ game plan.
Raiders at Colts (-6.5/45.5), 1 p.m. ET, CBS: Derek Carr’s struggles on the road continued in Minnesota. He threw touchdown passes at the end of both halves, the last with the team down 34-7, and has now thrown 16 interceptions and just 18 touchdowns over the past two plus-seasons. He’s got a shot to rebound here since the Colts will be down top linebacker Darius Leonard and safety Malik Hooker. Matt Ryan threw for over 300 yards last week against this Indy defense, so if Derek Waller can continue creating mismatches, we could see Tyrell Williams and rookie Hunter Renfrow step up and help Carr turn the page on his road struggles. J
Jacoby Brissett has been tremendous in filling in for Andrew Luck thus far but might be missing No. 1 receiver T.Y. Hilton, who will be a game-time decision with a quad injury. Indy has been able to utilize its fantastic offensive line to get Marlon Mack off, so if Hilton is out, it’s likely we’ll see the Raiders key in on the run and put this game in Brissett’s hands. Vontaze Burfict will be available after missing practice time so the Raiders will have their defensive leader in place. Oakland’s offensive line is banged up, so it might be difficult to sustain drives if Carr is inaccurate and get rattled.
Chiefs (-7/54.5) at Lions, 1 p.m. ET, FOX: Tyreek Hill is close to a return, likely expedited since he’s missing out on all the fun that’s gone on without him. Patrick Mahomes is your early MVP again given his numbers, having thrown for over 370 yards and 3-plus touchdowns against some solid defensive coverages. He’s gotten huge gains from Sammy Watkins, Demarcus Robinson and Mecole Hardman and hasn’t even gotten a monster game from Travis Kelce. It’s going to be hard for a Detroit defense without Darius Slay to consistently get stops, but that may be the nightmare facing Matt Patricia if his top corner can’t play through a hamstring issue. He’ll be a game-time decision. Defensive tackle Mike Daniels has already been ruled out and DT Da’Shawn Hand has been banged up for weeks, so this isn’t the ideal day for the NFL’s top offensive team to come through for a visit.
Matthew Stafford will play through a hip injury and back pain while Danny Amendola should be fine to play through a chest contusion, so the Lions should be equipped to move the football if their defense can’t hold up against Mahomes and this turns into a shootout. If Stafford can’t make it through four quarters, Jeff Driskel is expected to fill in. He’ll give the Chiefs different looks due to his ability to run the ball and keep drives alive with his scrambling, but it would be hard to see Detroit remaining unbeaten if Stafford is incapable of finishing this game out.
Patriots (-7/41.5) at Bills, 1 p.m. ET, CBS: With the Antonio Brown circus leaving town, the Patriots had a normal week where they could actually concentrate on football and an actual threat, fellow unbeaten Buffalo, a division rival. The Patriots have had some offensive line issues creep up and Brady has been hit a little more than he would like, but ultimately, the Patriots are coming through the first month of the potentially temporary post-Gronk era with flying colors. Left tackle Marshall Newhouse will be able to play as he looks to keep a fierce Bills defense from getting to Brady. Josh Gordon and Phillip Dorsett have emerged next to Julian Edelman, who will play despite a chest injury. Defensive leader Dont’a Hightower has been scratched after missing portions of practice with a shoulder injury.
The Bills have dropped five straight games against New England and have lost 28 of their last 31 in this series. Josh Allen’s ability to make plays with his feet provides an interesting wrinkle, but Buffalo will be without rookie RB Devin Singletary once again. The Bills have had to do some reshuffling up front, so they’ll need to try and create turnovers and utilize Frank Gore to chew up clock and keep the chains moving as they look to pull off an upset. The Bills have defeated teams that enter the day a combined 1-8, so this will truly be a test for both teams since the Patriots have beaten teams that come in 0-9.
Titans at Falcons (-3.5/45.5), 1 p.m. ET, CBS: The Titans and Falcons are each hoping to avoid a 1-3 start, so this should be one of the day’s most competitive games. That doesn’t necessarily mean it will be fun to watch. Tennessee’s primary objective is to clean up their mistakes up front that have led to Marcus Mariota being sacked 17 times over the first three games. Left tackle Tyler Lewan has been suspended and should be back next week, so Tennessee will do whatever it takes to try and finish at .500 without him. They would certainly feel good about that considering what a disaster life has been without him and guard Kevin Pamphile.
The Falcons have to pull off this home win to keep the sharks from circling around head coach Dan Quinn. Matt Ryan hasn’t been sacked over the course of two prior meetings with Tennessee but has already thrown six interceptions in contributing to his team’s uneven start. There’s no question he’s struggling to find a rhythm and is already one pick shy of his total from all of last season. He’s facing a secondary that can punish mistakes as they did in their lone victory so far on the road in Cleveland. The Titans have dropped consecutive games against the Falcons, last winning in Atlanta way back in 2003.
Bucs at Rams (-9/49), 4:05 p.m. ET, FOX: The Bucs let a win get away after a Matt Gay chip-shot field goal missed at the gun, allowing the Giants to steal a game in Tampa that they had trailed all day. Jameis Winston has played much better since an awful debut against the 49ers but now finds himself on the west coast against an unbeaten Rams team that has seen their defense serve as a driving force. While Winston got his chemistry going with Mike Evans against New York, he won’t have Chris Godwin for this game and may not have tackle Demar Dotson protecting him from the likes of Aaron Donald. The Rams come into this one extremely healthy and are hoping to get Jared Goff off against one of the league’s worst secondaries.
Seahawks (-5.5/47.5) at Cardinals, 4:05 p.m. ET, FOX: Kyler Murray is still looking for his first win and has shown flashes of brilliance mixed in with inconsistency. In other words, he’s been a typical rookie, which makes this a difficult test since Pete Carroll is going to have a game plan devised to try and jump some of his short passes. Expect the Seahawks to be aggressive, which could lead to the Cardinals running the ball more and setting some traps to try and catch them with the screen game.
Russell Wilson has looked sharp and establishing chemistry with Tyler Lockett and rookie DJ Metcalf, which is important since teams have been able to move the ball effectively through the air against a secondary missing Patrick Peterson.
Vikings at Bears (-1/38) , 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS: The Vikings’ secondary looks to feast on Mitchell Trubisky and spoil his momentum after throwing for three touchdowns against the Redskins on Monday night. Minnesota is capable of punishing mistakes on the defensive end and the offense is capable of being versatile enough to keep the Bears from feasting through sacks and turnovers. RB Dalvin Cook is running it better than anyone Chicago has seen to date.
The Bears will be missing Akiem Hicks and Bilal Nichols from the defensive line, so they may not pack the bite they normally have up front. Khalil Mack will have to be wary of Cook as he looks to introduce himself to Kurt Cousins. Money has steadily come in on Chicago here.
Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA