Moving onto week 4 of the regular season. Steelers are STILL yet to win and Kansas are STILL yet to lose. With a big NFL weekend ahead in London, with the Vikings and Steelers visiting – Goatsport’s Michael Donnelly works through this weeks match ups.
CINCINNATI BENGALS (2-1-0) @ CLEVELAND BROWNS (1-2-0)
The first of two perennial Ohio derbies takes place, with both teams holding some momentum. While the Bengals topped the Packers after a topsy-turvy ‘pick-fest,’ the Browns upset the odds by winning in Minnesota without their starting quarterback and former franchise running-back Trent Richardson. The theme of this game will likely be a tendency to throw to the tight-ends: a developing element of the Bengals offence, and a necessity on the part of the Browns. Nevertheless, both teams will also have their aces in play with AJ Green and Josh Gordon both targets big plays. However, as it is an AFC North divisional game there is effectively a guarantee that the run-game will be prominent. It is here where the Bengals appear to have a clear advantage, with rookie Gio Bernard and veteran BenJarvus Green-Ellis balancing carries, though Bernard has been prolific in his first three games with three touchdowns. On the other hand, the Browns having made the choice to offload Trent Richardson, must integrate Willis McGahee into their line-up alongside backup signal-caller Brian Hoyer. Expect a closer game than anticipated a fortnight ago.
PREDICTION: Bengals 31-20 Browns
CHICAGO BEARS (3-0-0) @ DETROIT LIONS (2-1-0)
Yet another NFC North matchup, with these two teams surprisingly leading the way over their rivals, at this early stage. While many had the Packers as favourites to lead the quartet, their costly defeats to the 49ers and Bengals leave the Bears in a prime position to ensure some daylight between themselves and Green Bay. Although the Lions have one defeat to their name they also go into this game in good form, though the most difficult portion of their schedule is yet to come. Despite the Bears streaking ahead early under new head coach Marc Trestman, they did something similar in 2012 only to be caught as the post-season competition heated up. Nevertheless, a more assured Jay Cutler has diversified his offensive play to make them less predictable, and the defence appears to have adapted quickly without Brian Urlacher. The Lions defence are much the same intimidation prospect for opponents, and they will hold the key to upsetting the balance of the Bears, if they can get at Cutler enough to rile him. With Reggie Bush set to return from absence in week three, the running matchup between the former Dolphin and Matt Forte will be an intriguing one.
This should be an entertaining rivals game, with the visitors edging it to continue their unbeaten run.
PREDICTION Bears 22-18 Lions
NEW YORK GIANTS (0-3-0) @ KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (3-0-0)
Yet to lose this season, the Chiefs face their second NFC East opponent in as many weeks. The Giants may have fancied this game when the schedule was released in the off-season, but it is a very different picture now for the 2011 SuperBowl champions, who have had an error-strewn first three weeks. With Andy Reid masterminding his setup around the conservative, but effective Alex Smith and the effervescent Jamaal Charles it’s likely the Giants defence will have another busy day. One reason for the Giants’ woes so far has been turnovers and a lack of efficient blocking when running the ball, but the signing of ‘The Terminator’ John Conner at full-back should have an immediate impact with his blocking success evident for all to see in the television series ‘Hard Knocks.’ It is a ‘put-up-shut-up’ game for the Giants receivers, with Hakeem Nicks liable to take flak if he fails to impress due to his vocal criticism of the team this past week. The reassurance is that both Nicks and teammate Victor Cruz often step up when under pressure, but it is whether the team acts with urgency to stop their slide down the league rankings before it becomes another struggle to recoup lost time before the post-season race kicks in. The Giants are still a risk, but should give a better account of themselves against a coach they often got the better of when he was Eagles coach for fourteen years. Then again, this is not the Eagles.
PREDICTION Giants 14-27 Chiefs
PITTSBURGH STEELERS (0-3-0) @ MINNESOTA VIKINGS (0-3-0) (International Series at Wembley Stadium, Game 1)
The debate over a London-based NFL franchise has gathered pace once again ahead of the first in a Wembley Stadium double-header of regular season games. Yet there is a clear difference between NFL fans of many different hues and team loyalties uniting and venturing to see the NFL in action live, and the viability of an indigenous fan base for a designated London team. Regardless, this game will allow for one of these two underperforming sides to grab a priceless first win, unless the teams seek to squeeze the most out of their primetime UK broadcast slot and take it into overtime and a very unlikely draw. While that would be an ideal situation for neutral fans attending, it would be unthinkable for the respective team camps. Ben Roethilisberger is likely to dominate the game, but that does not necessarily mean the Steelers will convert that into points, as has been the familiar story so far in 2013. The talismanic Adrian Peterson has failed to reproduce his blistering form from last season as of yet, but this is mainly due to more concentrated targeting by defences he has faced. The Vikings have managed to keep games close even in defeat, while the Steelers have shown dogged determination but ultimately failed to take anything from it. It should be a gritty game, with the Vikings claiming the spoils.
PREDICTION Steelers 14-21 Vikings
MIAMI DOLPHINS (3-0-0) @ NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (3-0-0)
Both teams are setting a reasonable pace so far, though the Dolphins had to recover a seemingly lost cause in week three against the Saints’ arch-rivals the Falcons. The Saints have picked up where they left off before the intermittent suspension of head coach Sean Payton in terms of results, but much of this is down to the consistency and experience of evergreen quarterback Drew Brees. Miami are progressively producing through Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline, as quarterback Ryan Tannehill shows no signs of a second-year slump. If anything, he will be expected to have a more remarkable campaign, and leading his team to a win over the resurgent Saints would be a sure-fire marker of this. However, even the best in the league struggle in the heated atmosphere of the SuperDome, and the Saints should still be on a winning-streak by the end of this game.
PREDICTION Dolphins 10-34 Saints
49ERS (1-2-0) @ RAMS (1-2-0) 49ers win 17-6
RAVENS (2-1-0) @ BILLS (1-2-0) Ravens win 37-17
SEAHAWKS (3-0-0) @ TEXANS (2-1-0) Texans win 19-13
CARDINALS (1-2-0) @ BUCCANEERS (0-3-0) Cardinals win 21-7
JETS (2-1-0) @ TITANS (2-1-0) Titans win 29-21
EAGLES (1-2-0) @ BRONCOS (3-0-0) Eagles win 23-17
WASHINGTON (0-3-0) @ RAIDERS (1-2-0) Washington 17-10
COWBOYS (3-0-0) @ CHARGERS (1-2-0) Chargers 24-17
PATRIOTS (3-0-0) @ FALCONS (2-1-0) Falcons win 23-21
Byes: Packers, Panthers
A fan on fitba, NFL and ruggerby league in that order. Dundee exile, based in Perth. A journalist as well apparently.