Top storyline for each Week 4 NFL game

By Vincent Frank

Week 4 of the NFL season brings us a ton of stories as teams prepare to conclude the first quarter of their schedules. Fresh off news that some within the Carolina Panthers organization believe Cam Newton is on the verge of physically breaking down, he leads his Panthers to a road outing against the defending champion Patriots. Can the Panthers finally get Cam right?

Later on Sunday, Jared Goff has a chance to prove that he and his Los Angeles Rams are for real in an important road game against the Dallas Cowboys. Then, on Sunday night, the Seattle Seahawks will attempt to overcome their early-season struggles in what should be a lopsided affair against the Indianapolis Colts.

These are among the top storylines for each Week 4 NFL game.

Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers: Relying too much on Aaron

Are the Green Bay Packers relying too much on Aaron Rodgers?

Now that the Packers have three offensive tackles on injured reserve and another unlikely to play on Thursday, this is taken to a whole new level. We already knew Rodgers was one of the most, if not the most, valuable player in the NFL.

It’s something he’s proven time and again throughout his career, the first three weeks of the 2017 season being no exception. Rodgers has accounted for 82 percent of the Packers’ offensive yardage this season. Having been sacked a league-leading 13 times and hit on nearly 20 percent of his drop backs, we’re not sure that’s a sustainable feat. Set to take on a surprisingly competitive Bears team, this could potentially be an issue on Thursday night.

New Orleans Saints at Miami Dolphins: “Garbage” offense

Dolphins head coach Adam Gase is not too happy about his offense following Week 3’s disastrous performance, calling it “garbage.” He’s not necessarily wrong here given that Miami was shutout by the New York Jets until a last-minute touchdown scoring drive. The team had just north of 50 yards of offense in the first half, continually kicking itself in the back end with penalties and mistakes.

There’s no real reason for these struggles. Miami boasts a dynamic receiver trio in Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills. It has one of the best young running backs in the NFL in the form of Jay Ajayi. Heck, Laremy Tunsil and Ja’Wuan James form a solid tackle tandem in front of Cutler.

Should Miami struggle against a weak Saints defense that’s coming off a strong performance against Carolina, it will tell us a lot about these two teams moving into the second quarter of the regular season.

Carolina Panthers at New England Patriots: Getting Cam right

It’s no longer a mini struggle for Cam Newton. Following a three-interception performance in a dreadful outing against the New Orleans Saints last week, the former NFL MVP has thrown two touchdowns compared to four picks while averaging less than 200 passing yards on the season.

The tape itself is obvious here. Newton is struggling reading blitzes and pressure. He’s consistently been off target on otherwise easy passes. We can chalk some of this up to off-season shoulder surgery. We can also blame Carolina’s offensive. After all, Newton has been sacked 10 times in three games. But in the end, it’s on Cam to get this straight. He couldn’t do it against a bad Saints defense in Week 2. Further struggles here, and we’ll have to start wondering if he’ll get it right.

Jacksonville Jaguars at New York Jets: The proverbial trap game

Following a blowout 44-7 win over Baltimore in London last week, the Jaguars are riding high. This young team thinks that it can contend for the AFC South title moving forward on the season. The confidence is there on defense, and Blake Bortles is coming off a four-touchdown performance against what had been the best defense in the NFL prior to Week 3.

Whether this continues remains to be seen. The last time Jacksonville was riding high — following a Week 1 win over Houston — it was blown out by Tennessee. Now set to take on a Jets team that surprised Miami last week, this is the definition of a trap game. A win here, and Jacksonville could start a push for the division title. A loss, and questions will arise about whether Week 3 was a mirage of sorts.

Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans: Mariota and Co. making a statement?

Marcus Mariota

Much like the Jaguars, it’s time for Tennessee to lay claim to contention in the AFC South. What better opportunity than to go up against a Texans squad that is going for their third consecutive division title?

Last week against Seattle, Marcus Mariota and Co. proved that their offense is a force to reckon with. Here’s a unit that put up 420 total yards and 33 points. It’s also averaging 35 points over the past two games. The opportunity presents itself against one of the best defenses in the NFL on the road. A win here, and Tennessee might prove itself to be the class of the division moving forward.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens: The only two real contenders

It’s an all AFC North week this upcoming Sunday. While Cincinnati and Cleveland take on one another to see who can grab their first win of the season, these two squads look to gain an early-season stranglehold on the division. At this point, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to conclude that Baltimore and Pittsburgh will be battling it out in the division moving forward. With a few exceptions, this has been the case for the better part of the past two decades.

Interestingly, both teams are coming off horrible efforts after starting the season 2-0. For Pittsburgh, it was an uninspiring road loss to the talent-stricken Chicago Bears. For their part, the Ravens were absolutely walloped by the Jacksonville Jaguars by the score of 44-7 in London. Not only will this game go a long way in determining the division champ, both squads need to get back on track. That makes this an important Week 4 matchup.

Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns: Battle of AFC cellar dwellers

At a certain point we’re going to have to start looking at draft positioning for some of the bottom feeders around the NFL. Cincinnati and Cleveland head into Week 4 as two of five winless squads. Both teams seem to already be out of contention for even a wildcard spot at this early point in the season.

It’s in this that one game could play a big role in positioning for the 2018 NFL Draft. Cincinnati may be coming off a valiant effort in an overtime loss to Green Bay, but the team still has major issues on both sides fo the ball. Meanwhile, Cleveland rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer has turned it over seven times in the past two games. He now leads a Browns team into a game against another winless squad as Cleveland looks to notch its second win since December of 2015.

Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings: Early-season NFC North statement game

Is Dalvin Cook ready to lead the Vikings to a big divisional win?

Green Bay will have a say in what happens in this division moving forward, but Detroit and Minnesota have been the most-impressive teams in the NFC North through three weeks. It took a blatantly horrible late-game call against Atlanta last week for Detroit to lose its first game of the season. Meanwhile, Minnesota is coming off an impressive 34-17 home win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

In the first of two matchups between these teams this season, the onus is going to be on Minnesota to hold court at home. With a 7-3 record at its new digs since opening last season, there’s definitely a home-field advantage to this. Add in the fact that rookie running back Dalvin Cook has gone for 370 total yards in his first three NFL games, and that’s magnified further. It will be interesting to see how this turns out come Sunday.

Los Angeles Rams at Dallas Cowboys: Is Jared Goff for real?

Taking advantage of an inexperienced and injury-plagued 49ers defense is one thing. Showing yourself to be consistently good as a second-year player is a completely different ball game.

Goff impressed big time in last Thursday’s 41-39 win over San Francisco, completing nearly 80 percent of his passes to go with three touchdowns. Now set to take on another pedestrian defense on the road this Sunday, Goff has an opportunity to prove that his early-season start is not a fluke. It comes with his Rams in first place and looking to continue their momentum into October.

Buffalo Bills at Atlanta Falcons: Huge road test for surprising Bills

Many figured that Buffalo was going to challenge the New York Jets for the AFC East’s cellar this season. While that might very well be the case, this team heads into Week 4 with a 2-1 record and tied for first place. Its only loss of the season came on the road against the Carolina Panthers by the score of 9-3.

The Bills are playing very good overall football, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Led by new cornerbacks Tre’Davious White and E.J. Gaines, this unit has not allowed a single touchdown pass in three games. Set to take on reigning NFL MVP Matt Ryan and the Falcons, Sunday’s road game will be a major test for Sean McDermott and Co.

Philadelphia Eagles at Los Angeles Chargers: Another stinker at StubHub?

Anthony Lynn is already upset with his team.

Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn is already fed up with his team just three games into his tenure in Los Angeles. It started with narrow losses to Denver and Miami to open the season. Then, last week, the Kansas City Chiefs went into StubHub and intercepted three Philip Rivers passes en route to pleasing a huge Chiefs contingent on hand for the game.

Nothing is going right for Los Angeles right now. Two home games in its new city has led to more visiting fans than Chargers supporters. The team continues to lose narrow affairs after being plagued in that fashion over the past two seasons. And at 0-3, it’s clear the Chargers are the worst team in the AFC West. A loss to Philadelphia here would lead this team into yet another downward spiral.

San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals: Two different trajectories

Arizona boasts a 1-2 record on the season, relying on aged veterans Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald. Both performed well in the team’s Week 3 loss to Dallas, but the rest of the roster has failed to step up for a team that’s seemingly on the downturn.

On the other hand, the young 49ers are one of five winless teams around the NFL. This hasn’t stopped the team from being much more competitive than most figured it would be.

In  a way, this Sunday’s game could set into motion a situation in which the 49ers continue their ascension towards respectability while the Cards themselves take another step back in the NFC West. If San Francisco’s offensive explosion against Los Angeles last week, this could very well be the case. If that was just a mirage, the Cardinals might be able to find their way to a 2-2 mark through the first quarter of the season.

New York Giants at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Ben McAdoo’s honeymoon is over

Some will say it was over when New York fell to Green Bay in the playoffs last January. After all, we know what the media and fans alike expect from their teams in the Big Apple. Even then, an 11-5 record in McAdoo’s first season as head coach is nothing to sneeze at.

Heading into Week 4, it’s a completely different story. The Giants find themselves at 0-3 for the first time since 2013. Prior to scoring 24 points in the fourth quarter last week, this team had scored 13 points in 11 quarters. Owner John Mara is unhappy with the on-field antics of Odell Beckham Jr. Meanwhile, McAdoo himself has already called out Eli Manning.

If the honeymoon is already over 19 games into his coaching career, imagine what the narrative will be if New York drops to 0-4 on the season.

Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos: Both looking for bounce back performances

Derek Carr and the Raiders struggle big time on Sunday night.

Both Oakland and Denver started the season with impressive 2-0 records. Both laid complete eggs against what many believe to be inferior teams in Week 3.

For the Broncos, it was a disastrous two-interception performance from Trevor Siemian that led to a 26-16 road loss to the Buffalo Bills. In D.C., Oakland was absolutely obliterated by Kirk Cousins and the Washington Redskins in a game that saw the Raiders out-gained 472-128 in total yardage.

Now seen as a tier behind Kansas City in the AFC West, it’s going to be important for each of these playoff contenders to step up and forget about what we saw last week. For a Raiders team with Super Bowl aspirations, that’s magnified even further.

Indianapolis Colts at Seattle Seahawks: Utter domination, or else

At 1-2 on the season, Seattle has yet to hit its stride. The team’s only win came after a late-game touchdown from Russell Wilson at home against a winless 49ers squad in Week 2. Then, last week, Seattle’s defense laid a complete egg in Nashville against the Titans. Aided by mental lapses from Richard Sherman, Tennessee dropped 33 points and 420 yards of offense against the Legion of Boom. This overshadowed a four-touchdown performance from Russell Wilson.

Now, set to take on the Andrew Luck-less Colts on Sunday Night Football, it’s time for Seattle to show some sense of domination. If that doesn’t happen against a talent-stricken team at home on national television, any idea of the Seahawks being legitimate contenders can be thrown out the window.

Washington Redskins at Kansas City Chiefs: Riding high, Skins look for another statement

Not a single person outside of the nation’s capital expected Washington lay an absolutely smackdown on the Oakland Raiders this past Sunday evening. It was domination in the truest sense of the word. 472 yards compared to 128 in favor of the home team. Five incomplete passes and a total of 365 passing yards from Kirk Cousins. Heck, Washington yielded just seven first downs to a Raiders offense that entered Week 3 ranked No. 1 in the NFL.

In their second consecutive title against an AFC West playoff team, the Redskins head to Kansas City to take on the high-flying and undefeated Chiefs.

If the Skins can somehow find a way to stop the elite trio of Alex Smith, Kareem Hunt and Tyreek Hill while coming away with a win in one of the most hostile environments in the NFL, it might be time to start taking this team serious.