By Dan Durkin-
(CBS) It’s a must-win for the Bears this weekend, and I think the Panthers will put up more of a fight than people expect. Can the Packers go 16-0? Here’s my take on how the NFL’s Week 4 will shake out with my predictions, my juggernaut games of the week, and my “juggernot lames of the weak”:
Juggernaut Games of the Week
RAVENS 24, Jets 23 – 7:25 PM
Two hard-hitting defenses square off in Baltimore, in what should be the game of the week. Both teams pride themselves on being able to impose their will to grind out a win, so this game willl come down to field position and who blinks first. The Jets running game is still stuck in neutral, but Mark Sanchez has surprisingly been able to carry the load. If Nick Mangold’s ankle prevents him from starting on Sunday night, the Jets will have no answer for Haloti Ngata. The combination of home-field advantage and being able to establish the running game gives Baltimore the edge.
Steelers 23, TEXANS 20 – Noon
Intriguing AFC match-up between a high-octane Houston offense and a prideful Pittsburgh defense. As I mentioned last week, I was suspicious of Houston’s 2-0 start – in particular their defense – as New Orleans was their first true test, and 40 points later, the Texans are now 2-1. The Texans still strike me as a soft team, which doesn’t bode well for them this weekend. The Steelers are also a flawed team. Other than an early bomb to speedster Mike Wallace, their offense – particularly the running game – was stymied last week by an inspired Colts defense. This will be a field goal game either way, and I like the Steelers to pull out a hard-fought win.
Lions 27, COWBOYS 24 – Noon
Will a 4-0 start rejuvenate the downtrodden Detroit economy? Will GM unveil their new 2012 Megatron SUV this coming Monday? I’ve said it all year and I’ll say it again, the Lions have played a bunch of nobodies. From the Hype Bowl in Week 1 against Tampa, to the worst team in the NFL (Kansas City) in Week 2, to the we-only-play-one-half-of-football Minnesota Vikings in Week 3, the Lions have proven nothing to me. I watched every miserable minute of the Vikings game last Sunday, and I learned nothing new about this team. If the Cowboys weren’t so battered on offense I would give them the nod here, but after watching their “performance” on Monday Night against the Redskins, I just can’t. Pop the Asti Spumanti in Motown, as the Lions will be 4-0 for the first time since Jimmy “Malaise Forever” Carter was in office.
Juggernot Lames of the Weak
Titans 17, BROWNS 16 – Noon
I would rather listen to an audio book of Sarah Palin’s “Going Rogue: An American Life” read by Fran Drescher than watch one minute of this football game. As offensively challenged as both as these teams are, they’ve both played surprisingly strong defense to start the season. This means there could be more combined punting yards than total offense. With Kenny Britt lost for the season with a torn ACL, I see this as the week where Chris Johnson puts up numbers closer to what we’ve grown accustomed to.
BUCCANEERS 23, Colts 17 – 7:35 PM Monday
I’m sure Monday Night Football’s producers were crossing their fingers that the storyline for their Week 4 match-up would be the first career start of Curtis “Goldilocks” Painter. Oy. Well their wishes came true, as the Colts will trot out Painter in hopes of jump-starting their anemic offense, foiled by a pesky nerve in Peyton Manning’s neck. (Cue bad joke about Peyton’s injury being related to the Frankenstein bolts being removed from his neck, in 3, 2, 1). To be fair, the Colts defense played a great game last Sunday against Pittsburgh, and if Goldilocks could’ve hit a wide-open Pierre Garcon on a brilliantly called stop-and-go route on third down late in the fourth quarter, we’d be talking about the 1-2 Colts this week. But he didn’t, so they’re not, and they’ll still be winless after Monday.
Vikings 24, CHIEFS 10 – Noon
It will be a battle of two defeated teams in Arrowhead on Sunday, although one of these bad teams is less bad than the other. That team is the Minnesota Vikings. Odds are one of these teams will pick up their first win of the season, but don’t discount the possibility of a tie here. After three second-half collapses, I’m assuming Vikings head coach Les Frasier has had some discussions with offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave about his second-half play calling, which has featured far too many Donovan McNabb drop-backs. The Vikings defensive line was impressive last weekend, and Jared Allen will be playing with extra motivation against his former team. There’s truly nothing to say about the Chiefs other than start pre-ordering your #12 Andrew Luck jerseys.
BEARS 23, Panthers 20 – Noon
This seems like the perfect game for the Bears to regain some confidence and push around a lesser opponent. But something tells me this game is going to be much closer and more of a struggle for the Bears than it should be. I still don’t know what the Bears do well, other than punt. I’m not joking; Adam Podlesh may be the Bears MVP after three games. That’s a problem. Ron Rivera will be able to play the underdog card all year, which can be a successful rallying cry for a young team. I’ve heard a lot of comparisons for Cam Newton, but the most apt for me is Daunte Culpepper. It’s not very common for a team to take the field with a quarterback bigger than your line-backing corps, but that’s exactly what the Panthers do. Newton will give the Bears fits, but he’ll also give them a few interceptions that will be the difference in this ugly Bears win.
Bills 24, BENGALS 17 – Noon
The 3-0 Buffalo Bills. I have to make sure my spell-check is working as that sentence didn’t generate a red underline. Hats off to Chan Gailey for “slaying the beast” known as the New England Patriots last week, notching a huge AFC East victory. This game could be somewhat of a trap game for Buffalo, as despite all their off-the-field and offensive woes, the Bengals play some serious defense. In the end, I think the Bills will force ginger-haired rookie quarterback Andy Dalton into a few mistakes that will prove to be the difference. Who out there had the Bills and Lions being 4-0 after week four? If so, please tweet me, so I can coordinate with you on a trip to Vegas.
EAGLES 27, 49ers 17 – Noon
Perhaps the “dream team” forgot to set their alarm? The 2011 season hasn’t quite started as most expected it to for the Philadelphia Eagles, as they’ve stumbled their way to a 1-2 record, with the only victory coming against a Rams team who could very well start the season 0-7. I had doubts about the Eagles offensive line and linebackers to start the season, and both of those units have failed to impress. Mike Vick has been hit more than he’d like, and opposing teams are simply wearing down the second level of the Eagles defense with white knuckle, I-formation, smash-mouth style football. Luckily for the Eagles, the 49ers come to town this weekend, sporting a very misleading 2-1 record, and an offense that makes the Bears offense look capable.
Redskins 16, RAMS 13 – Noon
This game came dangerously close to a lame of the weak; in fact, I’ll make it a Week 4 alternate. The Redskins were a late Rex Grossman fumble (why does that sound so familiar?) away from starting the season 3-0. Defensively the Redskins are formidable, and have a very impressive young pair of edge rushers in Brian Orakpo and rookie Ryan Kerrigan. Offensively, they play a very close-to-the-vest style with a heavy dose of zone-blocked runs, and low risk passes from Grossman, to limit turnovers and grind out wins by winning the field position battle. That approach will work well against a Rams team that simply cannot stop the run. With the Packers, Cowboys, and Saints looming for the Rams, this is a “must-win” game, and I haven’t seen anything from them to think they’ll pull this one off.
Saints 30, JAGUARS 13 – Noon
Blaine Gabbert meet Gregg Williams. He’s the guy who is going to make your second NFL start a very miserable experience. The Saints defensive coordinator will show Gabbert looks that he’s never seen before, to overwhelm the rookie and generate turnovers. Giving Drew Brees more chances with the football isn’t a good thing for opponents. Brees is playing at an MVP level and if it wasn’t for the video-game like stats being put up by Brady and Newton, you’d be hearing more about it. Outside of the efforts of Maurice “Pocket Hercules” Jones-Drew, the Jaguars don’t generate enough offense to win games. That’s a real problem against a team like the Saints.
Giants 24, CARDINALS 13 3:05 – PM
Credit Tom Coughlin for weathering the early storm his team has faced with injuries to several key contributors on offense. The Giants completely man-handled the Eagles last week on the road, and I expect more of the same this weekend. With two quality running backs, Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs, the Giants are able to lull teams to sleep with the run, then hit a deep ball through the play-action game. It will be more of the same this weekend in the dessert against a really mediocre Cardinals team. Outside of an occasional Kevin Kolb to Larry Fitzgerald pass, the Cardinals just don’t do enough on offense to be taken seriously.
Falcons 27, SEAHAWKS 13 – 3:05 PM
I just can’t get a good read on the Jekyll & Hyde Atlanta Falcons. Fresh off an exciting Week 2 comeback victory against the Eagles, the Falcons laid an egg in a divisional match-up against Tampa Bay. I think this week will be an up-swing for the Falcons on the road against an awful Seattle team. It’s just impossible to find anything positive to say about the Seahawks. I suppose the performance of Sidney Rice last week is something to build on, but the Falcons have two very good corner backs, and will attempt to phase Rice out of the game plan. When a guy named Doug Baldwin is your leading receiver, your team has issues. Seattle has plenty of issues, and they drop to 0-4 to help their “Suck-for-Luck” campaign.
PACKERS 31, Broncos 13 – 3:15 PM
While I’m still feeling very confident about my pre-season prediction that the Packers would repeat as Super Bowl Champions, I think I underestimated their win total (12). Recall that the Packers were a wild-card team last year and finished second to the Bears, so they play a second place schedule. The Packers have a legitimate shot at going 16-0 this season, which would be bittersweet. As a Bear fan, it would be difficult to watch, but as a 1972 Dolphin-loather, it would be sweet. The Packers will be a quarter of the way there after this weekend. Meatball Bronco fans have hocked enough of their grandmother’s jewelry to put up a digital billboard urging head coach John Fox to play Tim Tebow. Sentiment like this makes it easier for me to understand why there’s a market for products like a singing rubber fish.
Patriots 34, RAIDERS 20 – 3:15 PM
Under Bill Belichick the Patriots simply don’t lose back-to-back games, so that spells bad things for the Raiders in Week 4. I called the Patriots the Phoenix Suns of the NFL, and last week helped prove that point. It’s still defense optional in New England, which will be a problem for them down the road. This weekend, they’ll face Oakland’s potent rushing attack, led by superstar Darren McFadden. Unfortunately for the Raiders, they don’t have enough – yet – in the passing game to make them a real threat.
CHARGERS 27, Dolphins 16 – 3:15 PM
Certainly all the focus on Antonio Gates’ feet got Rex Ryan’s attention this week, too bad the Chargers are playing the Dolphins. Gates’ chronic foot pain is a lingering issue, and is a huge concern moving forward for the Chargers. I think they should shut him down for 3-6 weeks to preserve him for the playoffs, but he had more rest this off-season than any other, and yet the issues remain. Ryan Mathews is finally performing like the first round pick the Chargers envisioned him to be, providing offensive balance they lost when LaDanian Tomlinson bolted from San Diego. Miami just isn’t that good at football, which is a problem in the NFL. The good Miami sports vibes from Ozzie Guillen’s arrival dissipate, and the heat on Tony Soprano’s seat gets hotter after this weekend as his Dolphins drop to 0-4.
Last Week: 11-5 / Season Record: 33-15
Dan Durkin joined The Score’s columnist community after finishing runner-up in the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois where he was a member of the men’s football team (despite his best efforts to join the women’s team). Dan is a longtime Scorehead, known as Dan in Wicker Park – even though he no longer resides in Wicker Park – who will be sharing NFL analysis and opinions. You can follow Dan on Twitter @djdurkin. To read more of Dan’s blogs click here.