The season is one-quarter gone. Some of the contests this Sunday will already put certain teams on top of the pile, or down a deep hole from which they will not climb. Here are three of the key matchups:
Kansas City (0-3) at Tennessee (0-3)
It’s simple maths: one of these teams will come out of this game at 0-4, with next to no chance of breaking even for the season. For the home side, Marcus Mariota is out for three weeks with concussion; the Titans are going to struggle to put together a decent aerial threat with Zach Mettenberger under center. Bishop Sankey has been struggling to post decent rushing stats this season from behind an O-line that, on paper, should be creating more opportunities for him that it has done. The Tennessee defense has been rock-sold against the run, but far too porous against the pass.
On the other side of the ball, the Chiefs game record is probably unflattering. They have been competitive in their three losses, against fairly strong opposition. Alex Smith’s offensive unit has been modest in its achievements, and Smith has thrown 5 interceptions in three games, which hasn’t helped his passer rating. But the key to understanding KC is the defense. The Kansas City run defense is top-5 in both yards conceded and average yards per play. The pass defense is 3rd overall in total yards, but third worst in average yards per attempt. In other words, teams have just not been throwing the football against the Chiefs, but when they do, the gains are there.
The message for Titans manager Jeff Copeland is clear: take the chance on Mettenberg’s arm. If the gamble pays off, the Titans’ season will still be alive. If it fails, they’re in that hole.
Prediction: It will fail. In a low-scoring game, Chiefs to win by 3.
Green Bay (3-1) at Minnesota (4-0)
At the other end of the spectrum, the undefeated Vikings host last year’s Super Bowl runner’s up. Teams have struggled to find a solution to the Minnesota offense – Teddy Bridgewater leads the NFL in passes complete; Adrian Peterson leads the NFL in rushing yards. Together, they are a scoring machine. But the Packers pose the biggest threat so far to throwing a spanner in the works. Aaron Rogers and Eddie Lacy sit just under Bridgewater and Peterson in the stats tables – this is going to be the sort of game in which a single mistake on either side will likely get punished by a big drive and seven points.
So who is more likely to make that mistake? The Vikings’ turnover margin is +5 in four games. The Packers’ is -2. I’m tipping that to be the difference.
Prediction: The Vikings are on a roll. It’s almost as if they are coached by a computer. Minnesota to win by 10.
Houston (2-2) at Oakland (2-2)
Two teams with even records; but surprisingly, whichever wins will be on top of their division. Houston could even lose and still be atop the AFC South.
Oakland came out of the offseason with the most exciting draft class in the NFL. QB Charles Wallace, number one overall pick, is out with a severe hamstring pull but other rookies are making an impact already. Timothy Castaneda is starting at Center, while a trio of rookie wideouts – Burgess, Franklin and McDonald – are making an impact in the aerial game. These younger guys will be improving over the season. Arian Foster is now with the Raiders and will be looking to make an impression against his former team.
Houston has arguably been overperforming at the start of the season. They have a horrendous injury list, with four starters and a clutch of bench players out of action.
Prediction: This has all the tell-tales of a blowout to the Raiders, and if the young guns fire, it will be. Oakland to win by 17.