We are already a quarter of the way through the season and things are starting to take shape. It could be a decisive week for a number of teams.
Thursday night the Cardinals got back on track with a win at the 49ers and the Panthers will need to follow suit on Monday Night Football against the Buccaneers if they want to go one better than last week. As well as that game we get three other games on Sky this week and coverage of the Bills at the Rams on 5 Live Sports Extra.
Texans at Vikings (Sunday 6pm, Sky Sports)
Last Meeting: Vikings 23 Texans 6 (23/12/12)
Overall Record: Vikings lead series 3-0
The weekend’s action gets underway with the unbeaten Vikings hosting the Texans.
Despite the loss of their number one quarterback and running back, the Vikings have looked like one of the best teams in the league so far this season and have emerged as one of the favourites for the NFC.
The defence has been nothing short of fantastic so far and have given up just 12.5 points per game, fewer than every team but the Eagles. This has come despite a tough schedule with games against the Packers, Panthers and Giants, some of the best offences in the league.
The strong play from the defence has allowed Sam Bradford to settle in and even he has started to look more like the promising player that entered the league with the Rams. With Jerick McKinnon starting to find his form in the backfield, the Vikings haven’t really missed Teddy Bridgewater or Adrian Peterson. With the Texans defence now Watt-less, things will be a lot easier for Bradford and the Vikings in week five thanit may have been.
Things haven’t been so rosy for the Texans. Despite getting off to a 3-1 start, there are still big question marks over their big free agent signing Brock Osweiler. With six interceptions and just five touchdowns to open the season, the former Broncos quarterback will need to get things going quickly if he is going to justify the huge contract he was handed by the Texans. It isn’t going to get any easier for Osweiler this week against that great Vikings defence.
One big thing going for the Texans right now is the state of the division. The Texans, Colts and Jaguars have all had their own struggles to start the season and it is hard to see any of them making a big charge and getting to even eight wins, let alone a winning record. With three wins already, the Texans may be within five or even just four wins of clinching a playoff berth. They will be underdogs in this one but the Texans can afford to lose.
Falcons at Broncos (Sunday 9.05pm, Sky Sports)
Last Meeting: Broncos 21 Falcons 27 (17/9/12)
Overall Record: Broncos lead series 9-5
This has to be the game of the week. An intriguing matchup of teams that have exceeded expectations. One of the very best offences vs one of the best defence in the league.
Who saw this coming from the Falcons? The best offence in the league over the first quarter of the season, a win over division rivals the Panthers and Matt Ryan looking like a leading candidate for MVP. We’ve seen good runs from the Falcons in recent years but never to this level.
This week could show if this Atlanta team are for real as they go up against one of the best teams in the league. Denver have continued the form that saw them end last season as Super Bowl champions. Von Miller has once again shown that he is one of the very best players in the league and could be the main rival to Ryan for MVP at this stage of the season.
He is just one part of this fantastic defence that may be even better than last season’s. They have given up just 169.5 yards per game passing so far this season and will need to keep that up if they are to contain the Falcons offence that just a week ago got 503 yards in the air against the Panthers including 300receiving for Julio Jones alone.
The Broncos have been almost unbeatable at home over the past few seasons. Can Matt Ryan and the offence find the formula to beat them?
If both teams can continue their early season form, it isn’t crazy to think this could be a preview of this year’s Super Bowl.
Giants at Packers (Monday 1.30am, Sky Sports)
Last Meeting: Packers 13 Giants 27 (17/11/13)
Overall Record: Packers lead series 31-26-2
It is tutor vs tutee this week as former Packers assistant, Ben McAdoo heads back to Green Bay with his current team, the Giants.
Things haven’t been easy for McAdoo over the past couple of weeks with the team’s star receiver, Odell Beckham Jr receiving a lot of criticism for his conduct on and off the field. Beckham has thrown tantrums on the sidelines as things haven’t gone his way since the start of the season. He is still averaging over 75 yards per game, but he has not found the end zone once. The Packers’ less than stellar pass defence may be the perfect tonic for Beckham.
It’s not just on defence that the Packers have struggled. The offence have managed just 294 yards per game so far. That’s above just the 49ers, Vikings and Rams. The return of Jordy Nelson was expected to kick start things for the team but they have had similar struggles to last season. There has been flashes of brilliance from Rodgers, but not enough from a player that is considered by many to be the best player on the planet. If Green Bay are going to make a run at a Super Bowl, they will need to find a way to get the best from their talented collection of players on offence.
The Giants have won the last three games between the two sides including a playoff win on the way to their Super Bowl win in 2012. The Packers will need to break that run if they are going to really challenge the Vikings and reclaim their NFC north crown.
This could be a key game between two teams that could well be fighting each other for a wild card spot in the NFC.
Buccaneers at Panthers (Tuesday 1.30am, Sky Sports)
Last Meeting: Buccaneers 10 Panthers 38 (3/1/16)
Overall Record: Panthers lead series 20-11
It was a very promising start for Jameis Winston but since he has struggled a little and has shown the inconsistency that has been in his game since his time at Florida State. The young quarterback obviously has a lot of talent, but he needs to show it week in, week out if the Buccaneers are really going to move forward and become a contender in the years to come.
With the Panthers secondary struggling this season, it may be a good chance for Winston to get back on track. Matt Ryan threw for over 500 yards a week ago, perhaps Winston can take advantage of a defence that appears to be missing Josh Norman more than they would have hoped.
The Bucs have struggled on the ground so far this season. Doug Martin is still injured and expected to miss the game and Charles Sims has missed practice this week with a knee injury. With their top two running back looking likely to miss the game, Jacquizz Rodgers will be next in line. As a team Tampa Bay hasn’t reached 100 yards rushing in any game. It won’t get any easier for them as they go up against the Panthers’ top 10 run defence.
The Panthers look set to be without Cam Newton who still isn’t practicing after he picked up a concussion in the week four loss. Derek Anderson will get the start at quarterback if Newton isn’t cleared to play. Strangely Anderson’s last regular season start was against the Bucs in 2014 when the Panthers managed to win 19-17.
The Panthers haven’t looked anything like the team that went into last season’s Super Bowl as favourites. They have struggled to get things going on both sides of the ball and find themselves two games back from the Falcons already. With the race for a wild card looking tough in the NFC, a loss this week and they could leave themselves with too much to do over the rest of the season.
Follow Author Dave Gray on twitter at djg23
Read more from Dave and other UK NFL fans at FirstandTen.co.uk