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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Week 4 N.F.L. Matchups



Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin (22) gets past New Orleans Saints’ John Jenkins (92) during the second quarter of a game on Sept. 15 in Florida.


Cardinals (1-2) at Buccaneers (0-3)

1 p.m. Sunday Line: Buccaneers by 3

Once again Arizona has a veteran quarterback, Carson Palmer, to get the ball to wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. And Tampa Bay? It has an emerging running back, Doug Martin, and a revamped secondary that should hamper the Cardinals’ passing attack.

But the Buccaneers also have a coach, Greg Schiano, who has had to publicly deny the accusation that he rigged the election for team captain, which sounds like a plot device by Aaron Sorkin if he were writing for “Hard Knocks.”

If the Buccaneers fall behind early — and by starting the rookie quarterback Mike Glennon, that could happen — expect to hear a “walk-the-plank” chant. Emanating from the team’s huddle, no less.

Pick: Buccaneers

Steelers (0-3) at Vikings (0-3)

1 p.m. Sunday Line: Steelers by 1 ½

For the British, sports and revenge are common bedfellows. And so the N.F.L. would have done well to bill this Minnesota home game (wink, wink) at Wembley Stadium in London, as a grudge match: the Vikings’ chance to pay back the Steelers for a 16-6 loss in Super Bowl IX. That’s probably better than the reality: the Breaking Badly Bowl, with two reeling teams looking for their first wins of the season.

Last Sunday, Minnesota was thoroughly embarrassed in its home opener by Cleveland’s former third-string quarterback, Brian Hoyer, and two trick plays. Pittsburgh is starting to resemble an aging rock band embarking on one last tour because of contractual obligations.

Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder has a rib injury and may not play. Adding to the woes, Minnesota’s secondary, which has been less than adequate this season, may be without two injured cornerbacks (Chris Cook and A. J. Jefferson) and a banged-up safety (Jamarca Sanford). Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger still has enough weapons, not to mention guile, to pick that unit apart.

Pick: Steelers

Giants (0-3) at Chiefs (3-0)

1 p.m. Sunday Line: Chiefs by 7

The last time these teams met, in 2009, the 4-0 Giants beat 0-4 Kansas City at Arrowhead Stadium, 27-16. But that’s ancient history. Last weekend’s Giants debacle — a 38-0 thrashing by Carolina — exposed their flaws: basically, offense. And also defense.

Last week in Philadelphia, Coach Andy Reid’s homecoming, the Chiefs played with poise in a more hostile environment than a Buccaneers team-building exercise, and came away with a victory. Between Alex Smith’s measured performances, Jamaal Charles’s determined running and an aggressive defense, including linebacker Justin Houston, the league leader in sacks with seven and a half, Kansas City will have no such trouble in dispatching the Giants.

Despite the veteran presence of quarterback Eli Manning and wide receiver Victor Cruz, the Giants are playing as if the last person to leave their party neglected to turn out the lights. Expect the Chiefs to oblige.

Pick: Chiefs

Colts (2-1) at Jaguars (0-3)

1 p.m. Sunday Line: Colts by 10 ½

Before this season, Jacksonville agreed to play regular-season games in London for four consecutive years, a deal that was met with great fanfare overseas. At this point, English fans must be suffering from the greatest case of buyer’s remorse since “The Amityville Horror.” In a sea of 0-3 teams, the Jaguars still stand out as the least accomplished, which, as luck would have it, does not warrant a trophy. On the other hand, Indianapolis is coming off a statement win against the defending N.F.C. champions. Although some would argue that the Colts could be ripe for a letdown, most of those people wear Jaguars helmets or tinfoil hats.

Pick: Colts

Bengals (2-1) at Browns (1-2)

1 p.m. Sunday Line: Bengals by 5 ½

Cleveland comes home riding high from an improbable win at Minnesota, and the crowd will be fired up. For about 10 minutes. Cincinnati, a far more dangerous team than the Vikings, will ensure that the Browns’ good mood is short-lived. The Bengals’ defense will most likely blitz Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer more frequently than the Vikings. Minnesota inexplicably played most of last week’s game with both safeties deep, and the Bengals’ defensive line will remind the Cleveland front office how that offense is destined to perform without Trent Richardson.

Pick: Bengals

Eagles (1-2) at Broncos (3-0)

4.25 p.m. Sunday Line: Broncos by 9

Sometimes life just isn’t fair. Michael Vick hobbles (on sprained ankles) into Denver to try to keep pace with Peyton Manning, who at 37, all hyperbole aside, is nearly unstoppable. There is no way the Eagles’ defense will be able to focus on three wide receivers (Wes Welker, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker) as well as a red-hot tight end (Julius Thomas). Philadelphia has two offensive threats of its own, running back LeSean McCoy and wide receiver DeSean Jackson, but the pace of Coach Chip Kelly’s offense appears to be running his players ragged. The difference between these teams’ offenses will be the difference between golf and miniature golf.

Pick: Broncos

Cowboys (2-1) at Chargers (1-2)

4:25 p.m. Sunday Line: Chargers by 1 ½

What costs $108 million, takes a licking and keeps on ticking? Dallas quarterback Tony Romo wearing a Timex watch. Like a well-worn timepiece, he is occasionally battered — on the field, in the news media and, if recent reports are true, in the Cowboys’ locker room — and he keeps on working. Fortunately for everyone involved, Romo, an 11-year veteran, is performing more like a Rolex this season, throwing for 771 yards with six touchdowns and only one interception. And that’s giving the Cowboys’ owner, Jerry Jones, an opportunity to pat himself on the back for the widely panned six-year deal Romo signed in the off-season.

Pick: Chargers

Jets (2-1) at Titans (2-1)

4:05 p.m. Sunday Line: Titans by 4 ½

The Jets are slowly becoming the Giants of two years ago: a low-drama, bloodlessly efficient team run by a slender defensive guru whose frustrated facial expressions could wither a healthy house plant. This season, under the rookie quarterback Geno Smith, the Jets have proved that they can avoid some of the self-inflicted wounds that sank them the last two seasons and that they can win the ugly games. Granted, last week they were whistled for four times too many penalties (20) to be considered even remotely poised, but winning ugly is still winning. And it certainly beats the alternative.

Pick: Jets

Ravens (2-1) at Bills (1-2)

1 p.m. Sunday Line: Ravens by 5

The retired Ray Lewis said that Baltimore lacked leadership, while neglecting to mention that in the off-season the team lost seven defensive starters (including him), as well as its most experienced wide receiver, Anquan Boldin. On the upside, during his recent soliloquy, he also conveniently neglected to mention that wide receiver Jacoby Jones was recently conked on the head by a Champagne-bottle-wielding exotic dancer named Sweet Pea while on a party bus with some teammates. So all in all, despite Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco’s public dismissal of Lewis’s contention — “Ray knows better than that” is the way Flacco diplomatically put it — the Ravens probably welcomed the distraction that their former captain’s two cents provided. Especially Jones.

Pick: Ravens

Bears (3-0) at Lions (2-1)

1 p.m. Sunday Line: Bears by 3

Chicago lost defensive tackle Henry Melton for the season but might have finally found an offense-minded coach, Marc Trestman, who is able to work around quarterback Jay Cutler’s mercurialness. Whatever the Bears are doing, they need to keep doing it, as the team is beginning to resemble an actual N.F.C. powerhouse, as opposed to a team that front-loads its seasons with wins. Detroit named defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh a captain, and not in the Captain Bligh sense, although this is usually around the time that the Lions begin taking on water each season. Pick: Bears

Redskins (0-3) at Raiders (1-2)

4.25 p.m. Sunday Line: Even

There’s a lot going on in the nation’s capital. Washington lost a heartbreaker last week, when quarterback Robert Griffin III fell on his face. Television analysts and sportswriters have been saying Griffin has changed his throwing motion to compensate for his injury. His teammate Pierre Garcon did not help when he recently said, “He’s not fully healthy, obviously.” Griffin did what any team leader would do: he challenged Garcon to a footrace, which comically defused the situation. Griffin may or may not be a step slow, but his leadership instincts are not.

Pick: Redskins

Seahawks (3-0) at Texans (2-1)

1 p.m. Sunday Line: Seahawks by 4

It’s as if Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman were being paid by the word. Although he is able to hold entire press corps in his sway, with outrageous comments layered upon outlandish boasts, and antagonizes opposing coaches, wide receivers, cornerbacks and fans — did we leave anyone out? — Sherman backs it up every week by shutting down opponents’ best wide receivers. This weekend, for example, Houston’s Andre Johnson.

Pick: Seahawks

Patriots (3-0) at Falcons (1-2)

8:30 p.m. Sunday Line: Falcons by 1

“Tom Brady kvetching” sounds like a classic Internet meme rather than what fans have witnessed weekly as he has tried to cope with his crew of butterfingered wide receivers. Luckily for Brady, tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was rehabilitating a back injury, has said he will try to play. Barring something unforeseen, a familiar prerequisite for being a New England tight end, his impact will be felt immediately as Brady will throw everything but his helmet and Coach Bill Belichick’s hooded sweatshirt at Gronkowski. Atlanta Coach Mike Smith, whose demeanor makes the Giants’ Tom Coughlin look positively ebullient, said that he was unhappy with the team’s red-zone efficiency. He will have no such issues Sunday.

Pick: Falcons

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