After two weeks of historically competitive football, several teams put substantial distance between themselves and division opponents in Week 3. While it had its share of nail-biting finishes, the week also featured 10 games that ended with double-digit margins—there were only eight such contests through the seasons’ first two weeks.
Inter-conference showdowns appear to be the week’s theme, as the upcoming slate features several high-profile matchups of that variety. Read below to see which AFC and NFC teams will be squaring off in Week 4.
Cowboys (2-1) vs Chargers (1-2) | Qualcomm Stadium, Sept. 29
Despite looking like one of the most improved teams in the early going, San Diego only has a 1-2 record to show for it, as two last-second losses have sullied solid efforts. The team’s upgraded play is a direct result of the impressive performance of quarterback Philip Rivers, who seems to have fixed his turnover-prone ways thus far. He has only one turnover through three games after racking up 28 last season.
The Chargers will look to get back on track at home against the Cowboys, whose offense ran like a well-oiled machine last week in a 31-7 blowout over the St. Louis Rams. If the Cowboys can continue to get solid production from running back DeMarco Murray—who rushed for 175 yards in Week 3—their offense may be without a weakness
Patriots (3-0) vs Falcons (1-2) | Georgia Dome, Sept. 29
This rare NFC-AFC crossover game features two teams that looked to be on track to meet in last year’s Super Bowl, before both fell at home in the respective conference championship games. The Patriots have managed to overcome significant attrition at the receiver position up to this point, but Brady may be regaining the services of his favorite target, Rob Gronkowski, for this Sunday night affair.
Whether or not the star tight end ultimately plays, the Falcons will need to find a solution on defense, where they will again be without star linebacker, Sean Weatherspoon. Some concerns exist on the offensive end as well, where lingering injuries to wide receiver Roddy White and running back Steven Jackson have hampered what is ordinarily an explosive unit at full strength. With the help of a raucous home crowd at the Georgia Dome, the Falcons will attempt to grind out a win over the undefeated Pats in hopes of keeping pace with the NFC South-leading New Orleans Saints.
Eagles (1-2) vs Broncos (3-0) | Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Sept. 29
As if defenses didn’t already have enough difficulty catching their breaths against the NFL’s two most fast-paced offenses, the units on these teams will also have to deal with the thin air of Denver. With the league’s most prolific offenses—Broncos (1st, 486.7 yards per game) and Eagles (2nd, 461.7 ypg) —going head-to-head in this matchup, punts figure to be at a premium.
If Philadelphia hopes to keep pace with the Broncos, Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy will need to put the ball in the end zone consistently to ease the pressure on the defense, as Peyton Manning (12 touchdowns, 0 interceptions) isn’t likely to experience much resistance from the Eagles’ defense, which ranks 30th in the NFL in yards allowed.
Texans (2-1) vs Seahawks (3-0) | Reliant Stadium, Sept. 29
The home team has prevailed in blowout fashion in the only two previous games between these inter-conference foes. The Seahawks have been a dominant force at CenturyLink Field in the Pete Carroll era, but much less so when they have taken to the road. Since the beginning of last season, the Seahawks are 4-5 away from home, a timespan during which the Texans have secured a 7-2 home record.
Seattle does have one major factor playing in its favor, however: health. Defensive stars Cliff Avril and Brandon Browner returned to the lineup last week and could play a significant role in making life difficult for Matt Schaub and the Texans, who have fallen short of expectations on offense thus far.
Bears (3-0) vs Lions (2-1) | Ford Field, Sept. 29
The bottom two teams in the NFC North last season will duke it out for the early lead in the division in this showdown at Ford Field. The teams’ improvements early on mirror those of its quarterbacks as Jay Cutler and Matt Stafford have combined for a total of just six turnovers through the first three weeks of play after recording 41 last season. Chicago’s young offensive line has held its own thus far, but it has yet to face a defensive front of Detroit’s caliber. The Lions’ four-man front includes a trio of fearsome young pass rushers in Ziggy Ansah, Ndamukong Suh, and Nick Fairley. The Bears’ inexperienced o-line—Chicago starts two rookies—against the dominant Detroit front is the matchup to watch in this contest.
Dolphins (3-0) vs Saints (3-0) | Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Sept. 30
The lone Week 4 showdown of unbeatens is reserved for Monday night, when the surprising Dolphins visit the veteran Saints. Both squads have survived a couple of close scares to remain undefeated, and have done so in unexpected fashion. The Saints—who ranked dead last in yards per game by a wide margin last year—have won with their defense, surrendering the fifth-fewest points in the league with just 12.7 points allowed per game. The Dolphins—who finished last season 27th in total points scored—have managed to put teams away using their offense, ranking 11th in the league in points per game with a mark of 27.7.
While that trend may not continue in this game, it is significant in showing just how improved these versatile teams are this season. Although the Saints are difficult to beat at the Superdome, the Dolphins are more than capable of pulling off the upset, as they are one of only two teams to have recorded multiple road wins in 2013.