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Game Rankings: Week 4 isn't a real meal till we get to Eagles-Giants

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Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Bills beat the Patriots in Buffalo last season. (US Presswire)  
Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Bills beat the Patriots in Buffalo last season. (US Presswire)  


I must admit, I had a tough time finding a footlong this week, and if it wasn't for the fact that the Eagles and Giants play in the same division, I might not have picked one. But I'm a sucker for divisional battles and this week we've got a bunch of them -- nine of the 15 contests in all ...

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Problem is they just don't look all that sexy, at least on paper. Several look like they could be lopsided and the rest feature teams still trying to figure out who they are and what they're capable of becoming. That's sort of the norm this time of year, as we try to determine who the real power brokers are and which of the generally elite teams off to a slow start will get it together soon.

It's also the start of bye season. And it starts slowly. Only the Steelers and Colts are off this week. (Have to wonder with the Steelers a little long in the tooth if that early bye ends up hurting them down the stretch).

So, yeah, basically, I'm a little underwhelmed by this slate. Of course, it takes some time for teams to separate in this league, so maybe my expectations were just too high. And heck, who am I kidding, because we're all going to watch in record numbers and be riveted by the crazy finishes and wild outcomes even if the officials are out of their depth.

It's the NFL, and I'm sure some of these games I'm dogging in the nether regions here will end up being the most entertaining of the weekend.

  
 

New York Giants  at  Philadelphia Eagles

Sunday, Sept. 30, 8:20 p.m. ET (NBC)

Why To Watch: This could be the week Mike Vick gets the standing eight count. The Giants will be watching the film of him getting whacked around, and see those gaping holes at center and left tackle and bouncing off the walls. Eli Manning is playing as well as any quarterback on the planet in 2012, including last year's playoffs, and the Giants know dropping another divisional game after losing to Dallas at home could come back to bite them. Plus, they are rested having last played on a Thursday night, when they dismantled the Panthers, and another super-mobile quarterback.

What To Watch For: Well, besides the Vick/piñata watch, how stubborn will Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweig be in regards to the run game? LeSean McCoy needs to touch the ball upwards of 30 times and they need to stick with the run, regardless of its early effectiveness ... Jeremy Maclin's return is huge, with the Giants struggling for corners and vulnerable in the slot ... Brent Celek is in line for a lot of action as well ... Expect a heavy dose of Andre Brown ... Hakeem Nicks has been huge, and now he's actually been able to rest his nagging injuries for a sustained period of time. Look out.

  
 

New Orleans Saints  at  Green Bay Packers

Sunday, Sept. 30, 4:25 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why To Watch: Used to be a battle to see who would go to the Super Bowl, but now it's two teams with one collective victory trying to make something happen. The Packers should be extra motivated after getting jobbed on national TV in Seattle by the officials. The Saints can't do anything right, like even hold a lead at home against the slumping Chiefs. The loser of this game is officially in big trouble, and if the Saints lose, as most would expect they might, they're cooked. Getting Joe Vitt back in a few weeks won't be nearly enough to right this sinking ship.

What To Watch For: Aaron Rodgers ain't playing around after thrashing the officials on various media platforms all week, and the Saints don't have anyone who looks capable of slowing him down. Cedric Benson should be able to bully the Saints on the ground too, because it's been all the rage this season ... Could be a situation where the Saints trail quickly, which has brought out the worst in Drew Brees this season ... Saints must find a way to stick with the run and try to simplify some things and restore a somewhat physical mindset ... Any chance the Saints muster a pass rush after watching Seattle thrash Green Bay's offensive line?

New England Patriots  at  Buffalo Bills

Sunday, Sept. 30, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why To Watch: New England is 1-2 and below .500 for the first time since losing the 2003 opener. And the Bills have been a tricky team for them. Played them close in some shootouts and outdueled Tom Brady at Ralph Wilson Stadium last season. Buffalo hopes Fred Jackson can return with C.J. Spiller expected to be out. New England's offense is not the same without Aaron Hernandez. Could you imagine if Buffalo pulled off the upset? Could the influx of calls to WEEI cause its towers to spontaneously combust and create a blackout that sweeps the city? Never underestimate the power of football and New England angst.

What To Watch For: Don't look now, but Wes Welker is back. Not that he ever went anywhere. And with Hernandez out, Welker naturally becomes a bigger focal point ... Time for Mario Williams to make something happen, and Pats offensive line has suffered lately ... For what it's worth, Pats RB Danny Woodhead averages 7 yards per carry against the Bills and was getting more work against the Ravens last week ... Can Jackson jump back into form after missing most of last season and then getting hurt again in Week 1, in his first game back? ... What kind of start do the Bills get off to? If they are in it early, and Ryan Fitzpatrick isn't trying to sling it all over the place, they could make this a game ... Bill Belichick is just a little touchy these days, and should they lose this one, you might want to keep him away from any replacement refs

Miami Dolphins  at  Arizona Cardinals

Sunday, Sept. 30, 4:05 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why To Watch: Break up the Cardinals! Will they ever lose a game? Is Kevin Kolb the real answer at quarterback, finally? Can they manage success? They have been one of the NFL's best stories in this young season, and one of its best teams. And the Dolphins have been much more competitive than I thought, adopting a physical approach in the run game that seems to have caught some opponents by surprise. I'm intrigued by this one, which is something I wouldn't have said about it when the season opened.

What To Watch For: Reggie Bush, if he plays, could be a little hobbled, and he has carried this offense thus far ... Ryan Tannehill must avoid falling into a rut with the turnovers -- his mistakes tend to be contagious for the entire offense, giving it up on successive drives. And the Cards get after the passer and have ball hawks ... Miami is mega-weak at corner and Larry Fitzgerald could prove unstoppable for them. Count how many times Kolb just flings it up there for him ... Cards could use oft-injured tight end Todd Heap back, too. Was becoming Kolb's security blanket.

Minnesota Vikings  at  Detroit Lions

Sunday, Sept. 30, 1 p.m. ET (FOX)

Why To Watch: Don't look now, but the Vikings could be pulling into first place in the NFC North with a win. And the Lions should be desperate after constantly undermining themselves against the Titans a week ago, yielding return touchdowns, failing to kick a tying field goal in overtime that ruined a wild comeback attempt at the end of regulation. Matt Stafford should play but that hamstring problem will limit him somewhat. Christian Ponder, meantime, has quietly been one of the NFL's top passers the first three weeks. Can the young Vikings maintain perspective after a heady win over the 49ers?

What To Watch For: Adrian Peterson getting stronger by the game, and Percy Harvin has been giving defenses fits ... Lions secondary a disaster thus far, from a tackling and coverage standpoint ... Mikel Leshoure could be the cure to all that ails the Lions run game however ... Jared Allen has 12.5 sacks in nine games against the Lions ... The Vikings' Blair Walsh is the first rookie kicker in NFL history with a 50-plus yard field goal in each of his first three games. He feels like he can hit from close to 70 in a dome. In a close game, don't discount that.

Carolina Panthers  at  Atlanta Falcons

Sunday, Sept. 30, 1 p.m. ET (FOX)

Why To Watch: Call me crazy for talking about a must-win game in Week 4, but if the Panthers are going to be a playoff team then it's about time they played like it. They can't afford to fall three games behind a Falcons team that was been a three-week juggernaut. Cam Newton will be watched ever so closely after moping and pouting some a week ago in defeat, and Carolina needs to discover a balanced offensive identity, pronto. Meantime the Falcons, one of only three undefeated teams in the NFL, finally faces someone outside of the AFC West

What To Watch For: Can anyone slow down Matt Ryan, least of all these Panthers? Especially with him back in the comfy confines of the dome? He has a 108 rating all-time at home against the Panthers ... Will the real Cam Newton please stand up? I suspect we see a bit less gadgetry than we did Thursday night, and perhaps more play action and vertical threat against an Atlanta secondary that should be tested ... Carolina is still seeking consistency in the run game ... Steve Smith got in Newton's grill a week ago and I bet he sends a message with a big play early in this one.

San Diego Chargers  at  Kansas City Chiefs

Sunday, Sept. 30, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why To Watch: Only a week ago the Chargers were flying high, looking like the class of the AFC West, while columnists in K.C. were writing obits on GM Scott Pioli. Then the Falcons pimp-slapped the Chargers and the Chiefs rallied for a thrilling win in New Orleans and suddenly this game looks a little more tricky for San Diego ... Jamaal Charles absolutely went off last week and should be able to open things up for Matt Cassel to make a few plays downfield ... Tamba Hali could be just the kind of edge threat to test the Chargers' dicey tackle situation and make this game interesting ... The Chargers have won eight of the last 11 meetings in the divisional match-up.

What To Watch For: Can Ryan Mathews get things going after carrying 10 times in his season-debut last week coming back from a broken clavicle? ... Ditto for Antonio Gates. He was not much of a factor a week ago, in his first game back from injury. San Diego needs a boost from them now ... Chiefs dervish Dexter McCluster is not getting much action in the backfield, and with him banged up and really a wide receiver now and Peyton Hillis dealing with injury as well, you wonder if Charles is ready for a heavy workload. The Chiefs generally keep a close eye on his touches ... Scouts are still wondering about the recovery of the Chiefs' Eric Berry and Tony Moeaki from the ACL surgeries that ended their 2011 seasons.

Oakland Raiders  at  Denver Broncos

Sunday, Sept. 30, 4:05 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why To Watch: It's a rivalry game, both teams are 1-2, and the Peyton Manning watch is on. Can he play half decent in all four-quarters of the same game? Will he continue to suffer from slow starts and what may be arm fatigue? If teams squat on routes inside of 40-yards, can he still outsmart them with regularity? Manning hasn't been the same since Week 1, and few subplots to this season are bigger than his comeback and what becomes of it. Also, the re-emergence of Darren McFadden and a Carson Palmer sighting in their upset of the Steelers last week has to give the Raiders confidence heading into Mike High.

What To Watch For: Raiders coach Dennis Allen should have some insight into the Broncos, having been their defensive coordinator last season ... McFadden has more yards against the Broncos than any opponent … Richard Seymour and Matt Shaughnessy finally woke up for Oakland last week, giving them a front seven that looked capable of making some plays ... Denver getting beat up at running back and, sans Tebowmania, not getting it done on the ground as well as expected ... Look for Manning to end up going into the no-huddle, shotgun offense early and often. It's clearly where he's most comfortable.

Chicago Bears  at  Dallas Cowboys

Monday, Oct. 1, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Why To Watch: It's Monday night, which means nothing else is on and an officiating scandal is quite possibly afoot. Neither of these teams has shown much consistency from week to week, and both quarterbacks generate a fair amount of scorn from their fan bases despite their talent. If nothing else, there is ample potential for at least one of them totally melting down and trying to force things to happen.

What To Watch For: Brandon Marshall has yet to truly break out in this Chicago offense ... Brian Urlacher looked more spry and agile last week, having an extended break after playing on a Thursday night ... Bears will likely be without Matt Forte again, which will put even more pressure on Cutler ... DeMarcus Ware vs. J'Marcus Webb. Nuff said. Could be a recipe for pain for Cutler ... On the flip side, Julius Peppers has twice posted three-sack games against the Cowboys ... Take Tim Jennings in the Romo INT pool -- the Bears corner has five picks in his last four games ... Seems like the kind of game, in prime time, when Devin Hester makes something outrageous happen in the return game.

  
 

Tennessee Titans  at  Houston Texans

Sunday, Sept. 30, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why To Watch: Texans the lone undefeated team in the AFC, and they get a chance to start steamrolling through the AFC South, as many expect. Matt Schaub bounces back after losing part of his ear in a vicious hit last week. Gary Kubiak has struggled with the Titans, just 4-8 against them. Tennessee finally won last week and Jake Locker had a strong bounce-back outing. Will be much tougher to hit the big plays to Nate Washington and Jared Cook against this defense, however, and the matchup of Wade Phillips against a novice passer is delicious (the Texans confounded rookie Andy Dalton in the playoffs last year, for instance).

What To Watch For: Arian Foster has 258 yards rushing against the Titans in the past two meetings, and Ben Tate has 201 yards in two games against them, while Chris Johnson is struggling to average 2 yards a carry for Tennessee this season ... Andre Johnson's nine TDs against the Titans are his most against any club, and that Titans secondary ain't what it used to be ... J.J. Watt still playing out of his mind and the Titans offensive line has been a work in progress, at best.

San Francisco 49ers  at  New York Jets

Sunday, Sept. 30, 1 p.m. ET (FOX)

Why To Watch: Jim Harbaugh is angry. And you won't like Jim Harbaugh when he's angry! The 49ers fell into a trap game at Minnesota and one has the feeling they will get back to their highly-motivated, uber-physical selves this week at the Jets expense. Mark Sanchez has been borderline functional for the most part, and if you are a fan of turnovers, this might be the game for you. Alex Amith tries to embark on a new non-interception streak. Harbaugh got to rally his troops all week in Youngstown, Ohio, their East Coast home away from home, which was very, very good to them last year.

What To Watch For: Bilal Powell getting the chance to become the feature back for the Jets, though that might not be such a good thing ... Kyle Wilson now on the outside, with C Darrelle Revis out for the season, is going to be an adventure, and the 49ers will find some mismatches there ... New York's linebackers are not particularly speedy, and TE Vernon Davis could beast out ... Will the right side of New York's offensive line hold up?

Seattle Seahawks  at  St. Louis Rams

Sunday, Sept. 30, 1 p.m. ET (FOX)

Why To Watch: Trap game for the Seahawks? They're coming off an emotional high from that wild and controversial Monday night win over the Packers, and have to go into a dome against a defense that has some bite of its own. Not as easy as you might think. Russell Wilson may have to open it up more, but can he against one of the best corner combos in the NFL? Steven Jackson should be healthier this week to restore power to the run game, which is essential against a brawny Seahawks' front. Seattle has already dropped one game in the suddenly-stout NFC West.

What To Watch For: Poor Sam Bradford. He got tossed around by the Bears behind his beaten and battered offensive line, and the Seahawks sacked Aaron Rodgers eight times in the first half a week ago. Chris Clemons had four sacks in a quarter, for goodness sake ... Seahawks need Sidney Rice to figure out how to be a legit deep threat again ... Braylon Edwards too ... Rams seem to have their fans back behind them, making that dome a little tougher place to play. Are they able to give Wilson a dose of what Seattle's crowd does to opposing quarterbacks?

Cincinnati Bengals  at  Jacksonville Jaguars

Sunday, Sept. 30, 4:05 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why To Watch: Blaine Gabbert doesn't always do much for the first 58 minutes of games, but if this is close he seems to have some two-minute magic. And we all love an Alcoa Fantastic Finish. Bengals need to put together a win streak after looking weak defensively thus far, and especially with the Steelers slumping and on the bye, this is game Cincinnati cannot concede if it's going back to the playoffs. Andy Dalton and A.J. Green are getting back last year's chemistry and they are a treat when rolling.

What To Watch For: Not sure the Bengals will have an answer for Maurice Jones-Drew ... Bengals need to get a corner or two back, quickly, especially Leon Hall, otherwise Gabbert's life is that much easier, particularly if Carlos Dunlap can't get the pass rush going ... Rookie Justin Blackmon, after being a superstar in the preseason, can't make a damn thing happen yet for the Jags ... Little man Andrew Hawkins is making things happen underneath for the Bengals

  
 

Washington Redskins  at  Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Sunday, Sept. 30, 4:25 p.m. ET (FOX)

Why To Watch: Interesting to see how teams have adjusted to Robert Griffin III each week and made him more limited. And the Redskins must find a way to protect him, because he isn't built to sustain the kind of hits he's absorbing. Of course, no one is more hard-nosed than Bucs head coach Greg Schiano, who has now made the opponent's victory formation must-see TV.

What To Watch For: If Josh Freeman can't get anything going against this secondary there might be some weeping in the owner's box. If you can't get healthy against D-Hall and the boys, you've got problems. A year ago at this time some wondered how quickly Freeman would get a big new contract extension. Not so much anymore ... Shanahanagans galore in the Redskins backfield, with Ryan Grant now joining Alfred Morris. Good luck with that fantasy football people.


Before joining CBS Sports, Jason La Canfora was the Washington Redskins beat writer for The Washington Post for six years and served as NFL Network's insider. The Baltimore native can be seen every Sunday during the season on The NFL Today.
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