Sunday Primer: Week 4


Only three of Sunday's matchups pit teams with winning records against each other. (Extra points if in the preseason you knew the New York Jets versus the Tennessee Titans would be one of those games.) These are the things you need to know for all of Sunday's games as kickoff approaches.

Key game-time decisions

Ray Rice, RB (hip), Baltimore Ravens

NFL Media's Albert Breer reported Sunday morning that Ray Rice will play against Buffalo, according to a team source. Rice made progress this week after missing Week 3 with a hip injury.

Terrelle Pryor, QB (concussion), Oakland Raiders

Pryor threw at practice Friday, made "significant process" in his recovery and was medically cleared to play. The signs are there for QB1 to play, but the Raiders waited to be certain he's not feeling the aftereffects of the concussion he suffered in Week 3. Although Pryor has been cleared to play Sunday, Matt Flynn is preparing to start as he has been all week, NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported.

Vincent Jackson, WR (ribs); Mike Williams, WR (hamstring), Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Both receivers returned to practice Friday as limited participants. We expect both to play. Rookie Mike Glennon needs all the help he can get in his first career start.

Julio Jones, WR (knee); Roddy White, WR (ankle), Atlanta Falcons

The weekly "Falcons wide receivers are questionable" routine continues. As with last week, we expect both to play.

Duane Brown, T (toe), Houston Texans

Brown was limited in practice Wednesday and Thursday and didn't participate Friday. It would be a big loss for the Texans against a dangerous Seattle Seahawks defense if Brown is unable to go.

Champ Bailey, CB (foot); Duke Ihenacho, S (ankle), Denver Broncos

Matching up against DeSean Jackson and the Philadelphia Eagles' offense, the Broncos hope both will be healthy enough to see the field. Bailey hasn't played yet this season, while Ihenacho has keyed the back end of the 3-0 Broncos' defense.

Delanie Walker, TE (toe), Tennessee Titans

Walker has been a security blanket for Jake Locker and also has provided stellar blocking in the Titans' running game. They will miss him if he can't go against a stout New York Jets defense.

Fred Davis, TE (ankle); Jordan Reed, TE (thigh), Washington Redskins

Davis was limited all week after missing last week's game. Reed has been a pleasant surprise thus far this season. While he returned to practice Friday, reports out of Washington didn't sound optimistic about his availability Sunday in Oakland.

Key quarterbacks who need to step up

After watching Sam Bradford bomb on "Thursday Night Football," let's look at some other non-rookie quarterbacks playing Sunday to keep an eye on.

Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals

Dear Andy: You have the weapons. Please, stop wasting them. You don't want to be compared to Bradford and Josh Freeman for the next week.

Thousands shared stories telling us why they love football in a contest to win a trip to Super Bowl XLVIII. We chose 10 finalists. Now you choose the winners.

Matt Schaub, Houston Texans

Schaub has struggled mightily to start the season. He has to avoid the killer interception against the NFL's best defense.

Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville Jaguars

It is probably the last stand for Gabbert. He'll be given every chance to prove he can be the quarterback of the future. I'm not optimistic he will.

Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions

Stafford has improved this season, but he hasn't been the difference-maker the Lions' offense needs. With a lack of reliable receivers, the Lions need him to be a playmaker against the Chicago Bears (against whom he is 1-5 in his career). More than anything, Stafford can't give an opportunistic defense the chance to score.

Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins

My Magic Eight Ball tells me we'll be talking about RGIII's knee brace again Monday, win or lose.

Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans

Locker has made plays with his feet and has been a leader thus far in 2013. He still doesn't throw the most accurate ball, but if he can lead the Titans' offense to a win against the Jets' defense, it would speak volumes about his future.

Matt Cassel, Minnesota Vikings

Which Cassel will we get? The one who led a consistent offense in Kansas City en route to a 2010 Pro Bowl selection, or the turnover-prone one we saw the past couple of seasons? It's his chance to pilfer another starting gig if he lights up the Pittsburgh Steelers' defense.

Weather Tracking

Two teams that already love to run the ball (Jets and Titans) might have more incentive to do so this week with rain hovering.

Ravens at Bills -- 70 degrees / clear

Bengals at Browns -- 74 degrees / chance of rain

Bears at Lions -- 67 degrees / chance of rain (dome)

Seahawks at Texans -- 85 degrees / chance of a thunderstorm (retractable roof)

Colts at Jaguars -- 81 degrees / chance of rain

Giants at Chiefs -- 72 degrees / clear

Steelers at Vikings (London) -- 62 degrees / scattered cloudy

Cardinals at Buccaneers -- 88 degrees / partly cloudy

Jets at Titans -- 76 degrees / chance of thunderstorm

Eagles at Broncos -- 79 degrees / clear

Redskins at Raiders -- 70 degrees / partly cloudy

Cowboys at Chargers -- 79 degrees / clear

Patriots at Falcons -- 70 degrees / partly cloudy (dome)

Did you know?

» How crazy has the season been through three weeks?

There have been eight games this season in which a team was trailing and scored the game-winning points in the final minute of the fourth quarter, the most through the first three weeks of a season since at least the 1970 merger.

» Five of the six games played in London since 2007 have featured a 100-yard running back. Brandon Jacobs (131 yards), LaDainian Tomlinson (105), Frank Gore (118), Matt Forte (145) and Stevan Ridley (127) all have cracked the century mark at Wembley Stadium. That is a good stat for Adrian Peterson.

Sunday's storylines

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

EJ Manuel played like a rookie last week against a good defense. The Bills quarterback faces another tough D this week and will need to make an effort to show he can grow from week to week.

There isn't a scenario I legitimately can come up with in which Joe Flacco does not pick apart what is left of the carcass that is the Buffalo secondary.

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

The Bengals' defensive front got after Aaron Rodgers last week. Imagine what they'll do against Brian Hoyer with no running game.

Hoyer will benefit from facing a secondary that could be without three playmakers. Could he really help the Browns to two straight victories?

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

The loss of Henry Melton quite possibly could be the biggest injury almost no one is talking about. If the Bears let Matthew Stafford stand in the pocket all afternoon, Calvin Johnson will have a big day.

The pivotal matchup for the Lions' defense is Ndamukong Suh versus Kyle Long and the revamped Bears offensive line. Win that and the rest follows.

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

With a shaky Schaub facing a ridiculous secondary, I expect the Texans to pound the ball a lot. Against Seattle that itself is sort of like building sandcastles in the sand.

The Texans' defensive front seven has been immovable thus far. I'm expecting Russell Wilson to attack the edges and test a questionable secondary.

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

Just turn the crank, and snap the plank, and boot the marble right down the chute. Now watch it roll, and hit the pole, and knock the ball in the rub-a-dub-tub, which flips the man right into the pan. The trap is set. Here comes the net. Mouse Trap! I guarantee, it's the craziest trap you'll ever see!

The Jags disputed reports that they had to resort to ball boys, equipment assistants and practice squad quarterback Matt Scott as wide receivers on the scout team during practice this week. So there is that.

New York Giants (0-3) at Kansas City Chiefs (3-0)

Jiminy Christmas the Giants' offensive line is an absolute mess. Missing three starters against arguably the best pass rushing front in the NFL is not a good mix.

Chiefs QB Alex Smith just doesn't turn the ball over. That really is one of the only things keeping him from being lumped in with other struggling quarterbacks. I guess 7-yard spikes are better than a 30-yard interceptions. (Assuming you have the defense to bail you out of every situation.)

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Pittsburgh Steelers (0-3) at Minnesota Vikings (0-3) (London)

I'm expecting the Steelers to build on the positive momentum they built up in the second half last week. Getting rookie running back Le'Veon Bell in the lineup will help, but he's no panacea.

Adrian Peterson bulldozing defenders. If that isn't the Vikings' game plan Sunday, we have bigger problems than the quarterback questions.

Arizona Cardinals (1-2) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-3)

Rookie Mike Glennon starting this week heading into a bye week makes sense so that Bucs coach Greg Schanio can get some game tape on him to study. It also helps going against a Cardinals defense missing a bevy of defensive starters.

Will Bruce Arians stick with the run this week? If he doesn't, Carson Palmer might not make it to the end of the game.

New York Jets (2-1) at Tennessee Titans (2-1)

The Jets are looking at a near mirror image of themselves again this week. The trouble has been that they run directly into that mirror like an excited 2-year-old and get called for a personal foul penalty.

How good has the Titans' defense been? No one is talking about Alterraun Verner, who is allowing a measly 23.3 QB rating when thrown at, according to Pro Football Focus. That nearly is seven points lower than second place, Richard Sherman's 30.1. Some advice for Geno Smith: just look to the other side of the field.

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

This game has to be 76-70 for the Eagles to have a shot, right? Peyton Manning has picked apart much better defenses. I could see him decide to protect his defense against Chip Kelly's offense by leading multiple double-digit touchdown drives. Not because he has to. No, because he can.

Kelly's offense won't see the same caliber defense it did last week, but this could be the toughest test he's faced so far in determining whether his quick-strike offense can sustain consistency versus a precision, high scoring machine in Manning.

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

The Redskins' defense has been terrible. We can talk about RGIII all we want, but until Jim Haslett gets his crew in gear, it won't matter how many knee braces Griffin wears.

This could be a bad game to be a defense. Yes, RGIII coming off an ACL injury isn't Peyton Manning, but the Raiders can't have the defensive breakdowns and miscommunications in the secondary they displayed last week. Even Peter Griffin could exploit those problems.

Dallas Cowboys (2-1) at San Diego Chargers (1-2)

We've seen this before. The Cowboys' run game goes off, then they forget how good it was. Say it with me Cowboys fans, (in staccato): Run the ball! Run the ball! Run! The! Ball!

The San Diego Chargers could (read: should) be 3-0. I'm just going to let that marinate.

New England Patriots (3-0) at Atlanta Falcons (1-2)

The Patriots' defensive backs were picked on by big receivers last week against the Buccaneers. They get the souped-up version this week. Julio Jones in particular should see plenty of chances to exploit the Pats' secondary.

Tom Brady didn't stretch the field much last week. Instead he just bled the defense with paper cuts until they wilted. Until he gets in tune with his rookie receivers, I expect he'll employ that strategy again.

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