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NFL Week 4 viewer's guide

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We're into Week 4 and starting to see who some of the contenders and pretenders are. Kevin Patra is here every week to fill you in on the key storylines for each matchup. Consider this your handy guide as you settle into your couch for all the NFL action.

Both running backs Eddie Lacy and Matt Forte have struggled this season. Lacy has not topped 43 yards in any game this season, while Forte averages just 3.2 yards per carry. Watch for both teams to try to get their back going early. Lacy in particular should have a chance to awaken from hibernation against the Bears' run defense.

We need more love for Bears rookie corner Kyle Fuller (where's the hype man?). Fuller leads the NFL in interceptions with three and has parroted the " Peanut Punch" of injured teammate Charles Tillman, earning two forced fumbles. He confronts a big test in Jordy Nelson.

Pregame reading material
Current Packer Julius Peppers thinks his final play as a Bear cost him his job.
The Around The NFL team has a high opinion of the arm strength of Jay Cutler.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy wasn't shy when talking about the performance of Lacy.
Wide receiver Randall Cobb wasn't pleased with how the Packers played in a loss to the Lions.

Who will win? All five Around The NFL writers pick the Packers.

Ryan Fitzpatrick faces off against his former Buffalo team. After two solid weeks, the signal caller reverted to Bad Fitzy in Week 3. Against a feisty Bills defense that can get after the quarterback and has Corey Graham (quietly having a great start to the season) lurking on the back end, Fitzpatrick will have his hands full protecting the football.

One critical key to this matchup will be how the Bills are able to run the ball on the Texans' defensive front. Last week Houston got ran over by Rashad Jennings. If Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller are jaunting free in the second level it will allow the Bills to continue to hide EJ Manuel.

Pregame reading material
Fitzpatrick now leads the Texans -- and he's excited to face his old Bills squad.
DeAndre Hopkins' great, yet meaningless catch caught the attention of his coach.
Pick up Alfred Blue this week, writes Michael Fabiano.
Fabiano thinks Hopkins is poised for a big game on Sunday.

Who will win? Three of five Around The NFL writers pick the Texans.

Might we be seeing some life from Titans rookie running back Bishop Sankey? Last week at Cincinnati, Sankey rushed for 61 yards on 10 carries and looked much better than Shonn Greene (10 for 33 yards). With Jake Locker nursing an injured wrist, expect Tennessee go to the ground more against a middling Colts D.

For Indy it will be interesting to see if coordinator Pep Hamilton sticks with allowing Andrew Luck to air it out against one of the NFL's best pass defenses. Or whether he'll revert to his more conservative approach against a Titans front that has been gashed on the ground. If what's past is prologue, bet on the latter.

Pregame reading material
Jake Locker might not be healthy, which could clear the way for a Charlie Whitehurst start.
Fantasy: T.Y. Hilton isn't the Colts' only receiving option, and you should sit him.
Adam Rank believes it's time for fantasy owners to add Colts' tight end Dwayne Allen.
Fabiano values the Titans' Delanie Walker as a sleeper pick at tight end.

Who will win? All five Around The NFL writers pick the Colts.

Got your goggles handy? Steve Smith had Sunday circled on his calendar since signing in Baltimore and declaring there would be "blood and guts everywhere." The Panthers' record holder in receptions, yards and touchdowns is on a warpath this season and could become a nightmare for Carolina's secondary.

Joe Flacco has not been sacked since Week 1, his first two-game stretch without a sack in his seven-year career. With offensive tackle Eugene Monroe out, that streak will be tested against a Panthers defense licking its wounds after last week's thrashing. Expect Luke Kuechly and Co. to put Flacco on his backside on the regular.

Pregame reading material
Steve Smith can't wait to face his old team -- but Flacco isn't listening to his receiver.
Baltimore will be without left tackle Eugene Monroe, who will miss 3-4 weeks.
DeAngelo Williams practiced, but the Carolina backfield situation isn't getting much better.
Fantasy: Panthers tight end Greg Olsen is a good option for fantasy owners this week.

Who will win? Four of five Around The NFL writers pick the Ravens.

The Lions are a completely different team away from their home den. Detroit and quarterback Matthew Stafford have lost four straight road starts. Reggie Bush hasn't scored a rushing touchdown on the road since joining Detroit last season. If the Jets' front bottles up the run and frustrates Stafford, it could be another defensive struggle.

As poorly as the Lions play on the road, the Jets under Geno Smith are that much better at home. The second-year signal caller has never lost back-to-back home games (7-3 record at MetLife). If Gang Green is going to ride the GenoCoaster they desperately need Sunday to be an upward swing.

Pregame reading material
Detroit's defense is coming off an impressive performance against Green Bay, .
There's "no doubt" Calvin Johnson is excited for Sunday's game.
The Jets' Antonio Allen has different plans for Megatron.
New York has spent the week complaining about the mistake in the Jets' loss to the Bears.

Who will win? Four of five Around The NFL writers pick the Lions.

The Bucs' offense has been awful (30th ranked total offense at 271.0 yards per game). Mike Glennon could provide a spark against a Steelers defense that despite last week's convincing win is allowing a 105.3 passer rating to quarterbacks (30th) and 5.1 yards per rush (26th).

The Bucs need to score points, because you better believe Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell will against their defense. You name it and the Bucs' defense has struggled at it: High passer rating (117.2; worst), passing yards (23rd), sacks (22nd with just four), run stopping (20th), etc.

Pregame reading material
The Bucs woes could be tougher now without offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford.
Josh McCown is out, prompting a start from Glennon.
LaDainian Tomlinson would take Bell over any other back in the league.
Pittsburgh lost linebacker Jarvis Jones for a while, so they brought back a fan favorite.

Who will win? All five Around The NFL writers pick the Steelers.

All eyes will be on Ryan Tannehill, and justifiably so. The quarterback has been as inconsistent as the weather. He averages an NFL-worst 5.03 pass yards per attempt and the Dolphins have completed four pass plays of 20-plus yards, tied for the second fewest. On the plus side: Since 2012 (the beginning of the Dennis Allen era), Raiders opponents have a passer rating of 101.4, highest in the NFL.

Most of the focus in Oakland has been on rookie quarterback Derek Carr. But first-round selection Khalil Mack is quietly starting to find his footing after a stellar Week 3 performance. Against a Dolphins front that was swallowed up at home last week, the rookie rusher could earn his first career sack.

Pregame reading material
How will 'Fins react after Joe Philbin's weird handling of the QB situation?
Schein: Dolphins' offensive identity a glaring weakness.
Mack is one of Wesseling's four to watch in Week 4.
Is Tannehill on the hot seat?

Who will win? Four of five Around The NFL writers pick the Dolphins.

How are you celebrating the start of the Blake Bortles era? I'm considering some combination of a Hawaiian shirt, piñata games, an hour of Tibetan Monk Chants, and Discount Double Checking until I sprain an ACL. Most interesting Sunday will be how Bortles manages the game from behind a leaky offensive line.

It might not come into play against a Jacksonville defense allowing 400-plus yards per game, but I want to see how Philip Rivers adjusts to life without Danny Woodhead. Specifically, watch the red zone where Woodhead led the league with 19 receptions last season.

Pregame reading material
Bucky's Best: Chargers' D vs. Bortles.
Bortles cracks Wesseling's list of 10 strongest arms.
Bolts to be without Manti Te'o for multiple weeks.
Fabiano: Start or sit Antonio Gates?

Who will win? All five Around The NFL writers pick the Chargers.

Let's just keep it simple and focus on the quarterbacks. Nick Foles has thrown for 300-plus yards in each game this season (most in NFL). He faces a 49ers defense that has not allowed a 300-yard passer this season. Can Chip Kelly-ball overcome a home defense seething at the moment?

Colin Kaepernick will be under greater pressure. The signal caller is putting up solid numbers outside of the turnover-carnival in Week 2. This week the quarterback faces an advantageous defense to change the narrative. Philly is allowing 386 total yards per game and 280.3 passing yards a game (30th). We'd still like to see the 49ers get back to the ground attack, but this stacks up as a game in which Kap can get well.

Pregame reading material
Fantasy: See where Michael Crabtree ranks among best and worst Week 4 plays.
Harbaugh met with Kelly to learn the read option.
Eagles-Niners pits best, worst fourth-quarter teams.
Cary Williams wasn't happy with how Kelly runs practices.

Who will win? Three of five Around The NFL writers pick the 49ers.

Stopping the Falcons' offense seems impossible on paper -- Atlanta is averaging 455 yards a game. The one time they were slightly slowed was by Mike Zimmer's former Bengals team. The first-year head coach will need to borrow some of that magic Sunday. Zimmer does have some pieces to work with: Rookie linebacker Anthony Barr had five tackles, a sack, two quarterback hits and a pass defensed last week. Safety Harrison Smith has been a speeding bullet all over the field. Both will need big games to slow Matt Ryan.

It's Teddy Time in Minnesota. Bridgewater displays poise and good pocket awareness. Luckily the rookie also faces a flaccid Falcons pass rush in his first start. Couple that with a Vikings rushing attack that has offered nothing the last two weeks and Norv Turner could decide to sling it around the park. Hey, if he did it with Jason Campbell, Brian Hoyer and Brandon Weeden in Cleveland, why not with a more talented player in Bridgewater?

Pregame reading material
With Matt Cassel on IR, it is officially Teddy Time.
Fantasy: Which Falcons rate among the Top 25 players this week?
Elliot Harrison has this one figured a surprisingly close game.
Last week, Devin Hester set the all-time return TD mark.

Who will win? All five Around The NFL writers pick the Falcons.

The Saints' offense has scored on 13 of 28 drives (46.4 percent), best in the NFL, but it's lacked the big plays we're used to seeing. Drew Brees (who is 1-7 in his last eight road games) has completed just seven passes of 15-plus air-yards -- four of those came last week. He should be able to air it out more against this Dallas secondary.

I'm just going to predict a shootout. The Cowboys should be able to lean on DeMarco Murray once again, as the Saints' defense has allowed an average of more than 101 yards on the ground -- to much lesser talents. If Tony Romo can sling it against a defense that has been picked apart by quarterbacks of similar caliber (Matt Ryan) and lesser caliber (Brian Hoyer), the Cowboys should be in for a good day.

Pregame reading material
Morris Claiborne: "I know I deserve to start" for Cowboys.
One Preview: Cowboys can reverse recent fortunes against Saints.
NFL NOW: Brees pays tribute to Derek Jeter.
Schein: Saints' D is a glaring weakness.

Who will win? Four of five Around The NFL writers pick the Saints.

The Patriots' struggles on the offensive line have short-circuited the entire offense. Tom Brady isn't able to step into throws and often doesn't have time to allow routes to progress. The Chiefs possess the pass rushers in Tamba Hali, Justin Houston and Dontari Poe to nuke all the Patriots' plans.

In a similar vein, one matchup I want to see is pass rusher Chandler Jones chasing around Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith. Smith has overcome the shoddiest of shoddy line play thus far by dancing outside the pocket to make plays. He's quietly been one of the most entertaining quarterbacks to watch work this season. But will he be able to worm his way around an athletic freak like Jones?

Pregame reading material
QB Index: Tom Brady is struggling.
Bucky's Best: Best coaching matchup is Scott Linehan vs. Rob Ryan.
Fantasy: Deep-diving, put Joe McKnight on your stash list.
Gronk ready to start rolling more and more.

Who will win? Four of five Around The NFL writers pick the Patriots.

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