It's the quarter mark of the 2018 season this weekend, and already, too many teams are at less-than-full power. But hopefully, this weekend marks the beginning of that trend's reversal.
Sure, the 49ers are without Jimmy Garoppolo for the rest of the season, and Joey Bosa continues to be out longer than initially expected (their respective teams play each other this weekend). However, a large swath of players could make a triumphant return in the coming days -- talented individuals like Darren Sproles, Alshon Jeffery, Doug Baldwin, Takk McKinley, Jack Conklin, Dalvin Cook, LeSean McCoy, Leonard Fournette and Devonta Freeman are working their way back to action. That's a healthy list of great players. Mark Ingram and Julian Edelman will return from suspension next week. And Greg Olsen could be back sooner than later, as well.
So, here's hoping for a cleaner bill of health across the league. Now, let's get to some of your healthy tweets.
Well, if he's your manager, then maybe putting it here will earn you an extra smoke break. Gotta admit, this was a heckuva way to complain about the Power Rankings.
I love CLUE, but I find that when I play that game, it's never the lead pipe. I always go with the rope or something. I also always play as Mrs. White.
Speaking of, and while we're on the subject of injuries, who knows how C.J. Beathard will fare in Garoppolo's place, or if the 49ers will make a trade for a quarterback? They play the Chargers this weekend, which reminded me and my producer, @NFLKaveh, of a time when both teams lit it up in 1982. In fact, the Bolts lit it up from 1978 to 1982. See here:
Elliot Harrison went 10-6 on his predictions for Week 3, bringing his record for the season to 29-17-2. How will he fare in Week 4? His picks are below.
SUNDAY, SEPT. 30
1 p.m. ET (FOX) | TIAA Bank Field (Jacksonville, Fla.)
Another tough road assignment for the Jets, who faced a Browns team in Cleveland that was desperate for a win (and hopped on a steaming emotional hype train once Baker Mayfieldentered the fray). Now they face a pissed-off Jags team fresh off an ugly loss to the Titans. This will be New York's third game away from home -- and Jacksonville's third contest in its own friendly confines. Rookie QB Sam Darnold will see a potent pass rush and small windows against the Jaguars, meaning Jets RBs Isaiah Crowell and Bilal Powell must make their presence known. Otherwise, Jacksonville will win handily.
1 p.m. ET (CBS) | Gillette Stadium (Foxborough, Mass.)
Strongly contemplated picking the Dolphins in this all-important AFC East match. But it's challenging to go with Miami when that team has fared so poorly at Gillette over the years. Yes, the Dolphins have won a lot of games over Bill Belichick's group (one each in four of the past five seasons), but remember: almost all of those have come IN Miami. In fact, the Dolphins' last win at Foxborough came on Sept. 21, 2008, when Tony Sparano and Ronnie Brown's Wildcat special took over pro football -- and took down the divisional royalty. Since then, at Gillette Stadium, it's been almost all blowouts in the Pats' favor. If the script is to be different this time, Ryan Tannehill must be careful with the football (he has a TD-to-INT ratio of 7:2 thus far) and use his legs to extend drives. Keep Tom Brady off the field, like the Lions did in their win over New England last week.
1 p.m. ET (FOX) | Nissan Stadium (Nashville, Tenn.)
This will be a tough assignment for the defending champions, even with Carson Wentz under center for the second straight week. The Titans' defense has been playing quite well the last two games, and it did a number on a hot Blake Bortleslast week. Well, Bortles was on a hot streak; I don't know if the Tennessee players actually find him that attractive. Attractive to the Philadelphia offense will be the return of receiver Alshon Jeffery, if he is indeed ready to return from the bum shoulder that has kept him out of action this season. The Eagles have missed running backs Darren Sproles (who has been practicing) and Jay Ajayi a ton, too. The Titans miss passing the ball effectively.
1 p.m. ET (CBS) | Lucas Oil Stadium (Indianapolis)
Surely the Texans can't go 0-4, right? This should be a very close contest in Indy between familiar foes. Actually, Deshaun Watson and Andrew Luck have personally never faced each other. Each quarterback enters this AFC South tussle with different questions. Watson has been unable to recapture the lightning in a bottle he harnessed in seven games for the Texans last year. As for Luck, the pundits are questioning -- after just three games back in the saddle -- his arm strength. Guessing Houston's passing game gets going against the Colts' secondary. Although Indy's defense has fared far better than expected (only 56 offensive points allowed in three games).
1 p.m. ET (CBS) | Lambeau Field (Green Bay, Wis.)
Field goals galore! Can the surging Bills make it two in a row?! No. The Packers will rebound from their loss to Washington with strong play from Aaron Rodgers, made possible by better pass protection than Kirk Cousins received against a Buffalo stampede last week. Oh, and the Green Bay pass rush will grab Josh Allen and gently rock him to the ground, so as not to draw any penalties. The Bills will need LeSean McCoy to provide a bigger lift than he has yet this season (3.8 yards per carry, zero scores in two games). If he can play, that is. He says he can. Either way, don't expect a huge letdown from his squad, which should be brimming with the newfound confidence of playing for a talented quarterback who is willing to put his body on the line.
1 p.m. ET (FOX) | AT&T Stadium (Arlington, Texas)
Picking the Lions to win. While I trust the Cowboys' defense ... for some reason, Dallas has never played well against Detroit. There was a thriller at the Silverdome in 1981, when Eddie Murray delivered a game-winner at the gun for the underdog Lions. Or the 1991 playoff matchup, when Barry Sanders made Ken Norton (now the Seahawks' DC) do a 180 on a spectacular touchdown run. Or the time the Cowboys blew a huge second-half lead in 2011, highlighted by a Bobby Carpenter pick-six (ooh, now that is insulting). What about the Calvin Johnson 300-yard game in 2013? Sure, Tony Romo and the Cowboys bested Detroit in the 2014 playoffs. But unlike Dallas' current QB, Romo could throw for 200 yards in a game, so it's not a fair comparison. Matthew Stafford can also hit that mark -- and will. Lions win.
1 p.m. ET (FOX) | Soldier Field (Chicago)
You could like the Bucs in this one, because even a cooled-off Ryan Fitzpatrick is capable of putting up points where Mitch Trubisky is not. Through three games, Trubisky has completed 69.2 percent of his passes, but nearly all of those completions are dinks and dunks. Matt Nagy must get Trubisky on the move, where he might be able to either find windows in a suspect secondary or use his nimble feet. The key for Fitzpatrick (presuming he starts) will be to not force throws like he did early against the Steelers. Because if he thought their pass rush was fierce, uh ... picking the Bears here, but it will be tight.
1 p.m. ET (CBS) | Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Atlanta)
The Bengals hit the road to visit an NFC South team for the second straight week without the services of their dynamic tailback. Make no mistake, Joe Mixon's absence in Carolina altered the complexion of that matchup, one in which Andy Dalton had to press. Now A.J. Green is banged up (but apparently should be able to play). Meanwhile, the Falcons are a M.A.S.H. unit. With Devonta Freemanpossibly back in action, he and fellow RB Tevin Coleman could find some of the holes Run CMC exploited against Cincy last week. That nickname is growing on me. (UPDATE: Falcons coach Dan Quinn announced Friday that Freeman will not play Sunday.) Atlanta also gets a boost with the return of DE Takk McKinley.
4:05 p.m. ET (FOX) | State Farm Stadium (Glendale, Ariz.)
The Seahawks -- predicted by many to go 5-11, at best -- will even their record this weekend. It's fun to think that rookie QB Josh Rosen could resurrect this Cardinals offense, but unless Steve Wilks' staff gets David Johnson more involved, and Larry Fitzgerald is healthy, I'm not sure Arizona has the horses to keep up with Russell Wilson. Not that Seattle will score 30, but somewhere in the low-20s should be enough, given the Cards' offensive issues. Expect Chris Carson to get 20-to-25 carries again. Make no mistake, though: This Seahawks offense misses Doug Baldwin. They really miss Angry Doug Baldwin.
4:05 p.m. ET (FOX) | Oakland Coliseum (Oakland, Calif.)
Picking the Browns to win two in a row for the first time since 1952. Oh man, was Otto Graham excellent that season. Fine, fine player. Baker Mayfield is getting the Bernie Kosar treatment these days, considered the potential savior who can lead the Browns (and the always hopeful Cleveland faithful) back to the playoffs. With the Raiders wholly inept when it comes to collapsing the pocket, Mayfield's accuracy should come into play. The Raiders can ill-afford to flatline after a strong start again, like they did in both Denverand Miami. Cleveland's defense is already playoff-ready. The Browns are currently 11th in points allowed, and opposing QBs have managed just a 3:5 TD-to-INT ratio.
4:25 p.m. ET (CBS) | MetLife Stadium (East Rutherford, N.J.)
Very tough game to decipher. Typically, the Saints have played much better offensively in domes than out in the elements, and this will be their first game outside this season. The Giants finally put together a quality outing on both sides of the ball, even though they let the Texans squeak back into it last week. If New York can build a sizable lead again, as was the case in Week 3, Saquon Barkley becomes an invaluable asset. New Orleans has fared much worse defensively thus far than Houston has. However, if Drew Brees gets hot and the Giants fall behind, I worry about their ability to keep up. Pass protection is the source of the anxiety, in case you're wondering. Last week, New York allowed J.J. Watt to record his first sack in two years ... then gave him two more.
4:25 p.m. ET (CBS) | Rokit Field at StubHub Center (Carson, Calif.)
It is OK to root for C.J. Beathard. Many seem to think the kid is going to fall flat on his face, and the 49ers will be the worse for wear, at least if you believe in THE TWITTER. San Francisco fans, who had been delirious with Jimmy G fever, can't give up on their squad now, even though Garoppolo is done for the year. The good news here is that the Chargers are without Joey Bosa, and that defense has not looked the same without him. I would be worried about Los Angeles' receivers vs. that Niners secondary, though, if I were San Francisco. These two played in a track meet in 1982 that was about as exciting as it gets: Check the video up top. Or here. The 2018 San Francisco defense must put the skids on Philip Rivers to stay in this game. Through three weeks, the Niners are allowing nearly 30 points per game.
8:20 p.m. ET (NBC) | Heinz Field (Pittsburgh)
If there were ever a time for Joe Flacco to push the ball vertically and complete more intermediate throws, it's this Sunday night. One week after getting riddled by Patrick Mahomes lasers, the Steelers' secondary was beaten for over 400 yards worth of passing from Ryan Fitzpatrick. FitzMagic got picked early, but he started getting some of his floaters past Artie Burns and the Pittsburgh safeties in the second half of that game. Baltimore's secondary has its own share of problems sans Jimmy Smith, some of which have been obscured by playing the Bills' and Broncos' underinflated air attacks. Andy Dalton dissected Baltimore in Week 2. So this classic AFC North tilt might not be the defensive battle it was in years gone by. It might not even be in that area code.
MONDAY, OCT. 1
Patrick Mahomes is the early front-runner for MVP, setting an otherworldly statistical pace through his first three games as the Chiefs' official QB1. How can a second-year quarterback who barely played his rookie season be this prolific, this fast? Mahomes has thrown 13 touchdown passes against zero picks in three games. There was little to be gleaned from his one start last year -- which also came in Denver -- that suggested he would be the second coming of Norm Van Brocklin. Case Keenum has not shown the ability to keep up if the Chiefs' track team -- er, offense -- gets going early. He hasn't been awful, but by and large, the Broncos' offense has been off-kilter. This week, Denver must utilize all of its running backs and rack up 30-plus carries to slow this game down, or else Kansas City's electric attack might put the game out of reach.
THURSDAY, SEPT. 27
8:20 p.m. ET (FOX/NFL Network/Amazon) | Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (Los Angeles)
The Vikings' primary mission -- their only mission -- should be figuring out better ways to protect Kirk Cousins. The offensive line was whipped at the point of the attack in Week 3's stunning loss to the Bills. If Minnesota can provide Cousins time, the quarterback paid in gold bullion should find easier pickins', thanks to injuries in the Los Angeles secondary. Would feel differently about the outcome of this game if it were in Minneapolis. And I bet you two fish tacos the Rams will make the Vikes wear that dark purple in the Southern California heat. Not good. Also not good: If Dalvin Cook is not at full bore for Minnesota (though the running back has practiced this week). More impressive than good: Jared Goff's accuracy on intermediate throws.