The NFL season approaches its fourth week with another slate of compelling games across the board. The headline for Week 4 hasn’t been about the matchups, however. It has been about the first COVID-19 outbreak in the league.
On Tuesday, the Tennessee Titans and Minnesota Vikings both shut down their team facilities after the Titans had eight members of their team (three players and five personnel members) test positive for COVID-19. The Vikings played the Titans in Week 3, which is why they have taken contract tracing precautions.
The Titans had two more positive tests Thursday, bringing their total number of positive cases to 11. Later Thursday morning, the NFL has decided to postpone Tennessee their game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Vikings are still scheduled to play the Houston Texans this week. It is unknown when the Steelers and Titans will play their game, as they don’t have the same bye week.
My selections in Week 3 provided much entertainment. Two of the three games were decided by seven points or less and had amazing endings. The Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens game had many high moments, despite the Ravens losing by double digits. What game is must-watch television for their respective time slot in Week 4?
Best Early Afternoon NFL Matchup: Minnesota Vikings vs. Houston Texans (Sunday, October 4, 2020, at 1 p.m. ET on FOX)
How is a game between two 0-3 teams the best Week 4 early afternoon matchup? This could be seen as a do or die game for two teams with playoff expectations. In NFL history, only one team has reached the postseason after starting 0-4. With that being said, this game is going to have playoff intensity as both teams’ seasons are on the line.
The Vikings come into this game after a heartbreaking loss to the Titans. Many players and coaches talk about moral victories after a defeat, and the Vikings had a few of them. The biggest one is that their offense finally produced some points and yardage. Dalvin Cook finally got going on the ground, running for 181 yards and a touchdown. Cook failed to reach 75 yards on the ground in the previous two games, so this could be a positive trend for him going forward.
Kirk Cousins also woke up, throwing for 282 yards and three touchdowns. Rookie Justin Jefferson had his coming-out party also. Cousins found him seven times for 175 yards and a score. Cousins did throw two interceptions in the game, making his total six for the season. Houston’s secondary doesn’t have an interception so far, but they allow the third-fewest passing yards in the NFL (199). Minnesota should exploit the Texans run defense. The Texans allow 188.2 rush yards per game, highest in the NFL. Mike Zimmer’s offense is run-heavy, and they have the perfect opponent to play smash-mouth football against.
The Houston Texans’ 0-3 record could be because of the their schedule. Facing the Chiefs, Ravens, and Steelers to start the season is no easy task. Nevertheless, the Texans need to play their best game of the season in Week 4 if they want to have any playoff aspirations. More specifically, their offensive line needs to have their best game of the season. They have allowed 13 sacks, second-most in the league. Deshaun Watson can’t make amazing plays on his back, so the o-line in Houston needs to give him more time. The Vikings defense is in the bottom ten of the NFL when it comes to passing and rushing yards allowed. The Texans could awaken their offense against a mediocre Vikings defense.
Both teams have their weak spots, and it will be on the coaches and players to take advantage of those weaknesses. The records might not show it, but this game is going to be intense. The loser of this game will have an uphill climb just to make the playoffs. Cousins and Watson need to lead their teams coming into this must-win Week 4 matchup.
Best Late Afternoon NFL Matchup: New England Patriots vs. Kansas City Chiefs (Sunday, October 4, 2020, at 4:25 p.m. ET on CBS)
This game poses a great matchup between coaches. The Patriots are looking to improve to 3-1 on the 2020 season against the undefeated Chiefs. Patrick Mahomes is coming off a stellar Monday night performance, throwing for over 300 yards and collecting five total touchdowns against the Ravens. The Chiefs defense is starting to turn heads after shutting down Lamar Jackson in primetime. However, they are facing the mastermind, Bill Belichick, this week. Belichick is going to have something waiting for Mahomes and his talented cast of receivers.
What makes Belichick such a legendary coach is his ability to implement a game plan that shuts down the opposing team’s primary option. Just look at last week against the Raiders. Darren Waller had 12 receptions for 103 yards and a touchdown in Week 2 against the Saints. The following week against New England, he had four targets, two receptions, and nine yards.
Watching the game, it was evident that New England’s mindset was to shut down Waller. Belichick has more than just a tight end to worry about against the Chiefs. Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman, Tyreek Hill, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire all have the potential to have a big game with Mahomes at the helm. Who should Belichick try to erase? Should he blitz Mahomes? The potency of the Chiefs offense poses many questions than answers for the Patriots coach.
Any gameplan Belichick decides to use, Chiefs coach Andy Reid is going to have a counter. Reid is an offensive guru, knowing how to build his system to his players’ strengths. If Belichick focuses on one player, Reid will use his scheme to get another player involved. Belichick constantly adjusts throughout the game, making this a coaching chess match. The coaching battle will be a factor in this game.
Focusing on the on-field action, the Chiefs offense will be going against a deep Patriots secondary. Stephon Gilmore and the McCourty Twins are the more notable names, but J.C. Jackson, Adrian Phillips, and Johnathan Jones have played well too. The depth at the defensive back could give New England a matchup for each of the Chiefs’ skill players. It’s good that the Pats have multiple defensive, but the best way to defeat Kansas City is to keep Mahomes on the sideline. Luckily, New England’s rushing attack can do just that.
Cam Newton’s running ability gives New England more chances to run the ball and chew the clock. New England leads the NFL in rushing yards per game with 178. They are seventh in the league when it comes to average time of possession. The Patriots don’t have the offensive firepower to engage in a shootout with the Chiefs. Running the ball, keeping Mahomes off the field, and finishing drives with touchdowns will be critical for New England.
Best Primetime NFL Matchup: Philadelphia Eagles vs San Francisco 49ers (Sunday, October 4, 2020, at 8:20 p.m. on NBC)
The Sunday night game between the Eagles and 49ers is the most interesting one, but not for the right reason. Injuries have decimated both teams, leaving them to pick and plug players into spots. Both teams are trending in different directions coming into this game. The Niners are on a two-game winning streak while the Eagles are still looking for their first win.
The Eagles have played below expectations through the first three weeks of the season. Offensively, Carson Wentz must play better. He is tied with Kirk Cousins for the most interceptions in the NFL this year with six. Granted his offensive line hasn’t been great, but the interceptions by Wentz have been head-scratching throws. His 35.5 QBR is the third-lowest in the league, which emphasizes his struggles. The 49ers defense allows the second-fewest passing yards in the league. Things aren’t getting any easier for Wentz.
The 49ers defense demolished both New York teams (the Giants and Jets) in back to back weeks. Their trips to MetLife Stadium did come with casualties. Defensively, Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas are out for the season with ACL tears. Raheem Mostert and George Kittle are dealing with knee injuries, and Jimmy Garrapolo is nursing an ankle injury on offense. Kittle should be good to go for Sunday while Garoppolo’s status is still uncertain. What should be noted is how great of a job San Francisco has done taking care of the ball. They only have one turnover on the season, tied for second-fewest in the NFL.
The Eagles have been notorious for their awful pass defense, but this season has been much better. Even though the sample size is small, Philadelphia ranks seventh-best in pass yards allowed (224.3). It’s good that the yardage is low, but the Eagles have not recorded an interception for the year. They are one of three teams without an interception at this point in the season. If Jimmy G can’t go, Nick Mullens will get the start. Mullens should rely heavily on Kittle if he plays, using the mismatches Kittle provides against linebackers and defensive backs.
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz should disguise some coverages, or use blitzes to fluster Mullens if he is the starter. If Garappalo is The run defense of Philadelphia is also solid, allowing 106.3 yards on the ground. The Niners are one of the better running teams in the NFL, tallying 132.7 yards a game. The run game could be a key part of the game, especially with the injuries on both sides.
This Sunday Night Football matchup could be a hit or miss game, honestly. Depending on who does and doesn’t play, it could be a grind it out deathmatch or a one-sided blowout. The Niners need this game more based on their division. The NFC West is a close race, and getting to 3-1 helps San Francisco keep pace with the Seattle Seahawks. If the Eagles lose this game, them being in the abysmal NFC East allows them to still have some wiggle room.
The NFL hit its first obstacle in this COVID-19 season. It is unfortunate that one less game is on the schedule, but the health and safety of the players, their families, and other team personnel are paramount. Week 4 is shaping up to be a season-defining week for many teams around the league.