An 0-4 start in the NFL is a virtual death sentence. Each year at this time, the stat is brought out that since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, only one team went winless the opening month and still reached the playoffs. That was the 1992 Chargers under coach Bobby Ross.
There are four winless teams entering Week 4 of this NFL season: Saints, Jaguars, Browns and Bears. The Saints and Jags were certainly thinking playoffs when the season kicked off, making this week a virtual must-win when you consider the history.
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Biggest NFL Mismatches Week 4
New Orleans Saints at San Diego Chargers (-4, 53.5)
Drew Brees vs. Chargers Pass Defense
It's rather remarkable this is the first time Brees has faced the Chargers (1-2 SU, 2-1 ATS) in San Diego since departing America's Finest City 10 years ago. But that's the case here as Brees and the Saints (0-3, 2-1) come desperate for a win. Brees has been his usual excellent self, throwing for the most yards in the NFL through the first three weeks. As usual, he's been spreading the ball around. Four different Saints receivers have at least 10 catches and one touchdown reception on the year.
Such a diverse attack could prove problematic for San Diego. The Chargers have allowed the third-most passing yards in the league (322.0) this season. That seems even worse when you consider two of their opponents have been the Jags and Chiefs, neither of which is an aerial ace. This week the Chargers will have rookie LB Jatavis Brown patrolling the middle in place of the injured Manti Te'o, and former Pro Bowl CB Brandon Flowers is in the concussion protocol and could be out.
Brees could have plenty of holes to exploit.
Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons (+3, 50.5)
Fozzy Whitaker and Cam Newton vs. Falcons Front Seven
With Jonathan Stewart likely to miss another game because of a nagging hamstring injury, Whitaker will likely take the lead for the Panthers (1-2, 1-2) vaunted run game. The fourth-year pro out of Texas has averaged a healthy 5.6 yards per rush while splitting carries with Stewart, Mike Tobert and Newton in the Panther backfield. Whitaker could get an ideal set-up this week as the Falcons (2-1, 2-1) rank 22nd in rush defense with 120.0 YPG allowed. The defending NFC champion Panthers have gotten off to a sluggish start this season, and I expect they'll try and assert their dominance on the line of scrimmage early in this one.
Cleveland Browns at Washington Redskins (-7.5, 46.5)
Kirk Cousins vs. Browns Secondary
Cousins looked much better against the Giants last week after struggling with red zone turnovers in the first two games. He has led the Redskins to the league's second-best passing attack (330.7 YPG) while seemingly developing a good rapport with speedy WR DeSean Jackson (14 catches, 238 YDS, 1 TD). Also note Cousins was a dependable red zone quarterback a season ago, so the early-season issues may have been matter of everyone getting on the same page.
The Browns (0-3, 1-2) really aren't good at anything, but the pass defense has been particularly atrocious. Cleveland ranks 24th against the pass having allowed an average of 294.3 yards per game. Their three sacks this year are the fewest in the league.
Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans (-5, 40.5)
Houston's Pass Defense vs. Marcus Mariota
The Texans (2-1, 2-1) have allowed a league-low 151.3 YPG through the air this season while tallying 10 sacks, which is tied for the third-most in the league. Houston's defense did receive a big blow this week when three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt went down with a back injury. However, he had not been the same explosive player this season, so this probably isn't as big a downgrade as it seems on paper.
As for Mariota, he's yet to show much significant progress in his second season. He's thrown as many interceptions as touchdowns (four) and his 79.3 passer rating ranks 24th in the NFL. In fairness, Mariota has very little to work with on the outside. It's usually not a good thing when your leading receiver is a running back (DeMarco Murray). The Titans are a run-first offense with Murray and Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry in the backfield. But Mariota has to be able to keep defenses honest with the pass. So far, that hasn't happened.
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