Cover Three: Who Are The Real Contenders In The NFC?



Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin (12) catches a touchdown pass in front of Los Angeles Rams corneback Nickell Robey-Coleman in the second quarter at the Los Angeles Coliseum on Sunday, Sept. 29, 2019, in Los Angeles. The Buccaneers won, 55-40. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Luke Martin

If you were to go back in time five weeks and describe Week 4 to an average NFL fan, some things would build up your credibility as a truthful time traveler: the Eagles and Packers will play a tight one between two great- looking teams, the Seahawks will win handily over the Cardinals and Vontaze Burfict will be suspended for the year following yet another illegal helmet-to-helmet hit. You would subsequently lose all credibility when you describe the six-point game for the division lead between the Patriots and the Bills, the Buccaneers giving up 40 to the Rams and still winning by two scores or how the Saints and Cowboys collectively scored only 22 points. Let’s dig into a few surprising games last week and look ahead to some interesting ones in Week 5.

Week 4 Recap

Buccaneers 55, Rams 40

The Bucs had stumbled their way to a 1-2 record going into this one, and the Rams had yet to find a real identity this year. Still, the 3-0 Rams had no reason to doubt their defense would put Jared Goff and Todd Gurley in a position to win the game. Even if the defense had held up their end of the bargain and not given up 385 passing yards along with four TDs to Jameis Winston, the Bucs defense was ready to make the plays when needed. The Rams offense was able to put up 40, but a repertoire of mistakes, including sacks and three crucial interceptions, made it clear that they were not going to win the football game.

Browns 40, Ravens 25

It’s often said that football games are won by the team that wins the moments. Cleveland dominated all the worthy moments in this game, like Nick Chubb’s 88-yard run. Lamar Jackson was able to pull the Ravens to within six points with about 10 minutes left in the game, but the Browns were able to hold them at arm’s length. The Ravens have lost some momentum after their fast start, and the Browns have done just the opposite in what should be a very interesting division down the stretch.

Saints 12, Cowboys 10

Two hundread sixty-five yards sounds like a reasonable number of total yards for either Dak Prescott or Ezekiel Elliot. However, on Sunday night when all they needed to win the game was an average offensive game, Dallas’s two superstars only combined for that amount. So far with Teddy Bridgewater, the Saints have been boom-or-bust on offense. If the defense is able to play like they did against Dallas all year, with Marshon Lattimore looking like an All-Pro, bust will already be enough for this team to win games. Cowboys fans should not jump off the bandwagon after one loss. The Dallas defense looked impressive, and this offense can score and control the clock in most games; night games in New Orleans tend to produce funky results for many teams.

Week 5 Preview

Rams at Seahawks, Thursday 8:20 p.m.

The Seahawks are still struggling to reclaim the defensive prowess of the Legion of Boom days of old, but they’ve been finding ways to win games. Luckily, they won’t need the Legion of Boom’s stifling pass defense to exploit the Rams offense. Of these two teams’ 3-1 records, the Seahawks’ record is more trustworthy. The Rams need veteran leadership and youthful playmaking if they want to win against Seattle, let alone make another Super Bowl run. The Seahawks have shown the ability to win the close ones this year, and it’s very possible they’ll need to do that, with the help of their 12th Man, when the Rams come to town.

Jaguars at Panthers, Sunday 1 p.m.

This game pitches two teams fighting to prove they can contend for playoff spots in 2019. Neither teams are the favorite in their respective division, but both have shown moments and need all the pieces to click. The Jaguars have yet to give up a 100-yard game to a rusher this year. Christian McCaffrey will need to do just that if the Panthers want to walk away with a win. Both young, unproven quarterbacks have shown signs of improvement and consistency each week. Which quarterback can avoid making the critical mistake in the big moments might decide this one.

Browns at 49ers, Monday 8:15 p.m.

A Week 4 bye allowed the 49ers to hold onto their 3-0 record and stay atop the NFC West. That standing will be put to the test on Monday night against the Browns. Cleveland is confident after a big division win at Baltimore but hasn’t shown week-to-week consistency. San Francisco isn’t exactly a hostile environment, but the 49ers front seven will certainly make the pocket hostile for Baker Mayfield. The AFC North is still up for grabs, and this is the type of win the Browns need to beat the Ravens and Steelers for a playoff spot. division win at Baltimore but hasn’t shown week-to-week consistency.