The fourth week of the NFL season is the last without Tom Brady, the first with Le’Veon Bell, and the start of bye weeks, with Philadelphia and Green Bay getting an early rest. Here is a look at Sunday’s matchups and who we think will win them:
Bills (1-2) at Patriots (3-0)
1 p.m. Line: Patriots by 7 ½
The Patriots’ quarterback situation seemed to reach the point of parody after their Week 3 game against Houston.
With Tom Brady suspended and Jimmy Garoppolo injured, New England turned to Jacoby Brissett, a little known rookie, who recorded the longest rushing touchdown by a Patriots quarterback since 1976 on the way to a 28-0 victory. After the game, it was announced that Brissett had a potentially serious thumb injury, meaning every quarterback on the Patriots roster was suspended or injured.
The humor was not lost on Coach Rex Ryan of the Bills, who began musing about who might start for the Patriots.
“I can sit back and say I don’t care who plays quarterback, because Brady ain’t,” Ryan said at his postgame news conference Sunday. “I don’t care who plays quarterback. Steve Grogan can play quarterback.”
Ryan was not done with the reference to Grogan, who was a Patriots quarterback from 1975 to 1990. He also said the Bills would be ready for Coach Bill Belichick to be at quarterback; interrupted a conference call later in the week with wide receiver (and the emergency quarterback) Julian Edelman to ask him if he would be starting; and said his sources indicated New England would bring 86-year-old Babe Parilli out of retirement for the game.
Ryan’s knowledge of New England’s quarterback history was impressive, but he was probably right not to be concerned: The Patriots are sure to employ a conservative approach, relying on LeGarrette Blount’s rushing and the team’s defense.
Blount has been up to the task of carrying New England on his broad shoulders. He has had his share of drama, dating to his college days at Oregon, but he has been all business in leading the N.F.L. in carries, rushing yards and rushing touchdowns.
Buffalo is coming off an impressive upset of the Arizona Cardinals, and its defense looked remarkable after a few weeks of disarray. Belichick has made it clear that until Brady is back — look out in Week 5, Cleveland — the Patriots will play things safe. That is bad news for the Bills, and for the members of the news media who were so happy to briefly have the happy version of Ryan back in action.
Chiefs (2-1) at Steelers (2-1)
8:30 p.m. Line: Steelers by 5
DeAngelo Williams did an outstanding job filling in for the suspended Le’Veon Bell through the first three weeks, which should sound familiar since he did the same thing for Bell in the first two weeks last season. There is talk again of the two running backs sharing carries, and Ben Roethlisberger even suggested that Bell might see time as a wide receiver.
Since Bell was favored to the point of 137 touches to Williams’s 27 in the six games they both played in last season, people should probably take that talk with a grain of salt. Bell is one of the most dynamic players in the game, and Coach Mike Tomlin relies on him to be an enormous part of the offense. There is no reason to believe that will not pick up where it left off before the suspension.
Raiders (2-1) at Ravens (3-0)
1 p.m. Line: Ravens by 3 ½
Baltimore’s 3-0 start is a pleasant surprise, but expectations should be adjusted for the fact that the Ravens have outscored their opponents by only a combined 13 points and that they were not exactly playing stiff competition (their opponents’ cumulative record is 1-8).
The Raiders have won twice on the road, and Derek Carr is proving that his emergence as a franchise quarterback is not an illusion. Baltimore will be able to attack Carr at something close to full strength, with Elvis Dumervil expected to make his season debut. But Oakland has so many options on offense that it should be able to get plays off quickly and win on the road yet again.
Panthers (1-2) at Falcons (2-1)
1 p.m. Line: Panthers by 3
It was easy to write off Carolina’s opening loss as a product of good (but occasionally illegal) defense by Denver. The bad start was largely forgotten after the Panthers rebounded to beat San Francisco, 46-27, in Week 2. But then Minnesota easily dispatched Carolina in Week 3, and the Panthers, who seemed unbeatable going into last season’s Super Bowl, suddenly had a losing record.
The Panthers have three relatively easy games in terms of opponents’ defense coming up and then a bye week, but there should be concern about the team’s Week 8 matchup with Arizona.
Cowboys (2-1) at 49ers (1-2)
4:25 p.m. Line: Cowboys by 2 ½
Let us check in on Coach Chip Kelly of the 49ers, known for his exciting offenses:
“I characterize the offense as O.K.,” he told reporters about his team, which is averaging 175.3 yards a game in the air and has converted only 34.8 percent of third-down opportunities.
Even with stars like Dez Bryant, Tony Romo and La’el Collins sidelined, the Cowboys should outscore the 49ers’ anemic offense and keep their hot streak going.
Seahawks (2-1) at Jets (1-2)
1 p.m. Line: Seahawks by 2 ½
The good news is that Russell Wilson is out of legs to injure. First his right ankle was crushed by Ndamukong Suh in Week 1. Then his left knee crumpled under him in Week 3. The Seahawks’ quarterback relies on his mobility to create opportunities for himself as a passer, so despite his promise to start in Week 4, he is probably looking forward to his team’s bye in Week 5.
Seattle is likely to rely on Christine Michael to carry the team’s offense, but it may not need many points, as Ryan Fitzpatrick of the Jets is the kind of quarterback whom Seattle’s Legion of Boom secondary eats for breakfast.
Titans (1-2) at Texans (2-1)
1 p.m. Line: Texans by 5
Losing J. J. Watt for an extended period because of an aggravated back injury certainly is not good news for Houston, but the team’s defense has tormented opposing quarterbacks this season despite Watt’s not being able to play anywhere close to his typical ability. Watt’s absence gives Jadeveon Clowney an excellent opportunity to prove he was worthy of being the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2014, and if he is able to stay healthy, there is a good chance there will be little drop-off for the Texans.
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Broncos (3-0) at Buccaneers (1-2)
4:05 p.m. Line: Broncos by 3
Tampa Bay’s coaches talked of aspiring to be like the Broncos someday, but it would be hard to approach the quality of the defending champions with a defense that is allowing an average of 33.7 points a game. Denver has allowed an opponent to top 30 points only once in the team’s last 24 games (including playoffs), a streak that dates to the 2014 season.
Rams (2-1) at Cardinals (1-2)
4:25 p.m. Line: Cardinals by 8
The Rams, who did not have a touchdown in Weeks 1 or 2, finally figured out where the end zone was last week and beat the struggling Buccaneers, 37-32. The Cardinals fell apart against Buffalo, with Carson Palmer throwing four interceptions that enabled the Bills to run up 33 points despite the team’s having only 88 net passing yards. Either of those things repeating this week would be shocking, as the Rams’ offense hardly seems capable of scoring against Arizona, and Palmer is too talented to bury his own team two weeks in a row.
Colts (1-2) at Jaguars (0-3)
9:30 a.m. Line: Colts by 2 ½ (London)
The Jaguars are lacking when it comes to wins, and have sometimes struggled to get fans in their home stadium in Jacksonville, but how many teams can claim to have an 84,000-seat pied-à-terre in London that, according to BBC News, had the most toilets (2,618) of any venue in the world when it opened?
The N.F.L.’s games in London have been a financial success, but for the Jaguars, they have mostly provided a second place to lose. The team’s record at Wembley Stadium is 1-2, and it has been outscored there by 104-61.
Saints (0-3) at Chargers (1-2)
4:25 p.m. Line: Chargers by 4
The ready-made story line is Drew Brees returning to San Diego for the first time since the Chargers cast him aside in favor of Philip Rivers after Brees injured his shoulder. Their fears were unfounded as Brees immediately began one of the greatest periods of productivity for a quarterback in league history. There is little bad blood, however, as things worked out well for both teams.
The more important story for this game is the inability of the Saints’ defense to challenge opposing teams, which will spell trouble against Rivers, even if San Diego seems to lose key players almost every week.
Browns (0-3) at Redskins (1-2)
1 p.m. Line: Redskins by 7 ½
It is hard to say how the Browns will lose this week. A game-winning safety caused by a Browns player running the wrong way into the team’s own end zone? Being forced to forfeit after the team boards the wrong bus and ends up on a tour of the National Mall? Having Kirk Cousins and the Redskins’ offense carve up the inept Cleveland defense seems too simple with the way this season has been going.
Lions (1-2) at Bears (0-3)
1 p.m. Line: Lions by 3
There was some optimism that Marvin Jones could thrive if given the opportunity to be a No. 1 receiver, but signing as a free agent with Detroit meant he would have to do it in the shadow of the recently retired Calvin Johnson.
Through Detroit’s first three games, Jones has 408 receiving yards, which not only leads the N.F.L. through three weeks by a wide margin, but is also more than any Lions receiver has ever had at this point in a season. The previous three-game high, 369, was set by Johnson in 2012, the season he went on to break the single-season record for receiving yards with 1,964.