Two big battles in Pennsylvania among Week 4's top storylines
Is this the week that Joe Flacco improves and Pittsburgh's quarterbacking falters?
Expect the Green Bay Packers to get back on track with Lions coming to town
Chargers need to defeat Arizona or risk losing more fans and their confidence
There's no doubt the center of the NFL's universe for Week 4 will be in Pennsylvania. That's where quarterbacks past, present -- and future, in the Steelers' case -- will be stealing headlines. But storylines across the league could not be more enticing as the meat of the NFL season approaches, with at least one coach already fighting for his job, controversial wide receivers butting heads, and contenders and pretenders beginning to separate.
But among the Top 10 storylines, we must begin in Pittsburgh. Perhaps the only thing more surprising than Michael Vick's return to greatness in Philadelphia is the Steelers remaining great without suspended quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
The Steelers are but one win away from going a stunning 4-0 without Roethlisberger, who was suspended by the league for violating its personal conduct policy. But it's going to be a tough one to win against a Ravens team that plays superb defense and has potential game-breakers offensively.
Adding intrigue: The Ravens are not without their own issues. Such as:
Without a heaping helping of Rice, as in Ray Rice, should we expect Joe Flacco to be served on a platter to a dominant Steelers D? Rice went down with a deep knee bruise that coach John Harbaugh called, "significant." He likely will see action, but it bears watching whether he stands a chance of being the same back that gashed the Steelers for 5.6 yards per-touch last season
Joe Flacco has not been Joe Flacco. He's turned the ball over, seen his accuracy waver and has yet to make the most of an enhanced receiving corps that now includes an effective Anquan Boldin.
Charlie Batch is no Roethlisberger, but he did throw three TDs last week, and the Ravens -- despite a dominant defense -- are scrambling to find answers in the secondary. Already this week, the Ravens released Trevor Pryce and signed Ken Hamlin in hopes of getting some kind of better effort, with safety Ed Reed out for a few more weeks.
They can't win in Pittsburgh. Home field often is overblown in the NFL, when professionals take the field. But at Heinz Field, the Steelers have dominated the Ravens.
As for the Steelers, they may be playing with house money heading into Week 4, but they can ill-afford to lose to a division opponent. And at some point, you have to wonder if Flacco will rise and Pittsburgh's quarterbacking luck will falter.
Elsewhere, the storylines remain equally as intriguing:
2. The clock is ticking on Mike Singletary. Does it blow up this weekend? We seem to have reached the point when the intensity and high-volume energy of Singletary has become white noise. That is, the in-your-face act worked for awhile, but in a room full of professionals, the rah-rah stuff goes only so far. The fact is, Singletary is not an experienced head coach, had little preparation for the demands of the job from a coaching perspective and, with team meetings called almost daily, the offensive coordinator already fired and tensions high, Singletary may be the first to go if he doesn't win soon.
3. Who's better for Jay Cutler -- Mike Martz? Or Kristin Cavallari? The often hard to figure Bears quarterback has risen to a different level in 2010. Clearly, the company he's keeping is good for him. Off the field, Cutler and Cavallari have had tongues wagging in Chicago social circles. But the more important thing for football fans is the question of whether Cutler's personality will jibe with Martz's has been answered for the undefeated Bears. Cutler is getting the ball out of his hand much quicker, is making better decisions, bigger plays and limiting turnovers. This could be the start of a beautiful relationship ... or, two.
4. Is Michael Vick getting the benefit of the doubt that Donovan McNabb never did in Philly? Hello, irony. On one sideline in Philly this week, you have the reformed criminal who once tortured animals and always has been a polarizing figure. On the other, you have the consummate professional who was liked and respected by teammates, coaches and everyone in the organization. So guess which one gets treated better by Eagles fans? Yup, Michael Vick. Make no mistake, Vick has earned this chance both by doing his time and earning his stripes again with spectacular play. But for years, the gentlemanly McNabb was criticized, doubted and questioned for simply playing the game at an extremely high level. The treatment he gets upon returning to Philadelphia will be intriguing to watch.
5. When did the Packers become the San Diego Chargers? All that talent, all those expectations and the Green Bay Packers have yet to live up to any of it. It's time for the Packers to quit getting in their own way. This is a Super Bowl-caliber team. That is, when it's not breaking records for being penalized, committing stupid turnovers and breaking down in special teams and having brain cramps on the field and on the sideline. The improving but still 0-3 Lions are coming to Lambeau. If the Pack doesn't get well this week, it could be a tough season to swallow.
6. Polar-opposite QBs meet in Nashville ... one will be singing the blues. Broncos QB Kyle Orton is off to a booming start in 2010, ranking at or near the top in virtually every passing category. On the other hand, no starting NFL quarterback has completed fewer passes, attempted fewer, or thrown for fewer yards than Tennessee's Vince Young. A week ago, Orton threw for 476 yards, Young for 118. And yet it's Young's Titans who are 2-1 and the Broncos 1-2. Say hello to the best illustration yet of what an explosive running game like the Titans' can do for a squad. Chris Johnson right, Chris Johnson left. If the Broncos don't stop it, Orton will be singing the Nashville Blues.
7. Cornerbacks in Miami hate Mondays. The Dolphins' Brandon Marshall is off to a huge start and Randy Moss is on his way to his 11th 1,000-yard receiving season in 13 years. It stinks being overmatched cornerbacks, and that could be exactly the case for both teams. Second-year Pats corner Darius Butler may draw the Marshall assignment, but Butler is struggling. In fact, he was replaced last week. As for the Dolphins against Moss, no matter if it's Vontae Davis or Jason Allen, both have struggled against Moss in the past. Whichever team gets the best night against the opposing featured receiver, wins. Simple as that.
8. When will your new NFL rushing leader be named Adrian with a "D?" Or can Arian hold him off? How can Adrian Peterson be part of a storyline when the Vikings are off this week? Because it only seems to be a matter of time before Adrian Peterson supplants Arian Foster for the NFL's rushing lead. Foster and Darren McFadden, currently third in rushing, face off Sunday in Oakland. Foster seems to be the real deal after three productive weeks rushing the ball, even running for 106 yards in the Texans' loss to the Cowboys last week. But as Brett Favre's never looked older, Peterson's never looked more spry or quicker. This will be a good race between Arian and Adrian.
9. The Chargers are underachieving. In other news, the sky is blue. Usually, the Chargers wait until the postseason to crush their fans' hearts. But in an interesting twist, the Bolts are flopping early. Much like the Packers, the hugely talented, but 1-2 Chargers must get something going against the Cardinals or risk losing more fans and their confidence. Quarterback Philip Rivers is producing, but otherwise the Chargers' blunders are magnificent, including allowing Leon Washington two kickoff returns for touchdowns. Rookie back Ryan Mathews has had a tough start to his NFL career, too.
10. Will the Browns ever become relevant again? It's going on 12 years since the Browns returned to Cleveland. In that time, the Browns have had exactly two winning seasons. Over their past 35 games, they are 9-26. To put a twist on Sam Wyche's famous rant, misery does not live in Cincinnati, it lives in Cleveland. The bright spot is tailback Peyton Hillis has become a find, rushing for a 5.6 per-carry average and three touchdowns already. Plus, the Bengals' rush defense has been average at best. The bad news is the Browns are still 0-3, have won just one of their last 10 division games and Seneca Wallace is quarterback. Can the Browns throw its faithful fan base some kind of life preserver? Fans need to see some kind of sign of hope.
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