Five things I’ll be looking at in the fourth week of the 2017 NFL season:
1. Can Case Keenum keep it up?
Since Sam Bradford is still sidelined, the Detroit Lions should have an edge on the Minnesota Vikings in this division game in which both teams come in with a 2-1 records.
But Vikings backup quarterback Case Keenum was the surprise player of the week a week ago when he passed for 369 yards and three touchdowns to shred the Tampa Bay Bucs.
Now he gets the Lions, who were the victims of the 10-second runoff rule last week after the officials ruled that Golden Tate had scored the winning touchdown only to reverse the ruling on replay. The Lions have the better quarterback in Matthew Stafford, but the Vikings have the better cast around Keenum in what should be a close game.
2. Will Bill O’Brien continue his apparent campaign to get fired?
Houston rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson made one of the best gestures of the season last week when he gave his first paycheck to three cafeteria workers who lost everything when the rain from Hurricane Harvey ravaged the city.
Watosn also played well in the loss to the New England Patriots last week, passing for 301 yards and two touchdowns and running for 42 more. He probably would have won the game if coach Bill O’Brien, who should be fired, didn’t take the ball out of his hands with a little over two minutes left when he took a field goal instead of letting Watson go for it on fourth and a half-yard. That put the ball back in Tom Brady’s hands, which is never a good idea in the last two minutes.
Now Watson faces another tough task Sunday against Tennessee in a division game. A loss would drop the 1-2 Texans, two games behind the Titans, who go in at 2-1. And the Texans would be 0-2 in the division.
Houston is desperate for a victory, but probably won’t get it. Tennessee has a better defensive front than New England does and will take advantage of the absence of tackle Duane Brown, who is still holding out, to harass Watson. And Watson is still young and is catching up on the fly because O’Brien went with Tom Savage for all of camp and the first half of the opener.
Meanwhile, the Titans have Marcus Mariota and the Texans defense hasn’t been as good as advertised. The Titans figure to take this one and then the only question about the Texans this year is whether O’Brien will be fired at the end of the year.
3. Can the Rams pull off a upset that wouldn’t really be an upset?
The Dallas Cowboys may not be as good as they were expected to be and the Los Angeles Rams may be better than they were projected to be as the two teams bring 2-1 records into this pivotal game.
Ezekiel Elliott, who is still staying one step ahead of the league in his court battle to stop the league from suspending him, hasn’t been the same player this year because he doesn’t have the same offensive line. And the Rams are better with a new head coach and the maturing of quarterback Jared Goff.
The Cowboys are favored because they’re the Cowboys, but a Rams victory wouldn’t be a major surprise.
4. Which version of the Jaguars will show up?
The Jaguars are one of the most surprising and puzzling teams of the season. Not only weren’t they expected to be 2-1, but the way they’ve done is hard to explain because all three of their games have been blowouts.
They easily beat the Texans and the Baltimore Ravens in London, but were manhandled by the Titans. Now they figure to win big against the New York Jets despite the Jets’ upset victory over the Miami Dolphins last week.
The Jets started a rebuilding program in the offseason, dumping veterans and sparking speculation they were tanking the season to get their quarterback of the future in next year’s draft. There was talk of them going 0-16, but that’s not going to happen now that the Jets have their first victory.
Still, the Jets figure to be no match for the Jaguars. Except for one thing – quarterback Blake Bortles. Nobody knows if Bortles will suddenly turn into the turnover machine he has been in the past.
If Bortles doesn’t turn the ball over, the Jaguars win. But he remains the question mark in this game. A victory would give them a 3-1 record going into Pittsburgh next week.
5. Will the anthem controversy continue?
The offseason issues continue for the NFL — and will continue to be a storyline of the week.
One question is how many players will kneel during the national anthem this week. It appears to be that many players feel they made their point last week and will stand. And Fox is trying to turn the page by announcing it won’t televise the national anthem.
And then there’s the question of what the ratings will be. And if they do decline, is it because the fans who are upset about the protests carry out their threat not to watch?
These are turbulent times for the NFL, especially since Donald Trump seems to enjoy keeping the issue alive.
Will he be tweeting about the NFL or has he moved on? Stay tuned.