It seems like just yesterday we were waiting for what felt like an eternity for the 2016 NFL season to begin. Thus, it’s hard to believe we are already heading into the final game of the first quarter of the new campaign, but that is indeed the case.
With Week 3 now nothing more than a fading memory, it’s time for American football aficionados to look ahead to what’s in store for a Week 4 that projects to be laden with enough storylines and plot twists to make a network docudrama jealous.
In Week 4, the 2-1 Oakland Raiders will travel to take on the surprisingly 3-0 Baltimore Ravens in an incredibly important AFC showdown. The Raiders weren’t overly impressive in Week 3 but managed to cement a huge road win against the Tennessee Titans and finally got an adequate performance out of their defense, which had underwhelmed during the first two games of the season.
Meanwhile, the Ravens are one of just five NFL teams that are still undefeated despite failing to fire on all cylinders on both sides of the ball in 2016 and lead the tough AFC North by one game.
So, can Jack Del Rio’s bunch make a statement by winning another important AFC road game, or will John Harbaugh and Co. hold serve to remain undefeated in front of the M&T Bank Stadium faithful?
Find out with these five bold predictions.
Joe Flacco Nowhere To Be Found
The Ravens deserve immense praise for starting 3-0, especially since Joe Flacco’s performance has been lackluster at best thus far. Flacco’s completed 64.4 percent of his passes and tallied a respectable 774 yards, but has thrown just three TDs and an absolutely alarming four INTs.
In Week 3 against a Jacksonville defense that has been abysmal for the most part in 2016, Flacco threw two boneheaded interceptions and Baltimore was forced to win a close game in spite of him instead of because of him.
Joe hasn’t played well at all this season but isn’t hearing much criticism because the Ravens are undefeated. Expect Flacco to pull another vanishing act against a Raiders defense that played well on the road in Week 3.
Raiders Run Attack Electrifies
Despite losing carries to both DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard this season, Latavius Murray has managed to score a touchdown in all three games.
While I don’t necessarily understand why Murray’s touches have been reduced considering how well he’s played, it’s hard to get on Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave’s case. The three-headed monster they have employed this season has worked wonders, as Oakland ranks second in rushing yards and tied for third in rushing TDs, according to ESPN.
The Ravens have been solid against the run this season. However, keep in mind Baltimore has played the Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, and Jacksonville Jaguars thus far.
According to Pro Football Focus, aside from Buffalo, which ranks 10th, Baltimore’s faced substandard offensive lines this season. The Raiders, who are ranked second on the same list, will be a tough chore in comparison.
Expect Oakland’s offensive line to dominate in the trenches, and help their running backs finish with over 140 yards and two TDs at minimum.
Ravens Run For A Measly 50 Yards
Put simply, it’s a borderline miracle the Ravens are 3-0 this season considering Flacco’s struggles and their inability to run the ball. Baltimore’s ranked 26th in rushing yards (247) and has mustered just a single rushing touchdown in three games.
Oakland allowed an abysmal 114 yards and one touchdown to DeMarco Murray in Week 3, but the Ravens don’t have a player with Murray’s skill set on their roster this season. Both Justin Forsett and Terrance West have underwhelmed in 2016, and the Ravens offensive line has been woefully inadequate at best.
Expect another disappointing performance from Baltimore’s run attack in this one.
Raiders Offensive Line Dominates, Renders Ravens Pass Rush Non-Existent
As mentioned, it’s no secret that Oakland showcases one of the NFL’s premier offensive lines this season. The Ravens have tallied an impressive nine sacks thus far, but their pass rush is in for a rude awakening against a legitimately stout and cohesive unit.
Expecting Terrell Suggs and the rest of Baltimore’s front-seven to make mincemeat out the Raiders would be incredibly foolish. Donald Penn and Co. will keep the Ravens in check and render Baltimore’s pass rush irrelevant.
Raiders Eke Out Road Win Late In Fourth Quarter
Let’s be honest: The Ravens might be the worst 3-0 team of all time. Baltimore’s offense has been an abomination for the most part, Joe Flacco isn’t an “elite” quarterback, and the Ravens defense isn’t talented enough to mask the team’s many weaknesses all season.
However, Baltimore is typically a tough beat at home. Thus, I’m expecting this to be a close game thanks to a few boneheaded turnovers committed by Derek Carr, and a solid performance from Ravens kicker, Justin Tucker.
But this contest will ultimately decided by a field goal from the left leg of Sebastian Janikowski late in the fourth quarter.
In the end, the Ravens will no longer be undefeated, and the Raiders will be headed back to the Bay Area at 3-1 with the realization that making the playoffs is no pipe dream in 2016.
[Featured Image by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images]