Romilly Evans looks at some big live TV match-ups to conclude Week 4, and fancies Matthew Stafford to belatedly find his range against the Super Bowl perennials
"Another year of missing out could quickly be archived in Detroit's annals of underachievement."
Dallas Cowboys @ New Orleans Saints
Start-time: Monday, 01:30
TV: Live on SS1
The Dallas Cowboys will set a club record for successive regular-season road victories if they tie up their 11th consecutive win at the Superdome. However, home comforts for the New Orleans Saints also seem set to return with the their talisman, Drew Brees, expected to play after a time out with a bruised rotator cuff.
The Boys, on the other hand, are without their team leader Tony Romo (after another left-clavicle break) for many more weeks. And before I attempt to unpack the game anymore, therein lies the rub. The Saints have a lot to do to rebound from an 0-3 start, but Dallas must now hang on for dear life to keep a promising opening from falling into trademark freefall while Romo's on the treatment table.
Their contingency plan hinges on Brandon Weeden, yet they don't seem to trust their seasoned back-up enough to stretch the park. Instead, Weeden only opted for short-field gains last week against Atlanta, who eventually got wise to this predictability (mostly going to his running backs) and eventually shut it down in the second half.
The Saints' secondary may be more porous, but they are improving, albeit from lowly roots. Their liability is legend (permitting three rival quarterbacks a whopping 119.6 passer rating already this term) but at least it can't get much worse, and Weeden lacks the belief or weapons to make them pay.
On the other side of the ball, with Brees back at the helm, these Saints can comfortably make the transition from sinners to winners. The Falcons' Julio Jones (arguably the league's most potent receiver this year) made mincemeat of Dallas. Receiver Brandin Cooks may not be on Jones' level yet, but he appears ready for a breakout campaign (having missed the first six games of last term with a broken thumb) and his timely maturation bolsters an already intimidating offensive powerhouse.
Expect them to click into a higher gear against a stalling Cowboys outfit fearful of another flashback to blown postseason promise.
Back New Orleans Saints (-3) to win on the Match Points Spread @ 1.824/5 or better
Back New Orleans Saints (-2.5) to win on the First Half Points Spread @ 1.824/5 or better
Back Over 48 Total Points @ 2.01/1 or better
Back B. Cooks to score First / Anytime Touchdown 9.517/2 or better
Detroit Lions @ Seattle Seahawks
Start-time: Tuesday, 01:30
TV: Live on Channel 4
Just the three sides have made the play-offs after losing their first three games (since the current 12-team format was introduced in 1990). And none of them has found their way to the Super Bowl. That said, the San Diego Chargers made it, having commenced 0-4. So all is not lost for the Detroit Lions if, as the Vegas line readily predicts, they fall to their fourth straight defeat in this pivotal primetime match-up with the Super Bowl finalists of the past two seasons.
However, defeat also beckons in their ensuing game with the in-form Cardinals of Arizona, so this is no time to be waiting until their Week Six encounter with downtrodden Chicago for a crumb of comfort. For if they do, another year of missing out could quickly be archived in the annals of underachievement.
So can the Lions possibly upset the Seattle Seahawks, who only last week re-gathered their home momentum by shutting out those woebegone Bears? Sure, it's a tall order. However, to my mind, they could bustle the Hawks up, with their key playmaking partnerships desperate to make up for lost time.
Speaking of living down to expectations, quarterback Matthew Stafford and all-star wideout Calvin Johnson are the pre-eminent pair of ne'er-do-wells. Megatron would argue that Stafford has actually been the sole letdown (coughing up the pill on numerous occasions and suffering the ignominy of becoming one of the NFL's leading interception champions). Although it's easy to forget that this talented QB is still just 27 and still learning to minimise the mistakes.
So if Stafford and Johnson (one of the game's top three receivers) can keep the faith with one another, they remain a dynamic duo flying under the radar. Now throw in Golden Tate, another pacey poucher, for good measure, plus Ameer Abdullah as a rising rookie in the backfield at RB, and you've got a quartet that can trouble one of the best Ds in the league.
Seattle may have Kam Chancellor back on the field and on message (he was involved in all bar 10 of their defensive plays last Sunday, after going AWOL on petty contractual dispute), but the defensive unity of the feared Legion of Boom wasn't effectively tested against Chicago. The jury is out as to their continued cohesion, and Stafford and Co will certainly test them here.
A greater concern for Detroit may be stifling those special-team returns of the rapid Tyler Lockett (aka the second coming of Devin Hester). However, at bottom, this is a team with a point to prove and ample motivation to do so in the national spotlight against the best outfit of the past few seasons. A 10-point handicap constitutes a big number in the Lions' favour - and, frankly, something of an insult as to the threat level they pose.
Back Detroit Lions (+10.5) to win on the Match Points Spread @ 1.9110/11 or better
Back Detroit Lions (+6.5) to win on the First Half Points Spread @ 2.01/1 or better
Back Over 15.5 Detroit Lions Total Points @ 1.845/6 or better
Back C. Johnson to score First / Anytime Touchdown 12.011/1 or better