Pittsburgh Steelers-Baltimore Ravens rivalry rebooted and other top storylines in Week 4

Jay Asser 19:25 29/09/2018
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The rivalry between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens remains as fiercely contested as ever, but the AFC North battle is no longer the drag-it-out slugfest of years past.

Once a bloodbath built on defensive play and the running game, the match-up now features plenty of offence and points.

The teams have averaged a combined 51.2 points over their past four meetings, including an eye-popping 77 in the Ravens’ 39-38 win in their most recent clash – the most-ever points scored in the 22-year-old history between the teams.

With the way Baltimore and Pittsburgh’s offences have played through the first three weeks of this season, more trips to the end zone can be expected on Sunday.

The Ravens are averaging the fifth-most points in the league with 32.3, while the Steelers are just two spots back at 29.3. With both attacks ranking in the bottom-10 in rushing, the arms of Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger have been heavily relied on to move the ball.

However, the similarities end when it comes to the other side of the ball.

Baltimore and Pittsburgh’s defences have been on the opposite end of the spectrum, with the former leading the league in fewest yards allowed (273.0) and ranking fifth in fewest points (17.0), while the latter sits 29th (410.3) and 28th (30.0), respectively.

The Ravens’ unit will be tested this week, particularly the secondary which will have its hands full against Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster.

Brown has yet to truly get going this season and has only 210 yards despite coming into the week with the second-most targets among all receivers (42).

Smith-Schuster has been the more efficient player and has 356 yards on four fewer targets, but it should be only a matter of time before Brown explodes.

Here’s a look at other talking points in Sunday’s match-ups.

MAYFIELD READY TO BAKE

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It’s officially a new era for the Cleveland Browns with Baker Mayfield set to make his first start under centre.

This year’s number one overall pick impressed in the preseason and looked commanding in his relief appearance last week to lead the Browns to their first win since 2016, but Sunday’s meeting with the Oakland Raiders officially begins a new, more hopeful chapter in the franchise’s bleak history.

And as far as welcoming opponents for a rookie quarterback, the Raiders are ripe for the picking. Oakland’s defence has mightily struggled against the pass, ranking 29th in the league in yards allowed per attempt (8.7) and 25th in passer rating against (105.2).

Their issues are stemming from a lack of pass rush – which is to the surprise of no one besides maybe Jon Gruden – as it has looked tranquilised without Khalil Mack. Oakland have the fewest sacks in the league (three) and are on pace to set a record for the lowest pressure rate since 2006, according to Pro Football Focus.

If there ever was a time for the Raiders to generate pressure though, it would on Sunday as they play a Browns side that has allowed the most sacks in the league (14).

Mayfield’s play-making abilities are such that he can make things happen even without the cleanest pockets, but affording him as much time as possible should be near the top of Cleveland’s priorities.

MUST-WIN?

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It sounds crazy to say in Week 4, but the New England Patriots might be facing a game that is as close to a ‘must-win’ as they’ve had in the regular season in recent memory.

It’s the Patriots, so even if they fall to 1-3, it doesn’t mean we won’t see them in the playoffs, but considering they’re playing a Miami Dolphins team that already has two games on them in the AFC East, New England would be better served not falling into a deeper hole.

Especially with this being a home game for the Patriots, losing on Sunday could be fatal as they’ll have to travel to Miami in December, which has been their Kryptonite in the Tom Brady era for whatever reason.

Even more concerning would be if New England don’t show any improvement for the third week in a row – something that many assume won’t happen simply because of the Patriots’ track record.

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Ryan Tannehill, Javorius Allen and other fantasy NFL sleepers for Week 4

Jay Asser 17:51 29/09/2018
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Here are five sleepers worth putting in your starting lineup in Week 4.

RYAN TANNEHILL

It may come as a surprise that the Miami Dolphins quarterback is fifth in passer rating behind Patrick Mahomes, Jared Goff, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Drew Brees this season, but he’s playing well and has a favourable match-up against a struggling New England Patriots defence this week.

Tannehill has topped 300 yards through the air in each of his past four meetings against New England, and while the Patriots defence should improve at some point, it’s still looking vulnerable at the moment.

JAVORIUS ALLEN

Aside from his end-zone visits through three games, Allen hasn’t given fantasy owners much to hang their hat on. But that could change this weekend, when the combination of opportunities and a positive game script could result in him being a profitable play, whether he scores a touchdown or not.

Allen is cemented as Baltimore’s pass-catching back and with the Ravens likely needing plenty of points to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, he should add value with his receiving stats.

CHRIS GODWIN

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers wideout may have had one of the most frustrating, roller-coaster games last week, but he still ended up delivering a touchdown for the third straight game.

He’s not the go-to option like Mike Evans or the deep threat like DeSean Jackson, but there’s been no shortage of opportunities for Godwin, especially in the red zone.

It would help if Ryan Fitzpatrick remains the starter, which seems like the case for at least one more week.

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ANTONIO CALLAWAY

Don’t jump off the Cleveland Browns wide receiver just yet because he had a quiet Week 3, in which he managed just four catches for 20 yards.

The 10 targets he saw were encouraging and when he turns them to receptions, there’s potential for big plays, as we saw in his three-catch, 81-yard performance in Week 2.

And the Browns offence should be more vertical now that Baker Mayfield has been named the starter. Against the lowly Oakland Raiders, Callaway is a flex play.

TYLER EIFERT

Eifert is coming off his best game since October 2016 and with how banged-up the Atlanta Falcons defence is, the Cincinnati Bengals tight end could feast.

The Falcons, who just gave up 534 total yards and 43 points last week, are without Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen and Deion Jones, with the latter’s absence particularly benefitting Eifert, who should have room to work over the middle.

If you need a streaming tight end this weekend, Eifert is your guy.

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Jared Goff a winner with or without Sean McVay for the Los Angeles Rams

Chris Bailey 20:05 28/09/2018
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Rams quarterback: Jared Goff.

Before Thursday night, Jared Goff could walk down most streets in America – even certain places in LA – and not be recognised.

But his five-touchdown display for the Los Angeles Rams against Minnesota, on primetime television, ended part one of a scarcely believable tale that had started in frankly comical fashion.

La-La land has seen its fair share of box-office flops, but no blockbuster in recent history bombed quite like the Rams did upon the NFL’s return to Los Angeles two years ago.

LA had been without a team of its own for a couple of decades – and had gotten along just fine. Many of its residents had either pledged allegiance to another franchise or the myriad distractions that a global city fringed by a sandy coastline has to offer. The Rams, then, had to somehow stand out among the stardust.

That was never going to be easy. In St Louis the Rams had become the definition of mediocrity and ‘7-9’ – a reference to the most average of season records – was the punchline every time moustachioed head coach Jeff Fisher’s name was brought up.

Bizarrely Fisher was to remain in the director’s seat for another season, but the LA-bound franchise knew they needed a potential A-Lister to usher in the new era. Which is why they scooted up to the top of the draft and selected California-born quarterback Jared Goff.

The plan was for Goff to sit out the entirety of 2016 and learn the ropes – though from whom he was supposed to learn them off, given the cluelessness of the offensive staff, remains a mystery.

The early signs in Hard Knocks, a fly-on-the-wall documentary that follows an NFL team throughout training camp, were discouraging to say the least.

In a now infamous segment, Goff was caught not knowing from which direction the sun rose. For any other 21-year-old it was a mere show of naivety, but from your new franchise signal-caller? It wasn’t the best first impression.

Throughout the series Goff seemed a little too ‘California cool’, so laidback he may as well have been horizontal, lolling on a surfboard. On the surface, the intensity the Rams so desperately needed to kick-start their LA legacy was lacking in their would-be saviour.

Unsurprisingly the ensuing season was grim. Goff was thrown in for the last seven games and not even the Rams’ dismal scheme could excuse much of his poor play. An average of five yards per pass attempt, an 18.9 quarterback rating, more interceptions (7) thrown than touchdowns (5) – historic lows in most contexts.

Enter, stage right Sean McVay. The then 31-year-old wunderkind, who had passed his audition as offensive coordinator of Washington, ripped up the original script and chucked it in the trash where it belonged.

Deadly duo: Sean McVay and Jared Goff.

Deadly duo: Sean McVay and Jared Goff.

McVay, simply put, knows how to hand his offence advantages across the field. Creating mismatches, getting his skill players into space, confusing defenders as to his intentions. Goff couldn’t help but improve in year two and he did so dramatically, posting a 4:1 touchdown to interception ratio and helping the Rams get back to the playoffs for the first time in 13 years.

Still, there was the sense that McVay was the puppet master and Goff, rather than striking out on his own, was having his strings pulled by his genius of a coach. A ‘system’ quarterback whose numbers are inflated because of the fortunate situation he finds himself in.

Anyone who watched events unfold at the Coliseum on Thursday night will know, if that was ever the case, it certainly isn’t now.

McVay is putting the ball in the hands of Goff more than ever in year two of his reign. Running back Todd Gurley was the centrepiece last season, but this is the Year of Jared.

Once upon a time, any throw Goff would unleash carried a stench of an interception. This year he’s sniffing out the tightest of windows.

Against the Chargers last week in the so-called ‘Battle of LA’, Goff somehow picked out Robert Woods in double coverage for a toe tapper on the sideline.

He unleashed an even more outrageous throw to hit Cooper Kupp in the end zone against the Vikings. Rolling out to the right, he landed it on a dime in the corner – and Kupp didn’t have to break stride despite having two defenders draped upon him.

Those elite-level throws were missing on a consistent basis from Goff’s game up until now. But no ‘system’ can teach how to perform feats such as those. Besides, he’s now proved he can wring every last yard out of a system that is doing one thing – winning.

In fact, he’s beginning to look Super Bowl-winning.

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