- Can Kenny Pickett bring long-term life to the Steelers offense?
- Should we set new expectations for the Lions offense?
- Read below for everything we learned from NFL Week 4
It’s a generally-accepted comment that we don’t really know a team until it has played through roughly one-quarter of the season. Conveniently, here we are. Every team is wrapping up its fourth game of the year, and many are starting to round into shape. Some have a long road ahead while others have paved a clear path to follow.
We are also getting our first look at some division races, where there is the usual mix of surprise and expected participants. While there is clearly a long way to go in the year, it is not too early to start looking at how the next quarter of the season will form our new projections for how each team will eventually close out the year.
At Least the Detroit Lions Have an Offense
Say what you will about the Lions’ inability to close out games — and, if you won’t say it, I will, as I have been selling the team all year for that exact area of failure. If, nothing else, Detroit can move the football and score. Through four weeks, the Lions have amassed an absurd 1,747 yards of total offense and have scored 140 points.
The problem is obviously on the other side of the ball. Detroit can’t stop anyone right now.
Those of us who are looking to find an edge should welcome the consistency. It’s not often that we get a team that continues to play to the same outcome week-after-week. What’s most impressive is that this most recent — and, statistically, best — game was missing arguably the most talented two players on the Lions’ offense — running back D’Andre Swift and wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown.
As always, we can’t dive into any pick and expect an identical outcome every single time, but we should make it a point to not miss the high-scoring potential of any game that includes Detroit. We will see this tested quickly, however, as the Lions head to New England to face a Patriots team with one of the worst offenses in the league.
Steelers Turn to Kenny Pickett
Certainly, after making the move to bench Mitch Trubisky and lean on the rookie Kenny Pickett, the Pittsburgh Steelers wouldn’t dare go back to Trubisky, right? Not so fast. Wherever we look, we see that Trubisky’s performance was described as “ineffective” or “subpar.” But what did Pickett do that was “effective” or “on-par?”
The quick look at Pickett’s debut is going to show his two rushing touchdowns and an undeniable spark to an otherwise dead offense. Buried underneath that was his costly interception at the end of the game that now pushed the team’s record to a troubling 1-3.
Kenny Pickett's first throw in the league is intercepted 😬
(via @NFL) pic.twitter.com/J6lEYTw6gJ
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) October 2, 2022
Therein lies the issue with the Steelers. It’s about numbers and timing, and Pittsburgh had the numbers and misplayed the timing. Quite frankly, that’s uncharacteristic for an organization that generally makes the right decisions.
At 1-2 and midway through a game against the Jets, Pittsburgh had a chance to even its season record at .500. If that task had been completed, it buys Pickett and the Steelers more time to develop the necessary rapport, where that deadline would have almost certainly been no later than the team’s Week 9 bye. Instead, we will now be staring at an immediate controversy or the potentially first losing season of head coach Mike Tomlin’s career.
As I wrote in the introduction, we are at the point of the season where team’s are starting to define themselves. The Steelers are the exception, and we need to be as flexible in approaching them as they are in their now-week-to-week gameplan.
NFC South has More Than One Combatant
If we looked at the preseason odds for a specific team to win a specific division, the pairing of “Tampa Bay Buccaneers” with “NFC South” was as easy and clear as it gets. Not so fast.
It’s not just that the Buccaneers have lost back-to-back games and fallen to 2-2, but that the Atlanta Falcons are going to put up a fight this year. Maybe they run out of steam — it’s completely possible that the schedule has done Atlanta some favors now and will doom the team in the future — but the Falcons have steadily performed every week. Their two losses were by a combined four points.
Tampa Bay is obviously battle-tested and veteran-led, but we keep seeing signs that not all of the pieces are properly connected. Atlanta is in the opposite position, with a handful of players that many assumed would contribute more to getting a high draft pick than a winning record.
Conveniently enough, the Buccaneers and Falcons will meet in Week 5, and we can start to which side the scale will ultimately tip. If, nothing else, we learned that the Buccaneers aren’t running away with the division.
AFC North is the Same Battleground as Always
There’s just something about the AFC North that exudes toughness and tight outcomes. We are now four games into the season, and three of the teams are tied atop the division at 2-2.
We shouldn’t be surprised. This tends to follow the competitive nature of the division.
What’s most interesting is that three-of-the-four teams entered this past weekend as favorites in their respective games. Only one — the Cincinnati Bengals — emerged victorious. That’s the same Bengals team that started the year 0-2 and was questioned for possibly taking a step backward following last year’s Super Bowl appearance.
What do we make of the division now? Is Cincinnati, as the defending Conference Champion, the clear-cut favorite? Are the Browns and Steelers, both of whom will finish the year with different starting quarterbacks than their Opening Day signal-callers, posted to surge up the standings?
The division apparently never changes and, for that reason, we should not count out any of the teams. In fact, we should remain in a position to “buy” any of the four that become undervalued in the market.