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NFL Week 4 Preview: What Happens to the Texans Without J.J. Watt?

Kansas City Chiefs v Houston Texans
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The NFL is nearly a quarter of the way through its 2016 season, and injuries have already begun affecting the fate of contending teams. Here’s a preview of Week 4:

Sunday, October 2

Can The Texans Survive The Loss Of J.J. Watt?

Tennessee at Houston | NRG Stadium, Houston; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS

Houston (2-1) hosts Tennessee (1-2) in a key early season game for the AFC South contenders. The Texans have used an aggressive and opportunistic defense led by defensive marvel J.J. Watt to win the AFC South three times in five years, but they’ll have to go at least two months — maybe longer — without the All-Pro terrorizing quarterbacks.

Watt, who has never missed a game in his five-plus-year NFL career, re-injured his back last week and was placed on injured reserve on Wednesday. He missed camp and preseason after off-season surgery on a herniated disc. The rest of the Houston defense must step up in his absence, especially Jadeveon Clowney. Marcus Mariota and the Titans ground game will test them this week. Somewhere, Andrew Luck is breathing easier, too.

The Steelers-Chiefs Game Is Must-See TV
Pittsburgh Steelers v Kansas City Chiefs
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LeGarrette Blount Has Carried the Patriots
Houston Texans v New England Patriots
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Buffalo at New England | Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, Mass; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS

Remember when Patriots fans were worried about Tom Brady’s four-game suspension for Deflategate? Soooo long ago. Ironically enough, New England (3-0) has won without Brady in part by taking the ball out of the air and giving it to NFL rushing leader LeGarrette Blount. The Pats will likely be able to choose between quarterbacks Jimmy Garoppolo or Jacoby Brissett to start against Buffalo (1-2), but it’s Blount who will once again be the key to the offense. If New England can control the clock and avoid turnovers, they should beat Rex Ryan and the Bills.

The Ravens & Broncos Must Work To Stay Unbeaten

Ravens Broncos

Oakland at Baltimore | M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Denver at Tampa Bay | Raymond James Stadium, Tampa; 4:05 p.m. (ET) on CBS

The AFC boasts three undefeated teams: the Patriots, Ravens and Broncos. While New England has an easy mark this week with Buffalo, Baltimore (3-0) and Denver (3-0) have more challenging opponents: Oakland (2-1) and Tampa Bay (1-2), respectively. Yes, you read that right.

The Ravens have the league’s second-best defense thus far in 2016. They will be challenged by the Raiders’ second-ranked offense. The key to this game may be whether or not Joe Flacco can exploit the iffy Oakland secondary despite not having much of a running game as a decoy.

Led by Von Miller, the Broncos have the league’s seventh-best defense. The AFC sack leaders must get after Bucs’ quarterback Jameis Winston. The second-year quarterback is sixth in the NFL in passing yards, but he leads the NFC in interceptions with six. Denver must force turnovers and capitalize on them to beat Tampa on the road (and maybe in the pouring rain).
Kansas City at Pittsburgh | Heinz Field, Pittsburgh; 8:30 p.m. (ET) on NBC

While neither the Steelers nor the Chiefs are undefeated, these two teams could be representing the AFC in the Super Bowl this February. That makes this Sunday night’s primetime game truly must-see TV.

Prior to last week’s embarrassing loss to the Eagles, Pittsburgh (2-1) was scoring 31 points per game with Ben Roethlisberger passing to his many targets. Kansas City (2-1) has forced a league-high 10 turnovers, though six were courtesy of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s faulty tosses last week. The Chiefs need to chase down Big Ben and provide their offense with opportunities to control the tempo. The Steelers defense has managed just one sack on the season. That total must rise soon. Will it be this week? Alex Smith hopes not.

Monday, October 3

The Vikings Are Primetime Darlings
Green Bay Packers v Minnesota Vikings
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N.Y. Giants at Minnesota | U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis; 8:30 p.m. (ET) on ESPN

Despite the loss of Adrian Peterson and Teddy Bridgewater to injuries, things are going very well for the Vikings this season. Undefeated Minnesota (3-0) has already dispatched the Packers and Panthers, and debuted their gorgeous new stadium. The Perfect Purple People will welcome the Giants to the Big Boat this Monday night. It’s the Vikings second of four scheduled primetime games this season.

New York (2-1) needs Eli Manning to channel his Super Bowl-level play against Minnesota’s league-leading sack-attack (15). The Giants’ defense has been much better against the run than the pass this season, so Vikes’ QB Sam Bradford might be able to manage yet another victory.

Other Games

Thursday, September 29
Miami at Cincinnati | Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati; 8:25 p.m. (ET) on NFL Network

Sunday, October 2
Indianapolis at Jacksonville | Wembley Stadium, London; 9:30 a.m. (ET) on CBS
Seattle at N.Y. Jets | MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.; 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox
Cleveland at Washington | FedEx Field, Landover, Md. ; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Carolina at Atlanta | Georgia Dome, Atlanta; 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox
Detroit at Chicago | Soldier Field, Chicago; 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox
Dallas at San Francisco | Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif.; 4:25 p.m. (ET) on Fox
Los Angeles at Arizona | U of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.; 4:25 p.m. (ET) on Fox
New Orleans at San Diego | Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego; 4:25 p.m. (ET) on Fox

Bye Week
Green Bay, Philadelphia

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