Commentary

Identifying the best, most important games of NFL Week 4

Updated: September 27, 2017, 12:52 PM ET
By Hank Gargiulo and Seth Walder | ESPN.com

What are the five must-watch NFL games this week? ESPN's matchup quality metric, which utilizes ESPN's Football Power Index to rank games on a 1-100 scale based on the quality of teams and projected closeness of the final score, tells us the top games of Week 4.


1. Washington Redskins at Kansas City Chiefs (Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Matchup quality: 69 out of 100
FPI win projection: Chiefs, 74 percent
FPI playoff leverage: Redskins 17 percent, Chiefs 5 percent

Monday Night Football should be excellent this week, as it features a Washington team that is riding high after a big win over the Raiders against the Super Bowl favorite Chiefs. That's right -- even though FPI believes the Patriots are the best team in football, the projections indicate that Kansas City is much more likely to earn the No. 1 seed in the AFC and also more likely to win the Super Bowl.

AP Photo/Ed ZurgaThe Chiefs will put one of the NFL's two remaining unbeaten marks on the line Monday night.

One potential point of concern for the Chiefs is that Alex Smith has not maintained the excellence he displayed in Week 1. Smith posted a Total QBR of 8.6 last week, though it was overlooked because the Chiefs earned the win. While he received praise for throwing the ball downfield in that season opener, Smith has returned to his old ways and now ranks 31st in percent of pass attempts that travel more than 10 yards in the air (19.3 percent).

Smith may have a tougher time in this game than we might have imagined at the beginning of the season: The Redskins have the third-most efficient defense in the league so far this year.

2. Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS)

Matchup quality: 68 out of 100
FPI win projection: Broncos, 57 percent
FPI playoff leverage: Raiders 26 percent, Broncos 24 percent

How sure are we that Derek Carr is all that much better than Trevor Siemian?

Sure, Carr has been knighted as one of the next great quarterbacks, but that might be a little premature. Consider: Siemian enters this game with a 2017 Total QBR of 58.8, even after a down week against the Bills. That's actually slightly better than Carr's QBR of 56.1 from all of 2016 (Carr's Total QBR this season is 43.9). To be fair, Siemian wasn't great last year (49.7), but it's worth noting that the difference in perception of these two QBs may be off.

We'll see a pretty good showdown of talent when Carr is on the field though, as he'll lead FPI's No. 6-ranked offense against Denver, the model's top-ranked defense.

3. Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings (Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, FOX)

Matchup quality: 64 out of 100
FPI win projection: Vikings, 65 percent
FPI playoff leverage: Lions 25 percent, Vikings 24 percent

After the Vikings' win over the Bucs, FPI has deemed them slight favorites (46 percent) to win the NFC North. It's a competitive three-team race though, and the Lions have a 20 percent shot to be atop the division standings when the season is over. That number drops to 11 percent should they lose on Sunday, however.

What's fueling a team quarterbacked by Sam Bradford/Case Keenum to a 2-1 record and projected success? A couple of excellently quarterbacked games (it's true) and just some old-fashioned, all-around solid play. FPI sees Minnesota as above-average in all three phases of the game going forward. Overall, the Vikes have been the sixth-most efficient team so far this season.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens (Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS)

Matchup quality: 64 out of 100
FPI win projection: Steelers, 56 percent
FPI playoff leverage: Ravens 29 percent, Steelers 22 percent

Both teams are coming off surprising losses, and that won't lessen the intensity when these AFC North rivals get together in Baltimore; no game carries more division or playoff implications for the teams involved than this matchup. Both teams stand to have a 31 percent change in their chances of winning the division based on the outcome. For Baltimore, a win would mean the difference between a 42.3 percent and a 11.8 percent chance of taking the division. A Pittsburgh win, however, would place the Steelers as a firm 87.1 percent favorite, compared to a 56.1 percent favorite should they lose.

FPI has the teams rated nearly the same on defense, but after Baltimore's rough outing in London against the Jaguars, the Steelers' offense is what FPI sees as the difference.

5. Carolina Panthers at New England Patriots (Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, FOX)

Matchup quality: 63 out of 100
FPI win projection: Patriots, 78 percent
FPI playoff leverage: Panthers 15 percent, Patriots 7 percent

This may be a matchup of teams with an identical 2-1 record, but that doesn't mean FPI sees the teams as equals. The Patriots are FPI's top team and have what FPI predicts as the top offense in the league, a whopping 7.8 points above average (Atlanta is second at 5.5). Carolina is 18th overall in FPI and 19th when ranking offenses (-1.5). This can be a statement game for Carolina, as the Panthers were only able to muster 13 points against FPI's bottom-rated defense in New Orleans.

Carolina does hold an edge on the defensive side, with the third-ranked FPI defense topping New England's 16th rank, but that may not be enough. The Patriots are a 78 percent favorite to win the game.

High-leverage game of the week: Los Angeles Rams at Dallas Cowboys (Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, FOX)

Matchup quality: 51 out of 100
FPI win projection: Cowboys, 72 percent
FPI playoff leverage: Cowboys 20 percent, Rams 15 percent

The somewhat surprising Rams are 2-1 but will be facing their toughest competition yet as they travel to Dallas. FPI isn't quite sold on the Rams yet, having defeated FPI's 29th- and 31st-ranked teams in Indianapolis and San Francisco. They will be underdogs in the system's eyes for the first time this year. A Rams win would make them legitimate contenders for a playoff spot, as their odds would climb to 32 percent. A loss, however drops them to 17 percent. The division also comes into play for Los Angeles, as a win gets the Rams to a 24 percent chance at the NFC West crown and a loss drops them to 14 percent.

Dallas has even more on the line, as FPI projects a 1-in-3 chance at the NFC East with a win and a 1-in-5 chance with a loss, while the Cowboys' overall playoff probabilities would be 54 percent with a win and 34 percent with a loss.

For more from ESPN Analytics, visit the ESPN Analytics Index

Hank Gargiulo

ESPN Analytics

Seth Walder

ESPN Analytics

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