NFL week four preview: Five key talking points as the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins head to Wembley

PREVIEW

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Week four brings with it the first week of byes but the slate of fixtures remains attractive. The Baltimore Ravens will try to secure their first win of the season on Thursday night in an AFC North battle against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the San Francisco 49ers take on the gruelling task of stopping Aaron Rodgers, and there’s also the small matter of a game in London.

NFL returns to the capital

Wembley Stadium will stage its 12th International Series game on Sunday when the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets come to London.

This is the first of a trio of London games this year as the United Kingdom’s interest in the NFL continues to soar. In July it was announced that Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium, opening in 2018, will host at least two games a season over 10 years.

The International Series was launched in 2007 when the Dolphins lost to the New York Giants and its popularity has risen to the point that a London-based franchise is fast turning into a matter of when, not if, according to those in the know.

This is the first division game to take place at Wembley and an entirely new experience for the Jets, who are yet to play in London. The Dolphins, meanwhile, are making their third appearance in total and second in two years. 

Joe Philbin’s finds himself under huge pressure after Miami, officially the home side, suffered consecutive losses after a winning start. The Jets will hope to bounce back after surrendering their perfect record to the Philadelphia Eagles last Sunday.

First of two trips to San Francisco for the Packers?

The Green Bay Packers travel to San Francisco hoping this isn’t their last game at Levi’s Stadium this season. The stadium will host Super Bowl 50 and, after agonising loss in last season’s NFC Championship Game, the Packers have returned with clear intentions to go to the season finale. 

Last season’s MVP Aaron Rodgers is in scintillating form, even without top target Jordy Nelson, completing 73.6 per cent of his passes and throwing 10 touchdowns. He’s on course to join Peyton Manning and Tom Brady as the only quarterbacks to throw more than 50 touchdowns in a single season.

He’ll get the chance to add to his tally against a 49ers defence that has been shredded in its last two games. In week two Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger threw 369 passing yards and three touchdowns against the 49ers and Carson Palmer of Arizona had 311 passing yards and two touchdowns last Sunday.

No defence is seemingly capable of stopping Rodgers and this could well be the season he ends his four-year wait for a second Super Bowl ring. 

Indianapolis turning the corner

When the Indianapolis Colts started the season with losses to the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets, the pre-season predictions that Chuck Pagano’s team were Super Bowl contenders were swiftly reconsidered.

But a win over the Tennessee Titans last week has Pagano dreaming of Super Bowl 50 once again.  The Colts weren’t stellar - they needed three touchdowns in the final seven minutes and a failed two-point conversion by the Titans to seal a 35-33 win - but their season is back on track.

The Jacksonville Jaguars are the Colts opponents on Sunday. Gus Bradley’s team were thrashed 51-17 by the New England Patriots in week three and their woes were added by yet more injuries to the secondary. Safeties Josh Evans (knee) and Sergio Brown (calf) and cornerback Davon House (leg) were all withdrawn from Sunday’s game, while safety Johnathan Cyprien (calf) and cornerback Dwayne Gratz (ankle) missed the game entirely. 

If the Colts offence - featuring Andrew Luck, TY Hilton, Donte Moncrief, Andre Johnson, Phillip Dorsett and Frank Gore - has a breakout performance, then a similar rout to the one the Jaguars suffered against the Patriots is on the cards.

Vick starts for the Steelers

Last Sunday’s win over the St Louis Rams was a bittersweet one for the Pittsburgh Steelers after quarterback Roethlisberger suffered a sprained knee ligament and bone bruise, sidelining him for “a number of weeks” according to head coach Mike Tomlin.

The incident, which came in a third-quarter collision with Rams’ safety Mark Barron, meant Michael Vick finished the game for the Steelers. Vick, now in his 13th NFL season, will start in Thursday night’s AFC North clash against the Baltimore Ravens. 

The Steelers offence isn’t nearly as potent with the 35-year-old Vick under centre, but he has the supporting cast around him to keep the Steelers’ season on track until Roethlisberger returns. 

Palmer has bad memories against the Rams

Last year the Arizona Cardinals’ Super Bowl dreams were disintegrated when Carson Palmer tore his anterior cruciate ligament against the Rams in Week 10; the Cardinals were 8-1 when Palmer suffered the season-ending injury.

They hung on to a play-off berth despite losing four of their remaining seven regular season games but, with third-choice Ryan Lindley as the quarterback after another  injury to backup Drew Stanton, fell to the Carolina Panthers in the Wild Card round.

Palmer has made an incredible recovery to lead his team to a 3-0 start, throwing nine touchdowns. On Sunday he takes on the team that ended his 2014 season prematurely in the same stadium the injury occurred. There’s no better setting to forget last year’s bad memories. 

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