7 things to watch in NFL’s Week 4: Tom Brady could set yet another record

Plus, a few heated rivals will go at it, and London-born Jay Ajayi finally gets to play in his hometown.

Tom Brady has already made NFL history this year. Seven months after setting almost every Super Bowl record ever, Brady added to his accolades once September rolled around: He became the first meme of the 2017 season, and he now has the most AFC offensive player of the week honors in league history, something we had no idea was even tracked.

This weekend, Brady could hold another record, this one a bit more celebrated than a weekly award. If the Patriots beat the Panthers on Sunday afternoon, Brady will tie Brett Favre and Peyton Manning for the most regular season wins by a starting quarterback.

If that sounds like a record Brady already owns, there’s a reason: He is the NFL’s all-time leader in career wins, which includes his (yes, record) five Super Bowl titles and (yes, record) 25 playoff wins. Right now, Brady is sitting at 185 regular season wins:

The only thing that stopped him from setting the record earlier was, well, his four-game Deflategate suspension last year. But barring anything unexpected, like an injury or a surprise second Deflategate suspension, Brady should hold the record outright at some point in October.

There are, of course, dozens of other records Brady doesn’t have. Favre has completed more passes (and thrown more interceptions) than anyone in NFL history. Manning’s atop the record books in passing yards and passing touchdowns.

But at age 40 and still breaking hearts and slinging the rock like someone born in the 90s, this won’t be the last record Brady sets.

Raiders vs. Broncos will separate a playoff team from a pretender

The AFC West may be the NFL’s toughest division. Sunday’s contest between the Raiders and Broncos will provide some separation between the two teams trying to catch the Chiefs in a race to the playoffs.

Both teams are struggling to manage expectations. Oakland came into 2017 with hope that a healthy Derek Carr could follow up on last season’s 12-3 record as a starter. Denver had more modest expectations — until a 42-17 rout of the Cowboys stirred Super Bowl hype.

Week 3 was a jarring wake-up call for each. The Raiders gained just 128 yards against an average Washington defense to lose their first game of the season. The Broncos unraveled in a 26-16 loss to a Bills team that’s doing a poor job of tanking for a premier draft pick. The end result was two surprising defeats — and Kansas City standing alone atop the division.

That leaves Week 4 as a proving point for each team. Carr will have to respond after a performance that was, statistically, the third-worst of his career. The Broncos’ offense will have to make a similar leap to even approach the level at which its all-star defense is playing. The winner gets a head start on its postseason dreams. The loser falls to .500 with a tough remaining schedule on the horizon.

What’s even better than a three fire-emoji AFC West matchup? How about football psychic Tony Romo calling the game on CBS. Romo-to-Denver was the rumored offseason flirtation that never came to light, as the veteran quarterback chose the broadcast booth instead. On Sunday, we’ll get to hear him analyze the team he maybe-kinda-sorta could have been playing for in 2017.

Will the Titans stake their claim on the AFC South’s top spot?

Tennessee’s revival fell tantalizingly short in 2016, when the Texans used their division record tiebreaker to win. the AFC South crown despite the two teams’ identical 9-7 records. After beating the Seahawks and Jaguars, the Titans are primed to end their eight-year playoff drought — and getting some revenge on Houston would be a massive step toward their goal.

Mike Mularkey’s team has used a run-heavy approach to grind down opponents, utilizing Demarco Murray and Derrick Henry in a thunder-and-lightning platoon that’s averaged 5.3 yards per carry. That’s helped the Titans overcome a slow start from Marcus Mariota, who has struggled to create big plays downfield.

Mariota won’t have much time to set himself in the pocket Sunday. The Texans are coming off a dominant pass-rushing performance against New England where they battered Tom Brady en route to five sacks. Surprisingly, none came from J.J. Watt, who is still searching for his first sack of the season.

If the Titans can hold off the Texans, it won’t just extend their lead atop the division. It will also put its biggest rival in a three-game hole, and deliver the added bonus of disheartening Houston on its home field. A Titans loss all but ensures another year of chaos in the AFC South.

Will Ben Roethlisberger return to form against his archrivals?

Roethlisberger hasn’t been bad, per se — he just hasn’t been Ben. The veteran quarterback has been held to fewer than 300 passing yards in his last nine games, his longest such streak since 2009. As a result, a Steelers team that features stars like Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell ranks just 16th in the league in scoring offense.

On Sunday, he’ll try to get back on track against a familiar opponent, but the Ravens won’t make it easy. Roethlisberger is 10-9 against his AFC North rival. His 84.3 quarterback rating against Baltimore is more than 10 points lower than his career rating against the league’s 30 other teams.

He knows he’ll have to be better after last week’s surprising upset loss to the Bears.

“I didn’t play well enough to win. We lost the game because of me, because I didn’t play well enough,” Roethlisberger told reporters after the defeat. “It’s not on anyone else. That’s how I felt, that’s what you’ve got to do is you’ve got to own it. And I’ll own it.”

Terrell Suggs, who has sacked Roethlisberger 17.5 times in his career, isn’t buying the idea the Pittsburgh quarterback will be anything less than his best on Sunday.

“He’s setting us up,” he told reporters Wednesday. “Yeah, you know, he’s playing mind games, the rat bastard. He’s setting us up. Tell Ben I’m on to his tricks. I know what he’s doing. I’m not going to let him fool me with trickery and Jedi mind tricks.”

One team (probably) has to win the Battle of Ohio

Both the Browns and Bengals are winless going into their intrastate rivalry. But when the clock ticks to zero in the Battle of Ohio, either the Bengals or the Browns will have their first win of the season. (Probably, that is. It hasn’t been that long since the Bengals’ last tie, after all.)

The Bengals’ offense couldn’t score a touchdown in the first two weeks of the season, so they fired their offensive coordinator, Ken Zampese, after Week 2. They jumped out to a 21-7 lead in the second quarter of the Week 3 matchup against the Packers. But Aaron Rodgers and Co. went on an offensive barrage in the second half and eventually won the game in overtime.

The Browns are giving it their all this year, but they have not been able to seal the deal. In a Week 3 matchup against the Indianapolis Colts, Cleveland went down 28-7 in the second quarter. The Browns’ offense rallied in the second half but lost 31-28.

The Bengals and the Browns both consistently find ways to lose each week. But unless this game ends in a beautiful tie, one of them has to end their skid. Which squad will finally jump into the win column for the first time this season?

Jay Ajayi returns home to London for his first game in the UK

Jay Ajayi’s road to the NFL has taken some pretty wide turns, starting in England, swooping through Boise, Idaho, and finally coming to rest as a Pro Bowl tailback for the Miami Dolphins. On Sunday, for the first time in his career, he’ll get to play in front of his hometown crowd when the Dolphins take on the Saints at Wembley Stadium.

“It’s exciting, man, getting to go home,” Ajayi told the media on Wednesday. “My whole family is flying out. It’s a special thing. I think it’ll be even more special and I get there and it’s about to kick off and all that. I think that’ll be a great moment for me and my family as well.”

Ajayi was on injured reserve the last time the Dolphins played across the pond, and missed out on his team’s 24-17 loss to the Jets in 2015. He probably wouldn’t have had much of an impact, however — he gained just 187 yards his rookie season before breaking out with three 200-yard games in 2016.

He’ll have to hope for a breakout game in the city he was born in to put a disappointing Week 3 performance in his rearview. After torching the Chargers for 122 yards in his team’s opener, he was limited to just 16 yards on 11 carries last week against the Jets.

Will Cam Newton finally look like himself against the Patriots?

Through three games, the Patriots have yet to hold an opponent to fewer than 300 passing yards. In Week 3, they struggled to contain Deshaun Watson on the ground, as the rookie quarterback extended plays throughout the afternoon and eventually gashed the New England defense for 41 yards.

That’s great news for Cam Newton — and it could be just the thing to snap the former MVP out of a slump. Newton has struggled for the second straight season, throwing for only 566 yards and a pair of touchdowns while adding four interceptions in his first three games. The Panthers have overcome his performance, and taken advantage of a soft schedule, to roll out to a 2-1 start anyway. But they’ll come crashing down to .500 if their offensive leader can’t step his game up Sunday.

He’ll have the opportunity to bounce back against a Patriots defense that’s declined without Donta Hightower and gotten middling returns from an all-star secondary. Bill Belichick knows just how dangerous Newton can be, and sang his praises in the lead-up to Sunday’s showdown.

“He makes good decisions, he can run, he’s strong, he’s hard to tackle,” Belichick said. He can do a lot of different things, beat you in a lot of different ways. We saw that in the game down there in ’13, so I would put him at the top of the list. Not saying the other guys aren’t a problem, because they are, but he’s public enemy No. 1.”

He shined the last time he faced New England — Newton threw three touchdown passes in 2013 to lead his Panthers to a 24-20 win over the AFC East champs.

Via SBNation.com