It’s Week 4 of the NFL season. It’s about this time of the year when we start to know who’s for real (Steelers, Colts, Packers, Texans, Falcons, maybe Saints and Jets) and who’s not (I’m looking at you, San Francisco). There are a few question marks out there still (e.g. Are the Chiefs actually good?), but it’s definitely getting a little clearer. My picks in bold. Last week: 9 wins – 7 losses. Season record: (26-19-3)
San Francisco 49ers at Atlanta Falcons (-7): The Falcons really impressed last Sunday by defeating the defending champ New Orleans Saints in the Superdome. Atlanta prevailed 27-24 in overtime after Saints’ kicker Garrett Hartley missed a 29-yard field goal to win it. With a little fortune and a lot of skill, Atlanta may have taken control of the NFC South. The San Francisco 49ers elicit only one word from me. Ugh. (Is that a word or just a sound? These things matter). After a 31-10 beatdown from Kansas City, San Fran has completely lost me. I continue to refuse to bet on QB Alex Smith. The Falcons are 14-1 at home with QB Matt Ryan, and they improve on that record on Sunday.
New York Jets (-5.5) at Buffalo Bills: Not much to say about the Bills other than my “eliminator” challenge strategy is still working (See Week 3). However, I will not be choosing the Jets this week for only one reason; I am saving them for Week 17 for their rematch with Buffalo. Still, this one should be a lock. Even without Darrelle Revis, the Jets defense holds strong against new Buffalo QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. But, Fitzpatrick is a Harvard grad, so we know one thing for certain. He knows how to waste 200 grand. (Zing! I’m just kidding…maybe). That bad decision making will show on the football field, as the Jets defense pressures Fitzpatrick into mistakes. New York rolls with Mark Sanchez’s improved passing attack, as the second-year QB has thrown six TDs and zero INTs so far this year.
Cincinnati Bengals (-3) at Cleveland Browns: The Bengals haven’t exactly been impressive in their 2-1 start, especially QB Carson Palmer. A match-up with the Browns should help matters, as Palmer has struggled this season, throwing three TDs, three INTs, and completing only 57% of his passes. Meanwhile, Cleveland’s QB situation isn’t much better. Starter Jake Delhomme will return after missing two games with a sprained ankle. Delhomme and his backup Seneca Wallace have combined for three TDs, three INTs, and less than 200 passing yards per game. The Bengals swept the Browns last year, including a 16-7 win in Cleveland. Look for much of the same on Sunday.
Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers (-14.5): The Detroit Lions have won just two games in their previous two seasons, and this season hasn’t started any better. An 0-3 start and a matchup with the Green Bay Packers have turned this year into yet another “rebuilding year” for the much maligned Lions. On the other side of the ball, Green Bay may be the best team in the NFC this year with the Saints and Vikes taking steps backwards. Green Bay beat Detroit 26-0 at Lambeau last year, and Detroit hasn’t won in Green Bay since 1991. That trend continues on Sunday.
Denver Broncos (+6.5) at Tennessee Titans: The Titans are 2-1, with their one loss coming against the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers, but I still say they are overvalued at this point. Tennessee allowed 470 total yards in their win over the New York Giants, including 364 passing yards. The Titans will have to address that pass defense because Denver QB Kyle Orton has amassed the second-most passing yards in the NFL this season. Only Philip Rivers of San Diego has passed for more than Orton’s 1078 yards in three games. Unless the Titans get more consistent defense and QB play from Vince Young, they are still the third-best team in the difficult AFC South. Don’t worry, I still like the Titans to win, but I’ll take the Broncos and the points.
Seattle Seahawks (-1) at St. Louis Rams: Want to know a random team that has weirdly dominated another random team? (Hint: They are in the NFC West, and playing in this game.) The Seahawks have won ten straight games against the St. Louis Rams, good enough for the third-longest active winning streak for a team against one opponent (Chargers over Raiders, and Pats over Bills are longer ones). Despite winning just nine games in the last two years, four of those victories came in their four division clashes with the Rams. Betting rule of thumb #1: Do not bet against a streak. By that logic, I’ll take Seattle.
Carolina Panthers (+13.5) at New Orleans Saints: The defending Super Bowl champs continue to be overvalued, as we saw with their overtime loss to the Atlanta Falcons last week. The Saints have been favored in all three of their games, and they haven’t covered the spread yet. If Carolina wants to have success in New Orleans, they are going to try to run the ball on the notably porous Saints’ defense. New Orleans is ranked 30th in the NFL in run defense so far this season, allowing 145 rushing yards per game. Carolina has yet to show their running prowess that gained them nearly 2500 rushing yards last year. In their first three games, the Panthers are averaging just under 100 rushing yards per game, well under their 2009 average. In order for the Panthers to have a chance, their “Smash & Dash” duo RBs of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart need to be a little more like the ultimate sports duo Ricky Bobby and Cal Naughton, Jr.
(If you’re wondering if I really just placed a fictional duo of NASCAR drivers from a Will Ferrell movie ahead of all-time, and more importantly less fictional, greats such as Jordan and Pippen, I did just that. If we are to believe Talladega Nights, Ricky Bobby wins every single race for something like five years, considering his presumed age and wealth. That’s a ridiculous achievement worthy of serious recognition. Shake and bake!)
Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers (-1.5): Honestly, as a fan of the Baltimore Ravens, I thought this was an easy pick. The Steelers are fired up to prove their defense is back, and that they can win without Big Ben Roethlisberger. Nothing would please Pittsburgh more than to beat down their division rival who got all the Super Bowl hype and preseason attention. Thus far, the Ravens have proved they don’t deserve that praise quite yet. Baltimore’s 2-1 start has been shaky, including a come-from-behind win over the hapless Cleveland Browns last week. With feature RB Ray Rice potentially missing this game, I really like the Steelers to win this game and take control of the AFC North. By the way, in Joe Flacco’s two years as Ravens QB, he is 0-3 in Pittsburgh.
Houston Texans (-3) at Oakland Raiders: I know the Houston Texans’ bandwagon took a big hit last week in a surprising loss to the Dallas Cowboys. (I say surprising because you were probably surprised. Me, being awesome, picked the Cowboys to upset Houston. Go ahead. Look it up. I’ll wait…). Anyway, as I was saying before being interrupted by all that applause (Really, you can stop now. You’re too kind), the Texans remain a force to be reckoned with in the AFC, despite the Week 3 loss. The Raiders have a good defense, but the Texans have an even better offense. Houston traveled to Oakland last year and left with a 29-6 win. I like the Texans to take the rematch as well.
Indianapolis Colts (-7) at Jacksonville Jaguars: In three months, when we look back on Jacksonville’s inevitable 3-13 season, we will wonder one thing. At what point did the team, fans, and ownership decide to give up on coach Jack Del Rio? The answer is this game. The Colts will throttle the Jags, and Jacksonville’s freefall into NFL irrelevancy continues.
Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles (-6): The Redskins visit Philadelphia in Donovan McNabb’s (not-so) triumphant return to the city where he played eleven seasons, a city that ultimately jettisoned him in favor of an unproven backup and a convicted felon. The only problem for McNabb is that his team isn’t so good. Washington’s defense ranks last in total yards allowed and second-worst in passing yards allowed. The resurgent Michael Vick is averaging 250 passing yards per game with a QB rating of 110.2, well above his career average of 77.5. Vick leads the Eagles over the Redskins in this one.
Arizona Cardinals at San Diego Chargers (-8.5): Is there a worse team who is 2-1 than the Arizona Cardinals? I challenge you to find one. Is there a better team with a 1-2 record than San Diego? Clearly Vegas knows these records don’t reflect the team’s ability given how high the line is. The Chargers have been notoriously bad in the month of September, going 6-8 in coach Norv Turner’s four years. Luckily for them, it’s October now. Meanwhile, Arizona QB Derek Anderson convinces more and more each week not to bet on the Cardinals. Anderson is averaging less than 200 passing yards per game, but worst he has three INTs and is completing just 52% of his passes. With the poor QB play and the change of the month, the Chargers are the play here.
Chicago Bears (+4) at New York Giants: Question: Who is the only undefeated team in the NFC? Answer: The Chicago Bears. Yes, the Bears are 3-0 while the more high-profile NFC teams (Saints, Falcons, Packers, Vikings, and Cowboys) have all suffered losses. Now, the Bears aren’t the best team in the NFC, but they deserve to get some buzz. Jay Cutler is finally playing up to his potential under new offensive coordinator Mike Martz, and the defense has been stifling against the run, allowing less than 40 yards per game on the ground. In a close game, I’ll take the points.
New England Patriots (-1) at Miami Dolphins: Monday Night Football features an AFC East showdown in Miami. The line on this game opened at Dolphins (-1) but has since moved to Patriots (-1). Clearly the betting public believes the Pats have the upper hand, but I can’t say I’m too enthused about the Patriots so far. I’m a big believer in Tom Brady and all the weapons in the Pats’ passing attack, but their defense has been appalling. Certainly, injuries haven’t helped as starters DE Ty Warren and CB Leigh Bodden are out for the year. With a young and inexperienced defensive unit, New England ranks 27th in the NFL with nearly 380 total yards allowed per game. Not exactly what you would expect from a Bill Belichick-coached team. So why am I taking the Pats? I have no idea. Maybe it’s just gut instinct telling me not to bet against Tom Brady in a nationally-televised primetime game.