There are some really good games this week; unfortunately most are on at the same time as the Pats game. After that it is what has become a weekly occurrence, The Peyton Manning Show on display for a national audience. Consider how the Broncos have been positioned on television thus far:
Week 1: Thursday Night
Week 2: Late afternoon game shown everywhere except Jacksonville, Phoenix and northern California
Week 3: Monday Night
Week 4: Late afternoon game, broadcast in 40 states
Week 5: Only late afternoon game on CBS
Over the next three weeks there are two more late games and a Sunday night game; the networks won’t know what to do with themselves when Denver has a bye the following week.
Week Five should be interesting as all of the remaining undefeated teams are playing on the road, and none of them are facing pushovers. That has a lot to do with a somewhat rare occurrence: four teams with winning records are underdogs Sunday. New Orleans and Detroit are winning underdogs on the road, while Tennessee and Indianapolis are the rare home dogs with winning records.
At the other end of the spectrum the Giants have their best chance at a win thus far this season (home versus Eagles), while the Jaguars will have their best chance at a victory for the entire season – and yet they are still double-digit underdogs. Overall the quality of games is pretty good this week, thanks in part to the fact that the four teams with a bye have a combined record of 2-14.
On a separate topic, memo to the “experts” at ESPN and NFLN: enough with your declaring a team to be the “3rd best offense”, “2nd worst defense”, and so on in a manner that cannot be disputed when it is based strictly on yardage statistics. For the record there was not one, not two, not three, but four NFL games last week in which the team that was out-gained won. I’ll take more points on the scoreboard than more yards on a stat sheet any day of the week, thank you.
New England Patriots (4-0) at Cincinnati Bengals (2-2) (early, CBS) ★★★★★
I’m not a big fan of picking teams to win back-to-back road games against quality opponents, a position that the Patriots (and Seattle) are in this week. Heading into last week’s game I felt the Patriots had the edge on both the offensive and defensive lines, and sure enough winning the battles at the line of scrimmage led to a victory. This week the shoe is on the other foot, most notably due to Vince Wilfork being placed on Injured Reserve. Cincy’s defensive front seven is much better than what the pats faced last week in Atlanta. NT Domata Peko and DT Geno Atkins versus C Ryan Wendell and RG Dan Connolly is a mismatch that heavily favors the Bengals. The Pats will surely bring help their way (TE Michael Hoomanawanui crossing in motion, or lining up in the backfield), but that creates more opportunity for DE Carlos Dunlap, DE Michael Johnson and OLB Vontaze Burfict.
Before you go and head to claim your place in line to jump off the Tobin Bridge, all hope is not at all lost for the Patriots in this game. When Tom Brady does get time to set his feet he should have success, as Cincinnati’s top CB Leon Hall is doubtful due to a hamstring injury, CB Brandon Ghee also doubtful, and CB Dre Kirkpatrick questionable to play Sunday. In addition Johnson is questionable after suffering a concussion last week and may not be able to play either. The Bengals have plenty of weapons, but Andy Dalton seems to lack the arm strength to utilize them properly.
Pick • Bengals 23, Patriots 20 ✔
Bengals -1 ✔
Under 46 ✔
Result: Bengals 13, Patriots 6
Seattle Seahawks (4-0) at Indianapolis Colts (3-1) (early, FOX) ★★★★
Seattle is off to a 4-0 start for the first time in franchise history after last week’s stunning overtime comeback victory at Houston. The Seahawks are 2nd in the NFL in points allowed and third in interceptions, and shut the Texans out in the second half last week. Offensively they want Marshawn Lynch to waer down the Indy defense running the ball, and there’s a good chance of accomplishing that: the Colts run D is middle of the pack (4.2 yards per carry; 107 yards per game) despite some soft opposition (Jaguars, Raiders). Still, Seattle is playing on the back end of two long road trips and is not remotely as good on the road as they are at home; they can’t rely on being gifted like they were last week by Gary Kubiak and Matt Schaub.
Seahawks DE/OLB Bruce Irvin (eight sacks in 2012) will play for the first time this yeas (four game suspension, PEDs); his presence should more than offset the possible loss of DE Michael Bennett (back) in this game. Seattle has just as many interceptions (four) as touchdowns allowed in the eleven red zone possessions by opponents this year, and can keep any game within reach with their defense. I just wonder when their luck runs out; it’s not reasonable to expect a team to keep winning with improbable 4th quarter comebacks on the road like Seattle has done thus far.
Pick • Upset Special: Colts 21, Seahawks 17 ✔
Colts +3 ✔
Under 44 (one unit) ✘
Result: Colts 34, Seahawks 28
Detroit Lions (3-1) at Green Bay Packers (1-2) (early, FOX) ★★★★
Detroit has improved dramatically on defense by forcing turnovers; they already have 11 this year after collecting just 17 takeaways in all of 2012. Green Bay hasn’t done well in that department this year (just 5 takeaways), but even so overall they’re about on par with the Lions (29 points allowed vs 25). The Packers have done a good job stuffing the run (3.7 yards per carry) but have struggled in pass defense (rank 31st with 9.0 yards per pass attempt); Calvin Johnson (312 yards, 4 TD) could have a big game despite being the only legitimate receiving threat. Look for this to be a high scoring back-and-forth affair; the Packers rank 2nd in point scored (32.0) and the Lions are 4th (30.5)
Pick • Packers 35, Lions 31 ✔
Lions +7½ ✘
Over 52 (two units) ✘✘
Result: Packers 22, Lions 9
New Orleans Saints (4-0) at Chicago Bears (3-1) (early, FOX) ★★★★
Drew Brees and the Saints looked like one of the best teams in the league last week, but can the dome team duplicate that production on the road? The Saints defense has improved considerably from a year ago, allowing just 13.8 points per game (5th). Chicago’s defense has measurably regressed from a year ago when they were led the league in takeaways; they are now giving up 28.5 points per game (26th). The Bears will need to rely on Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall to win in a shootout; though that sounds like an iffy proposition, keep in mind that Chicago is 3rd offensively in the NFL, scoring 31.8 points per game. The Saints have only played one road game this year – when they nearly lost to the 0-4 Bucs.
Right now New Orleans is the second best team in NFC and is on a post-bountygate scorched earth mission to Roger Goodell and the rest of the NFL. Sean Payton’s club has outscored their opponents by 53 points and even outside of the comforts of their dome should still be able to demolish a Chicago defense that has struggled to defend against the pass (8.3 yards per pass attempt, 29th). The Bears were exposed last week and look for the Saints to use similar game plan en route to their 5th win.
Pick • Upset Special: Saints 31, Bears 24 ✔
Saints +1½ ✔
Over 47½ (one unit) ✘
Result: Saints 26, Bears 18
Houston Texans (2-2) at San Francisco 49ers (2-2) (Sunday night, NBC) ★★★★
Let me get this straight: Gary Kubiak does not allow Matt Schaub to call an audible? Is that because Kubiak is an obsessive micro manager, or is it because Shaub is not intelligent enough to do so? The Texans are not playing nearly as well as their record would indicate, and the 49ers are riding out the storm of an injury-riddled start to the season.
After an embarrassing loss at home to the Colts, the Niners’ defense looked like their D from a year ago: wrapping up, making tackles and shutting down everything that St. Louis attempted to do. The Rams could only muster 3 points and 53 yards through three quarters, while the 49ers’ offense ended up scoring 35 points.
Pick • 49ers 23, Texans 17 ✔
Texans +7 ✘
Under 42½ ✔
Result: 49ers 34, Texans 3
Denver Broncos (4-0) at Dallas Cowboys (2-2) (late, CBS) ★★★
Love him or loathe him, you have to give Peyton Manning his due; the Forehead is on fire. 16 touchdowns with zero interceptions; 75% completions; 367 yards per game; 138 passer rating – he’s been incredible thus far this season. Now the Broncos face a Dallas defense that is giving up a 27th-ranked 305 yards per game and has surrendered a league-high ten touchdown passes. If the Dallas defense had no answer for Philip Rivers and his cast of unknown receivers, what’s going to happen when they have to defend against Manning, Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Welker and Julius Thomas? Tony Romo and Dez Bryant will keep the Cowboys in it for a while, but they’re not going to win a shootout.
Pick • Broncos 35, Cowboys 24 ✔
Broncos -7 ✘
Over 55½ (one unit) ✔
Result: Broncos 51, Cowboys 48
Baltimore Ravens (2-2) at Miami Dolphins (3-1) (early, CBS) ★★★
Both teams are coming off losses, but few teams win at New Orleans; the same cannot be said for the Ravens looking so bad at Buffalo. Flacco ranks 29th in yards per pass attempt (6.3) and 28th in passer rating, and the run game (2.6 yards per carry, 30th) is just as bad. With the Baltimore offensive line struggling to create running lanes, the talents of RBs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce are being wasted. It will be tough for Miami to rebound on a short week or preparation, but the Ravens are not a a consistent team, and incosistent teams struggle on the road.
Pick • Dolphins 24, Ravens 20 ✘
Dolphins -2½ ✘
Over 42½ ✔
Result: Ravens 26, Dolphins 23
Kansas City Chiefs (4-0) at Tennessee Titans (3-1) (early, CBS) ★★★
The Chiefs are a great example of how “official” rankings of defenses (by yards allowed) can be deceiving: KC is 9th in yards allowed, but 1st in the more important points allowed (10.3). The Titans have quietly vastly improved their D as well: they rank 7th in points (17.3). QB Jake Locker was quietly having a much better than expected season before his hip injury; Ryan “Pick-Fitz” Fitzpatrick, who led the NFL in interceptions two years ago, takes over.
The Chiefs D ranks 31st against the run (5.4 yards per carry), but that stat is a bit misleading. Much of that yardage came against the Eagles (264 yards rushing) and they play a lot of nickel and dime (they have only played from behind for 12 minutes this year); their defensive backs have been very good in coverage. If KC gets the lead I’ll take their D to force a Fitzpatrick turnover.
Pick • Chiefs 24, Titans 17 ✔
Chiefs -2½ ✔
Over 38½ ✔
Result: Chiefs 26, Titans 17
Carolina Panthers (1-2) at Arizona Cardinals (2-2) (late, FOX) ★★
The line here doesn’t make much sense to me. Carolina has only one win this season (against a terrible 0-4 team); Arizona has two victories. The Panthers are not only on the road, but traveling across the country for this game. Yet Carolina is favored? Granted the Panthers rank third, allowing only 12.0 points per game, but which team shows up? The one that crushed a really bad Giants team, or the one that gave up 436 yards in a loss to the Bills?
Arizona’s defense excels against the run, ranking second in the NFL in both yards per game (75) and yards per carry (3.0), and they get a boost with the return of LB Daryl Washington (suspension). Carolina’s strength is running the ball but should Arizona take that away then they will be in a very favorable position by forcing the Panthers to throw the ball. If QB Carson Palmer is occasionally given time – a very big if, since the Arizona OL is a sieve – the Panthers’ secondary is thin and very vulnerable.
Pick • Upset Special: Cardinals 17, Panthers 13 ✔
Cardinals +2½ ✔
Under 42½ (two units) ✔✔
Result: Cardinals 22, Panthers 6
San Diego Chargers (2-2) at Oakland Raiders (1-3) (
late, CBS late Sunday night, NFLN) ★★
Philip Rivers appears to have resurrected his fading career in San Diego this season. To me Rivers had not been the same quarterback ever since getting beat up pretty badly in a game against the Patriots a couple years ago. Whether he is once again healthy, or simply rejuvenated by new coach Mike McCoy, Rivers is playing much better this season; he threw for 401 yards, including the 200th touchdown pass of his career, as the San Diego rallied to defeat the Cowboys last week.
Both teams enter this game with injury concerns. San Diego is now without Dwight Freeney and Melvin Ingram, making an already anemic defense – they rank 30th with 8.5 yards per pass attempt, 30th with 433 yards per game, and 20th at 26 points per game – even more exposed. The Raiders get QB Terrelle Pryor back under center, but lost running backs Darren McFadden (hamstring) and Marcel Reece (knee) to injuries in their loss to Washington last week.
Pick • Chargers 31, Raiders 24 ✘
Chargers -4½ ✘
Over 44½ ✘
Result: Raiders 27, Chargers 17
New York Jets (2-2) at Atlanta Falcons (1-3) (Monday night, ESPN) ★
Last week we saw the Patriots control the line of scrimmage both offensively and defensively at Atlanta. The Jets are very good on both their OL and DL and should be able to do the same against the Falcons. Their problem is that Geno Smith has nobody to throw the ball to; their situation is so dire that picking up TE Zach Sudfeld is actually a marked improvement for their offense.
Pick • Falcons 20, Jets 16 ✘
Jets +10 (one unit) ✔
Under 44 ✘
Result: Jets 30, Falcons 28
Philadelphia Eagles (1-3) at New York Giants (0-4) (early, FOX) ★
Back in week one the Eagles crushed Washington, but based on what the Redskins have done this year that victory no longer looks as impressive as it did then. Since then Philly has lost three straight and their defense has been hideous; their D ranks dead last in yardage (447 per game), 31st in points allowed (34.5), 30th in passing yards (325) and 27th in yards per pass attempt (8.1).
The cure for Philadelphia’s skid could be available Sunday at MetLife Stadium, where they face a Giants team that may actually be worse. Big Blue ranks last with 36.5 points allowed per game and they have turned the ball over an incredible 16 times in four games, which is also a league worst. The G-men’s offense isn’t any better than their D: only the Bucs and Jags are scoring fewer than New York’s 15.3 points per game.
Pick • Upset Special: Eagles 27, Giants 24 ✔
Eagles +2½ ✔
Under 54½ ✘
Result: Eagles 36, Giants 21
Jacksonville Jaguars (0-4) at St. Louis Rams (1-3) (early, CBS) ★
While the Jags have been awful so far, don’t overlook the terrible play by the Rams this season either. St. Louis ranks 32nd in rushing, 31st in yards per carry, 30th in yards per pass attmpt, 30th in rushing yards allowed, and is giving up over 30 points per game. It’s an incredible testament to just how atrocious Jacksonville is that despite how terrible St. Louis is, the Rams are still 12-point favorites.
Pick • Rams 24, Jaguars 17 ✔
Jaguars +12 (one unit) ✘✘
Under 42½ ✘
Result: Rams 34, Jaguars 20
Thursday Night, Buffalo Bills (2-2) at Cleveland Browns (2-2)
Pick • Browns 20, Bills 17 ✔
Bills +4½ ✘
Under 41 ✘
Result: Browns 37, Bills 24
Bye week: Vikings, Steelers, Buccaneers, Redskins
Three-Team Teaser (two units): ✘✘
Colts-Seahawks under 53 ✘
Packers-Lions over 43 ✘
Broncos-Cowboys over 46½ ✔
Three-Team Teaser (two units): ✔✔
Raiders +14 ✔
Jets +19 ✔
Colts +12 ✔
Week Four had a bit of an oddity, where in every game the team that won straight up also won against the spread. Seattle is now a perfect 4-0 ATS, which is a bit of a surprise because usually the teams that are best ATS are undervalued by the public. Seattle is certainly thought of very highly by NFL fans, yet they are still outperforming expectations.
On the other end of the spectrum there are five teams that are now 0-4 ATS: the Steelers, Rams, Giants, Jaguars and Texans. Everybody knows that Jacksonville bad, but the public is just starting to catch on to the monumental proportions of how terrible they truly are. The Giants and Steelers are putrid, but the public still has in their mind how successful they have been in recent years. Houston is a team that some envisioned to being able to take the next step after falling apart due to injuries late last year, but right now they appear to be an underachieving mess that is fortunate to not be 0-4 straight up like the Giants and Steelers. As for Tampa Bay, consider this: the Bucs are now 1-9 in their last ten games, with the only victory coming in week 17 when Atlanta had nothing to play for.
Overall week four was as good as one can possibly hope for, and a nice rebound from week three. The Giants gave me plenty of indigestion early (7-7 late in the second half) as I had a total of ten units riding on the Chiefs to cover (five units on KC -4; part of a three unit teaser; and part of a one unit parlay) but the G-Men stayed true to their 2013 form and ended up losing by plenty, allowing the Chiefs to cover with plenty of room to spare. I will readily admit that I got lucky with the Seahawks (thank you Matt Schaub and Gary Kubiak), with an overtime FG giving me a half-point cover – but sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.
Tale Of The Tape
Week 4 Results
Straight Up: 9-6, 60%
Underdogs to win straight up: 2-3, 40%
Against the Spread: 9-6, 60%
ATS picking favorites: 6-3 (5-1, +890)
ATS picking underdogs: 3-3 (1-0, +100)
ATS Confidence Picks: 6-1, 86% (+990)
One Unit Plays ATS: 4-1, +290
Two Unit Plays ATS: 1-0, +200
Three Unit Plays ATS: none
Four Unit Plays ATS: none
Five Unit Plays ATS: 1-0, +500
Over Under Total: 10-5, 67%
Picking Over: 7-3 (2-0, +300)
Picking Under: 3-2 (2-0, +300)
O/U Confidence Picks: 4-0, 100% (+600)
One Unit Plays O/U: 2-0, +200
Two Unit Plays O/U: 2-0, +400
Three Unit Plays O/U: none
Four Unit Plays O/U: none
Five Unit Plays O/U: none
Best Play of the Week: won by 20 points — Chiefs -4 vs Giants (five units)
2-Team Teasers: none
3-Team Teasers: 1-0, +300
2-Team Parlays: none
3-Team Parlays: 1-0, +600
College Games: 3-1, +390
Week 4 Total: (3080 risked; net +2880; +93.5% ROI)
Straight Up: 46-17 (73%)
Underdogs to win straight up: 6-5 (55%)
Against the Spread: 33-27-3 (55%)
ATS picking favorites: 19-15-2, 52% (11-8, +480)
ATS picking underdogs: 14-12-1, 55% (6-1, +990)
ATS Confidence Picks: 17-9, 65% (+1470)
One Unit Plays ATS: 9-6, 60% (+240)
Two Unit Plays ATS: 6-2, 75% (+770)
Three Unit Plays ATS: none
Four Unit Plays ATS: 1-1, 50% (-40)
Five Unit Plays ATS: 1-0, 100% (+500)
Over Under Total: 37-26 (59%)
Picking Over: 17-12, 59% (3-2, -40)
Picking Under: 20-14, 59% (9-5, +520)
O/U Confidence Picks: 12-7, 63% (+480)
One Unit Plays O/U: 7-3, 70% (+370)
Two Unit Plays O/U: 4-3, 57% (+140)
Three Unit Plays O/U: 1-1, 50% (-30)
Four Unit Plays O/U: none
Five Unit Plays O/U: none
Best Play of the Week: 3-1, +760
2-Team Teasers: none
3-Team Teasers: 2-1 (2-0, +600)
2-Team Parlays: none
3-Team Parlays: 1-0 (1-0, +600)
College Games: 3-1, +390
(9470 risked; net +3540; +37.4% ROI)
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