Some quick thoughts, insightful analysis and wild guesses on the NFL’s week four games.
Miami Dolphins (1-2) vs Oakland Raiders (0-3) in London ★★
Early game on CBS; Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts
Broadcast in south Florida, Tallahassee, Reno, northern California and southern Oregon
The Raiders played about as well as they are capable of playing last week and lost; the Patriots were their Super Bowl, and could have a bit of a letdown. The Dolphins on the other hand played very poorly last week, and should be motivated to improve on that performance. The wild card that’s holding me back is that Miami looked so awful last week that I am wondering if that was the real Dolphins, and week one was an aberration – so I am only going to give the Dolphins a slight lean in this game.
Pick • Dolphins 24, Raiders 20
Green Bay Packers (1-2) at Chicago Bears (2-1) ★★★★★
Early game on FOX; Kevin Burkhardt, John Lynch
Broadcast everywhere except Hawaii, Houston, Indianapolis, Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania (except Philadelphia), Baltimore, New Jersey, New York, New England and Florida
The Packers have been terrible in two road losses, but the cheese heads should snap out of their funk in this short road trip against their long-time division rival. The Bears are banged up, and losing CB Charles Tillman makes stopping Rodgers, Nelson and Cobb that much more difficult of a task.
Pick • Packers 27, Bears 24
Buffalo Bills (2-1) at Houston Texans (2-1) ★★★
Early game on CBS; Spero Dedes, Solomon Wilcots
Broadcast in Texas, New York (except NYC) and New England
Both teams took a step back towards their rightful spots in the middle of the pack with their first losses of the season last week. The Bills looked better in defeat, and there’s no shame in losing to the Chargers. Both teams like low-risk ball control offense, so let’s look at the run defenses. Buffalo is allowing 83 yards per game (5th) and 3.3 yards per carry (6th); Houston is allowing 142 yards per game (25th) and 5.2 yards per carry (31st). I’ll go with the Bills in a slight upset on the road.
Pick • Bills 20, Texans 17
Tennessee Titans (1-2) at Indianapolis Colts (1-2) ★★
Early game on CBS; Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon
Broadcast in Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Illinois and eastern Washington
Don’t be fooled by Indy’s 1-2 record; their first two games were at Denver and against Philly. Andrew Luck has thrown for 370 yards twice already, and should have no problem against and should have no problem against the Tennessee defense. The Titans don’t have the firepower (14.3 points per game, 31st in the NFL) to keep up with the Colts’ offense, and a game plan of trying to play keep away with Shonn Greene and Bishop Sankey running the ball is an iffy proposition at best.
Pick • Colts 31, Titans 17
Colts -7½ (one unit)
Carolina Panthers (2-1) at Baltimore Ravens (2-1) ★★★★
Early game on CBS; Greg Gumbel, Trent Green
Broadcast in Pennsylvania (except Pittsburgh, Maryland, Delaware, DC, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, West Virginia, Ohio, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, New Mexico, Arizona, Las Vegas, most of Oregon and Washington, Alaska and Hawaii
The vaunted Carolina defense took a body shot that dropped them to their knees last week. Pittsburgh ran for a mind-boggling 264 yards against the Panthers, including two runs of more than 50 yards each. Now they get to face the Ravens, another physical AFC North team that has rediscovered their running game. Baltimore is averaging 4.6 yards per carry and 137 yards rushing per game, as they have moved away from a long-pass offense that yielded inconsistent results in favor of more of the ground and pound that worked so well for them over the last several years.
The Panthers have also been a team that relies on running the ball, but that could be a problem for them Sunday. Running backs Jonathon Stewart and Mike Tolbert were injured last week, and Cam Newton is still recovering from the rib injury he suffered in the preseason game against the Patriots. That would leave Carolina dependent on DeAngelo Williams, who missed last week’s game with a thigh injury. I think the Carolina defense will have a bounce-back game here, but it’s tough to back them to win straight up on the road with their injuries – though TE Greg Olsen and rookie WR Kelvin Benjamin will help keep it very close.
Pick • Ravens 23, Panthers 21
Detroit Lions (2-1) at New York Jets (1-2) ★★
Early game on FOX; Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston
Broadcast in Hawaii, New England, New York, Michigan, Toledo, Miami and West Palm Beach
The Jets’ defense has performed better than I expected they would thus far, thanks to the strong play from the defensive line (10 sacks, ranked 2nd by Football Outsiders) overcoming the deficiencies in their secondary (7 touchdowns allowed, zero interceptions). The big if is Detroit’s offensive line can give Matthew Stafford enough time for Calvin Johnson (questionable, ankle) enough time to get downfield and exploit New York’s corners.
Pick • Jets 23, Lions 20
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1) ★★
Early game on FOX; Thom Brennaman, David Diehl
Broadcast in Florida (except Miami and West Palm), Myrtle Beach, West Virginia, Ohio (except Toledo) and Pennsylvania (except Philadelphia)
Even if the Steelers have a bit of a letdown after last week’s big win at Carolina, I can’t picture Tampa Bay (31st in point allowed, 31.7; 29th in points scored, 15.0) keeping this road game close.
Pick • Steelers 31, Bucs 10
Steelers -7 (four units)
Jacksonville Jaguars 90-3) at San Diego Chargers (2-1) ★★★
Late game on CBS; Andrew Catalon, Steve Tasker
Broadcast in New York City, Pittsburgh, Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville, Chicago, Michigan, Wisconsin, Colorado, Utah and southern California
The Chargers are coming off a pair of impressive wins, against defending champions Seattle, and then on the road against previously undefeated Buffalo. Jacksonville’s defense is awful, allowing 466 yards and 39.7 points per game. San Diego’s issues at running back may eventually catch up to them (they’re down to Donald Brown with Ryan Mathews out for a few more weeks with a sprained MCL, and Danny Woodhead on IR), but that won’t matter Sunday for Philip Rivers.
Pick • Chargers 38, Jaguars 14
Chargers -10½ (three units)
Philadelphia Eagles (3-0) at San Francisco 49ers (1-2) ★★★★★
Late game on FOX; Joe Buck, Troy Aikman
Broadcast everywhere except Georgia, Alabama, Florida panhandle, Louisville, Tulsa, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota
The Niners have outscored their opponents 59-16 in the first half of their three games, then folded down the stretch by a total of 52-3 in the second half. Philly on the other hand is the first team in NFL history to rally from double-digit deficits in each of their first three games; they have been outscored 54-27 in the first half, then outscored the opposition 74-24 in the second half.
Chip Kelly’s uptempo offense is a matchup nightmare for an older defense like San Francisco’s, though the physical Niner defense is certainly capable of causing havoc with a beat up offensive line like Philly’s. Tight end Veron Davis is expected to return this week, which gives San Fran a boost. It’s tough to win when traveling across three time zones to play a solid team; Philadelphia’s good fortune runs out this week.
Pick • Niners 34, Eagles 27
Atlanta Falcons (2-1) at Minnesota Vikings (1-2) ★★
Late game on FOX; Chris Myers, Ronde Barber
Broadcast in Georgia, Alabama, Florida panhandle, Louisville, Tulsa, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota
The Atlanta offense ranks first in scoring (34.3 points per game), yardage (450) and passing yards (334) after posting 56 points in the first 43 minutes of last week’s shellacking over Tampa Bay. WR Julio Jones has rebounded very nicely from his second foot surgery. Jones lead the NFL with 365 yards receiving, is tied for third in receptions (23) and fifth in receiving touchdowns (3) after three weeks. Captain Munnerlyn will be tasked with covering Jones, who is six inches taller and 25 pounds heavier. Atlanta likes to use a three receiver formation, and Munnerln normally moves to the nickel in those sets; CB Xavier Rhodes has been very inconsistent, which could lead for a big day for Roddy White, Harry Douglas and Devin Hester as well.
The Vikings meanwhile will be without three starters: QB Matt Cassel and RG Brandon Fusco are on IR, and TE Kyle Rudolph is out for several weeks with a sports hernia. Their running game is non-existent without Adrian Peterson, and the offense now ranks 28th in scoring (16.7 points per game), 29th in yardage (273) and 31st in passing (174). LT Matt Kalil has struggled in pass protection, and the offense is not built to win shootouts or come from behind to win. Although the defense has held its own – they held the Saints to 20 points last week – there’s just no way the Viking offense can keep up with Atlanta, even though the game is being played in Minnesota and outdoors.
Pick • Falcons 24, Vikings 13
under 47½ (one unit)
New Orleans Saints (1-2) at Dallas Cowboys (2-1) ★★★★
Sunday night game on NBC; Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth
A pair of teams with good offenses (Saints are 6th at 26.0 points per game, Cowboys 8th with 25.7) and below average defenses (New Orleans is 20th at 24.0, while Dallas is 18th at 23.0) means we should probably see a high-scoring game Sunday night. Dallas has transitioned to more of a running game with DeMarco Murray (5.1 yards per carry) leading the NFL with 385 rushing yards, 25 carries per game, and is tied for first with three rushing touchdowns. New Orleans lost Darren Sproles to free agency in the off season and Mark Ingram is out with a hand injury, that means Drew Brees (288 passing yards per game, 70.9% completion rate) will be throwing often to Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, Brandin Cooks and Kenny Stills. Opponents have focused on trying to take away the deep pass, and Brees has capitalized by taking what the defense gives him. The net result is the highest completion percentage of any full-time NFL starter thus far this year, as well as the best third down conversion rate (61.5%) of any team in the league.
Pick • Saints 34, Cowboys 27
New England Patriots (2-1) at Kansas City Chiefs (1-2) ★★★★★
Monday night game on ESPN; Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden
Kansas City had a big win at Miami last week, but after re-watching that game that appeared to be more about how poorly the Dolphins played than how well the Chiefs performed. Jamaal Charles will apparently return to at least share the backfield load, but I wonder how effective he will be coming back that quickly from a high ankle sprain. The Patriots have forced an NFL-best eight turnovers after three games, and the Chiefs have turned the ball over five times; Alex Smith has thrown three picks and lost a fumble, while RB Knile Davis has lost one of his three fumbles.
On the other hand the New England offensive line has been putrid. LT Nate Solder has been shaky, and it won’t get any easier with a matchup against OLB Tamba Hali. Rob Gronkowski has been slowly eased into action (on the field for 108 of 226 snaps), but says that he is ready for an increased role. The Patriots are capable of playing better than they have thus far, but it will be difficult to accomplish that on the road with an offensive line in flux at what will be an extremely loud Arrowhead Stadium.
Pick • Chiefs 23, Patriots 20
Steelers (-1 vs Bucs) and Chargers (-4½ vs Jaguars) – three units
Steelers (-1 vs Bucs) and Falcons (+3½ at Vikings) – three units
Steelers (-7 vs Bucs) and Chargers (-10½ vs Jaguars) – two units
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