We learned a lot about the NFL during the week three slate of games, as some teams may not be as bad as we thought going into week three, while others like my New York Giants may be flat out awful for the entirety of the 2013 season. My outright picks were once again strong (11-5), while I was middle-of-the-road when it came to my picks against the spread (7-8-1). It is that time of the season, when you start to really get a feel for which teams have benefited from good luck, and which teams are actually contenders. Let’s get to the week four picks:
BYE WEEKS: Green Bay Packers, Carolina Panthers
San Francisco 49ers @ St. Louis Rams (-3.5) – Let me start off by saying that this is a huge game for the San Francisco 49ers, if they lose this game on a short week, one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl will drop to a disappointing (1-3) and questions will abound. The 49ers are without several key players, and this list now includes All-Pro pass rusher Aldon Smith, who is in rehab following a bizarre DUI incident. Rams quarterback Sam Bradford is the most accurate passer in the NFL when he is not pressured, but when he is pressured, he drops to the 30th ranked passer in the league. Getting pressure on Bradford is key for the 49ers, but that will be much tougher to do without Aldon Smith, and the 49ers depth on defense will be key id they intend to win this game. The 49ers rushing defense has not been the same this season, they are uncharacteristically ranked 29th against the run, and is an area where they must improve starting tonight. The Rams played the 49ers tough in 2012, going (1-0-1) against them, and I expect another close gaem tonight. In Thursday Night Games, I always take the points, especially if we have a home underdog and nothing changes here. I expect a sloppy game between two teams that did not have enough time to prepare, but in a close one, I think Colin Kaepernick’s scrambling ability is enough to give the 49ers a much needed win.
THE PICK: Rams (+3.5) FINAL SCORE: 49ers 27 Rams 24
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Minnesota Vikings (+1.5) (In London) – Hey London, do you appreciate the fact that we are trying to force football down your throats, but are sending over two of our worst teams for the annual London game? The Pittsburgh Steelers and Minnesota Vikings are both winless, a combined (0-6), and they meet this weekend in London in a game that somebody has to win. Each team has a glaring weakness, for the Vikings it is quarterback Christian Ponder, and for the Steelers it is everything on offense except quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. I think that, if you were to take Roethlesberger and trade him to the Vikings tomorrow, you would have a playoff team. Another real problem for each team has been defensively, where both teams are historically good, but are not playing up to expectations this season. The London game is traditionally sloppy, as the weather is usually bad and the field is not meant for football, making players lose their footing. Also players are jetlagged and not used to playing with such a time difference. I feel the same way about the London game that I do about most of the Thursday Night games, always take the points.
UPDATE: It’s Friday morning and I have thought about this game a lot, it has been announced that Vikings starting quarterback Christian Ponder is out for this game with a fractured rib, and Matt Cassel will start at quarterback which may be better for the team. Either way, I’m switching my pick to the Steelers.
THE PICK: Steelers (-1.5) FINA SCORE: Steelers 20 Vikings 17
Baltimore Ravens @ Buffalo Bills (+3.5) – The Buffalo Bills (1-2) have been close to victory in all three of their games this season, each game has come down to the wire, and the franchise seems to be headed in the right directed under new head coach Doug Marrone and rookie quarterback EJ Manuel. The defending Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens were absolutely crushed by the Denver Broncos in their season opener, but are unbeaten since, including an impressive home victory over the Houston Texans in week two. I think the major advantage that the Ravens have over the Bills in this game is their run defense, which is one of the best in football, as they have allowed the fourth fewest rushing yards in the NFL. Buffalo needs to run the ball to take pressure off of EJ Manuel, and C.J. Spiller is questionable for this game, and his absence will make that much tougher to accomplish. I think the Ravens will stuff the Bills running game, force EJ Manuel to throw the ball, and pressure him into some mistakes when he does. Expect Joe Flacco to make some plays downfield, and the defense to star, as the Ravens grind out another tough win.
THE PICK: Ravens (-3.5) FINAL SCORE: Ravens 24 Bills 17
***SPORTSMASHER BEST BET: RAVENS (-3.5)***
Cincinnati Bengals @ Cleveland Browns (+5.5) – The Cleveland Browns are coming off their first win of the season, which came in impressive fashion, as they beat the Vikings in Minnesota after trading their best offensive player Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts for a first round pick in the 2014 draft. Starting quarterback Brandon Weeden is injured, and likely has no future with the organization, so I expect Hoyer to remain the starter for the remainder of this season. The Browns have some nice building blocks in wide receiver Josh Gordon, tight end Jordan Cameron, and an excellent young defensive line going forward. However, the Bengals are one of the better teams in the NFL, with a nice combination of weapons on offense and an excellent young defense. They are talented enough to go as far as quarterback Andy Dalton will allow them to, he needs to show that he can step up and win big games this season, or the Bengals could look at other options at the position in the future. Despite the fact that the Browns are coming off of their first win, which came against the winless Vikings, I like the Bengals to cover in this game. I think that the talented Bengals defense, led by defensive tackle Geno Atkins and a dangerous front seven, will be too much for the Browns.
The Pick: Bengals (-5) FINAL SCORE: Bengals 23 Browns 13
Indianapolis Colts @ Jacksonville Jaguars (+9) – The Indianapolis Colts pulled out one of the most surprising wins of the NFL season last weekend, when they went into San Francisco with a well balanced attack and crushed the 49ers, and new running back Trent Richardson’s first carry as a Colt resulted in a touchdown. This was a huge win for the Colts, after a narrow home victory over the lowly Raiders week one and a home loss to the Dolphins week two, that win proved that they still belong in the playoff picture. The Jacksonville Jaguars are the worst team in the NFL, they lost to the Oakland Raiders in the battle to decide who the worst team in the league was two weeks ago, and I am not joking when I say that (1-15) or even (0-16) is a legitimate possibility for the Jaguars this season. After a huge win over the 49ers last weekend, some are predicting a letdown when they travel to Jacksonville this weekend, and I would not be surprised if the Colts come out of the gate slow. However, even if they are not motivated, the Colts are far better than the Jaguars and will eventually cover this spread.
THE PICK: Colts (-9) FINAL SCORE Colts 31 Jaguars 10
***SPORTSMASHER BEST BET: COLTS (-9)***
Seattle Seahawks @ Houston Texans (+3.5) – The best team in the NFC takes on one of the better teams in the AFC this weekend, when the unbeaten (3-0) Seattle Seahawks head to Houston to take on the (2-1) Texans. Many people thought the Houston Texans would be one of the best teams in the NFL this season, and while they may get there, so far they were unimpressive in their two narrow wins and downright lousy in their loss to the Ravens last weekend. The Texans have the players on both sides of the ball to be much more effective, and I expect that they will get there eventually, and think that we have yet to see this team hit on all cylinders. Poor decisions by quarterback Matt Schaub and nagging injuries to wide receiver Andre Johnson and running back Arian Foster have limited them offensively. It is no secret that the road to the NFC Championship is going to go through Seattle, the Seahawks are once again unlikely to lose at home, where they sport the best home field advantage in the NFL. On the road, it can be a different story for the Seahawks, and I am predicting that they finish the season with a (12-4) record with all four losses coming on the road. I think that this will be one of those road losses, I still think they are the best team in the NFC, and the Super Bowl favorite. The Texans defense will stuff the run, Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins will make enough plays downfield, and the Seahawks will lose for the first time this season.
THE PICK: Texans (+3.5) FINAL SCORE: Texans 27 Seahawks 23
Arizona Cardinals @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+3.5) – I think the Arizona Cardinals are on the cusp of being a good team, although they are (1-2) they have been in every game, and that 31-7 loss to the Saints I New Orleans last weekend was closer than the final score indicated. The main problem that the Cardinals have is a total inability to run the football, which forces Carson Palmer to throw on nearly every down, and as we know that offensive strategy can lead to disastrous results. The Buccaneers are benching starting quarterback Josh Freeman in favor of rookie Mike Glennon, so expect a heavy dose of running back Doug Martin in this game, as head coach Greg Schiano attempts to salvage his job with a rookie under center. Josh Freeman has demanded a trade, and since he is in the final year of his contract, and he has likely taken his final snap for the Bucs. There are also rumors swirling that several veteran players hate playing for Schiano due to his disciplinarian style, and the team may have already quit on him. I think the Cardinals defense forces the rookie to throw the football, which leads to some turnovers, as the Cardinals are well equipped with ball hawks like Patrick Peterson and “The Honey Badger” in the secondary. Easy win for the Cardinals.
THE PICK: Cardinals (-3.5) FINAL SCORE: Cardinals 27 Buccaneers 17
Chicago Bears @ Detroit Lions (-3) – The unbeaten (3-0) Chicago Bears head to Detroit where they will take on their divisional rival Lions (2-1) in what should help sort out what will be an excellent battle between these two teams and the Packers for supremacy in the NFC North. The Lions only loss this season was a close one in Arizona, and they look like a much improved team, especially in the back seven on defense which has been a weak sport for the past few seasons. The Bears have been in some exciting games this season, as two of their wins have come by a combined four points, and the new and improved offensive line seems to the missing piece that turned the Bears from pretenders to contenders in the NFC. I think that this will be the most competitive division in football this season, and expect many tight games between the top three teams, and it will be games like this that decide the division winner. In Detroit I think that the Lions playmakers give them an edge, although they will miss receiver Nate Burleson, they win this game.
THE PICK: Lions (-3) FINAL SCORE: Lions 27 Bears 23
New York Giants @ Kansas City Chiefs (-4.5) – The New York Giants allowed quarterback Eli Manning to get sacked seven times last weekend, and the Giants dropped to (0-3), after a brutal shutout loss to the Carolina Panthers. The Giants offensive line has been a major issue, as the team has been unable to run the ball (133 yards in three games, fewest in the NFL) and has been unable to protect Manning. This is awful news this week as the Giants travel to Kansas City, to take on a Chiefs team which leads the NFL with 15.0 sacks, and has NFL sack leader Justin Houston (7.5 sacks) coming off of the edge. The Kansas City Chiefs not only lead the NFL in sacks, but also turnovers forced, with nine. The Giants lead the NFL with 13 giveaways, making this a recipe for disaster. The Chiefs will not allow the Giants NFL-worst rushing offense to move the ball, forcing Eli Manning to throw, and when he drops back expect major pressure from Justin Houston and Tamba Hali. The Giants will turn the ball over, which will lead to short fields for the Chiefs, who will put up points on a disappointing Giants defense. Bad matchup at a bad time for the Giants.
THE PICK: Chiefs (-4.5) FINAL SCORE: Chiefs 27 Giants 20
New York Jets @ Tennessee Titans (-4) – An very interesting matchup between two of the more surprising teams in the NFL as the (2-1) Jets travel to Tennessee to take on the (2-1) Titans, and I could easily make the case that each of these teams should be a perfect (3-0). The Jets were edged on by the Patriots in their only loss, a sloppy Thursday Night game, in which several key dropped passes and a few rookie mistakes by quarterback Geno Smith cost them a game against the Patriots. The Titans lost an overtime game at home to the Houston Texans, a game in which they led for the majority, and allowed the Texans to make a late comeback. The key matchup in this game will be the Jets excellent run defense matched up against Chris Johnson and the Titans run offense, which they have used to open the passing game up for quarterback Jake Locker. The Titans defense is also legit, and I expect them to make things very difficult for Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith, if the Titans can stop the Jets rushing attack. I think that whoever can find more success running the ball against their opponent’s stout defense will win this game, it will be close, but in the end I see one rookie mistake from Geno Smith being the Jets downfall.
THE PICK: Jets (+4) FINAL SCORE: Titans 23 Jets 20
***REXRATED BEST BET: JETS (+4)***
Dallas Cowboys @ San Diego Chargers (+2) – The Dallas Cowboys (2-1) are the class of the NFC East right now, however this is not saying much, because this is the worst division in football. The Cowboys could finish (9-7) or even (8-8) and easily win a division that sports two winless teams (Giants, Redskins) and one team with one win (Eagles) through three weeks. The San Diego Chargers are clearly a better team than last season, and they have been in every game, as each of their games has been decided by three points. The Chargers lost to both the Texans and Titans by three points, and beat the Eagles by three points in Philadelphia, so I am once again predicting a three point game. I think that the Cowboys will get a running game from DeMarco Murray, and Tony Romo will find his offensive weapons downfield when it matters, I expect the Cowboys to sneak out of San Diego with a tight road victory.
THE PICK: Cowboys (-2) FINAL SCORE: Cowboys 27 Chargers 24
***REXRATED BEST BET: COWBOYS (-2)***
Washington Redskins @ Oakland Raiders (Pick) – The Oakland Raiders (1-2) would be favored in this game, but impressive young quarterback Terrelle Pryor suffered a concussion on Monday Night Football last week, and could miss this game. Even if he plays, Pryor will likely be limited, and he may not run as much as usual. The Washington Redskins (0-3) have been one of the NFL’s most disappointing teams this season, as star quarterback Robert Griffin III tries to get back to 100% following a serious knee injury, I think that the Redskins are really starting to miss all of the first round draft picks that they traded for the right to draft him. If the Redskins are truly one of the worst teams in football this season, their early draft pick will again go to the St. Louis Rams, so if they do not start winning soon they will hand the Rams a franchise player. The Rams have really struggled defensively, especially in the secondary, but I think they get their first win of the season on Sunday. I expect the Redskins to get their running game going with Alfred Morris, which will open passing lanes for RGIII, and allow them to put their first win on the board with Pryor either out or limited for Oakland.
THE PICK: Redskins (Pick) FINAL SCORE: Redskins 23 Raiders 13
***SPORTSMASHER BEST BET: REDSKINS (PICK)***
Philadelphia Eagles @ Denver Broncos (-11) – The OVER/UNDER on this game is set at (58) which is by far the highest of the season, and one of the highest that I can remember ever seeing, because each of these teams have a high powered offense. However, the Denver Broncos defense has been playing well this season, while the Philadelphia Eagles have been atrocious on that side of the ball. I think that Peyton Manning will have a field day against the Eagles defense, he should be able to sit back in the pocket and pick their secondary apart, in fact I cannot imagine a scenario that the Broncos will punt in this game. I think the spread is a little high, but in Denver the Broncos will score a lot of points, and I do not think that the Eagles will be able to keep up. Broncos win this one easy.
THE PICK: Broncos 41 Eagles 20
New England Patriots @ Atlanta Falcons (-1.5) – A great matchup on Sunday Night Football, because although the Patriots (3-0) have been tested twice early in the season, it has not been against one of the NFL’s perceived elite. The Falcons (1-2) may be the NFL’s most banged up team, as running back Steven Jackson is out, as is left tackle Sam Baker. The team also placed star linebacker Sean Weatherspoon on the injured reserve, and wide receiver Roddy White has been banged up with a high ankle sprain which has rendered him essentially ineffective early in the season. The Patriots have been dealing with injuries of their own, but quarterback Tom Brady seems to have found more of a rhythm with his younger receivers, as he waits for Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola to return from the injured list. In what I expect to be a back-and-forth game, I think that all of the injuries will catch up to the Falcons, and the Patriots will get a road win. Do not worry Falcons fans, the upcoming schedule gets easier, and as the team gets healthy there is still time to right the ship.
THE PICK: Patriots (+1.5) FINAL SCORE: Patriots 31 Falcons 27
Miami Dolphins @ New Orleans Saints (-7) – Two undefeated teams square off on Monday Night Football, as the Miami Dolphins travel to New Orleans to take on the Saints, in the best Monday Night Game of the early season. The Saints implemented a new defense under coordinator Rob Ryan, and despite the fact that they have been decimated on that side of the ball with injuries, they have played extremely well. The offense in New Orleans is clicking as usual, as Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham have connected early and often, and the Saints look like the class of the division. The Miami Dolphins have been one of the league’s most improved teams, as the addition of deep threat Mike Wallace to the offense has opened the whole offense up for Ryan Tannehill, and the defense has improved dramatically. I think that the Dolphins defense will be exposed on Monday night, as I expect a huge game from Jimmy Graham on the national stage, and Drew Brees torches the Dolphins. I also think Ryan Tannhill will play an excellent game, and make a few “wow” plays to keep this game close. I think the Saints will win, but I’ll take the points, the Saints are better but not seven points better.
THE PICK: Dolphins (+7) FINAL SCORE: Saints 30 Dolphins 27
***REXRATED BEST BET: DOLPHINS (+7)***
Against The Spread (6-9-1) Outright (6-10)
SportSmasher Best Bets (1-2) RexRated Best Bets (2-1)
Against The Spread (7-8-1) Outright (13-3)
SportSmasher Best Bets (0-3) RexRated Best Bets (1-1-1)
Against The Spread (7-8-1) Outright (11-5)
SportSmasher Best Bets (1-2) RexRated Best Bets (1-2)
Against The Spread (20-25-3) Outright (30-18)
SportSmasher Best Bets (2-7) RexRated Best Bets (4-4-1)