Last week was far from normal in the NFL. The biggest story was of the continued protests against racial injustice and inequality during the national anthem, that were made larger this past week due to the President’s comments. On the field, it was a weird week too. 0-2 teams fought hard (and largely successfully) to avoid an 0-3 start, which led to some unexpected results that may have left you feeling down about last week’s picks.
Understandable. But, we did still hover near the .500 mark last week, going 7-8 ATS (Vikings/Bucs line wasn’t listed at publishing time) and 7-9 overall on the week. So, we’ve still got plenty of time to get on a roll and the good news is, we’re not that far off from being in the black.
As usual, we’ll reiterate our levels of confidence in the picks. There are three tiers.
No way we can lose – locks of the week: As you can guess, these will be the stone-cold locks of the week. The games that I’m so confident about that I’d put my life’s savings on them if I had a life’s savings to wager.
Feeling pretty… pretty good: Not quite willing to bet the farm on this batch, but as Mr. Larry David would say, I’m feeling pretty… pretty good about these games.
Heads or tails: These are your true toss ups: they can go one way or another and you should pick with caution even after heeding my expert advice.
With that, let’s dive into Week 4 of NFL action.
Chicago Bears @ Green Bay Packers (-7), Thursday 8:25 p.m. ET CBS
Level of confidence: Heads or Tails….Toss up
Straight up: Packers
The Bears have been an odd team so far this year. At Soldier Field, they’ve held the Falcons and Steelers to 40 points, while scoring 40 points themselves. In their one road game, away at the Buccaneers in Week 2, they fell apart, turning the ball over four times and losing 29-7. Their defense has actually been solid this year, particularly against the run, ranking 8th in the league allowing just 83.7 yards per game. The Packers struggle running the ball, averaging just 69 yards per game.
Aaron Rodgers and company are very good at home however. He’s 58-15 now at home after last week’s win against the Bengals and this season, he’s completing 66 percent of his passes for 624 yards 4 TDs and 2 INTs at home. The biggest question is whether the line will be at full strength as left tackle David Bakhtiari has missed consecutive games and right tackle Bryan Bulaga is dealing with an ankle injury. There’s no way they’re at full strength with the quick turnaround for Thursday night, so I have the Bears keeping this close, but the Packers pulling it out.
No Way We Can Lose….Locks Of The Week
Tennessee Titans @ Houston Texans (+1.5), Sunday 1:00 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Titans
The Texans have won three of the last four games between the two teams and they’re at home, so I understand them getting the hook in what is essentially a pick ’em. Usually, home field is worth three points of advantage in Vegas, so this feels right that the Titans are actually the slight favorites. The Texans have won three of the last four games between the teams including a 27-20 win at NRG last year with Brock Osweiler at QB.
While the Texans offense woke up against the Patriots last week, I’m starting to think we overestimated the Patriots defense this year and they are in fact, just a bad defense. So, while the Titans don’t have an excellent group, they are at least slightly better than the Pats have been. The biggest key for me, is the Titans running game that seems to have found a two-headed monster with DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry. The Texans have been average against the run this year, and I expect the Titans to have success.
Carolina Panthers @ New England Patriots (-9), Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Straight up: Patriots
The Patriots defense can’t seem to figure it out and there’s been zero signs of them doing so. Last week, it took a last-minute miracle drive from Tom Brady to keep them from falling to 1-2. And that was against a rookie QB in Deshaun Watson who doesn’t have a ton of weapons around him.
Yes, Cam hasn’t looked anything close to his 2015 MVP form. His shoulder still isn’t 100%. He didn’t look great against a bad Saints defense. Guilty on all counts. But, I just can’t shake my lack of trust in the Patriots defense this year. I picked the Texans to cover the 13.5 point spread last week and they nearly won outright. I’ll take the Panthers to cover the nine points here, but the Pats still win.
Jacksonville Jaguars @ New York Jets (+3.5), Sunday 1:00 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Jaguars
This scares the daylights out of me, I’ll admit it up front.I’m relying on the Jaguars to cover the spread and win. While Bortles is their QB. A week after the Jets made me look dumb picking against them. Maybe I’m insane, as I’m literally the definition of insanity here doing the same thing and expecting a different result. But, I can’t help but feel there’s little chance of the Jets passing game doing anything against the Jaguars secondary. I also doubt that the Jets offensive line will be able to slow Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue and company from getting to Josh McCown. Give me the Jags.
Buffalo Bills @ Atlanta Falcons (-8), Sunday 1:00 p.m.
ATS & Straight Up: Falcons
The Bills defense hasn’t allowed more than 16 points this season, so this pick at first glance may seem odd. But, the three offenses the Bills have faced (Jets, Panthers, Broncos) aren’t exactly great units. None have the fire power that the Falcons bring to the table.
The Bills offense did look solid last week against the Broncos formidable defense and they could put up some points here. But, in the end, I see this as a 10 points game in the Falcons favor. Just too many weapons for a Bills defense that doesn’t have the same type of play makers it has had in years past.
Feeling Pretty…..Pretty Good
Los Angeles Rams @ Dallas Cowboys (-6.5), Sunday 1:00 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Cowboys
The Cowboys offense looked like it finally started to figure things out on Monday night against the Cardinals. Most importantly, Jason Garrett didn’t go away from the running game despite not experiencing huge success. The 22-carry 80-yard performance wasn’t Zeke Elliott’s best day, but it shows the type of grinding running game he’s capable of against a defense geared up to stop him. The better news for Dallas is that the Rams’ biggest weakness on defense this year has been stopping the run. They gave up 84 yards and two touchdowns to Carlos Hyde last week and they’re allowing 139 yards per game on the ground this year. The Rams have been better, but the Cowboys at home should cover here.
New York Giants @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-3), Sunday 4:05 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Giants
The Giants were on the wrong end of a miracle play to end the game last week in Philadelphia. It took a full 11 quarters of the season, but the offense finally seemed to wake up in the fourth quarter, albeit against a depleted Eagles secondary. The good news heading into this week? The Bucs defense is injury plagued as well, having lost LB Lavonte David (high ankle sprain) and DE Noah Spence (dislocated shoulder) to add to a list of injured guys that already included DT Gerald McCoy (ankle), CB Brent Grimes (shoulder) and LB Kwon Alexander (hamstring). Those three guys may play, but they likely won’t be 100 percent, and I think the Giants finally get into the win column.
San Francisco 49ers @ Arizona Cardinals (-7), Sunday 4:05 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Cardinals
The Cardinals offense hasn’t exactly looked competent this year. Carson Palmer seems to be quickly approaching the end of his career, while not getting any help from his offensive line (he’ll be seeing DeMarcus Lawrence in his nightmares for weeks). Add the loss of David Johnson and things would seem hopeless for Bruce Arians’ crew. But, luckily for them, they get the lowly Niners defense that ranks 22nd against the rush, 14th against the pass, and t-27th in points allowed.
The Cards have also been fairly stout against the run, which San Fran has relied upon with running back Carlos Hyde setting up play action passes for Brian Hoyer. Arizona should be able to score here and cover.
Philadelphia Eagles @ Los Angeles Chargers (-1), Sunday 4:05 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Eagles
At least the Chargers didn’t lose because of a missed field goal last week? Instead, Phillip Rivers threw three interceptions and was sacked twice in losing to the Chiefs. The offense will likely find better success against a banged up Eagles secondary but, that’s if they can protect Rivers from the pass rush.
On defense, the Chargers can definitely harass Carson Wentz with Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa but, if the Eagles are smart, they’ll run the football with LeGarrette Blount, Corey Clement and Wendell Smallwood. The Chargers are the 2nd-worst run defense in the league allowing 146.7 yards per game to their opponents. This game is a pick ’em and I like the Eagles here.
Oakland Raiders @ Denver Broncos (-2.5), Sunday 4:25 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Broncos
Sunday night, the high-flying Raiders came screeching to a halt against a Washington defense that hadn’t looked particularly effective in the first two weeks. The Raiders gave up four sacks to the Redskins pass rush that had just four in the first two games coming in. Von Miller and company are much better than that Washington front. Yes, this is a division game, and last week may have been an anomaly for what is expected to be a good Raiders offensive line. But, still, at home in Mile High, I’ll take the Broncos by at least a field goal.
Washington Redskins @ Kansas City Chiefs (-7), Monday 8:30 p.m.
The Redskins looked dominant in the national spotlight last weekend against the Raiders and now have a chance for another statement game against the 3-0 Chiefs. In particular, the pass rush and the secondary looked great against a Raiders offense full of weapons.
However, the Chiefs top two play makers offer a different kind of challenge than the Raiders receiver duo of Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. While those receivers are more possession threats with the ability to physically manhandle corners, Tyreek Hill is an explosive, elusive, speed-demon. Travis Kelce can test the middle of the defense, while running back Kareem Hunt is a multi-purpose yardage monster who is staking his claim to the rookie of the year award after three weeks. At home, in Arrowhead, Chiefs by 10.
Heads or Tails….Toss Up
New Orleans Saints @ Miami Dolphins (+2.5), Sunday 9:30 a.m.
ATS & Straight up: Dolphins
Our second London game of the year. The first one gave us a big surprise as the Jaguars blew out the Ravens 44-7. Will this give us another surprising result? Depends on your definition of surprising.
The Saints defense is awful. The Dolphins offense looked…..not great last week against the Jets. The Jets really got after Cutler with blitzes from the secondary, and I’m not sure the Saints have the ability to do that. The Dolphins burned me last week, but I think their defense is better than the Saints, which leads me to believe they’ll be able to get things done. But, there’s a reason this is in the Heads or Tails category. It honestly could go either way.
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Baltimore Ravens (+2.5), Sunday 1:00 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Steelers
If you can figure out the Steelers, you’re better than me. This offense should be racking up points. In addition to PPR monster Antonio Brown, they’ve gotten back vertical threat Martavis Bryant with Le-Veon Bell still in the backfield. However, the offense is averaging just 302.3 yards per game (22nd), Le-Veon Bell is averaging just 3.5 yards per carry, and Big Ben is averaging just 6.7 yards per pass attempt.
Meanwhile, the Ravens looked dominant against the Bengals and Browns but then got smoked by the Jaguars in London. Joe Flacco’s yards per attempt is even worse than Big Ben’s (5.3) and he doesn’t look right. The Ravens running game isn’t nearly as effective or explosive as Chicago’s so I don’t see the Steelers defense getting gashed the same way.
Cincinnati Bengals @ Cleveland Browns (+3), Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Straight up: Bengals
Well, here’s your battle for the top of the draft game of the week. A pair of 0-3 AFC North teams that are on complete opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of franchise-building. The Bengals have struggled in protecting Andy Dalton, but, finally seemed to figure out that just continuously throwing the ball in AJ Green’s direction will largely have positive results. Who knew?
Still, despite expecting the Bengals to have success on offense, I can’t take them by more than three points on the road, even against the Browns. I just don’t trust them.
Indianapolis Colts @ Seattle Seahawks (-13.5), Sunday 8:30 p.m.
Straight up: Seahawks
Man, the Seahawks are in that beginning of the season slump again. Starting 1-2 likely has this team annoyed and they could very well take out their frustrations at home against Jacoby Brissett and the Colts on Sunday night. But, Brissett has actually been solid in his two starts this year and has done a nice job of taking care of the football throwing just one interception in 61 attempts through his two starts. Yes, he will be tested going up against a ferocious Seattle defense, but I just don’t like high lines like this.
Detroit Lions @ Minnesota Vikings, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Straight up: Vikings
Once again, no line has been set yet for the Vikings game because of the questions about Sam Bradford’s availability for Sunday. I like the Vikings to win, largely because of the continued emergence of Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, who seem to be attempting to stake their claim as the top receiver duo in the league. The defense has been solid as well, leading me to think that this could be a lower scoring, 17-10 or 20-10 affair.
Straight up: 27-20