Woof. That was a rough week. Underdogs ruled the day last Sunday and, if you’re like me, you learned a few more lessons about this year’s NFL that you can hopefully use going forward. I’m not going to lie to you, I felt fairly good going into last weekend, which probably should have been the first sign that we were in trouble. But, as my parents always said: “tough times build character”, or something like that. I’m not great with motivational speeches.
Here’s the deal. We were bad last week. Guilty. Let’s put it behind us, take the lessons learned through four weeks and move forward. And, if you lost faith after last week, well, maybe you fade these picks. To the 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.
All lines courtesy of CBSSports.com.
New England Patriots @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+5.5), Thursday 8:25 p.m. (CBS)
Level of confidence: Heads or Tails….Toss up
Straight up: Patriots
Okay, so, the Pats last week was one of the games we got right. Actually, to be honest, we’ve been pretty spot on picking the Pats all year going 3-1 with the lone loss being the Kansas City game to open the year. The biggest lesson learned through four weeks? The Patriots defense is bad. Not just it’s early, Belichick will figure it out bad. I mean, it’s 32nd in the NFL bad.
The good news is, the offense has been humming along even without Julian Edelman. Tom Brady has been his spectacular self, throwing 10 TDs with 0 picks through four weeks. The biggest concern I have is how many hits he’s taking. The line has allowed Brady to be sacked 13 times and hit 27 this year (26th NFL). That’s eventually going to take a toll.
As for the Bucs, they’ve got a ton of weapons and after an off week against Minnesota in Week 3, the offense got back on track against the Giants last week. At home, I think Jameis and company put up solid numbers, but the Pats find a way to win at the end thanks to Brady.
No Way We Can Lose….Locks of the Week
We only have three locks this week, largely because there’s a few games being affected by injuries. There are far more games in the toss up category this week due to that.
Buffalo Bills @ Cincinnati Bengals (-3), Sunday 1:00 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Bills
So, let me get this straight. The Bills, who have done nothing but keep opponents from scoring all year, are three point underdogs to an Andy Dalton led team that really only found its offense against a bad Browns team last week? Here’s what I know. The Bills are 4-0 against the spread this year, they have the league’s #1 scoring defense (allowing 13.5 PPG), and the Bengals have been one of the league’s worst scoring offenses when not playing the Browns. Oh, and Cincy’s just 2-2 ATS this year.
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Pittsburgh Steelers (-8.5), Sunday 1:00 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Steelers
The Jaguars are just odd. They dominated the Texans and Ravens and looked awful against the Titans and just meh against the Jets. Running back Leonard Fournette has been a legitimate threat when he has space, but that’s been hard to come by because Blake Bortles can’t seem to hit open receivers.
This week, the Jags face a Steelers team that has struggled at times against the run, but will likely load the box and force Bortles to try and beat them. On the flip side, Le’Veon Bell is likely licking his chops at the thought of facing a Jaguars run defense that has allowed 5.7 YPC and 165.5 YPG to opposing backs so far this year. Add in being at home at Heinz Field, and I’ll take the Steelers.
Kansas City Chiefs @ Houston Texans (+1.5), Sunday 8:30 p.m.
ATS & Straight Up: Chiefs
The Chiefs, despite being 4-0, haven’t been overly dominant this year outside of their first game against the Patriots. Each of their successive wins have been one score games late in the fourth quarter before a couple of garbage time TDs (or in Monday’s case, last second) bumped the score up to two possessions.
Houston’s offense has looked completely different since Week 2 when they inserted Deshaun Watson at QB. Watson struggled on a short week against the Bengals, but since has been ridiculously efficient hitting 70 percent of his passes for 584 yards six touchdowns and three interceptions. He does make rookie mistakes throwing passes he shouldn’t which could hurt against a KC team that has a dangerous corner like Marcus Peters.
This game is a tough one to call as both teams have been really good against the spread (KC 4-0, HOU 3-1). Still, I think Kansas City finds a way to win as they have all year so far.
Feeling Pretty….Pretty Good
Arizona Cardinals @ Philadelphia Eagles (-6.5), Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Straight up: Eagles
The reason I’m going Cardinals to cover here is mainly the way every Eagles win has played out so far this year. Philly gets a lead early, builds it up to double digits, then has to hold off a surge by their opponent late. It happened against Washington in Week 1, against the Giants in Week 3, and the Chargers last week. Keep in mind each of those last two teams are still winless, yet the Eagles won by a combined 6 points. Carson Palmer and the passing game got going last week with 357 yards against the 49ers and this Eagles secondary has been suspect. Eagles win, but the Cardinals stay within a touchdown.
Los Angeles Chargers @ New York Giants (-3.5), Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Straight Up: Giants
Man, these two games have done nothing but play close games. Outside of the Giants opening loss to the Cowboys. The two teams have lost seven games by a combined 40 points. And that includes a 14 point loss for the Chargers against the Chiefs which was a seven point game before Kareem Hunt broke a 53-yard TD run while the Chiefs were just trying to run out the clock.
Someone has to win this week. But, that doesn’t mean these teams are going to stop playing close games. Due to that, I’m picking the Chargers to keep it close, but the Giants to get their first win.
Green Bay Packers @ Dallas Cowboys (-2), Sunday 4:25 p.m.
The Cowboys have looked startlingly mortal this season for all those who expected them to just continue to run over teams. Ezekiel Elliott and the running game hasn’t looked as good, and the defense has been flat out bad. That leaves us in an interesting position with Green Bay coming to town off of 10 days rest (played last Thursday) and a game in which they rolled up 35 points despite losing their starting running back and being without their starting tackles.
The Cowboys do have some revenge on their minds in this game following last year’s dramatic loss to the Pack in the playoffs, but that’s only if their defense can stop Aaron Rodgers. I’ll take the Packers getting points on the road against a Dallas team that’s still trying to figure things out.
Minnesota Vikings @ Chicago Bears (+3), Monday 8:30 p.m.
The Vikings struggled last week with a Lions defense that has been surprisingly stingy (17.5 PPG) this year. This week, they face a Bears group that has struggled and will be without linebacker Danny Trevathan following his suspension for a hit on Packers WR Davante Adams last week.
There are some issues for Minnesota, namely the loss of rookie RB Dalvin Cook for the year due to an ACL. Sam Bradford’s status is still unknown. But, the Bears are going to be starting a rookie QB against a defense that is 8th in the league in points allowed (19 PPG), 3rd in rushing (71.2 YPG), and 9th in sacks (11). Granted, they have allowed opponents to move the ball through the air (246.8 YPG), but the Bears don’t have the receivers to help Trubisky take advantage.
Heads or Tails…..Toss Up
New York Jets @ Cleveland Browns (-1.5), Sunday 1:00 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Jets
The Jets have been much better than expected this year, shutting down the Dolphins and eking out a win in overtime last week against the Jaguars. The Browns had looked promising in the first week against the Steelers, but since have looked like a young team that is still learning how to play together, which bottomed out last week in a 31-0 beatdown at the hands of the Bengals.
The Jets have been surprisingly good against the pass, allowing opponents to complete just 58 percent of their passes, just seven passing touchdowns while picking off four passes. They’ve been weak against the run though as opponents have run for 148 YPG on 4.7 YPC. That could help a struggling Browns running game get going, but, as long as Josh McCown avoids turnovers, the Jets should win this game in what is basically a pick ’em.
Tennessee Titans @ Miami Dolphins (-1), Sunday 1:00 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Titans
The Dolphins offense has been a disaster with Jay Cutler. They got shut out by the Saints in London last week and have scored a total, TOTAL of 25 points over three games this year. 19 of those came in their first game against the Chargers. The offense, despite all of its weapons, just can’t find a rhythm and it left Adam Gase at a loss last week following the Saints game.
Yes, Marcus Mariota is potentially out which is why the Dolphins are slightly favored. If Matt Cassel starts, this clearly isn’t the same offense. I just don’t have any idea what to expect from Miami, even against a Titans defense that was torched last week by the Texans. Normally, I’d say that might be a cure for the Dolphins offensive woes, but they couldn’t score against the Saints! There’s a reason this is a toss up game, but I just don’t trust the Dolphins at all.
Carolina Panthers @ Detroit Lions (-3), Sunday 1:00 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Lions
The Panthers offense enjoyed the sweet, sweet relief that has become facing the Patriots defense this season. Cam Newton looked like 2015 Superman Cam rather than the inaccurate, banged up guy he was through the first three weeks of this year.
But, as we discussed earlier, the Lions defense has been surprisingly good. They’re allowing just 17.5 PPG (), 86.2 yards per game rushing (7th), and despite allowing big yards through the air (236.2), they’ve picked off seven passes and limited opponents to 61.4% completions. I’m still not sold on Matt Stafford and the Lions running game is still iffy but, I think they get the win at home.
San Francisco 49ers @ Indianapolis Colts (-1.5), Sunday 1:00 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Colts
I don’t like picking this game at all. Let’s just get that out of the way. The Colts were making me look smart for the first half and about six minutes into the second half Sunday night before imploding against the Seahawks. The Niners have been good against the spread (3-1) but they would likely need to win here in order to cover. Do I think Brian Hoyer can lead this team to a win on the road? No, I don’t.
Seattle Seahawks @ Los Angeles Rams (-2.5), Sunday 4:05 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Rams
The Rams have started 3-1 for the second straight year. The main difference? This year, it’s the offense carrying the team, while the defense is still trying to round into form under new coordinator Wade Phillips. They’ve beaten the Seahawks three straight years at home, but I’m not basing my pick on that since those wins came under Jeff Fisher with a wildly different scheme and crazy special teams plays.
The bigger reason I’m taking the Rams is the number of injuries the Seahawks sustained in Sunday night’s game. They were already down left tackle George Fant after he tore his ACL. Then, on Sunday, his replacement, Rees Odhiambo, left the game with a chest injury that turned out to be a bruised heart (we hope he’s okay). On top of that, the ‘Hawks lost promising rookie back Chris Carson to a fracture below his knee, DE Cliff Avril to a stinger (week-to-week), and Jeremy Lane to a hip injury.
The offensive line is now down to it’s third left tackle, and against Aaron Donald and company that doesn’t bode well for Russell Wilson.
Baltimore Ravens @ Oakland Raiders (-2.5), Sunday 4:05 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Raiders
Derek Carr’s injury has sidelined him for 2-6 weeks. EJ Manuel is in line to start and we saw how well that experiment went in Buffalo. There’s a lot of help for Manuel on offense, but it’s still tough to believe in him. That said, Joe Flacco has, in his own words, stunk. Give me the Raiders, at home, in a close one, largely because I think their playmakers make just enough plays to get the win.
Straight up: 34-29