Week 4 NFL Picks Against The Spread

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And just like that, we’ve reached the start of the bye weeks. We won’t be seeing Green Bay or Carolina in week 4. And that’s fine because those are some crappy 1-2 teams anyway. The less garbage teams we have to deal with, the better the Red Zone Channel will be.

Speaking of bye weeks, is it completely unheard of for an analyst/blogger to take a bye week in order to lick his wounds, recuperate from a brutal opening three games and get mentally prepared for the long haul of the rest of the season? Because if things don’t pick up for me quickly, I might just take a week off and spend my Sunday picking out a new couch with the girlfriend.

I was 6-9-1 against the spread last week, and I’m now 15-30-3 on the year. Writing that sentence brings a tear to my eye.

As for the NFL landscape after three weeks, we’ve got seven undefeated teams and six unvictorious teams. And the other 19 teams fall somewhere in the middle.

I think we’ll still have five undefeated teams after this week, but we could have as many as six still (someone has to lose the Miami-New Orleans Monday night game).

And I think two of those winless teams will get on the board finally, meaning we’ll still have four 0-fer teams. So it’s going to be a while before we find out who’s the last undefeated team and who’s the last “only-defeated” team.

If you’re a Washington fan and want to feel even worse about your team, there’s this: The Redskins’ opponents from the first three weeks of the season are a combined 1-5 in games not against the ‘Skins. So they’re not exactly losing to the cream of the crop.

And if you want to feel better as a Tampa Bay fan, here you go: The Bucs’ opponents from the first three weeks are a combined 5-1, so they’ve been forced to play against some of the competent teams in the league. Things could get better…

Enough of me trying to make coherent judgments based on a tiny three-week sample size. Let’s get to the week 4 picks:

San Francisco (-3.5) @ St. Louis

In the two most recent Thursday night games, the home favorite didn’t even come close to covering. There could be plenty of reasons for that, but it might just be that every Thursday game turns into a sloppy, replacement-player-looking shit show. The quick turnaround in such a brutal sport could be a realistic reason these games always seem to look so bad. And for the 49ers, this short week is even worse because their injury report is littered with important players. Patrick Willis is probably missing this game, Justin Smith is limited in practice, Aldon Smith, as you may have heard, is in rehab and gone for the foreseeable future, and maybe most importantly, Vernon Davis may not play again because of his hamstring. This team seems offensively neutered right now (I mean that they are neutered on the offensive side of the ball, not that they got neutered in a particularly offensive way), and the defense may be in rough shape for a couple weeks. The Rams are mostly healthy and they’re playing at home against a tough opponent they know they can beat based on last year. I’m taking them to only lose by a field goal. St. Louis covers, but San Francisco wins 23-20.

Pittsburgh (-1.5) @ Minnesota (but really @ London)

This game’s currently off the board because of the Minnesota QB situation, but I’m not sure replacing Christian Ponder with Matt Cassel changes much in the bettors’ eyes. This is literally an elimination game as the loser will be 0-4. And it would take a level of chaos and lucky breaks we haven’t yet seen for an 0-4 team to rattle off 11 wins in their final 12 games and make the playoffs. We might be talking about the NFC’s worst vs the AFC’s worst. You’re welcome, London!

In a game like this, it’s time to fall back on the QB position. And I’ll take Ben Roethlisberger over Ponder or Cassel every day. I think Steelers win 27-17.

Baltimore (-3.5) @ Buffalo

For those of you who read my picks last year, you’re going to notice an old standby I’m unearthing from the 2012 time capsule: trying my hardest to discredit the Ravens! This time my biggest knock on them is the offense. Did you know that if you take out defensive and special teams scores as well as garbage time points (some against Denver in week 1, a field goal against Houston with the game out of hand last week) this Ravens team has put up 44 total points on offense during the competitive portions of their three games? That’s less than 15 points per game. And that’s with the benefit of playing two home games already, one of which they got to play on 10 days rest. All I’m saying is that this team makes me nervous. And sure, I’m willing to admit that the defense, outside of that Denver game, still looks solid.

Wait a second though. If I’m about to pick the Bills to upset Baltimore, I better be damn sure that Buffalo’s pretty close to healthy…

One look at the google results of their Wednesday injury report, and nope, not even remotely healthy. The Bills’ head coach is even on record saying that other teams are picking on his secondary because they’re down to their 12th best option at cornerback (slight exaggeration only).

The Ravens will have their day when they don’t squeak by because of the other team’s inferior play or from a lucky defensive/special teams score. But just hearing the Bills admit that they can’t stop anybody in the passing game until they get healthy scares the shit out of me. Let’s go with Baltimore winning, 31-24.

Cincinnati (-5) @ Cleveland
When you see a point spread at five, it means the line setters have no idea what to make of this game…which seems appropriate because I have no idea what to make of this game. The Bengals could win by 50. The Bengals could win by a field goal. The Browns…could…win?

Looking at last week’s games doesn’t help us come to a conclusion because both teams benefited from some crazy, unrepeatable plays. The Bengals got two Aaron Rodgers picks and a Green Bay fumble at the worst possible time (or best possible time from Cincy’s point of view). Cleveland ran a fake field goal and got a touchdown out of it, recovered a Ponder fumble while Minnesota was in the red zone and then recovered an Adrian Peterson fumble, something that’s only happened to AP four other times in his past 908 carries.

So lots of flukiness went into both these teams’ wins last week, which helps us 0.00% for this week.

I’m falling back on a preseason instinct that had me thinking this AFC North division is going to play each other particularly close. So the Browns at home can keep it a one-score game. And I’ll buy into Josh Gordon’s return really stretching the field and opening up space for everyone else. The Browns move to 2-0 in the Trent Richardson-less era, winning 23-17.

Indianapolis (-9) @ Jacksonville

Without even thinking, I’m taking the Colts. All I needed to see is that Blaine Gabbert will be back under center for the Jags on Sunday. I’m out on the Gabbert era. The Colts coast to a 30-13 victory.

Seattle (-3) @ Houston

Since Seattle’s unlikely to go 16-0, we eventually have to pin a loss or two on them. And no doubt those losses will come on the road. But this isn’t a moment to get cute and pick the upset. We know Seattle’s secondary will shut down Houston’s passing attack regardless of whether Andre Johnson plays or not. So is Houston going to run all over the Seahawks and cause some timely turnovers? Doubtful. When picking Houston based purely on them being at home, remember they had to win an overtime home game against Tennessee in semi-miraculous fashion just two weeks ago. I could see the Seahawks winning big enough on Sunday that the TV media starts having the “will Seattle and Denver both go 16-0 in the regular season” debates. I’ll say Seattle wins, 30-10.

Arizona @ Tampa Bay (-2.5)

Out of all the statistical reasons to pick against the Bucs in this game, here’s the actual reason I’m doing it: I’m worried that as Larry Fitzgerald is catching his 11th pass of the day against a Tampa Bay zone defense, Darrelle Revis is going to walk over to the sideline, decapitate his head coach and defecate into the neck hole. That’s how pissed off Revis probably is that he’s not matching up against the opposition’s WR1 this year. Because stupid Greg Schicano plays a stupid version of football. And how can you back a team whose players are undermining its coach while the coach is undermining those players right back? Oh, and I’m happy for Mike Glennon especially because I predicted in the preseason blog that Josh Freeman would be the first QB benched due to ineffectiveness, but if you don’t think Glennon has a costly “rookie trying to do too much for a desperate team” moment in this game, you must not watch very much football.

Arizona gets a road win for the first time in its last 10 tries, 34-27.

Chicago @ Detroit (-3)

These two teams are pretty similar, right? Both have big-armed QBs who primarily throw to only one reliable wide receiver. Both have a fantastic running back who is usually more dangerous as a receiver than a runner. Both lost a key player from the defensive line for the year last week. And neither will be satisfied until they take the division title back from Green Bay.

Chicago might be 3-0, but Detroit’s played the better football so far this year. And for all the talk the Bears defense gets for its “ball-hawking skills” and “nose for the end zone,” they’re actually pretty pedestrian against the pass. Give me Detroit in a close one, 33-27.

NY Giants @ Kansas City (-4.5)

Things look bad for the Giants, and the worst part is I don’t hear any informed analysts or media types saying reinforcements are on the way for this team. And Kansas City looked pretty ferocious on defense last Thursday night. Oh yeah, and the Chiefs had 10 days to get ready while the Giants were busy getting embarrassed in Carolina over the weekend. I honestly expected this line to be closer to a touchdown so I’ll gladly take the Chiefs to cover and win, 28-14.

NY Jets @ Tennessee (-4)

It’s terrifying to think one of these teams will emerge on Sunday afternoon with a 3-1 record. It’s even more terrifying when you realize that both of these teams are one play away (in their week two games) from being 3-0. Could you imagine if the Titans were 4-0 by the end of this weekend? The 4-0 Jets? I shudder to think of the trash-talk that would be coming out of the New York area if that was the case.

I’m not ready to live in a world where the Jets are 3-1, Rex Ryan’s job is safe and Geno Smith is the answer at quarterback.

The Jets’ success so far seems based on a lucky break (Tampa game), the now-predictable Thursday night slopfest (narrowly losing to the Patriots in Foxboro) and a terrible road game from a rookie QB (EJ Manuel sucking it up in New Jersey last week).

I like Tennessee a lot more. They’ll win 24-17.

Dallas (-2) @ San Diego

No, Dallas, you don’t get to improve your record to 3-1. That wouldn’t be fair to the rest of the NFC East teams, who are desperately counting on a 9-7 record to take the division. I know the Cowboys can’t mathematically lock up the division by winning this game, but they might have an insurmountable two-game lead if they do. And that’s just not the way the East gets won these days. And, hey, San Diego’s frisky. And what if the middle class teams of the AFC are as good or better than the middle class of the NFC? I think San Diego wins this game, 34-30.

Washington (-3) @ Oakland

Matt Flynn hasn’t started a football game in 635 days. Seriously. It’s one of those situations where our hands are tied picking this game. You have to pick the Redskins based on the QB situation with Oakland (I guess there’s a chance Pryor starts, but since I’m posting these picks on Thursday, I gotta go with the information available. So far Pryor hasn’t practiced this week because of a concussion). And let’s not forget that the Raiders were supposed to be terrible anyway. I gotta go with a Washington win, 34-20.

(Side Note: My poor friends who are Washington fans. They are desperately hoping I start picking against their team because I’m a known jinx. Whenever I buy a jersey of a player, it’s basically a death sentence for that guy. And whenever I eagerly board a team’s bandwagon (like I did with Washington at the start of last year’s playoffs and continued to do so in the preseason this year), the thing immediately crashes into a brick wall and catches on fire, killing all of the passengers and even some innocent bystanders. If they lose to Oakland, I promise to pick against them at Dallas after their bye week, if only to try to save some friendships.)

Philadelphia @ Denver (-11)

It won’t be a close game, but it feels like a backdoor cover in the making. Denver up comfortably all game, kicks a late field goal to go up three scores, Philly marches down the field for an easy touchdown, but time’s up and they lose by 10. Denver wins 38-28.

Interestingly enough I’m picking the Broncos as my suicide pick this week even though I think Philly covers. If these two teams play 100 times in Denver, I see the Broncos winning in routine, one-score-difference fashion about 75 times; the Broncos winning in crazy blowout fashion 15 times, and the Eagles pulling off the upset 10 times. Of course that 10% scares me but no other team is as much of a sure thing this week (i.e. lots of the best teams are on the road it seems).

New England @ Atlanta (-2)

I think this game is extremely close the entire time. And if this was 2012, I’d immediately pick against the Patriots because over the past couple years they’ve been terrible in close games, especially when they have a chance to close out an opponent with a clock-killing drive. But this year they’ve already won two of those kind of games, and the defense in particular has looked good in the 4th quarter. The Falcons on the road is tough, but they have a ton of injuries that are already catching up to them. Atlanta at home over the last handful of years is stupid to bet against, but that’s what I’m here for, stupid bets. I think the Patriots win another close one, 26-23.

Miami @ New Orleans (-7)

Wow, Monday Night Football’s actually getting a great matchup. Two 3-0 teams. AFC vs NFC. Is New Orleans’ turnaround for real? Is Miami ready to be a playoff contender? I feel like the loser of this game should be forced to be the team most closely associated with Ricky Williams.

So which 3-0 start is more legit? The Dolphins have already won two road games, have outscored their opponents by 21 points, and have knocked off two of last year’s playoff teams.

The Saints have won two at home and a close one on the road, have outscored their opponents by 32, and have knocked off one 2012 playoff team.

Both teams have beaten Atlanta at home. New Orleans won 23-17, and Miami won 27-23.

Lots of statistical similarities between these teams. I definitely have not found a good reason to think the Saints will win by more than a touchdown. As a matter of fact, out of the seven undefeated teams, the Dolphins have played the toughest schedule (based on opponents’ record in their other games). Let’s take Miami to cover, but the Saints to win, 28-23.

For those of you keeping score at home, in week 4 I’m taking:

  • 8 Favorites & 7 Underdogs
  • Of those 7 Underdogs, 3 of them are Home Dogs and 4 of them are Road Dogs

Enjoy week 4.

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