"And if [I] happen to run through [the Panthers], put your goggles on, 'cause there's going to be blood and guts everywhere."
Week 4: #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis)
Week 4 results: 7-6 wins (36-25 .590); 3-10 v. spread (22-39 .361)
Note: When I refer to a team ‘winning’ or ‘losing’ (e.g. Carolina Panthers win by an average score of 21-19) that score reflects the team’s overall scoring offense/defense, and is set as a theoretical game score; that score does not necessarily correlate with said team’s actual record. For example, the Indianapolis Colts are 1-2, yet ‘win’ games by an average score of 32-26, reflecting their scoring offense/defense.
It’s been a tough year calling games in the NFL, especially Week 4. I nearly suffered my first losing week yet (wins), and got four games very wrong (WAS, BAL, ATL, NE). To make matters worse, I only hit the win against the spread in three of the six games I called correctly; one positive note was hitting 9 of 13 O/Us. Calling games against the spread is always a more difficult task, that’s why the Sharps drive the fancy cars and I write for a website no one pays attention to. See where I went wrong this week:
New York Giants 1-2 (+3) @ Washington Natives 1-2 (45.5): Natives 27-23 Giants 45-14
Thursday, 8:25 PM, FedEx Field, Andover, Maryland (Weather: Chance rain; mid-60s)
Reasons: It’s widely known the road team has lost every Thursday night game by at least 20 points, and it’s not hard to understand why – the teams are on short rest, the new Collective Bargaining Agreement limits practice, and the teams haven’t had the requisite time to prepare for their opponent, especially the traveling team. These criteria have resulted in blowouts in the two Thursday night games (not counting the Packers 20-point loss to the Seahawks on Opening Night), both lost by the visiting team, the Steelers by 20 points two weeks ago and the Buccaneers by 42 points this past Thursday. The same could happen tonight, although not likely, considering both teams are coming off 30+-point performances and it is Week 4, so we should assume these teams are rounding into shape, for whatever that’s worth. That said, a 20+-point blowout could happen. The Giants, despite beating the overrated Texans team 30-17 Sunday, remain in the bottom ten of the NFL in passing yards (22nd), pass defense (22nd), scoring offense (24th), and scoring defense (24th). Conversely, the Natives are 3rd, 10th, 5th, and 12th in those categories, respectively; additionally, the Natives are the 9th-ranked rushing offense and the 3rd –ranked rush defense. So statistically the Natives remain one of the ten best teams in the NFL. Yet the Natives are also 1-2, and lost to the very Texans the Giants just whooped. The Natives lone win came against the wretchedly winless Jaguars. The Giants’ losses have come against a great team (ARZ), and a very talented team (DET). In other words, these teams are relatively equal. So although I’m statistically inclined to lean towards a blowout, it’s Thursday night and DeSean Jackson is questionable. Numbers don’t lie, but they don’t always tell the whole story. The Natives get the win by virtue of not having to travel. Then again, I’m also 1-2 on Thursday night.
You have to love the games that produce the exact opposite result that almost everyone expects. Kirk Cousins was coming off one of his best performances in his career; Eli Manning was steering a sinking ship that had been through tough battles. The game was Thursday night, and the loser had lost by at least 20 points in every game. Manning threw 4 TDs and 1 INT; Cousins threw 1 TD and 4 INT. The home Natives, not a redundant phrase by my new WAS naming standards, lost by 31 points. That happens when you tuen the ball over 6 times (4 INT; 2 fumbles).
Carolina Panthers 2-1 (+3.5) @ Baltimore Ravens 2-1 (40.5): Ravens 21-20 Ravens 38-10
Sunday, 1 PM, M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, Maryland (Weather: Sunny, low 80s)
Reasons: The Panthers gave up the most yards between the tackles (244) since 2006 v. PIT Sunday, and it dropped them to 27th overall against the rush. That won’t sit well with this Panthers defense, but Thomas Davis is questionable heading into Sunday’s game. So is the entire Panthers backfield. The Ravens are also thin at running back, which means a heavy run attack game plan might not work as well as it did for the Steelers last week. These two teams match up very well statistically, and ‘win’ their games by average scores of 21-19 (CAR) and 22-17 (BAL). The big difference between these two teams is Steve Smith Sr. and turnovers. Smith has the reputation of putting games – and teams – on his back, and the Panthers are +4 in turnover ratio. It doesn’t look good for the traveling Panthers, but the Carolina defense might be chomping at the bit just as hard as Smith Sr. is.
This was an ugly game for the Panthers. Carolina gave up 454 offensive yards, on 7.4 yards per play, tallied zero sacks, and forced no turnovers. One of the best defenses in the NFL through Week 2, the Panthers defense has been a shell of itself since DE Greg Hardy’s placement on the NFL Exempt List. The Ravens offense put on a clinic, getting over 100 rushing yards (127) and over 300 yards passing (327), while their defense sacked Cam Newton twice, further injuring the already hobbled quarterback, and forced a fumble. The story of the game was Steve Smith Sr., who ended the game with 139 receiving yards and 2 TDs on seven catches (10 targets), although a huge chunk and a TD came on a deflected pass. It was one of those games for the Panthers.
Green Bay Packers 1-2 (-2) @ Chicago Bears 2-1 (50): Packers 28-27 Packers 38-17
Sunday, 1 PM, Soldier Field, Chicago, IL (Weather: Sunny, low 70s)
Reasons: The Bears are pretty beat up on defense, which is just what the doctor ordered for the Packers struggling offense. The only thing the Packers have impressed with has been pass defense, which has been the Bears strong suit since Jay Cutler arrived. Running the ball has not been the Bears Forte this season, pun intended; the Bears have the worst rushing game in the NFL, which should play well into the hands of the Packers 30th-ranked rush defense. Starting to see why the Packers are giving two to the Bears on the road? With Brandon Marshall questionable, the Bears could have a tough time against a desperate Packers team.
Aaron Rodgers told everyone in the WI area to r-e-l-a-x, and then went out and caused a frenzy throwing for 302 yards and 4 TDs on the road against the rival Bears. The Bears looked good, especially Jay Cutler, and led 17-14 with four minutes remaining in the first half from Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jefferies TDs; but the Packers put it in high gear, taking advantage of two Cutler INTs, and let their own WRs Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb loose, scoring 24 unanswered points to take the tough divisional game on the road.
Buffalo Bills 1-2 (+3) @ Houston Texans 2-1 (41): Texans 24-21 Texans 23-17
Sunday, 1 PM, Reliant Stadium, Houston, TX (Weather: Indoors)
Reasons: Are you sitting? Arian Foster is questionable for Sunday’s game. Two mediocre offenses face two pretty good defenses in a close match up Sunday at Reliant Stadium. The two teams ‘win’ (see Note at top) their games by an identical average score of 21-17. Both teams also force turnovers (BUF +4; HOU +3), but give up a fair amount of yards, with the exception of Buffalo’s 5th-ranked run defense. The Bills running game is also top notch, ranked 11th in the league, which should take advantage of Houston’s 25th-ranked run defense. With both Foster and Andre Johnson questionable many signs point to the Bills, but the Bills simply aren’t that good, and probably won’t score enough points against the Texans on the road to win.
JJ Watt stole the show with his 3rd quarter 80-yard pick-6, which put the Texans up 14-10. They never looked back. The game featured four other turnovers, which set the tempo for the game. The Bills played tough, holding the Texans to 1.5 yards per carry on 24 attempts. Alas, it wasn’t enough, and Buffalo plans to go with Kyle Orton for the foreseeable future, something rookie Sammy Watkins apparently approves of. The Texans may have won, but it took Watt’s unbelievable defensive TD to win it.
Tennessee Titans 1-2 (+8) @ Indianapolis Colts 1-2 (46): Colts 28-21 Colts 41-17
Sunday, 1 PM, Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, IN (Weather: Indoors)
Reasons: The Colts score a lot of points (3rd - 32 ppg) and the Titans don’t (31st - 14 ppg), but that doesn’t necessarily sum up this game. The Colts don’t really stop anyone either (27th-ranked pass offense; 25th-ranked scoring defense), but the Titans will be without tight end Delanie Walker, one of their only real weapons. The Titans 2nd-ranked pass defense will put pressure on Luck throughout the day, and these divisional match ups are always tough, but the Colts are giving eight points for a reason.
As expected the Colts cruised at home against the offensively challenged Titans. Tennessee turned the ball over three times, including an INT by the rookie Zack Mettenberger, who replaced Charlie Whitehurst, who replaced Jake Locker. On the other side it was business as usual for Andrew Luck, who threw 4 TDs passes and nearly eclipsed 400 yards passing (393).
Detroit Lions 2-1 (-1.5) @ New York Jets 1-2 (45): Lions 24-20 Lions 24-17
Sunday, 1 PM, MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ (Weather: Sunny, low 80s)
Reasons: On paper this is one of the best match ups of the week, if you discount the Jets 1-2 record. Both of these teams rank in the top-9 in three of the four major yardage categories, and both teams have two of the best defenses in the NFL (DET is the 2nd-ranked scoring defense). The major flaws on the these teams are the Jets passing game (ranked 19th) and the Lions run game (ranked 25th), although the Lions have Reggie Bush and Joique Bell. These teams also turn the ball over too much (DET -3; NYJ -4). The Lions should be able to take advantage of those Jets mistakes and turn them into points, especially if Muhammad Wilkerson can’t go.
The Jets got to Matt Stafford and kept Megatron in check, but it wasn’t enough as Stafford still threw for 293 yards and 2 TDs, and ran for another TD on their way to a 24-17 win in which the Lions were outplayed in several areas. What do you know, there’s another quarterback controversy within the New York Jets.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 0-3 (+7.5) @ Pittsburgh Steelers 2-1 (45): Steelers 28-20 Buccaneers 27-24
Sunday, 1 PM, Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA (Weather: Sunny, high 70s)
Reasons: The Buccaneers are bad. They’re so bad that their highest ranking is 20th, in rushing yards (think Bobby Rainey and Doug Martin), which happens to be the Steelers worst ranking (22nd rush defense). Don’t let that fool you though, because the Steelers are pretty solid everywhere else. The Steelers have the league’s top running game, and rank just out of the top-10 in scoring offense, passing yards, and passing defense. Even with a hobbled defense, the Steelers should win easy at home.
What an ending to this game. From the improbable first down, to the incredible Mike Glennon to Vincent Jackson TD with seven seconds left, the Buccaneers delivered the most exciting ending to any Sunday game. The only thing the Buccaneers were supposed to be able to do was run the ball, which they didn’t (63 yards on 20 carries, including a 19-yard scamper on one carry). Yet, the Buccaneers came into Pittsburgh and came out with a huge win, after being embarrassed on national television the week before. Roethlisberger had a typical big day (314 yards and 3 TDs), but Michael Johnso returned to the field for the Buccaneers and helped keep Big Ben on the run, sacking him five times.
Miami Dolphins 1-2 (-3.5) @ Oakland Raiders 0-3 (41): Dolphins 21-20 Dolphins 38-14
Sunday, 1 PM, Wembley Stadium, London, England (Weather: Indoors)
Reasons: Zzz…Zzz…Zzz…oh, I’m sorry. I fell asleep gathering my thoughts to preview this game. The Raiders are somehow the 4th-ranked passing defense and the 12th-ranked scoring defense in the NFL otherwise they’re abominable. Ranked last or near the bottom of the league in scoring offense, passing yards (29th), rushing yards (31st), and rush defense (31st), the Raiders would be the worst team in the league if not for the AAA Jaguars. Lucky for them they play the Dolphins, who are right there with them, save for the second half of their Week 1 win v. the Patriots; the Dolphins have the 30th-ranked passing offense and the league’s 29th-ranked scoring defense. Considering the Dolphins won’t be gaining many passing yards Sunday, especially with Mike Wallace questionable, it’ll be up to Dolphins RB Lamar Miller. Enjoy this one mate, if you’re forced to. Perhaps the NFL isn’t trying to get to Europe throwing teams like this out there.
The Dolphins put on a show for the Brits, and things actually got worse for the Raiders. Rookie quarterback Derek Carr was injured, the Raiders gave up 435 offensive yards, and they turned the ball over four times. The terrible international showing was the straw the broke the camel’s back; Dennis Allen was fired by telephone after the loss. Joe Philbin’s job may not be that much safer, but the Dolphins took advantage of the reeling Raiders nad looked lie a great football team for a day.
Jacksonville Jaguars 0-3 (+13) @ San Diego Chargers 2-1 (45): Chargers 31-17 Chargers 33-14
Sunday, 4:05 PM, Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, CA (Weather: Sunny, mid-70s)
Reasons: This will be the third week in a row the Jaguars are double-digit underdogs, but it’ll be the first week I won’t take all those points. You know what they say: Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. I won’t be fooled again. The winless Jaguars are next level bad. I just went on about the Oakland Raiders being bad, and they would crush the Jaguars. Jacksonville ranks last in the NFL in scoring defense, passing defense and rushing defense. To say they had the worst defense in the NFL would be, well, completely accurate. The Jaguars are the 30th-ranked scoring offense, have the 30th-ranked rushing offense, and rank 25th in passing, their best statistical category. Surprisingly enough, the have the same turnover ratio as their opponent, who ranks among some of the league’s elite in those aforementioned categories. The Chargers defense should stifle the Jaguars, and Phillip Rivers will have a field day at home against the NFL’s worst defense, even with hobbled tight ends. Chargers (should) win big.
For the third week in a row the Jaguars were gifted at least 12 points, and it wasn’t enough. Blake Bortles (254 passing yards; 1 TD) gives the Jaguars some hope, while Philip Rivers (377 passing yards; 3 TDs) continues to make his early case for league MVP.
Atlanta Falcons 2-1 (-3) @ Minnesota Vikings 1-2 (46.5): Falcons 24-20 Vikings 41-28
Sunday, 4:25 PM, TFC Bank Stadium, Minnesota, MN (Weather: Sunny, mid-70s)
Reasons: The Falcons are flying high, but they do their best work at home. The Vikings have been a surprisingly tough team, in some cases, but have been through football hell the past few weeks after losing their two most important players, Adrian Peterson to child abuse allegations, and quarterback Matt Cassell to injury. Only the Buccaneers have a more pathetic passing game than the Vikings, and they’ll be looking to rookie Teddy Bridgewater to improve things. The Vikings 28th-ranked scoring defense could have a tough time keeping the Falcons tethered – sorry – but the Falcons aren’t exactly the same team on the road (1-7 last year, the lone win coming in OT), especially up north in the cold or bad weather. That won’t be the case Sunday in warm, sunny Minneapolis. The Falcons have the top-ranked passing offense, but the Vikings and newcomer Captain Munnerlyn have the Vikings defending the pass pretty well (ranked 12th). It could be close, but the Falcons win on the road again in 2014.
Who saw this coming? Many people could have predicted a Falcons road loss, but few expected the Vikings to rattle off 14 unanswered 4th quarter points to steal the win. The Falcons led 28-27 going into he 4th quarter, but the legs of running back Matt Asiata (3 TDs) and kicker Blair Walsh carried the Vikings to victory. It was a bittersweet debut for quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (317 passing yards), as his great game and the big win were overshadowed by a late injury that could cost the rookie time.
Philadelphia Eagles 3-0 (+5) @ San Francisco 49ers 1-2 (50.5): Eagles 28-24 49ers 26-21
Sunday, 4:25 PM, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, CA (Weather: Sunny, high 70s)
Reasons: The 49ers defense isn’t quite what we expected it would be when the schedule was released this season and we all circled this game. Nonetheless, the 49ers defense is still good (6th-ranked rush defense; 14th-ranked pass defense; 14th-ranked scoring defense), and this looks to be a great game. Hopefully the 49ers can hang with the Eagles 2nd-ranked scoring offense, led by quarterback Nick Foles and the 2nd-ranked passing offense, but it might be up to quarterback Colin Kaepernick again. Although the 49ers have taken heat for relying on Kaepernick too much, and Kaepernick hasn’t really been able to handle it, the Eagles have one of the worst (30th) passing defenses in the NFL, so we could be in for a shoot-out in the land of denim. Eagles win on the road and send the 49ers spinning.
The 49ers held the Eagles to 213 offensive yards on a measly 3.8 yards per play, and were held to only 10 first downs, including only one rushing first down, yet were up 21-13 at the half on a Brad Smith blocked punt for a TD, a Malcolm Jenkins pick-6, and an 82-yard punt return TD by Darren Sproles. The 49ers took control of the second half, on the legs on 218 rushing yards on a whopping 42 carries, and scored 13 unanswered points to take the must-win game at home. The Eagles running game was not so fortunate; LeSean McCoy was held to 17 yards on 10 carries, something that’s bound to spark debate until the Eagles play again.
New Orleans Saints 1-2 (-3) @ Dallas Cowboys 2-1 (53.5): Saints 31-28 Cowboys 38-17
Sunday, 8:30 PM, AT&T Stadium, Dallas, TX (Weather: Indoors)
Reasons: One of the best games of the week, this is also one of the best match ups of the week. The two teams average the same points per game (26) and give up nearly the same points per game (NO – 23; DAL – 24). Even the ESPN Power rankings place the two teams within three spots of each other (NO – 15th; DAL – 18th), for whatever that’s worth. Both teams have big-time quarterbacks, although one is certainly more accident-prone, and both teams have dynamic offenses. One area these two teams don’t excel at is on the defensive side, although the Cowboys are improving and the Saints were the 4th overall defense in 2013. This game has barnburner potential, hence the 53.5 O/U, and I expect just that. The Saints may struggle on the road, but not usually in identical environments. The Saints should have plenty of fans in the Cowboys “dome”, so it could feel homier than a usual road game. Shoot, they might even win a road game.
These teams may have been evenly matched heading into the game, but it sure didn’t look that way. The once top-four Saints defense is back to being a bottom-of-the-barrel defense in 2014, and it showed Sunday. The Cowboys and Saints combined for big yards, nearly 880, but only the Cowboys came away with big points, thanks in part to two fumbles, one by Jimmy Graham, and a Drew Brees INT. Apparently it doesn’t matter if it’s a dome, it has to be in New Orleans for the Saints to win.
New England Patriots 2-1 (-3.5) @ Kansas City Chiefs 1-2 (45): Patriots 24-20 Chiefs 41-14
Monday, 8:30 PM, Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, MO (Weather: Clear, high 60s)
Reasons: The Patriots are giving 3.5 points on the road to one of the toughest crowds in one of the loudest stadiums in Pro Football history (I see you, AFL). I’m not so sure I buy it. The Patriots offense is abysmal (Ranked 27th in passing; 22nd in rushing), and the Chiefs, who rush the quarterback as well as anyone with Justin Houston (3 sacks) and Tamba Hali (2.5 sacks), have the 10th-ranked passing defense and the 12th-ranked scoring defense. Those numbers don’t bode well for the Patriots struggling passing game, which might have to relay on their running game to poke holes in the Chiefs 23rd-ranked rush defense. Otherwise the Patriots top-ranked pass defense will try and stifle the Chiefs passing game and force them to rely on their depleted running game, which is hoping for Jamal Charles’ return. The Patriots also boast the league’s 4th-ranked scoring defense and have the league’s highest turnover ratio (+6); the Chiefs have the worst turnover ratio in the NFL (-5). The Patriots should roll the Chiefs, but KC does most of the things required to beat the Patriots well, and the game is at Arrowhead.
The Chiefs came alive at home, with some help from their decibel record-seeking crowd, and absolutely torched the Patriots. The game was so bad for New England and Tom Brady that the media began talk of their demise. I don’t blame them – it looked that bad. Alex Smith threw three TDs and the Chiefs rushed for 207 yards after the return of Jamal Charles on their way to making a statement, which may have been that they beat a mediocre team at home. So before we go crowning the Chiefs for an epic performance, let’s remember the state the Patriots are in right now, and the amount of talent the Chiefs have. In other words, the Chiefs should be capable of these games once in a while.
Check back Thursday and again Sunday for Week 5 #NFL Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis) at ProFootballMedia.com!