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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Week 4: #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis)


 Aaron Rodgers is already off to a fast start in 2017 and looks to stay ahead in the NFC North when they face the Chicago Bears in Green Bay Thursday night.


2017 NFL SEASON

Week 4: #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis)
Week 4 results: 8-8 wins (season: 34-29; .540); 10-6 v. spread (season: 30-33; .476)



Chicago Bears 1-2 (+7) @ Green Bay Packers 2-1 (45.5): Packers 24-20 Packers 35-14
Thursday, 8:25 PM, Lambeau Field, Green Bay, WI (Weather: Partly cloudy; low 60s)

Reasons: Chicago and Green Bay enter Thursday night’s game allowing the 12th and 10th fewest yards in the league, respectively, but that’s only significant for the Bears, who are 14th in defensive time of possession (30:26). The Packers gain far more yards on offense (391.3 ypg, 10th) and are led by perennial MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers, who is once again off to another great start (967 passing yards; 6 TDs). On the other side for the Bears is running back Jordan Howard (237 total yards; 3 TDs), who was questionable all last week and then torched a good Steelers defense for 138 rushing yards. Howard is questionable again, but I wouldn’t count on that if I’m Green Bay. The bigger question could be the health of Chicago’s offensive line with G Josh Sitton and back up center Hroniss Grasu questionable. The same can be said about Green Bay’s offensive line as the Packers could be missing both their starting tackles (David Bakhtiari;Byron Buluga). Considering the early week and the level of attrition at key positions on both teams we shouldn’t expect the barn burner we got last Thursday night, but with safety Quinton Demps already ruled out for the Bears, Aaron Rodgers could go off at any moment and have another big game. 

The game got away from the Bears before it began. The Packers scored on their opening drive and then on Chicago's first possession, Mike Glennon was strip sacked at the Bears 14 yard line and Green Bay recovered the ball at the Bears 3 yard line. Three plays later the Packers were up 14-0 six minutes into the game.  From there it snowballed with Chicago fumbling again and throwing two INTs, as well as missing a FG, to cap off a game where Chicago led in yards, first downs and time of possession, but lost by 21 points. Aaron Rodgers threw four TDs on 18-26 passing and only 179 yards, but that's all it took.


New Orleans Saints 2-1 (-3) @ Miami Dolphins 1-1 (50.5): Saints 27-23 Saints 20-0
Sunday, 9:30 AM, Wembley Stadium, London, England (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: These London games have proven hard to predict, the last case being a (at the time) top-five defense in Baltimore, surrendering 44 points to Jacksonville last Sunday. We might see the same thing this week as the Dolphins enter Week 4 the 6th-ranked scoring defense, and I don’t think they stand much of a chance against Drew Brees. The problem for Miami is the 11th-ranked Saints offense is climbing the ranks fast and will be close to home in the sense they’ll be indoors on turf, where they’re most dangerous. New Orleans has some attrition on the offensive line, but Drew Brees is heating up.

After last week's London game I was skeptical to predict a bad game, despite the fact the Dolphins and Saints offered no proof to the contrary, but it was exactly that. Both teams combined for 533 total yards, the Dolphins only managing 186 of those yards and 11 first downs. Jay Cutler was intercepted and already looks disinterested in a team that has yet to play at home in 2017. The Saints didn't do anything special, but it's becoming clear it won't take anything special to beat these Dolphins, no matter how much talent they have.



Buffalo Bills 2-1 (+8) @ Atlanta Falcons 3-0 (48.5): Falcons 28-20 Bills 23-17
Sunday, 1:00 PM, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: The Bills enter Sunday’s game with the top-ranked scoring defense while ranking 6th in yards allowed. The creation of a defense that can battle Tom Brady twice a year is paying off, as Buffalo truly is one of the best defenses in the NFL. Unfortunately for Buffalo they’re facing a dynamic, record-breaking offense in the Falcons, who haven’t really skipped a beat after losing their offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to the 49ers and replacing him with a frat guy from USC. Atlanta will also be home. Good defenses and running games usually travel well, but not to Atlanta to face these Falcons.

The Bills were out-gained, had fewer first downs and held the ball for less time, but forced three turnovers against the Falcons and beat Atlanta and the high-flying Falcons offense at home. It doesn't hurt that Julio Jones got hurt, but if you turn the ball over in the NFL you will not win games. Tre'Davius White returned a fumble 52 yards for a touchdown early in the second half and the Bills never looked back. Buffalo made it 17-10 on a field goal following a Matt Ryan INT, before Matt Ryan made it 17-17 on a touchdown pass, before another Matt Ryan INT led to the go-ahead Bills field goal. 


Cincinnati Bengals 0-3 (-3) @ Cleveland Browns 0-3 (41.5): Bengals 24-20 Bengals 31-7
Sunday, 1:00 PM, FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland, OH (Weather: Sunny; high 60s)

Reasons: The Bengals are winless, but their three losses have come to a top-ranked Baltimore defense to start the season, a close 13-9 loss to a tough Texans team and a loss to Aaron Rodgers and the high-flying Packers offense in OT at Lambeau Field. The Browns have also faced tough teams in two of their three games (PIT; BAL), but lost a close game to the lowly Colts last week. In other words, both teams are probably better than their 0-3 records suggest, but if we’re being realistic, Cincinnati is the far more talented, and better team. The Bengals offense is stuck in a quagmire they’re sure to free themselves from eventually, and the Browns are really bad. One of the lone bright spots for the team, rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer, is already giving the ball away too much, and poses as much of a threat to win a game as lose one.

The Cincinnati Bengals offense finally woke up, albeit against a terrible Cleveland Browns defense. The Browns offense doesn't look any better, and rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer (16-34 passing for 118 yards; 1 INT) is feeling the effects of playing quarterback for the Browns, a hell I wouldn't inflict upon my worst enemy. 



 The Dallas Cowboys might have the big names, but it's the Rams that enters Sunday's game the league's top scoring offense to compliment great young defensive talent.


Los Angeles Rams 2-1 (+6.5) @ Dallas Cowboys 2-1 (48.5): Cowboys 28-27 Rams 35-30
Sunday, 1:00 PM, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: The Rams come into Sunday the top-ranked offense in the NFL, much to the surprise of everyone, scoring 35.7 ppg. What might be a surprise is the defense ranks in the bottom third of the NFL in points and yards allowed; however, both can be explained away via a barn burner against the 49ers (39 PA) and the fact the Rams offense strikes quick and puts their defense right back on the field (LAR defense ranks 13th in DTOP). Yet another surprise is an offensive line that has not only cleared lanes for Todd Gurley, but has only given up three sacks on the year. The Cowboys are exactly what and where we expected them to be, except for their star running back Ezekiel Elliot, who not only looks out of shape, but not at all like he did in his rookie campaign, averaging about half the yards per game he did in 2016 (62 ypg; 1 TD). At least he’s on the field, which is something few expected entering the season. Dallas squeaks by with a win at home in one of the premier games of the week.

The game that featured the most young talent in the NFL (Jared Goff: 2 passing TDs; Todd Gurley: 121 rushing yards; Dak Prescott: 3 passing TDs; Ezekiel Elliot: 85 rushing yards, 1 TD) didn't disappoint Sunday. In a largely evenly-played game, two turnovers by the Cowboys ultimately cost Dallas the game. In a critical play midway through the 4th quarter, Dak Prescott was strip sacked and lost a fumble, only to have the call reversed. On the next play Prescott's pass attempt to Dan Beasley was intercepted, leading to a Rams field goal, which gave Los Angeles a 32-24 lead, essentially putting what had been a 29-24 game (with the Cowboys driving) out of reach.


Detroit Lions 2-1 (+2) @ Minnesota Vikings 2-1 (42.5): Vikings 21-20 Lions 14-7
Sunday, 1:00 PM, US Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, MN (Weather: 50% rain; 60s)

Reasons: These two NFC North rivals enter Sunday’s game relatively even on both sides of the ball. Both teams possess defenses that bend, but don’t break, and both teams possess offenses that can score in bunches. The major difference is veteran quarterback Matt Stafford leads one team, the Lions, while the Vikings are on their third quarterback in three seasons after finding their franchise quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater. Case Keenum has stepped in and done as good a job as Sam Bradford had done so far in relief of Bridgewater, and for the first time since the late-90s, the Vikings have two threats at wide receiver. Much of the above might not matter, however, as the game is forecasted for rain, which means Minnesota has the advantage with rookie running back sensation Dalvin Cook (288 rushing yards; 4.7 ypc; 1 TD).

The key to this tragic game was the devastating season-ending injury to rookie sensation running back Dalvin Cook, who, if not for injury and Kareem Hunt, would have probably run away with the Rookie of the Year award. Both defenses dominated (Lions: 251 total yards; Vikings: 284 total yards), but only the Lions forced three turnovers, which, combined with Cook's injury, did the Vikings in.


Carolina Panthers 2-1 (+9.5) @ New England Patriots 2-1 (49): Patriots 28-20 Panthers 33-30
Sunday, 1:00 PM, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA (Weather: Sunny; mid-60s)

Reasons: This is one of the most intriguing matchups of the week, at least from a statistical perspective. Carolina enters the game the worst scoring offense in the NFL, but the second-ranked scoring defense. New England comes into the game with the second-ranked scoring offense in the NFL, but the worst scoring defense. On paper we should expect a respective rise and regression to the offensive and defensive means, but in reality, the Panthers are in trouble. The two qualities the Panthers possess are a great defense, led by a solid front, and a mobile quarterback. The Patriots have already faced these parameters twice (KC; HOU), while the Panthers haven’t faced anything like the Patriots so far in 2017. Add this to the fact Cam Newton has not showed any signs of returning to form after off-season shoulder surgery and the point spread becomes clearer.

The Patriots, for the first time that I can remember in the Bill Belichick era, have the worst defense in the NFL. Not just statistically, but with the eye test as well. The Patriots, who have several Pro Bowl players on their defense, looked like a high school defense on Sunday, going so far as to motion two defensive backs with the same receiver at the same time. The Panthers committed two turnovers, but the Patriots defense played so bad the Panthers were leading 30-16 midway through the 4th quarter before a Deion Lewis touchdown run (8:46) and a Tom Brady touchdown pass to Danny Amendola (3:09) made it a 30-30 game. The Panthers then drove down the field in those final three minutes in 10 plays, setting up the game winning kick off Graham Gano's foot as the game expired. The Saints crushed the Panthers Week 2, the Patriots crushed the Saints Week 3 and then this happens Week 4. The National Parody League is back.



Jacksonville Jaguars 2-1 (-3) @ New York Jets 1-2 (38.5): Jaguars 24-17 Jets 23-20
Sunday, 1:00 PM, MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ (Weather: Sunny; high 60s)

Reasons: These aren’t your older brother’s Jaguars, but they might be your older brother’s Jets. It’s hard to tell considering the Jets have only had a few quality seasons in the past 20 years. I digress. New York enters the game not being able to score, or stop people from scoring and that’s because they give up a ton of yards and don’t really gain any themselves. Conversely, Jacksonville is ranked in the top-four of all of those metrics, for maybe the first time in team history, save offensive yards, where they rank 13th. The Jets simply aren’t talented enough to beat anyone, and must rely on games against Dolphins teams led by Jay Cutler to have any hope of winning. Get your tickets fast, there are only 4,425 remaining as of Saturday.

This was a game of two halves, or more specifically, a tale of one half and then two quarters. After a first half in which these two teams tied 10-10, the Jets took control of the 3rd quarter 20-10, before the Jaguars returned the favor in the 4th quarter to tie the game 20-20. The two teams traded jabs before the Jets ultimately took the win on the foot of kicker Chandler Catanzaro, whose 41-yard FG with 28 seconds left in OT gave the Jets the win and a 2-2 record after four games. So much for the Jets being the worst team in the NFL. 


The Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens have provided NFL fans with one of the league's greatest rivalries over the past decade.



Pittsburgh Steelers 2-1 (-3) @ Baltimore Ravens 2-1 (42.5): Ravens 21-20 Steelers 26-9
Sunday, 1:00 PM, M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, MD (Weather: Sunny; high 60s)

Reasons: The last time Pittsburgh won in Baltimore it was 2012 and 14 of the past 19 AFC North battles have been decided by four or fewer points. This is literally one of the best and most physical rivalries in NFL history and Sunday’s games looks to keep pace. Both team enter Sunday coming off bad losses, yet the winner of this game stands alone atop the AFC North. Pittsburgh’s offense has been nothing short of disappointing so far this season (16th scoring; 22nd yards gained), but the defense (3rd scoring defense; 3rd yards allowed), seemingly ahead of schedule, has more than made up for the Steelers lack of firepower. The Ravens always knew they’d struggle on offense, and has also relied on their defense throughout the season (5th ranked scoring defense). 

The league's most surprising team to many through the first two games of the season may have regressed back to the mean, if you were like me to start 2017 and thought the Ravens were not that good of a football team. Baltimore's defense, one of the best in 2016 and though the first two games of 2017, has now given up 70 points in their last two games and suddenly look mediocre. That's not good, because the offense is mediocre no matter how you look at it. The Steelers came away with their first win in Baltimore since 2012, but not without drama for the second week in a row. A week after differences in how the national anthem should be handled, Antonio Brown flipped out on the sidelines, throwing Gatorade containers and slapping away coaches attempts to calm him, because Ben Roethlisberger didn't see him wide open. Pittsburgh may have won the game, but they're losing the locker room.

  
Tennessee Titans 2-1 (-2.5) @ Houston Texans 1-2 (44): Titans 27-24 Texans 57-14
Sunday, 1:00 PM, Reliant Stadium, Houston, TX (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: The Texans have found their franchise quarterback in Deshaun Watson, who almost became the first rookie quarterback ever to beat Bill Belichick in New England. Almost. Tennessee has their best team since the Music City Miracle days, with an offense that ranks in the top-five and a defense that, when healthy, is capable of domination. Any team facing the Texans will now have to contend with the dynamic Watson, which makes any game plan difficult, but the Titans are getting healthy, and should soon be capable of dominating. 

The Tennessee Titans beat the Seattle Seahawks 33-27 and the New England Patriots beat the Houston Texans 36-33 Week 3, so naturally the Texans would go crazy and absolutely destroy the Titans by 43 points in Week 4. Marcus Mariota led the Titans in passing (96 yards; 2 INTs) and rushing (39 yards; 2 TDs), of which neither impressed, but also left the game with a hamstring injury and didn't return. Matt Cassell came in to replace Mariota and surrendered the only two sacks the Titans offensive line gave up and threw as many INTs (2) as Mariota did in the same amount of attempts (10). The real marvel was Texans rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson, who threw for 283 yards and 4 TDs to go along with 26 rushing yards and another touchdown. If Watson can continue this type of play the Houston Texans might be the most dangerous team in the NFL going forward. 


San Francisco 49ers 0-3 (+6.5) @ Arizona Cardinals 1-2 (44.5): Cardinals 24-21 Cardinals 18-15
Sunday, 4:05 PM, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, AZ (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: This is an interesting game statistically. At first glance this is a game between a terrible team on the rise (SF) against an aging dark horse NFC contender with a top-ranked defense that recently lost its best offensive player (ARZ). Truth be told, very little separates this team except for yardage, which be explained away by their offensive philosophies: the young, largely talentless 49ers run the ball because their only great player is Carlos Hyde; the Cardinals have stud wide outs (Brown; Fitzgerald) and a Heisman-winning No. 1 quarterback, albeit one near the end (Carson Palmer). Arizona is banged up, but so is Hyde, so attrition could be a wash in this game. Look to the home team in this match up, which will prove to be much more evenly matched than the 6.5-point spread would suggest. 

The second OT game of the week, the Cardinals beat their division rival 49ers with 32 seconds left in OT on a Larry Fitzgerald touchdown pass from Carson Palmer (Interesting note: the other OT game of  Week 4, JAX v. NYJ, was won with 28 seconds left in OT). Robbie Gould hit the go-ahead field goal with 2:24 left in OT, which would've given the 49ers their first win of the season, but alas, Fitzgerald came across the middle in the back of the end zone and sacrificed his body as he's done his entire career for the Cardinals to seal the victory. 


Philadelphia Eagles 2-1 (+2) @ Los Angeles Chargers 0-3 (47.5): Chargers 27-24 Eagles 26-24
Sunday, 4:05 PM, Stub Hub Center, Carson, CA (Weather: Sunny; mid-70s)

Reasons: I said last week I wouldn’t bet against a desperate Phillip Rivers and I lost. So here I am again pleading the same case, because Rivers has to be really desperate at this point. 0-3 is bad, but manageable with the talent Los Angeles has, but 0-4 would be a death sentence in the AFC West. Rivers has flashed his typical brilliance at times, but he’s thrown as many TDs this season as interceptions (5). The Eagles come into the game leaning on their quarterback as well, but also as one of the league’s offensive juggernauts (10th points; 9th yards gained). Philadelphia was dealt a blow last week, losing 3rd down back Darren Sproles for the season, and also comes into the game banged up on defense. The Chargers will look to take advantage of that attrition, assuming the Chargers are at full strength themselves (Melvin Gordon Q), and get their first win of 2017 in their new “home”.

I'm running out of belief for a desperate Phillip Rivers. Since the Chargers started Rivers for the first time in 2006 they have lost 25 games by three or fewer points, by far the most during that span (Drew Brees has lost 20 such games). Rivers pulled the Chargers within two points on a Hunter Henry touchdown that was called off, but then reversed with 6:44 left in the game. It was the second time in the quarter the Chargers had pulled within two points, but the Eagles proved to be too much for Los Angeles, holding the ball for twice as long as long as the Chargers (39:18) and out-gaining them on the ground 214 to yards to 58. 


 Jameis Winston needs to cut down on the turnovers if the Tampa Bay Buccaneers want beat a great Giants defense on Sunday.

  
New York Giants 0-3 (+3) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1-1 (44.5): Bucs 24-23 Bucs 25-23
Sunday, 4:05 PM, Raymond James Stadium, Tampa Bay, FL (Weather: 60% storms; mid-70s)

Reasons: Storms are forecasted for this game and there’s a good chance for really bad weather, too. I apologize for that terrible joke, but there’s no joking about the mental state of New York’s best player, and my fantasy keeper, in one Odell Beckham Jr. The weather could get nasty Sunday afternoon, which means the game could come down the play of the two defenses and grounds games, the latter of which neither team possesses. Jameis Winston, who is one of the best quarterbacks in the league when he’s throwing to the right team, has never won a game in the NFL when his team rushes fewer than 25 times. That could play right into Tampa Bay’s hands considering the weather and New York’s defense, except TB doesn’t really have anyone to carry the ball that many times. For reference, leading rusher Jaquizz Rodgers has 24 total carries. As for the Giants, if they can’t throw the ball Sunday in the rain they might as well pack 2017 up, because they’ll have wasted one of the league’s most talented defenses on one of the worst offensive lines we’ve seen in decades, to go along with a wasted year for the mercurially talented OBJ, who can’t even get out of his own head. 

The weather did effect the game Sunday, with both teams combining for three missed field goals and a missed PAT (Nick Folk). Eli Manning hit Rhett Ellison in the end zone with 3:16 remaining to put the Giants up 23-22, but the two-point conversion to Odell Beckham Jr. failed, giving the Bucs over three minutes to march down the field to set up Nick Folk to kick the game-winning field goal as the clock expired, with Folk already having missed two FGs and an extra point. Folk squeaked the 32-yard field goal by the right upright to send the Giants to 0-4.


Oakland Raiders 2-1 (+3) @ Denver Broncos 2-1 (46): Broncos 28-24 Broncos 16-10
Sunday, 4:25 PM, Mile High Stadium, Denver, CO (Weather: 30% rain; 50s)

Reasons: The Raiders bandwagon gained a few more spots Monday night after Oakland lost to a Washington team that’s much better than people think. Of course there’s no reason for alarm in Oakland, as every team has a bad night, especially against talented football teams, and the Raiders offense remains one of the best (9th scoring), anchored by the AFC’s best offensive line.  The problem this Sunday is the Raiders skill guys have been limited all week (Crabtree; Cooper) and Denver’s defense is troublesome to say the least. The Broncos haven’t allowed 300 yards to an opponent once this season, and their pass rush and secondary make most quarterbacks, even the great Derek Carr, seem mediocre. The weather could be an issue and would favor Denver heavily, as if the noise at Mile High Stadium isn’t a serious enough issue for the Raiders to begin with. 

The Raiders could be in serious trouble. Derek Carr fractured his back and Marshawn Lynch was held to minimal yards for the third of four games so far this season as the stifling Broncos defense (254 yards allowed) not only stopped the Raiders Sunday, but may have slowed them for the foreseeable future. The game ultimately came down to the kickers, with Brandon McManus kicking the go-ahead (36 yards) and game-clinching field goals (46 yards) in the 3rd quarter.



Indianapolis Colts 1-2 (+13) @ Seattle Seahawks 1-2 (47.5): Seahawks 21-10 Seahawks 46-18
Sunday, 8:30 PM, CenturyLink Field, Seattle, WA (Weather: Cloudy; low-50s)

Reasons: This has blood bath written all over it. The Colts are a statistical nightmare, the numbers only slightly skewed because they dropped 31 points on the hapless Browns last week. In other words, Indianapolis is statistically one of the three worst teams in the NFL. The funny thing is Seattle isn’t that much better, despite occasional illusions. The offense gains yards, but ranks near the bottom in points scored (26th). Seattle’s offensive line could challenge the NYG as the NFL’s worst, and they have no running game to speak of. The offense revolves almost entirely on Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin and Jimmy Graham, the latter two being questionable for Sunday’s game. The Seahawks bread-and-butter is once again the defense, which might’ve been ranked even higher than 8th in points allowed if they hadn’t surrendered 27 points to Tennessee last Sunday. Seattle is definitely far better than Indianapolis, despite my previous assertion, but with an offense as bad as Seattle’s it’s hard to justify 13 points. 

The Colts went into the half leading 15-10, but the Seahawks exploded in the second half to take over the game. The Seahawks went up 18-15 half way through the 3rd quarter before Indianapolis tied the game 18-18 on their next possession via Adam VinaTieri's 40-yard field goal. Seattle went on a tirade from that point on, scoring 28 unanswered points via two Russell Wilson passing TDs (21-26 for 295 passing yards; 2 TDs; 2 INTs), a touchdown run by JD McKissic and a fumble return by Bobby Wagner. The Colts are no measuring stick, but the Seahawks have to be happy with a win that excelled in all phases.


Washington Football Team 2-1 (+7) @ Kansas City Chiefs 3-0 (49.5): Chiefs 28-20 Chiefs 29-20
Monday, 8:30 PM, Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, MO (Weather: Partly cloudy; low-70s)

Reasons: Kansas City might be the best team in the NFL. They haven’t lost, have beaten New England and Philadelphia along the way, have the league’s leading rusher, who just happens to be a rookie, and rank in the top-10 in scoring offense (3rd) and defense (7th). Unfortunately the Chiefs will be without starting center Mitch Morse and could be without starting left tackle Eric Fisher. Kansas City could also be without Dee Ford at outside linebacker, as well as reserve linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis, meaning the Chiefs could be really thin in the middle of their defense and might be without two of their best offensive linemen. Washington doesn’t bode much better, as they could be without key defensive players (LB Mason Foster, S DJ Swearinger, DE Jon Allen), as well as wide receiver Jamison Crowder. If not for these players being limited all week I’d be inclined to give Washington more of a shot, but I don’t, and obviously the books don’t either. 

The Chiefs gained 100 more yards, possessed the ball for 15 more minutes and had nearly double the first downs (29 to 15) as Washington, yet it took a 43-yard field goal from Harrison Butker with four seconds left in the game to win it. Justin Houston recovered a botched lateral in the midst of a last ditch effort by Washington, and returned the fumble as time expired, which not only allowed the Chiefs (-6.5 to -7 depending on the book) to cover, but hit the over (48). The game featured two of the better teams in the NFL, Kansas City probably being the best of them all, but all the excitement came down to the final play, which sent Las Vegas, and the author, into a tailspin. Kareem Hunt had another 100-yard rushing game and remains the most exciting player in the NFL, despite only being a rookie.



Stay tuned for Week 5 #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis) coming Thursday and Sunday!

Tuesday's Gone: Week 3 #NFL Game Reviews

 
 The Los Angeles Rams and running back Todd Gurley travel to Silicon Valley to face the San Francisco 49ers to bore us to death in another Thursday Night Football game


2017 NFL SEASON
Week 3: #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis)
Week 3 results: 6-10 wins (season: 26-21; .553); 7-9 v. spread (season: 20-27; .426)




Los Angeles Rams 1-1 (-3) @ San Francisco 49ers 0-2 (40): Rams 21-13 Rams 41-39
Thursday, 8:25 PM, Levis Stadium, Santa Clara, CA (Weather: Partly cloudy; 60s)

Reasons: These aren't the teams to be playing on short notice, and both teams are coming off of a tough loss. So I guess we should expect another terrible Thursday Night Football game. The NFL needs to get rid of these games. That's not happening any time soon, so tonight we'll see an offense that has surpassed early expectations (33 ppg; 362.5 ypg) and a defense that has largely met early expectations (18 ppg; 331.5 ypg) in the Rams against a defense that has allowed fewer points per game (17.5), but has only managed an average of six points per game on offense in the 49ers. This game will come down to one defense on the rise against one already established defense ready to take the next step against two running backs with the same motives in Todd Gurley (LAR) and Carlos Hyde (SF). Unfortunately for San Francisco their defense is already dealing with attrition, like many teams in this latest Collective Bargaining Agreement era. The Rams don't have to travel far to beat the 49ers, but don't expect the game to be exciting. 

Thursday Night Football games have generally been bad, and last Thursday's participants seemed destined to keep that tradition going. Wrong. These games tend to be low scoring for various reasons. Wrong. The only solid thing about these teams are their defenses and running backs, which are both still young. About the only thing I got right in this game was the impact of the running backs. Todd Gurley (113 rushing yards; 2 TDs) and Carlos Hyde (84 rushing yards; 2 TDs) went off, but to the surprise of many, so did the quarterbacks. Jared Goff threw for 292 yards and three TDs on 22-28 passing, while Brian Hoyer threw for 332 yards and two TDs on 23-37 passing and was largely responsible for the furious 19-point 4th quarter comeback that almost tied the record-breaking game.

Baltimore Ravens 2-0 (-4) @ Jacksonville Jaguars 1-1 (39.5): Ravens 23-20 Jaguars 44-7
Sunday, 9:30 AM, Wembley Stadium, London, England (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: No team wants to travel to London to play at 9:30 EST, especially to play the London Jaguars at home, but the Jaguars come into the game a little banged up. I’m being facetious, because the Jaguars remain terrible despite winning their opening game, while the Ravens are one of only eight remaining undefeated teams. Still, the defense widely considered one of the best in the NFL, the Ravens, gives up 5.5 fewer yards per game then Jacksonville, but the Jaguars come in limited at cornerback, meaning Joe Flacco could abuse them in the air since Baltimore is limited at running back. The Ravens are not limited in the secondary, as they lead the NFL in INTs (8). In fairness, the Jaguars lead the NFL in sacks (11), so maybe Flacco doesn’t air it out. These London games are like TNF games, where we never know what to expect, but they’re usually bad games* due to their travel logistics and general irregularity.

*(61% of games were decided by one score [eight points], but the average score over 18 games is 31-18)

The Ravens scored their only touchdown with 3:24 remaining in the game on a pass from backup quarterback Ryan Mallet. That came after 44 unanswered point from the Jaguars, in which their star rookie running back wasn't even the leading rusher and embattled quarterback Blake Bortles threw four touchdown passes. It was that kind of game for Baltimore. The Ravens managed only 12 first down for 186 total yards on over 25 minutes of possession. The game was dominated by the Jaguars, who some people claim is actually London's NFL team, as Jacksonville sacked Joe Flacco twice, intercepted him twice and forced a Terrance West fumble on their way to stifling Baltimore's offense. 

Cleveland Browns 0-2 (-1.5) @ Indianapolis Colts 0-2 (41): Browns 20-17 Colts 31-28
Sunday, 1:00 PM, Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, IN (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: The Browns are favorites on the road for the first time since 2014, but it’s not because they’re good; it’s because the Colts are atrocious. Indianapolis is averaging 11 ppg on 273 total ypg, and it’s even worse from the defensive side (398 yards allowed per game). The Colts are already on their second quarterback (QB Jacoby Brissett) in the continued absence of Andrew Luck, but the Browns rookie quarterback has also struggled, throwing four INTs already. Cleveland is still a bad football team, but they’re not so bad they’re giving up more than 136 than they’re gaining per game. 

This game was between two young quarterbacks, one shining and one stacking up INTs at an alarming rate. Browns rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer threw three more INTs, for a total of seven on the young season, while Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett threw for a touchdown and ran for two more in a game largely dominated by the Colts. The Browns scored two late TDs, on a passing and rushing touchdown from Kizer, but the damage was done. 

Pittsburgh Steelers 2-0 (-7.5) @ Chicago Bears 0-2 (44): Steelers 24-17 Bears 23-17
Sunday, 1:00 PM, Soldier Field, Chicago, IL (Weather: Hot; 80s)

Reasons: The Bears have a tough match up at home Sunday afternoon hosting one of the best defenses in the league to compliment a dynamic offense that hasn’t even started clicking yet. Mike Glennon will be under fire all day under the Sun and against a Steelers defense with nine sacks in two games, while allowing only 13.5 ppg, and to make matters worse, running back Jordan Howard was limited all week. Pittsburgh is dealing with some injuries themselves on defense, but nothing that won’t prevent the Steelers from rolling. 

The Steelers decided as a team to remain in the locker room for the national anthem after Donald Trump called NFL players "sons of bitches", but they never came out at all. Antonio Brown was the lone bright spot for the Steelers, gaining 110 receiving yards on 10 receptions and Ben Roethlisberger's lone touchdown pass. The Bears defense played well, sacking Roethlisberger three times and forcing five turnovers (3 INTs; 2 fumbles) while holding the Steelers to 282 total yards. Pittsburgh's defense played well, too, but in the end Jordan Howard, who was questionable all week, was too much for Pittsburgh, rushing for 138 yards and two TDs on 23 carries, one of those TDs coming in overtime to seal the win


 It's the New York Jets fan's turn to wear the paper bags on their heads this season.


Miami Dolphins 1-0 (-6) @ New York Jets 0-2 (42.5): Dolphins 21-17 Jets 20-6
Sunday, 1:00 PM, MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ (Weather: Hot; low 90s)

Reasons: The unusually hot fall weather across the country could affect several games, but no 90-degree game will make the visiting team more comfortable than the Miami Dolphins will feel in northern New Jersey Sunday. Miami is only playing their second game because of Hurricane Irma, but we have plenty on the Jets to know how terrible they are. It’s still hard to imagine a team that has given us less confidence in recent years being favored by nearly a touchdown on the road. The Jets are that bad. The Dolphins should cruise, but Cutler’s weapons could be limited Sunday.

The Dolphins scored as time expired on a Jay Cutler (26-44 for 220 yards; 1 TD; 1 INT) to DeVante Parker (8 receptions for 87 yards; 1 TD) to save themselves the embarrassment of being shut out by the Jets. The Jets had some advantage having played one more game than Miami, but it's hard to explain how the Dolphins were beat so badly, other than a dominant performance from a defense that was supposed to be depleted. Josh McCown was efficient (18-23), didn't make any crucial mistakes, and combined with New York's defense, was that explanation. 


Denver Broncos 2-0 (-3) @ Buffalo Bills 1-1 (40.5): Broncos 24-17 Bills 26-16
Sunday, 1:00 PM, New Era Field, Buffalo, NY (Weather: Hot; 80s)

Reasons: This is a battle of two of the top defenses in the NFL to start 2017, both with ball-hawking defensive backfields that intercept passes. The Bills also get after the quarterback (3rd in the NFL with seven sacks), which could rain on Denver signal-caller Trevor Siemian’s early parade. The Broncos are also away, which means they won’t benefit from the stifling noise of their crowd on opposing offenses, but it’s possible they won’t hear any crowd noise Sunday. 

The Bills scored 13 unanswered points beginning midway through the 3rd quarter, aided by the worst unsportsmanlike conduct call in the history of the NFL after Von Miller jokingly held his hand out to pick up Tyrod Taylor after a sack and then pulled it away. Both players, good friends, laughed, but the officials apparently didn't find it funny and the zebra defenders of the No Fun League conspired to help the Bills defeat the Broncos at home. In a game otherwise highlighted by seven field goals, that awful Von Miller flag, which made it a two-score game with mere minutes left in the game, was the highlight.

Houston Texans 1-1 (+13.5) @ New England Patriots 1-1 (44): Patriots 27-20 Patriots 36-33
Sunday, 1:00 PM, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA (Weather: Sunny; low 80s)

Reasons: The Texans are a bad offensive football team (10 ppg), which doesn’t play well against a New England Patriots team that can drop 40 points using players you’ve never heard of. So teams like Houston rely heavily upon their great defenses with monster defensive fronts to beat the Patriots, except even that hasn’t worked for the Texans, who are 1-8 all time against New England, having lost six straight since 2012 (by an average score of 34-16) . The Patriots will continue to tweak their defense as the season goes on, which means you can’t really rely on statistics to tell you a solid story in this game.

For the first time in nine tries at Gillette Stadium a rookie quarterback was about to beat the Patriots at home until Tom Brady went Golden Boy, throwing the go-ahead touchdown and a two-point conversion to Brandin Cooks to seal the game with 23 seconds to go.
Brady threw for 378 yards and five touchdowns on 27-35 passing to defeat the Texans, whose rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson (22-33 for 301 yards passing; 1 TD; 2 INTs; 41 rushing yards) almost stole the show. Jadeveon Clowney had another huge defensive play for the second week in a row, returning his second fumble in as many weeks, this time for a touchdown, to go along with two sacks as Houston's defense (five total sacks) rounds into post-Harvey shape. 


New Orleans Saints 0-2 (+5.5)@ Carolina Panthers 2-0 (46.5): Panthers 21-20 Saints 34-13
Sunday, 1:00 PM, Bank Of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC (Weather: Sunny; 80s)

Reasons: The Saints enter Bank of America Stadium to play the Panthers, but they should probably secure a loan for some defensive players after allowing over 500 yards per game to start the season. That should be refreshing news for Carolina’s offense, except tight end Greg Olsen is on IR, center Ryan Kalil is out and Cam Newton has been dealing with nagging injuries. The game will come down to a suffocating Panthers defense and their ability to stop a desperate Drew Brees and Sean Payton.

The Panthers suffered an embarrassing defeat to their division rival Saints Sunday, their top-ranked defense shredded by Drew Brees. Brees threw for three TDs on only 201 yards passing, but that's all it took to defeat the offensively-challenged Panthers, whose team leader and best player, Cam Newton, is clearly not 100% - or he's just not the quarterback most people keep assuming he is. Newton was atrocious Sunday, throwing three INTs, the game's only turnovers, one crucially coming directly after he taunted the Saints following one of his few good plays on the day. All is not well in Charlotte, as the team's one bright spot, their defense, was shredded, with New Orleans scoring 34 points on six drives of which only one extended past 4:43. 


 The Carolina Panthers would like to see less of this and more of Cam Newton protecting himself, especially with safety net Greg Olsen set to miss 6-8 weeks.


Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1-0 (+1.5) @ Minnesota Vikings 1-1 (41): Bucs 24-21 Vikings 34-17
Sunday, 1:00 PM, US Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, MN (Weather: 20% rain; 80s)

Reasons: The Buccaneers came away with a win in their first game of the season last week, but it also came with some injuries, all on defense, something every team is facing earlier than ever due to the changes in collective bargaining between the players and owners. The Vikings will be without quarterback Sam Bradford again Sunday, which means the game could fall on the shoulders of rookie running back Dalvin Cook, who’ll have to take advantage of key absences across the field for Tampa Bay.

For the second time in 96 hours Jeff Fisher was proved to be a terrible coach. Jared Goff lit up the stage Thursday night against the 49ers, looking like the No. 1 overall draft pick he was in 2016, and then Sunday his 2016 on-again-off-again backup, Case Keenum, torched the hobbled Tampa Bay defense 369 passing yards and three TDs. You may recall Fisher didn't think either was ready. Stephon Diggs was responsible for 173 of those yards and two TDs, while rookie running back Dalvin Cook continued his stellar rookie campaign, rushing for 97 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries. The Buccaneers defense was hobbled entering the game, but the Vikings defense was not, forcing quarterback Jameis Winston into three INTs while holding the Buccaneers to 26 yards rushing on 9 carries. 

Atlanta Falcons 2-0 (-3) @ Detroit Lions 2-0 (50.5): Lions 28-27 Falcons 30-26
Sunday, 1:00 PM, Ford Field, Detroit, MI (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: This game is an incredible reminder that although these two teams feature two of the best statistical quarterbacks in the NFL, their level of play is still relatively marginal compared to their older contemporaries like Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers and Eli Manning, who combined with Manning’s retired older brother Peyton, have played in 14 of the past 16 Super Bowls, four of those games featuring two opposing quarterbacks from that list. It should be noted that Matt Ryan just lost to Tom Brady in this past Super Bowl, but the point is that consistent statistical success has looked great on paper for Ryan and Matt Stafford, but it hasn’t materialized into many playoff wins for either team during their franchise quarterback’s reign. The Falcons could feel at home on the Ford Field turf, but the Lions defense is playing too well to let Ryan steal the show from Stafford at home.  

The Lions were screwed again by the officials and the NFL, as the Lions go-ahead touchdown by Golden Tate was called back because of poor judgment and not overcome because of a totally ridiculous rule. Despite Tate's knee and elbow coming down at the same time the ball crossed the goal line the officials ruled Tate down, and because of a 10-second run-off rule implemented by the NFL, the Lions were stuck watching the game expire as they sat on the one-inch line. The rule is put in place, I'm sure in part, so as not to allow a team to benefit from a time out they don't possess, which is utterly ridiculous. There were many highlights and many great individual performances, but all paled in comparison to the play that stole the game from the Lions, which seems to happen every season to Detroit now. I often wonder if that's because Detroit's owner is one of the only female principal owners in the NFL.

New York Giants 0-2 (+6) @ Philadelphia Eagles 1-1 (42.5): Eagles 21-17 Eagles 27-24
Sunday, 1:00 PM, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, PA (Weather: Hot; low 90s)

Reasons: The Giants offense looks historically bad, especially along the offensive line and it doesn’t get any better Sunday on the road versus a division rival without T/G Bobby Hart. The Giants defense has the chance to be historically great, but not if the offense can’t score more than 20 points, which has been their m.o. the past half season. The Eagles are trying to find balance on offense, but until they do they’ll rely on the young arm of Carson Wentz, who’ll be hoping Janoris Jenkins can’t go Sunday afternoon. All eyes will be on the blonde drama king Odell Beckham Jr., whose ankle assessments have only been matched in wackiness to his behavior on and off the field. The Giants struggles continue Sunday.

The Giants offense was once again stuck in a quagmire through three quarters against the Eagles until the passing game exploded in the 4th quarter for 21 unanswered points through the air. Two of those touchdowns were caught by mercurial but polarizing talent Odell Beckham Jr., who, on cue, diminished his unbelievable catch in the back of the end zone with an ill-advised celebration display, which included him walking on all fours like a dog and pretending to urinate in the end zone. OBJ claimed the display was in response to Trump calling players "sons of bitches", but it was a bad look either way for a man who's not only the face of the Giants, but maybe even the NFL. Still, OBJ and the Giants showed how powerful his presence can be, almost single-handily winning the game for New York in the 4th quarter. That was before Jake Elliot hit an improbable 61-yard field goal (on a very hot and still day) at Lincoln Financial Field as time expired to seal the 27-24 victory for the Eagles and send the Giants reeling.

Seattle Seahawks 1-1 (+2.5) @ Tennessee Titans 1-1 (42.5): Titans 21-20 Titans 33-27
Sunday, 4:05 PM, Nissan Stadium, Nashville, TN (Weather: Hot; high 80s)

Reasons: The only offensive line in the NFL worse the New York Giants might be the Seahawks. Fortunately for Seattle their quarterback is mobile, but that doesn’t mean Russell Wilson enjoys running for his life, or that it’s a sustainable approach. The Seahawks offense will struggle again on the road, especially with tight end Jimmy Graham questionable, and the defense will have a hard time bailing out their offense after traveling east twice in three weeks to start the season. The Seahawks could luck out if DeMarco Murray can’t go, but young battering ram Derrick Henry has proven a worthy, if not better, alternative to Murray. Regardless, the Titans have a string defense themselves, and will look to take care of business in a tough early match up at home.

A defensive battle through the first half, both teams exploded for 44 combined points in the second half, thanks mostly to Russell Wilson's (SEA) arm and DeMarco Murray's (TEN) legs. Wilson threw for 379 yards and four TDs and Murray rushed for 115 yards and a touchdown on only 14 carries in a game that featured two great defenses, but delivered two great offensive performances. The Seahawks were undone by a late hit on Marcus Mariota by Richard Sherman, which probably sparked Tennessee, and the onslaught of 21-unanswered points by the Titans in the 3rd quarter, highlighted by two touchdown passes from Mariota and a 75-yard run by DeMarco Murray. 


 Phillip Rivers has his work cut out for him to prevent the Los Angeles Chargers from starting the season 0-3 in the tough AFC West division.


Kansas City Chiefs 2-0 (-3) @ Los Angeles Chargers 0-2 (47.5): Chargers 27-24 Chiefs 24-10
Sunday, 4:25 PM, Stub Hub Center, Carson, CA (Weather: Sunny; low 80s)

Reasons: The Chiefs could be the best overall team in the NFL right now, but the Chargers are certainly the most talented 0-2 team in the NFL. Los Angeles can’t lose their first three games to start the season, especially in the tough AFC West, and they just might pull it off with Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston was limited in practice all week and center Mitch Morse has already been ruled out. The Chargers will probably need Melvin Gordon to go to beat this very good Chiefs team, but Los Angeles is desperate, and I would never bet against a desperate Phillip Rivers.

This game came down to two pretty simple components: Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers threw three INTs and Chiefs rookie sensation running back Kareem Hunt rushed for 172 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. Kareem Hunt has to think the world is his oyster at this point as he leads the NFL in rushing by 113 yards (401 rushing yards; 8.5 ypc) while the Chiefs roll out to 3-0.

Cincinnati Bengals 0-2 (+9) @ Green Bay Packers 1-1 (46): Packers 28-20 Packers 27-24
Sunday, 4:25 PM, Lambeau Field, Green Bay, WI (Weather: Hot; 80s)

Reasons: Believe it or not the Bengals have one of the league’s best defenses through two games, but you’d never know it because of all the screaming about how bad the offense, and therefore, the Bengals are. Cincinnati is 0-2, but considering Cincinnati played Baltimore and Houston, we should probably pump the brakes on the Bengals demise. In addition, the Packers possess one of the league’s worst defenses, which plays right into the Bengals hands, although those stats are skewed having played the Falcons in Atlanta. Unfortunately for Cincinnati the Green Bay offense is prolific, and they’re at home, which means they’re going to be tough to stop no matter how good the Bengals have been playing on that side of the ball. 

The Bengals led the Packers in Lambeau Field 21-7 going into the half before Aaron Rodgers ditched R-E-L-A-X mode and threw two second half touchdowns, one to Jordy Nelson as time expired in the 4th quarter, to help the Packers tie the game and send it to OT. A little over five minutes into OT Rodgers (28-42 for 315 yards passing; 3 TDs; 1 INT) hit Geronimo Allison for a 75-yard gain to set up the game winning 27-yard field goal from Mason Crosby. The Bengals team once again struggled, save a great performance by AJ Green (10 receptions for 110 yards; 1 TD), because at the end of the day Green Bay's defense is simply mediocre. 

Oakland Raiders 2-0 (-3) @ Washington Football Team 1-1 (54.5): Raiders 30-24 WFT 27-10
Sunday, 8:30 PM, FedEx Field, Landover, MD (Weather: Hot; high 80s)

Reasons: The Raiders are feeling pretty good about themselves. Oakland’s leading rusher from last year leaves the Raiders and gets replaced by the legendary Marshawn Lynch, who appears, early in the season, not to have lost a step. Oakland’s star 2015 first round draft pick wide receiver Amari Cooper isn’t even their top receiver so far this season. On the other side of the field you have Washington, who certainly always seems to feel good about themselves, but seemingly without much reason. Quarterback Kirk Cousins has looked awful and now could be without tight end Jordan Reed again, leading rusher Robert Kelley is hurt and star cornerback Josh Norman is questionable against the best young quarterback in the NFL. Look for the Raiders to pillage a win in the Mid Atlantic. 

The Raiders came out flat Sunday night, and America's Game of the Week turned into another reminder that Dan Snyder is a despicable human being. Whether it's constantly being reminded of how much of an insensitive white billionaire he is via the racist team name and helmet emblem he refuses to acknowledge, to the great play of his franchise quarterback he refuses to pay long term, I can't even see the Washington football team without getting annoyed. So I was disappointed Sunday night when the Raiders didn't show up and let Kirk Cousins and all his insecurities torch the Raiders terrible defense for 365 passing yards and three TDs. Washington outgained Oakland 472-128 and held the ball for over 38 minutes in an early game the Raiders probably can't wait to forget.

Dallas Cowboys 1-1 (-3) @ Arizona Cardinals 1-1 (47): Cowboys 21-20 Cowboys 28-17
Monday, 8:30 PM, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, AZ (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: The Cowboys enter Monday night having faced their third top defense in as many weeks to begin the season (NYG, DEN, ARZ). That’s a tough test for the Cowboys sophomore stars, especially one (Ezekiel Elliot) under emotional duress for off the field activities, and more recently, on the field apathy. Dallas and Ezekiel Elliot look to get back on track after they both suffered one of the worst defeats of their football existences, and what better offense to get on track against than the hapless Cardinals. It could be a depressing game for some Arizona fans watching Dallas take the field with a young bright star as their former quarterback star fades. Speaking of fading stars, all eyes will be on Dez Bryant as he tries to salvage his top wide receiver status against one of the best defensive backfields in the NFL. 

The Cowboys scored two touchdowns in the 4th quarter, one by each of their sophomore stars, to pull away from a 3rd quarter tie and take the win in Glendale Monday night. The Cardinals gained more yards, more first downs, and held the ball for 13 more minutes, but could not hold on to the win at home, despite quarterback Carson Palmer throwing for 325 yards passing and two TDs on 29-48 passing. The game belonged to Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott, who not only threw for 183 yards and two TDs on 13-18 passing, but ran for another touchdown, looking like John Elway flipping into the end zone during Super Bowl XXXII. Maybe that's exactly the image the Cowboys want in their heads.


Stay tuned for Week 4: #NFL Games Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis) coming Thursday and Sunday morning!