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Wednesday, September 26, 2018

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

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

Week 3 results: 9-7 (wins); 7-9 (v. spread); 10-6 (O/U)
Season totals: 29-17-2 .604 (wins); 22-26 .458 (v. sp); 27-21 .563 (O/U)

Note/Key (when applicable): Statistical analysis based on the following metrics (abbreviations): Points scored (PF); points against (PA); Point differential (PD) Yards gained (YG); Yards allowed (YA); Red Zone TD efficiency (RZ); 3rd-down efficiency (3rd); Turnover ratio (TO); Time of possession (TOP); Yards per play (YPP); Sacks (S); Interceptions (INT); Penalty yards (PEN); Against the spread (ATS).

 Todd Gurley leads the Los Angeles Rams against the reeling Minnesota Vikings at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Thursday Night Football.

Minnesota Vikings 1-1-1 (+7) @ Los Angeles Rams 3-0 (49.5): Rams 28-20
Thursday, 8:20 PM, Los Angeles Memorial Stadium, Los Angeles, CA (Weather: Clear; mid-70s)

Reasons: The Vikings season hasn’t exactly started the way they envisioned, especially on defense. Minnesota is giving up 24 ppg, 27 ppg their last two games, the lastest coming against the Buffalo Bills and rookie quarterback Josh Allen at home. Now the Vikings are on the road against one of the most dynamic offenses in the NFL (34 ppg) in the Los Angeles Rams. The Rams also boast the largest point differential in the league at 22 ppg, because the Rams defense is special, too (6th total defense). Minnesota could catch a break if Marcus Peters doesn’t play, especially considering Aqib Talib is already on IR, because the one thing the Vikings have done right so far this year is throw the ball (5th-ranked passing offense). Unfortunately, Minnesota has their own attrition (Dalvin Cook) and mental stability (Everson Griffen) issues, so I don’t give them much of a shot against the Rams on the road. Apparently, Las Vegas doesn’t, either.


Cincinnati Bengals 2-1 (+5.5) @ Atlanta Falcons 1-2 (52): Falcons 28-24
Sunday, 1:00 PM, Mercedes Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA (Weather: Indoors) 

Reasons: This game features two of the more evenly-matched teams in the league. Only 17 ypg separate the two teams in total offense and even fewer (8 ypg) separate them in total defense. Both teams rank in the top-10 in scoring because both teams have dynamic wide receivers and quarterbacks with elite arm talent. The problem is both teams give up almost as many points as they score, and those aforementioned quarterbacks can be turnover prone, especially on the road. Andy Dalton already has five INTs on the season, all on the road, and four of them coming last week. Some might argue for a regression to the mean, but I would argue that is the mean, and point out he’s on the road again. I love Willy Nelson. Expect the over for an indoor game between two teams that combine to average more than 56 ppg, in games against good defense, too.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2-1 (+3) @ Chicago Bears 2-1 (46.5): Bears 24-20
Sunday, 1:00 PM, Soldier Field, Chicago, IL (Weather: 50% rain; low 70s)

Reasons: Just when we thought the magic has Fitz-led away last week the veteran surprise of the season threw for 400+ yards and at least three touchdown passes in his third straight game to open the season. That will not happen Sunday. Not only will the weather be questionable, but the amount of time Ryan Fitzpatrick’s will have to throw the ball will be in question, which will make Chicago’s secondary health issues seem irrelevant. The Bears lead the NFL with 14 sacks and it doesn’t seem like there’s been a game yet where Khalil Mack has failed to do something special on defense.

Detroit Lions 1-2 (+3) @ Dallas Cowboys 1-2 (43.5): Lions 23-21
Sunday, 1:00 PM, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: Things have not gone as planned for the Dallas Cowboys in 2018, but one thing that was almost certainly guaranteed was the absence of linebacker Sean Lee at some point, and this time that point was the start of the season. His absence will start to hurt Dallas, because after opening against the Carolina Panthers the Cowboys have played teams that either struggle to score points and have serious offensive line issues. The Lions can score points and have the veteran skill guys at wide receiver to exploit the Cowboys defense, but all this talk about how terrible the Cowboys are should light a fire under them, no? Probably not. The Lions are coming off a big win against the New England Patriots and the Cowboys are worse at home then they are on the road. 

 LeSean McCoy is questionable for Sunday's game against the Packers so rookie quarterback Josh Allen will continue leading the team in rushing.

Buffalo Bills 1-2 (+10) @ Green Bay Packers 1-1-1 (45): Packers 27-24
Sunday, 1:00 PM, Lambeau Field, Green Bay, WI (Weather: 50% rain; low 50s) 
Reasons: If you‘re expecting the Bills to win another NFC North matchup on the road in consecutive weeks I’d say it’s a bad bet, but if you’re expecting them to cover I’d say you’re on to something. I’d also bet that Clay Matthews still hasn’t learned anything in consecutive weeks and could likely incur another roughing the passer penalty against the rookie Josh Allen.

Philadelphia Eagles 2-1 (-4) @ Tennessee Titans 2-1 (41.5): Eagles 20-17
Sunday, 1:00 PM, Nissan Stadium, Nashville, TN (Weather: Sunny; mid-80s)

Reasons: These teams have lived off their dominant defenses in 2018, and both teams’ games have all been decided within a score. In fact, the Eagles point differential is 1.4 ppg while the Titans is -0.4 ppg. The bottom line is the Eagles are underachieving with Carson Wentz just getting his feet back under him and the Titans are overachieving and haven’t even needed Marcus Mariota to do it. I would expect another defensive battle and I would also expect the Titans (+1) to take advantage of the Eagles (-3) turnover issues. The question is, even if Tennessee wins the turnover battle, can they capitalize on them?

Houston Texans 0-3 (+1) @ Indianapolis Colts 1-2 (47): Colts 24-20
Sunday, 1:00PM, Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, IN (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: The Colts are turning out to be much better than many expected, and the Texans have turned out to be as bad as some of us expected. Indianapolis (20 ppg) and Houston (19.7 ppg) are in the bottom third of the league in scoring offense, yet the Texans average almost 400 ypg. The Texans are also possess the ball the 5th least (27:39), which not only means the Texans can’t finish drives, but it means they get big plays in fruitless chunks, and don’t keep their dynamic play maker in Deshaun Watson on the field long enough to make plays. It also means the most talented part of the Houston team is on the field too long, hence the Texans giving up 24.7 ppg. The Colts continue to surprise Sunday at home.                                     
Miami Dolphins 3-0 (+7) @ New England Patriots 1-2 (48): Patriots 24-21
Sunday, 1:00PM, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA (Weather: Sunny; high 60s)

Reasons: The Patriots have only lost three games in a row once in the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era, back in 2002, sandwiched between three Super Bowl win (2001, 2003 & 2004). 2002 also happens to be the last time the Dolphins beat the Patriots in New England. I’m a sucker for history and that doesn’t sound like good news to the superstitious sports types. The truth is Miami is a good football team and the Patriots are nowhere near the elite team they’ve been in previous matchups. In fact, for probably the first time in the 20 years Brady has led the Patriots against Miami, the Dolphins have a point differential (7.7 ppg) that normally reflects New England, while the Patriots have a point differential (-6.7 ppg) that normally reflects Miami. I doubt the Patriots lose three games in a row, but I’m done picking the Patriots to cover. 

Sam Darnold was the talk of the draft after the New York Jets "stole" him with the 3rd pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.

New York Jets 1-2 (+7.5) @ Jacksonville Jaguars 2-1 (38.5): Jaguars 17-13
Sunday, 1:00 PM, TIAA Bank Stadium, Jacksonville, FL (Weather: Sunny; low 90s)

Reasons: I suppose the reason we haven’t heard from Jalen Ramsey isn’t because they looked past the Titans and got smacked in their seldom shut mouths but because the Jets don’t really have anyone worth talking about. Rookie Sam Darnold (3 TDs; 5 INTs) has been inconsistent to say the least and New York doesn’t have a single skill player averaging more than 70 ypg from scrimmage. Statistically, the Jaguars are even worse on offense, and despite their elite defensive abilities, the inconsistent play on offense means Jacksonville can’t count on anything but their defense. Lucky for them they face the offensively-challenged Jets, who have only managed 14.5 ppg since their Week 1 48-17 blowout of the Detroit Lions.

Cleveland Browns 1-1-1 (+2.5) @ Oakland Raiders 0-3 (44.5): Browns 23-20
Sunday, 4:05PM, Oakland Coliseum, Oakland, CA (Weather: Sunny; low 70s)

Reasons: The Browns and rookie Baker Mayfield travel across the country to face the winless Raiders in Oakland for Mayfield’s first NFL start. Sounds like a win on a silver platter for the veteran coach Jon Gruden. Not so fact my friend, Lee Corso would say. There’s not much film on Mayfield, but one thing we do know is that Mayfield has that “it” factor and the Raiders are simply horrible on defense, allowing 27 ppg. The Raiders getting 2.5 points at home basically means Las Vegas sees an even match up. I don’t. I see a defensive-minded Browns team on the rise with a +0.3 ppg point differential playing a disheveled Oakland team with a -9.7 ppg point differential and no one on defense to stop the charismatic Mayfield.

Seattle Seahawks 1-2 (-3) @ Arizona Cardinals 0-3 (38.5): Seahawks 23-17
Sunday, 4:05 PM, Univ. of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, AZ (Weather: Indoors) 

Reasons: Rookie Josh Rosen and the abominable Cardinals (-18 ppg point differential) host the Seahawks in a game that just a few short years ago would be the defensive battle of the early season. Now it’s been reduced to the game no one wants to watch, not even Josh Rosen’s parents. Probably.

New Orleans Saints 2-1 (-7.5) @ New York Giants 1-2 (50): Saints 30-24
Sunday, 4:05 PM, MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ (Weather: Sunny; low 70s)

Reasons: The Saints are once again firing on all cylinders, averaging nearly 35 ppg, and Drew Brees (1078 passing yards; 8 TDs) is an early season MVP candidate. The funny thing, though, is the Saints most productive game offensively was last week on the road v. the Falcons (W 43-37). One could argue one quarterback’s Mercedes Benz Superdome is another quarterback’s Mercedes Benz Stadium, but when your top skill guy Michael Thomas is a 6’3” target from Ohio State, suddenly the Big 10 represents (Brees went to Purdue) and there’s no real need for climate-controlled conditions. The Giants have their own Big 10 talent in rookie Saquon Barkley (216 rushing yards; 2 TDs), and so far, we’ve seen Good Eli (3 TDs; 1 INT); but the weather is fine and the Giants defense is still missing, so I expect Brees to keep connecting with Thomas to extend that NFL record for receptions to begin the season.

 One of these west coast teams still has their franchise quarterback and therein lies the difference in the game Sunday.

San Francisco 49ers 1-2 (+10.5) @ Los Angeles Chargers 1-2 (46.5): Chargers 27-21
Sunday, 4:05 PM, Stub Hub Field, Carson City, CA (Weather: Sunny; mid-70s)

Reasons: The season isn’t even a quarter over and the 49ers franchise quarterback is already gone for the season. The Chargers franchise quarterback seems like he’s been around for 30 years and isn’t going anywhere soon. Nothing much has gone right for these teams so far in 2018, and it doesn’t look like that’s going to change for San Francisco. As for Los Angeles, the season won’t be anything like they expected if they keep surrendering 31 ppg. The Chargers should be all over the reeling 49ers at home, but 10.5 points is a lot for a team losing games by an average of 3.7 ppg.  

Baltimore Ravens 2-1 (+3) @ Pittsburgh Steelers 1-1-1 (51): Steelers 28-27
Sunday, 8:20 PM, Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA (Weather: Partly cloudy; low 60s)

Reasons: The Ravens have a winning record and possess a 15.2 ppg point differential yet remain underdogs in a divisional matchup against a Steelers team uncharacteristically giving up (30 ppg) more than they’re scoring (29.3 ppg) with some of the worst locker room chemistry in the NFL. The Steelers can pretend James Connor is Le’veon Bell all they want, but it’s not the case, and the numbers have nothing to do with it. Truthfully Las Vegas sees this as an even matchup, with a predictable nod to the home team. I don’t know what the hell I see, as Pittsburgh has tied, lost and won games that they could have easily lost or won in all cases. The Steelers have to get consistent soon, or else, so at home against a Ravens defense with guys questionable at key spots (e.g., Terrell Suggs; CJ Mosley) seems like the perfect time.

Kansas City Chiefs 3-0 (-5) @ Denver Broncos 2-1 (56): Chiefs 31-24
Monday, 8:15 PM, Mile High Stadium, Denver, CO (Weather: Mostly cloudy; low 60s)

Reasons: Everyone in the country know this game is all about Patrick Mahomes (896 passing yards; 13 TDs), but the old heads know anything can happen in these AFC West divisional games, especially at Arrowhead or Mile High Stadiums. This time around the fans put the horses in the barns and the bongs in the cabinets and come out in full force to cheer on Von Miller (4 sacks) as he chases the young Mahomes and the rest of the Chiefs skill force (Tyreek Hill, 4 TDs; Kareem Hunt, 3 TDs; Travis Kelce 2 TDs) in the thin air to try and keep pace in the division as Mahomes tries to continue his record-breaking season on Monday Night Football.

BYEs: Washington; Carolina

Stay tuned for Tuesday’s Gone: Week 4 #NFL Game Reviews coming Wednesday!