NFL Week 4 Picks

Andre Williams and Eli Manning

The good part about your team playing on Thursday Night Football is that you only have to wait four days until the team’s next game. The bad part about your team playing on Thursday Night Football is that you then have to wait 10 days until they play again. But that’s not necessarily bad for the Giants since their early-season Thursday game serves as nearly a bye week, giving them time to rest and prepare for the Bills.

The Giants are in a perfect position to go on a run and take control of the NFC East with Tony Romo and Dez Bryant out for a couple months, the Eagles having no identity and a bad offense with a greatly underachieving DeMarco Murray and the Redskins being the Redskins. After the Week 1 meltdown in Dallas, I figured that loss would eventually mean the Giants would have to battle for a wild-card berth, but the NFC East once again is proving to be a gongshow for another season, and that’s exactly what the Giants need.

Last week was a memorable one. A 13-3 week with the picks that included a Giants win over the Redskins is about as good as it gets when it comes to the always unpredictable NFL. After surviving Week 2, Week 3 was one for the history books, but now the bar has been set to try to continue to produce equally successful weeks. It’s not an easy job, but someone has to do it.

(Home team in caps)

PITTSBURGH +3 over Baltimore
Michael Vick doesn’t really want to play football anymore. He wants to collect a paycheck to practice during the week and then watch Steelers games from the sidelines on Sundays (and sometimes Mondays and a Thursday). It was the same story when he was with the Jets and when he finally had to go into a game, he looked like someone who hadn’t prepared to play an actual snap for the season. But even for as bad as Vick has looked and has been, the Ravens are worse. They are 0-3 for the first time under John Harbaugh, their defense has been embarrassed and their offense has been non-existent. Aside from all of that, you always take the points in Steelers-Ravens games. It’s just the smart thing to do.

Last season, the Ravens won 26-6 and the Steelers won 43-23. In 2013, the Steelers won 19-16 and the Ravens won 22-20. In 2012, the Ravens won 13-10 and the Steelers won 23-20. In 2011, the Ravens won 35-7 and 23-20. In 2010, the Ravens won 17-14 and the Steelers won 13-10. In 2009, the Ravens won 20-17 in overtime and the Steelers won 23-20. In 2008, the Steelers won 23-20 in overtime and 13-9.

Last season was an anomaly, but including last season, in the last 14 meetings between the two teams, 10 of the games have been decided by three points or less and eight of them have been decided by exactly three points. Even without Ben Roethlisberger, you have to take the Steelers at home getting 3.

New York Jets -2 over MIAMI
Last week, I said the following about the Jets.

Now not only are the Jets not going to start the season 1-3, they might be 4-0 heading into their bye and with the Redskins on the schedule in Week 6, they might be 5-0 heading to New England. Nearly five years after we got the 9-2 Jets against the 9-2 Patriots on Monday Night Football, we might get the 5-0 Jets against the 5-0 Patriots this season.

So how did they repay my positivity about them? By losing at home to the Eagles, which screwed up the NFC East even more and hurt the Giants, in a game that included one of the dumbest decisions I have ever seen by Brandon Marshall on an unnecessary lateral that turned into a fumble. It felt like the same old Jets and after that fumble I expected the camera to pan to the sidelines and for Rex Ryan to be standing there.

But Rex isn’t there and Todd Bowles is and it was his first bad game as Jets head coach even if he couldn’t control Marshall’s decision making or Ryan Fitzpatrick’s ineffectiveness. And even thought the Jets looked awful in a home loss, they won’t spiral out of control the way they would have if Rex were still there. That’s partly because of Bowles and partly because the Dolphins are atrocious.

So far the Dolphins barely got past the Redskins (who are 1-2) in Week 1, lost to the Jaguars (who are 1-2 and lost to the Patriots 51-17) in Week 2 and were run out of their own building by the Bills in Week 3. Here’s what I said about the Dolphins in Week 1:

For the last few years, we have been hearing about how the Dolphins will challenge the Patriots in the AFC East and each time they have failed. This year, the Dolphins are supposed to be even better and once again challenge the Patriots and reach the postseason for the first time since 2008.

Well, the Dolphins are once again an underachieving and mediocre team, and mediocre might be generous. A week after they couldn’t win a division game at home, actually scratch that … A week after they couldn’t even compete in a division game at home, they’re now going to go across the Atlantic and beat the Jets on a neutral field. OK, sure.

Jacksonville +9 over INDIANAPOLIS
The best thing to happen in Week 3 was the Jaguars getting blown out in New England, so that this line would be made too high, and it is. The Colts are a bad team that celebrated their Week 3 win over the Titans the way they would have likely celebrated their AFC Championship win over the Patriots had they won (or even made it a game). The Jaguars aren’t good, but neither are the Colts, and for the Colts to be giving 9 points to any team after back-to-back losses to open the season and barely pulling out a two-point win in Tennessee. Despite being favorites in their first three games, the Colts have yet to cover, considering they lost two of them, and I’m continuing to sell hard on the Colts.

Houston +7 over ATLANTA
I don’t really think the Falcons are good. That isn’t exactly something normal to say about an undefeated 3-0 team with two road wins already on the season, but like saying goes, “It’s not about who you play, it’s about when you play them.” So far the Falcons got the inept Eagles at home in Week 1, the Giants’ clock management problems in Week 2 and a Tony Romo- and Dez Bryant-less Cowboys team in Week 3. The Falcons deserve credit for winning all three games and for coming from behind down multiple possessions in the last two, but those aren’t exactly impressive wins and even with Julio Jones catching everything thrown within 10 feet of him, the Falcons just aren’t anything special. They might beat the Texans and improve to 4-0, but they aren’t going to do it by blowing them out because that’s not who the Falcons are.

Carolina -3.5 over TAMPA BAY
The Panthers are the most under-the-radar 3-0 team ever. I had to check to make sure they were 3-0 because that’s how little I have heard about them and their undefeated start to the season. Even though their wins are against Jacksonville, Houston and New Orleans, they’re still wins and the Panthers have the luxury of playing in the NFC South where only Atlanta will give them any sort of competition. I might shy away from picking the Panthers if they were being talked about and hyped as much as any other 3-0 team would, but as long as the Panthers continue to go unnoticed, there’s nothing to be worried about with a potential trap line.

New York Giants +5.5 over BUFFALO
The return of Victor Cruz had me dreaming of the possibilities of Odell Beckham Jr. and Cruz being unstoppable since we have never really seen the two play together. (The duo played just one game together last season before Cruz injured his knee.) But after suffering a setback with his calf in practice on Wednesday, Cruz probably won’t play again this week in Buffalo, and if he doesn’t, he will have already missed 25 percent of the season.

On the Bills’ side, Rex Ryan told Mike Francesa on Wednesday that both LeSean McCoy and Sammy Watkins are likely out for the game. That leaves the game pretty much up to the Bills’ defense, which let the Patriots put up 507 yards against them at home, so the aura of Ralph Wilson Stadium being a touch place to play just because the Colts couldn’t do anything isn’t exactly true.

Oakland -3 over CHICAGO
When was the last time the Raiders were a road favorite? LOOK IT UP. This line feels way too low after watching Jimmy Clausen and the Bears punt on all 10 of their possessions against the Seahawks last week. I’m not sure how the Bears are ever going to score with Clausen at quarterback unless Robbie Gould starts drilling 70-yard field goals. But even then, Clausen would have to move the ball to the Bears’ 47 and I’m not sure if that’s possible. After trading Jared Allen, it’s clear the Bears are about to begin a fire sale and it has been suggested that they trade Matt Forte, who is in the last year of his contract and approaching 30. If Forte wasn’t in the last year of his contract, I would advise the Bears to make him inactive for every game for the rest of the season and save his legs for next year, but since he is, they should trade him. Why should the Bears have an elite running back? It’s like a 60-win baseball team having an elite closer. Trade Forte.

WASHINGTON +3.5 over Philadelphia
Kirk Cousins says he couldn’t sleep over his non-touchdown passes to Jordan Reed on Thursday Night Football last week. That’s good because it shows Cousins’ head is in the right place, but it’s not good because he needs his sleep to win this game.

I’m rooting for the Redskins to win because they are less of a threat to the Giants in the NFC East and a Redskins win would give Philadelphia two division losses. I want the NFC East to become a two-team race between the Giants and Cowboys and without Romo and Bryant for a while, the Giants will have the opportunity to take a commanding lead. Will they take advantage of this opportunity? Of course not. But I can dream.

Kansas City +4.5 over CINCINNATI
The old me would see this line, remember that the Chiefs are 1-2 and Ryan Mallett starting over Brian Hoyer in Week 1 from being 0-3, and remember that the Bengals are 3-0 and instantly pick the Bengals. But not the new me. Not the me that has created a “Just Say No to the B’s” campaign. Those B’s are the Bengals, Bears and Browns. So I’m saying no to the Bengals and there isn’t an amount of peer pressure that could get me to change my mind.

SAN DIEGO -7.5 over Cleveland
If you just read my rule about the B’s in the last pick then you already know. However, there is one exception to that rule and that is when Johnny Manziel starts, the Browns aren’t part of it. Johnny Football is once again on the bench, so I’m saying no to the Browns and I hope they lose in a rout.

Green Bay -9.5 over SAN FRANCISCO
Carlos Hyde ran all over the Vikings in Week 1 and had the best week of any running back in the NFL in his debut as the 49ers starter. The next week he got hurt against the Steelers and when he was ready to come back in, he was held out because the score was lopsided. Last week, due to another lopsided score, he was held out for most of the game again. This week, the 49ers are playing the best team and the best offense in the NFC. There’s a good chance we’re headed for another game in which Hyde watches from the sidelines to preserve his health and legs for future games. There are going to be a lot of games like that for the 49ers this season, but the problem is that Hyde is the 49ers offense, so without him they don’t have a chance.

DENVER -7 over Minnesota
The Vikings are 2-1 thanks to two home wins, but I didn’t like what I saw from them in their season opener on the road in San Francisco against a team that has been outscored 90-25 in the last two weeks. I don’t know how I’m supposed to take the Vikings in Denver against Peyton Manning and that defense and feel confident with a 7-point spread. I’m going to have to see Teddy Bridgewater and the Vikings offense a little more away from Minnesota before I start to back the Vikings on the road. (Sorry, Britt. Don’t worry, I like sleeping on the couch.)

ARIZONA -7 over St. Louis
The Cardinals are the real deal. Two years ago, they were a 10-win team that didn’t make the playoffs. Last season, they were a true contender in the NFC until Carson Palmer got hurt and Drew Stanton got hurt and they were left starting Ryan Lindley, who threw for 82 yards, in their playoff game at Carolina. Bruce Arians and the Cardinals deserve better and so far this season they have proven that they are at the top of the NFC with the Packers and are better than their their division rival Seahawks. I’m going to enjoy taking the Cardinals for a touchdown or less for as long as Vegas wants to give away a free pick and free money.

NEW ORLEANS -5 over Dallas
It’s the possibly Drew Brees-less Saints against the Tony Romo-less Cowboys on Sunday Night Football. NBC must be thrilled about the state of these two teams for their primetime game though probably not as thrilled as Brees was when he found out Jimmy Graham was traded to Seattle.

The Superdome Saints are no more. When you lose to Jameis Winston and the Buccaneers in the Superdome, that theory goes away. Instead the Saints are now an 0-3 team with a loss this week away from having their season over with 75 percent of the schedule remaining. If there’s any truth to the idea of a desperate team coming to play and winning a game, this is it. What better way to turn your season around than on national TV in the manic Superdome with Drew Brees returning to the field.

SEATTLE -10 over Detroit
I’m not sure if Jim Caldwell’s job is in trouble with the Lions being winless since I’m not sure how Jim Caldwell was hired to be the Lions head coach to begin with. Maybe that postseason appearance last year is enough to buy Caldwell some time, but that time might be erased in the coming weeks. After the Lions lose in Seattle, they host Arizona, Chicago and Minnesota and then go to Kansas City before their Week 9 bye. That has 1-8, maybe 2-7 at best, written all over it.

Last week: 13-3-0
Season: 29-18-1