By Christopher Reina
Our NFL Team Rankings are based entirely on the The Trench Counter, which is an objective formula measuring average yards per pass and run on both offense and defense, along with first downs registered and given up, turnovers for and against, and total penalty yards.
Over time, The Trench Counter rankings begin to closely resemble the standings but goes even further to determine which teams are truly the best when on the line of scrimmage.
The chief aim of the Trench Counter is to take the subjective out of the equation and even the somewhat fluky nature of teams actually scoring points, which is of course the whole point on a game-by-game basis.
With a +17.3 against the Carolina Panthers in the Steve Smith Game, the Baltimore Ravens slid up between the inactive Cincinnati Bengals and Arizona Cardinals.
The Miami Dolphins, New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers all made significant gains in the rankings by posting a +20 differential in Week 4.
Week 4 Rankings
1. Cincinnati Bengals: 10.5
2. Baltimore Ravens: 8.1
3. Arizona Cardinals: 8.1
4. Seattle Seahawks: 7.4
5. Miami Dolphins: 7.0
6. Chicago Bears: 5.7
7. Indianapolis Colts: 3.6
8. Dallas Cowboys: 3.4
9. New Orleans Saints: 3.0
10. Minnesota Vikings: 2.9
11. Detroit Lions: 2.9
12. San Diego Chargers: 2.5
13. New York Giants: 2.3
14. San Francisco 49ers: 2.1
15. Kansas City Chiefs: 1.8
16. Cleveland Browns: 0.6
17. Green Bay Packers: -0.2
18. Atlanta Falcons: -0.8
19. Washington Redskins: -1.2
20. Buffalo Bills: -1.5
21. Denver Broncos: -2.1
22. Pittsburgh Steelers: -2.2
23. Houston Texans: -2.3
24. Philadelphia Eagles: -2.5
25. New York Jets: -4.2
26. Tennessee Titans: -4.3
27. New England Patriots: -4.5
28. Carolina Panthers: -5.4
29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: -6.5
30. Oakland Raiders: -8.2
31. Jacksonville Jaguars: -10.5
32. St. Louis Rams: -12.4
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By Jeff Risdon
For once the focus is almost exclusively on the field, even in a week where six teams had ridiculously premature bye weeks. It was a great day of action, following an exciting Saturday collegiate slate.
$.01--The San Francisco 49ers desperately needed a win, no easy task with the high-flying Philadelphia Eagles coming to town. The home team has been skittish and mistake prone in a disappointing 1-2 start. They got it all right in a 26-21 win that puts them back on solid ground.
The Niners absolutely dominated the action. At one point in the fourth quarter they had run 73 plays to 37 for Philadelphia, nearly tripling the time of possession. This is the aggressive, assertive but disciplined defense we have come to expect from San Francisco instead of the penalty-plagued, confused mess they’ve been for most of the first three weeks. Philly could not run the ball, period.
Colin Kaepernick was also more decisive and effective quarterbacking the Niners. He was not perfect, not even close; a bad pick-six to Malcolm Jenkins in the first half is what kept the punchless Eagles in the game.
The Eagles desperately missed their starting offensive line, which was missing four regulars in their positions. Nick Foles took a pounding behind the makeshift line, including one hit from Justin Smith that forced a deep ball to hang for an easy pick. They had just 5 first downs with 5 minutes to go in the game.
So how did they almost win? The aforementioned pick six provided one touchdown, while a fantastic punt return by Darren Sproles posted another. He was even facemasked as the catch point but still sprinted past the entire Niners team on the return. Their other TD came on a blocked punt in the end zone, and the Eagles very nearly blocked another. They mounted one great drive in the fourth quarter, though it wound up bearing no points thanks to some ponderous play selection from coach Chip Kelly.
$.02--Aaron Rodgers told Packers fans to “R-E-L-A-X” during the week, trying to assuage the fears of a very spooked Green Bay fan base. They had reason to be worried, as Rodgers was coming off a dreadful loss to Detroit and hadn’t really looked sharp all season.
Rodgers certainly looked relaxed against the rival Bears. He was darn near perfect in shredding the overmatched Chicago defense. Rodgers went 22-for-28 for 302 yards and 4 TDs. Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson--still the only two viable weapons at his disposal--both caught two TDs and topped 10 yards receiving. The Packers didn’t have to punt once all game.
The Bears didn’t punt either, but probably would have preferred a couple instead of the mistakes they made. The two interceptions will stick to Jay Cutler, but neither should be considered his fault. The second one in particular was a case of Brandon Marshall running the wrong route, and the Packers made him pay for it.
It was an important 38-17 win for Green Bay, keeping them from falling too far behind the front-running Lions. Notching a divisional road win and getting back to .500 are strong feats that I wasn’t sure they could pull off.
But before Packers fans get too excited, heed your quarterback’s channeling of Matthew McConaughey and relax a bit. There are still major problems for the Packers. Eddie Lacy remains visionless as a runner, averaging under three yards per carry against a defense that entered the week giving up five per rush. Nobody else but Cobb or Nelson are ever open on any route. Chicago converted 7-of-11 third downs and posted 33 first downs, running for 235 yards. Green Bay was flagged for 9 penalties, and that number could easily have been doubled. Still, a win is a win for a team that desperately needed one.
$.03--Just when you thought Tampa Bay was a serious threat to challenge to 0-16 Lions of 2008 as the only winless team in 16-game NFL history, they traveled to Pittsburgh and pulled off a miracle win.
It took a colossal collapse by the sloppy Steelers, who held a seemingly comfortable 24-20 lead with under two minutes to play after holding off Bucs backup QB Mike Glennon on 4th down from the Pittsburgh 14. Here’s the blow-by-blow:
-predictable run for 2 yards, Tampa timeout
-false start penalty
-short pass play to force Tampa’s final timeout
-shotgun/concession run to set up 4th down at the 19
-atrocious punt by Brad Wing, who has had his share of clutch clunkers dating back to his LSU days
-Tampa takes over, incomplete on first down
-Louis Murphy gets wide open and gains 41 as Troy Polamalu badly misreads his coverage responsibility
-two plays later, Glennon finds Vincent Jackson for the game winner on a great out route in the front corner of the end zone
Pittsburgh committed 13 penalties for 125 yards. Mike Tomlin once again provided a seething postgame presser, blaming himself for not having the team ready to play or focused enough to win. I said it earlier and I’ll say it again: at some point the Pittsburgh management is going to hold Tomlin accountable for his repeated, self-admitted failures as a coach.
$.04--It’s not often a defensive player commands legitimate MVP consideration, but J.J. Watt is no ordinary defensive player. The Texans' defensive end made one of the biggest plays of the young season with his awesome pick-six of E.J. Manuel in Houston’s 23-17 win over Buffalo. Watt leapt up and corralled a lazy throw by Manuel, then took off and returned in 80 yards to put the slow-starting Texans into a lead they would not relinquish.
Watt was once again completely dominant as a pass rushing force. As Albert Breer of the NFL Network noted during the game, Watt hit Manuel six times in the first half alone. He spearheaded a strong third down defense that consistently got off the field without allowing further damage.
The Texans are 3-1, already notching more wins than they did in all of 2013. With the coaching change and the numerous personnel changes around him, Watt is now the unquestioned face of the franchise. No player in the league at any position is better at his job than what Watt is at defensive end. Just for good measure, he’s also caught a touchdown pass as a tight end, too.
If you measure the MVP by how the team would perform without him, Watt is the runaway leader. The Houston offense remains sputtering, with Arian Foster and Andre Johnson both in and out of the lineup. Their secondary gives up too many big plays (looking at you D.J. Swearinger). Take Watt off the Texans and I’m not sure they have even one win. Thanks to his outstanding play they stand 3-1 and in first place in the two-horse race that is the AFC South. If they can hold off Andrew Luck (fantastic again in pounding the hapless Titans) and the Colts, Watt will certainly deserve serious MVP consideration.
$.05--Sunday Night Football, in Twitter form…
There really isn’t a lot to add to it. Dallas blew the doors off New Orleans, completely dominating both sides of the ball. It was 31-3 after three quarters before the Saints finally decided to play some recognizable football. New Orleans made it interesting for a bit before a bizarre fake punt killed their chances.
The Cowboys are a surprising 3-1 while the Saints are an equally surprising 1-3. Even stranger is that it’s the Dallas defense stepping up, along with a great running game keyed by an outstanding offensive line and the hard-charging Demarco Murray, the league’s leading rusher. Tony Romo has basically been just a bit player, albeit a pretty effective one.
$.06--Another Thursday night, another blowout. This one was a little more unexpected, however. The Giants went down to Washington and scalped the Skins 45-14.
I’m not sure which is the bigger surprise, the sudden competence of the New York offense or the stark collapse of the Ethnic Slurs on both sides of the ball. For the Giants, the young line is starting to congeal. It helps that Eli Manning is clearly getting more comfortable at getting the ball out quickly and in rhythm. During the preseason and in the opener vs. Detroit, Eli clearly had no feel for the beat of the offense. When he tried throwing quickly, he looked like, well, Eli Manning rapping and dancing.
In this game, he eviscerated Washington’s heretofore solid defense with the short passing game. Per ESPN Radio, Manning completed 21-of-27 attempts which were thrown less than 10 yards, and at least one of those incompletions was a drop. That’s feeling the rhythm. Eli danced with tight end Larry Donnell as if they’d been partners for years, a tango Washington could not stop.
Kirk Cousins, on the other hand...
Washington’s celebrated backup quarterback put on a perfect demonstration why he will forever be a backup quarterback. He accounted for five turnovers and converted just one 3rd down in 8 attempts. He might still be staring at Pierre Garcon from Quentin Demps’ pick. Their thin defense really missed DeAngelo Hall, as well as any competent safety play. They’re one of my biggest disappointments at the quarter point, a team I thought could legitimately challenge for a playoff berth. Instead they look outclassed and heading in the wrong direction, and it goes far beyond the RG3 injury.
$.07--ESPN suspended Bill Simmons for three weeks for “violating journalistic principles”. In his weekly podcast, Simmons profanely called Roger Goodell a liar. That in and of itself isn’t enough to merit a suspension; Skip Bayless utters far more ridiculous things every day on First Take, albeit without the coarse language.
Simmons then challenged his superiors at ESPN to do something about it. He wildly proclaimed he will “go public” if they do anything.
Consider his arrogant, foolish bluff called. It’s been almost a week and Simmons is being unusually quiet. Whatever he was going to take public apparently wasn’t compelling enough, or he bit off more than he can chew with his unequivocal beatdown by his employer.
This is a very intriguing case going forward. ESPN paid Simmons millions to retain him and develop his Grantland site, which is often a journalistic gem. He’s a key force behind the exceptional “30 for 30” series. But he’s also an incorrigible, overbearing and unctuous raconteur, completely in love with himself and drunk on his power. This is not his first time driving right through the roadblocks of common sense and self-restraint. It won’t be his last, either. ESPN has to loathe knowing that Simmons knows he has enough power to act the way he does and throw it back in their faces like a laughing monkey flinging poo. They can’t fire him, even though they probably should.
--How powerful is the NFL? Here in the Grand Rapids TV market, the 1 pm lineup looked like this:
Make $$ in Real Estate!
Best Blower Ever!
Lions vs. Jets
They’re not even trying to fight the NFL. At least two weeks ago the ABC affiliate showed Moulin Rouge, something baby boomer women might actually watch.
--Jared Allen missed the Packers/Bears game with pneumonia. He was reported to weight just 237 pounds, 30 pounds under his listed weight. Now that’s an illness.
--I love the Rob Lowe DirecTV ads, where he is his normal incredible-looking self as well as various other creepy incarnations. They’re not as awesome as the Russian billionaire with the miniature giraffe, but close.
--Congrats to Colts wideout Reggie Wayne, who passed Henry Ellard for 10th on the all-time receiving yardage list.
--Very nice debut start for Teddy Bridgewater in Minnesota. The rookie became the first member of the QB Class of 2014 to throw for 300 yards in leading the Vikings a win over the Falcons.
--I advised everyone to do whatever they could to get Steve Smith into their fantasy lineups in his first game against his old Panthers team. Seven catches, 139 yards, two TDs. You’re welcome.
In lieu of a bunch of brief tidbits, here is a current Top 10 overall prospect list. This is how I see them so far, after a month of college football. Do not mistake this for a mock draft order, though it would not surprise me at all if No. 1 here went No. 1 in May.
1. Leonard Williams, DT, USC
2. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
3. Landon Collins, S, Alabama
4. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
5. Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa
6. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
7. P.J. Williams, CB, Florida State
8. Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M
9. A.J. Cann, G, South Carolina
10. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
Jameis Winston misses the cut, and I sincerely hope he stays in school because he is not ready for the responsibility of being the leader of a college team, let alone a NFL team.
$.10--If you’re like me you are probably sick of all the political ads overwhelming the airwaves these days. Here in Michigan we have a spirited battle for a Senate seat and a gubernatorial contest which is getting uglier by the week. In one morning newscast last week 14 of the 16 commercials were political in nature. One of them even said something about the actual candidate endorsing the spot.
I’m not going to tell you how to vote. But before you flip the dial or mark the box, do your fellow Americans a favor: educate yourself. Explore where the money is coming from on both sides of an election. Do a little research on who is funneling the funds to particular candidates, and try and ascertain why.
Dig into where the mega corporations and big-time donors hold their interests. Why are they spending millions supporting this person? What will they expect in return? Weigh that with what you value, and understand that the person you are voting more is little more than a storefront for the cash behind their ability to get elected.
I would love to not be so cynical, but it’s too easy to find the inherent corruption of seemingly good people. Unfortunately both parties repulse me with their catering to special interests and the fringes of society, while I’m somewhere in the vast majority who reside in the middle.
Despite that, I continue to feed the beast. I vote, even in primaries. I have called my congressman and even had breakfast with my state senator. I’ve gone to local government meetings. I’ve contributed to candidates I support. I still desperately cling to the notion that democracy can work, even the perverted, monetarily hijacked version we have in America today.
Help me believe. Don’t blindly follow the talk radio charlatans or giant news conglomerates who thrive on gullible sheep. Think for yourself. Vote for you, not who someone tells you. Be informed. Be a better American.
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By Jeff Risdon
Time for my annual rant against the NFL’s ridiculous bye system…
Several teams are on byes this week, among them the undefeated Cincinnati Bengals and Arizona Cardinals. It’s Week 4. Some teams don’t get byes for two more months. The competitive unbalance is criminal.
Every division should get a bye at the exact same time. They start in Week 6, with the AFC East and NFC West. Week 7 gives byes to the AFC South and NFC North. Week 8 is the AFC North and NFC East. Week 9 is the AFC West and NFC South all on byes. The first game out of the bye is a divisional matchup for every team, too. It’s really not that hard.
Last Week: 11-5, a step up from consecutive 10-6 weeks. 31-17 on the young season.
Gambling Update: After two weeks of big losses, I turned things around by sweeping all three of my virtual wagers. The Colts, Lions and Bears all came through, winning me a total of $4000 to put me back in black on the season. The kitty purrs with $11,250 after starting at $10,000.
- New York Giants at Washington (-3.5): New York picked up its first win last week, but they’ll be hard-pressed to match it against a division rival. Washington leads the league in opposing yards per carry at just 2.8 (tied with Detroit, Seattle and the Jets). They also lead the league in sack percentage, getting the opposing QB on the ground on almost 10% of all dropbacks. That absurd figure cannot last, but it’s not going to decline much this week. The Giants offensive line played better against Houston, but that was because they could run the ball with a great outing from Rashad Jennings. He won’t find those holes this week. The Skins will miss cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who is lost to a torn Achilles. He has always had Eli Manning’s number. The Giants will capitalize on the thin secondary more than expected, but it won’t be enough.
Washington 28, Giants 24
- Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears (+0.5): Red alert! Red Alert! The Bears are the better team, even with their decimated secondary. The Bears are playing at home, marking the Packers’ second roadie in a row. The Bears have a fantastic passing offense with Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett, while the Packers own offense is sputtering behind a slumping Aaron Rodgers and an ineffective Eddie Lacy. I suspect the Green Bay offense will get back on the track here; they’ve had just one touchdown in their last 19 drives. But they’re not outscoring Chicago unless Jay Cutler has a really bad day. As a warning, he’s capable of a clunker so don’t get too overconfident. Getting a half point instead of giving points at home is very intriguing. I’ll put $500 on it.
Bears 30, Packers 24
- Carolina Panthers at Baltimore Ravens (-3.5): The Steve Smith Sr. bowl is sure to be intense, even if it’s all fabricated by the aging wideout’s braggadocio. Smith has been very good for Baltimore after Carolina decided they didn’t have a need for him anymore. Why did Carolina let him go? They needed more cash to pay Greg Hardy. Yeah, him. Do whatever you can to get Smith in your fantasy lineup this week, as he’s apt to have the highest wide receiver point total recorded this week. The Ravens ride him to a win, though the Panthers’ decimated running back corps is just as big of a factor.
Ravens 20, Panthers 17
- Buffalo Bills at Houston Texans (-2.5): Perhaps the two most surprising 2-1 teams face off at Reliant Stadium. Interestingly, both were also the two most surprising 2-0 teams before humbling losses last week. I think the Bills match up well with their strong offensive line and a cadre of offensive weapons. Neither quarterback earns even a shred of trust, though I do like the angle of Ryan Fitzpatrick going up against his former team. That gets blunted by the fact they paid him about sextuple his open market value to be a below-average starter. Maybe he’s grateful to them and throws a pick six or two. I’m just not sold E.J. Manuel is above doing the same. Ah, what the heck…
Bills 24, Texans 21
- Jacksonville Jaguars at San Diego Chargers (-12.5): This is far and away the most common Survivor Fantasy game pick. Not just for the week, but rather the entire season. As of 4:42 PM Wed., more than 53% of all people picking at FOX and 51% of those at ESPN are using the Chargers as their selection to win.
It makes perfect sense. The Chargers are 2-1, the loss being a 1-point loss at undefeated Arizona in the opener. The Jaguars are winless and completely lifeless; from halftime of Week 1 to halftime of Week 3 they were outscored 105-10. Now they’re starting rookie QB Blake Bortles, who impressed in the preseason…playing against backups and practice squad filler. He’ll invigorate the offense to some extent, but it won’t be nearly enough to knock off the well-oiled machine that is the Chargers. They’re my survivor pick too.
Chargers 37, Jaguars 24
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Pittsburgh Steelers (-7.5): How bad are the winless Buccaneers?
The Raiders are winless too, yet players they let go are coveted by Tampa Bay. They are that bad. The Steelers are badly wounded on defense, enough to bring James Harrison out of retirement. The Bucs don’t have the ability to make them pay.
Steelers 32, Buccaneers 21
- Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts (-7.5): The Colts righted the ship with a blowout win over the Jaguars, and they get to go home to face a Titans team which could be without starting QB Jake Locker (wrist in his throwing hand). Could it be Clipboard Jesus time? That’s the affectionate nickname bestowed upon Tennessee backup Charlie Whitehurst, who is a dead ringer for the traditional oil painting of Jesus hanging in your church. Whitehurst has earned over $19M in his 9 years in the league, throwing a total of 155 passes in that time. Now that’s an enchanted life, going thru life looking like Jesus and earning millions to do almost no work. The Titans will need divine intervention to pull this one off, and the game will prove Whitehurst is not in fact the son of God. I’ll put $1000 on it.
Colts 34, Titans 14
- Detroit Lions at New York Jets (+1.5): The two best defenses not named Seattle face off in New York. My Lions have the advantage at QB, WR, and TE, while the defenses largely cancel one another out with both teams ravaged by injuries in the secondary. If the Jets cannot run the ball, they cannot beat Detroit. The Lions have the best run defense in the league, and they do it thanks to the front four; they don’t need to bring extra help into the box, which means the play action game isn’t effective. If it comes down to a kicking battle the Jets win, but methinks the Lions score enough to avoid that fate.
Lions 27, Jets 17
- Atlanta Falcons at Minnesota Vikings (+4): Before you write off the Vikings, consider this figure courtesy Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated:
This will be rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater’s first career start, coming at home and providing the denizens legit hope for the future. I’m buying into Teddy giving the team a lift, with help from an increased use of dynamic wideout Cordarrelle Patterson. The opportunistic Falcons secondary is a real challenge, however. Falcons win but the Vikings keep it close enough to cover.
Falcons 26, Vikings 24
- Philadelphia Eagles at San Francisco 49ers (-6.5): For the Dickensian crowd, this game features a tale of two quarterbacks. Colin Kaepernick dominates early in games for San Francisco, while Philly’s Nick Foles is at his best late. Have a look at the splits from the first and fourth quarters for both:
The Niners have yet to score a touchdown in the second half of any game this year, notching just 3 points in three games. That’s a bad recipe against the best second-half team in the league. San Francisco’s self-destructive tendencies, and the way they allow bad calls by the officials to get into their heads, do not help. San Francisco’s weak pass rush eases the concerns with Philly’s injury-ravaged offensive line. Water will start to find its level with the above splits, but the waves won’t be dramatic enough to shift the tide of this game.
Eagles 30, 49ers 28
- Miami Dolphins at Oakland Raiders (+4.5): The Raiders played the Patriots close last week, showing real defensive aptitude. Meanwhile, Miami coach Joe Philbin is fabricating a QB controversy by refusing to say Ryan Tannehill is his man going forward. Oakland coach Dennis Allen is probably playing for his job here, because if the Raiders hit their bye week at 0-4 he earns the final line of my all-time favorite movie, Point Break: “he’s not coming back”. Fade to Ratt’s quietly intense “Nobody Rides for Free” as the credits roll. Well, I guess I know how I’m spending the next two hours…$500 on the Raiders, whom I strongly believe win outright.
Raiders 24, Dolphins 15
- New Orleans Saints at Dallas Cowboys (+3.5): I used to live in Houston, which is an interesting city in terms of NFL loyalty. Because the Texans are pretty new and weren’t any good until very recent times, most folks still held firm to their old allegiances. Much of the population remained ardent Cowboys fans, with Dallas just four hours up I-45. Yet a major influx of Hurricane Katrina refugees stocked the metro area with a healthy population of Saints fans. Even though the majority are now Texans fans, many of those still hold their NFC allegiances firmly.
As for the game, I really like the matchup of Dez Bryant against the Saints’ porous secondary, which has performed worse than Dallas’ oft-slammed bunch. The Cowboys defense could get a lift with pass rusher Anthony Spencer returning, too. Then again, I can’t see the Dallas D holding back Drew Brees, not with the (deserved) demotion of CB Morris Caliborne and the lack of cover skills of pretty much everyone else on the team. This could be a shootout, and always side with the better QB in those situations.
Saints 37, Cowboys 35
- New England Patriots at Kansas City Chiefs (+4.5): My professional diagnosis of what ails New England? Anemic talent in the passing game thanks to years of poor drafting and neglect, and Tom Brady is no longer Iron Man enough to lift the otherwise middling cast. Kansas City is a good place to get healthy, however. I expect a low-scoring slugfest, and I like New England’s lines more than I like Kansas City’s. The 4.5 points the Chiefs are getting sure are tempting. I’ll take it for $250.
Patriots 20, Chiefs 17
Indianapolis -7.5 for $1000
Oakland +4.5 for $500
Chicago +0.5 for $500
Kansas City +4.5 for $250
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The Cardinals are 3-0 and rank No. 2 in the Trench Counter behind the Bengals and ahead of their NFC West rivals in Seattle.
A Super Bowl rematch for the first time since 1997 headlines the week's games that include 49ers/Cardinals, Packers/Lions, Chargers/Bills, while the Saints and Colts avoid dropping to 0-3.
The Bengals and Redskins climbed to first and second in the rankings after huge Trench Counter differentials in Week 2
On all of the most important storylines from the weeks games, including Jay Cutler and the Bears, the Chargers beating Seattle, the Jets losing at Green Bay and more.
The 49ers open up their new stadium against the Bears, along with intriguing Week 2 matchups featuring Eagles/Colts, Steelers/Ravens, Seahawks/Chargers and Lions/Panthers.
On the wins by the Bills, Bengals, Broncos, Texans, Jets, Steelers and Titans in Week 1, along with the losses by the Chiefs, Patriots, Browns, Colts, Raiders, Chargers, Ravens and Jaguars.