Autumnal temperatures have finally arrived for most of the country after last weekend’s Speedo-friendly weather. It looks like a great weekend to go out and catch a game, as well as to have some outdoor fun with the family. There are enough intriguing games on the Week 4 docket to keep you entertained.
Last week: 9-7, making the season forecast 27-21
- Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers (-7.5): The all-time series between these two historic rivals is knotted up at 93-93-6. The Packers have furiously rallied to tie it up by winning 12 of the last 14. Mike Glennon is not going to outduel Aaron Rodgers, but the Bears have a chance if the Jordan Howard/Tarik Cohen RB package can control the clock and the Bears D can feast on the injury-plagued packers offensive line. Chicago’s defense plays a scheme which can give the Packers some trouble even when everyone is healthy. Don’t write off the upset chance, though I’m much more about the point spread than outright in liking the Bears to put up an engaging fight.
Packers 27, Bears 21
- Los Angeles Rams at Dallas Cowboys (-6): The Rams have become a bit of a trendy pick as the upset-minded look for this week’s Any Given Sunday matchup. The L.A. offense is playing with renewed vigor and increased confidence with the new coaching staff. Imagine that, playing to the strengths of what your best players do well actually works. Nobody tell Jeff Fisher, he’ll give you a bemused snarl of confused antipathy.
It's not often you get a marquee matchup of a defensive tackle against an interior offensive line, but that’s the biggest draw in this game. Aaron Donald vs. Zach Martin and Travis Frederick is steel vs. steel, and the Rams mighty DT has been great despite sitting out the summer. Those Cowboys linemen are also playing extremely well, and they have the better weapons and better second-year QB to back them up.
Cowboys 32, Rams 28
- Jacksonville Jaguars at New York Jets (+3.5): Both teams pulled off surprising blowout wins last week. One of those teams was a much bigger surprise than the other. New York’s thorough domination of Miami seems more about the Dolphins ineptitude than any sustainable great play from the Jets. That’s not to discredit Jamal Adams and the Jet defense, which has some ability to make life difficult for better QBs than Blake Bortles.
The flip side is where Jacksonville wins. Their defense has major teeth, with both a great CB tandem in coverage and an outstanding pass rush duo in Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue. Even if the JAX offense sputters, and I suspect it might, their defense is good for a 5-sack, 2-takeaway game against a Jets offense which doesn’t do anything at an even average level of competency.
Jaguars 22, Jets 12
- Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns (+3.5): Because somebody has to win (although Andy Dalton does have two ties to his credit).
Browns 20, Bengals 17
- Buffalo Bills at Atlanta Falcons (-8): Potential letdown/trap game for the Falcons after the entertaining and physical win over Detroit. The Bills are quietly playing well on both sides of the ball and bring a confident defense to the gorgeous Mercedes Benz Dome.
I favor the Falcons in this one by quite a bit, and it’s not just for the explosive offense. Their pass rush is better than advertised even without Vic Beasley. The speed of their back 7 might be the best in the NFL too, and underrated slot CB Brian Poole has emerged as one of the smartest guys at his position. Buffalo is vulnerable to both diverse pass rushes and defenses with range, and Atlanta has both.
Falcons 30, Bills 17
- New York Giants at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-4): The underwhelming play of the Giants offense is one of the biggest stories of the young NFL season. I still believe they’re due for a breakout game, and the Bucs are a good candidate to facilitate that. Tampa Bay has the league’s most anemic pass rush, ranking dead last in sack percentage. New York breaks through at Raymond James.
Giants 24, Buccaneers 20
- Indianapolis Colts at Seattle Seahawks (-11.5): This is one of those games where I am profanely confident that the favorite will win but also fail to cover. The Seahawks are not losing to the Colts, not in Seattle. But those Seahawks also aren’t 12 points better than any other NFL team right now, not with that offensive line and dilapidated skill position group around Russell Wilson.
Seahawks 20, Colts 10
- Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans (+1.5): The host Texans are finally getting healthier, and it comes none too soon as the AFC South rival Titans come to town. Containing Marcus Mariota and the dual-threat Tennessee offense, which features one of the best lines in the league and a smartly diverse set of skill position players, is a major challenge for J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney & Co. It might take yet another fumble return by Clowney to secure the win for the Texans, who haven’t yet figured out the run game or the middle-of-field pass defense. I can see this game being the proverbial changing of the guard in the division.
Titans 26, Texans 20
- New Orleans Saints at Miami Dolphins (+3): I looked into the crystal ball and saw Drew Brees finding Michael Thomas over the top of the Miami defense for a 67-yard touchdown catch-and-run late in the game after rallying from a 10-point deficit to shock the home team. Thomas tops 150 yards receiving and Brees throws for over 350 to overcome a Miami offense that will move the ball well but struggles to punctuate drives with touchdowns.
Saints 34, Dolphins 29
- Carolina Panthers at New England Patriots (-9): Here is the chance for Cam Newton and the Panthers offense to silence the growing chorus of doubters. Cam has not looked right as he plays through his shoulder surgery rehab. Losing Greg Olsen didn’t help, nor does some odd play calling choices and RB usage. The Patriots defense is giving up the most yards per play and yards per game in the league, however. New England doesn’t have a pass rush and lacks any dynamic players in the middle of the field. If ever Carolina’s offense was to perk up, it’s in New England. Yes, I read that and realize how crazy it sounds, but it’s true.
Carolina’s own defense will have its hands full with Tom Brady, who looked incredibly precise in eviscerating the Texans last week. I have an inkling this game will be a close one, and Brady’s ability to manufacture points and sustain drives is superior to Newton’s, especially with Newton not near 100 percent.
Patriots 33, Panthers 29
- Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings (NL): There is a very real worry about a letdown for the Lions in the wake of their crushing loss on the final play to the Falcons in Week 3. Minnesota has a stout defense and a dynamic playmaker in rookie RB Dalvin Cook who can make them pay for wallowing or not being sharp. This is a great test for the more aggressive Detroit defense, which has quite forcefully gone after creating turnovers and is having good success with it. If the Lions win the turnover margin battle it's hard to see them losing, unless the league thrusts another bizarre rule or technicality on them…
Lions 24, Vikings 23
- San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals (-7): Much like the Seattle game above, I’m pretty confident that the Cardinals will win at home but not at all sold they are more than a touchdown better than anyone at this point. Unless Brian Hoyer throws a pick-six, which is eminently possible. Look for Cardinals first-round pick Hassan Reddick to notch his first career sack in this game, too.
Cardinals 22, 49ers 16
- Philadelphia Eagles at Los Angeles Chargers (-2): When in doubt, or if it looks like it’s going to be a close game, always lean towards the team with the better kicker. Jake Elliott nailed the longest field goal by a rookie in NFL history last week for the Eagles. Younghoe Koo has missed two potential game-winners for the Chargers. Advantage: Philly, though I suspect it won’t come to that.
Eagles 30, Chargers 16
- Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens (+3): These two AFC North rivals always battle it out in close games. The cliché of throwing the records out really does apply, which helps erase the stain that both of these teams left coming out of abysmal Week 3 performances. I’m curious how the Ravens fare as the first team to return from a London game without a bye, particularly because they are already the most injury-ravaged team in the league.
The Steelers offense needs a coordinated effort where Big Ben, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown are all playing well at the same time. They haven’t had that yet, and Baltimore’s defense (last week excepted) is not an easy one to get healthy against. Fortunately they won’t need more than three scores to win this one…I’m just not sure they can get that.
Ravens 12, Steelers 10
- Washington at Kansas City Chiefs (-7): The home Chiefs are playing as well as any team in the league, thanks in part to dynamic rookie Kareem Hunt. He leads the league in broken tackles and explosive plays. The Chiefs will need both against a Washington defense that has good speed and plays well as a unit. Safety D.J. Swearinger has been a pleasant surprise, controlling his volatile emotions and letting his hard-hitting play do the talking. This game should be one worth staying up late for on a school night.
Chiefs 33, Washington 28
It’s an oddly bad weekend slate for the college games.
USC 39, Washington State 30
Florida 20, Vanderbilt 17
Auburn 31, Mississippi State 25
San Diego State 21, Northern Illinois 20
Virginia Tech 27, Clemson 24
I’ll be at Lubbers Stadium to check out the D-II matchup between Saginaw Valley State and Grand Valley State. Gimme the home Lakers 47-17