Bleacher Report's Expert Consensus Week 4 NFL Picks
With parity and replacement ref ineptitude at all-time highs, the NFL got as crazy in Week 3 as it's been in years.
There's no way to start any discussion this morning without beginning with what happened on Monday night in Seattle where the Seahawks surprised the Green Bay Packers, but not nearly as much as the ref who called Golden Tate's hand on the ball a "catch." This week, the Packers face off against the winless Saints and the Seahawks have a divisional game against the Rams. Our experts are picking both to win.
The biggest game of the week, as it usually is when these two face off, is New York Giants vs. Philadelphia Eagles. Our experts are picking the Giants as the Eagles have turned the ball over way too many times for many of us to be comfortable with their chances against the defending Super Bowl champs.
Our B/R Panel of Experts
Note: All betting odds are for informational purposes only and courtesy of Statfox.com. Although spreads are provided, all picks are straight-up.
Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens
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B/R Consensus: Baltimore Ravens (Unanimous)
Vegas: Ravens (-13)
Top to bottom, Baltimore is the vastly superior team in this one. We could talk about the Browns underrated defense or their young and improving offense, but in the end, the Ravens are about to take them behind the woodshed.
No worries about a Sunday night win hangover for the Ravens, even on a short week. They’ll
make quick work of the overmatched Cleveland offense. Blowout win for Baltimore.
The Ravens escaped with a win against the Patriots, but Joe Flacco and company will have to guard against a letdown-type effort against a Browns team that isn't as far away as people might think. Trent Richardson should have a big day against a Ravens defense that is suddenly not as tough as its rep.
While I'd like more than anything to think that Cleveland can head into Baltimore on a short week and take advantage of the Ravens resting on their laurels after a dramatic win over New England in Week 3, that is far too optimistic. Baltimore can rest on all the laurels they want and won't lose this game, on national television, at home on Thursday. I can see the Browns putting up a fight, but it won't take long until the Ravens put them out of their misery.
Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons
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B/R Consensus: Atlanta Falcons (Unanimous)
Vegas: Falcons (-7.5)
Not sure I'm on board with this whole "Matt Ryan is the best QB in the NFL" talk that is floating around. He's good and he's got great weapons, but I'm interested to see if he can put it together for a full season and into the playoffs. Regardless, this Panthers defense can't stop anyone. The Falcons should roll.
The Falcons’ defense has been amazing at forcing turnovers this year, and Cam Newton has
been willing to give the ball up. Using the Giants’ defense as a blueprint, expect the Falcons to
roll the division rivals at home.
I want to. I really want to pick the Panthers to bounce back against their division rival. But that Carolina defense has way too many issues, both in coaching and personnel, to put up much of a fight against Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense. Cam Newton has to play a whole lot better if the Panthers are going to get their season going in the right direction.
Two preseason thoughts that I was wrong about: 1) I thought the Atlanta offense would outshine its defense. Mike Nolan's new aggressive defense is attacking and confusing opposing quarterbacks, and is a better unit right now than Atlanta's offense. 2) I thought Cam Newton would have his team ready to knock on the door or NFC South respectability, and that with the return of Jon Beason, the Carolina defense would be improved. I couldn't have been more wrong on both accounts.
New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills
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B/R Consensus: New England Patriots (Unanimous)
Vegas: Patriots (-3.5)
I would feel more comfortable with this pick if the game was at Gillette, but I'd also be a lot less comfortable if C.J. Spiller were available for the Bills. Bill Belichick doesn't take losing very well and I expect the Patriots to take out their frustrations on Ryan Fitzpatrick and his luxurious beard.
The Patriots need this win, and while the Bills have played well against New England in the
past, the Patriots simply won’t lose three in a row. With the possibility of C.J. Spiller and/or Fred
Jackson out, the Patriots’ can tee off on the Buffalo offense.
The Patriots don't lose three games in a row. They just don't. The Bills look to be improving and could possibly get Fred Jackson back, which would certainly help. But Bill Belichick and company aren't losing this game unless Brady goes on a turnover binge like he did last year in Buffalo.
The Patriots have never lost three in a row under Bill Belichick. Buffalo will be without its two biggest playmakers, Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, for this game. The Patriots offense looked like it finally found a rhythm against the Ravens defense, so if the Patriots defense can capitalize on what will be a one-dimensional attack, this one should be a win for New England.
Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions
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B/R Consensus: Detroit Lions (8-3)
The Vikings haven't made any game easy for any opponent in 2012 (really, dating back to last year) and the Lions haven't looked like the playoff contender some thought. This is, essentially, the battle for third place in the NFC North and homefield advantage is the only reason the Lions get the benefit of the doubt here.
The Lions’ playoff hopes are riding on getting back into the win column. At 1-2, they need this
win. The Vikings won’t be an easy win, though, especially if the Lions can’t or don’t run the ball
The Vikings apparently felt they had their manhood questioned the week leading up to the 49ers game and proceeded to come out and punch the Niners in the mouth. Of course, the Vikings victory was in large part due to the (surprisingly?) excellent play of Christian Ponder. The Lions may have finally found a running game to go along with their high-flying aerial attack.
Am I overestimating the Vikings' win against the Niners or underestimating the Lions? Or both? The truth is that if the Vikings execute like they did on Sunday against San Fran, they can absolutely win this game. Adrian Peterson will have a better day running the ball and the Lions are susceptible to the short passes that the Vikings used to get the ball to Percy Harvin and Kyle Rudolph. And Jerome Simpson is back? If they can at least slow Calvin Johnson and Titus Young down, the Vikings will win this game.
Also Picking the Vikings: Dunlevy, Langland
San Diego Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs
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B/R Consensus: San Diego Chargers (7-4)
Vegas: Chargers (-1)
On paper, if the Chiefs can beat the Saints, they should be able to beat anyone. However, the game is played on the field and the Chargers have been a much more formidable opponent on the field in 2012 than the Saints. It won't be easy but, at Arrowhead in a divisional game, it's hard to pick against a team with so much talent.
The Chiefs started 0-2, but they’re playing for first place in the AFC West in this one. Arrowhead
will be rocking as the Chiefs’ defense pounds Philip Rivers, forcing at least three turnovers in
The Chargers need to get their protection issues sorted out, and fast. Of course, they also need to find some kind of consistency on the defensive side of the ball. The Chiefs are coming off a wild comeback win and heading home, but this team isn't ready to go on a winning streak.
San Diego was exploited through the air by Atlanta, but Kansas City will have to grind out yards on the ground. Unless something changes drastically in the next week and the Chiefs suddenly trust Cassel to throw the ball, the Chargers should have the advantage. San Diego's offense will be looking for a rebound and will get a win on the road in a close game.
Also Picking the Chiefs: Gagnon, Bardeen
Seattle Seahawks at St. Louis Rams
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B/R Consensus: Seattle Seahawks (7-4)
Vegas: Seahawks (-2.5)
We all saw what Seattle's defense did to Aaron Rodgers, now put it up against an even worse OL and Sam Bradford. The Rams defense should keep this close against the Seattle offense, but Seattle's defense is one of the best in the league and Bradford won't be able to stand up under the pressure.
The Rams are quietly becoming one of the toughest teams in football. Jeff Fisher’s crew
wouldn’t win this one on the road, but at home in St. Louis, they should be able to control the
tempo and hit Russell Wilson enough to get a win.
The Seahawks are a tough-running, tough-hitting team that will hang with anyone and everyone. In the Rams, they find the first opponent who they should absolutely blow out of the stadium. The Rams have talent of their own, but their strength of defense is in their secondary. The 'Hawks will simply pound them in the running game and leave quarterback Russell Wilson a bunch of high-percentage throws on 3rd and 3 to complete.
St. Louis' offensive line looks terrible as it allowed quarterback Sam Bradford to get sacked six times against the Bears. Chris Clemons and the Seahawks defense should have an easy afternoon considering the Rams offense will be overmatched all game long. Seattle wins big on the road.
Also Picking the Rams: Dunlevy, Gagnon
San Francisco 49ers at New York Jets
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B/R Consensus: San Francisco 49ers (Unanimous)
Vegas: 49ers (-3.5)
Last year, Harbaugh and the 49ers made the interesting (and brilliant) decision to stay on the East Coast between games, practicing at Youngstown State to avoid travel time and jet lag. It worked then and it should work this week as a fresh and ready Niners defense clamps down on whoever the Jets put under center.
No Darrelle Revis, no winning for the Jets. The 49ers are coming off their first loss, and Jim
Harbaugh’s team is a matchup favorite against the Jets. It will be a surprise if the Jets score in
After laying an egg in Minnesota, the Niners travel even further East to face the Revis-less New York Jets. This could be an ugly game. The Niners like to pound the football and throw to tight end Vernon Davis, which they'll have plenty of time to do. Mark Sanchez and the Jets offense will be eaten alive by a San Francisco secondary that didn't get off the bus last week.
The 49ers will bounce back in a big way after getting embarrassed by Minnesota on Sunday. Plus, a Revis-less New York Jets defense scares no one. Look for San Francisco to pound the rock right down the throat of the Jets with Frank Gore.
The Jets squeaked by a below-average Dolphins teams on the road, and are in for a rude awakening against a 49ers team coming off a tough road loss to the Vikings. The 49ers have an offense loaded with talented skill position players, and it could be a tall order for New York's defense to handle them all without Darrelle Revis.
Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans
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B/R Consensus: Houston Texans (Unanimous)
Vegas: Texans (-12.5)
When the Texans execute as perfectly as they have been, they can beat anyone. The Titans were able to ride big plays to victory against the Lions, but the Texans are a much better team and aren't going to make those same mental errors on offense, defense and special teams. Anything can happen in a divisional game, but Houston should win big here.
The Titans proved on Sunday that they can rack up points in a hurry, but against the Houston
defense that won’t be the case. Expect a low-scoring affair as the Texans play stout defense
and run the ball to a win.
The Texans are the most complete team in the league. They can score in a bevy of different ways, have the most ferocious front seven in the league and can win any type of game. The Titans finally saw some offensive production last week, but that was against a bad Lions defense. Houston is just way too much for this Titans team.
Houston is rolling on offense and the Titans are giving up 30 every week. Houston wins big at home.
Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos
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B/R Consensus: Denver Broncos (Unanimous)
Vegas: Broncos (-6.5)
Manning will be looking to right this ship and the Raiders should provide the perfect foil. This is at Mile High and there's still lots of ill will between these two teams. Manning rises to moments like this while Palmer has historically wilted.
Manning vs Palmer should provide a shootout for fans, but there is no way the Raiders knock
off the Broncos in this one. Even after the high of their upset over the Pittsburgh Steelers, bet on
Manning carving up the terrible Raiders’ cornerbacks for big yardage.
The Raiders made a very slight but effective adjustment to their zone blocking scheme and it did wonders for Darren McFadden. The Broncos are reeling after two bad losses and things don't look any easier against a rejuvenated Raiders team, but Peyton will find the comeback that has eluded him the last two weeks to beat the Raiders.
The Broncos get the benefit of preparing for a less-polished version of the same offense they prepared for last week and they know Dennis Allen's defense well because he was the defensive coordinator in Denver last season.
The reverse can't be said of Allen's familiarity with the Broncos, since schemes have changed on both sides of the ball. Manning will have his way with Oakland's depleted secondary and don't be surprised if the game comes down to one or two crazy plays.
Miami Dolphins at Arizona Cardinals
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B/R Consensus: Arizona Cardinals (Unanimous)
Vegas: Cardinals (-6)
In "Ride or Die" mode with the Cardinals right now as they continue to win week-in/week-out regardless of the talent level of their opponent. Thankfully, this matchup should be easy for the Cardinals as the Miami offense can't possibly matchup with the pressure the Cardinals are going to put on them.
The 3-0 Cardinals just might be for real, but we’ll have to wait one more week to see them
against another marquee opponent. At home, and against the Miami offense, the Cardinals should cruise to 4-0.
If the Kevin Kolb that showed up against the Eagles shows up for the rest of the year, the Cardinals could be dangerous. Call me dubious. The Dolphins will try to regroup after an overtime heart breaker that they should have won—a few times. But in the end, the Cardinals make a play late to win a low-scoring, defensive affair.
Don't look now, but the Cardinals have the No. 1 scoring defense in the NFL through three games. If Reggie Bush isn't at full health, the Dolphins could really struggle offensively. This game will likely be a defensive slugfest, but the Cardinals unit is more well-rounded in their ability to stop the pass.
For the first time in four weeks I will be picking the Arizona Cardinals to win a ball game. Ray Horton and his defense will have their eyes set on harassing another young quarterback just as they did Week 1 against Seattle. The Cardinals have been playing sound football as of late and Larry Fitzgerald appears to have found his groove after a breakout nine-catch, 114-yard performance.
Cincinnati Bengals at Jacksonville Jaguars
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B/R Consensus: Cincinnati Bengals (Unanimous)
Vegas: Bengals (-2.5)
The Bengals probably aren't going to beat a lot of teams better than them in 2012, but luckily the Jaguars don't fit into that category. The Bengals are going to look to harass Gabbert all day and, although he's standing up under pressure better than last year, it should be too much for him in this contest.
The Jaguars are a better team than their record indicates, but the Bengals are too much for their
defense to handle. The Jaguars' secondary will be exploited in this one, even if their offense
is able to keep up against a Cincy defense that’s been abysmal thus far.
The Bengals should take care of business after finding their offensive groove against the Browns. A.J. Green is probably the most exciting young receiver in the game. The Jaguars have a stout defense, especially when they're at home. Blaine Gabbert is inconsistent but keeps showing glimmers of promise that have to encourage Jaguars fans.
Blaine Gabbert has been terrible for two straight weeks, and the Bengals have already shown the ability to win on the road.
The Cincinnati Bengals made a statement in their win over the Washington Redskins last week. Granted, that statement is that they can win out even without stability in their defensive secondary, but still, a win is a win, and it was an impressive, high-scoring victory that will help the team become cohesive and confident. The Jaguars simply aren't very good and won't be able to take advantage of Cincinnati's rapidly disappearing weaknesses.
Washington Redskins at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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B/R Consensus: Washington Redskins (6-5)
Vegas: Buccaneers (-3)
With the Redskins' defense still reeling from the losses of Carriker and Orakpo, even Josh Freeman and company should be able to put up some serious points. I expect this to be a shootout, and I expect the Bucs to (easily) cover.
The Tampa defense gave the Dallas Cowboys all they could handle on Sunday, almost
sneaking in an upset win. The Bucs’ pass-rushers will be the difference as they corral RG3 and
score a surprise home win.
The Redskins can score on anybody. Unfortunately, anybody can score on the Redskins. With their losses on defense piling up, RGIII will be under even more pressure to keep up his explosive start to the season. The Bucs have injury issues of their own, and they need to get their quarterback to play better. He will do so slightly this week, but not nearly well enough.
Washington's vulnerable secondary actually matches up well with Tampa's offense. Josh Freeman's struggling and Josh Wilson can lock down on Vincent Jackson. Meanwhile, RG3 could have a big day against that inconsistent Tampa pass defense.
The Redskins have scored more points this year than any other NFL team and will be a huge test for the Buccaneers on Sunday. On the flip side of that same coin, only three teams in the league have given up more points than Washington has. This game may look more like Tampa Bay's shootout loss to the Giants than either 16-10 game it’s played. But the Buccaneers haven't proved they can win in a shootout yet. Washington has.
Also Picking the Buccaneers: Dunlevy, Garda, Langland
New Orleans Saints at Green Bay Packers
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B/R Consensus: Green Bay Packers (Unanimous)
Vegas: Packers (-7.5)
Who would have thought that this matchup would feature one win between these two entering the week? The Saints are looking for redemption and the Packers will be looking for some sort of retribution. If the Packers can keep their heads on straight, this one should be an easy win in Rodgers' neighborhood.
Who could have imagined the Saints at 0-3 when this one came up on the schedule? Drew
Brees’ team looks out of sorts, and although they can score at will, they are in no shape to take
on the mighty Packers at Lambeau Field. Advantage, Packers.
The Saints are 0-3. The teams they have lost to are 0-6 against everyone else. This is a rudderless ship and heading up to Lambeau is not the ideal place to fix your flailing football team. The Packers have plenty of their own issues, but they are too well coached and too disciplined to lose this game.
The last thing New Orleans wanted is to be 0-3 and needing a huge win in Green Bay. Cedric Benson should have a monster day running against the Saints defense (why not? Everyone else has). New Orleans won't be able to stop Aaron Rodgers through the air either. There are only three teams with fewer interceptions than the Saints, and only seven that have given up more passing yards.
As bad as the Saints look—and man do they look out of sorts—the Packers will still need to be very careful in this game. Their offense has had issues starting off hot just like the Saints, so it is imperative they get out ahead early because even struggling, the New Orleans offense is potent. Still, the Green Bay defense is for real and it could be a very long day for the Saints against Clay Matthews and company.
New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles
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B/R Consensus: New York Giants (9-2)
Vegas: Eagles (-3)
The Giants aren't going to mess around in this one and Mike Vick still doesn't have any idea what the coaching staff is getting at by yelling "take care of the ball!" at him over and over. Andy Reid is going to stupidly get in a shootout with Eli Manning, and Manning tends to make coaches pay for that decision.
Michael Vick is one more bad game away from Andy Reid’s doghouse, and the Giants’ front four will be on him all day. Vick will be rattled early, allowing New York to pull ahead and maintain its lead with a strong run game.
Andy Reid showed as much commitment to Michael Vick in his Monday press conference as he does to the running game in his Sunday game plans—in other words, very, very little. Look, Vick needs to be freed. He's trying desperately to be a pocket passer—that's not what he is. The Giants are riding high and should roll the Eagles. Obviously, this means the Eagles will win.
Philadelphia is so unpredictable right now, but the Giants are better rested and riding a wave of momentum. This is one of those typical NFC East games that could go either way, but I feel like the Giants' pass rush is primed for a big day against that mess of an offensive line.
Also Picking the Eagles: Hangst
Chicago Bears at Dallas Cowboys
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B/R Consensus: Dallas Cowboys (8-3)
Vegas: Cowboys (-4)
The battle of quarterbacks that America loves to hate! Still, the offensive line should make all the difference in this one. DeMarcus Ware should have a field day and Jay Cutler should make a doctor's appointment for the morning after.
The Bears' defense clicked in Week 3, but their offense is the concern. Tony Romo hasn't been great either, but the Cowboys' defense--particularly their secondary--will be the difference as the Cowboys move to an improbable 3-1.
If the Cowboys ever put together a complete game in all three phases they could be a tough, tough team to beat. Their secondary should be able to hold the Bears' receivers in check while Tony Romo and company can do just enough against a still-tough Bears defense to pull out a victory under the lights in Jerry World.
The struggling Dallas offense is running into an aggressive Chicago defense at a bad time. The Bears come out on top in a turnover- and sack-filled affair.
Two teams whose offenses are misfiring. Yay Monday Night Football!
Both offensive lines with issues, both QBs under constant duress, both marquee wide receivers wondering what the heck is going on. Ultimately two things stand out—I think the Dallas defense will have a slightly better day than the Bears' defense and Romo's meltdown will be smaller than Cutler's. Cutler's numbers were inflated yesterday with a late jump ball by Marshall and some screen passes—I don't think he gets it done against a very strong Dallas secondary.
Also Picking the Bears: Gagnon, Bardeen
Michael Schottey is the NFL national lead writer for Bleacher Report and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff alongside other great writers at "The Go Route."