When thinking about my NFL Week 4 picks against the spread, I kept reflecting on last week, and a two-word phrase kept coming to mind: go figure.
The Green Bay Packers scored 30 straight points, were up by 16 and lost on a 58-yard fumble return.
The Oakland Raiders were proven to be tougher competition for the Indianapolis Colts than the San Francisco 49ers.
The Carolina Panthers, who had averaged 15 points a game over the first two weeks of the season, manhandled the New York Giants by 38.
Go fi—Actually, after the Giants gave up 77 points in the first two games, I probably should have seen that coming.
Anyway, they say it's always darkest before the dawn. Well, dear readers, it's pitch black here.
But my Week 4 picks are where it all turns around. At least, that's what I figure.
Last Week's Record: 5-10-1
Season Record: 18-28-2
All lines provided by footballlocks.com. All advanced stats and rankings are courtesy of Pro Football Focus and require a subscription.
Two quarterbacks who struggled mightily last week. Two defenses that didn't fare much better.
Sounds like a good time to grab the points, right?
All of that preseason hype surrounding the St. Louis Rams is looking to be just that—hype. This ship looks listless, and a single victory over a one-win Cardinals team isn't going to change that perception.
But the difference is I trust head coach Jim Harbaugh a lot more than Jeff Fisher. Even more than I trust the three points.
San Francisco - 35
St. Louis - 11
San Francisco covers the three point spread
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is obviously still upset about that whole Stamp Act thing. Or he isn't serious about growing the game overseas.
Why else wouldn't he call an audible and include a team that has at least one win in his European showcase?
And don't start talking to me about travel logistics and scheduling conflicts. In the last 26 months, he has gotten over on the current players (current CBA), the retired players (the recent settlement in the concussion lawsuit) and the public (his the-game-is-as-strong-as-ever rhetoric that everyone seems to be buying).
The only other plausible explanation is that he hates the Brits. Just like this pick means I hate the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Actually, this pick is about running back Adrian Peterson getting fed up and winning a game all by himself. This pick is also siding with the best player on the field in a total crapshoot of a game.
So I can take the team that has delivered two straight weeks and is facing a rookie quarterback while only giving 3.5 points?
The Baltimore Ravens have silently gone about their business after getting Peyton Manning-ized. Too many of us didn't take into account that Manning came into that game highly motivated to rectify last season's ending.
Instead, we assumed that the Ravens' predicted demise had already begun. That's looking like a mistake.
Regardless, 3.5 points isn't enough to scare me off from a Super Bowl-winning team. At least not when it's facing the Buffalo Bills with a rookie at the helm.
Let's get this out of the way.
No, I don't believe Brian Hoyer is the quarterbacking savior the Cleveland Browns have been waiting for.
But he is the best option they have. And with that defense and 5.5 points, that could be enough.
The Cincinnati Bengals don't strike fear into opponents with their offense. They rush for 90 yards a game, and wide receiver A.J. Green is the only bona fide playmaker in the passing offense.
Maybe running back Giovani Bernard can join Green in that prestigious club, but the Browns are not an accommodating defense.
Plus, Cleveland has a chip-on-its-shoulder feel while the Bengals have a Detroit Lions-esque mental manner to them. That means Cincy can make a point-reducing mistake at any moment.
Give me those points.
There is actually a reason to take the Jacksonville Jaguars.
This game has "trap" written all over it.
The Indianapolis Colts made a statement by physically pounding the 49ers in their own house. Who would be surprised if they looked flat for at least the first half in Jacksonville?
But I just can't do it. Not for less than a double-digit spread.
The Houston Texans have a chance to remind people that they were a Super Bowl contender as recently as last year.
Unfortunately for them, the Seattle Seahawks have a chance to show people that the Texans aren't on that elite level anymore. That is, if anyone still thinks Houston is a threat after the past three weeks.
It's hard not to take a home dog. I learned that lesson when the favored Texans got rolled on the road against Baltimore.
But my record requires bold moves, and rolling over to pick the dog just because it's a dog is weak. Take the points and give me the dramatically superior team.
"You don't take Carson Palmer on the road. There's no need to explain why you did it. You just don't do it and leave it at that."
Maybe I'm just trying to reverse some of my bad bayou juju (I'll explain on a different slide). Maybe I'm grasping at straws.
Or maybe the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are moments away from quitting on their dictat—err, coach.
Maybe the Arizona Cardinals have enough talent to not be the one who falls to the lowly Bucs.
Maybe this game could be decided by a safety, and getting three points seems like the lesser of two evils.
We're going to find out a lot about the two best teams record-wise in the NFC North.
The Chicago Bears are 3-0, and the Detroit Lions are 2-1.
The combined record of their opponents?
There are plenty of reasons to think this will be a tight match. Both teams have explosive offenses led by strong-armed quarterbacks. Both also boast aggressive defenses that like to get after the quarterback.
But this all comes down to trust, and I don't trust the Lions secondary trying to tackle the big Bears receivers. The Detroit defensive backs have been responsible for nine of the team's 14 missed tackles.
Oh, and I'm a Lions fan. When it's this close, it's best not to jinx the one you love.
I'm somewhat surprised this line didn't start higher and get bought down by sharps. I understand that the New York Giants are a public team, but they are 0-3 with a point differential of minus-61.
Minus-61! In three games!
The logical reasoning is that the Kansas City Chiefs haven't been blowing people out.
And no, I do not count games against the Jacksonville Jaguars when making these picks. That'd be like using your summer as a landscaper on a resume submitted for a CEO position. Certain things don't correlate to others.
And you have to imagine that quarterback Eli Manning is eventually going to find Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz for a few scores. However, to think he'll do it against a defense playing as well as Kansas City's would be a stretch since the Chiefs are a top pass-rushing team and the Giants are a terrible pass-blocking team.
Come on. Did you really think I wasn't going to pick my Tennessee Titans?
Remember, I'm the same guy who said that Jake Locker could become exactly what the Titans need. I'm not backing off now.
The Titans are my rock during this storm of early-season adversity.
It doesn't hurt that New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith throws picks with reckless abandon and has a career quarterback rating of 65.
I know. His "career" includes a total of three games. It just sounds better to call it his career average.
If you were wondering which surprise 2-1 AFC team is legit, this game will resolve that question. But I already know the answer.
Most of the NFC East has not acquitted itself well this season. And then there are the Dallas Cowboys.
The 2-1 Boys have always received plenty of hype, but it's usually centered around a fantasy-football-friendly offense. That's not the case anymore.
It's been the stout defense that is leading the way.
The defense allows just over 66 yards rushing per game, and the passing defense is better than the stats indicate. Plus, the video-game offense has quit turning the ball over this year (just one interception by quarterback Tony Romo).
The San Diego Chargers have shown an ability to move the ball through the air like it was 2010. But that's not going to be enough against the new and improved Cowboys. Regardless of how many points the Chargers stumble upon, San Diego's defense will be too busy escorting Romo's receivers to the end zone to help the cause.
This is the part where you spit out whatever you're drinking, rush to the keyboard and point out my record. It happens every week.
Last week, there were two picks that made you do so. One walked into Minnesota and notched its first victory.
The other turned the ball over five times and made me look foolish.
This is all a long way of saying that this is completely possible.
The Oakland Raiders, and more specifically quarterback Terrelle Pryor, could be a headache for a team that has missed 42 (42!) tackles this year. If head coach Dennis Allen can get Pryor and running back Darren McFadden in space, the Raiders can put up some points against the Washington Redskins defense.
Additionally, Oakland has a decent core of defenders that had only missed 10 tackles heading into Monday night's shellacking. And there aren't any signs that Robert Griffin III is ready to imitate Peyton Manning just yet.
Lastly, home dog. That is all.
Note: Pryor suffered a concussion at some point against the Broncos, according to Will Brinson of CBSSports.com. If he's ruled out, this line will change dramatically, and the pick will probably follow suit.
For the record, I can't imagine how the Philadelphia Eagles could walk into Denver and steal one. But I can certainly see that Chip Kelly offense generating enough garbage-time points to get a backdoor cover.
Think about it.
Quarterback Peyton Manning will lead three or four quick scoring drives, putting the Broncos up by 20 points. Then, quarterback Michael Vick will connect with wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who will then try to silence the crowd like he plays for the Jags.
Manning will then lead another scoring drive and put on his ball cap, happy to have put the children to bed. That's when running back LeSean McCoy rips off a long score to keep his fantasy owners off his Twitter page and put the Eagles within two scores of covering.
With the game securely in hand, the Broncos will stay in the prevent, happy to let the Eagles race into the end zone as time runs out.
Did you just read all of that? It was really just an elaborate way of saying an explosive offense with a double-digit spread is an intriguing bet.
It's like picking a home dog. Every home team gives three points if it is considered equal to the visitor.
Obviously, Vegas doesn't think that's the case.
And I'm not sure why.
The New England Patriots have only looked kind of good once, and that was against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Also, at this point, I've learned not to rely on the health prospects of wide receiver Danny Amendola or tight end Rob Gronkowski.
But this is more about the Atlanta Falcons not falling to 1-3 on the season. This team has too much talent, starting with quarterback Matt Ryan, to let the Patriots come into its dome and put its season in peril.
I'm starting to actually hate the New Orleans Saints.
Not once have they let me cash in. I've picked against them twice and with them once, yet I still can't break through.
So I've decided to take the ball out of their hands and give it to the Miami Dolphins, 2013's Cinderella.
The Phins have a calm attitude. They don't get nervous in tight spots. They just execute.
Whether it's quarterback Ryan Tannehill standing up to the Falcons' blitz package, or the defense finding one more way to stymie Andrew Luck, this team gets it done. That's why I'm counting on them to stay within six points of the suddenly high-flying-again Saints and hand me that elusive victory.
But, just in case I've upset a voodoo witch doctor, I'm staying very far away from this game.