Week 4 NFL Picks: Predicting Weekend's Biggest Toss-Up Games

Andrew GouldFeatured ColumnistSeptember 26, 2013

DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 30: Jay Cutler #6 of the Chicago Bears gives Willie Young #79 of the Detroit Lions a push during the game at Ford Field on December 30, 2012 in Detroit, Michigan. The Bears defeted the Lions 26-24.  (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Leon Halip/Getty Images

No crystal ball in the universe can deliver a clear picture of every NFL game.

You think you have a thorough grasp of the league, then a bastion of consistency such as the San Francisco 49ers drops two games by at least 20 points. Or Brian Hoyer passes for 321 yards and three touchdowns, both more than Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady delivered on the same day.

So when two solid teams collide, it's often anyone's guess who will leave the victor. When games unravel to the final minutes, anything can happen.

As hard as it is, let's try to pick a winner of these close contests.


Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions

The Lions could really complicate the NFC North with a win on Sunday.

After securing five turnovers in their 40-23 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday night, the Bears are sitting pretty at 3-0. Another win against a division rival would put them two wins ahead as the Green Bay Packers sit out Week 4.

While they have scored 31.7 points per game under Marc Trestman, the pass defense has slid downward. Despite already contributing three touchdowns of their own, the defense has allowed 294.3 passing yards per game. That gives Matthew Stafford an opening to lead his team to a major victory at home.

Stafford has already amassed 1,020 passing yards, which ranks second behind cyborg Peyton Manning. He won't have Nate Burleson to target after breaking his arm in a car accident, but Reggie Bush could return to the mix. According to USA Today's Dave Birkett, Bush said he should suit up this weekend.

Chicago is still legitimately skilled at causing turnovers, and the offense is now capable of engaging in a shootout now that Jay Cutler is receiving more responsibility. Look for Chicago to etch out a narrow victory as Detroit has yet to have beaten a squad with a win this season.

Prediction: Bears 31, Lions 27


New York Jets at Tennessee Titans

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 22: Defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson #96 of the New York Jets celebrates after he sacks quarterback EJ Manuel #3 of the Buffalo Bills in the 2nd half of the Jets 27-20 win over the Buffalo Bills at MetLife Stadium on Septem
Ron Antonelli/Getty Images

Who picked either of these teams to start the year at 2-1?

The Jets were supposed to be a joke, but here they are with a chance to expand their mark to 3-1 with a win over the Titans, whose only loss came in overtime against the Houston Texans.

Mark Sanchez's injury ended the quarterback controversy before it could truly begin. Oddly enough, Geno Smith's first starts feel familiar to Sanchez's first years in the NFL.

Sanchez never displayed a dazzling completion percentage or much consistency, but the defense and running game played so well that it didn't matter, and he occasionally made some big plays. That formula is working again for New York's new rookie.

With Muhammad Wilkerson emerging into a star and rookies Sheldon Richardson and Dee Milliner thriving, the defense ranks third with 810 total yards allowed. Bilal Powell has accrued 226 rushing yards, which is more than Alfred Morris, Marshawn Lynch and Arian Foster.

Tennessee's defense has also impressed, limiting opponents to 206 passing yards per game. Jake Locker played the part of a promising quarterback with 299 passing yards and a game-winning touchdown to stifle the San Diego Chargers.

For all the good he showed against the Buffalo Bills, Geno Smith also fired three interceptions against the New England Patriots the previous week. Alterraun Verner and Tennessee's superior secondary should force some similar mistakes while Locker avoids costly mistakes on the other side.

Prediction: Titans 16, Jets 13


New England Patriots at Atlanta Falcons

Honestly, who's watching the first half of this game anyway? This weekend's Sunday Night Football game rivals the much-anticipated series finale of Breaking Bad.

Tom Brady may be the golden boy, but he's not the one who knocks.

So if these squads are as helpful as the Seattle climate that delayed the game two weeks ago due to lightning, this game will come down to the wire. With two top quarterbacks on both sides, it should.

The Patriots have started 3-0, but they have yet to face an offense that can truly challenge a seemingly improved defensive unit. They held off a surging EJ Manuel, picked off Smith constantly in the fourth quarter and doomed Josh Freeman to the bench. Now Matt Ryan is waiting at his house.

Brady's 5.5 yards per attempt won't cut it this Sunday, but he might have some friends returning in the nick of time. According to the NFL Network's Albert Breer, Rob Gronkowski is in line to return while Danny Amendola could also suit up.

Getting those two back makes New England a juggernaut yet again, as the receivers bear much more responsibility than Brady for the offense's early woes. With at least one of those guys back, the Patriots pull off a slim margin of victory against a team that won't have similar luck getting Steven Jackson and Sean Weatherspoon back.

Prediction: Patriots 27, Falcons 23