Finding entertaining games on the NFL slate is never a particularly difficult task, but this week, Schedule Bot 2000 really outdid itself.
Starting with early games between Chicago and Detroit and Seattle and Houston, Week 4 across the NFL is filled with contests that might otherwise be Sunday nighters. This, of course, I'm guessing is one big ploy to make us all forget about Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire and the rest of the night in cable television.
Not gonna work, NFL.
But with the early afternoon games already underway, fans should at least get their fill of quality football before their eyes invariably shift over to AMC or HBO. (It's OK, it doesn't make you a bad sports fan to want to watch Walter White die or whatever the hell happens. It makes you a human being.)
Since those early games are already underway, though, there's no sense in stewing in what's going to happen in the remaining moments. We're all watching live; there are plenty of live blogs if you need in-the-moment analysis. Instead, let's get out some predictin' while the prognostication oven is hot (sorry).
With that in mind, here is a complete list of predictions for Week 4's remaining games across the NFL.
Philadelphia Eagles at Denver Broncos (-10.5)
When: Sunday, Sept. 29, at 4:25 p.m. ET
Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver, Colo.
Live Stream: NFL Sunday Ticket
While it probably won't be the best game of Week 4, I have a hard time seeing the NFL schedule bot coming up with a more entertaining one on paper.
The Eagles and Broncos are the top two offenses in football yardage-wise. They play a similar fast-paced style, with Peyton Manning's all-out aerial assault making for an interesting contrast to Chip Kelly's top-ranked rushing attack. The platitudes that play-by-play guys usually rely so heavily on—defense wins championships, winning time of possession is the first step to winning a game, etc.—all fly out the window Sunday afternoon in Denver.
Manning and Michael Vick will have their centers snap a majority of their balls within the first 20 seconds of the playclock. Both should end up somewhere north of the 70-snap mark—and do so with relative ease. The over/under for this game is 58 points, which is 8.5 points greater than any other posted number this week, per Vegas Insider.
In theory, this should be the game where when an older person asks you "Is that a real game?" you can finally reply with "Why, yes it is." In theory, this should be a lot of fun to watch. In theory, this should be a 60-minute justification of why fantasy football exists.
One problem: The Broncos are Decepticons.
Through the first three weeks of the season, Denver has abjectly destroyed everything it's come across. Manning has the NFL record for most touchdown passes through three games. Football Outsiders, which uses an algorithm to objectively adjust for opponent and other conditions, says the Broncos offense is 51.1 percent better than a replacement-level offense. For reference, second-place Green Bay is closer to seventh-place Atlanta than it is to Denver.
And it's not just the offense. The Broncos have played well defensively despite being without top pass-rusher Von Miller and top cornerback Champ Bailey for the entire season. I have a feeling we're going to see some classic Vick plays against this unit—and I don't mean that in a good way.
With the Eagles defense looking almost as putrid as its running game is elite, few signs point to this being a close contest. It'll be entertaining—at least at first. But what we'll all find about midway through the first half is that this is really a matchup between one of the two best teams in football and one still very much in a rebuilding process.
Score Prediction: Broncos 42, Eagles 24
Dallas Cowboys at San Diego Chargers (+1.5)
When: Sunday, Sept. 29, at 4:25 p.m. ET
Where: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, Calif.
Live Stream: NFL Sunday Ticket
Of all the games on the Week 4 slate, this is the one I had the most trouble predicting. While I could be lazy and say that it's because Philip Rivers and Tony Romo are unreliable clutch quarterbacks, it'd be just that—lazy.
I've long been of the disposition that we (meaning the media and fans) unfairly criticize both Rivers and Romo for losing close games without looking at context. Both players have gone through prolonged stretches with terrible coaching. They've also fallen victim to bad front offices, with the Chargers completely unable to find offensive line talent and the Cowboys riding years of putridity in the secondary. We look at Rivers and Romo because they flame out in the most spectacular ways possible.
Context is missing. It's the context that will decide the victor of Sunday's game in San Diego, and it comes in the form of the Chargers' leaky defense.
Through the first three weeks, only Washington has performed worse defensively than the Chargers. San Diego ranks dead last in opposing passing yards and 28th in rushing yards allowed, making for a just-superb 470.7 yards-against-per-game average.
Anyone remember last season's Saints? The ones that on a weekly basis got rightfully mocked for their terrible play on defense? They allowed 440.1 yards per game. We're talking about a three-game sample, so obviously San Diego will positively regress toward the mean. There's no way two teams in football are going to smash New Orleans' yardage record, though I wouldn't put it past Washington.
The Cowboys and Chargers are both thoroughly decent teams. They're talented enough to fall somewhere in that 7-9 to 9-7 middle range of "meh," where fans tend to think their team is one or two strokes of good luck away from the promised land. Romo and Rivers are the quarterbacks of said squads, and thus the figureheads of the discussion.
This season, circumstance puts Dallas in one of the worst divisions in football. If the Cowboys don't win the NFC East this season, maybe there is something to this Romo talk, after all. San Diego, meanwhile, will have to play four games against the two 11-win teams in its division going forward. This will be done all as Rivers scrambles to play from behind every week because his defense couldn't stop 11 lamps from getting into the end zone.
We'll blame Rivers for somehow not doing enough. But this week, like many in 2013, will come down to the real answer getting overshadowed by a tidy narrative.
Score Prediction: Cowboys 34, Chargers 21
New England Patriots at Atlanta Falcons (-3)
When: Sunday, Sept. 29, 8:30 p.m. ET
Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Ga.
Live Stream: NBC Sports Live Extra
Apparently, NBC has no plans on appeasing football fans who also want to watch the final episode of Breaking Bad. A week after giving fans a relative gimme—a good Bears team taking on a terrible Steelers one—Sunday Night Football pits two preseason Super Bowl favorites against one another.
Not that we're like...complaining or anything.
The Patriots and Falcons both come into Week 4 wanting a statement win for different reasons. New England is off to its customary 3-0 start, but the victories have been anything but. Tom Brady, equipped with a flock of future Costco employees to catch his passes, is off to arguably the worst start of his career. He's completed a career-low 57.5 percent of his passes, averaged just 5.5 yards per attempt and has a long pass of only 39 yards thus far.
That, and I'm pretty sure he's nearly been imprisoned a few times for assault and battery on Aaron Dobson's psyche. Over the years Brady has developed a reputation as arguably the best "leader" in football. But even as the Patriots scrape through against less-than-stellar opponents—they've won twice by a field goal or less against non-playoff teams and defeated the Flaming Schianos last week—we've seen that even the best leaders reach the end of their rope.
The Falcons, with two one-possession losses in three games, may see their playoff hopes hanging from said rope after this week. Unlike last season, when Matt Ryan and Co. got off to one of the hottest starts in football, there are plenty of concerns heading into Week 4.
Ryan has been his solid self on a weekly basis, but injuries and underwhelming production from supporting casts have left the Falcons searching for answers. Steven Jackson, who was supposed to solve the team's running back woes, will be out of the lineup until who knows when. Roddy White, who has been battling a high ankle sprain all season, might as well have been out of the lineup; he's but a mere decoy.
With quarterbacks having three straight good outings against Atlanta's struggling secondary, Sunday should be the elixir to the Patriots' offensive woes. No Amendola, no Gronk, no problem. Patriots move to 4-0.
Score Prediction: Patriots 31, Falcons 24
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