NFL Picks Week 4: Predictions for Every Game
A valuable lesson was learned this week in the NFL—do not ever pick against the Buffalo Bills.
Three straight weeks, I've picked against Buffalo, and three straight weeks they've won in impressive fashion. Guess who won't be picking the Bills to lose this week?
How am I doing through three weeks? Pretty good.
Week 3 Record: 11-5 (my worst week so far)
2011 Season Record: 34-14
Week 4 features a less exciting schedule than we have seen thus far. There are key matchups, though.
Will Detroit be able to remain undefeated when it has to travel to Dallas to take on the Cowboys? Can the 49ers move to 3-1 by winning on the road against a beat-up Eagles team?
My weekly picks plus a breakdown for each game are inside. Enjoy!
Detroit Lions at Dallas Cowboys
When Detroit Has the Ball
The Detroit Lions have had great success throwing the ball this year, as evidenced by their 20-point second-half comeback versus the Minnesota Vikings last weekend.
Matthew Stafford is playing exceptional football right now. The Lions are confident they can put the ball in his hands and let him attack a Dallas secondary that is allowing 226 yards through the air per game.
A key matchup will be Jeff Backus at left tackle going up against DeMarcus Ware coming off the edge at outside linebacker. Backus was embarrassed by Jared Allen last weekend. He'll need to have a much better game this week for Detroit to win.
When Dallas Has the Ball
The Dallas Cowboys have the NFL's third-best passing offense. The Detroit Lions have the NFL's fourth-best passing defense. This one could get exciting.
Dallas would love to run the ball, as teams have been successful moving the ball on misdirection plays against the overly aggressive Detroit defensive line. Dallas has struggled this season to move the ball on the ground, though, and will be pressed to the air earlier than it would have liked.
The Dallas receivers, if healthy, match up very well against an underrated Detroit secondary. Dez Bryant could have a field day if left in single coverage while Detroit attempts to blitz Tony Romo.
Prediction: Detroit 34, Dallas 27
New Orleans Saints at Jacksonville Jaguars
When New Orleans Has the Ball
Drew Brees will feel like a kid on Christmas Eve on Saturday night. The New Orleans offense should dominate the Jacksonville defense thoroughly this weekend.
Brees will have his way with the Jaguars, who will struggle to match up with the speed of the Saints receivers. Jacksonville has no one on its roster who can cover tight end Jimmy Graham, a problem many NFL teams are realizing after his huge game last week.
The Jaguars defensive line does match up well against the Saints offensive line. If Jacksonville can get to Brees early enough, the Jaguars could have a shot at this.
When Jacksonville Has the Ball
Blaine Gabbert isn't ready for a Gregg Williams defense, and that is a guarantee.
In his second NFL start Gabbert will face off against one of the most aggressive defensive coordinators in the game, and he should be expected to struggle.
Gabbert's game plan from the Jaguar coaches should be to turn and hand the ball to Maurice Jones-Drew as early and as often as possible. Any other plan puts too much pressure on a rookie quarterback facing a playoff defense.
Prediction: New Orleans 42, Jacksonville 13
Tennessee Titans at Cleveland Browns
When Tennessee Has the Ball
Chris Johnson has failed to get going this season, and the Titans are totaling just 2.4 yards per carry as they wait for their high-paid running back to break out.
The Titans will look to dictate the pace of the game with a solid dose of Johnson and Javon Ringer this weekend—and that means putting pressure on a weak linebacking crew that has been a sore spot for Cleveland this season.
The Browns front four is playing the run better than expected, but they are still prone to giving up big gains and currently rank No. 28 overall against the run.
This week is primed for a big game from Chris Johnson—especially now that Tennessee is without Kenny Britt.
When Cleveland Has the Ball
Colt McCoy missed Peyton Hillis last weekend. He'll have his bruiser behind him this week, and expect Cleveland to pound the ball into the Titans early in the hopes of sucking the safeties into the box.
Cleveland's best chance to win this game is by getting out to an early lead, and to do that, it will need McCoy connecting with his wide receivers early on.
The Titans front seven is good enough to contain Hillis. The pressure will be on the secondary to not get frustrated when McCoy starts to connect on short routes.
Prediction: Tennessee 17, Cleveland 10
Buffalo Bills at Cincinnati Bengals
When Buffalo Has the Ball
What's not to like about the Buffalo Bill offense right now?
Fred Jackson has emerged (again) as a legitimate No. 1 runner for the Bills, which is keeping 2010 first-rounder C.J. Spiller on the bench. The team has also found a dangerous second receiver in Donald Jones, who has looked excellent opposite Stevie Johnson.
In short, the Buffalo offense is coming alive. Cincinnati shouldn't stop that.
When Cincinnati Has the Ball
The Cincinnati Bengal offense could be without Cedric Benson this weekend, depending on what happens with his three-game suspension from the NFL based on offseason issues as a repeat offender. Without Benson, the offense will rely even more on rookies Andy Dalton and A.J. Green.
Dalton can be excellent, and the Buffalo defense has given up points in a big way against accurate passing attacks. The Bengals will be able to get the ball to playmakers Green and Jermaine Gresham underneath, giving them room to run after the catch and possibly exploiting the Buffalo defense.
The Bills have done well with a bend-but-don't-break defense so far this season. The Bengals aren't the Patriots, but they'll certainly pressure the Bills.
Prediction: Buffalo 30, Cincinnati 17
Washington Redskins at St. Louis Rams
When Washington Has the Ball
The Washington Redskins made it to 2-0 with a steady mix of power running and timely passing. In their Week 3 loss to the Cowboys, Washington was plagued by mistakes. Avoiding those mistakes in Week 4 is the key.
Washington is, by far, the better team. It should be able to run the ball at will against a weak St. Louis Ram defense that currently ranks dead last against the run.
That's the only statistic Mike Shanahan will need to see before deciding to hand the ball to Tim Hightower and Roy Helu Jr. in heavy numbers this weekend.
When St. Louis Has the Ball
The Rams can expect to play from behind in this one, which may actually be a benefit for them.
The run game has been a weakness in St. Louis despite the presence of one of the most talented running backs in the league (Steven Jackson). St. Louis will depend on Sam Bradford to shake off his very disappointing first three games and air it out this week against a Redskin secondary that is susceptible to the deep ball.
If St. Louis can pressure Washington into blitz situations, Bradford will have his chances to get the ball deep.
Prediction: Washington 20, St. Louis 9
San Francisco 49ers at Philadelphia Eagles
When San Francisco Has the Ball
Frank Gore is hurt, again. Michael Crabtree has been ineffective, again. The points in San Francisco will have to come from all directions: special teams, defense, offense and any other method possible.
The 49ers have done a great job capitalizing on mistakes of their opposition, and it helps that their special teams are among the best in the NFL right now.
Alex Smith will be under pressure all day as the Philadelphia defensive line fires off on him. The 49er tackles can be beaten with outside speed moves, and that's what the Eagles do best. If Vernon Davis has to stay in to block, San Francisco may have to abandon the passing game altogether.
That's good news for Gore (if he plays) and Kendall Hunter. San Francisco is good enough to run the ball for over 150 yards, and its special teams are good enough to make up for the nonexistent passing game.
When Philadelphia Has the Ball
The key stat to know this weekend: San Francisco hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 25 straight games. Chances are that streak won't end this weekend.
Philadelphia has its own injury concerns, as both Michael Vick and Jeremy Maclin are questionable. With the already weak offensive line, any loss of talent on the offensive side of the ball is a huge blow.
The Eagles offensive line has been a huge issue; that cannot be overstated. The San Francisco front seven is very good. This game will be won up front when Philadelphia has the ball.
Prediction: San Francisco 17, Philadelphia 13
Minnesota Vikings at Kansas City Chiefs
When Minnesota Has the Ball
Adrian Peterson has seen a decreased role in the offense in the second half of games this season. That will change this week.
The Minnesota Vikings have to be salivating at the thought of running the ball against the Kansas City defense.
The Chiefs have allowed a league-worst 109 points and are giving up 123 yards per game on the ground. That's a combination that could produce a career day for the NFL's best running back.
When Kansas City Has the Ball
The Chiefs have been a mess offensively this season, and unfortunately, it will not get better this week.
Minnesota's strength on defense is its ability to pressure the quarterback. Kansas City's weakness this year has been protecting Matt Cassel. You get the feeling the Minnesota defensive ends will have a huge game against Cassel and co.
The best the Chiefs can hope for is to play conservative football early on, establishing the run. If they can do this, they'll force Minnesota's front seven to play a step late, which will give them a chance to go deep to Dwayne Bowe.
Prediction: Minnesota 24, Kansas City 13
Pittsburgh Steelers at Houston Texans
When Pittsburgh Has the Ball
When you think of the Pittsburgh Steelers, you usually draw up visions of power running. That's not the case this year.
The Steelers rank No. 23 in the NFL right now in rushing offense, and that's not a good sign when going against a Houston defense that has been very good against the pass this season.
Pittsburgh will want to establish the run this week, but with an offensive line that can't move a fly this season, Ben Roethlisberger will start looking for Mike Wallace early in the game.
When Houston Has the Ball
The Texans offense has been well rounded so far, and it's working well for them. Even in a loss last week, Houston scored 33 points.
Matt Schaub has the NFL's best receiver (Andre Johnson) and is playing behind the NFL's best offensive line. Those two factors will be enough to put points on the board for Houston against a Pittsburgh defense that can still make plays when it matters most.
Troy Polamalu will be his usual ball-hawking self, but look for Johnson and Owen Daniels to be the difference Sunday.
Prediction: Houston 35, Pittsburgh 17
Carolina Panthers at Chicago Bears
When Carolina Has the Ball
The Cam Newton show will resume Sunday afternoon. Fans in Chicago should be ready.
Carolina has lived, and died, on the arm of Cam Newton this year—and it's working. The Panthers are scoring 20 points per game and putting up over 400 total yards of offense. If you're keeping score at home, that's pretty damn good for a rookie quarterback on a team few expected to compete.
Newton does a great job of getting the football deep to Steve Smith. He's also finding new weapons in tight end Greg Olsen and running back Jonathan Stewart. That'll be the recipe for Sunday, as the Panthers look to put pressure on the Bears' weakness, their secondary.
When Chicago Has the Ball
Chicago's offense has been embarrassing this season; that much isn't a surprise. They are allowing the most sacks of any offensive line (14) and will have a tough outing against Charles Johnson and co. at defensive end for the Panthers.
The good news is that the Carolina defensive tackles are both rookies, and the team lost two starters at linebacker.
A healthy Carolina defense might have a chance here. The beat-up Panther defense will be outmatched.
Prediction: Chicago 18, Carolina 7
Atlanta Falcons at Seattle Seahawks
When Atlanta Has the Ball
In their loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and even in their win over the Philadelphia Eagles, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was beat to hell. That shouldn't be a problem against the Seattle Seahawks.
The Seahawks have just five sacks in three games; only four teams have fewer sacks than Seattle this season. Even with the apparent weakness on the offensive line, Atlanta should be able to sit back and dictate the game this week.
Atlanta will be able to run and pass as it pleases this weekend. Fantasy footballers take note.
When Seattle Has the Ball
What can Seattle do?
Tarvaris Jackson played his best game in a win last weekend, but he's still nothing special. That sums up the Seattle offense.
The team has had some small success running with Marshawn Lynch, but Atlanta will look to shut down the run both with its defense and by jumping out to a big lead early on. That will force Seattle into a hurry-up offense that will look to air it out.
Seattle may pick up junk-time points, but this game will never be close.
Prediction: Atlanta 42, Seattle 24
New York Giants at Arizona Cardinals
When New York Has the Ball
Is the Eli Manning we saw last week, and even the week before, the real deal? Fans in New York sure hope so.
Manning has been on fire this season since a rough outing in Week 1. Manning has an impressive group of toys at wide receiver, and Hakeem Nicks might just be the best young receiver in the NFL. He'll be featured on Sunday against a struggling Arizona defense.
The Cardinals are weak at cornerback, and Manning is smart enough to attack the Arizona defense where it is weakest.
Expect heavy doses of Manning to Nicks, followed by power running from Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs in the fourth quarter.
When Arizona Has the Ball
Arizona has one chance this week, and that chance is Kevin Kolb throwing up prayers to Larry Fitzgerald.
Those watching the Cardinal offense this season know that's pretty much the game plan each week: Kolb to Fitz, over and over again.
Arizona is playing into New York's strength if the Giant cornerbacks play as well as they did against Philadelphia. If Aaron Ross can have a repeat performance this week, the Giants will win in a shutout. If Ross struggles, and he has in the past, Arizona will get points in a close game.
Prediction: New York 27, Arizona 14
Denver Broncos at Green Bay Packers
When Denver Has the Ball
It should shock no one that the Denver Bronco offense is bad. Really bad.
There is absolutely no running game to speak of, and because of that the passing game, which could be impressive, is struggling. Without a run game, Kyle Orton faces constant pressure and is struggling to get the ball to playmakers at receiver and tight end.
Denver has the talent at receiver and tight end to put points on the board, but the Packer pass rush is brutally good, and they'll be all over the Denver backfield.
When Green Bay Has the Ball
Fans of aggressive, dominant play will enjoy this game.
On paper, there is no way the Denver Broncos can match up against the Green Bay Packer offense. At all.
Denver has one very good player, Von Miller, but he'll be a non-factor at weakside linebacker against a fast offensive line and the quick release of Aaron Rodgers.
Expect a big, big day from Rodgers and his five receivers.
Prediction: Green Bay 37, Denver 6
New England Patriots at Oakland Raiders
When New England Has the Ball
Forget anything you think you know about the Oakland Raiders—this game will be a tough matchup for the New England Patriots.
The Raiders have what I believe is the best front four in all of football. Thankfully, the Patriot offensive line is pretty damn good too.
New England should have no trouble putting up points on the Raiders, as Oakland is allowing 27 points per game this year—most of those coming through the air.
Tom Brady will be determined to prove the loss to the Buffalo Bills and his four-interception game were a fluke. That's bad news for the Raider secondary.
When Oakland Has the Ball
The Oakland Raider defense is built on the run game, and with Darren McFadden in the backfield, they are set up to run all over the New England defense.
If McFadden is affected by the groin injury suffered Sunday, the Raider offense will be derailed completely.
New England will benefit from a Raider offense that can throw the ball but would prefer to pound it out on the ground.
Prediction: New England 40, Oakland 30
Miami Dolphins at San Diego Chargers
When Miami Has the Ball
There is a perception that the San Diego defense is better than it is. The Chargers are allowing over 300 yards per game, something the Miami Dolphins hope to exploit.
Miami will pound the ball with rookie bruiser Daniel Thomas and set up play-action passing from Chad Henne to Brandon Marshall deep.
Don't expect much from the tight ends or Reggie Bush this weekend. Charger safety Eric Weddle can shut down the best of the best at tight end and running back. Henne would be smart to avoid him.
When San Diego Has the Ball
Ryan Mathews finally came on last week with 98 yards rushing and two touchdowns. San Diego should go with the same game plan this weekend against a Miami defense that has been giving up yards and points by the handful.
There is a reason the Dolphins defense is ranked No. 30 overall. San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers, even without Antonio Gates in the lineup, will dominate the Miami defense.
Prediction: San Diego 21, Miami 10
New York Jets at Baltimore Ravens
When New York Has the Ball
Mark Sanchez had better be ready for the onslaught the Baltimore Ravens will unleash on Sunday night.
The New York Jets' offensive line has been less than stellar this year, and the injury to Nick Mangold only makes matters worse. New York has also struggled to run the ball, and with no clear-cut running back stepping up to carry the load, New York is relying too much on Sanchez and the passing game.
Young cornerback Ladarius Webb has been improving each week. He'll be matched up against Santonio Holmes in the key matchup of the game when New York has the ball.
Sanchez will be tempted to get the ball deep, but that allows Smith and Ed Reed to make plays on the ball.
When Baltimore Has the Ball
The Jets lost to the Oakland Raiders when Darren McFadden torched them for 170 yards. You can bet the Ravens were watching.
Ray Rice will be featured Sunday night, as the Ravens hope to take a page from the Raider playbook in beating New York by controlling the clock and pounding the football with Rice over and over again.
Joe Flacco will undoubtedly take his chances deep with new toy Torrey Smith running free. Watch to see which receiver Darrelle Revis covers. If Antonio Cromartie is on Smith, Flacco can challenge him deep.
Prediction: Baltimore 24, New York 17
*A former version of this article referenced Jimmy Smith instead of Ladarius Webb. Apologies for the confusion.
Indianapolis Colts at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
When Indianapolis Has the Ball
The Curtis Painter Project will see Week 2 and a much more aggressive defense, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will look to attack the backfield.
The Pittsburgh Steelers sat back far too often, letting the Colts connect on short passes over the middle. Tampa will take that away with a crashing pass rush that will force Painter into making mistakes.
If the Colts can get Joseph Addai rolling early, they will have a chance to keep the ball out of the dangerous hands of Josh Freeman.
When Tampa Bay Has the Ball
The major knock on Tampa is that it does struggle to score early in games. Couple that with an offensive line that's just OK, and the Bucs could face disruptions from Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis off the edge.
Tampa Bay should look to control the game with a large number of carries by LeGarrette Blount (I think I say this every week), which would wear down the Indianapolis defense and allow Freeman and co. to coast to a win on Monday Night Football.
Prediction: Tampa Bay 21, Indianapolis 7