NFL Picks and Predictions Week 4: The Ultimate Bettor's Guide

Justis Mosqueda@justisfootballFeatured ColumnistOctober 2, 2015

NFL Picks and Predictions Week 4: The Ultimate Bettor's Guide

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    Mike Roemer/Associated Press

    Last week was a great week for us. Overall, we went 11-4 in picks in Week 3. In all four of those losses, I think we found out some valuable information, which can help us in the future.

    Two of the losses came off the two lines my gut told me not to pick: the Dolphins and the Rams. Neither impressed me much heading into the week, outside of St. Louis' Week 1 battle with the Seahawks. Still, it seemed like Vegas was siding with those two teams while everyone else on Earth was backing the Bills and Steelers. There's a reason why books lost money in Week 3 after losing tons in Week 1: They're too stubborn to move off of some of their preseason thoughts.

    The Rams can't score to save their life, outside of broken coverage throws to tight ends. The Dolphins just can't...anything.

    The other two losses against the spread came by backing the Chicago Bears as massive underdogs against Seattle and taking San Diego as 2.5-point dogs against the Minnesota Vikings. Chicago under Jimmy Clausen is going to be a celebration of punts, and the Chargers just don't look the same without Philip Rivers' right-hand man, Antonio Gates. Plus, San Diego's offensive line is already starting to lose contributors.

    Only one of those teams, the Rams, were featured as one of my locks, meaning we also went 4-1 in that category, putting us at 10-6 for the season. Enough with last week, though. With one game already in the books, we'll take a look, from the Sunday slate that starts early in London to the Monday Night Football game in Seattle. The Patriots and Titans have a bye this week, but there are still 14 games left for us to keep close tabs on.

    All picks ATS: 24-21 (.533)

    Locks of the Week ATS: 10-6 (.625)

Thursday Night Football: Baltimore @ Pittsburgh

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    Don Wright/Associated Press

    Result: Baltimore 23, Pittsburgh 20

    The Baltimore Ravens entered this game as three-point road favorites with a 0-3 record. How? They lost three close games, two on a West Coast road trip against the Broncos and Raiders, and one against the in-division rival Bengals. Plus, the Pittsburgh Steelers lost their starting quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, to an MCL injury against the St. Louis Rams.

    How did the game play out? Just about as you'd expect. The Steelers linebackers refused to get into their run fits with Ryan Shazier out, leading to a nearly 200-yard day on the ground for Baltimore, who still couldn't get the passing game going without the deep-threat potential of Breshad Perriman.

    Michael Vick looked like himself for the Steelers, but their play-calling on crucial downs put him in a position to work out of his comfort zone. Todd Haley, you have Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell. Why are you running a dart with Vick to a short sideline out of an empty formation on fourth down?

    Kickers were also an issue. Most close games are fun, but when this one was sent into overtime, it felt like it was just dragging on. The Ravens knocked in the winning field goal, which made this game a push. As Cousin Sal of Jimmy Kimmel and Bill Simmons fame said on Twitter, "No love lost between these two teams. No money lost either."

    Cover: Neither

New York Jets at Miami (London)

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    Opening Line: New York Jets @ Miami (PK)

    Current Line: New York Jets @ Miami (+1.5)

    This line is broken. Last week, we saw two broken lines: the Pittsburgh Steelers as away dogs in St. Louis and the Buffalo Bills as away dogs in Miami. I picked 15 games last week and only lost four of them, with two of them being these broken-line games when I sided with Vegas. The Rams and Dolphins scored a combined three first-half points, finishing the game with 20 total, nine of which came in the fourth quarter.

    Neither of those squads are good. On the other hand, the New York Jets probably are. In the first two weeks, they beat teams by multiple scores, though the Browns and Colts are suspect at this point in time. On a short week, they faced an adjusting Philadelphia Eagles squad that finally looked like it was piecing its team together, and the Jets kept it a one-score game.

    The Dolphins seem way too content with their plan of action right now. Every positive play is a Ryan Tannehill throw to Jarvis Landry running a curl route. You can't base your offense around one possession receiver making five-yard gains. Everyone is talking about the horrible offensive line play of the Seahawks and Eagles, but Miami's unit is up there, too.

    Think about it this way, if the Phins didn't beat the Redskins, who finished bottom-five in the NFL last season, by one score in Week 1, they're a deserved 0-3. If the Jets make up for the Eagles going up a score in Week 3, despite Philadelphia having a one-day advantage in preparation, they're a deserved 3-0.

    How in the world is this an even game? The Jets and Dolphins are playing on the mythological "neutral site" that bettors love to discuss, and somehow the books ruined this line for themselves. Joe Philbin, against all odds, is trying to become the first coach fired in 2015, even after finishing .500 in 2014.

    The Jets are going to press receivers on the boundary, taking away short routes. Let's say...curl routes? They's also going to blitz often, forcing Tannehill to take deep shots on them. This is the identity of New York football under head coach Todd Bowles, and it's a horrible matchup for Philbin's Dolphins.

    Teams on the fringe of blowing up heading to London are always scary to me. In 2011, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were 4-2 when they lost by six points to the Chicago Bears in Wembley. They lost their last 10 games of the year, finishing 4-12. After that game against the Bears, they only participated in one match where they were able to keep a game within seven points.

    This might be it for the Dolphins, who were a hot sleeper pick coming into this season. They can't pass, run or block. On defense, they somehow can't generate pressure with Olivier Vernon, Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake. Bowles' Jets go 3-1 while Dolphins fans start Googling coaching candidates.

    The Pick: New York Jets (PK)

Oakland @ Chicago

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    Opening Line: Oakland @ Chicago (+1)

    Current Line: Oakland @ Chicago (+3)

    It's a fire sale, and everything must go. On Monday, the Chicago Bears traded Jared Allen and Jon Bostic for future draft choices. Now neither of them are studs for this Bears team, but is the front office openly admitting they're finished with this season?

    Allen was a 6'6", 270-pounder transitioning to outside linebacker at the age of 33. Watching him drop into coverage was priceless, but he'll be much better suited in Carolina's 4-3 defense. Bostic was a top-50 pick who started 17 games between 2013 and 2014, but he hadn't been activated for any of Chicago's three games in 2015 before being sent to New England.

    As long as Jimmy Clausen is starting for the Bears, it's hard to imagine them beating a point spread. By my count, Clausen was pressured nine times against the Seattle Seahawks last Sunday. He was sacked three times, threw three interceptions and tucked the ball to run three times, none of which resulted in a first down. Head coach John Fox did the best of his ability to keep the game out of Clausen's hands, but in the second half, with the Seahawks pulling away, the Bears had to attempt to throw their way into the game.

    This may sound odd, but Chicago is sort of lucky that it faced Seattle, at least in the first half. Pete Carroll's squad is one built around the run, which allowed the Bears to match its run game, which is currently much stronger than the passing game, which is missing quarterback Jay Cutler and receiver Alshon Jeffery. Jeffery should be back this week, but the Bears will be facing the Oakland Raiders, who are built around the short passing game, setting up deep action to rookie receiver Amari Cooper.

    The premise of Oakland's offense is this: Between the 20s, if disciplined, defenses have to either gamble, which you can take advantage of, or they have to play vanilla defense, which allows an offense to slowly chip away five- to seven-yard gains through the air. The issue is this: Most teams who play this type of offense (1) don't have a deep threat to take advantage of when defenses do decide to gamble and (2) they tend to stall in the red zone.

    Cooper and free-agent acquisition Michael Crabtree have posted 474 yards through three weeks. To say the least, this is the best one-two punch the Raiders have had at the position in a while. In the red zone, Derek Carr has thrown 10 passes, three of which resulted in touchdowns, including the last-minute score over the Baltimore Ravens. In his two years in the NFL, he's thrown 21 touchdowns in the red zone and only one interception. In that situation, he's comparable to Aaron Rodgers.

    I don't think Oakland is great. I think it has a passing offense that is backed by the surprising breakout of two receivers in a new system and a much-improved offensive line. The Raiders defense is going to continue to allow points on the board, but as long as Clausen is leading the Bears, it's hard to imagine them winning a shootout.

    The Pick: Oakland (-1)

Jacksonville @ Indianapolis

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    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    Opening Line: Jacksonville @ Indianapolis (-8.5)

    Current Line: Jacksonville @ Indianapolis (-9)

    Why are people still convinced that the Indianapolis Colts are a quality team? They've been beating up on a bad AFC South for three years, and it's finally catching up to them. On offense, it's up to Andrew Luck to make plays or suffer. He's thrown multiple interceptions in the first three games of this season, resulting in a passer rating of 65.0, the worst of any starter.

    The Colts' turnover difference of minus-seven is also the worst in the league. Fumbles are fairly random, but interceptions hold a statistical purpose.

    On defense, Indianapolis might be at the bottom of the league in talent. Outside of cornerback Vontae Davis, who played on Sunday after a concussion on Monday, the team's top defender is a rookie defensive lineman who was picked 93rd overall in this past draft class: Henry Anderson.

    The Colts have posted four sacks, the fifth-fewest in the NFL. They give up 8.3 yards per pass, the fourth-highest in the league. They don't defend in the air well. The question is this: Can Blake Bortles get it done?

    Most divisional games are closer than expected, but Bortles is averaging a pick-six every other game in his starts. If there's a 50-50 chance of an interception returned for a touchdown, this Jacksonville Jaguars team won't win very many games in 2015. If he can get out of his Matt Schaub-type funk, allowing for receivers like Allen Robinson to thrive, then the Jags just might have a shot at winning this game, not just covering.

    Hanging 8.5 points on a squad that was lucky to get a win to improve to a 1-2 record seems a bit much to me. You don't win by betting on the worst teams in football often, but when two of them are going head-to-head, give me the points.

    The Pick: Jacksonville (+9)

Houston @ Atlanta

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    Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images

    Opening Line: Houston @ Atlanta (-5)

    Current Line: Houston @ Atlanta (-6.5)

    Atlanta's offense is built around receiver Julio Jones, who is on pace to break the receptions record. The Falcons haven't seen a cornerback tandem on par with the Texans, though. Johnathan Joseph was all over the field against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last weekend, Kareem Jackson did well enough on his rookie deal to net a $30 million contract this summer and they just drafted Kevin Johnson in the first round, who some thought was the top cornerback in the class.

    Now that former first overall pick Jadeveon Clowney is back, it's hard for any team to run to the left, as he's setting the edge, forcing plays back into swarming linebackers and the plug known as Vince Wilfork. It's not like running at J.J. Watt on the right side is a good idea, either.

    Houston doesn't look pretty on offense, but it's done enough to hold the Chiefs and Panthers, who have been well-respected at this point in the season, to two single-score games, and it's coming off of a double-digit win against the Buccaneers. The Falcons are 3-0, but they've done so by waiting 45 minutes before overcoming two-score deficits in thrilling fashion. I believe the Texans defense is just too good to have a sputtering offense early on.

    Houston's Ryan Mallett has had some pretty horrible quarterback play this season, but with running back Arian Foster potentially coming back, I'd say this is a team to look out for in the AFC South, a division which has a combined record of 4-8. Everyone is excited about the futures of Andrew Luck, Marcus Mariota and Blake Bortles, but the defense of Bill O'Brien's squad might be the glue of divisional champions.

    I like the Falcons in a straight-up scenario, but if you're going to spot the Texans nearly a touchdown, even in the Georgia Dome, give me the clearly better defense.

    Current Line: Houston (+6.5)

Kansas City @ Cincinnati

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    Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

    Opening Line: Kansas City @ Cincinnati (-3)

    Current Line: Kansas City @ Cincinnati (-4)

    This is not an overreaction to the Chiefs losing on Monday Night Football to the Green Bay Packers. I picked the Packers to cover that game by at least a touchdown. I am worried about the Chiefs going head-to-head with the talent of the Bengals, though.

    Because of Andy Dalton, I really don't think we give Cincinnati enough credit. It's a team that builds from within and has enough talent on the surface to develop underlying talent in the depth chart. Dating back to the 2013 draft class, the Bengals had seven players drafted in the first or second round. Only one of them is a full-time every-down player.

    In the first round, they've taken Tyler Eifert, Darqueze Dennard and Cedric Ogbuehi. Eifert is breaking out at tight end after missing his sophomore season due to injury. Dennard was a consistent cornerback at the college level who is now fourth on the depth chart behind 2014 All-Pro Adam Jones, 2012 first-round pick Dre Kirkpatrick and former All-Pro Leon Hall. There's a good chance Cincinnati has the best third and fourth cornerbacks in the NFL. Ogbuehi, a tackle, potentially could have gone in the top-five picks of the 2015 class had his senior season gone better and he not have torn his ACL in the bowl game, but he is now redshirting for the year.

    The team's second-round picks in this time span are Giovani Bernard, Margus Hunt, Jeremy Hill and Jake Fisher. Bernard and Hill are splitting time at running back, giving the squad the scariest two-headed backfield in the league. Bernard is the change-of-pace, shiftier guy, while Hill runs between the tackles and punches defenses in the teeth. Hunt is a project defensive end who was slated to replace Micheal Johnson for when he eventually was going to hit free agency. After Johnson signed a contract worth nearly $44 million with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he was cut after one season, and he is now back starting for the Bengals. Fisher, the team's third offensive tackle, and would be fourth if Ogbuehi was healed, is being used as a sixth lineman and even caught a pass this season.

    Basically, the Bengals had seven picks in the top 55 over the past three seasons, and all but one, Hunt, are on track of hitting so far. But of those six picks that look solid in retrospect, only two, Eifert and whoever is playing running back at the time, even get the chance to see down-to-down reps.

    Recently, we've said, "If you take quarterback out of the equation, Cincinnati has the most talented roster in the NFL." This season, it has the best 3-technique defensive tackle in the league, Geno Atkins, back at full health, Johnson is back on the roster and Eifert is back as Dalton's security blanket. The results? A 3-0 record and a massive improvement seen in Dalton, who only trails Aaron Rodgers in passer rating and is on track to finish third in NFL history in the statistic.

    Dalton is also second in the NFL in completed passes of over 40 yards and fourth in completed passes over 20 yards. Hue Jackson might lead this offense to an AFC Championship birth and parlay it into a head coaching gig for 2016.

    The Chiefs, who are crumbling on the offensive line, have to face all this talent on a short week and hope that Alex Smith can throw his way into Kansas City staying competitive in this game. Cincinnati's scored 33, 24 and 28 in its first three weeks, and I don't see why the Chiefs would keep the Bengals under 20 when they haven't done so to a team all season. Since 2013, when Smith was traded to Kansas City, the Chiefs are 1-11 when teams score 24 or more points on them.

    The Pick: Cincinnati (-3)

New York Giants @ Buffalo

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    Opening Line: New York Giants @ Buffalo (-5.5)

    Current Line: New York Giants @ Buffalo (-5.5)

    The New York Giants aren't getting enough credit for what they've done. They are 1-2 in a fairly brutal way, by allowing both the Cowboys and Falcons to come back from two-score deficits in the fourth quarter in the first two weeks of the season. I'm not one to believe in "chocking." Not when we also attribute "clutch" to Eli Manning for beating Tom Brady and the New England Patriots twice in Super Bowls. That's just conditional bias.

    In the last 10 games, the Giants have only been beaten by more than six points once. That's even with a disappointing 4-6 record. This team just doesn't get blown out of the water.

    The Buffalo Bills are one of the hottest teams in the league after beating Indianapolis in Week 1 and Miami in Week 3 by a 68-28 margin. The issue is the fact that the public loved the Colts heading into the season, because of their record under Andrew Luck, and Miami was a trendy sleeper team. Both of them have looked horrible through three weeks, but we're giving the Bills credit like they beat quality teams.

    Against the Patriots, Rex Ryan's team ended the game in a 40-32 loss, but entering the fourth quarter, New England was up 37-13. A lot of garbage-time scores helped the Bills for casual followers of the sport.

    The Giants are trying to get their passing game going this week with receiver Victor Cruz potentially returning, which should give Odell Beckham Jr. some much-needed space to work with. This is coming after an extended break for New York after beating down the Washington Redskins 32-21 on Thursday Night Football last week.

    Everyone is excited about the Buffalo secondary, but who is the best receiver it's faced this season? Donte Moncrief? If Cruz and Beckham can go, it could show who the Bills really are on the back end.

    The Pick: New York Giants (+5.5)

Philadelphia @ Washington

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    Opening Line: Philadelphia @ Washington (+3)

    Current Line: Philadelphia @ Washington (+3)

    I'm picking between two poisons here.

    Are the Eagles "back?" No.

    Are the Eagles better than they looked against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 2? Yes.

    Sam Bradford can't get it going, but it looks like Ryan Mathews can actually run the inside zone. Still, without a quality offensive line or receivers stepping up to the plate, it's hard to see how this offense develops, unless it cultivates as Bradford is able to pick up the tempo and pace.

    On the other hand, Washington really only knows how to run the ball offensively, as Kirk Cousins is a known liability at this point. It does have a much-improved offensive line, though. Without any real stud skill player in this game, the big uglies up front might steal the show.

    Philadelphia has what is considered to be a top-10 defense in the league, while Washington's is underrated, despite losing cornerback DeAngelo Hall after last week's toe injury. The weather in Landover is slated to include 82 percent humidity, 60 percent precipitation and 24-mile per-hour winds, according to The Weather Channel. I'm going to take a wild guess that it's going to be a defensive battle here.

    A three-point line in favor of the Eagles more than likely means an eight- or nine-point line, if this game was scheduled to be played in Philadelphia. With Washington having the extra time off after Thursday Night Football, I'm going to clinch my teeth and pick the team in burgundy.

    The Pick: Washington (+3)

Carolina @ Tampa Bay

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    Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    Opening Line: Carolina @ Tampa Bay (+3)

    Current Line: Carolina @ Tampa Bay (+3)

    I'm torn on this game. I don't think the Carolina Panthers are special on offense without an offensive line or a true top receiver. They slow-grind in the run game and take advantage of defenses when they overcorrect and play man coverage. Can Cam Newton get it done? Last week, he showed promise on the deep ball, but calibrating the deep ball has been a weakness of his since his spread beginnings in college.

    On the other hand, you must remember, this is also the same Tampa Bay defense Marcus Mariota looked like a Hall of Famer against out of the gate. The Carolina defense is going to be the best unit on the field on Sunday, even after losing defensive end Charles Johnson and trading for Jared Allen, formerly of the Chicago Bears.

    I truly have no feel for this game, but if I'm forced to choose between the two, I'm leaning toward the Panthers, even if linebacker Luke Kuechly can't go.

    The Pick: Carolina (-3)

Cleveland @ San Diego

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Opening Line: Cleveland @ San Diego (-7)

    Current Line: Cleveland @ San Diego (-7.5)

    I'm not convinced that the San Diego Chargers are as good as most would like to believe. Largely, the team is still living off of a four-game stretch from Week 2 to Week 5 in 2014. The Chargers beat every team by two scores, but two, the Jaguars and the Jets, finished with a combined record of 7-25 on the year. In the 14 games following Week 5 to now, the Chargers haven't won a game by more than seven points.

    We're supposed to bet on them to do it this week? I like my chances. The counterargument for the pro-Chargers crowd is that Philip Rivers' offensive line broke down last season due to injuries, most notably at the center position. That's fine reasoning, until you realize that every single starter on the San Diego offensive line has at least been dinged up in practice, if they haven't missed game time already.

    Without his safety blanket in Antonio Gates, Rivers doesn't look like himself. Rivers is currently 17th all-time in interception percentage, only throwing turnovers 2.6 percent of the time. That's equal to Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Joe Montana. This year, he's thrown four already in the first three games.

    The way San Diego's offense works is similar to Denver's. If cornerbacks are giving receivers space, a quick pass is coming their way. There's also a lot of crossing patterns involved, but if a defense doesn't respect the ground game, the passing offense is going to stall. For what the players can do in the offense, Danny Woodhead should be the Chargers' top running back, but they just spent a first-round pick on Melvin Gordon.

    What does Cleveland do on defense? It presses it cornerbacks and sends a variety of blitzes. Unless someone like Stevie Johnson goes off for San Diego, the schematic matchup between the Chargers offense and the Browns defense is not a good look for it. Pressure creates sacks and interceptions alike. Quietly, Tashaun Gipson, Cleveland's safety, ranked second in the NFL in interceptions from 2014 to 2015 with 11, one shy of Richard Sherman's mark.

    I don't think the Cleveland offense or Chargers defense is special either way, but the best unit on the field is going to be the Browns offensive line. If a garbage-time score that makes this a one-score game wins a bet for Cleveland, give me the Browns.

    The Pick: Cleveland (+7.5)

Green Bay @ San Francisco

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Opening Line: Green Bay @ San Francisco (+9.5)

    Current Line: Green Bay @ San Francisco (+9)

    Green Bay is good, but its weakness is still going head-to-head with the power run. It's faced three pretty bad offensive lines in the Chicago Bears, Seattle Seahawks and Kansas City Chiefs. Still, the Packers are giving up the worst yards-per-carry mark in the NFL, sitting at 5.0.

    They're also giving up the sixth-most rushing yards per game, despite the fact that they held a two-score lead in every game they've played so far. At some point, when it turns into a boxing match, the Packers are going to get gashed between the tackles.

    Now, I don't think the 49ers are going to win this game, but if the Packers are up 16 and San Francisco scores a garbage-time touchdown on a Carlos Hyde counter, they'll cover? At home? When the Packers are coming off a short week? After three games against (1) the team's biggest rival, (2) the team which ended their 2014 campaign and (3) against the quarterback that was chosen over Aaron Rodgers? That's an emotional ride that can exhaust any squad.

    A 9.5-point favorite on the road means the Packers, who are usually credited with a four-point advantage at Lambeau Field, would be 16.5-point favorites at home, according to this line. That's way too high, my friends. If this line popped up after San Francisco won 20-3 and Green Bay "only" won 31-23 in Week 1, we'd all be scratching our heads.

    The Pick: San Francisco (+9.5)

St. Louis @ Arizona

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Opening Line: St. Louis @ Arizona (-6)

    Current Line: St. Louis @ Arizona (-6.5)

    At home, the St. Louis Rams are slowing down offenses, but on the road in the Jeff Fisher Era, they've had plenty of issues. Even when they are in the Edward Jones Dome, it's hard to identify their identity offensively. OK, Nick Foles threw seven passes for 127 yards to tight ends against broken coverage versus the Seahawks, who were missing a top-five safety in the league.

    Since then? The team has scored 16 points over two games. Foles has completed 36 of 60 passes for 347 yards, with three sacks, a touchdown and an interception adding onto the box score. His passer rating of 74.79 compared to passers with more than 60-plus attempts last season doesn't look good. In 2014, only Ryan Lindley, Matt Cassel, Ryan Mallett, Michael Vick, Blake Bortles, Jake Locker and Case Keenum fell short of him. Only Bortles, a sophomore passer, started the 2015 season as a starter after that type of performance.

    His 5.78 yards-per-attempt average was also very low, falling short of everyone other than Vick, Mallett, Derek Carr and Keenum, when filtering out anyone who threw fewer than 60 passes last season. The Rams running backs haven't been flashing much, either, as they've posted rushing totals of 67 and 71 in back-to-back games with no score coming from the ground.

    St. Louis has a broken offense. The Cardinals are the hottest team in the NFL and seem to have bad intentions in 2015, after their Super Bowl chances faltered last year when they were down to their third passer, Lindley, by the time they were in the playoffs.

    The Rams have a talented defensive line, but that won't score them points. Arizona safety Tyrann Mathieu stated to ProFootballTalk that St. Louis has a Super Bowl-caliber roster, but I'll take the Cardinals in this game by a touchdown. Colin Kaepernick, who quarterbacked against Arizona last week, had more interception yards against the Cardinals than he had completing to his receivers.

    Bruce Arians' team is one of the three best in football. By opening this line with a six-point lean, that means Vegas would only favor the Cardinals by three points on a neutral field. It'll learn to properly respect this team soon.

    The Pick: Arizona (-6)

Minnesota @ Denver

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Opening Line: Minnesota @ Denver (-4.5)

    Current Line: Minnesota @ Denver (-7)

    Adrian Peterson looks like the best running back in the league again. Even though the Minnesota offensive line is far from great, Peterson leads the league in ground yards and yards per game average. He's also fourth among running backs in yards-per-carry average, behind Karlos Williams, Giovani Bernard and Matt Jones.

    That's with defenses keying on him as the one and only threat on the Vikings offense. Teddy Bridgewater is doing fine managing games, but at some point, he has to become more than Alex Smith if this team is going to take the next step.

    Defensively, this team is developing on the back end under head coach Mike Zimmer, who may be the best defensive backs coach on Earth not named Nick Saban. The Vikings front four of Brian Robison, Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph and Sharrif Floyd can create pressure without a blitz, a massive premium in today's NFL. Scott Crichton and Danielle Hunter, two young pass-rushers, are also available off the bench to keep the starters fresh.

    The longer the season goes, the more I think the 20-3 loss to San Francisco on the West Coast during the oddly late second Monday Night Football game of Week 1 will look like a fluke game for Minnesota. Against the 49ers, the Vikings posted one sack and three quarterback hits. In the past two weeks, against San Diego and Detroit, the team has recorded five sacks and 21 quarterback hits.

    How do you beat Peyton Manning? You have to out-talent his line and receivers defensively. If you give him cushion on the outside, he's going to get short, quick passes. If you press on the outside, you're putting it on his arm and offensive line to allow for the ball to reach his target on time. The weakness of Denver's offense is its line, while Minnesota's strength is its pass rush.

    If the Broncos try to make it a ground-and-pound game, it's hard to imagine a well-rested Peterson losing that battle. I still would take Denver on a neutral field, but a touchdown advantage seems like much.

    The Pick: Minnesota (+7)

Dallas @ New Orleans

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    Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    Since we don't know the status of quarterback Drew Brees and there are no current lines on the board, I'm going to withhold a selection on this pick until Sunday's Last-Minute Betting Guide. As the week goes on, we should know more about New Orleans' status heading into the match. As far as I'm concerned, Brees is worth at least a six- or seven-point line swing over Luke McCown, who, to his credit, did well last weekend.

Monday Night Football: Detroit @ Seattle

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    Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

    Opening Line: Detroit @ Seattle (-9.5)

    Current Line: Detroit @ Seattle (-10)

    The Detroit Lions are a notoriously bad away team heading to a notoriously tough spot to play as an away team. You figure that at the opening line of minus-9.5, the Seahawks more than likely receive at least four points for home-field advantage. So that would make this line equivalent to the value of the Seahawks favored by 5.5 points on a neutral field, or by 2.5 if the game were in Detroit.

    The Denver Broncos played the Lions at Ford Field with the line opening at 2.5 points, and they covered by 9.5 points. This line feels about right.

    These are two teams trending in the opposite directions. Sure, both started 0-2, but 0-2 doesn't tell the full story. The Lions went to the playoffs last season under Matthew Stafford, but they have since lost defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who was their best defender. Their star linebacker, DeAndre Levy, has been dinged up all fall to this point, and their other star in the front seven, defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, might miss this week's game due to a groin issue.

    Even if the Lions are on their A-game, they might not be able to take advantage of Seattle's strongest weakness, their poor offensive line, because of their lack of attrition of box defenders.

    Detroit is the most vanilla team in the league schematically, too. They take no risks on offense or defense, which just allows them to play exactly to their talent, nothing more or less. What you see is what you're going to get from the Lions for the most part. Unfortunately for them, regressing to their mean isn't going to win them games in Seattle.

    The Seahawks finally seem motivated after a slow first half against the Chicago Bears. Typically, Seattle starts the NFL season slow in September. Prior to the Bears game, since 2012, the Seahawks had finished six September games with a win after regulation, four with a loss and three had gone into overtime.

    Once the team picks up the pace, though, it's nearly unstoppable. In that same time, after September, the team is 28-9 in the regular season, winning 75 percent of their games. After a 26-0 shutout, which featured 20 points scored in the second half, it's safe to say Seattle is finding its groove again.

    The Pick: Seattle (-9.5)

Locks of the Week

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    1) New York Jets (PK) vs. Miami (London)

    2) Oakland (-1) @ Chicago

    3) Kansas City @ Cincinnati (-3)

    4) St. Louis @ Arizona (-6)

    5) Green Bay @ San Francisco (+9.5)

    All lines courtesy of OddsShark.com.