Chris Simms' Week 4 NFL Picks
Heading toward the second month of the NFL season, games become about matchups as much as talent. By now, we have a good idea of what teams' weaknesses and strengths are. The question for teams is whether they're built to exploit an opponent's weaknesses or stand up to its strengths.
I can still recall walking onto the field for the first game of the 2006 season. We were facing the Baltimore Ravens, Ray Lewis and one of the best front sevens I'd ever seen. We knew we didn't have the line to match up with that defensive front and win a physical battle, so for most of the offseason, we planned to try spreading the Ravens out and utilizing the hurry-up to take away some of that physical advantage.
About a week before the game, though, we switched up the game plan and decided to use two- and three-tight end sets to try to match the Ravens in the trenches. As I walked onto that field, I just had the feeling that there was no way we were going to be able to out-physical the biggest strength of the Baltimore defense. We couldn't. The Ravens wrecked us up front, and we got shut out at home in the opener.
This is a memory I keep in the back of my mind when trying to pick NFL games at this point in the season. Team talent is obviously important, but the right matchups are often the deciding factor.
This week we have a ton of great matchup-based games. Just look at Sunday night's contest between the Indianapolis Colts and Seattle Seahawks. A struggling offense has been Seattle's biggest weakness in 2017, but do the Colts have a stout enough defense to take advantage?
To see how I believe that game—along with the other 15 from Week 4—will unfold, read on.
Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers
When: Thursday at 8:25 p.m ET (NFL Network and CBS), Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wisconsin
This is a scary game for the Green Bay Packers, especially with a banged-up offensive line. The Chicago Bears have an incredible front seven. Because the front seven is so good, Chicago doesn't have to take chances in the secondary.
There will be times on Thursday night when the Bears will be able to drop seven or even eight men into coverage and still get pressure on Aaron Rodgers.
The Packers are less than 100 percent on defense too, with both Nick Perry and Mike Daniels questionable as of Wednesday. That favors Chicago because with Kyle Long back, the Bears have one of the five best offensive lines in football. It was able to lead a rushing attack that decimated the Pittsburgh Steelers last week. Chicago will certainly be able to run on the Packers.
The Packers can win this game, though, for two reasons. They're at home, and they have the magic of Rodgers. That should be enough, considering Green Bay is battle-tested and the Bears are still learning how to win.
Prediction: Packers 23, Bears 20
New Orleans Saints at Miami Dolphins (in London)
When: Sunday at 9:30 a.m. ET (Fox), Wembley Stadium, London
When your pass defense stinks, you're willing to forgive and bring back your best coverage linebacker. That's what the Miami Dolphins have done with Lawrence Timmons, just in time to face Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints.
The two most glaring weaknesses on the field when these two teams face off in London will be the secondaries. Therefore, the team with the better passing offense should be better equipped to exploit the matchup.
Now, Jay Cutler and the Dolphins can't be discounted. However, the Saints have a Hall of Fame quarterback in Brees amd are getting Willie Snead—the team's most versatile receiver—and possibly offensive tackle Terron Armstead back this week. The Saints have the edge.
The other factor here is what the Dolphins have been through since the start of the season. They had a hurricane in Florida which also canceled their home opener, went to the West Coast to play the Los Angeles Chargers, went back to Florida and then headed north to play the New York Jets. After all of that, coming off an ugly loss and then heading to London, I have to question how ready Miami will be to compete.
Prediction: Saints 34, Dolphins 27
Carolina Panthers at New England Patriots
When: Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (Fox), Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts
Right now, the New England Patriots defense is ranked the worst in football. It probably isn't actually the worst in football—the team has played two seasoned, quality quarterbacks plus a dynamic rookie so far—but it is the weakness of the team right now.
Do the Carolina Panthers have enough offensive firepower to take advantage? That's the question.
The rookie who burned the Patriots often last week was Deshaun Watson. He's capable of making some plays that no other quarterback in the NFL is capable of making right now. Cam Newton is great, and he's a mobile, versatile quarterback, but he can't move like Watson can at this point in his career.
The Panthers don't have a ton of weapons either. Greg Olsen is out and Kelvin Benjamin is banged up. New England has enough cornerback talent to match up with the weapons Carolina does have in order to focus on stopping the power-run game. This is Carolina's strength. However, the Patriots have enough size up front to counter it, especially if the team is able to sneak more guys into the box.
The Panthers should be able to create a couple of big plays with some of the college-style gadgets the team runs with Newton, Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel. However, they probably won't get enough production to match what Tom Brady and Co. are able to do on New England's offense.
Prediction; Patriots 30, Panthers 17
Jacksonville Jaguars at New York Jets
When: Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (CBS), MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey
The matchup between the Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets is going to be physical. These are two of the better defenses in football, and they match up well with one another.
Unlike in the team's two wins, the Jaguars won't be able to rely on smashmouth running against the Jets' front seven. The Jets might not have enough receiving weapons to really challenge stud cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye—the league's best corner tandem, for my money. In a matchup like this, we have to examine other factors.
The Jets should have gained a bit of momentum after embarrassing the Dolphins in Week 3. The Jaguars are coming off a big win as well, but they're coming back from London with no bye week and heading to Jersey to face the Jets.
I question the maturity of the Jaguars as a team right now, and I'm not sure they're ready to come off that big win and play their best football after so much travel. Expect New York to win a tough, low-scoring affair.
Prediction: Jets 16, Jaguars 13
Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans
When: Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (CBS), NRG Stadium, Houston
The Houston Texans' front seven may be my favorite film watch in all of football. The physicality guys like J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus bring is unmatched. They really whip people on a week-to-week basis.
The thing is, though, is that some of that physicality may be muted in this game because the Tennessee Titans have a solid offensive line. Coming off a game with the Seattle Seahawks, the Titans will be used to blocking up guys who are strong and athletic. This game will likely come down to skill players.
Watson was awesome for the Texans last week. He'll probably make a few more "wow" plays this week, but probably not as many. While the Patriots are bigger up front, the Titans are quicker and more agile. They'll have an easier time keeping him in the pocket.
Marcus Mariota can make plays for the Tennessee offense too, but the Titans' biggest advantage may be DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry. When the Texans lost in Week 1, they were pounded by Jacksonville's run game. Tennessee can get enough offense and limit Watson enough to get a road win here.
Prediction: Titans 24, Texans 20
Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens
When: Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (CBS), M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore
The Baltimore Ravens defense is still very good, and it wasn't as bad last week as the final score indicated. At some point, even a great defense needs help from the other side of the ball.
The problem for Baltimore is that the injuries are piling up. In consecutive weeks, the Ravens have lost Marshal Yanda and Brent Urban. That's an issue against a Pittsburgh Steelers team that is probably pissed off after letting one slip away in Week 3.
We haven't seen the Steelers offense firing on all cylinders yet this year, but we know it can be good. We have yet to see if the Ravens offense can carry the team to a victory when the defense isn't dominating. Baltimore's offense didn't have to do anything in the first two weeks, as the defense forced 10 turnovers and allowed just 10 points. When asked to produce, the offense stalled in Week 3.
Pittsburgh is the more balanced and proven team right now, and the Steelers should take Round 1 of the rivalry.
Prediction: Steelers 21, Ravens 16
Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns
When: Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (CBS), FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland
The Cincinnati Bengals are a talented team, which may sound odd considering they're 0-3. However, they do have a quarterback with playoff experience, a young and talented secondary, a returning Vontaze Burfict and offensive weapons like A.J. Green.
The Cleveland Browns, on the other hand, are a team headed in the right direction but still lacking in talent. The Browns are young, they're not battle-tested, and they have a rookie quarterback. DeShone Kizer has shown promise, but he's also made a couple of boneheaded turnovers in each game—as rookies tend to do.
Expect this game to be ugly—both teams are 0-3—but expect Cincinnati to be able to make just a few more plays before the final whistle.
Prediction: Bengals 19, Browns 16
Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings
When: Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (Fox), U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis
Last week, I tried to hedge my bet with the Minnesota Vikings, depending on whether Sam Bradford played. I'm not doing that this week because Case Keenum proved last week that he's capable of leading the offense in impressive fashion as well. Because of this, there will be a lot going against the Detroit Lions.
The game is in Minnesota, first of all. The Vikings have, without question, one of the five best defenses in the game. Everson Griffen is playing like a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander match up well with any group of receivers.
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford can usually produce magic against any team, but it's going to be difficult against the Vikings defense. In fact, I think it'll be too much to ask.
This might not be the case if Minnesota had the offense it did a year ago. However, this offense is impressive. The line is improved, there are more weapons, and coordinator Pat Shurmur finds ways to attack every single part of the field. Minnesota will be able to score points, and the defense will be able to harass Stafford enough that he won't find his usual late-game magic.
Prediction: Vikings 24, Lions 20
Los Angeles Rams at Dallas Cowboys
When: Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (Fox), AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
It's hard to be sold on the Dallas Cowboys as a great team right now. It's a really good team, but we need to pump the brakes a bit. Sure, Dallas was impressive on Monday night. However, the Cowboys were dominated by the Arizona Cardinals for the first quarter-and-a-half, and they were embarrassed by the Denver Broncos the week before.
With that said, last week's game against Arizona should have given the Cowboys confidence. The ground game has gotten better for Dallas each week, and the defensive line is starting to show some real promise.
This game is on the road for the Los Angeles Rams, and that could be a problem. A bigger problem is the L.A. run defense. The Rams struggled to stop the San Francisco 49ers' run game, and this game with Ezekiel Elliott and this line is a different animal.
Even if Trumaine Johnson is able to lock down Dez Bryant, the Rams may not have enough good cover guys in the secondary to stop Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams, Brice Butler and Jason Witten.
The Dallas defense is suspect, but Jared Goff is still young and still learning. The Rams may not be able to take advantage of the secondary, Dallas' biggest weakness.
Prediction: Cowboys 27, Rams 24
Buffalo Bills at Atlanta Falcons
When: Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (CBS), Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta
The Buffalo Bills are a really solid football team. They don't have any glaring weaknesses, but then again, they don't have any overwhelming strengths either.
Buffalo is headed into a rough environment. The Atlanta Falcons may be the fastest team in football, and playing on the turf at home gives them a huge advantage. Against Atlanta's quick defense, the Bills could have difficulty scoring points.
Now, Buffalo did play an aggressive defense against Denver last week, but the Bills also benefited from multiple Broncos mistakes.
The Falcons, on the other hand, should be able to score. The Bills have a good defense, but they don't have cornerbacks who are well-suited for man coverage. Buffalo has to be able to give at least the occasional man look. Otherwise, Matt Ryan and Julio Jones are going to find holes in the zone and pick it apart.
Prediction: Falcons 31, Bills 27
Philadelphia Eagles at Los Angeles Chargers
When: Sunday at 4:05 p.m. ET (Fox), StubHub Center, Carson, California
The Chargers have the weapons in the passing game to take advantage of the Philadelphia Eagles' shaky secondary. They also might be able to keep Philadelphia's pass rush at bay, assuming Melvin Gordon is 100 percent and the running game gets going.
If the Eagles are patient with the run game and can get LeGarrette Blount some legitimate downhill runs like they did a week ago, however, Philadelphia should be able to control this game. L.A.'s run defense—currently 31st in the league—has been a major liability. If that gets going, the Eagles will have the benefit of play action, which will improve the passing game as well.
This game is in California, but the Chargers have no real home-field advantage there. With it becoming more and more difficult to trust Philip Rivers to take care of the football, I have to give a slight edge to Carson Wentz and Co. in a close one.
Prediction: Eagles 23, Chargers 21
San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals
When: Sunday at 4:05 p.m. ET (Fox), University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
The Cardinals are coming off a short week. The 49ers have had extra time to prepare. Because of this, this game should be close, despite Arizona being the more experienced and talented team.
This Arizona defense is good, though. Period. Sure, the Cardinals lost last week, but it's not like they got steamrolled by the Dallas running game. The difference in that game was two incredible plays—one pass and one scramble—made by Dak Prescott. Nothing against 49ers quarterback Brian Hoyer, but he isn't known for making such plays.
The San Francisco running game is good enough to get going against the Arizona defensive front. However, a one-dimensional offense probably won't be enough to knock off the Cardinals in Arizona.
Prediction: Cardinals 20, 49ers 17
New York Giants at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
When: Sunday at 4:05 p.m. ET (Fox), Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida
This is an interesting matchup because of the strengths of the teams involved. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a strong-armed quarterback and dynamic pass-catchers like DeSean Jackson and Mike Evans. The New York Giants have one of the most dominant defensive lines and one of the most athletic secondaries in football.
We have to look at weaknesses here. The Giants' weakness is poor offensive line play. The Tampa weakness is an underwhelming defense.
With Lavonte David, Kwon Alexander and Gerald McCoy all banged up, the Buccaneers could struggle to take advantage of New York's line. With weapons like Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram, New York should be able to put up points against Tampa's defense.
This is a risky pick, because the Giants may not have enough running game to protect a lead, but I'm picking them to claim their first win of the season.
Prediction: Giants 24, Buccaneers 21
Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos
When: Sunday at 4:25 p.m. ET (CBS), Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver
The Oakland Raiders have to be embarrassed with the way they played last week. It was the worst game of the Derek Carr era for the offensive line, and really the offense in general. The Raiders were absolutely run over by the Washington Redskins. Now they draw the Denver Broncos on the road.
The Broncos outplayed Buffalo for most of the game last week. However, a few mistakes cost the team in the end. But Trevor Siemian did some good things too, and this isn't the same old Denver offense. The Broncos can run the ball, and the passing game can be dangerous when Siemian takes care of the football.
There are still serious questions about the Oakland defense.
Can the Oakland offense have some success against this Denver defense? Sure, but not a ton. This is a special unit. Oakland had a basic game plan against the Redskins, and the team paid for that. If there's a simple game plan against the Broncos, the Raiders will have no chance.
I don't believe the Raiders have played a complete game yet this season. On the road in Denver is a tough place for them to start.
Prediction: Broncos 27, Raiders 20
Indianapolis Colts at Seattle Seahawks
When: Sunday at 8:30 p.m. ET (NBC), CenturyLink Field, Seattle
The Seattle Seahawks offense has been killing the defense so far this year. The Seahawks defense is still an incredible unit, but the offense has looked as inept as any in football. The fact Seattle cannot sustain drives is wearing the defense out early in games.
The Indianapolis Colts defense is better than people have given it credit for, and I have no confidence in Seattle's offense in general.
I'm still going to pick the Seahawks, though, for two reasons. This game is in Seattle, and it's only the third Colts start for quarterback Jacoby Brissett. He'll be facing the best defense he's seen in the NFL, and he'll be doing it in one of the rowdiest road environments there is.
Expect Russell Wilson to make just enough plays for the Seahawks to pull out an ugly win.
Prediction: Seahawks 21, Colts 19
Washington Redskins at Kansas City Chiefs
When: Monday at 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN), Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Missouri
This is going to be a fun one. The Redskins and the Kansas City Chiefs both have explosive offenses, and there's going to be a lot of team speed on the field. With guys like Terrelle Pryor, Chris Thompson, Tyreek Hill, Kareem Hunt and Marcus Peters in the game, players are going to be flying all over the place.
This is also an interesting matchup, where there might not be a definitive edge. Both defenses have looked good at times this season, but both have shown a propensity for giving up big plays.
I'm going with the Chiefs for a couple of reasons. The first is that Kansas City's playmakers seem to make big plays more often than other teams. In fact, the Chiefs have scored a touchdown of 50 yards or more in nine consecutive games. That's an NFL record, and it's incredible.
The other reason is that this game is at Arrowhead on a Monday night. When you're playing on a national stage in one of the loudest stadiums in football, home-field advantage is tangible.
Prediction: Chiefs 27, Redskins 24