Bleacher Report's Expert Consensus Week 4 NFL Picks

NFL StaffContributor ISeptember 27, 2018

Bleacher Report's Expert Consensus Week 4 NFL Picks

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    The NFL has been a weird league prone to wacky, unpredictable results for years. That's part of its charm. But the 2018 season has been particularly bizarre, which might explain why it's been so tough to prognosticate games. 

    Just look at the current division leaders—a list that includes the Miami Dolphins, Cincinnati Bengals, Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins, Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

    Those six teams were a combined 39-57 in 2017. 

    Not only have four of this season's five double-digit favorites failed to cover but three have also lost outright. That happened only four times in the entire 2017 campaign.

    That doesn't mean you have to cut our experts slack for a rough start with their picks against the spread, but it could indicate there will be plenty of opportunities for Gary Davenport, Brad Gagnon and Brent Sobleski to get back on track. 

    Here's where they stand through three weeks (season records in parentheses).

    1. Brent Sobleski: 6-10 (24-22-2)

    2. Brad Gagnon: 10-6 (20-26-2)

    3. Gary Davenport: 7-9 (19-27-2)

    Consensus picks: 7-9 (19-27-2)

    Could this be the week they turn the corner? 

                                                    

    Lines based on consensuses at OddsShark as of Wednesday. 

Minnesota Vikings (1-1-1) at Los Angeles Rams (3-0)

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    While little has been assured this season, the Los Angeles Rams are one of three teams that have gone 3-0 straight-up and against the spread. At home against a traveling, downtrodden and short-handed Minnesota Vikings team on short rest, our crew is confident L.A. will make that 4-0 in both respects Thursday night.

    You'll find the Rams laying seven points in some spots, but 6.5 is the prevailing number. And our analysts believe that's a steal.  

    Davenport was quick to cite an astute observation from John Breech of CBS Sports, who notes that "no team flying from the Central time zone to the Pacific time zone for a Thursday game has ever won or covered a game over the past 12 years."

    That's almost unbelievable, but it's true. The Kansas City Chiefs, Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears are a combined 0-5 on the West Coast on Thursday nights.  

    "After what happened in Minneapolis last week," Davenport added, "I'm not about to count on these Vikings to buck that trend."

    What happened in Minneapolis last week? For those who blacked out from utter shock, the Vikings became the first team in NFL history to lose by more than two scores as a favorite of more than two scores. And while that disaster against the Buffalo Bills might have been an anomaly, this isn't the time or place for a bounce-back performance. 

    Minnesota is dealing with injuries to key offensive pieces Dalvin Cook and Riley Reiff, and it won't have star pass-rusher Everson Griffen as his mental health is being evaluated

    Predictions
    Davenport: Los Angeles (-6.5)
    Gagnon: Los Angeles (-6.5)
    Sobleski: Los Angeles (-6.5)
    Consensus: Los Angeles (-6.5)

    Score Prediction: Los Angeles 30, Minnesota 20

Philadelphia Eagles (2-1) at Tennessee Titans (2-1)

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    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    The Philadelphia Eagles have failed to cover back-to-back spreads and were arguably lucky to win and cover in an ugly Week 1 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. But that didn't stop the majority of our experts from taking the defending Super Bowl champions as four-point road favorites against a 2017 playoff team that possesses a 2-1 record. 

    "The Eagles should be expected to fly high with Carson Wentz now behind center," Sobleski said. "The offense will only improve as the team's franchise quarterback becomes more comfortable with each week. The Tennessee Titans, meanwhile, still haven't found a rhythm with Marcus Mariota trying to establish himself in offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur's system."

    It doesn't help that Mariota has clearly been limited by an elbow injury. He's posted a disgusting 53.9 passer rating when he's been out there this season. 

    Even with their issues under center, the Titans have found a way to grind out back-to-back wins against AFC South rivals. But that might not be sustainable, and Wentz and the Eagles are getting healthier. 

    "One of the reasons that I'm in last place here (besides abject incompetence) is that I keep breaking cardinal rules of football betting," Davenport said. "One of those is that you don't bet against home dogs. I'm not touching Arizona or Denver. (Against the Chiefs? Are you mile-high?)

    "But Tennessee at home against Philly is another matter. The Titans are making opponents play to their level, and the Eagles aren't firing on all cylinders."

    Maybe Davenport's cohorts are giving too much credit to the Eagles and not enough to the Titans. Regardless, this is a tricky game and a trickier line. 

    Predictions
    Davenport: Tennessee (+4)
    Gagnon: Philadelphia (-4)
    Sobleski: Philadelphia (-4)
    Consensus: Philadelphia (-4)

    Score Prediction: Philadelphia 24, Tennessee 18

Buffalo Bills (1-2) at Green Bay Packers (1-1-1)

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    So the Buffalo Bills pull off one of the biggest and most convincing upsets in NFL history, and the Green Bay Packers lay an egg against Washington. Yet the Packers are 10-point favorites for Sunday's meeting at Lambeau Field. 

    That doesn't make much sense to Davenport and Sobleski, which is why our panel is on board with the Bills covering as heavy 'dogs. 

    "Another cardinal rule of picking ATS in the NFL is that double-digit spreads are bad luck," Davenport said. "Apparently, Vegas has relegated Buffalo's dismantling of the Vikings to the annals of flukedom, but while the Bills were waxing Minnesota last week, the Packers were looking flat in a loss to a 'meh' Washington team. This isn't to say Green Bay won't win here—but covering is another story."

    It's not unanimous, though, because Gagnon believes both teams experienced extreme results in Week 3, and there'll be a correction in Week 4. Plus, some double-digit favorites are bound to start covering, and you don't know what to expect from a Jekyll and Hyde Bills team. 

    This is another tricky one.

    Predictions
    Davenport: Buffalo (+10)
    Gagnon: Green Bay (-10)
    Sobleski: Buffalo (+10)
    Consensus: Buffalo (+10)

    Score Prediction: Green Bay 27, Buffalo 20

Detroit Lions (1-2) at Dallas Cowboys (1-2)

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    Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

    It's also possible we witnessed extreme performances from the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys in Week 3, with Detroit dominating the New England Patriots and Dallas failing to show up against the beatable Seattle Seahawks. 

    But our panel isn't expecting a major correction. They're unanimously behind the quickly improving Lions as three-point road underdogs. 

    "What a difference a week makes," Sobleski said. "The Lions looked like one of the NFL's worst teams through two games, only to soundly defeat the Patriots this past weekend. More importantly, Detroit's offensive line is playing much better than Dallas' famed front with a newfound rushing attack, courtesy of rookie Kerryon Johnson."

    Johnson—you might have heard—became the first Lions back in nearly half a decade to rush for 100 yards in that convincing Week 3 victory, and the suddenly balanced Detroit offense has now scored 53 points in its last two games.

    The Cowboys are struggling immensely on offense and are without both Sean Lee and David Irving on defense. Even home-field advantage—keep in mind the Cowboys have lost 13 of their last 24 games at AT&T Stadiumisn't enough to convince our experts to lay three points with America's Team. 

    Predictions
    Davenport: Detroit (+3)
    Gagnon: Detroit (+3)
    Sobleski: Detroit (+3)
    Consensus: Detroit (+3)

    Score Prediction: Detroit 23, Dallas 20

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-1) at Chicago Bears (2-1)

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    The highest-rated passer in the NFC and the NFL leader in passing yardage and yards per attempt will get at least one more week as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' starting quarterback. And while Ryan Fitzpatrick temporarily turned back into a pumpkin Monday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers, our experts have enough faith in the veteran to ride with the Bucs as three-point underdogs at Soldier Field. 

    "The Fitzmagic is still alive with the chance to place a spell upon the Chicago Bears defense," Sobleski said. "Khalil Mack has been awesome, but Tampa Bay features the NFL's top-ranked offense. Chicago lacks a proper counterpunch since Mitchell Trubisky seems to be stuck in neutral."

    Indeed, Trubisky has practically been the anti-Fitzmagic this season. The second-year quarterback was expected to take off under new head coach/offensive guru Matt Nagy, but among current starters (excluding the newly christened Josh Rosen), only he, Dak Prescott and Andrew Luck are averaging fewer than six yards per pass attempt. 

    Trubisky and the Bears couldn't finish the game after getting a break with Aaron Rodgers' temporary departure Week 1 at Lambeau, and they were lucky to beat a bad Arizona Cardinals team Sunday. Even at home, they might have trouble winning this matchup, let alone covering a three-point spread.

    Predictions
    Davenport: Tampa Bay (+3)
    Gagnon: Tampa Bay (+3)
    Sobleski: Tampa Bay (+3)
    Consensus: Tampa Bay (+3)

    Score Prediction: Tampa Bay 20, Chicago 17

New York Jets (1-2) at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-1)

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Will the real Jacksonville Jaguars please stand up? There's the talented and well-balanced team that beat the Patriots by a double-digit margin in Week 2, and there's the talented but inconsistent and sometimes unreliable squad that scored just six points in a home loss to the depleted Titans in Week 3. 

    You'll notice we used the word "talented" to describe both versions. And that might be why the majority of our experts are siding with Jacksonville on Sunday against the offensively unstable New York Jets. 

    Still, Gagnon is having trouble with that 7.5-point spread.

    "This number just feels a little high for a team that beat the New York Giants by five and lost to the limping Titans by a field goal at home," Gagnon said. "We're looking at a sub-40 total for a game between two strong defenses, and the well-rested Jets should hang with a Jags team that still lacks consistency on offense."

    In other words, Gagnon's leery of a low-scoring game—which could be susceptible to a backdoor underdog cover—between two tough-to-predict teams. But Davenport and Sobleski don't see it. The Jets have scored just 29 points the last two weeks, and this'll be an even larger challenge against a Jacksonville squad trying to bounce back. 

    A blowout is within the realm of possibility. 

    Predictions
    Davenport: Jacksonville (-7.5)
    Gagnon: New York (+7.5)
    Sobleski: Jacksonville (-7.5)
    Consensus: Jacksonville (-7.5)

    Score Prediction: Jacksonville 27, New York 16

Miami Dolphins (3-0) at New England Patriots (1-2)

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    Mike Stewart/Associated Press

    Those unwilling to declare that the Patriots are in trouble might be hedging to protect themselves against the scrutiny many faced after making similar declarations when the Chiefs crushed them at Gillette Stadium in last year's season opener or when the Dolphins beat them by double digits to open the 2014 campaign. 

    But New England has now lost back-to-back games by double-digit margins, which hadn't happened since 2002. Quarterback Tom Brady has less support on the field than ever, and the defense continues to be a liability. With Brady, 41, also battling Father Time, it's at least fair to wonder if the Pats are laying too many points as minus-7 favorites Sunday against the unbeaten Miami Dolphins. 

    "It's easy to say, 'The Patriots will come out with something to prove after an embarrassing loss to the Lions,'" Sobleski said. "Maybe head coach Bill Belichick's squad isn't that good. Clearly, the Dolphins are better than everyone expected, and a touchdown spread makes Miami an even more intriguing choice."

    "I agree that it's easy to say, 'The Patriots will come out with something to prove after an embarrassing loss to the Lions,'" Gagnon said. "But that's easy to say because the Patriots are just too steady and too well-coached to lose three straight games. They haven't done so in a decade-and-a-half.

    "I can't see them cutting it close against a familiar opponent at home, and I'm comfortable risking a push with a touchdown victory."

    While Davenport and Sobleski aren't ready to pick the Dolphins straight-up, they're not as comfortable with those seven points. After all, Miami severely outplayed New England last December, and this team looks a lot better with a healthy Ryan Tannehill behind center.

    Predictions
    Davenport: Miami (+7)
    Gagnon: New England (-7)
    Sobleski: Miami (+7)
    Consensus: Miami (+7)

    Score Prediction: New England 26, Miami 23

Houston Texans (0-3) at Indianapolis Colts (1-2)

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Both teams stunk while working without their starting quarterbacks last season, but the Indianapolis Colts still beat the Houston Texans by six or more points in both of their meetings. This season, both squads have their franchise signal-callers back, but the Colts have shown signs of improvement. The Texans have not. 

    That made it easy for two of our three panelists to side with Indianapolis at home with just a 1.5-point spread in its favor. 

    "You always have to be cautious with divisional matchups like these," Gagnon said, "It's not as though the Colts are substantially better. But they're playing better football right now, and you'd be taking a hell of a chance by picking the Texans on the road merely because they're arguably due for a win."

    It's fair to consider trends, though. Davenport's dissent stems in part from the fact that teams with as much talent as Houston rarely lose four consecutive games and fail to cover four consecutive spreads. The Texans beat the Colts on the road in 2015 and 2016, so it's not as though they can't get it done at Lucas Oil Stadium.

    But the majority is going with the Colts, who have Andrew Luck back but have also performed shockingly well on defense. 

    Predictions
    Davenport: Houston (+1.5)
    Gagnon: Indianapolis (-1.5)
    Sobleski: Indianapolis (-1.5)
    Consensus: Indianapolis (-1)

    Score Prediction: Indianapolis 24, Houston 21

Cincinnati Bengals (2-1) at Atlanta Falcons (1-2)

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    Early this week, a lot of books had the Atlanta Falcons as a six-point favorites against the Cincinnati Bengals. That line has since dropped below five in some spots, which has Davenport feeling even more confident in his early-week decision to roll with the underdog Bengals against the spread. 

    "I liked this pick a little more when the spread was larger, but the fact it's dropping shows I'm not alone in liking the Bengals here," he said. "I don't know that Cincinnati will win this game outright, but it wouldn't be much of a surprise for one prevailing reason: The Atlanta defense has been devastated by injuries.

    "No Keanu Neal. No Deion Jones. Now no Ricardo Allen. And no chance of stopping anyone. This feels like a shootout that comes down to a late turnover and maybe a game-winning kick one way or the other. And that makes Cincy and the points the call. Or, given my record this year, Atlanta could win 78-3. Whatever."

    Davenport's self-deprecation is balanced by the fact that our only predictor with a winning record is on board with the Bengals. Few trust the Falcons right now, and that includes our only expert who is siding with them. 

    "Atlanta isn't trustworthy," Gagnon said, "but neither is Cincinnati. A Bengals offense that was lights-out to start the season wasn't the same sans Joe Mixon and Billy Price in Carolina, and I'm not sure it'll have enough to go toe-to-toe with an Atlanta offense coming off consecutive 30-point performances. At home, I'm reluctantly buying that the Falcons can spot Cincy one touchdown."

    You might want to avoid risking it all on either team here.

    Predictions
    Davenport: Cincinnati (+5)
    Gagnon: Atlanta (-5)
    Sobleski: Cincinnati (+5)
    Consensus: Cincinnati (+5)

    Score Prediction: Atlanta 27, Cincinnati 24

Seattle Seahawks (1-2) at Arizona Cardinals (0-3)

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    Quinn Harris/Getty Images

    Neither the Seattle Seahawks nor the Arizona Cardinals have performed particularly well this season. But with a double-digit Week 3 victory over the Cowboys, the Seahawks reminded us that they're good enough to be favored in a game like this. 

    After all, they have quarterback Russell Wilson (109.8 passer rating against a strong Dallas defense Sunday), running back Chris Carson (102 rushing yards as part of a balanced offense in that same game) and safety Earl Thomas (two interceptions and seven tackles in Week 3).

    Wilson and Co. won't likely be fazed by a road game in Arizona either, since the 'Hawks haven't lost there since 2012. And while bettors are allowed to be nervous about the unknown element of Josh Rosen's first career start, the reality is that offense has looked as good as dead in the post-Bruce Arians era. 

    "Arizona's defense is more like the one that got roasted by the Redskins and Rams than the one that hung in there against the offensively inept Bears," Gagnon said. "And on the other side of the ball, offensive coordinator Mike McCoy hasn't given me any reason to trust him. The polished Rosen could play well, and the Cards could keep it close at home. But I'm willing to risk a push with the Seahawks only giving up a field goal."

    Predictions
    Davenport: Seattle (-3)
    Gagnon: Seattle (-3)
    Sobleski: Seattle (-3)
    Consensus: Seattle (-3)

    Score Prediction: Seattle 26, Arizona 15

Cleveland Browns (1-1-1) at Oakland Raiders (0-3)

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    How much weight does Vegas give to home-field advantage? The Cleveland Browns are a couple of decent kicks shy of 3-0 and are gaining momentum with rookie No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield under center. The Oakland Raiders are 0-3 and potentially exhausted after traveling from California to Colorado and Florida in the past two weeks. 

    Yet, in a lot of spots, head coach Jon Gruden's squad is laying three full points. 

    Davenport's jaw nearly made contact with the ground.

    "The Raiders are giving points?" he asked. "How is that possible? The Cleveland defense is legit, and Mayfield looked like he might be too in his debut against the Jets. Add in that Oakland has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory two weeks straight and can't pressure the quarterback even a little, and I think the Browns win this game outright."

    Gagnon and Sobleski are on board with that, making a three-point spread a no-brainer.

    Nothing's guaranteed in this league, but consider momentum and stamina. Is it easy to travel three time zones for a road game? No, but the Browns are young and full of energy. Are the Raiders due for a win considering they haven't trailed during the first three quarters of any of their first three games? Probably, but they're also old—the oldest team, in fact—and potentially tired. 

    Oakland won't go 0-16, but this might not be the time for Gruden's first win. 

    Predictions
    Davenport: Cleveland (+3)
    Gagnon: Cleveland (+3)
    Sobleski: Cleveland (+3)
    Consensus: Cleveland (+3)

    Score Prediction: Cleveland 24, Oakland 20

San Francisco 49ers (1-2) at Los Angeles Chargers (1-2)

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    Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

    Again, four of this season's five double-digit favorites have failed to cover. So if the Packers don't cover as 10-point faves in an early start Sunday afternoon, the law of averages will certainly favor the Los Angeles Chargers as they lay 10.5 points at home against a potentially demoralized San Francisco 49ers team. 

    Our experts are siding with the Bills in Green Bay, making the Bolts an even more convincing selection against an opponent that just lost its starting quarterback to a torn ACL. 

    "Jimmy Garoppolo is out for the season," Sobleski said. "C.J. Beathard completed fewer than 60 percent of his passes in five of the six games he attempted throws last season. The Chargers, on the other hand, feature a top-five offense. Do the math."

    The 49ers weren't lighting up the football world before Garoppolo went down, and now they'll be relying on Beathard without highly paid running back Jerick McKinnon, who also has a torn ACL.

    Meanwhile, the Chargers have a good thing going in their weird little home of StubHub Center. They're allergic to the Chiefs, but in their last five home games against opponents other than Kansas City, they've outscored the competition 154-57 in one-sided victories. 

    Look for that pattern to continue Sunday.

    Predictions
    Davenport: Los Angeles (-10.5)
    Gagnon: Los Angeles (-10.5)
    Sobleski: Los Angeles (-10.5)
    Consensus: Los Angeles (-10.5)

    Score Prediction: Los Angeles 30, San Francisco 13

New Orleans Saints (2-1) at New York Giants (1-2)

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    Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    The New Orleans Saints have scored 40-plus points in two of their first three games. The New York Giants have scored 15 or fewer in two of their first three contests. Sure, the Giants fought back from a 0-2 start with a Week 3 victory in Houston, but that wasn't enough to convince our experts that they can keep it within a field goal when they host Drew Brees and Co. at MetLife Stadium on Sunday. 

    "I don't think this is a blowout because I still like the Giants defense to hang in there at home," Gagnon said, "but Brees and the New Orleans offense are practically unstoppable right now. The man has completed more than 80 percent of his passes and has posted a passer rating of 110 or higher in all three of his outings. He's yet to throw an interception. He's simply mastering the quarterback position.

    "The Giants looked solid offensively against the Texans, but that scares me a little. Eli Manning hasn't been consistent in years, so it's more likely he'll crash and burn than continue to produce for a second consecutive week."

    It's true. Manning posted a 132.3 rating against Houston, but he hasn't put up triple-digit ratings in back-to-back weeks since September 2016. 

    You can still get the Saints at -3 in some spots, which is advantageous in case this becomes a field-goal game. But our experts are unanimously feeling New Orleans by closer to a touchdown. 

    Predictions
    Davenport: New Orleans (-3.5)
    Gagnon: New Orleans (-3.5)
    Sobleski: New Orleans (-3.5)
    Consensus: New Orleans (-3.5)

    Score Prediction: New Orleans 30, New York 24

Baltimore Ravens (2-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1-1)

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Few probably believe the Baltimore Ravens will pull away from the Steelers on the road, and just as few probably think that the Steelers have the ability to pull away from Baltimore at home. That's why this is a three-point spread in favor of the home team. 

    It might have been the most predictable opening line of Week 4. 

    Yet all three of our experts are behind the road 'dogs. 

    "I want to take Pittsburgh here," Davenport said, "but I just can't give the points. Not the way the Steelers defense has been abused the past two weeks. The last time these teams got together at Heinz Field, the Ravens won a 39-38 shootout. This game has the same feel—high-scoring and close."

    History backs that up. The Ravens have either won or have lost by a field goal or less in eight of their last 10 games at Pittsburgh. In another contest, they fell by four points, and both teams are 4-4 in their last eight meetings in the Keystone State. They know each other too well for this to be a blowout.

    Throw in that the Ravens are off to a relatively strong start following a healthy and productive offseason while the Steelers are off to a rough start following a tumultuous offseason, and this looks like an easy one. 

    Predictions
    Davenport: Baltimore (+3)
    Gagnon: Baltimore (+3)
    Sobleski: Baltimore (+3)
    Consensus: Baltimore (+3)

    Score Prediction: Baltimore 31, Pittsburgh 30

Kansas City Chiefs (3-0) at Denver Broncos (2-1)

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    Joe Mahoney/Associated Press

    The majority of our expert consensus picks this week were unanimous, including the Monday nighter in which the Kansas City Chiefs are only laying a handful of points against the Denver Broncos. 

    Sure, divisional games are often close, Denver is at home, and the Broncos would move into first place with a win. But Davenport, Gagnon and Sobleski aren't pretending these AFC West rivals are in the same league.

    Denver has yet to cover a spread this season. The Broncos needed fourth-quarter theatrics in order to grind out home victories over weak-to-mediocre opponents (Seattle and Oakland) before laying an egg in a double-digit loss to the Ravens. 

    Meanwhile, the Chiefs are a perfect 3-0 straight-up and against the spread, and they show no signs of slowing down after scoring 38-plus points and committing no more than a single turnover in each of their first three games, all of which have come against solid opponents. 

    "The Chiefs will eventually have a bad day," Gagnon said, "but this isn't the week. Denver isn't as good as its 2-1 record, Case Keenum returned to being a backup-caliber quarterback and there's not enough depth on defense."

    A backdoor cover is always a possibility with a game like this, but our panelists are surprised the Broncos aren't getting more points. 

    Predictions
    Davenport: Kansas City (-5)
    Gagnon: Kansas City (-5)
    Sobleski: Kansas City (-5)
    Consensus: Kansas City (-5)

    Score Prediction: Kansas City 34, Denver 23