Week 4 NFL Picks

By Travis Wingfield

Told you I was feeling good about my week three picks. If the Falcons could’ve just figured out one play in the red-zone, we’d be talking about a +17 unit week and my best since I’ve been handicapping games. My apologies that you can’t use your winnings as a down payment on a vehicle, but the new PS3 should suffice.

The season total has us playing with some house money now so maybe it’s time to loosen it up. Last week I wagered 6 more units than in the previous two weeks, but that’s because I thought there were some grand-slam picks in week 3 (Miami as underdogs in Cleveland, Green Bay only giving 4 points to Chicago,) the idea is to remain consistent in both logic and in wagers. Now if Matt Ryan doesn’t take a costly sack and Tom Brady doesn’t match his 2010 interception total, that four figure weekend might make it a different story; but we press onward.

Week 3 SU: 10-6
Week 3 ATS: 10-5-1
Week 3 +/-: +7 units

Season SU: 29-19
Season ATS: 25-20-3
Season +/-: + 8 units

Here are the picks:

New Orleans Saints (2-1) @ Jacksonville Jaguars (1-2)
Line: Saints -7

The Saints made it through the meat of its schedule above .500. I thought this was a Super Bowl contender in August and now I’ve confirmed those feelings. The creative packages and plays Sean Payton comes up with for the diminutive Darren Sproles makes him virtually unstoppable. When a player like that creates so much stretching and space in a defense, then you have Drew Brees to counter between the numbers, its lights out for the opposing defense. The Saints are averaging better than five touchdowns a game and this has been against three pretty good defenses.

Jacksonville doesn’t know what a pass-rush is, Blaine Gabbert isn’t ready to play and the team might be my new front-runner in the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. The only thing that kept Jacksonville in a game with Carolina was the torrential downpour. I want to worry about the Saints letting off the gas a little bit, but the gap in talent here is immense, to say the least. This game is over before it starts.

Saints 34
Jaguars 14

Pick: Saints -7
Bet: 3 units

Minnesota Vikings (0-3) @ Kansas City Chiefs (0-3)
Line: Vikings -2

The Vikings are outscoring their opponents 54-7 in the first half of games; that should lend credence to how bad of a second half team this is. It’s a curious dilemma as one would assume Adrian Peterson icing the game away is the best a coach could ask for; but it really just proves that this is a passing league and you must move the ball through the air to win. Donovan McNabb lacks confidence, poise, and accuracy and this team consistently fails on third downs.

The Chiefs biggest weaknesses are on both lines. Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey were heavily invested in and that eerie “B” word is circling in on them. Brandon Siler and Derrick Johnson consistently over-pursue the football, and the absence of Eric Berry removes the top from the defense. The Chiefs get pounded with the run and give up big plays. I like Adrian Peterson with 25+ carries and a huge output as well as Percy Harvin cutting up the seam and getting free a couple of times. The Vikings have a number of holes on this team, but none that the Chiefs can exploit or take advantage of.

Vikings 21
Chiefs 13

Pick: Vikings -2
Bet: 2 units

Carolina Panthers (1-2) @ Chicago Bears (1-2)
Line: Bears -7

Jay Cutler is one of those figures that can just rub people the wrong way so maybe it’s fitting that he’s protected by the worst line in football and doesn’t have the luxury of a skilled wide out to alleviate the pressure. The key to shutting down the Bears is committing to the run, taking away screen plays, keying on Matt Forte and making them one-dimensional. The Panthers have the speed on the perimeter of the defense to eliminate the big plays in the passing game that always comes from the backfield with Forte. Carolina will do a lot of blitzing the edge with corners, backers, maybe even safeties and will funnel everything to the intermediate portion of the field.

Cam Newton has had a polarizing start. Never has a rookie quarterback been given so much freedom and while that has allowed him to accumulate huge yardage totals, it has led to mistakes and turnovers. The Bears defense generally capitalizes on these mistakes, so I expect Rob Chudzinski to pull it back and use the athleticism he has in the backfield. Field position and ball control will be the mantra to this game plan and I think the Panthers can win that battle and win in the kicking game.

The Bears have been beaten up badly by the NFC’s two elite teams in consecutive weeks. Chicago thinks it can waltz into Carolina and get back in the win column with no issues. The Bears fall into a trap this Sunday and the tide officially starts to turn for the Panthers franchise.

Panthers 19
Bears 17

Pick: Carolina +7
Bet: 1 unit

Tennessee Titans (1-2) @ Cleveland Browns (2-1)
Line: Pick ‘Em Game

Joe Haden is making the league take notice of his abilities. Without Kenny Britt, the Browns can execute their bracket and funnel scheme in the secondary and take away all passing lines for Matt Hasselbeck. Chris Johnson has to get going this week if the Titans hope to make a season out of 2011, and I think this is the game where it happens. It’s a grisly veteran offensive line of Tennessee against a young, euphoric defensive line of Cleveland and I like the old guys in this one. He’s had a month to get his legs under him and Chris Johnson is a sleeping giant waiting to explode.

Just when you think you know something about the NFL, you don’t. The Browns have an opportunity to get to 3-1 heading into a bye week and the Titans are reeling after the Britt injury and will get back to what made the team a winner; running the football.

Titans 20
Browns 14

Pick: Titans (Even)
Bet: 1 unit

Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1) @ Houston Texans (2-1)
Line: Texans -4

It’s somewhat odd to see the Steelers playing this brand of football. The defense isn’t quite as fast, running the football against that front is no longer impossible, and James Harrison and Lamar Woodley just aren’t wreaking the havoc the two have grown accustomed too. A truly balanced attack like the one Houston features is the precise type of offense that will give this Steelers defense fits all year until some fundamentals are addressed and the scheme begins to make up for lack of explosion. This would’ve been a match-up nightmare for the Texans a few years ago but now Houston has turned the tables with one of the finest offensive lines in the NFL and Pittsburgh’s aging front three no longer control the point of attack. Whether it’s Arian Foster or Ben Tate, the ability to keep Troy Polamalu from freelancing and close to the line of scrimmage opens things up for the potent Houston passing attack.

The Steelers have long been able to turn an eye on the offensive line problems because of Ben Roethlisberger’s escape ability as well as his sheer force in the pocket. If we’ve learned anything in these first three weeks it’s that even the Berlin Wall will come down in time; the Steelers line is horrendous and the inability to extend plays has hurt the Pittsburgh offense. Balance has become an issue as Rashard Mendenhal hasn’t been give the small creases he likes to jam between and then impose punishment on the second level players.

There are a lot of problems with this Pittsburgh team and this is a game Houston has to win if it wants to establish itself as a contender.

Steelers 20
Texans 29

Pick: Texans -4
Bet: 2 units

San Francisco 49ers (2-1) @ Philadelphia Eagles (1-2)
Line: Eagles -9

Frank Gore is the type of back that can give this Eagles front some problems. Cullen Jenkins hasn’t made the smooth transition from a “30” front 5 technique into a true “40” front 3 technique and Casey Matthews (who is making a weekly appearance on this column for all the wrong reasons) continues to play like an overwhelmed rookie. With all this said; the 49ers stand zero chance of keeping up with the speed of the Eagles offense. Lesean McCoy is putting himself in the conversation with Adrian Peterson for best NFL back and with the options Andy Reid has in the passing game, his quarterback almost doesn’t matter. Reid has never coached a quarterback that didn’t produce so I’m not worried about the player as much as I am in love with the system. The ball control game might work momentarily for the Niners, but this is the team’s second straight cross-country trip to play a game that is at 10 a.m. for the west coast body clocks. I see a tired and sluggish Niners defense getting drug up and down the field.

49ers 17
Eagles 34

Pick: Eagles -9
Bet: 2 units

Washington Redskins (2-1) @ St. Louis Rams (0-3)
Line: Washington -2

Either two things give in this game for me, or I’m still dumbfounded on both of these teams. 1.) The Redskins come back to earth and show us that the first two victories were simply against a bleak opposition. 2.) The Rams are who I thought they were, and start to kick it into gear. I’m going to stay true to my pre-season pick that the Rams will win the NFC West and it start here. Protecting Sam Bradford has been an issue for the Rams front but Steven Jackson finally appears to be healthy and his increased role will allow Josh McDaniels to exploit the over aggressive Washington defense. He does a lot of flexing and shifting at the line of scrimmage and getting the ball out of Bradford’s hand quickly will keep Brain Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan (what a tandem) at bay. I like the Rams to nickel and dime the Redskins and force a couple of poor plays from Rex Grossman.

Redskins 19
Rams 23

Pick: Rams +2
Bet: 1 ½ units

Buffalo Bills (3-0) @ Cincinnati Bengals (1-2)
Line: Bills -3

I couldn’t have been more adamant about the Bills chances (or lack thereof) last week, but the team surprised me. Intercepting Tom Brady four times, regardless of how it’s done, is no small feat. One thing the Bills still don’t do well is rush the passer and, like most quarterbacks, Andy Dalton has played pretty well when given time to go through progressions. Tight end Jermaine Gresham needs to be more of a focal point in the offense as the unit seems to struggle when he becomes invisible. With Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith keeping Dalton clean, it’s up to Gresham and A.J. Green to win one on one match-ups and to be sure communication is consistent with Dalton as the Bills opportunistic defense will pounce on free balls.

I hate to admit this but I’m confused with this one. The Bills just won its Super Bowl and could be taking the Bengals lightly, especially with Philadelphia up next. One thing the Bills have done an exceptional job with is using the tight ends in the passing game. However, the Bengals have a formidable counter with fast, athletic linebackers available to cover. I’m gong to chalk this one up to a trap game.

Bills 23
Bengals 26

Pick: Bengals +3
Bet: ½ units

Detroit Lions (3-0) @ Dallas Cowboys (2-1)
Line: Pick ‘Em Game

The Lions next two games come against two of the league’s worst offensive lines and getting Nick Fairley back is almost like Bill Gates winning the lottery. The Lions might already have asserted itself on the map, but this is going to be the game where everyone steps back and really takes notice. The match-up of Ndamukong Suh going against Phil Costa and Cliff Avril attacking Tyron Smith is going to be bad news for Tony Romo’s ribs. The Cowboys offensive game plan is going to be ruined and the Lions will give the ball to an offense with a never ending amount of options against a dreadful Dallas secondary. No one in the NFL can cover Calvin Johnson, Titus Young’s speed will stretch a Dallas defense that isn’t fundamentally nor cerebrally sound, Brandon Pettigrew can dominate the middle of this defense and Nate Burleson will do everything else.

This game is going to get out of hand.

Lions 37
Cowboys 13

Pick: Lions (Even)
Bet: 4 units

New York Giants (2-1) @ Arizona Cardinals (1-2)
Line: Giants -1

The Cardinals could easily be 3-0 and don’t seem to be playing inspired enough to have achieved that. Hanging around late in games is encouraging but, the truth is, finding a way to earn victory in those contests is what separates playoff teams from bad teams. There are no moral victories in the NFL and that’s why I expect a hungry team to return to Phoenix this Sunday. The Giants are still banged up on defense and don’t have an answer for Larry Fitzgerald. They will roll coverage his way but that’ll expose a thin, depleted secondary and Kevin Kolb will have time to come off his initial reads and find secondary and third options.

The Giants want to be a physical, punch in the mouth team, but Eli Manning’s erratic play won’t always allow that identity to truly take form. The Cardinals have an opportunistic secondary and the ability to take the football away. This game will mark Patrick Peterson’s first big game at corner in the pros and Eli Manning will have a long day.

Traveling across the country isn’t an easy feat in this league. The Giants just celebrated a massive victory against the rival Eagles; I expect them to come out flat and get beat by an inferior opponent.

Giants 19
Cardinals 26

Pick: Cardinals +1
Bet: 2 units

Atlanta Falcons (1-2) @ Seattle Seahawks (1-2)
Line: Falcons -5

The Seattle defense has been surprisingly sufficient early this season, but the unit is running into a buzz saw this Sunday. Michael Turner and the Atlanta offense is a sleeping giant waiting to explode. Brandon Browner is going to have his lunch eaten by Julio Jones, Tony Gonzales will shred the rookie K.J. Wright, and Michael Turner will have lanes as the Falcons set up the run with the pass. The Falcons offensive line is fast, nasty, and unlike anything the Seahawks have seen this year up front. Red Bryant is having a great start to the ’11 season but this will be the first hitch in the progress.

Offensively, the Seahawks are dreadful and I can already envision Brent Grimes coming away with some take-aways. This could’ve been a trap game for the Falcons; but last week’s loss to an inferior Tampa Bay team has this Atlanta team itching to get back on a football field. Expect a similar result to when the Falcons came to Seattle a year ago.

Falcons 31
Seahawks 10

Pick: Falcons -5
Bet: 5 units

Denver Broncos (2-1) @ Green Bay Packers (3-0)
Line: Packers -13

There aren’t a lot of match-ups that favor the road team in this game; maybe the young interior line of the Broncos can have some success against a relatively banged up Packers front, but the Packers are bigger, faster, stronger and far more talented than the Broncos. The Packers had some let down games in 2010 (hence the 10-6 record and wildcard route through the playoffs) and this game worries me in the same sense. However, it takes three or four extremely gifted corners and a pair of rangy, ball hawking safeties to truly shut down the Green Bay offense and I’m not sure there is a team in the NFL that has that; and if there is, it’s not Denver. The plethora of pass catching phenomenon’s Aaron Rodgers has at his disposal poses a problem for the Broncos, and even if the offense does some things well, it won’t be enough to keep up with the NFL’s most high-powered attack.

Broncos 18
Packers 34

Pick: Packers -13
Bet: 2 units

New England Patriots (2-1) @ Oakland Raiders (2-1)
Line: Patriots -4

The difficult task for the Patriots is being every up and coming team’s measuring stick. The Patriots will get everyone’s best shot throughout the course of the season. The advantage New England has is the greatest coach of all time capable of tempering expectations, keeping the team humble, and getting a squad to turn it around after a disappointing outing; possessing the greatest quarterback to ever play never hurts either. The Raiders can control this game in the trenches; the zone blocking scheme that has made Darren McFadden a star has really taken form as a top flight ground game. However, as I’ve stated several times, this isn’t 2001 any more; running the ball and controlling the clock doesn’t win games any more. A team must keep up with the Patriots just like Buffalo did and get the lucky bounces in the form of a couple of tipped passes turned INT.

The key is former Patriot Richard Seymour disrupting the middle of the offensive line. With Dan Koppen out, it’s on Tom Brady’s shoulders to get his backup center, Dan Connolly, into favorable situations with chip help from Brian Waters or Logan Mankins. Brady will do this as the Patriots always feast on the opposition’s weakness. That weakness, for the Raiders, is a lot like many other teams, secondary depth. Tyvon Branch is aggressive and over-pursues and this is the exact player Brady will pick on.

Expect an angry Bill Belichick to stay true to form in never losing back to back games. The bleeding stops in a big way for the Patriots on the opposite coast.

Patriots 35
Raiders 20

Pick: Patriots -4
Bet: 4 units

Miami Dolphins (0-3) @ San Diego Chargers (2-1)
Line: Chargers -7

Tony Sparano has no business coaching an NFL team. Playing tentative, conservative, and relying on field goals will generate no success in today’s NFL. Chad Henne continues to melt down inside the opposition’s 20 yard line and late in football games. Last week’s failed drive at the end of the game when the team only needed 10 years to give Dan Carpenter a realistic shot at a game winning field goal was nothing short of pathetic.

The Chargers present the same match-up problems for the Dolphins that the Patriots and Texans did before them. They have balance, they utilize the tight end, and they spread the football around in a hurry up offense. Phillip Rivers has had a down year, but relying on Nolan Carroll and Nate Jones in the secondary provides a lot of issues for the Dolphins. Yeremiah Bell’s play has finally leveled off at rock bottom and Reshad Jones continues to play out of position and out of control.

Flipping the field, Miami continues to have problems on the offensive line and while Daniel Thomas is emerging as an impressive young tailback; the Miami passing offense becomes stagnant in key areas and that blame lies on all units (quarterback, offensive line, receivers, tailbacks and play caller.)

Don’t expect this to get fixed any time soon in Miami; at least while the team is under Sparano’s control.

Dolphins 17
Chargers 28

Pick: Chargers -7
Bet: 1 unit

New York Jets (2-1) @ Baltimore Ravens (2-1)
Line: Ravens -4

Watching Haloti Ngata abuse Jason Brown last Sunday should be a foreshadowing into this weekend’s game with the Jets. Ngata is going to take Colin Baxter to school, Mark Sanchez will be under heavy pressure as Jarrett Johnson forces Wayne Hunter to wear lipstick and a dress, and Mark Sanchez is found in the fetal position in the back field. Rex Ryan rubs a lot of folks the wrong way, and his former team is going to be sour and set on embarrassing him.

The Jets defense is getting spread out, it’s not effectively rushing the passer, and Joe Flacco has been accurate and on time early this year. Ray Rice provides a favorable option in the screen game where the Jets also like to get burned.

This is going to be a rude homecoming for Rex Ryan. Take the Ravens big in this one.

Jets 6
Ravens 23

Pick: Ravens -4
Bet: 4 units

Indianapolis Colts (0-3) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Line: Buccaneers -10

The line is fluctuating and this Colts team remains a complete disaster. All I can really say about the team is that it better get Peyton Manning back next year and use it’s imminent top three pick on USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil and get the protection fixed.

The Bucs could be in danger of a let down game after a franchise changing victory over the Falcons last week. I have to give it to Tampa, I was rough on them this off-season but they’ve played good football in the first three weeks. However, I’m not ready to drink the kool-aid yet.

Colts 10
Buccaneers 17

Pick: Colts +10
Bet: 1 unit

At Risk: 36 units
Season +/-: +8 units

Enjoy the games.

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