Week 3 of the NFL was AWESOME. Besides the Bills literally unbelievable comeback against the Patriots, which might be the best Bills game I've ever seen in my life, there was:
-A monsoon during a football game! (Panthers-Jaguars)
- The excitement of the Texans-Saints game, a 40-33 barnburner with some gaudy throws by Drew Brees and seeing the Texans fail in the clutch yet again
- The Lions coming back from a 20 point deficit to beat the Vikings (who have led at halftime of all their games, and lost all three- call them the bizzaro Bills). The Lions improved to 3-0.
-Michael Vick getting absolutely battered by the Giants defense. When you watch Vick, you're either watching the most talented football player in the league do amazing things, or watching the most talented player in football get beaten to a pulp and trying not to scream at his offensive line.
-The Dolphins lost! The Jets lost! The Bears lost!
-Ok, sorry, it had to make the list twice, but the Buffalo Bills came back from a 21-0 deficit, picked off Tom Brady 4 times (and made him cut his hair), out Belichek-ed Belichek with halftime adjustments and playcalling, and won on a drive in the final two minutes. THESE THINGS DO NOT HAPPEN.
So, on, on to week 4 the NFL moves forward. This is one of those weird weeks the NFL scheduled during the lockout in case they missed games- meaning there are no divisional match ups. There are a couple of good match ups to be had out of it, though. Last week I went 10-6 overall and 8-7-1 against the spread. Not bad.
Detroit at Dallas (-1.5)
Dallas has shown me pretty much nothing over the last 3 weeks. They bumbled away victory against the Jets, struggled to beat the 49ers, and then beat the Redskins by hitting six field goals. With no touchdowns. (Meanwhile, Ron Jaworski, in the MNF booth, was giving Tony Romo the most ridiculous tongue bathing I've ever heard. Made it sound like Romo's no TD performance was one for the ages. Ugh). Detroit has shown the ability to win from behind and when they're not playing at their best. They have an explosive offense led by WR Calvin Johnson, and the defense is absolutely nasty up front. I don't care if the Cowboys claim they're going to put tons of coverage on Johnson- the Lions still have Jahvid Best at running back, Nate Burleson as a capable if not exceptional #2 option at receiver, and Brandon Pettigrew as a solid tight end. The Cowboys don't have Miles Austin back at receiver, Dez Bryant is playing through an injury, and the running game has been slow to develop. Dallas doesn't have the weapons on offense to match Detroit right now, and it will take a monumental effort from their defense to win this game, an effort I don't think Dallas has in them. Detroit to 4-0.
Pick: Lions win, cover
New Orleans (-7) at Jacksonville
In the lead up to the NFL draft, I did some low level film study of Blaine Gabbert, the Jaguars presumed quarterback of the future, and even I could see that he had serious "happy feet"- he was not comfortable in the pocket. It's fitting, then, that the Blaine Gabbert era in Jacksonville began with a safety, as he ran back into the endzone and was summarily sacked. It'll take a while for Gabbert to be good if he continues with that. With no threat at QB, the Saints can stack the box against Maurice Jones Drew and make Gabbert beat them. On the other side, the Jaguars don't have much of a chance against Drew Brees and the Saints absurd offense. Most defenses don't, to be fair.
Pick: Saints win, cover
San Francisco at Philadelphia (-9)
Philadelphia has bumbled their way to a 1-2 start, looking like a team not quite ready for all the hype that's been placed on them (to be fair, a lot of it was self inflicted). Michael Vick has played fine- when he's played. Otherwise he's been off the field, nursing any amount of injuries due to a porous offensive line and Vick's propensity to take hits. The defense has looked just as porous- the linebackers seem to be apparitions, as opposing running backs run right through them. Despite all this, they face the 49ers, a team that looks only good enough to win the NFC West. If you haven't been paying attention, that's not a good thing. The Eagles need a win to right their ship, and the 49ers have arrived at a perfect time. Don't like the big line, though. Philly hasn't shown dominance yet.
Pick: Eagles win, 49ers cover
Washington (-2) at St. Louis
Well, I'm sure a lot of people would like to get a mulligan on predicting the rise of the Rams as NFC West champions. They look downright broken right now. Sam Bradford can't seem to handle a snap at this point (3 fumbles returned for touchdowns in 3 games), always a promising sign for a presumed franchise QB. The Redskins were stuck in the dirge that was their MNF game against the Cowboys last week, but at least showed they had a decent defense and they've previously shown some offensive spark. As long as Good to Middling Rex Grossman shows up for this game, the Redskins should be fine against the sputtering Rams.
Pick: Redskins win, cover
Tennessee at Cleveland (-1)
Pretty uneasy about this game, because we have yet to see how the Titans will respond to the loss of their biggest offensive weapon in Kenny Britt. The Browns have gotten to 2-1 as a result of the Colts no longer having a viable offense and the Dolphins being...well, the Dolphins, and choking away a game. I think the Titans have a pretty good defense, and Matt Hasselbeck should be able to find other options than Britt with receiver Nate Washington leading the charge. And if Chris Johnson manages to wake up from his sleepwaking through the past three weeks, well, this should be an easy game for Titans. Even without him, they can still beat the Browns, who look to be the quintessential 7-9 team this season. Decent, but nothing special.
Pick: Titans win, cover
Buffalo (-3) at Cincinnati
Welcome to 2011, where the Bills are road favorites! While many people have touted this game as a possible trap game (myself included...), I can't see the Bills losing this one. They still seem to have this hunger in them- they want to keep proving to the league that they're not to be taken lightly. They love the attention they're getting, but coach Chan Gailey has warned them about media attention- it's gone once you start to lose, especially games you should win. The Bills have won the past 10 meetings with the Bengals, including last year's thrilling 49-35 comeback win. The Bengals are now led by a rookie QB (Andy Dalton) and an accused criminal at running back (Cedric Benson). Good old Bengals. The Bengals boast one of the best defenses in the league, statistically, but they've also played the Browns, Broncos and 49ers- and Willis McGahee shredded them on the ground in the Broncos game. Yes, Willis McGahee. Fred Jackson and the rest of the offense should do just fine against the defense, and I feel like the Bills defense might finally dial up some pressure on an opposing quarterback this week.
Pick: Bills win, cover
Minnesota (-2) at Kansas City
Oh, the wretched 0-3 game of the week. One of these teams will be put behind the eight ball early in this year's race for the worst record in the league and, ipso facto, Andrew Luck. Because one team improbably will win this game. The Vikings have been masters of fast starts and crumbling finishes; the Chiefs have been the masters of slow starts...and slow middles...and slow finishes (though they did manage to keep it close with the Septemeber Chargers last week). The Vikings, if they're smart, will just pound the ball with Adrian Peterson from start to finish. I can't guarantee that the Vikings will be smart (they've been iffy the last three weeks), but that's what I think they'll do, and Kansas City will slip a little further into oblivion. Kansas City just doesn't have the personnel or game plan to compete with anyone right now.
Pick: Vikings win, cover
Carolina at Chicago (-6)
In my gut, I see a trend here- this is the game the Bears lose, at home, which sends the fans into catalectic rage. My 18 years in Chicago have given me enough a sense of these things. It's just a feeling, but I can see Cam Newton, fresh off his first win, having a pretty solid game against the overrated Bears defense, and, on the other side of the ball, the Bears offense continue to implode under Mike Martz's pass happy attack. Look for big woe-is-us headlines in the Chicago papers monday morning. It's just about a yearly tradition.
Pick: Panthers win, cover
Pittsburgh at Houston (-3.5)
Houston's high powered offense and improved defense are no match for the stigma that hangs over the team- can't close against the NFL's best teams. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, has ground out two straight wins, not always at their prettiest, but wins none the less. The main concern for the Steelers is if they're defense has gotten too old- the team has started to give up chunks of yardage on the ground, not a common trait for the Steelers. The Steelers couldn't even stop the Colts running game last week. The Colts! That running game was built to be a sneaky little thing Peyton Manning called every once in a while, not the focal part of the offense. With the Steeler's looking so overwhelmingly...decent...I have to take the Texans, who, even though they can't close, have looked the better team this year, and play at home. It takes one win to break a stigma, and this should be Houston's week, even if the Steelers will ugly up the game enough to make it difficult.
Pick: Texans win, Steelers cover
Atlanta (-4.5) at Seattle
While Atlanta has hardly looked the part of the Super Bowl contender they were made out to be at the beginning of the season, they're still playing the Seahawks, who appear to be only able to beat other NFC West teams at home. Atlanta, even in their weaker state, while they figure things out, are still leagues ahead of the NFC West.
Pick: Falcons win, cover
NY Giants (-1) at Arizona
Well, the bettors have come in against the Giants, for some reason doubting the Giants and believing in Arizona's home field advantage. But after last week's loss to the Seahawks, can you really put any faith in the Cardinals? Besides, the Giants are starting to return players from their lengthy injury list, and seemed fired up by their win over the Eagles. As long as the NFC West remains the football purgatory that it is, I won't be picking them against most other teams. Especially not a seemingly rising Giants team.
Pick: Giants win, cover
Miami at San Diego (-7)
San Diego managed to get through September with a winning record, which probably elicited a champagne shower in their locker room. I have a feeling Dolphins players would have a similar reaction if coach Tony Sparano were fired. The Dolphins are a team with tons of talent, but they look like they've given up on their coach, and have a sort of self fulfilling prophecy in terms of losing. Now, on the road, they play a team that gets better as the season rolls on, at home. As much as the Chargers like to bungle early season games, it'll be hard against a team determined to lose.
Pick: Chargers win, cover
Denver at Green Bay (-12.5)
It's the Packers. They're the preeminent team in the league right now. They've been playing at a level below their best and still impressively winning. Denver, meanwhile, doesn't have enough to beat the Titans, and could barely beat the Bengals. With the Packers at home, it's hard to see any chance the Broncos have in this game, besides an injury to Aaron Rodgers. Even then, it would be close, and the Packers might still win. There's just too much talent on the roster.
Pick: Packers win, covers
New England (-4) at Oakland
Last week was an emotional victory for the Raiders, as they shook off a bad Week 2 loss to the Bills and manhandled the Jets, taking revenge for last year's blowout loss. As much as I would like to say the Raiders are going to pull another upset, the Patriots are still the Patriots, and they usually respond after losses. Brady is not going to have another game like he did last week unless the Raiders get a ton of pressure on him, which seems unlikely. The Patriots are going to come out focused and put any fears of a slide to bed; still, I like the Raiders to keep it within range because they now have a top 5 running back in Darren McFadden and the Patriots defense is atrocious.
Pick: Patriots win, Raiders cover
NY Jets at Baltimore (-3.5)
Nothing would make me happier than to see the Jets be crushed under the mountain of hype they put on themselves; and it looks a real possibility this season, especially with this game and the Patriots coming up next week. The running game has disappeared, Mark Sanchez still has plenty of room to grow as a quarterback, and the defense hasn't been their usual stellar selves. The Ravens, meanwhile, re-focused after a sloppy Week 2 loss and crushed the Rams in Week 3. The Ravens have one of the best running backs in the league so far in Ray Rice and the semblance of a passing game this year; and the defense is as stingy. So, goodbye Jets, down the rabbit hole where all your brash statements are thrown right back at you.
Indianapolis at Tampa Bay (-10)
This is the eight year anniversary of an exciting game once played between these two (a huge comeback for the Colts, who were down 35-14 at one point in the 3rd quarter, and came back to win 38-35); but the anniversary will not be marked by a repeat performance. The big change is that Curtis Painter starts for the Colts, while Tampa Bay has a team full of young studs on offense and an improving defense. The Colts are still dead in the water without Peyton Manning, and I can't see them making any movements towards life anytime soon, unless Peyton Manning magically wakes up with a new spinal system. The 2011 Colts are the San Antonio Spurs the year they got Tim Duncan- horribly bad at the perfect time. If Andrew Luck ends up with the Colts... well, we'll know that God loves Indianapolis. But only the football team.
Pick: Buccaneers wins, covers
Season: 31-17 Overall, 20-26-2 ATS