Wow. The NFL Week four preview already! A quarter of the season – gone? REALLY? Tempus fugit
Last week I did my picks but did not post them, so that’ll be my own “bye week.” This week, the Carolina Panthers have a bye that couldn’t have come at a worse time. They will have to wait an extra week to see if they can carry their momentum from their crushing 38-0 win over the New York Giants. I included a player to watch, other than the obvious stars, whenever they are on the field.
49’ers @ Rams: Both these teams have had a disappointing start with the both squads being 1-2. The Rams’ defense has been surprisingly soft while the Niners’ offense has been surprisingly mired down in the bog. Can’t blame the WRs on the Niners, as they do have a healthy Anquan Boldin and TE Vernon Davis, so Kaepernick has a couple of targets available. RB Frank Gore is ticked off at getting only 11 carries in last week’s loss, and DL Aldon Smith is on indefinite leave of absence due to his problem with alcohol so there’s not much joy in Mudville these days. One of these teams is going to have to bounce back regardless of the situation. Look for the Niners to get back to their run-first offense and slow the game down for a number of reasons, but I think Rams’ Head Coach Jeff Fisher is game planning for exactly that, but there are just so many variables at work here. The Rams’ offense is VERY streaky, but in the end with all the distractions this week in California, the St. Louis team, comfy at home, will rise to the occasion.
Player to watch: Frank Gore, RB, Niners – Jim Harbaugh heard the complaints from the usually quiet Gore and message received; Gore should get 25+ carries.
Rams 30, Niners 17
Giants @ Chiefs: The 3-0 Chiefs visit MetLife Stadium and the 0-3 Giants. The two teams are obviously headed in opposite directions and Head Coach Andy Reid is getting the most out of the talented Chiefs roster he has – especially on defense. The KC offense is sluggish at times and struggles to turn those turnovers into points, but at least they get surprise field position a few series per game. Alex Smith has 0 interceptions on the season. Not so much with the Giants as their offensive line is a horrible mess, giving up 7 sacks to the Carolina Panthers last week and it could have been 10 or more. More bad news this week for Tom Coughlin.
Player to watch: David Wilson, RB, Giants – if the Giants are going to do anything at all, they HAVE to establish the running game.
Chiefs 34, Giants 13
Cardinals @ Bucs: A very interesting match-up here as rookie QB Mike Glennon has become the starting QB for the struggling Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Their defense is quite good but their offense has struggled all season as rumors of ousted QB Josh Freeman’s poor work ethic have been spreading for weeks. He has lost the locker room, wasn’t voted as a team Captain, and Glennon could provide the team a spark, despite his inexperience. Remember, Glennon was the guy who beat out Russell Wilson at NC State, so the guy has talent. The Cardinals are going to have a woeful offensive line all season, losing rookie first-round pick UNC guard Jonathan Cooper for the year. The Cards’ defense is quite good and should hold this game close. I think we’ll see a lot of turnovers, so that also throws a wrench in the works. However, I think the Bucs being at home and the spark with the change at QB should give them enough to beat a Cardinals team that simply struggles on offense against anyone.
Player to watch: Darrell Revis, CB, Bucs – he should be going up against Larry Fitzgerald so this will be a big test to see what level Revis is playing at. Obviously, Bucs QB Mike Glennon gets his first start ever so it will be an interesting game, but I’m more interested in how Revis is doing.
Bucs 28, Cardinals 10
Colts at Jaguars: Pretty much a no-brainer here, which worries me. The Colts struggled last week as they tried to work their new toy, RB Trent Richardson, into the mix. This week, they play a team that is almost bereft of talent on both sides of the ball other than at WR, and Justin Blackmon is sitting out his final game due to suspension. While Jags’ WR Cecil Shorts should have a good game, he’s about it for them. Look for the Jags to draft Jadaveon Clowney next April for a monster DE, but that’s a year away.
Player to watch: Coby Fleener, TE, Colts – with TE Dwayne Allen injured, Luck’s favorite college target should see his share of targets.
Colts 38, Jaguars 17
Steelers @ Vikings: Two surprising 0-3 starts for for two teams that you would think would be better than that at this point. Minnesota is coming off a playoff berth and the Steelers are, well, USUALLY the Steelers. This season, their defense seems more pedestrian than usual and they have a lot of holes on the offensive line, but rookie RB Le’Veon Bell should play in this week’s contest. On the other hand, the defense has to face the NFL’s best running back in Adrian Peterson. Peterson will get his yards as he does against everyone, but can Christian Ponder start stepping up to the plate? Now would be a good time! I think the Steelers’ veteran team will handle the whole trip to London better, so I’m going with them. After all, they get to see Big Ben every day.
Player to watch: Le’Veon Bell, RB, Steelers – if he can get going, the pressure on Big Ben will ease considerably going forward.
Steelers 20, Vikings 13
Ravens @ Bills: The Baltimore Ravens looked as completely decimated a ball club as was wondered about all off-season with the dismantling of the squad on both sides of the ball. Gone are people like Ray Lewis, Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe, and Anquan Boldin, and the defense looked extremely porous in their opening day loss when they allowed Peyton Manning to shred them for 7 TD passes. The Bills are on the other end, having the best rookie QB from this year’s class in E.J. Manuel. The Bills are a better team than most people think and they’ll only get better with experience and snaps for Manuel. However, the Ravens are led by Super Bowl-winning QB Joe Flacco and still have enough defense to win. The Bills defense is too up and down to rely on consistently.
Player to watch: Bernard Pierce, RB, Ravens – If Ray Rice isn’t able to go, check out Pierce. They wanted to reduce the workload on Rice anyway and Pierce’s yards per carry has been increasing the last few years as Ray’s has decreased.
Ravens 37, Bills 21
Bengals @ Browns: Well, the Browns have “new management,” QB Brandon Weeden doesn’t seem to be “the guy” for them, and they threw in the towel for 2013 by trading away RB Trent Richardson, whom only a year ago they traded UP a spot from #4 to #3 overall to obtain! What a waste, considering the Colts will probably be giving them a pick in the low-mid 20’s in 2014’s draft. The Bengals are no longer the Bungles, and have a great young defensive front and an all-around solid team.
Player to watch: Josh Gordon, WR, Cleveland – Gordon is the most explosive and exciting player on the team and is a real game-changer.
Bengals 27, Browns 10
Bears at Lions: DAAAAAA BEARSSSSSSS proved they’re just as potent on the road as at home last week while the Lions are already struggling with injuries. RB Reggie Bush is hobbled and WR Nate Burleson broke his arm in two places because a pizza was sliding off the car seat. Poor guy – really – I’ve saved pizza from an ugly death before and it’s a reaction. The Lions are in turmoil right now and the Bears are running on all cylinders.
Player to watch: Alshon Jeffery, WR, Chicago – Injured most of his rookie season, the 6’5″ former Gamecock is being worked into the offense and should see more targets/touches as he gets more comfortable. He and Brandon Marshall are as physical a pair of WRs as you’ll see anywhere.
Bears 38, Lions 24
Seahawks @ Texans: Seattle’s defensive reputation precedes them, and Texans WR Andre Johnson should be matching up with 6’3″ All-Pro corner Mike Sherman this week. The Seattle defense is stout against the run as well, meaning Arian Foster and Ben Tate will have to earn every yard they get. QB Russell Wilson is quite savvy, elusive, and very accurate with the deep ball. Houston has had some scary-close wins over mediocre opponents. I think the Texans are in for a challenge at home – Ed Reed or not.
Player to watch: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston – With Andre getting Sherman, Hopkins is still facing good defenders. This game will be a good test of the Clemson rookie’s progress after having a nice game last week.
Seahawks 17, Texans 16
Jets @ Titans: The Jets are an ugly 2-1 and the Titans are a surprising 2-1 themselves. The Jets’ defense is still good while rookie QB Geno Smith is learning quickly. Jake Locker of the Titans is still not exactly lighting things up while CJ2K has underperformed so far this season. Their defense has been getting things done thus far, but I think we’re in for an upset of sorts with the Jets coming out on top after, yes, an ugly game.
Player to watch: Stephen Hill, WR, New York – Hill is the team’s leading receiver and physically similar to Megatron, so he is a monster with the ball in his hands with speed to get deep as well. He’s still quite raw, but he’s starting to produce, and that’s dangerous if you’re a Titans defender.
Jets 20, Titans 17 (OT)
Eagles @ Broncos: If the Eagles can’t protect the ball as in four turnovers in the first half against the Chiefs last week, this could get ugly early. The Eagles have a sparse defense and Peyton Manning should really pick them apart – especially at home.
Player to watch: Julius Thomas, TE, Denver – This kid has come out of seemingly nowhere to become an overnight sensation.
Denver 48, Eagles 27
Cowboys @ Chargers: The Cowboys come in at 2-1 and the Chargers are probably as dangerous a 1-2 team as is out there. QB Phillip Rivers has really stepped up his game, but the Cowboys have amped up their secondary in the last couple of years. Classic strength vs. strength when the Chargers have the ball. With the Cowboys’ DeMarco Murray exploding for 170+ yards last week, it gives Tony Romo some help now that enemy defenses have to watch out for the running game as well. This one should be quite close, and in another upset, I’m taking the Chargers.
Player to Watch: Eddie Royal, WR, San Diego – suddenly, he’s Phillip Rivers’ favorite red-zone target, despite TE Antonio Gates’ presence. Interesting.
Chargers 31, Cowboys 21
Redskins @ Raiders: RGIII is starting to look like his “old/rookie” self a bit more as he begins to trust his knee more. When you watch this game, see if he plants that rear foot solidly when going back on his drops and if he “falls away” from his throws or whether he follows through like usual. That’ll give you a barometer of how he’s feeling physically. It’s not certain that the Raiders will start Terrelle Pryor after his concussion, so with all that up in the air it’s hard for me to see them playing a great game, offensively. My bet is regardless of who starts, they’ll lean a bit more on RB Darren McFadden in the first half with the hopes of breaking longer runs in the second half, depending on how the defense handles a hot QB in Phillip Rivers.
Player to watch: RGIII – as stated above, closely watch his throwing mechanics and drop-backs.
Redskins 27, Raiders 23
Patriots @ Falcons: The Patriots are the ugliest 3-0 team in the NFL. Aside from Julian Edelman, Tom Brady’s list of targets that know Bill Belichick’s complex offense is tiny. The upside? It has been reported that “Gronk” should play, but I don’t think he’ll be a factor just yet. Danny Amendola should also be available. The Falcons are going in without Steven Jackson, who is out another week or two with a deep thigh bruise, but the Falcons have the best overall skill position players in the NFL….Matt Ryan, Tony Gonzalez, Roddy White, and Julio Jones. The receivers have been banged up a bit but Julio had an 85-yard TD catch and run last week, despite his maladies, so the offense remains potent. the Falcons are extremely difficult to beat at home, and this is one season that the Patriots won’t be able to win many shootout-style games.
Player to watch: Chandler Jones, DE, Pats
Falcons 34, Patriots 20
Dolphins @ Saints: Here on Monday night, we’ve got the week’s most intriguing match-up. Both teams are undefeated heading into the game at the Superdome and coach Payton has his team looking sharp. Most impressively, the defense has improved by leaps and bounds under Rob Ryan. The offense hasn’t been as explosive as in the past so much, but with Drew Brees at the helm, that can change at any time. The Dolphins were one of the most talked about teams of the offseason, spending huge money on targets for QB Ryan Tannehill and moving up in April’s draft to surprisingly take DE Dion Jordan from Oregon when they really needed a left tackle to protect Tannehill. Jonathan Martin has been struggling there at times, but you can’t argue with their record. The ‘Fins defense is top-ten and I think they are for real.
Player to watch: Brian Hartline, WR, Miami – Roadrunner Mike Wallace gets the publicity and the glamour. Hartline gets the dirty work done, keeps those chains moving, and has 4.5 speed of his own at 6’2″ on the other side.
Dolphins 28, Saints 27
Boy, am I picking a ton of upsets this week! I’m sure I’ll pay for it next week, but hey I just tell you how I feel!
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