N.F.L. Week 4 Predictions: Our Picks Against the Spread

N.F.L. Week 4 Predictions: Our Picks Against the Spread

October 1, 2020

The N.F.L.’s nearly perfect record in containing the coronavirus took a major hit when multiple members of the Tennessee Titans tested positive following last week’s win over Minnesota. Now, a matchup between Tennessee and Pittsburgh — both of which are 3-0 — has been delayed and the rest of the league will be contemplating what would happen if another shoe dropped.

The situation further complicates the season for a league that often finds itself hard to root for, but assuming everything goes off as planned, here is a look at N.F.L. Week 4, with all picks made against the point spread.

Last week’s record: 10-6

Overall record: 27-21

Here’s what you need to know for Week 4:

Sunday’s Best Games

New England Patriots at Kansas City Chiefs, 4:25 p.m., CBS

Line: Chiefs -7 | Total: 54

There is no shortage of enthusiasm for the Chiefs (3-0) after Kansas City brushed off the mighty Baltimore Ravens. And while that high gear appears to be available to the Chiefs whenever they need it (see: the second half of each of last year’s postseason games) there is reason to believe they simply don’t always go all-out. How else would you explain Kansas City needing overtime to beat the Chargers a week before their triumph in Baltimore?

The question now is if Cam Newton and the Patriots (2-1) are a big enough threat to bring out the best in Kansas City or if the Chiefs will underestimate them at their own peril.

In many ways, New England appears to be set up as well as anyone to compete with Kansas City. Its defense is strongest in the secondary, where cornerback Stephon Gilmore might be able to reasonably contain Kansas City wide receiver Tyreek Hill, and its offense is heavily run-focused, which is a weak point for the Chiefs defense — one that Baltimore almost bizarrely couldn’t exploit enough last week.

But Mahomes has had some tough luck against teams led by Coach Bill Belichick in the past, and if the young quarterback wants to prove a point, he will. Pick: Chiefs -7

Los Angeles Chargers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Buccaneers -7 | Total: 43.5

It’s good to be the Buccaneers (2-1). Tom Brady is settling in well and the team’s defense has proved that it is a force. An injury to wide receiver Chris Godwin takes away a little of their offensive upside, but Tampa Bay seems like it might be a playoff team — one that could struggle against the elites, but also one that can handle middling teams just fine.

The Chargers (1-2) likely also view themselves as a playoff team, but while there will be plenty of focus on whether Tyrod Taylor or Justin Herbert will start at quarterback this week, the larger concern is on defense, where Los Angeles expects to be without defensive end Melvin Ingram, defensive tackle Justin Jones and cornerback Chris Harris Jr. That could lead to more time for Brady to throw, and more room for wide receiver Mike Evans to get open. The potential is there for a Tampa Bay blowout, but a narrower win should be expected. Pick: Chargers +7

Indianapolis Colts at Chicago Bears, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Colts -2.5 | Total: 45

The Colts (2-1) have followed their embarrassing Week 1 loss to Jacksonville with a pair of convincing victories over fairly weak competition. That qualifies as a good start, and it is one that is much more sustainable than the perfect record of the Bears (3-0). Rarely has a team seemed so unjustifiably undefeated, but Chicago has been bizarrely magical in the fourth quarter. Last week’s come-from-behind win over Atlanta convinced the Bears that Nick Foles should be starting at quarterback, which is a positive change, but they probably can’t rely on the Colts to collapse like Detroit and Atlanta did. Pick: Colts -2.5

Buffalo Bills at Las Vegas Raiders, 4:25 p.m., CBS

Line: Bills -3 | Total: 52

What in the world is going on with the Bills’ (3-0) defense? The team returned nearly everyone from last season’s stout crew and they’ve looked terrible, regardless of the team’s undefeated start. They’ve allowed 25.7 points and 380 yards per game, and those numbers don’t appear to be fluky, as Football Outsiders has them ranked 24th in their catchall metric of Defense-adjusted Value Over Average.

The bad defense has … worked out fine thus far. Their success owes to the emergence of quarterback Josh Allen, who has thrown for at least 300 yards in each game and has an absurd passer rating of 124.8, now that he’s got a true No. 1 target in receiver Stefon Diggs. But if Buffalo is going to keep this strong start going and win a road game against the fairly decent Raiders (2-1) the defense will have to figure things out. Don’t bet against it. Pick: Bills -3

Thursday’s Matchup

Denver Broncos at Jets, 8:20 p.m., NFL Network

Line: Even | Total: 40

This was a questionable prime time matchup even when the Broncos (0-3) had their starting quarterback (Drew Lock) and their best wide receiver (Courtland Sutton) available and the Jets (0-3) still had some shred of hope that their defense could handle life without safety Jamal Adams (nope).

As things currently stand, Denver will give quarterback Brett Rypien his first career start in a game that oddsmakers have mostly marked as even. That would normally mean they found it too close to call, but in this case they may have found the game too boring to contemplate.

Rypien is the nephew of Mark Rypien, who was the most valuable player of the Super Bowl following the 1991 season. So at least the broadcast crew will have something to discuss. Pick: Jets

Sunday’s Other Games

Baltimore Ravens at Washington Football Team, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Ravens -13 | Total: 47

Everyone loves a pile-on, and Twitter was ablaze on Monday with mentions that Lamar Jackson and the Ravens (2-1) have never won a game in which they were trailing at halftime. It’s a perfectly valid statistic that ignores the fact that Jackson has lost a grand total of four regular-season games over the last three seasons. As three of those four losses came against Patrick Mahomes, and Mahomes is very unlikely to suit up for the Footballers (1-2), a Baltimore win that gets the team back on track seems fairly predictable. Will they justify the two-touchdown spread? You shouldn’t put it past them. Pick: Ravens -13

Minnesota Vikings at Houston Texans, 1 p.m. Fox

Line: Off | Total: Off

While Tennessee had its game delayed as a result of positive coronavirus tests, the Vikings (0-3), who played the Titans last week, appear on track to play, despite the team’s facilities being closed during the week. This was already seeming like a potential blowout, with Deshaun Watson and the Texans (0-3) getting a chance to work out their frustrations on one of the worst defenses in the N.F.L. If the game is played as scheduled, and Minnesota has to take the field with almost no in-person preparation, it could get ugly. Pick: Texans

Philadelphia Eagles at San Francisco 49ers, 8:20 p.m., NBC

Line: 49ers -7 | Total: 45

The cupboard won’t be as bare as it was last week, but the 49ers (2-1) are still nowhere near full strength. Cornerback Richard Sherman is at least a week away from returning, as is wide receiver Deebo Samuel. And the team added to its injury report with running back Jerick McKinnon (ribs) and cornerback Emmanuel Moseley (concussion).

But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, running back Raheem Mostert and tight end George Kittle all potentially available. That would be terrible news for the Eagles (0-2-1), who, in fairness, have been playing so poorly that they’d likely lose to San Francisco even if Nick Mullens and the Expendables had to take the field for a second consecutive week.

If either Garoppolo or Mostert is active, the seven-point spread seems fair. If they’re both out, Philadelphia might only lose by a field goal or two. Pick: 49ers -7

Cleveland Browns at Dallas Cowboys, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Cowboys -4.5 | Total: 55.5

The Cowboys (1-2) have played three incredibly exciting games already this season, but they’ve lost two of them, which isn’t exactly a strong endorsement of the Coach Mike McCarthy era. The yardage has come in huge chunks on both sides of the ball: Dak Prescott’s 1,188 passing yards are the fifth-most a player has ever had through three weeks but the Cowboys’ opponents are averaging 404.7 yards per game (while scoring an average of 32.3 points per game).

With that in mind, the Browns (2-1) have a shot to get to 3-1 for the first time since 2001 with a huge day from either quarterback Baker Mayfield or running Nick Chubb — or both. Dallas should be favored, but this could come down to which team has the ball last. Pick: Browns +4.5

Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Cardinals -3.5 | Total: 52

Despite a surprising loss to Detroit last week, the Cardinals (2-1) have established that their offense must be reckoned with. Quarterback Kyler Murray is a budding star and the off-season trade for wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins looks better every day, as Hopkins is leading the N.F.L. with 32 catches for 356 yards and the cost Arizona paid for him (running back David Johnson and two draft picks) is negligible since Kenyan Drake has done quite well in Johnson’s place. The Panthers (1-2), meanwhile, are significantly hampered by the absence of running back Christian McCaffrey, and while Carolina won on the road last week, that was the result of turnovers that the Cardinals are unlikely to give them. Pick: Cardinals -3.5

Seattle Seahawks at Miami Dolphins, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Seahawks -6.5 | Total: 54.5

The Seahawks (3-0) are undefeated despite their defense allowing almost 500 yards a game. That’s part oddity and part testament to Seattle’s offense, with Russell Wilson outplaying even Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson so far this season. Wilson has an N.F.L.-record 14 touchdown passes through three weeks and would potentially have 15 if not for DK Metcalf having let a sure 62-yard touchdown be knocked away for a fumble and a touchback, which allowed Dallas to finally experience the other end of Leon Lett’s infamous blunder. (Metcalf made up for his mistake by catching the go-ahead score with less than two minutes remaining.)

The Dolphins (1-2), meanwhile, had a nice long break after their huge win over Jacksonville on Thursday of Week 3. Ryan Fitzpatrick is unpredictable and prone to mistakes, but he is also likely excited for a shot at the current version of Seattle’s defense. A shootout would still favor the Seahawks, but the score could be fairly close. Pick: Dolphins +6.5

New Orleans Saints at Detroit Lions, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Saints -4.5 | Total: 54.5

Few would have expected these teams to come into Week 4 with the same record, but it’s also doubtful anyone expected the Saints (1-2) to have allowed 31.3 points a game. A close look shows a team that has acquitted itself well against the run but has struggled against the pass far more than expected while dealing with some fairly explosive competition. With all that in mind, the Lions (1-2) might put up a bit of a fight. Coming off an upset of Arizona, Detroit has run the ball a lot this season thanks to the ageless Adrian Peterson, but the potential is always there for a big passing day from Matthew Stafford. The expected return of wide receiver Michael Thomas could be a corner-turning moment for the New Orleans offense, but on the road they are a questionable favorite. Pick: Lions +4.5

Giants at Los Angeles Rams, 4:05 p.m., Fox

Line: Rams -12 | Total: 48.5

The Rams (2-1) are likely smarting from a wild ride last week in which they were getting blown out, 28-3, by Buffalo, then charged back to take thelead in the fourth quarter, only to have Josh Allen rip out their hearts in the final seconds. Crushing the spirit of the Giants (0-3) in retaliation isn’t really possible, as the Giants’ spirit should have been permanently crushed in their humiliating loss to the 49ers’ backups last week. That won’t stop Los Angeles from trying.

There’s no question that the Rams could win this game by 12 or more if they kept their concentration and wanted to make a point, but expecting a slightly narrower margin — with fairly little drama to it — is far more realistic. Pick: Giants +12

Jacksonville Jaguars at Cincinnati Bengals, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Bengals -3 | Total: 48.5

At a glance, the passing defense of the Jaguars (1-2) looks bad — they’re ranked 19th in total passing yards allowed — but if you delve in a bit deeper things are much worse. They are allowing an N.F.L.-worst 118.6 passer rating, have had only three sacks over three games and, according to Football Outsiders, are the least efficient unit by a country mile, making even the Jets seem competent by comparison.

Enter Joe Burrow of the Bengals (0-2-1) who hasn’t won a game yet, but has 628 yards passing, five touchdowns and no interceptions over his last two starts. Rookies are unpredictable, and the Jaguars’ offense isn’t quite as bad as it looked last week, but Cincinnati is a rightful favorite. Pick: Bengals -3

Monday’s Matchup

Atlanta Falcons at Green Bay Packers, 8:15 p.m., ESPN

Line: Packers -7.5 | Total: 57.5

Aaron Rodgers has a reputation as a quarterback who rises to the biggest moments, and he’s had a few truly memorable games in prime time, so it’s mildly surprising that his career record on Mondays is just 9-8. By winning percentage, he is actually strongest in the 4 p.m. Eastern time games on Sundays, when his career record is an incredible 32-11.

How does that relate to this week? Other than that Monday record almost assuredly improving to 10-8, it likely won’t come up. Rodgers looks very comfortable in Coach Matt LaFleur’s offense, and the Packers have more points through three games (122) than any other team in Green Bay history. Put that offense up against the Falcons (0-3), who have looked terrible on defense and have blown enormous leads in back-to-back weeks, and you might expect a blowout.

But Green Bay’s offense is going to slow down on occasion, and a game at home against a lowly opponent might be a moment for the whole team to relax a little. A win should still be expected, but maybe not one by more than a touchdown. Pick: Falcons +7.5

A Matchup to Come

Pittsburgh Steelers at Tennessee Titans

Line: Off | Total: Off

The week’s only matchup between undefeated teams seemed to be in the running with the Patriots and Chiefs’ matchup for the game of the week, but everything is up in the air with the Titans (3-0) unable to practice because of positive coronavirus tests and the Steelers (3-0) being forced to sit around until Monday, or possibly Tuesday, to get the game in. Whenever the game is contested, the effect of Tennessee’s lack of in-person practice will be immeasurable. Before the positive tests, the Titans were looking strong on offense and terrible on defense, relying on the team’s veteran kicker, Stephen Gostkowski, to hit a go-ahead field goal in the final minutes of all three of their wins. Keeping things so close against Pittsburgh would be an awful idea. Coupled with their huge advantage in terms of practice time, the Steelers should have the upper hand, even on the road. Pick: Steelers

How Betting Lines Work

A quick primer for those who are not familiar with betting lines: Favorites are listed next to a negative number that represents how many points they must win by to cover the spread. Cowboys -4.5, for example, means that Dallas must beat Cleveland by at least five points for its backers to win their bet. Gamblers can also bet on the total score, or whether the teams’ combined score in the game is over or under a preselected number of points.

All times are Eastern.

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