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Week 4 NFL Picks

Cam Newton is one of the NFL’s premiere stars. He’s also underrated. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Last Week: 13 – 3 – 0
Season: 34 – 14 – 0

Thursday Recap

Ravens 23 at Steelers 20
I thought John Harbaugh had a tough night. The fake FG seemed an unnecessary gamble considering you have the best kicker in football and the opposition is without their starting quarterback. I wasn’t crazy about the generic call on 4th and 1 two drives later, either. It was another one of those situations where they approached the prior 3rd and 1 as if it was a foregone conclusion they’d get it.

Then Mike Tomlin’s final 15 minutes happened and I realized Harbaugh’s night wasn’t so bad. I don’t blame Tomlin for passing on two field goals in overtime. I blame him for the play calls on both 4th downs. Mike Vick is old. Accuracy has never been his strength. You have to figure if you give Le’Veon Bell the football on both 4th downs, I’m guessing there’s a 92% chance he converts one of them. Kudos to the Steelers for keeping Baltimore’s season kicking. Given the Roethlisberger injury, we may point back to this win as the determining factor when deciding playoff fates. Anyway, I continue to love that the smallest, weakest individuals on the field often decide such a violent sport. Yay kickers.

***Picks updated 12:15PM ET 10/4/15 to reflect Luck’s absence and Brees playing.

Early, Early Game (9:30AM ET)

Jets at Dolphins
London isn’t far enough away for Dolphin fans right now. Miami is perhaps the most perplexing team of this young season. A defense that many expected to be a top unit has been downright awful. The offense hasn’t been much better. Miami averaged 117 yards per game on the ground in 2014 at 4.7 yards per rush. Through three disappointing games in 2015, Miami is averaging only 72 yards per game at 4 yards per rush. I don’t know what to think about the Jets. The Eagles were pretty bad last week and the Jets were never in that game until the final minutes of the 4th quarter. I’m taking the desperate Dolphins. DOLPHINS If I were Charles Barkley; Dolphins +2

Early Games (1:00PM ET)

Jaguars at Colts
We’re still waiting for a more traditional Andrew Luck outing. You know, the kind where he throws for over 300 yards, a couple TDs and only one interception instead of three. COLTS If I were Charles Barkley; Colts -4

Giants at Bills
I don’t know why I give the Giants so much respect when picking games. They’ve only looked good in stretches this season. Their lone win was over the lowly Redskins. Meanwhile, the Bills have beaten the Colts and crushed Miami on the road. It doesn’t make sense that I like the Giants here. They can’t run the ball. The defense is suspect at best. I need to pick the Bills. Even without LeSean McCoy and Sammy Watkins, the Bills should still win this one. BILLS If I were Charles Barkley; Bills -5.5

Panthers at Buccaneers
Cam Newton is one of those rare athletes that garners a lot of attention but is still underrated. If you need proof, look at Andrew Luck. Up until his 2015 struggles, Luck was the darling of the league, media and fans alike. When potential MVP candidates are mentioned, Luck is always there among Brady, Rodgers and Manning. When the NFL’s next greatest quarterback conversation bubbles up, Luck is always the leader in the clubhouse. Newton, in his own right, is often considered one of the NFL’s top players, but it’s always in that context; a player. Rarely is Newton mentioned as a great quarterback. Granted, Newton has plenty of weaknesses. His mechanics often drive Panther fans crazy. I’m not making the argument Newton should be heralded as an equal of Brady and Rodgers, but he’s every bit as good as Luck. Look at their stats:

Luck:
13,710 Pass Yards
58% completion percentage
91 TD, 50 INT
970 Rush, 12 TD, 30 FUM
QBR (in order from 2012-2015); 65.24, 62, 58.69, 30.9

Newton:
15,111 Pass Yards
59% completion percentage
87 TD, 56 INT
2,715 Rush, 35 TD, 25 FUM
QBR (in order from 2011-2015); 56.2, 57.6, 61.1, 54.4, 60.7

As you can see, the stats are quite similar. One could make the easy argument that Newton has a full year on Luck so Newton’s numbers are less impressive. Not really. In a little over three seasons, Luck is only 93 pass attempts behind Newton. They’ve essentially thrown the football the same amount. If you’d like to discuss divisions and surrounding talent, both have played in two of the weaker divisions in the NFL. Luck’s division is certainly the weaker of the two. Luck has been in the postseason each of his three full years in the NFL. Newton’s been there the last two of his four year career. As for talent around them, neither has been surrounded with exceptional talent. Both lack a consistence run game and neither has boasted a top receiver until the recent emergence of T.Y. Hilton and Kelvin Benjamin (injured for 2015). All in all, their surroundings are pretty equal, and their respective stats have been almost identical, too. Next time someone wants to talk about how great Andrew Luck is, or who you think will be the NFL’s top QB in five years, feel free to point out Cam Newton is every bit as good as Andrew Luck. PANTHERS If I were Charles Barkley; Panthers -3.5

Eagles at Redskins
Chip Kelly blames coverage changes by opposing defenses for his offense’s lack of big plays. If you believe that, I have a bridge in California I’ll sell you for 98% of its cost. Absolutely, defenses have changed their coverages. I’m sure they did midseason in 2013, too. You don’t think defenses have changed their coverages in regards to Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Brown or Julio Jones? Of course they have. It doesn’t matter much, does it? Talent matters more than scheming or coverage adjustments. Someone tell Chip to pull his head out of his rear and take some responsibility for the offense’s struggles. EAGLES If I were Charles Barkley; Eagles -3

Raiders at Bears
I’m not done with Chip Kelly yet. Even if defensive adjustments were stifling Kelly’s offense, isn’t he supposed to be the offensive guru of all offensive gurus? Can’t he figure out how to outsmart the defense? Can’t his “revolutionary” system manipulate defenses? If he can insert any player into his system and still have success, why would a defense’s adjustments matter? Obviously, this is all a part of being a head coach, and no, I wouldn’t normally criticize a coach as aggressively for struggling to adjust. However, Kelly has been the most arrogant coach in his brief run in the NFL. He likes to remind us he knows all and his system is supreme. Instead of his offense dominating the league, Kelly is making excuses. I’m not buying. Also, Derek Carr and Amari Cooper are having a great start to the 2015 season. The Raiders may have finally found some young offensive talent to build around. RAIDERS If I were Charles Barkley; Raiders -3

Texans at Falcons
I’m interested to see Arian Foster suit up for the Texans. If he’s at or near full strength, he’ll open up that struggling Houston offense. The Texans will need some added offense to keep pace with the potent Falcons. FALCONS If I were Charles Barkley; Falcons -7

Chiefs at Bengals
I don’t know what to make of the Bengals. According to the line, Vegas doesn’t know what to make of the Bengals either. BENGALS If I were Charles Barkley; Bengals -4

Afternoon Games (4:05PM ET)

Browns at Chargers
It’s early, but it doesn’t appear the Browns are heading anywhere this season. Why waste time with a 36-year-old castoff instead of giving your 22-year-old 1st round pick as many reps as possible? Yes, Josh McCown is a much better passer, but it wasn’t as if Johnny Manziel was a train wreck in his two outings this season. CHARGERS If I were Charles Barkley; Chargers -7.5

Packers at 49ers
Since 2012, Aaron Rodgers is 0-4 against the 49ers. For whatever reason, Colin Kaepernick actually plays like a franchise QB against the Packers. In the 2012 playoffs Kaepernick threw for over 250 yards and rushed for another 180. He also scored 4 touchdowns. Nine months after that, Kaepernick outplayed Rodgers and tossed 3 touchdowns to go with over 400 passing yards (still a career high by over 60 yards). Kaepernick is 3-0 vs Rodgers, including two impressive playoff wins. Considering the barb he tossed at Russell Wilson two weeks ago, I’m thinking Rodgers hasn’t forgotten about those those painful losses. PACKERS If I were Charles Barkley; Packers -9

Rams at Cardinals
The NFC West gets no love. Of the four late games, this is obviously the most intriguing. This is the first competent opponent the Cardinals have faced this season. The Rams always play like title contenders against division opponents despite playing like garbage against the rest of the NFL. It’s tough to say there are “must wins” in Week 4, but if the Rams have any hope of winning the division, this is a game they’re going to need. But, instead of broadcasting this NFC West battle to a national audience, most of the country will see the Packers slaughter the 49ers or the Broncos methodically beat the Vikings. CARDINALS If I were Charles Barkley; Rams +7

Vikings at Broncos
The Denver defense may be more fun to watch than Peyton Manning’s offense. At this point, it’s the Broncos defense that keeps Denver in the conversation with the Patriots as Super Bowl contenders in the AFC. Manning and the offense have strung together six solid quarters, though, so it’s not as if they’re still drowning like they were through the first six quarters of the season. However, the running game is still lost. At some point Manning won’t be able to withstand the added pass rush or the six defensive backs that often come as a result of a non-existent ground game. BRONCOS If I were Charles Barkley; Broncos -7

Sunday Night (8:30PM ET)

Cowboys at Saints
Tony Romo vs. Drew Brees turned into Jason Weeden vs. Luke McCown. Not exactly what NBC had in mind when it plucked this matchup for its Sunday night broadcast. Brees might actually play, but it won’t make much of a difference for the Saints. In fact, McCown played really well last week against a solid Carolina defense. His lone mistake was an interception (a great catch by Josh Norman, by the way) on what could have been the game-winning touchdown. Whether McCown or Brees starts shouldn’t be an issue for New Orleans given the struggles of Dallas’ pass rush. SAINTS If I were Charles Barkley; Saints -3

Monday Night (8:30PM ET)

Lions at Seahawks
Calving Johnson is really, really good, but he’s no longer Megatron. He looks slower. He can actually be contained now. This makes me exceptionally sad. Not because I’m a Calvin Johnson fanatic but because I too am 30. I see my own decline in 30-year-old athletes now. It’s depressing. If a human so athletically gifted as Calvin Johnson is already on the decline than I must be near hospice care. I’m just going to pretend I have Tom Brady or Tim Duncan genes and will be fine for the next decade. SEAHAWKS If I were Charles Barkley; Lions +10

*****

If I were Charles Barkley;
Last Week: 7 – 8 – 1
Last Season: 25 – 21 – 2

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