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Week 4 NFL Picks

Is Chicago’s defense enough, running inside the five, Cleveland doesn’t rock, and my favorite bad team. (Photo by Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Last Week:   8 – 8 – 0
Season:       27 – 20 – 1

Thursday Recap

Eagles 34 at Packers 27
I grew up during the Andy Reid era in Philadelphia. Reid was the king of overthinking simple decisions. Just this past week, we saw two different teams throw the football on four consecutive downs inside the five yard line. This is a simple decision made complex by coaches thinking too highly of their offensive systems. Football still boils down to a game of real estate. In Green Bay’s case, they had four opportunities to move an oval ball three feet. Coaches need to commit right on first down that they’re running the ball into that end zone. Don’t get cute. Do what makes sense. Also, thank you for not running the football, Matt LaFleur.

Beginning Impeachment Proceedings (Bye Week)

Jets
The AFC East must be the most depressing division in football. Only New England experiences joy and jubilation. Outside of the Patriots, what’s the pinnacle of each franchise over the last decade? For the Jets it’s the Rex Ryan era, which was nice, but nothing spectacular. In 2017, Buffalo reached the postseason for the first time in 18 years and promptly scored 3 points in the most forgettable playoff game of the 21st century. The Dolphins peak is a tough one. Was it Brandon Marshall winning Pro Bowl MVP or Dan Campbell jumping out to a 2-0 start as interim head coach before finishing 3-7? I’ll let you decide.

49ers
San Francisco better rack up the victories now because there is a December death march looming over their season. Beginning the last week in November, the 49ers host Green Bay, travel to Baltimore and New Orleans (presumably with Brees back by then), host Atlanta and the Rams, and then finish the season in Seattle. Best of luck.

Early Games (1:00PM ET)

Titans at Falcons
Matt Ryan drives me crazy and I’m not a Falcons fan. One minute the guys throwing inexcusable red zone interceptions, the next he looks like Peyton Manning. I get irrationally mad when my quarterback throws an incompletion. I can only imagine the agony of the Ryan roller coaster. Atlanta finally got its running game going in the 2nd half against the Colts last week. It’s critical to their season. When they rolled through the NFC in 2016, Atlanta rushed for 120 yards per game, good enough for 5th in the NFL. In 2017 that number dropped to 115 (13th in the league). It fell off a cliff last season, down to 98, which was 27th. The Falcons are currently 27th again at a dreadful 74 yards per game. The rapid and unexpected decline of Devonta Freeman is likely the biggest culprit, but he looked better Sunday than he has in years, so perhaps there is hope for Falcon fans. ATLANTA If I were Charles Barkley; Falcons -3.5

Patriots at Bills
Buffalo earned zero points for victories over the Jets and Giants. Okay, maybe half a point for their Week 1 victory over the Jets. I’ll accept the win over the Bengals, but only because Cincinnati is my favorite scrappy bad team. What I’m trying to say is this matchup of 3-0 teams is going to be a blowout. The Bills are fine. They’re just not any good. PATRIOTS If I were Charles Barkley; Patriots -7.5

Chiefs at Lions
My 9 year-old son said to me, “Dad, since the Eagles won, you realize Detroit would be in first place of the NFC North with a win Sunday?” First of all, he’s right, and Detroit in first place through four weeks would be shockingly impressive. Second, there’s no way Detroit beats Kansas City. Third, why is Patrick Mahomes so good and how did nine other teams not see this coming? CHIEFS If I were Charles Barkley; Chiefs -7

Raiders at Colts
Oakland is 1-2 and has shown no signs of life in seven quarters. Pittsburgh is 0-3 and counting on Mason Rudolph to save a season in which they’ve already surrendered their first round pick. If you need further proof Antonio Brown is a category 5 storm just ripping through franchises, I present you this; last week the Patriots failed to cover for the first time in their last seven games. COLTS If I were Charles Barkley; Colts -7

Chargers at Dolphins
Melvin Gordon is back. Dan Marino is not. CHARGERS If I were Charles Barkley; Chargers -14.5

Redskins at Giants
The absence of high expectations often make for the most enjoyable seasons. Donovan McNabb’s first year as full time starter was in 2000. The Eagles surprised everyone by winning 11 games and reached the Divisional Round of the playoffs. The next season he led the team to within a few plays of the Super Bowl. In 2017, Carson Wentz was the NFL’s likely MVP, leading the Eagles to an 11-2 record before a knee injury took him out. None of those seasons began with expectations anywhere near where the team ended up. Giants fans are about to enjoy one of those types of seasons. Unfortunately for them, the Saquon Barkley injury probably nullifies any hope of fighting for a playoff berth, but the play and ascension of Daniel Jones promises to be a fun ride. (Yes, I’m trying real hard to jinx this Danny Dimes thing. I liked it better when everyone agreed he’d be a bust.) GIANTS If I were Charles Barkley; Giants -3

Browns at Ravens
If we’re all being honest with ourselves, the Browns imploding would be about the most amazing thing, right? My favorite part of Cleveland’s struggles is how they respond to every piece of criticism by saying they don’t care but then thrown an insult back at the critic. Do you care or not? When someone criticizes the Patriots… wait, hold on… When the Patriots used to be criticized… they would shrug it off and move on. The Browns have a lot of talent with thin skin. Throw in a lousy head coach and horrific play calling and you have yourself a recipe for drama. In Sunday night’s defeat to the Rams, Browns Head Coach Freddie Kitchens was a mess. He, like the Packers, refused to run the ball on four consecutive downs inside the Rams five. Despite his quarterback under heavy pressure the entire 2nd half, Kitchens continually called plays where all three of his receivers ran routes at least 12 to 15 yards downfield, never once sending an outlet receiver underneath. Baker Mayfield is struggling right now for sure, but give Mayfield a competent play-caller and the results would assuredly be different. I’m excited for the 1-3 panic in Cleveland. RAVENS If I were Charles Barkley; Ravens -7

Panthers at Texans
Things are getting wild in Carolina. Is Cam Newton out for the year? Is his Vegan diet the reason for his poor play and injuries this season? Will Cam even have a job if Kyle Allen continues to excel? It’s going to be an interesting season for the Panthers. While only one game, it was nice to see the Panthers stretch the field again in Newton’s absence. There’s too much talent on that offense to restrict plays to within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage. As for the Texans, their victory over the Chargers was quietly the most impressive victory of the weekend. Perhaps I overvalue the Chargers. I don’t know, but what Deshaun Watson did last week was something. TEXANS If I were Charles Barkley; Texans -4

Afternoon Games (4:05PM ET)

Buccaneers at Rams
The Rams are good. Really good. That pass rush is probably the best in the NFL outside of Chicago. I’d argue the Rams have the deepest, most talented receiver corps in the league, too. At some point the running game and Todd Gurley’s health will need to be addressed, but for now this team is good enough to repeat as NFC Champs. And here’s why they won’t. Jared Goff isn’t good enough. That’s not news. It’s not even hard to see on your TV. The Rams should have crushed the Browns Sunday night by 20 and Goff’s play kept Cleveland in the game. Also, Sean McVay’s a little overrated. Don’t be angry, it’s true. Every time he punts on 4th and short near midfield I laugh at the talking heads that throw him in among the league’s most aggressive coaches. McVay coaches scared. It’s why he lost the Super Bowl and it’s why they won’t return to the Super Bowl in February. RAMS If I were Charles Barkley; Buccaneers +9

Seahawks at Cardinals
Sneaky bad team of the season… is it the Seahawks? I’m not ready to commit entirely to this notion, but through three weeks no team with a winning record has looked worse. Not even Detroit or Buffalo. Though I love the Bengals, there was no reason for Seattle to have to claw so hard to victory in Week 1. Against what appears to be a bad Steelers team in Week 2, fumbles kept Pittsburgh alive. Seattle’s lousiness caught up to them last week when a neutered Saints offense managed to leave town with a win. Granted, that victory had little to do with New Orleans’ offense and more to do with Pete Carroll and the Seattle special teams, but the point remains; it was another game a good team wins. Why am I calling out Pete Carroll? With his team down 13 and nearly ten minutes to go, Carroll has his team go for it on 4th and 1 from their own 28. Considering the Saints offense had only two drives over 25 yards all day, the decision was questionable, but I was on board… Until Seattle threw it deep. We’ve seen this before. It doesn’t work. Anyway, the Seahawks will win here but it’s gonna be closer and scarier for Seattle fans then it should. SEAHAWKS If I were Charles Barkley; Cardinals +6

Vikings at Bears
I love the NFC this season. There are a lot of really fun teams, most of them good. A lot of those good teams, though, do not have good quarterbacks. Both these teams are among that class. History has shown that a less than stellar QB is not a disqualification for a championship, but it certainly makes it harder. I’ll be honest; I don’t understand Chicago’s offense… at all. I don’t even blame Matt Nagy that much. He needs a quarterback. He didn’t draft Mitch Trubisky, but he’s probably stuck with him for the foreseeable future. Trubisky simply can’t be trusted to throw the ball. He may make a brilliant play as he did to Taylor Gabriel Monday night and then follow it up by missing an open receiver by 6 feet or throwing it at someone’s feet. (Note: I’m 95% sure that throw to Gabriel was pure luck and not talent.) Minnesota, on the other hand, I trust more as a contender because their offense can hang its hat on Dalvin Cook and the running game. They don’t need Kirk Cousins to carry them and inevitably do something stupid. The Bears do not have that luxury. Maybe David Montgomery gives that to them as the season goes on, but I have my doubts. VIKINGS If I were Charles Barkley; Vikings +1.5

Jaguars at Broncos
I really liked the Broncos coming into the season. I thought for sure an average quarterback and elite running attack would get them into the postseason in a weak AFC. It’s almost as if that opening week defeat to the lowly Raiders stole their soul. Regardless, I’m not ready to give up on the Broncos just yet. The officials cheated them out of a win over Chicago in Week 2, and the AFC standings are begging for Wild Card contenders. A tough schedule also provides opportunity to knock off other Wild Card hopefuls. Don’t lose hope, Denver. Not yet. BRONCOS If I were Charles Barkley; Broncos -3

Sunday Night (8:20PM ET)

Cowboys at Saints
I’m not buying this as a real test for Dallas. Teddy Bridgewater, while fine, played quarterback like there were rules against throwing it more than 12 yards downfield. Other than the Super Dome being a tough place to play, I don’t see any reason why Dallas doesn’t walk into New Orleans and bury the Saints. Allow me a quick tangent… I think it’s time for more teams to start zagging now that the NFL has zigged entirely to a passing league. Dalvin Cook and Ezekiel Elliot are the two best rushers in the NFL, in my humble opinion. (Christian McCaffrey, you’re right there also, but I’m talking strictly about running, and Saquon Barkley is hurt now.) More teams need to forget about trying to make an ugly quarterback a prince and resort to nineties style football. It’s time. I’m ready for it. Teams that run the ball well in the playoffs win. In 2018, the victors in nine of the eleven playoff games rushed for more yards than their opponent. The two exceptions were the Chargers/Ravens game where Lamar Jackson (a QB) ran for 54 yards and the Eagles/Bears game that was ultimately decided by a double doink missed field goal. Well, what about the 2017 playoffs or 2016 or ’15? Well, I’m entirely too lazy for all that work. Sorry. DALLAS If I were Charles Barkley; Cowboys -3

Monday Night (8:15PM ET)

Bengals at Steelers
I love the Bengals. It’s the most irrational thing. I think it’s because though the Bengals are bad, the Bengals don’t know it. I love that about them. They should’ve laid down against the Bills after perhaps the worst 38 minutes in football history (9 drives, 90 yards, 2 fumbles and an interception), but they didn’t. They battled back, took a lead and had a legitimate shot to win the game. Going for a top draft pick doesn’t have to be as egregiously ugly as Miami’s method. It can be fun and scrappy, like the Bengals. BENGALS If I were Charles Barkley; Bengals +3.5

*****

If I were Charles Barkley;
Last Week: 6 – 10 – 0
Season:     21 – 26 – 1

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