The Patriots just keep getting harder to pick against
Week 3 gave us the Patriots and a third-string rookie quarterback winning by 27 points when they were home underdogs. It saw the Broncos go into Cincinnati and blow out the defending AFC North champions in their building. Sam Bradford, Matt Asiata, and the Vikings offense came storming into Carolina and knocked off the defending conference champions. Teams led by Carson Wentz and Trevor Siemian are undefeated. Let’s try to tackle Week 4.
Week 3 record: 23-9
2016 record: 30-18
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Cheat Sheet trivia question of the week
Lions defensive end Kerry Hyder leads the team in sacks with four and wears No. 61. Only one player in NFL history wore 61 and made the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Who is it?
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY SportsRaj Mehta
Thursday night: Dolphins at Bengals
This is all about the return of ‘Tez. The Bengals get their heart and soul back on the field Thursday night with Vontaze Burfict returning from his three-game suspension. They need him. This isn’t the Cincinnati defense we’ve been used to, and with Sunday’s loss to Denver, there’s actual concern with the Bengals starting a season 1-2 for the first time since 2011. Adam Jones is ready. Sunday, he told reporters, "Can't wait till 55 gets here, and I don't give a (expletive) who don't like it, either. I'm calling him right now when I walk out of here." They’ll win. ’Tez will bring it.
The pick: Bengals 23, Dolphins 17
Sunday: Colts at Jaguars (London)
For what feels like the 33rd year in a row, the Jaguars were the team everyone wanted to crown as their “surprise” sleeper team of the preseason. Sure enough, they’ve slept through September for the fourth straight year. The Jags are now 0-3 for the third time in four years, and the losses have been of three different varieties. Now, they trek to London in “must-win” mode. I look at Blake Bortles and the young Jaguars and have to think there’s too much urgency in this one not to find a way against Andrew Luck and the Colts. Crazy stat of the week? Bortles has three career first-quarter touchdown passes. THREE!
The pick: Jaguars 31, Colts 27
Logan Bowles-USA TODAY SportsLogan Bowles
Sunday: Panthers at Falcons
Did the Broncos crack the code on how to beat the Panthers? Cam Newton was sacked eight times by the Vikings on Sunday and is on pace to be sacked 64 times this season. That’d be the fourth-most in NFL history for a single season. Atlanta’s defense hasn’t exactly been stout, but Matt Ryan does lead the league in passing after three weeks. We’re waiting for Carolina to “get right.” But I don’t see it happening Sunday.
The pick: Falcons 30, Panthers 24
USA Today SportsJeremy Brevard
Sunday: Raiders at Ravens
Has there ever been a 3-0 team discussed less than the Baltimore Ravens? Yeah, their opponents have combined for just one win through three games. And sure, they just snuck by Jacksonville and Cleveland. But so what? 3-0 is 3-0, and that M&T Bank scene is a tough one for any visitor. Especially a squad as young as Oakland’s.
The pick: Ravens 26, Raiders 21
Getty ImagesJim McIsaac
Sunday: Titans at Texans
The J.J. Watt injury is a horrible one, for certain. There’s no way to replace a Defensive Player of the Year, and the Texans won’t. That said, this was a defense that spent its entire training camp without Watt and has seen vast improvement in the play and impact of Jadeveon Clowney. Don’t write off the Texans just yet. They’re still playing in the AFC South — Watt or not. They’ll win Sunday.
The pick: Texans 27, Titans 19
Getty ImagesTom Szczerbowski
Sunday: Bills at Patriots
Rex Ryan is 1-9 against Bill Belichick and the Patriots since 2011, and New England is one win away from going 4-0 without Tom Brady. The key here will be how Josh McDaniels creates a new offensive game plan to suit his quarterback. I think it’ll be Jimmy Garoppolo, but don’t be shocked if there are some tricks up McDaniels’ sleeve. He’s dialed up all the right numbers this season thus far. Can’t pick against New England at home.
The pick: Patriots 24, Bills 17
Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Sunday: Seahawks at Jets
Seattle’s travelling across the country, playing at 10 a.m. local time, and likely will be going to battle with a quarterback who's seriously hampered by knee and ankle injuries. I like the Jets. I know Ryan Fitzpatrick threw six interceptions last week in Kansas City (he may have just thrown another one as you’re reading this), but I can’t ignore that Jets defensive line versus Seattle’s offensive line.
The pick: Jets 20, Seahawks 16
John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
Sunday: Browns at Redskins
Before the season started, I circled this one as the RG3 Bowl and thought it had the makings of the biggest revenge game on the schedule. Well, it’s not that. And I don’t think Washington lets Cleveland stick around long in this one. The Browns haven’t won in D.C. since 1988. Having lost their first two in their home park, I don’t see it happening again to Kirk Cousins, Jay Gruden and the Redskins in Week 4.
The pick: Redskins 33, Browns 22
Sunday: Lions at Bears
Matt Stafford may be the most underappreciated player in the NFL. He’s playing behind the youngest Lions offensive line since 1979, he’s without Calvin Johnson, and he’s off to another torrid start. I saw a lot in Detroit last week. Down 31-3, they clawed all the way back and gave the Packers a game. It was a loss, but it was a building block for a road win in Chicago on Sunday.
The pick: Lions 27, Bears 20
Sunday: Broncos at Buccaneers
The NFL is funny. You think things will go one way and they go an entirely different direction. That’s my feel on this one. Must-win game for Tampa Bay with Carolina on the schedule for Week 5 and a cross-country trip to San Francisco in Week 6. Tampa Bay needs to get a few scores early and hold on. Why? In the fourth quarter this season, Trevor Siemian has a passer rating of 146.9 (best in NFL) and the Broncos have outscored their opponents by 32 points (best in NFL). Redemption game for Roberto Aguayo. A game-winner. He’s been bad so far. Real bad.
The pick: Buccaneers 20, Broncos 17 (OT)
Sunday: Rams at Cardinals
I’ll be on the sideline in Arizona for FOX Sports this weekend and am curious to see just which Cardinals team will show up. The one that blew out the Buccaneers in Week 2? Or the squad that got blasted by Buffalo in Week 3? I’d rely on Larry Fitzgerald. Over the course of his Hall of Fame-worthy career, Larry Fitz has 153 receptions and 16 TDs against the Rams, the most in both categories against any team. The Cards get back on track at home.
The pick: Cardinals 30, Rams 20
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY SportsJeff Curry
Sunday: Saints at Chargers
It sounds awfully bizarre, but this is Drew Brees’ first game in San Diego since he left the team for New Orleans in 2006. The last time the Saints played in San Diego, Aaron Brooks was the quarterback … and Brees (suiting up for the ‘Bolts) was the other. The Chargers have been bit by injuries. Too many to list. But that Saints defense is just putrid right now. Phil Rivers should have a field day.
The pick: Chargers 34, Saints 30
Getty ImagesWesley Hitt
Sunday: Cowboys at 49ers
Fun nugget I read this week in the millions of Vin Scully articles on the Internet. His last football game for CBS was the 1981 NFC Championship game, and he was on the call for “The Catch.” Amazing. I don’t see this one having quite the same stakes, and I actually like the 49ers to get the best of the banged-up Cowboys in that FOX doubleheader late window. Carlos Hyde wins the battle of great Ohio State running backs over Zeke Elliott.
The pick: 49ers 16, Cowboys 13
Sunday night: Chiefs at Steelers
This is the only game of the weekend between two 2015 playoff teams, and I like Pittsburgh to get back on track at home. The fun wrinkle here is Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley going up against the team that fired him as its head coach during the 2011 season. Add in the running back coming back into the lineup, and it’s got Steelers all over it.
The pick: Steelers 30, Chiefs 20
Monday night: Giants at Vikings
In the Vikings’ past six games, they’ve faced Aaron Rodgers twice, Eli Manning, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton and Marcus Mariota. They’ve handled each and every one of them. This Minnesota defense is playing at a 2015 Denver Broncos level and will be a nightmare to play in the new stadium. Especially at night. Sam Bradford finds a way.
The pick: Vikings 24, Giants 16
Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY SportsBruce Kluckhohn
Cheat Sheet trivia answer
1975 NFL Defensive Player of the Year George “Curley” Culp wore the No. 61 while he played for the Chiefs from 1974-80.