The Nickel Package Record: 7-6-2 ATS (54%)
Recommended Wagers Record: 9-8-2 ATS (53%)
Now let’s move on to this week.
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Minnesota Vikings
Friday Line: Steelers -3, total of 42
Public Consensus: 61% on the Steelers, 76% on the over
The Pick: It’s nice that the NFL has decided to treat their fans in London with a “battle” of 0-3 teams. NFL schedule makers have had a pretty solid week; Broncos-Raiders on Monday Night Football and now “The Bag o’ Trash Bowl” in London. The Pittsburgh running game has been non-existent this season, picking up just 155 yards in their first three games of the year. Steelers supporters seem to think rookie running back Le’Veon Bell will be their saviour if he makes his debut this weekend, but I doubt he’ll find much running room behind one of the worst offensive lines I’ve ever seen. If Bell isn’t in the lineup, you can look forward to some more plodding from the Three Stooges—Jonathan Dwyer, Felix Jones, and Isaac Redman. Pittsburgh’s only realistic chance of moving the chains is through the air, but that’s not likely to happen either considering Ben Roethlisberger is seemingly running for his life on every drop back. The Steelers have already surrendered 10 sacks this season, and that number is extremely flattering when you take into account the number of sacks that Big Ben has avoided. Minnesota’s secondary can definitely be exploited, but it won’t happen consistently if the Vikings are constantly harassing Roethlisberger in the pocket.
Christian Ponder is suffering from injured ribs and won’t start this week’s game. That could be a blessing in disguise for the Vikings as Matt Cassel is a pretty big upgrade at the quarterback position despite the fact that he’s still a complete scrub. Regardless of who’s at quarterback for Minnesota, this offense runs through their All-Pro running back, Adrian Peterson. The Steelers’ run defense has been porous against the run this season, giving up an average of over 115 yards per game. Adrian Peterson has yet to find his form from a year ago, but he’s been without the services of his stud fullback Jerome Felton, who comes back from suspension this week. Felton should open up some holes and allow Peterson to get back to breaking off some big gains. In the end though, the Vikings will have to get something out of the quarterback position in order to consistently move the chains. Pittsburgh is last in the league with only three sacks on the season, but time in the pocket won’t necessarily equate to success for Cassel.
I think Pittsburgh is the slightly better team here but this is just a horrible spot for them. Pittsburgh is coming off back-to-back losses in primetime and now they have to travel all the way to the United Kingdom with one of the league’s worst offenses. The Vikings have at least shown they can be competitive this season, so I’ll give them the nod in this one. Vikings 16, Steelers 13
The Wager: There’s no chance in hell I’d touch the side in this matchup, but I actually have a strong opinion on the total. In the past, these overseas games have proven to be pretty sloppy affairs and there’s a good chance that trend repeats itself this week. Both teams are 0-3 and neither team has run the ball up to their standards, so I’d look for the Vikings and Steelers to employ a run heavy game plan that keeps the clock moving. Under 42
The Trend: The under is 5-0 in the Steelers’ last 5 games following a double-digit loss at home.
Baltimore Ravens @ Buffalo Bills
Friday Line: Ravens -3, total of 44
Public Consensus: 62% on the Ravens, 62% on the over
The Pick: Baltimore secured a second straight win with a 30-9 beatdown of Houston last weekend, but a closer look at that win reveals that the Ravens weren’t all that impressive. Baltimore managed just 236 yards of total offense and benefited from a whopping 14 penalties committed by Houston. Through three games, the Ravens have managed a measly 4.3 yards per play, which is second last in the league ahead of only the lowly Jaguars. I wouldn’t expect things to improve that drastically this week. Joe Flacco is a solid quarterback at home but his numbers are drastically worse on the road. In eight road starts last season, Flacco threw for only seven touchdowns and a paltry 5.9 yards per attempt; significantly less than his 8.3 yards per attempt at M&T Bank Stadium. Despite missing numerous players in their secondary, the Bills are still in the better half of the league in pass defense, surrendering 7.1 yards per attempt. Buffalo should also be able to generate a decent amount of pressure on Flacco as they’ve produced a solid nine sacks in their first three games. The Ravens should conceivably have a big edge on the ground against Buffalo’s weak rush defense, but the health of Ray Rice is a major concern. Despite my praises of Bernard Pierce in last week’s article, he was a major disappointment in Week 3, racking up only 65 yards on 24 carries.
Buffalo looked horrible against the Jets last weekend, but I wouldn’t read too much into that performance. Rookie quarterbacks tend to struggle on the road early in their career, but E.J. Manuel has already proven that he’s a pretty competent quarterback at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Manuel led the Bills to a come-from-behind victory over the Panthers in Week 2 and had Tom Brady and the Patriots on the ropes in Week 1. Manuel has a 95.9 QB rating with only one interception through his first two career home starts. Pass protection was a major issue for the Bills last week, as they surrendered eight sacks against the Jets, but again, it’s important to note that game was on the road, and that the Bills have only surrendered one sack in two home games. The Carolina Panthers have one of the strongest defensive fronts in football and they couldn’t get to Manuel in Week 2, so I wouldn’t expect the Ravens to have much success on that front either. Manuel can also rely heavily on his running game as C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson have combined for 135 yards per game on the ground this season. Baltimore has one of the league’s better run defenses, but Spiller and Jackson are too dynamic to be shut down completely.
When it’s all said and done, the Ravens just aren’t a very good road team. Baltimore won the Super Bowl last season but managed just a 4-4 road record in the regular season, with three of those four wins coming by a field goal against inferior teams. Buffalo is in a good position to pull off the upset. Bills 21, Ravens 17
The Wager: Public perception is that the Ravens are amazing again and that the Bills are the same old Bills. Throw last week’s contests out the window—this game is being played in Buffalo, not Baltimore. The Ravens have been a poor road team in recent years and E.J. Manuel has already proven he can be successful at home. I’ll gladly grab the points. Bills +3
The Trend: The Bills are 6-2 ATS in their last 8 games following a loss.
Cincinnati Bengals @ Cleveland Browns
Friday Line: Bengals -4, total of 42.5
Public Consensus: 83% on the Bengals, 54% on the under
The Pick: The new Browns’ front office was destroyed by the media for trading Trent Richardson last week, but Cleveland silenced their critics with an upset victory over the Vikings. Brian Hoyer showed some great promise in his first career start with the Browns, but Cincinnati’s defense poses a much bigger threat than Minnesota’s defense did last week. The Bengals pass defense allows just 231 yards per game through the air, and that’s a particularly impressive number when you consider they’ve gone up against Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler, and Ben Roethlisberger this season. There are some major injury concerns in the Bengals’ secondary right now, but Cincinnati greatly benefits from the pressure that their defensive line is able to create. The Bengals often rushed only four defenders against the Packers last week and dropped seven players into coverage to limit the space Aaron Rodgers and his receivers had to work with. Cleveland didn’t have any semblance of a running game last week but that should improve now that Willis McGahee has had a full week to prepare with his new squad. The presence of a running game should take some of the pressure off of Hoyer, who tossed three interceptions trying to carry the offense on his shoulders last week.
On the other side of things, Cleveland’s defense is the real deal. The Browns generated six sacks against the Vikings last week, and were able to drop Andy Dalton a staggering eight times in their two matchups with Cincinnati last season. The Bengals will try to reduce the effectiveness of Cleveland’s pass rush by running the ball, but if the first three games of the season are any indication, that will be next to impossible. The Browns have limited Adrian Peterson, Ray Rice, and Lamar Miller to just 2.8 yards per carry so far this season. The Bengals were only 2-4 last season when Dalton was asked to throw the ball 35+ times, which means that the Browns will have a decent chance of pulling off the upset if they can keep BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard in check. Cleveland will undoubtedly put top corner Joe Haden on the Bengals’ stud wideout A.J. Green, but Green didn’t have any problems against Haden last season, posting 14 receptions for 193 yards and three touchdowns in two contests.
This is a really tough spot for the Bengals. Cincinnati is coming off of an emotional victory over the Packers and there’s a good chance that they take Browns lightly, especially with a big game against the Patriots on deck next week. Browns 23, Bengals 20
The Wager: I’m all over the underdog here. I think the Browns have a good chance to win this game outright, so it’s a no-brainer to take the four points with Cleveland at home. The underdog has dominated this series in recent years (see trend below), and this looks like the ultimate flat spot for Cincinnati. Browns +4
The Trend: The underdog is 10-1-1 ATS in the last 12 games between these two teams.
Indianapolis Colts @ Jacksonville Jaguars
Friday Line: Colts -7.5, total of 42.5
Public Consensus: 76% on the Colts, 67% on the under
The Pick: I always consider leaving the Jaguars’ game out of my preview but I think my editor is sharp enough to catch it. Maybe I’ll give it a shot next week because I’m not sure I can take this much longer. Blaine Gabbert is expected to start for Jacksonville this week. Two weeks ago I would have told you that Chad Henne is undoubtedly the better quarterback, but after watching Henne make a mockery of the game in the past few weeks, I think this is definitely an upgrade for the Jaguars. Gabbert is a steaming pile of trash and he won’t get much protection behind a putrid Jaguars’ offensive line, but at this point, the former first round pick must realize that he’s playing for his NFL future. The Jaguars should at least be able to run the ball effectively to keep Gabbert in manageable situations. Maurice Jones-Drew is suffering from a bum ankle and hasn’t been productive this season, but there’s definitely potential for the veteran back to break out this week. Jones-Drew has owned the Colts in recent years, rushing for 460 yards in his last three starts against Indianapolis. All three of those strong outings came with Gabbert behind center, so it wouldn’t be a shock to see Jones-Drew break out of his slump in this one, especially since the Indianapolis defense has surrendered 4.7 yards per carry this season.
Unfortunately for the Jaguars, they’re not likely to have very much success on defense. Jacksonville gives up 5.2 yards per carry which is downright pathetic, so there’s really no reason to believe they can keep Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw in check. Their pass defense is slightly better, allowing a league average 7.2 yards per pass, but it’s important to note that those numbers came against Alex Smith, Terrelle Pryor, and nearly half a game of Tarvaris Jackson. I think it’s safe to say that Andrew Luck does not fall into the same category as those other quarterbacks. However, it’s important to note that Luck is nowhere near as good on the road as he is at home. Luck has committed a whopping 17 turnovers in nine career road starts, while only throwing for 11 touchdowns in that span. Jacksonville went up against Luck twice last season and they fared pretty well against him, limiting the first-overall pick to a meager 56% completion rate and forcing three turnovers. Jacksonville’s defense may be ineffective but their personnel hasn’t changed much since last season, so their experience against Luck will prove to be beneficial.
At the end of the day, the Colts are the better team—there’s no doubt about that. With that being said, Indianapolis isn’t a team that is known for blowing other teams out. Nine of their 11 wins last season came by a touchdown or less. Add in the fact that they’re coming off of a blowout win as a big underdog, and there’s potential for this to be a major flat spot. Colts 20, Jaguars 17
The Wager: I’m taking the Jaguars based on principle. This won’t be a very popular pick but I almost always blindly back home underdogs of a touchdown or more, regardless of the circumstances. The Colts are a mediocre team and people are rushing to the window to lay points with them as a road favorite—what is this world coming to? Jaguars +7.5
The Trend: The Jaguars are 11-5 ATS in their last 16 games after allowing more than 250 yards passing in their previous game.
Seattle Seahawks @ Houston Texans
Friday Line: Seahawks -2.5, total of 41.5
Public Consensus: 68% on the Seahawks, 77% on the over
The Pick: This should be one of the better games of the week. The Texans could barely move the ball against the Ravens last weekend, but a portion of that failure could be attributed to Andre Johnson leaving the game early with a bruised shin. Johnson will be a game-time decision this week which makes this matchup increasingly more difficult to handicap. Without Johnson, the Seahawks can match up their stud cornerback Richard Sherman on Houston’s rookie wideout DeAndre Hopkins, which would leave the Texans with limited options down the field. With Johnson in the lineup, the Texans could at least use him as a decoy to open up space for other receivers on the field. In the end though, Houston’s success on offense will be completely dependent on whether or not they can run the ball. The Texans are most successful when their running game is rolling and Matt Schaub can operate effectively out of play action situations. The Seahawks have completely put the clamps down on opposing running games in the past few weeks, limiting Frank Gore and Maurice Jones-Drew to less than 60 yards combined. In the past, Houston has shown that they’re capable of running the ball against anyone, but they’ll likely only enjoy moderate success this weekend.
Seattle’s offense is very similar to Houston’s in that they’d like to establish the run and then have Russell Wilson work the play action passing game. After a disappointing Week 1 start against Carolina, Marshawn Lynch has gotten back on track in the past two weeks, rushing for 167 yards and picking up three touchdowns against the Jaguars and 49ers. Houston is very good against the run though, as they’ve limited opponents to just 3.3 yards per carry and one rushing touchdown this season. The Texans should be able to bottle up Lynch and force Wilson to work out of third-and-longs all afternoon. Wilson is a dynamic NFL signal caller, but similarly to a lot of his fellow young quarterbacks, he’s nowhere near as effective away from home. Wilson has an unbelievable 119.9 QB rating at CenturyLink Field but that number drops all the way down to 87.2 on the road. In fact, Wilson has just 10 passing touchdowns in nine career road starts, and has committed 10 turnovers in that same period. The Seahawks were held to less than 20 points in four of their eight road games last season, and with the exception of a 50-17 win over the Bills in Toronto (not a true road game), Seattle failed to top 24 points in any other road contest.
Seattle is probably the most complete team in football right now, but their struggles away from home are well-documented. After all, this is a team that lost to the Cardinals, Rams, Lions, and Dolphins on the road last season; none of which are in the same league as the Texans. Houston hasn’t looked impressive to start the season, but they’ve outgained their opponents by a whopping 418 yards in their first three contests. In a game that I think comes down to the wire, I’ll side with the home team. Texans 16, Seahawks 15
The Wager: Last year Seattle played only one playoff team on the road and they finished that game with six points and 13 first downs. While I’d love to bet against them in this spot, the status of Andre Johnson is a big concern, so I’m going to make a play on the total instead. I’ll be really surprised if either of these teams hits the 20-point mark. Under 41.5
The Trend: The under is 8-1 in the Seahawks’ last 9 games in September.
Arizona Cardinals @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Friday Line: Buccaneers -2.5, total of 40.5
Public Consensus: 68% on the Cardinals, 87% on the under
The Pick: The Buccaneers have finally opted for a quarterback change with third round pick Mike Glennon getting the nod in favor of Josh Freeman. Freeman has been an atrocity for the last calendar year so it’s no surprise that Greg Schiano opted to make the switch this early into the season. Glennon can’t possibly be a downgrade. The former N.C. State product is a pocket passer with a big arm, and he won’t be timid to air it out downfield to Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, both of whom were hindered in Freeman’s offense. The Buccaneers’ offensive line has held up pretty well this year, and the Cardinals have registered just five sacks on the season, so Glennon should have time in the pocket to make accurate throws downfield. Unfortunately for the rookie quarterback, he’s not likely to get much help from his running game. Doug Martin has picked up where he left off last season, averaging 99 yards per game to open up the year, but the Cardinals are extremely stingy in run defense. Arizona gives up only 3.2 yards per carry and have only allowed one run of 20+ yards this season. Martin could prove to be very useful in the passing game this week though, as Glennon loved checking down to his running backs in preseason action.
The Bucs have a really good chance of winning this game if Glennon can protect the football. Tampa Bay’s defense is one of the best stop units in the league. The Bucs led the NFL in run defense last season and bolstered their secondary with the addition of Darrelle Revis in the offseason. Arizona averages just 86.3 rushing yards per game, and they don’t stand a chance of moving the chains on the ground with the lack of talent that they boast at running back. This is shaping up to be very similar to the Cardinals’ loss in New Orleans last weekend. Arizona is dependent on their passing game to succeed but their offensive line is horrible and their quarterback is a statue. The Cardinals don’t have the ability to pick up yardage on the ground which forces Carson Palmer to work out of constant third-and-long situations. Palmer has never been known for protecting the ball, so the Bucs’ defense will likely be able to force some turnovers and possibly even generate some points in this contest. Palmer also will be without his number one wideout as Darrelle Revis will be blanketed all over Larry Fitzgerald all afternoon.
Tampa Bay has been far from impressive so far this season, but they match up extremely well with Arizona. I look for the Bucs to put in a strong effort in their rookie quarterback’s first career start and keep the Cardinals winless on the road through their first three away contests. Buccaneers 23, Cardinals 14
The Wager: I’d definitely make a wager on Tampa Bay if they were home dogs here, but I’m not comfortable backing a quarterback making his first career start in the role of a favorite. I also strongly considered playing the under, but Palmer is a pick six machine, and Glennon could be good for a couple turnovers as well. Pass
The Trend: The Cardinals are 10-24 ATS in their last 34 road games against a team with a losing home record.
Chicago Bears @ Detroit Lions
Friday Line: Lions -3, total of 47.5
Public Consensus: 66% on the Bears, 62% on the over
The Pick: Perception vs. Reality. The public is in love with the Bears right now after their 3-0 start to the season, but they’ve failed to recognize that Chicago is two late fourth quarter rallies away from being a 1-2 team. The Bears’ defense isn’t nearly as good as they’re given credit for, as they allowed Andy Dalton to carve them up in Week 1 and Christian Ponder to move the ball effectively in Week 2. Ben Roethlisberger threw for 400 yards against Chicago last week, although a lot of that yardage came in garbage time. The Bears have only managed to accumulate five sacks in their first three games, and that’s only because they picked up three sacks against Pittsburgh’s anemic offensive line last week. Matthew Stafford has only been sacked twice this season and should have all day in the pocket to connect with his targets. Stafford has completed 64% of his passes this season despite having played two of his first three games on the road. Chicago has a major concern in their secondary right now as Charles Tillman is dealing with a groin injury, so there’s little to no chance that they can contain Calvin Johnson in this contest. Detroit also welcomes Reggie Bush back into the fold which should complicate things even more for the overrated Bears’ stop unit.
On the other side of the ball, the Bears’ revamped offensive line has held up surprisingly well, surrendering only three sacks this season. That number is very misleading though. Chicago’s first three opponents – Cincinnati, Minnesota, and Pittsburgh, are all ranked 24th or lower in quarterback sacks this year. The Bears’ offensive line is going to have problems holding up inside the raucous confines of Ford Field, especially against Detroit’s massive front four. The Lions sport a pretty ineffective secondary and they’ll definitely give up some plays down the field, but their front four is more than capable of goading Jay Cutler into making some mistakes. Chicago has given Matt Forte at least 16 carries in every game this season and they can definitely exploit the Lions’ questionable run defense. Detroit doesn’t give up a whole lot of yardage on their ground but they do concede 4.5 yards per carry, so there’s definitely an opportunity for Forte to keep the chains moving on the ground.
I’m not sold on the Bears just yet. The Lions gained a lot of confidence last week by beating the Redskins for the first time in 22 trips to Washington, and I think they’ll carry that momentum over into this week. Lions 28, Bears 21
The Wager: This is Detroit’s only home game in a five game set which is essentially a must-win game in this day and age. The Lions were dominant at home against the Vikings and I strongly feel that they’re the right side this week, especially with the public lining up to back the underdog on the road. Lions -3
The Trend: The Bears are 0-4 ATS in their last 4 games following a win of 14+ points.
New York Giants @ Kansas City Chiefs
Friday Line: Chiefs -4.5, total of 44
Public Consensus: 64% on the Chiefs, 61% on the under
The Pick: I can’t say that I saw this coming. The Chiefs are 3-0 and the Giants are 0-3—if anything, most people would have guessed that the records would have been reversed at this point. New York was epically bad in last week’s 38-0 drubbing at the hands of the Panthers. Carolina was seemingly harassing Eli Manning on every single drop back and managed to put the former Super Bowl MVP on his back a whopping seven times. New York will undoubtedly have spent the majority of their week figuring out a way to protect Manning in the pocket, but that will be easier said than done against Kansas City’s pass rushing duo of Tamba Hali and Justin Houston. The Chiefs lead the league with 15 sacks on the season so it’s probably safe to assume that Tom Coughlin will have more players in pass protection this week, leaving fewer options down the field for Manning. Kansas City’s secondary is also pretty stout as they relinquish only 5.8 yards per pass attempt, so there may not be too many opportunities down the field for Victor Cruz or Hakeem “Screwing Over Fantasy Teams Everywhere” Nicks. The Giants will have to get their running game going if they want to be successful in this contest. David Wilson has been a big disappointment this season, but he’ll be licking his chops going up a Chiefs’ run defense that gives up a league worst 5.6 yards per carry. If Wilson can keep the Giants in manageable third down situations, New York could be primed for an upset.
The Giants will also have to improve greatly on defense if they stand any chance in this contest. Cam Newton had his way with New York’s anemic secondary last week, but the good news for the Giants is that they go up against Alex Smith, who is physically incapable of throwing the ball more than 20 yards down the field. New York was burned by the big play last week but that shouldn’t be an issue against a very conservative Chiefs’ offense. Kansas City struggled to score points against Philadelphia’s pathetic defense last week, despite being handed great field position by their defense for the majority of the game. The Chiefs only generate 6.4 yards per pass attempt, so the Giants should be able to focus their efforts on shutting down Jamaal Charles. Charles has had three decent games on the ground, but has yet to break through with a 100-yard performance this season in large part due to the fact that opposing defenses don’t respect Smith’s ability to beat them with his arm. The Giants are in the middle of the pack in terms of defending the run so they should be able to contain Charles in this contest.
Kansas City leads the league in turnover differential at +9, while the Giants are last in the league at -9. Sooner or later those numbers are going to regress to the mean, and this may be the game. New York’s season is on the line here and I’d expect them to rebound after an embarrassing blowout loss last week. Giants 21, Chiefs 20
The Wager: I have the Giants winning this game outright but I’m not keen on taking the points here. I keep on expecting New York to rebound but it’s entirely possible that they’re just a horrible team and won’t break out of this funk this season. Pass
The Trend: The Giants are 7-2-1 ATS in their last 10 road games against a team with a winning home record.
New York Jets @ Tennessee Titans
Friday Line: Titans -3.5, total of 40
Public Consensus: 59% on the Titans, 62% on the over
The Pick: The Jets have greatly exceeded the expectations that the general public had for them entering the season. New York has outgained their opponents by 325 total yards in their first three games despite having a rookie quarterback at the helm. Geno Smith continues to be a work in progress, and he struggled mightily in his first career road start at New England, but he shouldn’t be all too concerned about the Titans’ defense. Tennessee’s defense hasn’t given up many points this season, but they’ve allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 64% of their passes in the early going. Smith should be able to occasionally move the chains in this contest and he’ll be greatly aided by a running game that should have a great amount of success. Tennessee’s front seven isn’t very good and has surrendered 4.4 yards per carry this season, meaning that Bilal Powell should be able to build on his stellar 149-yard performance from last week. The Jets aren’t going to light it up offensively, but they don’t need to score a ton of points thanks to their stout defense.
New York boasts one of the best defenses in the league right now, allowing just 16.7 points per game. Jack Locker is coming off of a pretty strong performance against the Chargers but that was against a tired San Diego team travelling cross country for the second straight week. Locker will struggle to move the ball consistently against a Jets’ defensive unit that has limited opposing quarterbacks to a very stingy 5.7 yards per attempt this season, while only allowing a 47.3% completion rate. New York should also be able to generate constant pressure on Locker as the Jets’ front seven has produced 12 sacks in their first three games. Tennessee will want to take some pressure off of Locker by establishing the run with Chris Johnson, but yards on the ground will also be difficult to come by. The Jets have the third best run defense in the league, limiting opponents to just 3.2 yards per carry and 79.7 yards per game. I just don’t see how the Titans are going to generate much offense in this matchup.
These two teams played on Monday Night Football last year with the Titans pulling out a 14-10 victory at home. Mark Sanchez threw four interceptions that game, and although Geno Smith can be erratic at times, the Titans’ defense isn’t likely to force that many turnovers this time around. New York is better on both sides of the ball so I’ll call the upset here. Jets 17, Titans 16
The Wager: I really liked the Jets when they were getting five points at open, but sharps have driven this line all the way down to three and a half. I still lean with New York and think there’s a little bit of line value with them, but there are other games on the board that I prefer. Pass
The Trend: The Titans are 3-9-1 ATS as favorites under Mike Munchak.
Dallas Cowboys @ San Diego Chargers
Friday Line: Cowboys -1, total of 47
Public Consensus: 72% on the Cowboys, 91% on the over
The Pick: After a big win over the Eagles in Week 2, the Chargers returned to form in Week 3, falling to the Titans in Tennessee. Philip Rivers has performed admirably so far this season, but things are about to get a whole lot worse for the Chargers’ signal caller. San Diego entered the year with a weak offensive line but that’s been made a whole lot worse by a bunch of injuries sustained in last week’s contest. Right tackle D.J. Fluker is listed as questionable, while both members of the left side of the offensive line are listed as doubtful for this week’s matchup. Dallas is second in the league with 13 quarterback sacks this season and we’ve seen how Rivers operates under pressure, so this isn’t likely to end pretty. The Chargers can try to establish Ryan Mathews on the ground to take some pressure off of Rivers, but the Cowboys are second in the league in total run defense, giving up a meager 66.3 yards per game. It’s not like Mathews is any good anyways – he’s only been able to accumulate 164 yards on the ground through the first three games of the season.
San Diego’s defense is going to need to come up with a big game here, but they just don’t have the personnel in their secondary to pose much of a threat against Dallas’ weapons on offense. Cornerback Johnny Patrick, who was deemed too useless to play in the Saints’ secondary, is one of the starting corners for this woeful unit. Not good. Dez Bryant, Miles Austin (assuming he plays), and Jason Witten should have no issues getting open down the field. It’s not like San Diego will be able to apply much pressure on Tony Romo either—the Cowboys’ offensive line has played much better in the last couple of weeks and San Diego has only generated five sacks this season. There was also a long awaited big game from DeMarco Murray last week as he bludgeoned his way to 175 rushing yards against the Rams last week. The Chargers give up 5.1 yards per carry and 130 yards per game on the ground, so there’s a good chance that Murray can come close to duplicating that success. With the running game in full force, Tony Romo won’t need to make as many big plays himself and can avoid the turnovers that have hurt the Cowboys in years past.
There’s just no way you can trust the Chargers right now. They’ve already blown two games this season and their lone win came against an Eagles team that is far worse than people think. The Chargers’ weapons on offense are no match for Romo’s dangerous targets down the field. Cowboys 26, Chargers 20
The Wager: I’d love to bet Dallas here, but they have a penchant for blowing games that they’re expected to win. There isn’t much line value with the Cowboys either as the Las Vegas Hilton Advanced Point Spread for this game was Chargers -1.5. Pass
The Trend: The Cowboys are 5-2 ATS in their last 7 road games.
Washington Redskins @ Oakland Raiders
Friday Line: Redskins -3.5, total of 43.5
Public Consensus: 59% on the Redskins, 54% on the over
The Pick: Washington has hit rock bottom. The Redskins are now 0-3 and find themselves as merely a field goal favorite against the lowly Raiders. Robert Griffin III has shouldered a lot of the blame so far this season but Washington’s defense should take the majority of the blame for their winless start. The Redskins are last against the pass and only marginally better against the run, ranking 30th in the league. To make matters worse, they don’t have the luxury of knowing which quarterback they’ll be going up against this week. Terrelle Pryor has been cleared for contact after suffering a concussion last week, but his status for Sunday is still up in the air, so backup Matt Flynn may be called into action. Pryor is a mobile quarterback while Flynn is primarily a pocket passer, so it will definitely be difficult for defensive coordinator Jim Haslett to put together a game plan this week. Washington will likely focus on limiting Darren McFadden, but their lack of personnel on defense will make it difficult to do so. In spite of the Redskins’ struggles on defense though, it should be noted that they’ve gone up against Michael Vick, Aaron Rodgers, and Matthew Stafford. Whoever is under center for the Raiders on Sunday will be a significant downgrade from those three quarterbacks.
Robert Griffin III has gotten better as the season has worn on. The former Baylor product hasn’t regained his form from last season, but has still put together a respectable 63% completion rate and 7.0 yards per attempt through his first three games. The main issue for the Redskins through the first three weeks of the season is that they are a solid rushing team that has had to abandon the run early because they’ve fallen behind in every game. That’s not likely to happen against a Raiders’ offense that lacks any legitimate game changers. Oakland is fresh off of allowing 166 yards to the Broncos on Monday Night Football so this will be a good opportunity for RG3 and Alfred Morris to get the read-option going. Griffin should also have no problem shredding the banged up Raiders’ secondary that will be without cornerback Tracy Porter and safety Tyvon Branch. Oakland’s secondary now consists of Cowboys’ reject Mike Jenkins, rookie cornerback D.J. Hayden, Grandpa Charles Woodson, and some guy named Usama Young. True story. If Griffin continues where he left off in the second half against the Lions last weekend, it will be tough for Oakland to generate any stops in this game.
The old adage “buy low, sell high” rings true here. Washington is nowhere near as bad as they’re being made out to be and Oakland has one of the worst rosters in the NFL. This is a great spot for the Redskins to get back on track. Redskins 31, Raiders 20
The Wager: I originally didn’t have this game on my radar but after writing my write-up I’ve sold myself on this one. The Redskins would be a touchdown favorite if this game took place in Week 1. Oakland may be at home, but they’re far less talented on both sides of the ball. Redskins -3, pass at Redskins -3.5
The Trend: The Raiders are 2-5 ATS in their last 7 home games.
Philadelphia Eagles @ Denver Broncos
Friday Line: Broncos -11, total of 57.5
Public Consensus: 68% on the Broncos, 71% on the over
The Pick: As I mentioned in my Week 2 write-up, it was only a matter of time before Chip Kelly’s high-tempo offense came back to bite him in the ass. Well, it’s Week 4 and the Eagles are 1-2. Philadelphia’s offense has exposed their horrible defense which has been forced to take the field for twenty minutes longer than their offense in their last two games. The Eagles are definitely capable of some big plays, but Michael Vick continues to be a turnover machine. The Broncos have generated eight sacks without Von Miller in the lineup and should have no issues getting into the backfield against a woeful Eagles’ offensive line that’s surrendered 11 sacks in three games. Based on Vick’s track record under duress, we could be looking at a lot of turnovers from the Eagles’ offense for a second straight week. LeSean McCoy has been the league’s best ball carrier through the early portion of the season, but even McCoy won’t be able to break down a Broncos’ defense that surrenders a scanty 2.3 yards per carry. Denver has given up just 130 yards on the ground through their first three games of the season, which is almost unbelievable. The Eagles will make a few big plays here and there, but they’re not ready to get involved in a shootout with Peyton Manning.
The Broncos offense is unstoppable right now. They’ve put up 127 total points on the Ravens, Giants, and Raiders, which means that there’s essentially no hope for the Eagles. There’s no point in breaking down this matchup any further. Denver’s offense has an edge over Philadelphia’s defense in every way imaginable—it’s as simple as that. To make matters worse, the Eagles’ up-tempo offense will put the ball in Peyton Manning’s hands even more often than he’s used to. Bad strategy.
Denver is as dominant as it gets at home right now. Only the league’s elite defenses have a chance at slowing down Manning and company, and the Eagles definitely don’t fall into that category. The Broncos keep on rolling. Broncos 42, Eagles 24
The Wager: This is the first double-digit favorite that’s tempted me in a long, long time. The only reason I’m not pulling the trigger here is because the Eagles have strong backdoor cover potential. Philadelphia is probably going to score more than 20 points, so I’m not sure that laying more than ten points is a smart idea in this situation. Pass
The Trend: The Eagles are 7-18-1 ATS in their last 26 games against a team with a winning record.
New England Patriots @ Atlanta Falcons
Friday Line: Falcons -2, total of 49.5
Public Consensus: 62% on the Falcons, 56% on the under
The Pick: Another week goes by and the Patriots have still failed to correct their issues on offense. New England put up 23 points on the Bucs last week, but 17 of those 23 points came in the second quarter when Josh Freeman couldn’t pick up a first down to save his life. That’s not going to cut it against the Falcons on Sunday Night Football. There are reports that Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski will be game-time decisions for Sunday’s game, but they’ve been limited in practice all week so there’s no assurance that they’ll be anywhere close to 100% even if they suit up. Tom Brady will likely be stuck trying to work the field with the same group of receivers that’s already dropped 10 passes on the season. Atlanta’s defense is banged up and missing one of their leaders in Sean Weatherspoon, but it’s important to note that the Falcons haven’t given up more than 24 points in any of their last seven home games; including matchups against the Cowboys, Saints, and Giants. Atlanta has also been very successful against opposing ground games this season, having given up a meager 79 yards per game on the ground. Brady will be in third-and-longs all night long which will bring the boisterous Falcons’ crowd into full force.
Atlanta is also banged up on the offensive side of the ball as Steven Jackson looks to miss his second straight game, but that shouldn’t be a major issue. Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling (to my surprise) filled in admirably last week against the Dolphins, and provided Matt Ryan with great options in both the rushing and passing game. New England gives up over 120 yards per game on the ground, so Ryan can hand off to his backs with confidence this week. Roddy White also played on a season-high 47-of-66 snaps against Miami last week so it appears that Ryan will also have another one of his weapons back at his disposal this week. New England hasn’t shown much of a pass rush this season which means that Ryan should have time in the pocket to hook up with his plethora of receivers. Ryan has thrown 62 touchdowns to just 26 interceptions in 38 career home starts, so he should have no issue attacking the Patriots’ secondary with time in the pocket.
Everyone wants to believe that the Patriots are back in fine form, but they really aren’t. A good team would have buried New England early last week and that’s precisely what’s going to happen here. Atlanta is great at rebounding off a loss, and they’ll make a statement in front of a national audience on Sunday. Falcons 34, Patriots 20
The Wager: How are the Falcons only favored by two points here? Records aside, Atlanta is the better team and their home field advantage should be worth three points alone. Too many people are drinking the Patriots Kool-Aid. Falcons -2
The Trend: The Falcons are 23-9 ATS in their last 32 games following a loss.