North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

Maybe I’m crazy but… NFL Week Four Picks

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To paraphrase the great Rakim, it’s been a long time and I shouldn’t have left you without strong picks to look to.

It has been a while since I made any NFL picks or watched a complete game even. Life kind of gets in the way and etc and so forth, so I’ll skip the details and just confess that it’s already week four and I still haven’t watched a full NFL game on Sunday yet.

And so, I didn’t make any picks. I felt that jumping in with reckless abandon was an awful idea (I’m pretty sure it was covered in a Worst Case Scenario book). But things have changed.

I’ve done some homework, I’ve looked at some stats and I even read an entire Gregg Easterbrook column. I’m ready to make more fearless picks – after the jump.

  • Denver Broncos over Dallas Cowboys

Quietly, and with a bit of luck, the Broncos have become a 3-0 team. They pulled out a fluke win on a last-second TD, yes, but they’re also done little things.

Little things like having the best defence in the league.

Denver has allowed the least yards (688) and least points (16!) of any team in the NFL. And they’re doing it without excelling in any one way. They’re behind the Giants in passing and seventh in rushing. They only have three sacks and haven’t had an interception all year.

But they may be the best defence in the NFL – and they’re taking on a lackluster Dallas this weekend.

The Cowboys are 2-1, but they’ve been hard-pressed to get there. They pulled out a win last Monday against a horrible Carolina team that looked lost at sea. They lost in a shootout against the Giants, a team still reeling from the loss of its marquee receiver. Their only convincing win was over Tampa in week one, a winless team that’s floundering.

Put simply, even at 2-1 they’re underachieving. Their defence looks lost at times, even though it’s put up some better numbers then even Denver – same number of sacks (with more yards lost), more interceptions.

But they can’t come up with stops. In that week-two shootout with the Giants, New York QB Eli Manning was able to get 330 yards and two majors on 25 completions – not only his best game this season, but better then any game he had last season. Even Byron Leftwich was able to get over 270 yards on them in his first start since 2007.

Sure, the Cowboys can score. They have the best running game in the NFL right now and Tony Romo is having a good year. But if they’re going to pull out a win, their defence and especially their secondary, need to improve.

I think that against Denver they’ll get exposed and have to abandon their running game to keep up – which will play right into the Broncos hands.

  • Oakland Raiders over Houston Texans

Maybe I’m kind of crazy, but I think the Raiders are a bit of a sleeper. In their home opener against San Diego they looked good, much better then they had in a while.

Don’t get me wrong; they’re still a tremendously flawed team. They still don’t like a .500 team, let alone one a real sleeper. JaMarcus Russell might be the worst starting QB in the league. And their rushing game isn’t anything to write about, either. If anything, I’d call it acceptable, like a multiple choice test that at least has all the questions answered.

But Houston isn’t that good either. They can score (sometimes) but they can’t keep the other team from scoring. They haven’t allowed less then 24 points yet this season and let such offensive juggernauts as Jacksonville (16th in total yards) and Tennessee (11th) roll right over them.

What’s common to those performances? Their horrible, abysmal rushing defence, ranked right down at the bottom of the league, more then 50 yards behind Tampa Bay. They’re allowed more rushing yards then any team has rushed for.

This will play right into Oakland’s court. If there’s one thing the Raiders can do even remotely well, it’s rush the ball. Darren McFadden has real potential for a monster game on Sunday. Hell, so does Russell, who if nothing else, can scramble for a few yards.

It could be a shootout. It should be a shootout, since the Raiders have a hard time handling offenses, especially ones as dynamic as Houston’s. But don’t look past them, either. I think their game plan should be to run the ball on almost every down. On every down, even. Let Houston try the airspace.

If the Raiders have as much success running the ball as I think they will, they should be able to pull this off.

  • New England Patriots over Baltimore Ravens

Finally, a true test to see if the Patriots are for real.

They had a weird loss to the Jets where Brady was only marginally effective. There was a bizarre win over Buffalo where everything that could have gone wrong for the Bills seemed to go wrong.  And they had a big win over Atlanta – but really, who’s counting that?

This is finally the Patriots playing a good team that will give them a big test. Think Brady looked rusty against the Bills? Maybe – but that was against one of the worst pass defences in the league.  He did look bad against the Jets, but they’re right up at the top in passing defence.

Statistically, the Ravens defence falls right in the middle of those two teams, which means I think we’ll see just how good Brady is after missing almost an entire season. Granted, Baltimore’s defence is not as good as it has been in recent memory, but it’s no pushover, especially with Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.

But their success in on the heels of a suddenly good offense. Along with New Orleans, they’re the only team to score more then 100 points so far this season. QB Joe Flacco has two solid receivers in Derrick Mason and Kelley Washington, both big reasons why Baltimore’s having more success in the air then even New Orleans, where Drew Brees has already thrown nine majors.

Their running game is no slouch, either – Ray Rice and Willis McGahee are both having good seasons.

This offense will test the Patriots defence like nobody has this season. And I don’t think the Patriots are up to the challenge. This has slugfest potential, meaning I wouldn’t be surprised to see this game turn into a close, low scoring affair. But given how well the Ravens have been able to move the ball and score, I’ll wager they’ll have the advantage.

Other games:

  • Chicago Bears over Detroit Lions. That win last week will prove to be the highlight of the Lion’s season
  • Cincinnati Bengals over Cleveland Browns. Going back to Anderson shows how little the Browns expect this season and the next, too.
  • Indianapolis Colts over Seattle Seahawks. Pierre Garcon is a solid receiver and after his breakout game last week, he’ll draw some coverage away from Wayne. That’s win/win for the Colts.
  • Tennessee Titans over Jacksonville Jaguars. The Titans have underachieved but the Jags are low-hanging fruit. Could this be where their season rights itself?
  • NY Giants over Kansas City Chiefs. Look for another big game from Mario Manningham. Like Tegan and Sara, I can feel it in my bones.
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers over Washington Redskins. The Skins are finished, basically. They’re looking really, really bad. Tampa is just vanilla-plain.
  • Buffalo Bills over Miami Dolphins. Neither team can seem to stop from choking, so I guess this is a Heimlich-a-thon (that line brought to you by Keith Olbermann). The Bills can at least score.
  • New Orleans Saints over NY Jets. Don’t look now, but the Saints have a much better secondary this year. I think they’ll bring Sanchez back down to Earth. And they can score at will. That also helps.
  • San Francesco 49ers over St. Louis Rams. What is it with ankles this season – first that British guy on Mad Men, now Frank Gore. Still, the Niners will still run all over the Rams.
  • San Diego Chargers over Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steel haven’t looked good all season and I think they’ll have a hard time defending the pass from Phil Rivers. If LDT is hurt, it could move it back to Pittsburgh… but I doubt it.
  • Minnesota Vikings over Green Bay Packers. I think Favre has still got momentum from his last-second TD and he’s going to be motivated against the Packers. I don’t know if Green Bay is going to be as insecure over the whole thing.
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