2018 NFL Picks Week 4: What Just Happened?
Last Week: 5-8
So…what just happened? The Bills not only covered the spread but won outright as an underdog of 17 points, becoming the first team to do so since 1995. The Patriots were dominated by the Lions, losing two games in a row for the first time since 2015, and two in a row by double-digits for the first time since 2002 (Tom Brady’s first full season as a starter). The Browns won a game for the first time since 2016. Ryan Fitzpatrick became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for at least 400 yards in three consecutive games, and Mitch Trubisky is the quarterback sitting atop the NFC North. It doesn’t absolve me for doing something as stupid as picking Blake Bortles as a two-score favorite on the road, but it’s fair to say things are getting weird.
In an attempt to balance that out, we’re going to bring some more information into our picks. Instead of seemingly aimless commentary, we’ll lead each section with relevant statistics such as DVOA, recent history (especially for divisional foes), and relevant injuries. Let’s see if it helps our picks at all…
Los Angeles Rams -6.5 vs. Minnesota Vikings
This is a tricky one. The Rams have looked like the best all-around team in the NFL through three weeks, and the Vikings are coming off an incredibly embarrassing home loss to Josh Allen and the previously laughable Bills. It’s hard to imagine Minnesota looking just as bad this week, but they’ll traveling to the west coast on a short week. Perhaps most importantly, their offensive line was the key to their undoing against Buffalo, and now they’ll be facing Aaron Donald and Ndomakung Suh on the road. Do you remember those strange years when the otherwise ineffective Rams stymied the Seahawks based on Donald and little else? Now they have one of the league’s top offenses to help him out. If the Vikings can give Kirk Cousins enough time to hit Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen working against Los Angeles’s backup corners, we might have a shootout; I don’t think their offensive line can do it. The Rams roll on.
Philadelphia Eagles -3 at Tennessee Titans
Philadelphia’s narrow home victory over Andrew Luck’s…erratic arm last week wasn’t especially inspiring, but they’re still a competent team and Carson Wentz is back to improve their Offensive DVOA beyond Nick Foles levels. I’m actually less impressed by Tennessee’s win over Jacksonville last week; they accomplished the same feat twice last year, and they weren’t good then. Their major advantage over Philly in this game is on special teams, and this early in the season, special teams DVOA swings wildly on each field goal attempt. I expect Wentz to keep improving and for the Eagles to win convincingly in Nashville.
Miami Dolphins +7 at New England Patriots
I’ve done a full 180 on this game since I saw the line on Monday. Yes, it’s hard to see the Patriots losing a third week in a row and falling three games behind Miami in the AFC East. But looking at the table above, it’s hard to justify picking New England to cover a touchdown. The Dolphins have an edge in every category except pass protection, and the Patriots are second-to-last in pass rush. The biggest problem I see here is speed; New England has looked slow in two consecutive weeks, allowing Blake Bortles to extend drives and Kerryon Johnson to rack up over 100 yards. Their linebackers can’t keep up with the skill-position players they’re matched up against, which will be a problem against a team with Kenny Stills, Albert Wilson, and a good running quarterback in Ryan Tannehill. I still think the Pats will win the AFC East, but they need some of their key contributors back on the field before I put all of my faith in them again.
Green Bay Packers -10 vs. Buffalo Bills
30 yards of penalties led the Bills to a touchdown on their first drive in Minnesota last week. Back-to-back sack-fumbles pushed them ahead 17-0, and from there neither team managed much of anything. Watching the unheralded Bills defensive line take free runs at Kirk Cousins makes me a little nervous, especially with Aaron Rodgers’s balky knee, but the Packers offensive line is pretty good in pass protection. They’ll get the ball out quickly, and unless Clay Matthews extends every Buffalo drive with roughing the passer calls on Josh Allen, Buffalo is going to turn back into a pumpkin and have to scrape their way past 10 points.
Indianapolis Colts -2.5 vs. Houston Texans
The Texans were so, so, so disappointing last week. They somehow gave up 27 points to the Giants, who, despite the presence of Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham Jr. inspire mid-day naps with their offense. Their offensive line can’t block anyone, which makes it difficult for Deshaun Watson to regain his 2017 form. When comparing coaches, it’s always important to remember Texans head coach Bill O’Brien thought it was a good idea to start Tom Savage over Watson last season. Houston’s defense should be intimidating, but until Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney pick up the pace, I don’t know why they’re getting less than 3 on the road.
Detroit Lions +3 at Dallas Cowboys
Robert Mays at the Ringer wrote an excellent piece this week analyzing the Cowboys’ offense in 2018. In short, their offensive line isn’t the dominant force it once was with Travis Frederick out indefinitely and Tyron Smith struggling, their offensive coordinator has the imagination of John Fox, and they don’t have any receiving weapons to scare anyone. If that wasn’t bleak enough, Sean Lee is set to miss Sunday’s game, robbing their defense of perhaps its most impactful player. I don’t think I’m overreacting to Detroit’s win over the Patriots; I just think Dallas is helpless.
Cincinnati Bengals +5.5 at Atlanta Falcons
The injuries continue to mount for Atlanta, who lost safety Ricardo Allen last week to go with Keanu Neal and Deion Jones on their defense. Their offensive improvement in the red zone is encouraging, but at some point they’ll need to stop the other team too; they weren’t able to do so against the Saints, and losing another member of their secondary won’t help. I’m not sure I would pick Cincinnati to win, but they should be able to keep the game within a touchdown.
Seattle Seahawks -3 at Arizona Cardinals
Woof. This game is only more enticing than last week’s Cardinals-Bears matchup because Arizona is starting the Josh Rosen era and Seattle has Russell Wilson to conjure big plays from nothing. Until the Cardinals figure out how to use 2016’s leader in yards from scrimmage, it’s hard to envision their offense improving. Even in their current state, Seattle has enough playmakers on defense and enough Russell Wilson on offense to get a road win against this Arizona team.
Cleveland Browns +2.5 at Oakland Raiders
Expecting the Browns to win two games in a row is aggressive, but that’s what being baptized by Baker’s brilliance will do to you. It wasn’t just the sudden appearance of throws down the field, or the latest in a string of plays designed to stain the memory of the Philly special, or even simply the Browns winning. It was this in the postgame that really did it for the minds at QQ. The Raiders are similar to the Browns with one notable exception: they have no unit as impressive as Cleveland’s defense. It won’t be pretty, but I think Cleveland will be celebrating again this week.
New Orleans Saints -3.5 at New York Giants
I dunno, just look at the ranks. The Giants aren’t better than 21st in any category, and the Saints still have Drew Brees. Both defenses have looked bad, but the Giants have played the Cowboys, Texans, and Jaguars. The Saints have played the Falcons, Fitzmagic, and Browns. This one looks suspiciously easy, but I’m taking it anyway.
Kansas City Chiefs -4 at Denver Broncos
Kansas City has owned Denver since Peyton Manning retired, and now they boast the NFL’s best offense. For my fantasy team’s sake (I have both Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders) I hope the Broncos can keep up in a mile-high shootout, but logic suggests Case Keenum won’t be able to keep pace. The Chiefs are going to slow down at some point, but it isn’t Week 4.
That's all for this week! Kick back, grab a drink, and feel free to blame me if you put money on these picks and come out behind. I won't compensate you, but maybe your significant others will send their wrath in my direction instead of yours.