NFL WEEK 4: A distraction of the political sort marred an otherwise exciting Week 3, and hopefully the focus will now return to football as the 2017 NFL season approaches the quarter mark.
This is usually the time of year that we try to set aside our preseason expectations and focus on the existing body of evidence, as each team has now revealed itself to some degree. The most surprising thing to me has been the apparent lack of a truly dominant team— the Patriots entered the season as the prohibitive favorites to win the Super Bowl once again, but their atrocious defense has been anything but championship-caliber and I’m sure their preseason backers are fairly anxious right now (and if they’re not, they should be). Kansas City and Atlanta are the only two undefeated teams remaining, and the Falcons barely escaped with wins in two of their three games, while the Chiefs lost their best defensive player for the season and are relying on a rookie running back and a second-year wideout for the majority of their offensive production. In other words, it looks like the ’72 Dolphins will be popping those champagne bottles earlier than usual this year.
Week 4 gets started with a NFC North showdown, as the Chicago Bears travel to Lambeau Field to face the Packers on Thursday night. Green Bay is a 6.5-point favorite at Betsafe, but the Bears are coming off an upset win over Pittsburgh and will be looking to prove the doubters wrong once again.
Speaking of proving the doubters wrong, we bounced back from a poor Week 2 with a nice Week 3, winning all three of our bets on Sunday and falling just short of a clean sweep when the Over (somehow) didn’t come in on Monday night (some have jokingly speculated the Arizona coach Bruce Arians may have been on the Under based on his baffling decision-making in the closing minutes of that game). Let’s see if we can keep it rolling with these four selections:
MIAMI DOLPHINS vs. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (LONDON) (NO -3, 50.5)
Recommendation: New Orleans ML at 1.69
After struggling mightily on defense for two games the Saints put together a complete performance last week, traveling to Carolina and hammering a 2-0 Panthers team 34-13. The issues on defense remain, but it’s clear that New Orleans has a terrific offense once again, as Drew Brees has been brilliant (68.5% completions, 282 ypg, 6 TD, 0 INT) and the three-headed backfield of Mark Ingram, Adrian Peterson, and Alvin Kamara has succeeded at keeping defenses honest. Brees is surely eager to face a Miami secondary that allowed Jets quarterback Josh McCown to complete 18 of 23 passes last week en route to a 20-6 New York victory.
And the secondary isn’t the only concern for the Dolphins right now— the offensive line has had trouble run-blocking, resulting in the team averaging a mere 3.0 yards per carry on 47 attempts. That’s a problem, particularly when you have a new quarterback who is still getting adjusted to both the scheme and the players around him, as is the case with Jay Cutler. I’m just not sure Miami has the offensive weaponry to keep up with the high-powered Saints, even if Cutler does find some success against the generous New Orleans defense.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS @ NEW YORK JETS (Jax -3, 38)
Recommendation: New York ML at 2.5
Both of these teams are coming off stunning victories, as the Jets cruised to an easy home win over Miami while the Jags thoroughly dominated the Ravens in London. I call these wins “stunning” because the perception of these teams heading into last week was that they were two of the worst teams in the entire league. The Jets in particular have been a popular target for derision over the past couple of months, with some even suggesting that they’re tanking the season in hopes of a high draft pick, NBA-style.
Well, it’s clear that the players, especially on defense, didn’t get the memo. While it’s true that the New York D was shredded by Derek Carr in Week 2, in the other two games the Jets have played very well defensively, particularly in the front seven. It’s clear that if you’re going to attack this New York defense, you want to pick on the young secondary, as Carr did a couple of weeks ago. Well, this week the Jets host Jacksonville, a team with a turnover-prone, erratic quarterback, a bad offensive line, and a banged-up receiving corps that is among the NFL’s worst.
The Jags want to hammer away with running backs Leonard Fournette and Chris Ivory– they don’t want to give Blake Bortles the opportunity to sink the game with a turnover, as he has done so many times in the past– but that plays right into the hands of the Jets defense. And on the other side of the ball, well… all I’ll say is that I believe that 38-year old Jets QB Josh McCown is underrated, and has been throughout most of his career. I certainly think he’s better than Bortles. Look, this is the lowest total of the week for a reason: it’s not going to be an exciting, high-scoring game. But I believe the Jets have an excellent chance to pick up their second consecutive victory, and I’m happy to back them on the moneyline at a price like 2.5.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES @ LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (LA -2, 47.5)
Recommendation: Los Angeles ML at 1.8
I’ll say it now and I’ll say it clearly: I believe that as we sit here today, Week 4 of the 2017 season, the Philadelphia Eagles are among the most overrated teams in NFL. The Eagles are 2-1 and many regard them as a playoff contender in the NFC. Carson Wentz is a good young quarterback prospect, and the Eagles do have some weapons in the passing game and an offensive-minded coach who allows Wentz to let it fly. The offense is one-dimensional, however– running the ball is clearly not a priority, even though the team is averaging 4.5 ypc through three games– and they lost jack-of-all-trades Darren Sproles, an important piece, to a season-ending injury last week.
The Philly defense, meanwhile, is a disaster, particularly in the secondary. They rank 27th against the pass right now, and if you’ve seen them play– with opposing receivers running free, seemingly always open– you know that it’s going to be an ugly year, stats wise, for the defensive backfield. Next up: a road trip to meet Philip Rivers and a Chargers team that lost its first two games by 5 combined points and was within one score of Kansas City for nearly the entire second half of last week’s game. Make no mistake: Rivers is still an elite quarterback, and the Chargers are not a bad team– they’re going to win some games. I think they get started this week.
WASHINGTON REDSKINS @ KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (KC -7, 49.5)
Recommendation: Washington +7 at 1.9
The Chiefs are the only remaining undefeated team in the AFC, and their dominating Week 1 win over New England is still fresh in the minds of many. The last two weeks haven’t been so easy, however— they found themselves in a back-and-forth battle with Philadelphia in Week 2, and they escaped Los Angeles with a win last week after letting the Chargers hang around for most of the second half. They’re without safety Eric Berry, their best defensive player, for the remainder of the season, and they’ll be starting a rookie kicker for the next few games while Cairo Santos recovers from a leg injury.
The Redskins, meanwhile, are coming off a dominating win over the Raiders in which they gained 472 yards to Oakland’s 128. Quarterback Kirk Cousins came alive after a quiet start to the season, completing 25 of 30 passes for 365 yards and 3 touchdowns, and the defense totally shut down the explosive Oakland attack. Of course, Cousins going off for big yardage shouldn’t really surprise anybody— he averaged 297 pass yards per game last season, second-best in the NFL, and you can be sure he’ll be in attack mode against a Chiefs defense that ranks 26th against the pass through three games. I like Washington’s chances to keep this one close, and maybe even pull off the upset.