NFL WEEK 4: We’re approaching the quarter mark of the NFL season and the Curse of 2020 has struck again, as a rash of positive COVID-19 tests amongst Titans staff and players has forced the postponement of Sunday’s Pittsburgh/Tennessee game. In this case, there’s an easy solution: since neither team has had their bye yet, they will just use it this week and make up the game in Week 7.
But what happens a little further down the road, when a few positives pop up on a team that’s already had its bye? Given the NFL’s scheduling and postseason parameters, you can’t just cancel a game like they do in college football, and there isn’t any dead time between the regular season and postseason to schedule make-up games. The obvious answer, then, is that one team will simply have to forfeit– presumably the team with the positive tests that forced the cancellation. And if both teams have positive tests… what then? The one with the most positives has to forfeit? It sounds ridiculous, I know, but there aren’t any easy answers. This could get messy– and imagine if a team has a few positives before a playoff game, or even the Super Bowl?!
There’s a lot to consider, and in hindsight the first three weeks of the season, when we were able to focus on football and all was basically normal with the exception of some masked coaches and empty seats, might have lulled us into a false sense of security. Let’s hope it doesn’t all come crashing down.
Here are a few thoughts on an interesting Week 4 slate:
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Cincinnati Bengals (CIN -2.5, 49)
Recommendation: Cincinnati -2.5 at 1.94
It wasn’t pretty, but the Bengals put forth a scrappy performance to erase a halftime deficit and play Philadelphia to a tie last week, and their young quarterback, Joe Burrow, thoroughly outplayed Eagles counterpart Carson Wentz, completing 31 of his 44 pass attempts for 312 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Burrow now ranks second in the NFL in completions this season, and this week he faces a Jacksonville secondary that has been abysmal thus far, allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete a staggering 80% of their passes. The Jags have been especially vulnerable against slot receivers, and Cincinnati has one of the best in the league in Tyler Boyd, so this is a particularly difficult matchup for a defense that is already reeling. The Bengals have some defensive problems of their own, including some key injuries in the front seven, but the Jacksonville o-line is dealing with some injury issues as well, and as good of a story as James Robinson has been, it remains to be seen whether he can be the focal point of a competent NFL offense. Cincinnati is rarely favored, but in this case it’s warranted.
Seattle Seahawks @ Miami Dolphins (SEA -6.5, 54)
Recommendation: Miami +6.5 at 1.9
This is an NFL gambling story as old as time: a team at its perceived peak, coming off several key wins and featuring the trendy player(s) of the moment, but also having clear weaknesses and some outside factors working against them (in this case, injuries), travels across the country to face a team that is supposedly inferior, but has quietly built some confidence and momentum, and is well-suited to attack the vulnerabilities of the favored team. Yes, Seattle has been terrific on offense thus far, and Russell Wilson is the early leader for the MVP award. But the Seahawks defense has surrendered 86 points in three games and they’ve been staggeringly bad in the secondary, surrendering a league-worst 430.7 pass yards per game (!) and 8.5 yards per attempt. Making matters worse, this week they’ll be without their best defenders on the back end, as All Pro safety Jamal Adams and cornerback Quinton Dunbar have been ruled out with injuries, along with starting linebacker Jordyn Brooks. Miami is coming off an easy Thursday night win in Jacksonville in which Ryan Fitzpatrick completed 18 of his 20 passes and spread it around to seven different receivers. Russell Wilson is great, but Fitz can still play a little, too, the the Seattle secondary is ill-equipped to slow him down. This one has definite upset potential.
Cleveland Browns @ Dallas Cowboys (DAL -4.5, 55.5)
Recommendation: Cleveland +4.5 at 1.95
Is the Browns defense actually… kind of good? I mean, they rank 9th in the NFL in total yards allowed despite facing the mighty Ravens in Week 1, and they’ve been particularly solid against the run, surrendering just 94 rushing yards per game and 3.7 yards per carry– top-5 marks in both categories. The Dallas defense, meanwhile, has given up 97 points through three games, the most in franchise history. They rank 26th in yards allowed, and a front seven that has surrendered over 127 rushing yards per game will have its hands full with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, the NFL’s best RB tandem, but the real trouble for the Cowboys has been a secondary that just hasn’t been able to cover anybody. The Browns have pivoted to a run-first style of offense, which is probably wise given their personnel, but Baker Mayfield still has dangerous weapons on the perimeter, and there will be opportunities for big plays down the field in this one. Cleveland feels like the right side here as a 4.5-point ‘dog.
Philadelphia Eagles @ San Francisco 49ers (SF -7, 45)
Recommendation: Philadelphia +7 at 2.0
In the “what have you done for me lately?” world of the NFL, it’s easy to give too much weight to a single performance, and after San Francisco obliterated an overmatched New York team last week, we’ve heard lots about the Niners’ “next man up” culture, and not too much at all about all the starters and Pro Bowl-caliber players that the team is still missing. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is out again this week, as is starting RB Raheem Mostert and a plethora of defensive players. Despite what the scoreboard looked like last week, this is still a greatly weakened San Francisco team, and the offense in particular should have difficulty against a Philadelphia defense that ranks 5th in the NFL in total yards allowed and 7th against the pass. The Philly offense has been decimated by injuries to the receiving corps, so it’ll be backups vs. backups on the perimeter, but Carson Wentz will be the best quarterback on the field, and when it comes down to it I simply believe that 7 points is just too many for the banged-up Niners to be laying in this matchup. Prove me wrong, Nick Mullens!! (actually, please don’t..)