NFL WEEK 4: It’s early in the season and much of the league is still dreaming big dreams, but time is running out on a few teams, and Jacksonville is certainly among them after blowing a 4th quarter lead in Cincinnati on Thursday night to fall to 0-4 on the year and creep closer to the Buccaneers’ ignominious record of 26 consecutive losses (the Jags are currently at 19 and counting). Only one team in NFL history– the 1992 San Diego Chargers– has made the playoffs after starting 0-4, so that means the Jets, Lions, Giants, and Colts are also staring down the barrel of some pretty bleak odds if they can’t notch a W this week.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, Super Bowl hopes are taking shape for the five remaining unbeatens– Arizona, L.A., Carolina, Las Vegas, and Denver– but there’s a lot of meat left on that bone, and in four more weeks we could be talking about a different group of teams at the top.
Our own luck took a turn for the better with a perfect 4-0 Week 3, putting us back in the black for this young season and setting the table for what will hopefully be a big year. Let’s keep it going with these four:
Tennessee Titans @ New York Jets (TEN -7, 44.5)
Recommendation: Tennessee -7 at 1.91
Things are unraveling quickly in New York, and there’s no cavalry coming to save the day. The Jets are winless, last in the NFL in point differential, and last in the league in points scored with a laughable 6.7 ppg thus far. Their rookie QB Zach Wilson has been a deer in the headlights, throwing 7 INTs to just 2 TDs, and their plan to fix this disastrous offensive attack is “development”. Well, they ain’t developing on my dime, and this week they face a team that is already quite developed in Tennessee. The Titans laid an egg in their first game of the season but have lived up to expectations since then, picking up a road victory in Seattle and a home win against division rival Indianapolis. Ryan Tannehill will be without his top two receivers this week, as A.J. Brown and Julio Jones are both nursing injuries, but the Jets defense will be missing its best player in the secondary in Marcus Maye, so Tannehill will still have some opportunities downfield after softening up the New York defense with a steady dose of Derrick Henry. This one could get ugly– I am not among those who sees upset potential here.
Indianapolis Colts @ Miami Dolphins (MIA -1.5, 42.5)
Recommendation: Miami -1.5 at 1.91
Losing your starting quarterback in the second week of the season is difficult for any team to overcome, but Miami has one of the best backups in the league in Jacoby Brissett, and if we’re being honest Tua hasn’t been that good, anyway. He’ll get a chance to prove me wrong when he returns in a couple of weeks, but in the meantime the Dolphins will push forward with Brissett, who nearly engineered a come-from-behind upset of the Raiders last week before falling short in overtime. The Fins have been leakier than expected on defense, but they have a golden opportunity to right the ship this week against a struggling Indianapolis offense that will be without multiple starting linemen (perhaps as many as three), including All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson. The Colts will also be without two starters in the secondary, and though Carson Wentz is expected to play with his two injured ankles, he’s officially listed as questionable. This is a really tough spot for Indy– banged-up and going on the road to play in the sweltering Miami heat. Gimme the Dolphins in this one.
Seattle Seahawks @ San Francisco 49ers (SF -2.5, 52)
Recommendation: Seattle +2.5 at 1.92
From the way a lot of the NFL “insiders” talk, you’d think that Kyle Shanahan’s mere presence on the sideline would be enough to make the 49ers a dangerous team, regardless of who the actual players are on the field. But as the only saying goes, it’s the Jimmys and Joes, not the Xs and Os, that decide things in the NFL, and a rash of injuries combined with some front office overconfidence has made San Francisco a pedestrian team on the offensive side of the ball, ranking 20th in the NFL in total offense through the first three weeks of the season. There’s plenty of time to turn it around, no doubt, but the Niners will be in for a dogfight against division rival Seattle this week, and we know the Seahawks have an edge at the game’s most important position with the indomitable Russell Wilson. Wilson has been his usual brilliant self this season, leading the NFL in both passer rating (133.6) and yards per attempt (10.4), and he’ll be facing a 49ers secondary that was shredded by Aaron Rodgers last week and, more distressingly, gave up 338 pass yards and 3 TDs to Detroit QB Jared Goff in Week 1. I expect Wilson to work his magic in this game, and the San Fran offense may not have enough punch to keep pace. At 1-2, the Seahawks badly need this a win, and I think they get it.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ New England Patriots (TB -7, 49)
Recommendation: Tampa Bay -7 at 1.95
This game has been talked about and hyped ever since the 2021 schedule was released, but all the speculation about Tom Brady’s return to New England and the Belichick/Brady dynamic will seem like pregame fluff after kickoff. This is really about the 2021 Bucs vs. the 2021 Patriots, and the vast majority of the players involved couldn’t care less about the storylines surrounding Brady’s “revenge game” or whatever. The real story here is the veteran Tampa defense facing a rookie quarterback who is starting to realize that life in the NFL won’t be like it was at Alabama, and the New England secondary trying to figure out a way to slow down one of the NFL’s scariest receiving corps. Brady and the Bucs haven’t missed a beat on offense this season, leading the league in points scored and trailing only the Raiders in passing yards, and the defense remains one of the toughest in the NFL to run the ball against. That means New England’s fate in this game will largely hinge on the right arm of Mac Jones, and, I mean… can you envision a realistic scenario whereby Jones outduels Tom Brady on Sunday Night Football in Foxboro? I’m having trouble with that one. Bill Belichick would love nothing more than to win this game, I’m sure, but he just doesn’t have the horses. Look for an easy Tampa victory followed by an extended round of postgame hugs.