NFL WEEK 4: Injuries are a part of football. Brutality and violence are simply part of the game, part of what makes (American) football different from many other team sports: it’s a game, yes, but it can also be a life-or-death situation out there, quite literally. The players know this, their participation is voluntary, and they are well paid for their endeavors, but that in no way negates the seriousness of what they’re doing– these are elite athletes putting everything on the line, including and especially their physical safety.

Week 4 began on a somber note in that regard, as Thursday night’s Bengals/Dolphins game was marred by a horrific brain injury suffered by Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa after being slammed to the ground late in the 2nd quarter. He was left unconscious and writhing on the ground, his hands and fingers knotted in unnatural spasms. This came just four days after Tua briefly exited the Buffalo game following a hit to the head which left him with wobbly knees but didn’t knock him out of the game, with the team claiming he was not concussed and instead suffered a back injury. The whole situation now hovers like a grey cloud over Miami’s season– Tua is out indefinitely, the team is being investigated by the NFLPA, and the coaching staff is taking tremendous heat for the way they handled everything. And oh by the way, the Dolphins lost the game, their first defeat of this young season.

Miami certainly isn’t the only team dealing with injury issues, as several games this week will look and feel very different based on who is and isn’t out there, so make sure you’re on top of those injury reports before making any final decisions. I really like this Week 4 slate and I think we’re going to see some surprises– in addition to the below plays, I feel that Jacksonville, Washington, and the N.Y. Jets are very live underdogs who look quite tasty on the moneyline… don’t be scared to show these traditional losers some love. I like these four even better, though:

Cleveland Browns @ Atlanta Falcons (CLE -1, 47.5)

Recommendation: Atlanta moneyline (to win) at 2.05

The Browns were expected to be better than the Falcons heading into the season, and they sit at 2-1 while Atlanta is 1-2. Having watched both teams play, however, I feel that Atlanta is simply the better team at the moment– the offense that Arthur Smith has cooked up is multi-faceted and effective, taking full advantage of the unique skillsets of players like Cordarrelle Patterson and Marcus Mariota. The Cleveland defense is banged up heading into this game, with starting defensive ends Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney both battling injuries (Garrett’s caused by a car accident) that caused them to miss practice this week. They are unlikely to play, and the Browns will be missing two other rotational linemen, which is bad news against an Atlanta rushing attack that is averaging a whopping 4.9 yards per carry. The Browns have played perhaps the weakest schedule in the entire NFL, beating two bad teams in Carolina and Pittsburgh and losing to another bad team in the New York Jets, while the Falcons lost to NFC playoff teams New Orleans and L.A. by a combined 5 points before going on the road and beating Seattle last week. This feels like a tough spot for Cleveland… I’ll take my chances with the home team.

Chicago Bears @ New York Giants (NY -3, 39.5)

Recommendation: New York -3 at 1.98; New York moneyline (to win) at 1.7

Both of these teams like to run the ball– the Bears rank second in the NFL in rushing at 186.7 yards per game, while the Giants rank fourth at 169.3 ypg. There are two very important things to understand about this game, however: 1. the Bears will be without workhorse running back David Montgomery after he sustained a lower leg injury last week, and 2. the Chicago defense has shown no ability to stop the run this season, surrendering 4.8 yards per carry and 157 yards per game… only Houston has been worse in this area. Mix in the fact that the Giants are better at the game’s most important position (that is to say, Daniel Jones looks like a bust until you compare him to Justin Fields), and the outlook here is pretty bleak for the Bears. I can’t remember the last time I bet on New York as a favorite– either New York team, really– but here we are. Give them a home game against a team with a terrible quarterback, a starting RB on crutches, and a defense that gives up 5 yards per carry, and I’ll take those Giants all day long.

New England Patriots @ Green Bay Packers (GB -9.5, 40)

Recommendation: New England +9.5 at 1.92

The big news heading into this game is the absence of Patriots starting QB Mac Jones, who suffered an ankle injury in New England’s loss to Baltimore last week. Let’s remember, though, that Jones’s backup is veteran Brian Hoyer, who has thrown for over 10,000 yards in his career and has years of experience in the Patriots offensive system. He may not light the world on fire on Sunday, but it’s not going to be a total disaster, either– he’ll protect the football and lead the team on some scoring drives. The real reason I like this bet is the matchup on the other side of the ball: Aaron Rodgers may be an all-time great, but this Green Bay offense is a paper tiger right now, and I’ll be very surprised if they’re able to have any sustained success against a New England defense that is still among the league’s best… a defense that gave up just 550 combined yards to Miami and Pittsburgh before struggling a bit against the high-powered Baltimore attack last week. The Packers have two excellent running backs in Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon, but they are completely bereft of difference-makers on the perimeter, and Rodgers is having to dink-and-dunk his way through some tight windows. Green Bay may win this game, but the number is far too big given what the offense is up against. Gimme the points.

Denver Broncos @ Las Vegas Raiders (LV -2.5, 45.5)

Recommendation: Las Vegas -2.5 at 1.97; Las Vegas moneyline (to win) at 1.78

Umm… have you seen this Denver offense? Did you see the 11-10 “victory” over the 49ers last week, a game so ugly that it likely sent the commissioner’s office scrambling for rule changes, manufactured controversies, stadium laser light shows… ANYTHING to dial up the excitement and turn the page on that blight of a football game? The first two games, a 17-16 loss to Seattle and a 16-9 win over Houston, were almost as bad. Nathaniel Hackett’s play-calling has been a disaster and Russell Wilson looks washed. You keep expecting him/them to snap out of it, but I’ve seen enough… soon I reckon the market will realize how bad these Broncos are and the numbers will reflect that. Of course, they’re a 2-1 team that’s an underdog to an 0-3 team, so maybe that’s already happening to a degree, but not to a large enough degree as far as I’m concerned. The Raiders have issues, especially on defense, but they can score. Denver cannot. The Vegas offense has put up more points in every game than the Broncos have in any game. I’m salivating at the chance to bet against these broken Broncos.

NFL Week 13 Best Bets
DAQMAN Sat: Aintree NAP
EFL FOOTBALL Sat: Championship, League One, League Two
SHAMROCK Sat: Fairyhouse Preview
PAT HEALY blog: Awesome Constitution Hill
MARK HALSEY blog: England’s discipline a credit to Southgate
GREYHOUND PREVIEW: Friday and Saturday
WEEK AHEAD: World Cup It’s A Knockout
THE ULTRA: World Cup Group Stage Preview
LIFTING THE LID: Clayton Blackmore’s World Cup predictions 
THE ULTRA: World Cup Knockout Stage Preview
PURPLE PUNDIT: Five Reasons Not To Back Brazil
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