Finally, a winning week. I was 11-5 against the spread last week and called the Jets’ upset over Jacksonville. The goal this week is to improve on a season record of 25-35-3. My picks are bolded, outright upsets have an asterisk and all lines are from rtsports.com at the time of my writing. Let the second quarter of the season begin.
Patriots (-5.5) at Bucs – Relax. The Patriots are fine. A .500 record through four games is not a death sentence. In fact, in most NFL cities it is pretty good. Tom Brady is still among league leaders in touchdown passes. The defense is not going to give up 32 points a game all year long. Even if the defense does not improve, Brady and the rest of the offense will still outscore most opponents.
Meanwhile in Tampa Bay, the Bucs were very fortunate to escape the winless Giants last week. Prior to that, they were taken to the woodshed by Case Keenum in Minnesota. Jameis Winston still has a bright future. However, the more this team plays the more obvious it becomes that the hype train pulled into the station a year early. NE 34 TB 20
Cardinals at Eagles (-6.5) – Whether the Eagles are for real or not remains to be seen. Arizona’s roster continues to age in dog years. They have been fortunate to notch comeback wins over San Francisco and Indianapolis to this point.
The Eagles are slowly finding their identity on offense. Arizona desperately needs a new one. Unfortunately for them, you can’t find a brand new offensive identity in the middle of the season. Philadelphia should dominate in the trenches here. Phi 28 Ari 17
Bills at Bengals (-3) – This is one of two lines that probably caught a lot of people by surprise. The Bills are the darlings of the league after back-to-back wins over the Broncos and Falcons. However, we have seen those starts from Buffalo in recent years. They currently possess the longest playoff drought in the league. Throw in an offense that lacks consistent playmakers outside of running back LeSean McCoy, and it is not hard to see why gamblers are skeptical.
The Bengals salvaged some pride by knocking off Cleveland last week. The offense has been much cleaner since Bill Lazor took over as offensive coordinator. The defense has played really well all year long without much fanfare.
People will look at this line and the team records and throw their life savings on Buffalo. In a situation like that, the other side is always the safe place to be. Buffalo cannot be taken seriously as a contender until the winning game like this. It is not all that difficult to catch a really good team by surprise on occasion. It is far more difficult to go out and keep that momentum going against a lesser opponent. Cin 27 Buf 20
*Panthers at Lions (-2.5) – This could go either way, but the Lions’ tendency to lollygag around for three quarters always makes me nervous. Both of these teams are the offensive firepower to light any opponent up on any given day, but the Panthers should be writing a bit higher after going in to New England and pulling off the upset. Car 27 Det 24
Jaguars at Steelers (-8.5) – Antonio Brown’s sideline antics last week let us all know that things are not exactly harmonious in Pittsburgh at the moment. However, they do not need to be harmonious for an offense that kind of weaponry to score. The fact that they are playing an offense who struggles to score on a consistent basis for the second straight week does not her either. Pit 31 Jac 17
Chargers at Giants (-3.5) – Someone will be winless no more after this one. Looking at these teams rosters, it is hard to fathom that both are winless. A team from out west traveling east is always susceptible to getting jumped on early.
The Giants have one of the worst rushing offenses in the NFL. The Chargers have one of the worst rush defenses in the NFL. In so many ways, something has to give in this game. It is anyone’s guess as to exactly what will give, but the team that gets to sleep in their own beds is the smart bet. NYG 28 LAC 20
Jets at Browns (-2.5) – This is the other line that will surprise people. Again, the vast majority will throw their money on the Jets. Thus, go the other way. Even though the Jets are exceeding expectations at 2-2, they still have basically the same personnel that led to talk of going winless before the season. Also, whenever a team starts talking about not getting enough respect like the Jets did after beating Jacksonville, it is a slippery slope that can backfire.
Speaking of going winless, the Browns know that this is one of few realistic chances they have to avoid that fate this season. Combine that incentive with the fact Cleveland was playing well in defeat prior to last week’s blowout, and I say they get it done. Cle 17 NYJ 14
49ers at Colts (-1.5) – Jacoby Brissett has a chance to guide the Colts right back into the AFC South conversation with a win here. At the very least, his mobility has made the offense more dynamic than anyone thought possible in the absence of Andrew Luck. The 49ers lost their second heartbreaker of the year in Arizona last week. This is another winnable game for a winless team, but Brissett’s mobility and playmaking ability gives the Colts something the 49ers simply do not possess. Ind 24 SF 19
Titans (Pick ‘em) at Dolphins- With Marcus Mariota injured, Matt Cassel may start for the Titans. The quarterback questions create the uncertain line year. We do know that Jay Cutler will start for the Dolphins in this game, which is exactly why the Titans will win it.
Miami is coming off being shut out by the Saints and putting up just six points against the Jets. It is over. Adam Gase outsmarted himself. The Cutler experiment is a failure. The Titans have major issues of their own, but they run the ball well. Miami’s lack of a passing game has even neutralized Jay Ajayi. Ten 19 Mia 10
Ravens at Raiders (-2.5) – This line tells you a lot about the Ravens offense. Baltimore possesses a defense that aside from a terrible performance in London, has held opponents to 12 points per game.
That defense is facing backup quarterback E.J. Manuel this week. Yet, the Ravens are underdogs here. That certainly is not because the defense will not be able to stop Manuel.
In fairness to the former first-round pick, he did give his team a much-needed spark after replacing an injured Derek Carr in Denver last week. This will not be a pretty one to watch, but the Raiders are slightly more capable of running the football effectively. That will be the difference in a battle of stagnant offenses. Oak 13 Bal 9
*Seahawks at Rams (-1) – This is the toughest pick of the week. The Rams have played Seattle as well as anyone in recent years. Moreover, I am officially a believer after their upset in Dallas last week. Their next big test is going to be winning a game where the offense will struggle to put up 20 points. Whether they are ready or not, that test is coming in this matchup.
It feels like Seattle is being sold short here though. Chris Carson is the latest Seattle running back who will miss extended time. However, the offensive line blocked much better last week. By the end of the game, Seattle looked like the physically dominating team that we have become accustomed to. In close games, there are not many guys who would be taken ahead of Russell Wilson. Ever since his college days, it is has been difficult to pick against his team. He will find a way here. Sea 24 Lar 20
*Packers at Cowboys (-2)- With the Cowboys sitting at just .500 through four games, Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott are each finding out that life is a bit harder in year two in the NFL. However, they are not the issue here. Aaron Rodgers is coming to town and the Cowboys have the 20th ranked passing defense. There is plenty of time for Dallas to steady themselves, but this is not the week. GB 31 Dal 24
Chiefs (-1.5) at Texans – Deshaun Watson has Texans fans salivating. While it is understandable, slow down a little. He has played in four games, had two great outings and two clunkers. While he probably is the future in Houston, at present he is no different than 95 percent of young quarterbacks. The Texans are not contenders to win anything other than their mediocre division.
Kansas City is the last remaining undefeated team. They are not the kind of team that is ever going to blow people out, but it is going to take something special to beat them. They do everything well. If the Texans defense were a tick better or Watson a year older, Houston may be capable of producing that something special. For now though, the Chiefs keep rolling. KC 30 Hou 20
Vikings (Pick ‘em) at Bears- With Mitchell Trubisky making his first career start for the Bears and Sam Bradford continuing to be a question mark for the Vikings, a pick ‘em line makes perfect sense. No one knows what to expect here.
Dalvin Cook’s injury was a back breaker for Minnesota. Even so, whoever plays quarterback for them here will not be overwhelmed. It is hard to have that same confidence in a rookie going up against a solid defense. Min 23 Chi 16