Spread picks for NFL Week 4
Last week was an interesting one in the NFL, with seven underdogs actually winning and two more covering the spread. We were 12-3 (80 percent) against the spread in Week 4, making us 28-14-1 (66.7 percent) so far for the year. In Week 4, I have many underdogs covering again in what is sure to be another compelling week of football. For my Thursday Night Football picks each week, follow me on Twitter (@EricEager82).
Colts (-2.5) vs Jaguars
Prediction: Colts win by 1
This AFC South matchup in London is a late-game T.Y. Hilton touchdown (versus the Chargers in Week 3) away from being a meeting between two winless teams. The reasons for this are manifold—an Indianapolis defense that has at least nine players with current grades below 75.0 on the field at any given time, and a Jacksonville offense with the 27th-ranked QB this season at the helm being a few examples. Colts cornerback Vontae Davis, slowed a bit by injuries thus far this season, is coming off his worst-graded game in quite some time, while WR Allen Robinson broke through a bit with two touchdowns and a positive grade against the Ravens. Look for this to continue this week, keeping the Jaguars close in London.
Browns at Washington (-8.5)
Prediction: Washington wins by 6
The Browns are actually 2-1 this season against the spread so far, and last week, were a marvel of creativity in how they used WR/QB Terrelle Pryor. Currently eighth among receivers in yards per route run (2.39), Pryor also added 35 yards as a passer and 21 yards as a rusher in Cleveland’s overtime loss at Miami. Washington got its first win last week in New York, but struggled to contain the Giants’ receivers, with star cornerback Josh Norman conceding receptions on six of eight targets for 90 yards, 40 of which came after the catch. While it’s unlikely that that Browns can win this one on the road, look for them to keep it close for the third straight contest.
Bills at Patriots (-5.5)
Prediction: Patriots win by 7
The Patriots won against the Texans on a short week with their third-string quarterback, their top offensive player playing sparingly, and key defender Dont’a Hightower absent. Questions remain about their quarterback this week, and they play a team fresh off of a wonderful performance at home against the Cardinals. Both defenses have more than nine starters with overall grades above 70.0, meaning the team that’s able to break through and score 20 points should be the victor. The Bills will need to demonstrate more consistency to convince their doubters, and that will be difficult to do this week in Foxborough.
Seahawks (-2.5) at Jets
Prediction: Seahawks win by 1
The Jets were embarrassed last week on the road against the Chiefs, with Ryan Fitzpatrick following up one of his best career performances with the worst in the PFF era. The Seahawks rebounded with a blowout win at home against San Francisco, but paid for it with a knee injury to Russell Wilson. This feels like a storyline every week, but the Seahawks are awful up front, and the Jets have the trio of Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, and Leonard Williams to exploit this weakness. Williams is second among defensive tackles so far in pass-rushing productivity (12.5), while Sheldon Richardson is eighth among 4-3 defensive ends in the same category (11.0). Look for this strength to help the Jets stay close in this one.
Panthers (-3) at Falcons
Prediction: Panthers win by 2
After an impressive offensive showing on Monday night in New Orleans, the Falcons return home to face a Panthers’ team fresh off a home loss to Minnesota, one in which their offensive line gave up eight sacks and Cam Newton threw three interceptions. Lacking a front-seven player with an overall grade above 80.0, it’s unlikely the Falcons will be able to place similar pressure on Newton this week. It will be up to the Panthers’ young corners, who have largely held up well so far this season, to stop Julio Jones and the Falcons’ passing game on Sunday. Jones, who caught just one of seven targets against a Saints’ secondary largely void of starting-quality talent, should rebound enough in Week 4 to give the Falcons a chance at home.
Lions (-3) at Bears
Prediction: Bears win by 3
The Lions go into Chicago as favorites against a largely-depleted Bears squad. With Kyle Fuller placed on IR this week, look for the Lions to continue to use their free-agent acquisition Marvin Jones the way they did last week, where he turned eight targets into 205 yards and two touchdowns. His yards per route run so far this season (3.21) are second among qualifying wide receivers, helping quarterback Matthew Stafford run up the second-highest PFF QB rating and the fifth-best accuracy percentage this season. Despite a rash of injuries, however, the Bears still have talent on defense, where Jerrell Freeman has been a good offseason find so far this year, boasting the 11th-best grade among all linebackers thus far. If veteran Tracy Porter, with a respectable 0.99 yards per coverage snap allowed so far this year, and the Bears secondary can hold up, the Bears should be able to be competitive in this one.
Titans at Texans (-5)
Prediction: Texans win by 5
The Titans return home for their third home game of the season, missing probably the league’s best player, and after producing the blueprint for stopping their offense. This week will likely not get any easier against the Titans, who, while only being 1-2 have played decently on the defensive side of the ball. After holding the top-graded offense in the league last week to just 17 points last week, look for Jurell Casey and the Titans’ front-seven to take advantage of a Texans’ offensive line that has just the 22nd-best pass-blocking efficiency among all O-lines this season, and has produced the third-worst run-blocking grade of all NFL teams through the league’s first three weeks. After a slow Week 3 outing, it will be up to DeAndre Hopkins, still the league’s sixth-highest graded receiver, to take advantage of a secondary missing the solid play of Da’Norris Searcy for the next few weeks.
Raiders at Ravens (-3.5)
Prediction: Ravens win by 2
This is one of the trickier matchups of the weekend, and the public consensus is that the Ravens aren’t as good as their 3-0 record would indicate, but their cumulative grade is the best in the league thus far. The Raiders boast the league’s best passing grade through Week 3, and should be able to put up enough points to make the Ravens uncomfortable. Raiders CB David Amerson, last year’s PFF Comeback Player of the Year, is currently the league’s highest-graded corner. If the rest of the Raiders ‘secondary can build on their strong performance last week against the Titans, the Ravens may not have enough firepower on the outside to turn Joe Flacco’s passes into points and cover the current spread.
Broncos (-3) at Buccaneers
Prediction: Broncos win by 2
After and impressive victory in Week 1, the Buccaneers have demonstrated the last two weeks why it’s not quite time to believe in their hype. Jameis Winston has been the fourth-least accurate qualifying quarterback in the league thus far, and faces a Broncos defense that has been the glue to their 3-0 start. CB Chris Harris Jr. currently ranks third among all cornerbacks in overall grade, while Aqib Talib and Bradley Roby have surrendered a respectable 0.97 and 1.00 yards per coverage snap so far this season. Broncos signal caller Trevor Siemian has thus far been much better than Winston, although he’s been asked to do far less. If CB Brent Grimes (with a respectable 1.02 yards per coverage snap thus far) and the Buccaneers’ secondary can slow Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders enough, Tampa Bay may be able to capitalize on possible Siemian mistakes (he’s thrown three interceptions thus far) and keep this one close at home.
Cowboys (-2.5) at 49ers
Prediction: Cowboys win by 1
With a prime opportunity to take advantage of a weak Seattle offensive line last week, the 49ers largely fell flat, generating just two sacks, two quarterback hits, and 10 hurries in a blowout loss to the Seahawks. The Cowboys seem to have gotten better each week, with Dak Prescott increasing his grade from week to week in each of the last two games. The 49ers have the lowest-graded offense in the league by a wide margin, and should lose the time of possession battle to the Cowboys badly enough to drop this one. That said, the Dallas defense has deficiencies of its own, with only one starting front-seven defender with a grade over 50.0 (Sean Lee). If Carlos Hyde can bounce back from a poor start (he’s just the 36th-highest graded running back in the league), the 49ers may be able to surprise some people.
Saints at Chargers (-4)
Prediction: Chargers win by 1
Each week it seems like we can make a good case for the Saints winning. Drew Brees has thrown for over 1,000 yards so far this season. Brandon Cooks, Willie Snead, and Michael Thomas have all had their moments. Mark Ingram has been decent in the running game. None of this has mattered thus far, though, due in large part to a defense that’s being dragged up and down the field repeatedly, void of any starter with a season grade above 76.4. The Chargers could very easily be 3-0, and the last time they were at home, they blew out the Jaguars on the back of four Philip Rivers touchdown passes. I think this one is a bit closer, but look for the Chargers to get back to .500 this week at home.
Rams at Cardinals (-8)
Prediction: Cardinals win by 7
The Rams sit atop the NFC West this week, despite not having scored a touchdown until Week 3 against the Buccaneers. The Cardinals have largely struggled so far, due in large part to the regression of QB Carson Palmer, who has the third-worst PFF QB Rating, the worst adjusted completion percentage, and the second-worst adjusted completion percentage on deep passes thus far. Rams DT Aaron Donald has continued to be a monster for L.A., but look for the matchup of David Johnson (the league’s highest-graded running back) in space against converted safety Mark Barron (the league’s 59th-highest graded linebacker) to be one of the differences in this one.
Chiefs at Steelers (-5.5)
Prediction: Steelers win by 2
It’s hard to put a finger on either of these teams. Both sit at 2-1, but both have looked shaky at times, specifically the Steelers last week losing badly on the road to a rookie quarterback. The left side of the Pittsburgh offensive line, featuring Alejandro Villanueva (the 54th-highest graded tackle) and B.J. Finney (replacing the injured Ramon Foster) will have a hard time protecting Ben Roethlisberger this week against a Chiefs’ front-seven that still has Tamba Hali, with a pass-rush productivity above 10.0 so far, Dontari Poe, and Derrick Johnson playing well. Look for a compelling game on Sunday night.
Giants at Vikings (-5)
Prediction: Vikings win by 4
The Vikings haven’t surrendered more than 17 points in their last seven games and have one of the best defenses in the league through three games. The Giants slipped up a bit last week, losing at home to a previously winless Washington team. While their offensive line (with four starters owning grades above 76.4) has shown promise so far, the Giants will have a difficult time in the trenches against the Vikings’ menacing front, where Linval Joseph, Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter, and Tom Johnson are all in the top 11 among their position group in pass-rush productivity so far this year. Look for a low-scoring affair on Monday night, meaning the current spread of five is probably a bit too high.