Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Shift in Power: NFL Week Four Predictions

We are just 3 weeks into the NFL season, so it's a bit early to make rash judgments, but it sure seems like the balance of power has shifted from the AFC to the NFC. For years, the NFC has played second fiddle while teams like the Patriots, Colts and Steelers dominated the league. Now, with the Brady-less Patriots out of the picture, the Colts struggling and the Steelers getting whupped by the Eagles, it appears that the NFC has taken control. According to ESPN, the best 3 teams in the league reside in the NFC East and one could make a case that the Packers belong in the conversation somewhere near the top. Over in the AFC, things are so upside down, at the start of the season no one would have been able to predict the 4 current division leaders. You'd be a rich man if you bet that the Bills, Ravens, Titans and Broncos would be ahead in their respective divisions after 3 weeks.

Of course, like I said, it's still really early. Teams can start the season strong and fade quickly, whether it's due to a schedule getting stronger or an injury. I'm willing to bet anyone that the 4 teams atop the AFC divisions won't all still be there in 3 weeks.

Now, on to my Week 4 predictions. I'm still well above .500 with my picks but I am still looking to improve. Remember, bye weeks also start this week, so there are 3 fewer games. Like always, all picks are made strictly based on who I think will win and do not take the spread into consideration.

Record Last Week: 11-5, .688
Overall Record: 30-17, .638

Byes: Lions, Colts, Dolphins, Patriots, Giants, Seahawks

Sunday Day Games:

Browns (0-3) @ Bengals (0-3) Both teams desperately need this game. Carson Palmer and the Bengals need it just to get into the win column while Derek Anderson needs a win and needs to save his job. If Anderson stinks again this week, I fully expect Brady Quinn to take over the starting job after the Browns bye week. The Bengals gave the defending champs a scare last week but they couldn't seal the deal when it mattered. Maybe Chad Ocho Cinco should change his name back since he hasn't won a game since he legally changed his name? My pick: Playing for his career, Derek Anderson will carry the Browns over the Bengals in a high scoring contest

Vikings (1-2) @ Titans (3-0) This one is the battle of journeymen starting quarterbacks. Both teams are remarkably similar in that regard, considering they replaced their young, black, throwing-challenged quarterbacks with aging, white, game-managers. The big difference between the two teams is that Tennesse has an elite defense while the Vikings only have an above-average one. My pick: The Titans in a low-scoring affair

Broncos (3-0) @ Chiefs (0-3) Jay Cutler now has to be amongst the top 5 quarterbacks in the league. Seriously, besides Romo, Manning and a healthy Brady, what other quarterbacks would you want running your team? Cutler has helped to give the Broncos offense a passing attack it hasn't had since a certain #7 played for them. It's a good thing the Broncos have Cutler because their defense isn't stopping anyone, forcing them into shootouts every week. Of course, they play the Chiefs this week, who top out at about 17 points in a game. My pick: Broncos by 2 touchdowns

49ers (2-1) @ Saints (1-2) This one could be high scoring. When you pair the defensively challenged Saints with a Mike Martz offense, you should expect lots of points. Luckily for the Saints, their aerial attack still lives on despite Marques Colston being out. Now if only they could actually run the ball. I can't figure out which 2-1 team is worse, the Falcons or the Niners. Both teams have benefited from easy early schedules and will soon fall. My pick: The Saints pull this one out in the end

Cardinals (2-1) @ Jets (1-2) The Brett Favre era has kicked off with a whimper. Of course, the problem with the Jets isn't really the offense, it's the 27 points a game they are giving up. Their loss to the Patriots in Week 2 looks a lot worse after the lowly Dolphins destroyed the Pats. The Cardinals could actually be for real. With their offense clicking the way it is, they certainly are the best team in the NFC West. Surprisingly, their defense is also the best in the division, but I guess that isn't saying much. My pick: Cardinals

Packers (2-1) @ Bucs (2-1) This one is a battle of two first place teams, although the Packers are in first place more by default in the weak NFC North. The NFC South isn't much stronger, but at least all the teams are about equal. Equally mediocre. Am I the only one who is surprised that Brian Griese has held on to the job for so long in Tampa? For a guy who supposedly loves collecting quarterbacks, it has to be killing Jon Gruden to have one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the league. Then again, Jeff Garcia isn't really a better option. My pick: Packers on the road

Falcons (2-1) @ Panthers (2-1) Michael Turner has been boom or bust this season, but with matchups against the Panthers, Packers and Bears in the next three weeks, expect him to be more of a bust. The Panthers aren't particularly impressive, but they should put together enough offense to put the Falcons away. The Falcons defense has been surprising so far this year, but it's not like they've actually had to play anyone good. My pick: Panthers

Texans (0-2) @ Jaguars (1-2) Just when you think you can count out the Jaguars because of their injury-plauged offensive line they step up and run all over the Bob Sanders-less Colts. The Jags ran for 236 yards against the Colts, twice as much as they had in the first two weeks combined. Some people supported the Texans as a possible sleeper playoff team this year but it doesn't look like that's going to happen. It's more likely that Matt Schaub gets benched than he carries Houston to the playoffs. My pick: Jaguars

Chargers (1-2) @ Raiders (1-2) Like the Jaguars, the Chargers appear to be back. The best thing about their win Monday Night over the Jets was that LT actually played the whole game. Having him creeping closer to being healthy and adding in Philip Rivers' continued improvement, it looks like the Chargers will bounce back from a slow start for the second year in a row. The Raiders are a total mess. They just need to fire Lane Kifflin and move on already. They won't be a playoff contender again until Al Davis is out of the picture which only happens when they pry the team from his cold, dead hands. My pick: Chargers

Bills (3-0) @ Rams (0-3) This one already looked like a one-sided affair and then the Rams went ahead and benched Marc Bulger for Trent Green and completely sealed the outcome for this game. While I'm not surprised Bulger is benched, I can't believe they are turning to Green to resurrect this sorry season. While Green does have a connection with offensive coordinator Al Saunders, he hasn't been effective since 2005, and frankly I'm surprised he's still in the league. One more blow to the head and he could be permanently injured. My pick: Bills in a blowout

Redskins (2-1) @ Cowboys (3-0) The Cowboys won't go undefeated this season, but I really don't seem them having too many problems with the teams on the rest of their regular season schedule. The games against the Giants will be tough and of course they play the Eagles in Week 17, but both teams could have clinched playoff spots by then. The real challenge now with the Cowboys comes in the playoffs, where Tony Romo has come up small every time. The Redskins are the worst team in the NFC East, but they are still better than most of the rest of the NFC. Jason Campbell has looked surprisingly good but there is no way they can put up enough points to keep up with the Cowboys. My pick: Cowboys

Sunday Night Game:

Eagles (2-1) @ Bears (1-2) The Eagles are incredibly banged up offensively. Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook, Reggie Brown, Kevin Curtis, L.J. Smith and Shawn Andrews are all dealing with injuries. Of that list, I would expect all of them to play against Chicago except Westbrook and Curtis. Of course those two are the Eagles best running back and wide receiver, but I still think the Eagles will beat the Bears. With the way the defense shut down the Steelers last week, there is no reason to expect the Bears to put up more than 10 points on the Eagles. Of course, a healthy McNabb can will an offense with backup receivers and running backs to 10 points in his sleep. While I don't think McNabb's chest injury is all that serious, if it slows him down at all this could be a tough game for the Eagles. The Bears don't scare me and they shouldn't scare the Eagles. Their defense is still good, but Kyle Orton and a cast of nobodies on offense won't get it done. My pick: Eagles

Monday Night Game:

Ravens (2-0) @ Steelers (2-1) The Ravens reign atop the AFC North ends when this game ends. I expect the Steelers to bounce back this week and prove to the league that they are better than they showed against the Eagles. Willie Parker is out, which means Rashard Mendenhall will get a chance to step in and prove he was worth a first round pick. If the Steelers can give Ben Roethlisberger some time in the pocket (a pretty big if), the Steelers should win this one easily. My pick: Steelers

So those are my picks for Week Four. If you agree or disagree or have picks of your own, feel free to leave comments!

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