The NFL has reached the fourth week of their first ever 18-week season; and with the start of season coming so late this year, week four is how September ends and October begins. This week begins with a level of parity as the same number of teams (five) are undefeated as are searching for their first victory of the 2021 season. In between those ten teams lie the rest of the league already battling for divisional supremacy and conference superiority. Here, now are my previews and predictions for all the week four action in the NFL.
Jacksonville (0-3) at Cincinnati (2-1): The traveling Jaguars are, of course, in a rebuilding mode as their head coach Urban Meyer and quarterback Trevor Lawrence learn that in the NFL, you are playing the best teams in the world every week of the season. The host Bengals are the co-leaders of the AFC North after defeating the Steelers last week and are looking to make their case that a rebuild can happen in two years when you have the right quarterback as they do in Joe Burrow. The matchup of Burrow and Lawrence is one of the first overall picks in the last two drafts; so, perhaps Jacksonville fans can look forward to better times ahead as soon as 2022. As for this game, the Cincy is decided 7.5-point favorite with bettors siding with the home team by a better than 2-1 rate, and with good reason since the Jags are riding an 18-game losing streak into this game. Some are expecting a letdown after the Bengals road win last week, but I am not simply because in the NFL you need the ball to score, and Jacksonville is -8 in turnover ratio this season, something the home team will add to Thursday night. Taking Cincinnati to win and cover.
Carolina (3-0) at Dallas (2-1): The junior varsity schedule is over for the Panthers as they take to the road and visit the Cowboys. Carolina does have a 3-0 record, tops in the NFC South, but with wins against the Jets, Jaguars, and Giants, all of which are 0-3, they have not been truly tested. Dallas is coming off a Monday night victory over Philadelphia to take over the NFC East lead, making this a battle of division leaders. Dallas has one two straight and could’ve beating Tampa Bay on opening night if now for a last second FG, and with Dak Prescott now having his first home game since his return from injury under his belt, there are big things expected from this Cowboys team this season. The Panthers are getting the respect of bookmakers and bettors as they are only a 5-point road underdog with the early money slightly in their favor. While it is always difficult for me to put too much faith in a Dallas organization that plays just well enough to entertain, but not do anything when it matters most, I do believe Carolina is taking a huge step up in opponents this week since the Cowboys will be the most talented team they have faced this season. As a result, I am taking Dallas to win and cover the five points at home, giving them three straight Ws.
Cleveland (2-1) at Minnesota (1-2): The Vikings got off the deck last week in their comeback win over Seattle and now host a Browns team on a two-game winning streak after falling to Kansas City in Week One. The stats put these two teams on very equal footing as they are close in many offensive stats such as scoring, yards per play, and time of possession. This has created a tight betting line with Cleveland a 2-point road favorite … but while the public does see this gave being high scoring, they are also seeing the Browns leaving town with a win as three quarters of the bets being placed indicates. The question that fans need to ask themselves is did Minnesota turn the corner last week or just face a road wiry Seahawks team playing their second eastern road game in three weeks. For me, this is the Browns’ game to lose, and if they want to be true contenders for the divisional and conference titles, they can’t slip up here … and they won’t. Taking Cleveland to win and cover the slim spread and move to 3-1 on the season.
Detroit (0-3) at Chicago (1-2): The hometown Bears continue to be hesitant to start Justin Fields at quarterback, and after only posting six points last week in their loss to Cleveland, many are not blaming them. The Lions are coming off one of the worst blown calls in NFL history last week against the Ravens, a game where a record breaking 66-yard field goal at the end was overshadowed by those wearing whistles. Putting aside the fact that Detroit did actually defeat Baltimore last week, this game is all about stability to me, and believe it or not, the Lions have more of that than the Bears do right now. Something the bettors are telling you by looking at Chicago’s 3-point home favorite status and taking Detroit heavily in this NFC North game. I, for one, believe that when an NFL team has chip on their shoulder, at least for one week, they are able to elevate their game, which is what will happen this week in Soldier Field. Taking the Detroit Lions to get their first win of the year in convincing fashion, moving both teams to 1-3 on the year.
Houston (1-2) at Buffalo (2-1): Remember after Week One when the Texans were 1-0 and the Bills were 0-1 and everyone was wondering what was going to happen this year? Well, here we are two weeks later and, at least for these two teams, normalcy has returned to the 2021 season. Houston is starting a rookie quarterback since they refuse to play Deshawn Watson or trade him for less than full market value, and as a result are likely preparing their 2022 NFL Draft board since the first pick is still not out of the question for them. By contrast, Buffalo has returned to Super Bowl contender form thanks to QB Josh Allen and wins over Miami and Washington. Seeing any NFL team made a 16.5-point favorite is always tricky, but in this case, it is hard to see this game being played without a point spread that large. The public sees a blowout brewing here with 75% of the bets laying the points, and with the Texans on the road with a rookie QB starting, how can you even think about picking them. Taking Buffalo to win big and cover the spread.
Indianapolis (0-3) at Miami (1-2): The dreams of Miami being a playoff contender took a hit when QB Tua Tagovailoa took a shot to the ribs in the Dolphins’ Week Two loss to Buffalo. Since then, the team has struggled, failing to hold a 14-0 lead in Las Vegas last week. All that while the Colts were unable to stop the duo of Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry last week in their first road game, losing to Tennessee, and now travel to South Beach seeking their first win of the season. Both of these teams are desperate to keep their 2021 season alive, and bettors only see Miami as a 1.5-point favorite in what could be an early season must-win game. The Colts have faced the Seahawks, Rams and Titans this year, so facing Miami’s offense this week should be easier for their defense to handle. That’s why I am taking Indianapolis to earn their first win of the year.
Kansas City (1-2) at Philadelphia (1-2): Betting on both of these teams to be 1-2 heading into October could have won you some big bucks in the preseason. Yet here we are as both franchises are on two-game losing streaks after opening week wins. Kansas City appears to have revealed the recipe for their secret sauce this season as NFL teams are no longer intimated by their offensive firepower. The Eagles are playing with a young, inexperienced quarterback and a rookie head coach, with the combination turning sour quickly and doubt already beginning to creep into the City of Brotherly Love. Perhaps fueled by how poorly the Eagles ended their Monday Night game in Dallas, oddsmakers and bettors are strongly in lockstep this week with KC a 7.5-point road favorite and over 95% of the bet made early in the week supporting that. Funny thing is that many betting models have this game being a closer matchup … those are the same betting models that said the Eagles would beat the Cowboys last week, too. Take KC to win and cover here.
NY Giants (0-3) at New Orleans (2-1): This will be the first true home game of the year for the Saints after Hurricane Ida effected both the Bayou and the New York Tri-State area right before the start of the season. New York travels to the Mississippi Delta as a team going nowhere fast as the front office and coaching staff has been hit with many questions and provide few answers. The Saints are getting good efforts from their players, with their quarterback Jameis Winston setting the tone for the franchise since, when he plays well, watching Drew Brees on NBC isn’t too bad, but when Winston struggles, social media longs for the day of Brees’ bubble screen passes. The Saints are a decided 7.5-point home favorite as the NFL should start to see home field advantage return slowly to final scores, something it has not over the last two-plus season, predating the pandemic. With the Giants again seeing the injuries begin, there’s no way to take Big Blue to play big in this game, so I am taking the Saints to win and cover in this NFC mismatch.
Tennessee (2-1) at NY Jets (0-3): The line of Week Three goes to Brian Costello of the New York Post who covers the New York Jets, who, after last week said, “Tough day in New York Sports as the Mets, Jets and Giants were all eliminated from playoff contention.” Nothing better sums up the mood around the city than that phrase this fall. With that as the backdrop, the Titans come to town off their divisional win over the Colts last week and look to keep their hold of the AFC South with a win here. The Jets have struggled to be competitive this year, having been outscored 70-20 in three games with things not expected to get any easier this week; that why both NY football teams are playing at 1:00 PM ET, which, for Week Four, is probably a record. Tennessee is a 7.5-point favorite and oddsmakers are hard pressed to find anyone willing to lay any green down on Gang Green here. Taking the Titans is the only play here, Tennessee -7.5 to win going away.
Washington (1-2) at Atlanta (1-2): The New York Giants are the only franchise two lose back-to-back games by a field goal on the game’s final play in the last 15 years. They have done that over the past two weeks, with Washington and Atlanta being the teams to benefit from those kicks. This week these two teams will play each other and hope to win another game in what is already proving to be a long season for both franchises. Washington lost Ryan Fitzpatrick to injury, and Matt Ryan has looked old in the pocket for Atlanta so far this season, which is why both teams are hanging on for dear life to their 2021 seasons. The visiting team is a slight favorite (1.5-points) with the public “jumping” slightly on those points in favorite of the Falcons. The computers that are tasked with playing out these games see this as a draw, not giving either team the advantage. As a Ron Rivera fan, I will take Washington to win and cover the small spread, but the next time we talk about this game will be at the end of the season when who picks were in the draft is settled.
Arizona (3-0) at LA Rams (3-0): In what is the marquee game of the late afternoon schedule, the battle for the NFC West begins in earnest as the two leaders of the division square off. This will be the Cardinals’ third road game of the season, making their undefeated record a little more impressive, while the Rams will be playing their third home game of the year after posting 34 points in each of their first two. Arizona has lost eight straight to LA yet are still just a 4.5-point road underdog in a year where being on the road has not, so far, been difficult to overcome. This time, however, it will be Matthew Stafford behind center for the Rams, a far cry from the broken Jared Goff who had been there in seasons past. Bettors expect points in this matchup, with the over of 54.5 points being taken higher by the money rolling in on the over; and many of those same better are taking Arizona and the points since on the points spread, the tickets are being printed equally for both teams. Arizona is learning how to win on the road, which is done by playing from ahead and using a running game and a good defense to control the second half. Since I can also see a letdown after the Rams knocked Tampa Bay back in many experts’ rankings this week, I am taking the points and the Cardinals in this game, with Arizona a live dog for the W.
Seattle (1-2) at San Francisco (2-1): The NFC West round-robin continues Sunday afternoon with the two teams who have losses on their records facing each other. Seattle has lost two in a row and are looking up at the rest of the division, while the 49ers suffered their first loss of the year at the hands of Aaron Rodgers who only needed 37 second to pull a victory from the jaws of defeat. Can San Francisco prove to the rest of the NFL that last Sunday night’s loss was a fluke, and they are a true contender? Or will that defeat change the feel of the remainder of the season? With Kyle Shanahan at the helm, sadly, the latter is more likely than the former. This is why Seattle is just a token 3-point underdog on the road and why, if you believe in the Seahawks, this is the week they need to turn it around by stepping on a team that is doubting themselves. Taking the Seahawks to not just cover, but win outright, with the three-points just for insurance in this close game.
Baltimore (2-1) at Denver (3-0): Like the Panthers, the Broncos have done the New York, New York two-step on their way to a 3-0 start with their third win over Jacksonville. Baltimore, as you might have heard, stole their second game of the 2021 season in Detroit last week as their offense struggled and needed all kinds of help, including a record setting field goal to beat the Lions. Despite that, Denver is a 1-point home favorite, turned into one by the bettors who saw them as a 1.5-point underdog on the opening line. This is a challenging game since it is difficult to buy either team in this game. Ravens’ quarterback Lamar Jackson has been all highlights and little production this year, and considering the teams Denver has played so far, how serious should we take their 3-0 record? Bettors are on Baltimore by over a 3-1 clip, yet it is Teddy Bridgewater and Denver who the computers are saying will get the win. The Ravens are winning on luck, the Broncos are winning with confidence, so I am taking Denver to win with my fingers crossed.
Pittsburgh (1-2) at Green Bay (2-1): The Steelers are limping into Wisconsin a banged-up team who might soon be writing off the 2021 season. The Packers return home from the West Coast carrying their quarterback Aaron Rodgers on their shoulders like a conquering general. Sadly, for the history books, this might be one of the biggest mismatches of the 2021 season, which is why the team that calls Lambeau Field home is a 6.5-point favorite. Green Bay’s overall stats are still being weighted down by their poor Week One performance, but since they, Rodgers has this team rolling, and with Pittsburgh in town, expect that roll to reach three games. Taking the Packers to win and cover going away to maintain their lead in the NFC North.
Tampa Bay (2-1) at New England (1-2): You might have heard a little big about this game during the week since it has been talked about ever since the NFL released the schedule in the spring. You also know it is a big game since Tom Brady is selling t-shirts on his website about it, with sales likely flowing to both New England and Florida. Bettors are overlooking Tampa’s loss in LA to the Rams last week as they have doubled the opening line of -3.5 and make the Buccaneers a 6.5-point favorite over New England. The Patriots have been competitive with Mac Jones, their rookie quarterback showing flashing of why he was a first-round pick; but with only a win over the Jets on their ledger, it is difficult to see New England hanging in this game against Tampa Bay. Their only hope it to limit the big plays Tampa Bay as been putting up on the board all year, then, maybe this can be a close game. I just don’t see that happening, so it’s the Bucs -6.5 to win.
Las Vegas (3-0) at LA Chargers (2-1): The Raiders made history with their win last week, becoming the first team in NFL history to start 3-0 with each of those teams having posted ten or more wins the prior season. That is the backdrop of this AFC West showdown as the Chargers look to continue to make noise in the division and the Raiders still need to convince many around the NFL they are a serious title contender. The prior achievements of the Raiders don’t seem to be a factor in the mind of oddsmakers and bettors as Las Vegas opened as a 3-point underdog and have seen the half-point hook added in early wagering. This is strange since on the stat sheet, the Raiders have played better, granted having played more minutes with two overtime wins, but have still managed to keep their head above their competition this season. As much as I like Justin Herbert and the Chargers this season, this is a tough pick, even at home for me. Derek Carr has been solid with the ball in his hand despite sometimes calling his teammates out with his body language. Nevertheless, Las Vegas +3.5 is the play here for me as the Raiders stay unbeaten.
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