By MARIO MERGOLA
Week 3 changed everything.
Each season, one of the early weeks will provide a major reset of all the trends. Conventional wisdom will prevail and all the beliefs that something is off in the NFL will vanish. The moment is fleeting.
The commonly considered 'better teams' from preseason predictions - Patriots, Falcons, Eagles, Saints, Bengals, Ravens, Colts, and Bears - all won their respective games, defeating their 'inferior by consensus' opponents. In addition, Week 3 saw eight favorites cover their spreads, the highest total of 2014. Ten favorites won their games outright (Philadelphia and New England failed to cover their spreads), also tops for the year.
However it's broken down, Week 3 was a bounce-back week for everyone - NFL teams and those picking games, alike. The trends all leveled off and things began to revert back to normal.
Except, normal is a function of perception.
More accurately, there is now value in finding the teams who are either coming off a bounce-back or statement win and could be due for a letdown, or those teams ready to make their move this week. In either scenario, their Week 3 outcome - for 26 of the league's 32 teams, this resulted in a record of either 2-1 or 1-2 - largely impacted their Week 4 expectations.
Below are predictions for each game against the spread. Spreads have been taken from various websites and are subject to change. The spread in parenthesis denotes the selected team and an asterisk denotes one of the week's most confident picks.
*Confidence Picks: 1-5 (Season: 9-8)
All Picks Against Spread: 8-8 (Season: 24-23-1)
Green Bay Packers (-1) at Chicago Bears
While many could have considered the Packers' seven-point output in Detroit on Sunday a surprise, perhaps the bigger shock would be falling to 1-3 to start the season. Worse, a loss in Chicago would mean an 0-2 division record, as well as boosting the Bears to 3-1.
Chicago looked every bit the better team for large portions of their Monday Night Football game against the Jets, but still needed a fourth down stop late in the waning minutes to solidify the win. In fact, it is not outrageous to think that if the fumble returned by the Jets for a touchdown at the end of the first half was allowed to count, the game may have been even closer.
Back-to-back NFC North games for the Packers result in a tall task, but the implications of losing to Chicago should be enough for Green Bay to pull out the much needed divisional victory. The Packers win a nail-biter by a field goal and cover the spread.
Tennessee Titans (+7.5)* at Indianapolis Colts
When can we finally give up on the Titans and stop picking them to beat the spread week after week? Well, when the numbers indicate that we should. As it stands now, the Titans get the confidence pick thanks to the multitude of trends in their favor.
Tennessee hasn't covered or beaten a spread since their Week 1 upset of the Chiefs. In their two losses (straight up and against the spread), they were outscored by 42 combined points and their victory in Kansas City three weeks ago is starting to look less impressive every day. Furthermore, they are taking on a familiar division opponent and have the luxury of a favorable spread due to playing on the road.
Conversely, the Colts are 2-1 against the spread, and they only failed to cover against the 3-0 Eagles. The Colts, favored for the third time in four weeks, have only won one game. Against the Jaguars. At home. After an 0-2 start and in desperation mode. Against. The. Jaguars.
As most trends eventually converge on their averages, the Colts appear to be extremely overvalued while the Titans are getting pounded by the public. Tennessee isn't good enough to put the Colts in a 1-3 hole, but they will hang in the game long enough to beat the spread. Colts win by a field goal.
Miami Dolphins (-4) at Oakland Raiders
Every year they try, and every year it's a crapshoot. This time, London lost. Whatever payout for a failed bet Wembley Stadium owes the NFL, it will be hosting the week's most unappetizing matchup.
When it comes to the annual trek over the Atlantic, home field advantage is stripped from the game, but replaced with the demands of long travel and awkward start time (relative to each team's home time zone).
Some teams can overcome travel. The Oakland Raiders cannot. Losers of the last fifteen consecutive games they have played at 1 p.m. in Eastern time zone cities, the Raiders will have to tack on an additional five hours of time change on top of the three they would have normally experienced. While both teams will have to deal with the same rigors of playing in another country, it would seem likely that Oakland is less equipped to overcome the obstacles inherent of a London game.
Miami wins by 10 and covers.
Detroit Lions at New York Jets (+1.5)
New coach, same issues; the Detroit Lions are the epitome of inconsistency. After dismantling the Giants on Monday Night Football to open the season, Detroit subsequently laid an egg in Carolina. Their follow-up performance? Winning arguably the biggest game of Week 3 against the rival Packers.
The Jets - roller coaster enthusiasts in their own right - return to action only six days after playing the role of 'Team Least Deserving to be Alive With Two Minutes Left in a Game.' The Jets have the same daunting task in front of them as the Packers - playing back-to-back NFC North teams - but with the luxury of being home for both games. And while the Jets are the rare team to have gone toe-to-toe with Detroit in the 'Penalty Leaderboard' over the past few seasons, Detroit might have the edge in the game of letdowns.
Ultimately, the Lions are coming off a much more impactful win against the Packers than the Jets' loss to the non-conference Bears. The two NFC North opponents (Bears and Lions) are not vastly different from one another, and the Jets should bounce back into the win column on Sunday. In a close, low-scoring game, the Jets eek out a one-point victory and beat the spread.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+7.5)* at Pittsburgh Steelers
File the Buccaneers away in the same drawer as the Tennessee Titans - neither should be allowed out. Yet, once again, the numbers align for Tampa Bay to receive the confidence pick.
Thursday Night Football turned sour so quickly for Tampa Bay that watching the rest of the game could have been classified as 'painful.' After Atlanta scored their eighth touchdown, Tampa Bay finally managed one of their own. In the grand scheme of karma, they didn't deserve it.
0-3 against the spread, embarrassed on national television, getting just over a touchdown worth of points, and playing a Steelers team that is coming off a big Sunday Night Football win. Letdown potential in Pittsburgh allows Tampa Bay to play their most complete game of the year.
Steelers win by four, Buccaneers beat the spread.
Carolina Panthers (+3.5) at Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens have been playing well since the release of Ray Rice amid the controversy that led into Week 2 of the 2014 season. Coming off two straight wins, they now host a Panthers team that was exploited by Baltimore's division-mates from Pittsburgh.
Baltimore's Opening Day loss to Cincinnati seems a lot less disappointing with the Bengals' recent dominance, but it is hard to wipe the memory completely. The Panthers' defense is the best the Ravens have faced since Opening Day, but Carolina's numbers suggest they have yet to hit their stride. If the Ravens play a similar style of game that they did in Cincinnati - not to mention that they almost lost in Cleveland last week - they won't be able to survive against Carolina.
The Panthers win by a field goal and beat the spread.
Buffalo Bills (+3.5) at Houston Texans
If this game would have been played in Week 3 instead of Week 4, it would be billed as the matchup of 2-0 teams trying to prove which one is for real. As the schedule would have it, both teams tallied their first loss of the season, and now, the loser faces a quick drop from 2-0 to 2-2 in the standings.
Between the two Week 3 losses - Buffalo at home against San Diego and Houston at MetLife Stadium to the Giants - the more unacceptable outcome appears to belong to the Texans. Perhaps neither of these two teams are considered contenders, but the brighter future currently belongs to the Bills.
Buffalo goes into Houston and wins by a touchdown, beating the spread and re-opening the conversation as to whether or not the Bills are for real. After all, as one of these teams drop to 2-2, the other will obviously collect their third win in their first four games of the season. People will take notice again.
Jacksonville Jaguars at San Diego Chargers (-13)
Two-touchdown spreads. The phrase strikes fear in the heart of anyone trying to accurately predict a game. Sure, the better team should win, and the decision to take the points or give them is based largely off one simple question: will the game be close or not?
It shouldn't. In every way, the Chargers are the better team and a victory on Sunday would give them sole possession of first place in the AFC West, one-half game above the idle Broncos. Furthermore, if we hold west coast teams accountable for traveling east to play three time zones away, it would be unfair to ignore it in reverse. This is especially true when the traveling team hails from Jacksonville.
Chargers win by two touchdowns and cover the large spread.
Atlanta Falcons at Minnesota Vikings (+3)*
If there is one unifying theme found throughout this column as it runs through the NFL season, it is the observation of perceived traps. After annihilating the Buccaneers on national television against a 1-2 team featuring a rookie quarterback in his first career start, how is it possible that Matt Ryan and the Falcons are only giving three points? Moreover, the line seems to have never moved past three points in favor of the Vikings.
As stated in the introduction of our Week 4 picks, the sequel to last week's action appears to have huge opportunity for teams to bounce back or recess. In that vein, another matchup of a team coming off a road loss going home (Minnesota) and an impact home win going on the road (Atlanta) combines for the perfect makings of a trap game. Consider the spread appears to heavily favor the Falcons, and you have another confidence pick.
The numbers are too tight to predict the Falcons winning by less than a field goal, and if the Vikings are going to pull the upset against the spread, they will likely win outright as well. Behind Teddy Bridgewater, the Vikings will turn their field goal drives into touchdowns and shock the Falcons in Minnesota with a four point victory, beating the spread.
Philadelphia Eagles (+5.5)* at San Francisco 49ers
Which team is real: the 3-0 Eagles or the 1-2 49ers? Recent history would respond that San Francisco's 27-10-1 record from 2012-2013 makes their 1-2 start an aberration. But if past performance is indicative of future results, it is not in the vein of the 49ers continuing their winning ways, but rather, receding from them.
If San Francisco is going to play like the third-best team in the NFC West, they will continue to receive appropriate results. The Eagles, on the other hand, appear to play with reckless abandon from the start of each game to the end - evidence of this could be found in their uncanny ability to fall behind early, only to come steamrolling back to a win.
The Eagles are on the rise while the 49ers are holding on for dear life in a crowded NFC West. Quite frankly, they aren't playing well enough to be considered on par with Seattle, Arizona, and, on Sunday, Philadelphia.
The Eagles become the league's first 4-0 team with a win on Sunday in San Francisco by a touchdown.
New Orleans Saints (-3) at Dallas Cowboys
Drew Brees in a dome or Drew Brees on the road? In the end, only one man can prevail. Comparing the two 'players', 'Away Brees' sees a slight hit in nearly all major passing categories when compared to 'Home Brees' - most notably, 213 TDs and 85 INTs in 94 career home games compared to 155 TDs and 94 INTs in 95 road games. But 'Dome Brees' trumps all, posting his highest completion percentage (68.5 percent), best QB Rating (101.6), and an average of 302.7 yards per game, highest among all forms of Drew Brees.
Simply put, the Saints have struggled on the road as of late - 4-8 away from the Superdome despite an overall record of 13-8 since the start of 2013 - but there's a difference between playing in a foreign stadium and a retractable dome in a night game. Drew Brees should thrive in Dallas, especially considering the Cowboys' defensive struggles.
New Orleans wins by a touchdown and covers.
New England Patriots at Kansas City Chiefs (+3.5)
Kansas City secured a much-needed win on Sunday against the Dolphins, crushing Miami on the road. New England improved to 2-1 with a home win against the struggling Raiders, but the Patriots failed to put away Oakland with the same dominance we are used to witnessing in Foxboro.
The Patriots may be 2-1, but the only game during which they looked like a complete and thriving football team was in Week 2 against the Vikings. Otherwise, they have been largely vanilla.
If the Patriots have been average, the Chiefs are hoping to improve to that level. They have disappointed in every facet of the game, and they currently do not do anything particularly well. What the Chiefs do have, however, is a home game on national television against a team that is prone to let others hang around longer than they should.
The Chiefs are better than the Raiders, and they have the same desperation in Week 4 that was present in Week 3. Much like the Saints and Colts recovering from an 0-2 start with wins last Sunday, a third loss by the Chiefs would negate everything they accomplished against the Dolphins. New England is toeing a fine line, and Kansas City has yet to play its best football. It may not last past Monday, but the Chiefs' best chance at turning around their early season woes will come in front of their home crowd on the week's biggest stage.
Whether or not Chiefs' running back Jamaal Charles plays on Monday or if Knile Davis has to carry the load, Kansas City's running game and methodical pass attack should move well through the New England defense. Furthermore, the Tom Brady-led Patriots' offense has scored more than 20 points only once in their last four games, dating back to the 2013 playoff loss in Denver.
Kansas City controls the ball, the New England offense, and the scoreboard, and wins on Monday Night football by a field goal, beating the spread.
Fantasy football: Week 4 worksheet
Bortles, Bridgewater face uphill climbs
Week 4 NFL power rankings
For more sports coverage, visit XNSports.com and follow them on Twitter: @XNSports