NFL Week 4: 12 games, 12 bold predictions
By SAM SPIEGELMAN
On Thursday night the New York Giants pummeled Washington in a game that reminded us not to judge so quickly. The takeaways: let's not sleep on Eli Manning and the Giants, and let's not be so quick to anoint Kirk Cousins and Washington legitimate contenders.
That was the start of Week 4, but there are 12 more NFL games on the slate this Sunday and on Monday night.
XN Sports will take a look at each one of the other 12 matchups, providing you with one bold prediction.
Detroit vs. New York Jets
Geno Smith and Matthew Stafford have more in common than people think. To me, the biggest similarity is that there's good Geno and bad Geno just as there is good Stafford and bad Stafford. Inconsistency runs wild with these two starters. The Jets are coming off a tough loss against Chicago, while the Lions just upset Green Bay. These two stocks are heading in different directions.
Bold prediction: Smith has never lost back-to-back starts at home, and while those statistics are always a little head shake-inducing, I think it might be particularly relevant for Geno. The Jets thrive in an underdog role, as does Smith. Expect Smith to make amends for last week's mistakes with his best outing to date against Detroit.
Green Bay vs. Chicago
Green Bay looked like the inferior team compared to the Lions last week, while the Bears got by those aforementioned Jets. Green Bay needs to re-discover its running game and Aaron Rodgers needs to find a rhythm, but they have a challenge against an underrated, opportunistic Bears defense.
Bold prediction: How much longer will the Packers' offense be under wraps? Even with the much-improved Chicago defense, the Packers are simply due. Rodgers throws for 300, Jordy Nelson eclipses 100 yards, and so does Eddie Lacy in an offensive explosion.
Buffalo vs. Houston
Buffalo has been brought back down to reality after coming up short against a wildly talented San Diego team. Houston dropped its first game, too, against the Giants in New Jersey. These teams are awfully similar in how they're constructed. The difference is whether Arian Foster can suit up for Houston and be a difference-maker on offense.
Bold prediction: A healthy Foster gives the Texans a running game and a passing game off of that, otherwise Buffalo can pin back its ears and get after Ryan Fitzpatrick in his return to Upstate New York. Foster's chances of playing are looking dim, though, and I think Buffalo exposes Fitzpatrick. Speaking of returns, Mario Williams back in Houston? He'll make Texans fan miss him with a hat-trick of sacks.
Tennessee vs. Indianapolis
Coming off their first win of the season, Indianapolis hosts the Titans, losers of two in a row. Andrew Luck put forth a resume-building performance against the Jags last week, and even the defense looked sharp with four sacks. Tennessee has struggled the past two weeks, and Jake Locker will not be at 100 percent if he can suit up to start.
Bold prediction: This is going to be a lopsided victory, whether Locker plays or not. Reggie Wayne has a history of ripping through the Titans' defense, and this one will be no different. Luck finds Wayne for 100 yards and two touchdowns, his 10th and 11th against the franchise.
Carolina vs. Baltimore
There is one storyline and one storyline alone when it comes to Carolina-Baltimore: the return of Steve Smith. The Panthers paid to get rid of Smith, and the exiled wide receiver relocated to Baltimore and quickly surfaced as the No. 1 wideout. Carolina lost its first game against Pittsburgh, who Baltimore beat the week prior. Transitive properties suggest this game recap has already been written.
Bold prediction: Maybe it's not bold given his strong start to the season, but Smith will make the Panthers pay for releasing him over the offseason. Baltimore may only post 20 points on offense, but expect Smith to score - a touchdown on the ground and through the air - against his former club.
Tampa Bay vs. Pittsburgh
Tampa Bay was just embarrassed 10 days ago against the Falcons, and an injury to Josh McCown paves the way for Mike Glennon to take over under center. Glennon didn't fare well against Atlanta in mop-up duty last week, but he did show signs of promise last season. The problem is now he gets a formidable Steelers defense, which stymied Cam Newton and Co. a week ago. Plus, Glennon has a new offensive coordinator to get accustomed to.
Bold prediction: With Doug Martin returning to a backfield including Bobby Rainey, the Bucs have more options on offense, especially against a Steelers linebacking corps minus Jarvis Jones and Ryan Shazier. Do those injuries spell upset for Tampa? Yes they do. Expect Glennon to make his case to be the full-time starter by knocking off these inconsistent Steelers.
Miami vs. Oakland
This game is all about Ryan Tannehill, who earlier this week did not receive the full support of his head coach. Either Tannehill salvages his job - and probably Joe Philbin's - or Miami drops one against the Raiders in England and suddenly everybody's seat becomes a whole lot warmer.
Bold prediction: Calling out Tannehill was not a smart move by Philbin, until it motivates the third-year quarterback to come out with a statement game. Fortunately, the Dolphins get the winless Raiders, and that's a team Tannehill can shine against. Tannehill puts forth his career-best game, moving Miami back to .500 while keeping the Raiders out of the win column, and we live to see Tannehill and Philbin another week.
Jacksonville vs. San Diego
It'll be career start No. 1 for Blake Bortles, who struggled a bit out of the gate against Indy last week when he took over for an ineffective Chad Henne. Earlier this week, we documented the struggles ahead for Bortles, who lacks even a mediocre offensive line or a decent running game. His first start is against a surging Chargers team, which knocked off the Super Bowl champs and then-unbeaten Buffalo the past two weeks.
Bold prediction: I can't possibly envision Bortles taking such a poor surrounding cast to San Diego to knock off the Chargers. I do think they'll be more competitive, but there will be a learning curve for the No. 3 overall pick in May's draft. However, let's take a look at the other side of the spectrum, where Donald Brown - a free-agent signee as a third running back - is now the starter. He scores twice and proves his signing justified in a win.
Atlanta vs. Minnesota
Likewise, it'll be Teddy Bridgewater's first career start for the Vikings. The last pick of the first round replaced an injured Matt Cassel and fared somewhat well against New Orleans in a loss last week. He won't have Adrian Peterson a third consecutive week, but can we count on Norv Turner to carve up a game plan that includes the offense's best weapon, Cordarrelle Patterson? Atlanta has dominated in its victories, but struggled against a Cincinnati defense that used to be coordinated by Mike Zimmer, Minnesota's head coach.
Bold prediction: The Falcons will not run wild on Zimmer's defense. Bank on that! But there are holes in Atlanta's defense, and Bridgewater - who without question received the widest range of reviews during the NFL draft process - comes through with the best performance of the day for rookie quarterbacks (Bortles, Carr). It's Teddy Time in the Twin Cities, beginning Week 4.
Philadelphia vs. San Francisco
The Eagles have had to rally in each of the first three weeks, but have somehow come out victories every week. At 3-0, they travel to the West Coast to take on San Francisco, losers of two in a row and in much need of a bounce-back win. The Niners needed to stay at .500 to stay afloat in the NFC West, which features dangerous Seattle and Arizona teams, at least until they get the key cogs on defense back from injuries and suspensions.
Bold prediction: Both San Francisco and Philly have been different teams based on the first and second halves of games. The 49ers have been solid in the first half; Philly has been superior in the second. That's a disastrous formula for the 49ers this week, but I expect the trend to finally be reversed. If San Francisco gets a lead, they won't relinquish it again.
New Orleans vs. Dallas
The Saints and Cowboys always seem to put together exciting shootout games, and this one won't be an exception. Interestingly enough, the Saints are the 1-2 team and it's the Cowboys at 2-1. Will both be .500 after this one or will the Saints continue to disappoint while Dallas continues to surprise? On paper, that should not be the case, but so far the 2014 season has been anything but predictable.
Bold prediction: The New Orleans defense has been its biggest pitfall this season, largely because of the talent on it and its offseason additions. Quietly, the offense has scored on 46.4 percent of its drives, which is the best mark in the NFL. San Francisco ran ham over Dallas, and even St. Louis held a lead last week. The Saints have a superior offense to both of those teams, and we may be in store for a signature Drew Brees sort of game.
New England vs. Kansas City
Week 4 wraps up with Tom Brady and Co. traveling to Arrowhead to take on the Chiefs, who are coming off their first win of the year over Miami. This week, the discussion has centered around Brady, and whether or not he is still an elite quarterback. I explained it's a classic chicken or the egg type of situation, where he has a middling offensive line and average receivers, but he, too, has been inaccurate and struggled to make "elite" plays.
Bold prediction: Because I wrote that, I expect Brady to make me look silly. When people begin to doubt Tom Terrific, he makes them question themselves. Brady leads New England into Arrowhead to put forth a dominating offensive effort over this pathetic Chiefs secondary. Count on Brady to throw three touchdowns and 300 yards, probably to those I mocked in the story, including Danny Amendola and Kenbrell Thompkins.
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