Patriots rule Julian Edelman, Logan Mankins, Aaron Hernandez out

Under .500 for the first time since 2003 and heading into a crucial divisional away game in Buffalo, where the Bills lead the division right now, the Patriots are less than 100% injury wise and missing critical players. Everyone knows about the Aaron Hernandez injury. He’ll be out another week and probably won’t be back until week 6 at the earliest. Hernandez’s replacement, Julian Edelman, is also out with what’s presumed to be a broken hand (although Belichick never tells anyone anything), which means we’ll see a lot more of Brady’s old favorite target Deion Branch, recently resigned last week. However, possibly the biggest injury is one to left guard Logan Mankins.

Mankins played all last season with a torn ACL and finished the season outside the top-6 at his position on ProFootballFocus for the first time since they started keeping track in 2008, as a result. That streak of top-6 appearances from 2008-2010 is something no other guard in the league can say. It’s incredible how Mankins played through that injury, something you never hear anyone do (he tore it week 1 and had surgery after the Super Bowl), and given that, it’s kind of ironic that a hip injury is sidelining him this week. I guess this injury must be one that actually significantly limits his ability, rather than just a pain tolerance thing.

The reason I say that this is possibly the biggest injury is because Tom Brady has had success without much receiving help before. In 10 seasons, Brady has had 9 different players have impressive receiving totals and, with the exception of Randy Moss, none did anything before New England and none did anything after and Moss was acquired for a 4th round pick so it’s not like they acquired him at his peak or anything.

However, if you like to nitpick, the only flaw in Brady’s game is that if your 4 guys can beat his 5 guys, he’s beatable. He also only has completed 232 of 464 passes (50.0%) and thrown 24 touchdowns to 13 interceptions under pressure over the last 3 seasons plus, as opposed to 1061 for 1520 (69.8%) with 97 touchdowns to 25 interceptions while not under pressure. You can’t blitz him. He’s too smart for that and he’s 362 for 572 (63.3%) and has thrown 35 touchdowns to 8 interceptions when blitzed over the last 3 plus seasons. But if you can him pressure and throw off his timing with 4 guys, he’s beatable because this offense is so reliant on timing.

The offensive line has already been less than stellar this season, ranking 12th in the league in pass block efficiency, which isn’t bad, but it’s not ideal. Mankins absence definitely doesn’t help that and he’ll be replaced with the inexperienced Donald Thomas, which leaves right guard Dan Connolly as the only experienced veteran on the offensive line, and he might be the least talented of the bunch. Buffalo has a good front 4, so it’s a concern.

Still, the Patriots have a huge talent advantage in this one. They may be 1-2, to Buffalo’s 2-1, but all 3 games they’ve played have been against tougher opponents than anyone Buffalo’s played (Tennessee/NY Jets is an argument). The Patriots’ last 2 losses have come by a combined 3 points and on top that of, they’ll be extra motivated coming off two straight losses. They’re deadly off a loss in general, but they haven’t lost three straight since 2002. It’ll be a challenge and a good game, but you have to think the Patriots still have the advantage, even banged up on the road.

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Bengals expected to be without top 4 cornerbacks against Jaguars

The Cincinnati Bengals rank 28th against the pass this year, allowing 8.5 YPA, and have been torched by every quarterback they’ve faced, including Brandon Weeden, who completed 26 of 37 for 322 yards and 2 scores against them, which represents by far his best statistical game of the season. Injuries have been a huge part of the problem. Cornerbacks Jason Allen and Dre Kirkpatrick have been injured, as has top pass rusher Carlos Dunlap. However, the injury situation has just been getting worse.

Dre Kirkpatrick remains out. Jason Allen and Carlos Dunlap returned last week, but the former lasted just 3 plays before reinjuring himself. He won’t play this week and most likely neither will cornerbacks Leon Hall and Nate Clements. Hall, who tore his Achilles last November, didn’t play last week and is unlikely to play this week. He made a very quick return for his torn Achilles and now is having problems in that same leg, so it’s very possible he came back too quickly. Even before he started missing games, he was getting torched uncharacteristically.

Missing Hall, Clements, Allen, and Kirkpatrick, the Bengals are now missing their top 4 cornerbacks, as well as rookie Shaun Prater, a 5th round pick who has been on IR all year. That leaves the Bengals to start Terence Newman and Adam Jones at cornerback this week with Chris Lewis-Harris working in sub packages. The undrafted rookie Lewis-Harris was just called up off the practice squad this week and could see a serious role this week in his NFL debut.

The good news is that Dunlap came back last week and didn’t have to leave with injury, like Allen. He and Michael Johnson combined for 14 total pressures, including 4 sacks. Dunlap is a great pass rusher, but that game by Johnson was inconsistent with what he normally does so it’s very likely that will be by far the best game of his season. It definitely helped that they were facing Washington’s offensive line, which struggles to begin with and then lost stud left tackle Trent Williams early in the game. This week, they face the Jaguars, who have had their issues in pass protection this year, but they return 2 starters, left guard Eben Britton and right tackle Cameron Bradfield, from injury in this one, which should help.

If Blaine Gabbert can get time, he should be able to move the ball on this pathetic, banged up secondary. He’ll also be aided by what should be a strong performance from Maurice Jones-Drew because the Bengals rank dead last against the run, also thanks to injury, but also some general underachieving in their front 7. This week’s game in Jacksonville isn’t as big as a lock as people think (the public is pounding Cincinnati) and given how well home dogs (which is what Jacksonville is) are playing this year and how much the public is getting killed this year (4-12 on heavy leans), the Bengals should be on upset alert this week.

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San Diego Chargers extend WR Malcom Floyd

Malcom Floyd was in a contract year this year and only making 2 million dollars. When I heard the Chargers had signed him to a 3 year extension, I was worried they overpaid. Yes, he’s the #1 receiver by default right now, but he’s never really proven he can be a consistent top option, even with an elite quarterback throwing him the ball. He’s also missed 9 games in the last 2 years and is already 31 years old.

However, then I found out this deal pays him just 11 million over 3 years with 8 million guaranteed. How the hell did they do that? This is their #1 receiver. He’s an underrated player who has produced when healthy, catching 125 passes for 2196 yards and 12 touchdowns in his last 34 games, just over two seasons.

He’s had some issues with his consistency and with injuries and he’s not getting any younger and I’ve always felt he was a marginal receiver being made more productive by a great receiver and he’s not a big YAC guy, but this is a bargain for him. This 3 year deal pays him less than the 13.5 million dollar one they gave to Eddie Royal and is less than half the size of the 4 year, 25.9 million dollar deal they gave Robert Meachem. Floyd has almost double the yardage those two have combined (121). Those two are overpaid, but this is still a bargain and given that the other two aren’t very good, they had to lock him up going in a contract year.

Grade: A

Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans: Week 4 NFL Pick

Tennessee Titans (1-2) at Houston Texans (3-0)

In my power rankings this week, I poked holes in pretty much every other team in the league. I can’t do that with the Texans. They are without a flaw. Winning in Denver in the high altitude against a talented team and a no huddle offense is damn impressive and 3 games into the season, this is the Super Bowl favorite and the most complete team in the league.

The only two quasi-holes you can poke in this team are these. Can they stay healthy? And can Matt Schaub win it all on his first career trip to the postseason? Neither of those things are going to be factors this week. It’s not the playoffs yet and the only injury they have is depth receiver Lestar Jean, who is out after having knee surgery. All of the key players are still healthy.

As for the Titans, last week, they looked much more like the Titan team I put in the playoffs at the beginning of the season. Jake Locker looked much more comfortable with Nate Washington and Kenny Britt at full strength, going 29 of 42 for 278 yards and 2 touchdowns, although part of that might be Detroit’s crappy secondary. The Titans do rank 18th in yards per play differential, but I’m not putting them back in the playoffs or anything yet.

Chris Johnson is still hilariously bad, even against the type of poor run defense he would have gashed last season, and the young defense is still missing Cortland Finnegan and Colin McCarthy. The latter is expected back from injury sometime soon, but he won’t play in this one. Also possibly not playing in this one is Kenny Britt, who hasn’t practiced all week with an ankle problem. That obviously hurts Locker as he faces the toughest defense he’s played yet.

The difference between these two teams’ yards per play differentials is .9 yards per play. An old gambling formula says to divide that by .15 and then add 3 either way to get the “real line.” That suggests that this line should be -9 in favor of the Texans. Obviously, it’s a little bit more accurate later in the season, but it’s definitely worth noting. We’re getting 3 points of line value with the Titans and that doesn’t even take into account that Tennessee looked much better last week. This line was also -10 a week ago when the Titans looked like one of the worst teams in the league. I don’t know why it would shift 2 points in the other direction now that the Titans look passable, even though Houston’s win was impressive.

That being said, the Titans are in a tough situation this week. Dogs coming off a close (1-3 points) win as home dogs are 19-31 ATS since 2002. Teams tend not to be focused after a close, emotional upset win at home, which makes sense. Also Britt’s possible and likely absence does hurt them a lot. It’s one of the reasons, I believe, that they looked so much better last week, along with the return of Nate Washington to full strength.

I’m really torn on this one. There’s a reason I saved it for last. Houston is the best team in the league, but as we saw with the 49ers last week, teams that get anointed as the best team in the league by the media tend to fall flat the next week. That happened with the Patriots after week 1 too. The Titans are also coming off their best performance yet and are healthier than they’ve been all season, even with Britt possibly out. We also get line value with the Titans and the chance to fade the public.

However, Tennessee is in a tough spot and Britt’s absence does matter a lot with Locker facing almost definitely the toughest defense he’s ever faced as a starter. Also, while they looked much better last week, they still only managed to win by 3 and their defense once again looked really bad. And let’s not forget, in their first 2 games, they weren’t competitive at all.

I was going to just take the points and fade the public because of how well underdogs are doing this year (29-18 ATS) and how poorly the public is doing this year. Road dogs of 10+ and home dogs of 7+ are a combined 4-2 ATS this year. However, those two losses were both against the Texans, who really look like the real deal, unlike San Francisco and New England when they were anointed. The Texans have also covered in another bad situation this year, as road favorites (6-13 ATS this year) and against no slouch of a team, playing the Broncos in Denver. I’m not betting against them.

Public lean: Houston (new thing I’m adding, siding with the odds makers on bets is not a bad thing to do since they make so much money, so I’m listing this here to allow readers to “fade” the public, if they so choose, in this example, the odds makers win if Tennessee covers)

Sharps lean (sharps is defined as anyone with a 66.7% winning percentage or higher in Las Vegas Hilton): TEN 5 HOU 5

Final Update: Sharps are also torn as I am and as afraid of this game as I am. The fact that so few sharps are picking Tennessee (sharps tend to love dogs and big dogs especially) makes me feel a little bit more confident in Houston, who is probably the best team in the league, but if I did 0 unit picks, this would be one of them.

Houston Texans 31 Tennessee Titans 17

Pick against spread: Houston -12 (-110) 1 unit

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San Diego Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs: Week 4 NFL Pick

San Diego Chargers (2-1) at Kansas City Chiefs (1-2)

Looks like the Chargers aren’t over their early season woes. They beat two crappy teams in week 1 and 2, but much like last year, they got destroyed once they played a real opponent. Last year they started 4-1, beating crappy teams, most of them by small margins, but lost 6 straight once the schedule got harder. Before last year, they were 14-12 from weeks 1-5 under Philip Rivers and 41-11 (41-11!!!) from weeks 6-17. Including last week, they’re actually just 4-8 ATS as favorites during the first 4 weeks of the season in the Philip Rivers era and they’re just 3-9 ATS on the road during that time period.

This week, they are road favorites in Kansas City. Road favorites are just 6-13 ATS this year and 7-12 straight up, but I think that might be a fluke and that it probably had something to do with the replacement refs. If the replacement refs were still being used, I think Kansas City would have a big trend on this side, but they aren’t.

The Chargers were road favorites in Oakland week 1 and won, proving to be an exception to what was the rule in the first 3 weeks of the season, but they barely did it despite Oakland losing their long snapper and messing up 3 separate punts, which the Chargers managed to turn into just 9 points. The Chiefs are a comparable team to the Raiders, maybe a little better. The Chiefs are also in a good situation coming off a close road win. Dogs coming off a close win as road dogs are 19-12 ATS since 2002.

This would be a strong lean if we still had replacement refs, but I like the Chiefs this week. The Chargers are not to be trusted in September, especially on the road and especially as favorites. It just wouldn’t an NFL season if people weren’t calling for Norv Turner’s job at the end of September and given what happened last week, they would almost definitely be doing so if the Chargers lost year in Kansas City. The Chiefs seem to have gotten their act together after a rough start to the season, much like they did last year, and this game should resemble the Chiefs’ close win over the Chargers in Kansas City last year.

On top of that, the public is betting San Diego pretty heavily and I like to fade the public when I can. One note, rather than putting 2 units on the spread and one on the money line, I’ll put all 3 on the money line. 1 point games happen about 2% of the time and it’s not worth the extra 10 cents for protection against something that has a 1% chance of hurting me.

Public lean: San Diego (new thing I’m adding, siding with the odds makers on bets is not a bad thing to do since they make so much money, so I’m listing this here to allow readers to “fade” the public, if they so choose, in this example, the odds makers win if Kansas City covers)

Sharps lean (sharps is defined as anyone with a 66.7% winning percentage or higher in Las Vegas Hilton): KC 12 SD 8

Kansas City Chiefs 24 San Diego Chargers 20 Upset Pick +100 3 units

Pick against spread: Kansas City +1 (-110) 0 units

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Washington Redskins at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Week 4 NFL Pick

Washington Redskins (1-2) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-2)

The Buccaneers are one of the few teams I’ve had as underrated before the season that’s actually become overrated 3 weeks into it. The Buccaneers have hung tough, on the scoreboard, with the Giants and Cowboys and beat the Panthers, but they’re not playing that well. They rank dead last in the league in yards per play differential, with a -2.0. No other team has one worse than -1.0. They’ve had a tough schedule, but they’ve looked completely inept on both sides of the ball. They’re winning the turnover battle (+4), but you can’t rely on that going forward. They’ve also lost starting defensive end Adrian Clayborn for the season.

Speaking of yards per play differential, the Redskins are that team with the -1.0, ranking 31st only ahead of Tampa Bay. Robert Griffin is the real deal, but whatever little help he had to begin with is getting hurt. Brian Orakpo’s and Adam Carriker’s absence on defense has led to them getting torched defensively by the Rams and the Bengals in the last two games and Trent Williams’ and Pierre Garcon’s injuries have left Griffin running for his life and without his top receiver.

Orakpo and Carriker are done for the year and both Williams and Garcon are expected to miss this week. However, the good news for the Redskins is that the Buccaneers pass defense is atrocious. They were the league’s 31st ranked pass defense last year and they rank 29th this year. Offseason additions of Eric Wright and Mark Barron haven’t really helped, and injuries have destroyed their pass rush.

Already missing Da’Quan Bowers likely for the season, the Buccaneers lost Adrian Clayborn for the year last week. Michael Bennett and Gerald McCoy can get the quarterback on that defensive line, but that’s it. Taking Clayborn’s place this week will be Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, a career journeyman who has never done anything of note. Even though Griffin’s offensive line is horrendous, he should still be able to buy himself enough time with his mobility to get the ball to his receivers. Even without Garcon, this group of receivers should have an advantage against Tampa Bay’s defensive backs. Like they have in every game, the Redskins, who rank 1st in the league in scoring, should light up the scoreboard this week.

However, like they have in every game, the Redskins will struggle to play defense. They rank 30th in the league, allowing 33.7 points per game, .7 more than they score, and dead last in opponent’s yards per play, despite playing Andy Dalton and Sam Bradford in the last 2 weeks. Fortunately, the Buccaneers rank dead last in yards per play so they don’t have the personnel to take advantage of this easy matchup.

At the end of the day, the Buccaneers are terrible on both sides of the ball, while the Redskins struggle defensively, but can score points because Robert Griffin is incredibly talented, even with lack of help. I’ve gone into detail about these two teams’ yards per play differentials. The difference between these two teams’ differentials is 1 yard per play. An old gambling formula says to divide that by .15 and then add 3 either way to get the “real line.” That suggests that this line should be -3.5 in favor of the Redskins. Obviously, it’s a little bit more accurate later in the season, but it’s definitely worth noting. 6 points of line value is nothing to sneeze at. I hate taking publicly backed dogs, especially when there are no applicable trends, but it’s a small play on the Redskins in this one.

Public lean: Washington (new thing I’m adding, siding with the odds makers on bets is not a bad thing to do since they make so much money, so I’m listing this here to allow readers to “fade” the public, if they so choose, in this example, the odds makers win if Tampa Bay covers)

Sharps lean (sharps is defined as anyone with a 66.7% winning percentage or higher in Las Vegas Hilton): TB 11 WAS 3

Final update: Only game I really disagree with the sharps on (I side with the sharps on 12 of 15 this week, which makes me feel really confident). I don’t think much of Tampa Bay and at least Washington has a quarterback. I’ll go against the sharps here.

Washington Redskins 31 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24 Upset Pick +115

Pick against spread: Washington +2.5 (-110) 2 units

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Chicago Bears at Dallas Cowboys: Week 4 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (2-1) at Dallas Cowboys (2-1)

The Cowboys ended last season by getting destroyed defensively by, among others, the New York Giants. They lost 4 of their last 5 to blow the division and finish at 8-8, while they watched the Giants go on to eventually hoist the Super Bowl trophy. Given that, it’s no surprise that they spent as many resources as they did on the defensive side of the ball this offseason. It really seems to have paid off as they rank 1st in the league in yards per play allowed. Guys like Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne are playing really well, while several youngsters have stepped up.

Though they’ve faced the Seahawks and Buccaneers in 2 of their 3 games, they also did a solid job defensively on the Giants in the opener, holding them to 5.0 yards per play and 17 points. What’s even more impressive is that they’re doing this without Jay Ratliff, one of their best defensive players. He’s not expected to be able to go in this one either, but they might not need him much if they keep playing like they have.

While their defense has been excellent, their offense has been surprisingly middle of the pack. They’re normally one of the better offensive teams in the league and if they can get it together offensively and the defense continues to play well, they’re going to be a scary team. The biggest reason for their offensive issues is how many penalties they’ve committed. They lead the league with 22 offensive penalties. What’s even more concerning is that these penalties are mostly simple procedural penalties. I’d say they should be able to turn it around, but this isn’t a new issue for them. They were the 5th most penalized team in the league last year. Still, I don’t expect it to be THIS bad all year for them so there’s some room for improvement offensively and even with their offensive issues, they rank 2nd in the league in yards per play differential.

The Bears, meanwhile, rank right in the middle of the pack with an even yards per play differential. Their defense is also very good, as it normally is, but the offense is really sputtering. They had a huge performance week 1 against the lowly Colts, but they’ve struggled in the last two weeks against the Packers and the Rams. This was a top-5 offense last year before injuries struck so they should improve things eventually. They do have talent offensively; they’re just not playing up to it. Facing a tough defense this week though, this might not be the week to turn things around, especially with Matt Forte questionable.

I’ve gone into detail about these two teams’ yards per play differentials. The difference between these two teams’ differentials is 1.3 yards per play. An old gambling formula says to divide that by .15 and then add 3 either way to get the “real line.” That suggests that this line should be -11.5 in favor of the Cowboys. Obviously, it’s a little bit more accurate later in the season, but it’s definitely worth noting. 8 points of line value is nothing to sneeze at. On top of that, the Bears are a public underdog and as much as I love the fade the public, I love to fade public underdogs even more.

Public lean: Chicago (new thing I’m adding, siding with the odds makers on bets is not a bad thing to do since they make so much money, so I’m listing this here to allow readers to “fade” the public, if they so choose, in this example, the odds makers win if Dallas covers)

Sharps lean (sharps is defined as anyone with a 66.7% winning percentage or higher in Las Vegas Hilton): CHI 7 DAL 3

Update: Sharps are not only afraid to bet this game, but they pick Chicago when they do. Anthony Spencer is expected to be out for the Cowboys, while Matt Forte is expected to play for the Bears. I’m dropping a unit.

Dallas Cowboys 27 Chicago Bears 23

Pick against spread: Dallas -3.5 (+100) 1 unit

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