Tennessee Titans at New York Jets: 2013 Week 4 NFL Pick

New York Jets (2-1) at Tennessee Titans (2-1)

The Titans are for real as a playoff contender. I actually had them in the playoffs last year, but I might have been a year early. I didn’t put them in the playoffs this year, but that looks like a complete oversight right now, especially since they have 7 of my top-200 players from a month ago (Michael Roos, David Stewart, Andy Levitre, Chris Johnson, Jurrell Casey, Derrick Morgan, and Jason McCourty) and their defense was an obvious bounce back candidate after allowing the 8th fewest points in 2011 and the most in 2012, with essentially the same personnel.

Their defense certainly looks closer to what they were in 2011 than in 2012 thus far through 3 games. They’re allowing just 18.7 points per game and have allowed opponents to convert 1st and 10 for a subsequent set of downs 71% of the time. They have a +4% differential in this aspect. Jake Locker remains the limiting factor, but even he seems improved over what he was in his first 2 years in the league, with an improved supporting cast and his first opportunity at consistent, healthy playing time, though he’ll eventually start turning the ball over more often. As a result of the Titans’ strong play, they are 2-1, with wins over San Diego and Pittsburgh and a near win in Houston against the heavily favored Texans.

The Jets are 2-1 as well as they are also doing it with defense. They are allowing opponents to convert 1st and 10 for a subsequent set of downs 57% of the time, best in the NFL, though they are actually only +7% in terms of differential because their offense isn’t moving the ball well at all. While I wouldn’t be surprised if that continued, they’re highly unlikely to be this good defensively all season, just because no one is. They’ve faced the Bills, Buccaneers, and a disoriented Patriots team on Thursday Night. Their competition will get tougher. Offensively, they might not be at 64% all season, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t show much improvement in that aspect. I buy Tennessee’s 2-1 start much more than the Jets’ 2-1 start.

The Jets probably won’t move the ball very well this week against the Titans’ tough defense. I don’t disrespect the Jets’ defense at all, with Demario Davis and Damon Harrison having breakout years and David Harris having a bounce back year. They will make life tough for Jake Locker. However, I like the Titans’ chances of moving the ball against the Jets’ defense more than the Jets’ chances of moving the ball against the Titans’ defense. The reason this is a no confidence pick is because this line is higher than a field goal and there’s always a good chance that a game between two defensive teams ends up being a field goal game, even if one team is noticeably more talented than the other and at home.

Tennessee Titans 17 New York Jets 13

Pick against spread: Tennessee -3.5

Confidence: None

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Washington Redskins at Oakland Raiders: 2013 Week 4 NFL Pick

Washington Redskins (0-3) at Oakland Raiders (1-2)

Terrelle Pryor has not technically been named the starter at quarterback for the Raiders in this one, after suffering a concussion this week, but he’s passed all of the NFL’s tests and is going to take one precautionary test before the game before the Raiders clear him. I’d be pretty surprised if he was held out of this one. Besides, I like the Redskins anyway this week and if he’s held out in favor of noodle armed pocket passer Matt Flynn, it’ll only give the Redskins an even better chance of winning and covering this 3.5 point spread.

The Redskins may be 0-3, but they had their best performance of the season last week at home for Detroit. Robert Griffin will only get better from here on out as he continues to get his legs back under him. Last week was his best performance of the season, at least in terms of how he looked in the pocket, running, and throwing the football. He completed 32 of 50 for 326 yards and a pick, with 37 yards on 6 carries in a game that was close throughout.

He’ll probably have his best performance of the season this week, not just because he’ll have another week under his belt in his return, but because of how terrible Oakland’s defense is. They are easily a bottom-5 unit and that should be reflected in the amount of points they surrender by season’s end. After beating a hapless Jacksonville team at home 19-9, the Raiders were blown out in Denver last week.

Even the final score of 37-21 doesn’t tell how big of a blowout it was. The Broncos had 31 first downs to just 1 punt, while the Raiders had 13 first downs and punted 6 times. The Raiders actually won the turnover battle by 2, recovering both of the Broncos’ fumbles, both of which were pretty unforced. Teams who win the turnover battle by 2 win, on average, 82.1% of the time and outscore opponents by 9.64 points per game. They hung with the Colts week 1, but the Colts had 7 wins by 7 points or less against 7 win or worse teams in 2012, so that’s not really saying much. The 2-14 Chiefs hung with the Colts in 2012 and the 2-14 Jaguars beat them.

The Raiders are the first team the Redskins will play where they have a clear talent advantage. This means they will be able to run their game plan like they’d like. They’ve gotten down early in all 3 of their games thus far this season and have had to abandon the read option and other quarterback runs, as well as their power running game with Alfred Morris, for that reason. The 2012 Redskins ran the ball 519 times to 442 passes, but the 2013 Redskins have run just 57 times to 139 passes. It’s not like Alfred Morris has been bad, averaging 5.6 yards per carry. He just hasn’t gotten the opportunity. It won’t surprise me at all if the Redskins rushed for over 200 yards in this game and completely took things over.

The trends favor the Redskins as well. The Raiders are home dogs before being home dogs. Inferior teams are prime candidates for upsets when they have an upcoming lull in the schedule and/or when their opponent has an upcoming daunting matchup to distract them. That’s not the case here at all. The Raiders have a home game against the Chargers next week, while the Redskins go on bye. Home dogs are 33-49 ATS since 2008 before being home dogs again and 12-25 ATS since 2002 as non-divisional home dogs before being divisional home dogs. Meanwhile, the Redskins will be completely focused against an inferior opponent with an off week next week. Since 2002, teams are 61-27 ATS as either 7+ point home favorites or 3.5+ point road favorites before a bye. They should win this one easily.

Washington Redskins 31 Oakland Raiders 20

Pick against spread: Washington -3.5

Confidence: Medium

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Dallas Cowboys at San Diego Chargers: 2013 Week 4 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (2-1) at San Diego Chargers (1-2)

One of the things that’s important to do when picking games is to take into account the schedule dynamic. Football is a physically and mentally demanding sport and teams are not at 100% in terms of their concentration and level of play in every game. This is a big part of the reason why upsets happen. It’s very important to try to figure out when this is a factor. I definitely think it is this week.

The Chargers are home underdogs here before they go to Oakland next week, where they will be road favorites. The Chargers will be 100% focused here for a superior opponent with no distraction on schedule. The Cowboys, well, that might not be the case for them. They are road favorites before they will be home dogs next week in Denver. They already have more wins than the rest of the division combined and a huge benchmark home game against the Broncos next week. It’s reasonable to believe that they might not care so much about a game in San Diego, a sub .500 non-divisional opponent.

The trends basically back this up. Non-divisional home dogs are 37-11 ATS since 1989 before being divisional road favorites. Meanwhile, teams are 20-35 ATS since 1989 as non-divisional road favorites before being non-divisional home underdogs. This is certainly a bigger game for the Chargers and I think that will show on the field. They’ve been competitive in all 3 of their games and could easily win here back at home.

San Diego Chargers 27 Dallas Cowboys 20 Upset Pick +110

Pick against spread: San Diego +2

Confidence: High

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Baltimore Ravens at Buffalo Bills: 2013 Week 4 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (2-1) at Buffalo Bills (1-2)

The Ravens’ season certainly got off to a rough start week 1 in Denver, as Peyton Manning tied an NFL record for touchdowns against them in a 49-27 loss. However, they bounced back at home over the past 2 weeks with a 14-6 win over Cleveland and a 30-9 win over Houston. Now this week they have to go back on the road, where life has not been as kind to them as at home over the past few seasons. Since 2010, the Ravens are 25-3 at home and outscore opponents by an average of 10.1 points per game and 17-14 on the road, outscoring opponents by 1.1 points per game. They’re also 2-5 ATS as non-divisional road favorites in their last 7 instances.

Their offense is still struggling to move the ball. Sure, they beat Houston 30-9, but they needed 14 points off of returns to achieve that final score. The two teams were pretty even in terms of first downs, total yards of offense, and punts despite the large final margin. They could get Ray Rice back from injury this week, but he won’t be 100%. I don’t know how much of an upgrade a limited Ray Rice is over Bernard Pierce, one of the better backups in the NFL. The two will probably split carries.

Their offensive woes go back longer than a week too. They are converting a below average 72% of 1st and 10 for a subsequent set of downs. Fortunately, as bad as their offense is right now, their defense seems to have turned around 180 degrees from a disappointing start in Denver week 1 as their new players have gelled together. However, I don’t know if I trust the Ravens to cover as 3 point favorites on the road here in Buffalo. All of the Bills’ injuries in the secondary, especially if Leodis McKelvin doesn’t play, make it hard to take the Bills here and I wish this line was a little higher, but I think they are the right side. I’m just not confident.

Baltimore Ravens 17 Buffalo Bills 16

Pick against spread: Buffalo +3

Confidence: None

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Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Minnesota Vikings at London: 2013 Week 4 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (0-3) vs. Minnesota Vikings (0-3) at London

Both of these teams are 0-3 and both of them deserve to be 0-3 the way they’ve played thus far, but I think one team has a better chance of turning it around going forward. Minnesota I predicted before the season started would go 5-11 and right now even that seems optimistic. Last year’s 10-6 record was largely the product of a non-human season from Adrian Peterson, a strong record in close games (5-0), and some of the best injury luck in the NFL.

Now they are 0-3. Adrian Peterson came into this week 5th in rushing with 281 yards on 69 carries, not bad at all, but not what he was doing last season. The 1499 rushing yards he’s on pace for would be the 3rd best total of his 7 year NFL career, but a good 600 yards less than he rushed for last season. 2 of their losses have come by a touchdown or less, after they went 5-0 in such games last season.

Injuries, meanwhile, have been more of a problem. Kevin Williams missed the first game of the season, while top cornerback Chris Cook is expected to miss this game. The absence of Antoine Winfield, one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL last season, has also been felt as their secondary has been a major weakness. They had trouble with Brian Hoyer last week and now without Cook, they could be in a lot of trouble against Ben Roethlisberger, who threw for over 400 yards last week against a much tougher Chicago secondary in a losing effort. And, of course, Christian Ponder is out for this game with a rib problem, leaving Matt Cassel to start. He’s not a noticeable downgrade talent wise, but he has less familiarity with his teammates and the team could just mail it in at 0-3 without their starting quarterback.

The Steelers, meanwhile, I predicted to go 10-6 and make the playoffs this season. That’s one of the few things I’ve been really wrong about this season, but they won’t be this bad all season. While the Vikings seem bound for a top-5 pick, the Steelers could work their way back up closer to .500 before the season is over. They return Le’Veon Bell and Heath Miller this week (Miller played last week, but in limited fashion). They will help shore up their biggest needs on a horrific offense, namely the need for a talented running back and a safety value receiver that Roethlisberger is comfortable throwing to.

The Steelers offense already looked better last week. The Steelers had 21 first downs, 2 punts, and 459 total yards to 15, 6, and 258 for the Bears, but lost by 17 because they committed 5 turnovers, 2 which went for touchdowns, without forcing a single turnover. They are now -9 in turnovers on the season, tied with the also 0-3 Giants for worst in the NFL. Fortunately, that kind of thing tends to be inconsistent in the long run. They won’t recover just 22.2% of fumbles all season. They also can still play defense and it’s only a matter of time before they start forcing takeaways (0 on the season). I also like the veteran Steelers team in London more than the younger Vikings. I expect them to avoid an 0-4 start here and start resembling the Steelers a little bit more.

Pittsburgh Steelers 23 Minnesota Vikings 10

Pick against spread: Pittsburgh -3

Confidence: Medium

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Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions: 2013 Week 4 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (3-0) at Detroit Lions (2-1)

The Bears are 3-0, but they were favored in all 3 games. Their “vaunted” defense has forced a league low 9 punts all season. Yes, they have 11 takeaways, but their combined punts forced and takeaways is just 20, which is also one of the worst in the NFL. In terms of preventing their opponents from moving the chains on any given 1st and 10, they are right around 75%, very middle of the pack, which is right around where their improved offense is as well. They can’t continue relying on takeaways and recovering 75% of fumbles they force. It’s very possible they miss Lovie Smith’s defensive leadership. Over 30 veterans Charles Tillman, Julius Peppers, and Lance Briggs are all disappointing. And now they’re without Henry Melton. This is a very shaky 3-0.

Detroit, meanwhile, is 2-1, but I think they’re playing a little bit better. They are converting 1st and 10 for another first down about 76% of the time, while allowing their opponents to do so about 74% of the time and they are ahead of Chicago in terms of differential there. They also played better against Minnesota than Chicago, the one mutual opponent these two teams have faced thus far. The Lions are no longer suffering from the problems that plagued them last season (turnovers, poor special teams, inability to win close games, inability to stop opponents from scoring defensive touchdowns) and that has allowed their talent to shine through like it did in 2011. I don’t think they’re significantly better than the Bears, but I think they’re a little bit better and that these two division rivals will split the season series with the home team winning each time.

At least that’s what I originally thought until I realized Detroit is in one of the most negative trends situations. Divisional home favorites before being divisional road dogs are 16-48 ATS since 2002. I don’t know why exactly, but it’s very possible the Lions could be caught looking forward to Green Bay next week. It’s not enough for me to take Chicago and I think it’s possible the trend won’t apply here because Chicago is 3-0 and not someone to be overlooked, but I can’t have confidence on Detroit with that trend lingering. Maybe Chicago wins in Detroit and they get them back in Chicago later this year and they split the season series that way, I don’t know. But Chicago can beat Detroit in Detroit without being better than Detroit.

Detroit Lions 24 Chicago Bears 20

Pick against spread: Detroit -3

Confidence: None

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Arizona Cardinals at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2013 Week 4 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (1-2) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-3)

The Buccaneers have made the switch, going from Josh Freeman to Mike Glennon for the 4th game of their season, after going 0-3 in their first 3. In his last 8 games, he had completed 174 of 356 (48.8%) for 2210 yards (6.2 YPA), 8 touchdowns, and 12 touchdowns, winning just one of those games. Mike Glennon probably can’t be worse, but I don’t think he’ll be much better. There was a reason he fell to the 3rd round of a poor quarterback draft, even with so many teams needing quarterbacks this year. He has a lot of flaws and while he could someday be a capable NFL quarterback, he’s definitely not ready to be an NFL starter right now.

It hurts him even more than his top two receivers (and really his only two good receivers) Mike Williams and Vincent Jackson are hurt. Both are expected to play, but they will both be limited and their injuries didn’t give them a chance to establish any sort of chemistry with their new quarterback during the week. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Glennon completed than 50% of his passes in this one. The Buccaneers have a good supporting cast, but they’re going to have a hard time winning games if they can’t move the ball through the air.

This spread suggests these two teams are even and I don’t think that’s true. The Cardinals had a close road loss in St. Louis and a close home win against the Lions in the first 2 weeks of the season and looked like a decent football team. Last week strayed from that narrative as they lost 31-7 in New Orleans, but there are two excuses. One, the Saints are a very good football team. Two, they were probably distracted after teammate Dan Williams’ father was killed in a car accident en route to the game.

Williams won’t play in this one as he attends the funeral, but we’ll probably see a much less distracted and much more inspired performance from the Cardinals this week. Also, as a result as losing last week, the Cardinals are in a good spot here as road dogs off of a road loss. Teams are 89-54 ATS in that spot since 2008 and cover at about a 65% rate historically no matter what year you use as a cutoff for your sample size. I like the Cardinals’ chances of covering and winning in this one.

Arizona Cardinals 17 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 13 Upset Pick +115

Pick against spread: Arizona +2.5

Confidence: Medium

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