Teams on a bye week: ATL, DEN, NO, WAS
NE (2-2) @ TB (2-1) | THU 8:25 PM ET | CBS/NFL Network/Amazon
The Patriots being 2-2 might be the biggest surprise of the season, especially with the two losses coming at home. Plus, if not for a cold-blooded drive by Tom Brady against the Texans, they would be 1-3—and 0-3 at Foxborough. The offense is doing their job with the second most points in the NFL through four weeks, but a lack of a pass rush and communication issues in the back end have hurt them defensively. Fortunately, the personnel is in place to get it turned around, and Bill Belichick should have some looks in store for the turnover-prone Jameis Winston on TNF. This would obviously be a gigantic win for the Bucs in primetime, but with all the injuries on Tampa Bay’s defense, I don’t see how they’ll stop TB12 from marching up and down the field.
Winner: New England Patriots
NYJ (2-2) @ CLE (0-4) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
We knew neither of these teams would compete for a Super Bowl, but if one of them was going to be competitive in 2017, it was thought to be the Browns. That’s not the case, though, as Hue Jackson made the curious decision to start rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer for the Browns, and it’s been a disaster so far, while New York has played tough defense and won in the trenches against Miami and Jacksonville over the past two weeks. The Jets haven’t had the same success away from home, but Cleveland hasn’t had success, period. Todd Bowles should have his attacking defense create big plays against Kizer, and they’ll pound the ball in an attempt to win three straight.
Winner: New York Jets
CAR (3-1) @ DET (3-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
There’s no denying that Cam Newton has had serious inaccuracy issues this season, but he’s actually on pace to shatter his career-high completion percentage of 61.7%—as he’s completing 65.2% of his passes in 2017. He was much better last week than in the first three, and I think an increase of practice reps is the reason why. If Newton can hit open receivers consistently (like all NFL quarterbacks need to be able to do), the Panthers offense is going take off and compliment the best defense in the NFC. Through Week 4, the Lions are actually tied with Carolina for the least points per game allowed, and they lead the NFL with 11 takeaways and a +9 turnover differential. Still, this could turn into a high-scoring game, and whoever takes care of the football will most likely come of it at 4-1.
Winner: Carolina Panthers
SF (0-4) @ IND (1-3) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
There are a handful of really good games this week, but there are also a few that not many people will be excited about—and this is one of them. It wasn’t going to change overnight, but the 49ers faithful have to be a little disappointed that the new regime has way more talent than Chip Kelly did in 2016, but they don’t have any wins to show for it, and the offense looks worse with better players. This is the spot for them to get their first victory, as the Colts are in for a letdown after losing to Seattle last Sunday night. And they better hope they can avoid 0-5 with the upcoming schedule of Washington, Dallas, Philadelphia, and Arizona. The Colts need Andrew Luck back, but Jacoby Brissett has looked pretty good since taking over as the starter. Indy might have more star power with T.Y. Hilton, Vontae Davis, and Malik Hooker, but I’ll take the road team.
Winner: San Francisco 49ers
TEN (2-2) @ MIA (1-2) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Like I’ve been doing with the Vikings in recent weeks, this is all about the health of the quarterback; if Marcus Mariota (hamstring) is active and starting, he should be able to pick apart the Miami defense. If not, Tennessee will have to turn to Matt Cassel and try to run it against a team allowing just 3.24 yards per carry this season. The Dolphins have an assortment of issues—offensive line play, lack of effort, Byron Maxwell getting benched—but they started 1-4 last season (when Maxwell was also benched for a game and returned to the lineup to be one of the top corners in the league down the stretch), and ending up making the playoffs. The offense needs to get back on track against a Titans team that is allowing 31.5 points per game, but I still like Tennessee if Mariota plays.
Winner: Tennessee Titans
BUF (3-1) @ CIN (1-3) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
The Bills have the NFL’s number-one scoring defense, as they are allowing just 13.5 points per game, and rookie cornerback Tre’Davious White is helping lead the unit. White was one of my favorite players in this year’s draft, but he somehow lasted until the 27th overall pick. After saying in last week’s game picks that “he’s on his way to a Rookie of the Year campaign if he can continue to impress,” the LSU product returned a fumble for a touchdown in the Bills’ win over the Falcons. If he can stop A.J. Green this week, the hype will only intensify. Offensively, the Bengals have had a complete 180 since Bill Lazor took over as offensive coordinator, and they were able to take Green Bay to overtime and dismantle the Browns since the change. I think Buffalo knows they need to worry about Green and rookie running back Joe Mixon, and they should be able to move to an unforeseen 4-1.
Winner: Buffalo Bills
LAC (0-4) @ NYG (0-4) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Two teams with serious playoff aspirations find themselves without a win at the season’s quarter mark, but the Chargers look a lot closer than the Giants do right now. By letting the Eagles drain the clock for the final seven minutes of last week’s game, I think Los Angeles has officially lost in every way imaginable over the past two years. They’ll see if they can get a W against the Giants, and while New York has stabilized their offensive line over the past couple weeks, Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa can easily make them look like they did in Week 1 and Week 2. Because head coach Ben McAdoo hasn’t committed to Wayne Gallman—who is clearly the best running back on the roster—the Giants might have a lack of running game again on Sunday. The Chargers will probably find a new way to lose, but they’re my pick.
Winner: Los Angeles Chargers
JAC (2-2) @ PIT (3-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
I expect a low-scoring, conservative game at Heinz Field this week, as the Jaguars don’t want Blake Bortles airing it out 30+ times, and the Steelers are going to feed Le’Veon Bell against one of the worst run defenses in the league rather than test A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey on the outside. It might not make Antonio Brown happy after last week’s sideline outburst, but at least he apologized for being a distraction, and while he definitely cares about his numbers, he seems like more of a team player than some other top wide receivers. The Jaguars don’t have a big-time weapon on the outside after Allen Robinson tore his ACL in Week 1, and I don’t see them being able to keep up with the Steelers in this one.
Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers
ARI (2-2) @ PHI (3-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
It hasn’t been an ideal start for the Cardinals, as they’ve lost by double digits to both the Lions and Cowboys, and they needed overtime to beat the combined 1-7 Colts and 49ers. Carson Palmer is second in the league in passing yards, but offensive line issues have really hurt Arizona, and they’ve struggled in the red zone before Larry Fitzgerald’s game-winner last week. Besides the offensive line against Philly’s defensive line, this might actually be a good matchup for the Cards—though it might not matter if Palmer doesn’t have time to throw. The Eagles have struggled to contain Larry Fitzgerald in the past, but I’m more worried about John Brown and the perimeter receivers getting behind their slow secondary. Bruce Arians will probably use some extra blockers and chips from tight ends and backs to offset the pass rush and give his guys time to get deep. Carson Wentz has looked good this year, but he might need to look for Nelson Agholor and Torrey Smith with Patrick Peterson on Alshon Jeffery and Zach Ertz potentially taken away by good cover linebackers and safeties.
Winner: Arizona Cardinals
SEA (2-2) @ LAR (3-1) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | CBS
Seattle is 2-0 at home and 0-2 on the road, and their underperforming defense will head into LA to face the NFL’s top offense through four weeks. Sean McVay is almost completely focused on what he does best, and that’s allowing top-notch defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to handle his side of the ball how he sees fit—and they’re only going to get better with each passing week. The Seahawks have their hands full in all three phases, as Jared Goff has been one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL and can attack the defense at all levels, Aaron Donald might wreck a weak offensive line, and special teams coordinator John Fassel (the lone holdover from the Jeff Fisher era) has often had something in store for games against the Seahawks. This should be a fun one.
Winner: Los Angeles Rams
BAL (2-2) @ OAK (2-2) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | CBS
Both the Ravens and Raiders started with two-straight wins and looked like contenders in the AFC, but they’ve each had two concerning losses since then. Now, Oakland is without quarterback Derek Carr for at least a couple games and possibly until November, and for as good as E.J. Manuel looked in limited action in Week 4, he is a significant downgrade at the position. For Baltimore, Joe Flacco continues to struggle after missing the preseason with a back injury, but a Sunday afternoon game against the Raiders might fix things. The Ravens will be without nose tackle Brandon Williams again, but I think they will be able to stop an ineffective Marshawn Lynch anyway, forcing Manuel to try to win it with his arm.
Winner: Baltimore Ravens
GB (3-1) @ DAL (2-2) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX
The Packers and Cowboys have had some great games in recent years, and they split their two games last year, with Dallas getting a 30-16 win in October and Green Bay getting the better of them in a playoff classic by a score of 34-31. “American’s Game of the Week” shouldn’t disappoint, as the Cowboys look to avoid a 2-3 start against the banged-up Packers. Thankfully, Davante Adams is OK and might even be good to play after his scary hit to the head last Thursday night, but the team might be thin at running back and on the offensive line again. Dallas is going to be missing guys, too, as it looks like they’ll be without their best defensive player in linebacker Sean Lee for the second game in a row. Ezekiel Elliott has been a little sluggish to start the year, so this could come down to Dak Prescott trying to outscore Aaron Rodgers—and Green Bay has a clear edge in offensive playmakers.
Winner: Green Bay Packers
KC (4-0) @ HOU (2-2) | SUN 8:30 PM ET | NBC
Since Deshaun Watson took over as the starter in Week 2, the Texans have scored the most points in the NFL (34.3 points per game), and they are 2-1 in those games, with the only loss coming by three points against the Patriots in New England. Watson will have his largest audience yet on Sunday Night Football, but we know from his time at Clemson that he’s never been one to shy away from the big moment. It’s just a game in the second Sunday of October, but the Texans would make a huge statement and establish themselves as legitimate Super Bowl contenders with the impressive 22-year-old leading them. The Chiefs are playing mistake-free football, and will look to remain the lone undefeated team in the league. They catch the Texans at a good time with J.J. Watt and the defense still rounding into form, but I think Watson will prove everyone—including Kansas City—made a mistake in passing on him back in April.
Winner: Houston Texans
MIN (2-2) @ CHI (1-3) | MON 8:30 PM ET | ESPN
The Bears were one of the teams to pass on Watson in the spring, and they will start the player they chose over him on for the first time on Monday night, as second-overall pick Mitchell Trubisky is set to make his NFL debut. Trubisky is in a tough spot against Minnesota, but at least the game is at home, and they should give him plenty of easy throws to build some confidence. Mostly, they’ll rely on Jordan Howard and the running game to carry them like last Halloween against their division foe on MNF, when he rushed 26 times for 153 yards and a touchdown (and totaled 200 yards) in a 20-10 victory. Hopefully the Vikings have Sam Bradford (knee) back in the lineup, and it looks like there’s a pretty good chance he’ll be on the field for the first time since Week 1 on Monday Night Football when he torched the Saints. Even if Case Keenum draws another start, I like Minnesota to employ a similar approach to Chicago, except it will be built around Latavius Murray with Dalvin Cook (knee) done for the season.
Winner: Minnesota Vikings