We are hitting the quarter-pole for most teams in the league this week, so with that being said let’s look at who would win some of the league’s most prestigious awards if the season were to end today:
MVP: Carson Wentz, QB Eagles- Not only is this rookie quickly making a name for himself in the league by quickly grasping the playbook and tearing through opposing defenses, he is showing the necessary leadership skills that it takes to lead teams to championships. There have been times this season where all the Eagles offense had was Wentz, and that proved to be enough. Philly was a dead duck three weeks ago, but they are now instantly in playoff contention with their big QB.
Offensive Player of the Year: David Johnson, RB Cardinals- Many would argue that this is an irrelevant award since the MVP should be the OPotY (since it is usually a quarterback), but that may not be the case this season. David Johnson has been a consistent performer in the Cardinals offense this season, one that has looked dysfunctional at times. Johnson is a true dual-threat back who can play all three downs. In this day and age, that is a necessity with quarterbacks throwing the ball all over the lot. The dude has been an x-factor every week he’s been on the field and if he were to continue this streak, he could be a near lock for this award.
Defensive Player of the Year: Marcus Peters, CB Chiefs- Okay, okay, this one could be a stretch and an overreaction to last week’s performance when he had two interceptions. However, the dude already has four on the season and is playing like a shutdown corner. In his second year, he is taking that next step to becoming an elite corner. Von Miller garnered strong consideration for this award, but if the season ended now I’d say it goes to Peters since Miller does have the help of other pass-rushers to help him to his early five sacks, but he would certainly be deserving as well.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Wentz: If the dude is the MVP, he’s gotta be considered the rookie of the year as well.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Jalen Ramsey, DB Jaguars- The guy has shown some spunk and willingness to tackle. He is everywhere for Jacksonville this season. Whether it be coming up to stuff a run play or locking down and talking trash with Steve Smith, the guy has been doing it all and is one of the lone bright spots for the Jags on the year. If he continues on like this, he will be a lock for the award, and it won’t even be close.
Comeback Player of the Year: Kelvin Benjamin, WR Panthers- This pick could be a headscratcher given his 0-for last Sunday, but even with that he has three touchdowns already and is on pace to grab 16 of those and go over 1,000 yards receiving. Sure, Carolina got smothered by the Minnesota defense last week, but a lot of teams will. Otherwise this is an excellent offense capable of torching teams on any given week. Look for Benjamin to bounce back from this performance and finish this season dominating as a number one receiver.
Coach of the Year: Bill Belichick, Patriots- I was going to go with Doug Pederson here, but there is no way that Bill can be overlooked for what he has done with a team that was without their two best players for the first two weeks of the season, and for the third week one of those players was very limited. Almost any other team in this league could be 0-3 or 1-2 right now given these circumstances, but Belichick is still churning out wins like it is his birth-right. No other coach in the league could have his team 3-0 the way this man has through brilliant game-planning and preparation. Things will only get easier as Rob Gronkowski gets healthy and Tom Brady returns from suspension. You are looking at a 14+ win team here without question.
Now that we have covered all that, it is time to get to my Week 4 picks. This column will bounce back, I do promise!
Teams on BYE: Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles
Last Week: 6-10
Thursday, September 29th, 8:25 e.t.
Miami Dolphins (1-2) @ Cincinnati Bengals (1-2)
The Dolphins are coming off of one of the most unimpressive wins you will ever witness after gritting one out in overtime at home against the Browns. It is looking like Miami is not going to be a good team this season. On the other side, we have the Bengals who have not looked too impressive in their first three games themselves, mainly due to a poor performance from their offensive line. They picked it up a bit last week and looked a lot better against Denver, however the Broncos are looking like the same team this year as they were last so I wouldn’t go as far as to say that Cincy is a bad team this season. With that being said, it is clear that the Bengals are much better than the Dolphins and should take care of business at home while keeping pace with the Ravens and Steelers in the division. By the way, the uniforms that Cincinnati will be wearing in this game are awesome, in my opinion. It will be weird that the team wearing orange at Paul Brown is not the Bengals, however.
Cincinnati 28, Miami 14
Sunday, October 2nd, 9:30 am e.t.
Indianapolis Colts (1-2) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-3) (In London)
Our yearly Jaguars game across the pond is here, and once again it will be sporting a team that looks like they are still not ready to contend for the playoffs. Any chance the Jags had at redeeming their season last week was lost when the Ravens came to town and beat them with a last minute field goal. Now they have to fly across the world to face a Colts team that hasn’t looked to good in their own right but was able to eek out a win against a banged up Chargers team. I think the Jags are still a five or six win team this season and they do have more weapons on both sides of the ball than does Indy. In fact, you could make the argument that the Jaguars have an advantage in 21 out of 22 positions. Andrew Luck > Blake Bortles but Jacksonville > Indianapolis in this game. Their defense will show up and make things tough on Luck and company and the Jags pick up their first win of the season.
Jacksonville 24, Indianapolis 19
Sunday, October 2nd, 1:00 e.t.
Cleveland Browns (0-3) @ Washington Redskins (1-2)
The Cleveland Browns are winless, as we all may have expected. Watching the Browns is kind of like watching Tom and Jerry. The Browns of course are Tom and they try and try again to get the best of their opposition, but often times end up failing in very embarrassing ways. Truth be told, Cleveland has at least looked competitive against the Ravens and Dolphins, so there’s that. Will they play well against a Redskin team that is coming off of an important division win over the Giants? I think so. Washington played a complete, albeit sloppy game against the G-Men and were able to win. They have some hope to bring their record back to 2-2 with a win over Cleveland. It’s too bad RGIII won’t be starting for the Browns. Could you imagine the storylines: the Robert Griffin Revenge Game! We would have had to flex that one to Sunday Night Football. As it is, the Brownies are sending rookie Cody Kessler out there to play. I briefly thought about choosing Cleveland as my upset special, but the ‘Skins have to win cause NFC East. That’s all I have to say about that.
Washington 34, Cleveland 21
Detroit Lions (1-2) @ Chicago Bears (0-3)
The Lions and Bears got whipped around by superior teams on the road in the first halves of last week’s action but then came back and made the score somewhat respectable after that. With that being said, the Bears are in worse shape than this guy with their team this year:
Chicago could be the worst team in football and if that is the case, I really don’t want to pick them to win this game, especially the way my picks have gone so far this season. No upsets here, just some dominance from the Lions as they get healthy against a bad team.
Detroit 37, Chicago 13
Oakland Raiders (2-1) @ Baltimore Ravens (3-0)
Here’s a fun fact: this is the only game on Sunday that pits two teams that have only one loss between them against each other. The Ravens were able to steal a win away from the Jaguars last week in rather unimpressive fashion. I’m still not sold that this can be a good team throughout the year even though they are off to a fast start. Oakland is a team that plays a fun brand of football. There games have been close this season and exciting to watch. More of the same can be expected this week when the team heads into Baltimore. The Raiders may be the sexy pick to win this game, and perhaps they are the logical choice since they do have the better team, however I am going with the Ravens at home. Baltimore, to me, seems like the 2015 Atlanta Falcons. They will get off to an unexplained fast start and then quickly come back down to earth towards the middle of the season. This is a contest that everybody is expecting the Raiders to win, which is why they will lose it. Baltimore has had success shutting down their opponent’s running game and that has been a point of strength for Oakland. Make that team one-dimensional and they could have some problems.
Baltimore 27, Oakland 23
Seattle Seahawks (2-1) @ New York Jets (1-2)
Russell Wilson suffered a knee sprain last week against the 49ers, but is confident that he will be able to play against the Jets this week (per the Seattle Times). As ugly as the injury looked, we know that Wilson is a gamer and it will take a lot to keep him off the field on Sunday.
Seattle will hit the road to face a Jets team that is fresh off of an embarrassing three touchdown loss on the road to the Chiefs that saw them turn the ball over a whopping eight times. Ryan Fitzpatrick earned the lowest grade ever (per pro-football focus) as a quarterback with his six interceptions, four of them coming in the fourth quarter. Going up against a Seattle team whose defense is one of only two in the league that has yet to allow a passing touchdown on the season, the match up does not seem to favor Gang Green. However, the Jets are a prideful team, and they seem like they are going to be that squad that gives teams problems just when you think they have no shot at winning. Seattle has had a history of starting slow, as we all know. 2-2 seems likely as I view this as a trap game for them. I’m betting that the Jets come out and follow up a horrific performance with one that could be considered one of their best of the year. A limited Russell Wilson plays into this, especially if the team can slow down Christine Michael, which I think they can.
New York 29, Seattle 20
Buffalo Bills (1-2) @ New England Patriots (3-0)
Part of the reason my record is so awful in picking games this year is because I have actually picked against the Patriots (and Vikings and Broncos) in all three games. That one is my fault. It is certainly obvious that Bill Belichick is not a coach you can ever bet against, so doing it here would seem foolish. As tempting as it is to pick the Bills here, which I really want to since I can see them winning this game, I’m not going to. Buffalo showed a lot of heart against an Arizona team at home last week and proved that they are not completely awful. Unfortunately they will fall on the road to New England, and here is why. The Patriots defense has quietly been what has carried the team to a 3-0 start. It is easy to lose track of their performance since you’ve got young quarterbacks playing well in Josh McDaniels’ system, but this is a group that pitched a shutout against the Texans, held the Dolphins to nothing for about two and a half quarters two weeks ago, and contained the Cardinals in Arizona in Week 1. Jaimie Collins is in the running for defensive player of the year and is making plays all over the field. The New England secondary has been good as well and the team is stopping the run game. All Buffalo is going to want to do is run the ball with offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn. This gives the Pats a distinct advantage. Couple that with the fact that they will have had nine days to prepare for this game and you have yourself what looks to be a clear spot for them to win at home.
New England 20, Buffalo 9
Tennessee Titans (1-2) @ Houston Texans (2-1)
The Texans took one on the chin last week in New England, and are now struck by the news that they could be without J.J. Watt for a significant amount of time due to a re-injury of his back. Houston we have problems? Nope. Jadeveon Clowney is emerging as the no. 1 overall talent that we all thought he would be. Vince Wilfork is still doing his thing and absolutely stuffing the run. John Simon has impressed quite a bit on that line as well. Whitney Mercilus is brutalizing runners and quarterbacks alike. The secondary has held its own over the first few weeks. What I am trying to say is that this is a bad match up for the Titans, a team that looks to run the ball down your throat every week. The Texans are a good defensive team, even more so at home. They, like the Patriots, have had nine days to prepare which will help a lot. The Titans like to play a lot of close games as their style invites this, but unfortunately for them I don’t believe they have the playmakers to match blows with the Texans. Houston should improve to 3-0 at home with an easy win over their rivals.
Houston 24, Tennessee 10
Carolina Panthers (1-2) @ Atlanta Falcons (2-1)
Who woulda thunk it, that Falcons are sitting all alone atop the NFC South after three weeks. Their offense has looked very good at the beginning of this season and Matt Ryan is fourth in the league in passing with 970 yards already. The dirty birds are the highest scoring team in football, and they have two road wins to start the season. This is great and all, but we have to remember the teams they were playing. Their two wins came against Oakland and New Orleans, two teams that have really struggled defensively to start the year. Carolina, although off to a 1-2 start, does not have its defense to blame for it. They have played well through the first three weeks of the season and have been dominant with their front seven. Their two losses have come against clear playoff contenders who have excellent defenses, something Atlanta lacks. The Panthers offense has been to blame for the team’s two losses. This is a good spot for Carolina to get right on the road against a team that has shown no ability to rush the passer with their front four. Cam Newton was harassed last week against Minnesota, getting sacked eight times after holding the ball too long. The Falcons do not have that kind of pass-rushing ability and therefor Cam should be able to pick them apart. Matt Ryan will struggle a bit in this game if the team cannot get a semblance of a running game going. By the way, who else is excited to see what kind of crazy outfit Cam decides to don during the post-game press conference?
Carolina 42, Atlanta 23
Sunday, October 2nd, 4:05 e.t.
Denver Broncos (3-0) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-2)
The Broncos are 3-0, and I’ve picked them to lose all three of their first games. Their defense has shined, and there are a lot of people out there, myself included, that think that this team is no worse off with Trevor Siemien as their quarterback than they were last year with Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler. Make no mistake, this defense can carry this team in 2016. Last week, however, Siemien threw for four touchdowns and over 300 yards on the road in Cincy where nobody beats the Bengals during 1:00 games. So when Denver has both offense and defense working, it is hard to bet against them. This is a game they should dominate, right? Well, not only will the Broncos not dominate, they won’t even win. Call me crazy, but I like Tampa Bay to win a game like this even though they are coming off of a puzzling home loss to the LA Rams. The Broncos secondary has struggled to cover bigger receivers, and that is all Tampa Bay is going to throw their way. Teams have actually shown an ability to run the ball against the Broncos as well. While I don’t think that the Bucs are going to try to do much with their ground game on Sunday, it does help to know that they have a chance to lean on it should it become necessary. Tampa needs to attack the middle of the field with their guys like Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans. The team did lose Austin Sefarian-Jenkins to the Jets, but I still like their size inside. Give me Tampa with the upset.
Tampa Bay 23, Denver 20
Sunday, October 2nd, 4:25 e.t.
Los Angeles Rams (2-1) @ Arizona Cardinals (1-2)
In life you can only bet on a few things: death, taxes, and Jeff Fisher coached teams playing division rivals tightly. The Rams, in a mind-boggling start to the season, are tied atop the NFC West, despite having only scored 46 points on the season (15.3/game). 37 of them did come last week against Tampa Bay, however, so maybe this team is starting to turn the corner offensively. Either way, Arizona is not going to lose this game. They are 0-2 against AFC teams this season and have been shut down offensively in their two losses. However, they looked great at home against Tampa Bay, and I think that is a real indicator as to how this team is capable of performing on any given Sunday. The Rams are still struggling to get Todd Gurley going this year and that is due to teams stacking the box against him and because of the fact that the o-line is very underwhelming. Arizona doesn’t necessarily have to stuff eight guys in the box to slow down Gurley, but I think they will because I don’t see the Los Angeles wide receivers beating the secondary of the Cards. The Rams may play this game close early on, but I just don’t think they will be able to keep up with Bruce Arians’ offense in the long-haul.
Arizona 30, Los Angeles 13
New Orleans Saints (0-3) @ San Diego Chargers (1-2)
As funny as this may sound, this is probably the hardest game to pick this week as well as one of the more intriguing games. On one hand we have the Saints whose defense still can’t stop anyone but on the other we have a Chargers team that has been bitten badly by the injury bug and may not have a ton of weapons to keep pace with an offense like New Orelans’. When picking this game, it comes down to who I think will perform better: the Saints defense or the Chargers offense. It seems like the perfect spot to pick the Saints because they have a healthier team overall and are more explosive on offense, but I can’t do it. Philip Rivers is quietly having one of his more impressive seasons, and is doing it with guys like Travis Benjamin and Tyrell Williams. In addition to that, Melvin Gordon is looking like the back that the Bolts thought he would be when they took him 15th overall in the ’15 draft. Against a defense that allowed the Falcons to score on six straight possessions, as well as one that let Tevin Coleman score three touchdowns on the ground in addition to getting absolutely shredded by Devonta Freeman, it is hard to see why Gordon won’t have a nice game. I suppose in the end, I think that the San Diego injuries will hinder the team less than will New Orleans’ injuries to their secondary. Not to mention, the Chargers still have a good scoring defense. That will play a factor as well. This has the makings to be one of the more exciting contests of the week.
San Diego 31, New Orleans 29
Dallas Cowboys (2-1) @ San Francisco 49ers (1-2)
I’m going to say this right now: the 49ers are going to upset Dallas at home this week. This game is a bundle of all my bold predictions in the week. I believe we will see Colin Kaepernick take the field for the first time all year and play in Chip Kelly’s offense. I may only be speaking for myself when I say that this is very anticipated. How will Kap perform in this offense. I’m thinking we get a chance to find out on Sunday after Blaine Gabbert struggles again early. San Fran on the year has not looked overwhelming on defense, but they do have a unit that is budding and has the potential to be good down the line. They were outstanding Week 1 against Los Angeles, but that was against Los Angeles. Dallas is another story. Their offense hasn’t been explosive, but it has been very effective to this point in the season. Jason Garrett has done a nice job prepping Dak Prescott for game-day and the young QB has responded by making a lot of safe throws and not turning the ball over at all. Ezekiel Elliot finally had a breakout game last week versus Chicago and all seems to be going right for Dallas as even their defense has looked good. With that being said, I think that Chip Kelly has a little something up his sleeve for the Cowboys this week; a team that he got used to playing over his three years in Philly. This could be a gut feeling more than anything else, but I feel that the San Fran offense finally gets it going this week. I’ll take them in an upset at home.
San Francisco 24, Dallas 20
Sunday, October 2nd, 8:30 e.t.
Kansas City Chiefs (2-1) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1)
The Chiefs take on the Steelers in the only game this week to feature two 2-1 teams. Pittsburgh is coming off of their worse defeat of the Mike Tomlin era and will likely be playing with a huge chip on their shoulder while the Chiefs rode their defense to an absolutely dominant home win over the Jets. If Kansas City is to slow down the Pittsburgh passing attack, they will have to do two things:
- Pressure Big Ben
- Cover the Steelers receivers
Seems pretty simple, but it is easier said than done. Philadelphia did not get a ton of pressure on Roethlisberger early last week, but they did cover pretty well. Later in the game when up by a lot, they pinned their ears back and came after Ben. The Chiefs need to hope for the same luck here. The only problem is the fact that Pittsburgh gets Le’Veon Bell back in this game. Tomlin’s quote of the week was that “L. Bell is our guy” and will be seeing a lot of carries in this game. Look for him to tote the rock 22-25 times as well as receive an additional four or five touches in the pass game. The Chiefs have had some success running the ball this year, but that was against some much slower defenses. The Steelers have perhaps the fastest “D” in the sport and I can see them giving the road team fits here in that department. At the end of the day, the 34-3 loss last week is going to fire this Pittsburgh team up. They are so much better than that and will prove it by taking apart the Chiefs in prime time. This just seems like it will be a classic night for Todd Haley’s offense to get healthy again.
Pittsburgh 41, Kansas City 17
Monday, October 3rd, 8:30 e.t.
New York Giants (2-1) @ Minnesota Vikings (3-0)
This is, perhaps, the best game on the entire Week 4 slate, and we wait until Monday to watch it go down. The Giants really could be 3-0 if it weren’t for a lot of silly mistakes against a desperate Washington team that was trying hard to save their season a week ago. For Minnesota, they have been nothing short of awesome so far this season on defense, and it is clear that the team isn’t losing much if anything at all with Sam Bradford starting over the injured Teddy Bridgewater. The real question here is can the Vikings offensive line protect Bradford against a not-too-shabby Giants pass rush? I think they can do just enough to slow the unit and give Sammy Sleeves enough time to find Kyle Rudolph in the middle of the field for big plays. The Giants have had a bit of trouble containing top-tier tight ends this season, and that can continue here. The one thing the Vikings have not done at all this year is run the ball. Teams aren’t doing that very well against New York so far on the season, so I don’t expect it to get any better here for the Vikes. Yes, Minnesota clearly has the better team overall, but I think that the G-Men present a lot of match up problems for them overall. Can Xavier Rhoades, Trae Waynes, and Terrence Newman slow down Odell Beckham Jr., Victor Cruz, and Sterling Shepherd? I think they will struggle to some degree. This seems like a game where Eli Manning is going to be pressured a lot, but will somehow fight his way through it for a win. The one thing that the Giants have going for them is their offensive scheme, predicated on Manning getting the ball out quickly. If he can avoid being hit by dumping the ball off in a timely manner, Big Blue can steal one on the road here handing the Vikings their first loss in a new stadium, and I think they will.
New York 21, Minnesota 17
Week 4 Bonus Predictions
Sure Bet of the Week (3-0): Pittsburgh over Kansas City
Upset of the Week: New York Giants over Minnesota
Offensive Player of the Week: Ben Roethlisberger, QB Steelers
Defensive Player of the Week: Whitney Mercilus, LB Texans
Rookie of the Week: Sterling Sheperd, WR Giants
Best Quarterback: Cam Newton, QB Panthers
Best Running Back: Le’Veon Bell, RB Steelers