It’s a big week for the NFL.
As the league reaches the quarter-pole of its 2020 season, it’s also facing its first real COVID-19 challenge after the Tennessee Titans had multiple positive tests. It’s an uncomfortable reminder of how perilous this entire season could be.
At the very least, it’s a reminder to not take any of the gridiron action for granted, which we certainly aren’t doing here. NESN.com’s Mike Cole, Ricky Doyle and Andre Khatchaturian are ready to go with their Week 4 against-the-spread picks.
Here’s how they fared last week.
Mike Cole: 7-9 (24-23-1 overall)
Ricky Doyle: 5-11 (20-27-1)
Andre Khatchaturian: 9-7 (23-24-1)
Now, here are their Week 4 picks (lines are consensus data).
THURSDAY, OCT. 1
(-2) Denver Broncos at New York Jets, 8:20 p.m. ET
Mike: Jets. Brett Rypien is the Broncos’ starting quarterback. I know, right? Give me the home team, which objectively has the better quarterback, getting points on a Thursday night — even if it is the G-D Jets.
Ricky: Jets. If Sam Darnold can’t lead New York to a win this week, under these circumstances, it’s definitely time to start tanking for Trevor Lawrence.
Andre: Broncos. It’s really hard to pick the Jets in any game when Braxton Berrios is the primary receiving target. Denver just has a better roster all around, and Vic Fangio should have no trouble shutting down the anemic New York offense.
SUNDAY, OCT. 4
(-3.5) Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers, 1 p.m.
Mike: Panthers. Maybe I’m being baited by the half-point hook, but for all of the Kyler Murray-Cardinals hype, Arizona has been pretty careless with the football. Murray has thrown five picks through three games. That could keep Carolina in this one.
Ricky: Cardinals. Still leery of laying too many points with the Cardinals, who haven’t been a road favorite since 2017, because their floor is very low once turnovers start becoming an issue. That said, this number seems like an overreaction to Arizona’s Week 3 loss to Detroit coupled with Carolina’s upset win over the rookie-led Chargers.
Andre: Cardinals. Four of the six touchdowns by Carolina were scored by Christian McCaffrey, who remains out. The Panthers got some big help from their defense in Week 3, but Murray and his explosive weapons will be a much bigger test. For what it’s worth, Arizona leads the league in third-down defense.
(-13) Baltimore Ravens at Washington Football Team, 1 p.m.
Mike: Ravens. This is how you go broke betting. The numbers tell me to take Washington here, but I can’t shake the feeling that Baltimore just beats the bag out of bad teams. And while the Football Team is feistier than you might think, this feels like a get-right blowout for Baltimore.
Ricky: Ravens. Washington has trailed by double digits at halftime in each of its first three games. That plays right into the Ravens’ hands. Baltimore, which led at halftime in 11 straight games before its hiccup against Kansas City, won’t need to abandon the run this week.
Andre: Ravens. Baltimore was undefeated in the 12 regular-season games preceding its Monday night loss against the Chiefs, with an average margin of victory of 21 points. The Ravens are more than capable of blowing out one of the worst offenses in football.
Cleveland Browns at (-4.5) Dallas Cowboys, 1 p.m.
Mike: Browns. I just don’t trust the Cowboys’ pass defense. That secondary wasn’t very good to start the year, and a couple of early-season injuries certainly doesn’t help. Nor will this matchup against a high-talent Browns offense that’s starting to look halfway competent.
Ricky: Cowboys. Fun fact: the Browns haven’t won a road game vs. an NFC opponent since November 2014. Don’t think that trend ends this week unless Baker Mayfield brings his game to another level against Dallas’ shaky pass defense. ‘Boys win and cover.
Andre: Cowboys. Cleveland allowed a combined 50 points to Cincinnati and Washington, who rank 32nd and 30th, respectively, in yards per play. Now, the Browns go up against the Cowboys, who have the No. 1 offense in terms of yardage. Cleveland’s biggest strength is its running attack, but Dallas is in the top 10 in yards allowed per carry.
(-2.5) Indianapolis Colts at Chicago Bears, 1 p.m.
Mike: Colts. Nick Foles supposedly saved the Bears last week, but take away the big plays, and it wasn’t especially impressive. Know what Indianapolis does? Takes away big plays. Indy has allowed just seven passing plays of 15 yards or more through three weeks and has allowed the fewest yards per pass attempt. Just please don’t turn it over, Phil Rivers.
Ricky: Colts. Indianapolis’ defense ranks second in pressure percentage (35.5%) despite the NFL’s lowest blitz percentage (10.8%), and only two teams have allowed fewer yards after catch. Foles has his work cut out for him.
Andre: Colts. The Bears are 3-0 but rank 20th in yards per play differential. The Colts, on the contrary, have the league’s best YPP differential. Don’t think for a minute that Chicago will be able to orchestrate another comeback against the stingy Indy defense.
Jacksonville Jaguars at (-3) Cincinnati Bengals, 1 p.m.
Mike: Jaguars. Despite running the second-most total plays, Cincinnati has just six “explosive” plays, per Sharp Football Stats. The Jags, for their own warts, have had a pretty good defense, ranking 11th and third against explosive rush and pass plays, respectively. Expect them to also keep up their success on the ground, just as they did last year when they beat the Bengals.
Ricky: Jaguars. The Bengals will be a scrappy underdog throughout this season. But once I’m asked to lay points, that’s when you lose me. Too many issues in the trenches, on both sides.
Andre: Jaguars. The NFL’s worst yards per play differential team should never be favored. I know Joe Burrow is exciting and has a bright future, but he’s really struggling. The only QB with more pass attempts is Dak Prescott, but the Cowboys QB is averaging a full 2.5 more yards per attempt than Burrow, who is second-to-last in that category.
Los Angeles Chargers at (-7.5) Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1 p.m.
Mike: Chargers. That Tampa Bay offense isn’t fully clicking just yet, and that is unlikely to get a whole lot better this week with wideout Chris Godwin down with a hamstring injury. LA’s defense, meanwhile, ranks fifth in defensive EPA and can pressure the quarterback without blitzing, one of the biggest keys to slowing Tom Brady.
Ricky: Bucs. Bad matchup for rookie quarterback Justin Herbert, going up against a big-play Bucs defense behind a banged-up offensive line one week after the Chargers turned the ball over four times. Meanwhile, Brady can sleep a little easier this week knowing he won’t have to deal with edge rusher Melvin Ingram or cornerback Chris Harris, both of whom joined Derwin James on injured reserve in recent days.
Andre: Bucs. After a rough Week 1, it seems like Tampa Bay is finally starting to get it together, as it now ranks fifth in YPP differential. The Chargers have the second-most rush attempts this season, but they might have to conjure up a different plan of attack against a Bucs rush defense that allows fewer than three yards per carry.
Minnesota Vikings at (-3.5) Houston Texans, 1 p.m.
Mike: Texans. If only cranky, old Mike Zimmer could shut down opposing offenses the way he shuts down reporters. No team has allowed more explosive pass plays than the Vikings, and chunk plays through the air is one of Houston’s only specialties. Big Deshaun Watson game.
Ricky: Texans. The Vikings last week became the first team in NFL history to have one player record 175 rushing yards (Dalvin Cook) and another player record 175 receiving yards (Justin Jefferson) in the same game. They still lost.
Andre: Vikings. Both of these teams have a positive YPP differential despite a combined 0-6 SU record. Minnesota takes one because of its stout rushing attack. The Vikings lead the league in yards per carry and they’re up against a Houston defense that allows 5.2 yards per carry, sixth-most in the league.
(-4) New Orleans Saints at Detroit Lions, 1 p.m.
Mike: Saints. It sounds like Michael Thomas and Marcus Davenport are on track to play, which should improve the Saints on both sides of the ball. Desmond Trufant could return for the Lions, but even if he does, Drew Brees has to be excited about facing an otherwise young Detroit secondary.
Ricky: Lions. The Saints won’t stop shooting themselves in the foot, with an NFL-worst 110.3 penalty yards per game. That lack of discipline, coupled with how shaky New Orleans has looked defensively, opens the door for a close game, if not an outright upset.
Andre: Saints. Maybe a game in the 1 p.m. window is exactly what the Saints need. They had a signature division showdown against the Bucs in Week 1, a Monday night game in Week 2 and a Sunday night game in Week 3. Despite their 1-2 record, the Saints boast the sixth-best YPP diff in the league and the Lions are 27th.
(-1.5) Pittsburgh Steelers at Tennessee Titans, 1 p.m.
Mike: Steelers. Ricky and Andre put in their picks for this game before me, so I’ll just let them explain my reasoning below.
Ricky: Steelers. The Titans are dealing with injuries to their top receiver, A.J. Brown, and their starting left tackle, Taylor Lewan, which isn’t ideal ahead of facing a Steelers defense ranked first in sacks (15), blitz percentage (51.2%) and pressure percentage (46.5%).
Andre: Steelers. The Titans are a mirage at 3-0. They have the league’s worst rush defense, allowing nearly six yards per carry, and go up against James Conner, who is averaging 5.6 yards per carry. The Steelers, meanwhile, are incredible on defense. They have the ability to limit Derrick Henry since they boast the best rush defense in the league, allowing just 2.7 yards per carry. Pittsburgh also will be able to put pressure on Ryan Tannehill.
UPDATE: The NFL has rescheduled the Steelers-Titans game for later this season after more positive COVID-19 tests.
(-6.5) Seattle Seahawks at Miami Dolphins, 1 p.m.
Mike: Seahawks. Not gonna overthink it. Russell Wilson has been unreal, and Ryan Fitzpatrick’s Jekyll/Hyde ways seem to indicate a letdown is inevitable after his Thursday night masterpiece.
Ricky: Dolphins. The Seahawks’ pass defense has been atrocious, and now Jamal Adams is in jeopardy of missing this week’s game. Plus, Seattle has made a habit of keeping things close, one way or the other.
Andre: Seahawks. Miami has the NFL’s worst YPP differential and is going up against MVP frontrunner Russell Wilson, who leads the NFL in a bunch of things. Seattle’s defense has been torched this season, but that’s because of its opponents, who all have had high-octane offenses. Seattle hasn’t won a game by more than one possession since Week 4 of last season. It’s about time.
New York Giants at (-13) Los Angeles Rams, 4:05 p.m.
Mike: Rams. The Giants’ offensive numbers look very, very bad in large part because they’ve had a brutal schedule of defenses to start the year (Pittsburgh, Chicago, San Francisco). The problem, though? The Rams defense is pretty good, too.
Ricky: Giants. The Rams aren’t just coming off a mentally draining, hard-fought loss to the Bills. They also are returning home after traveling to the East Coast in consecutive weeks. A little jet lag and a slow start from LA could make this a tough number to cover.
Andre: Giants. The Giants actually are in the top 10 in yards allowed per play. The Rams have a history of laying an egg occasionally. So maybe the Giants keep this one close.
(-3) Buffalo Bills at Las Vegas Raiders, 4:25 p.m.
Mike: Raiders. Only the Saints have allowed more receiving yards to tight ends than Buffalo, and that Saints number is in large part because of Raiders tight end Darren Waller. Could be a big game for him, as Vegas looks to bounce back.
Ricky: Raiders. Feeling a letdown game on the road for Buffalo, which needed to rally in back-to-back weeks. Las Vegas is positioned to rebound now that Waller and Josh Jacobs aren’t on the injury report and a short-week trip to New England is in the rearview mirror.
Andre: Bills. Vegas was exposed in Week 3 when it couldn’t stop the run against New England. Expect a big game from Devin Singletary, who is averaging nearly five yards per carry. In his last 14 games, Josh Allen has 25 passing touchdowns, eight rushing touchdowns and just three picks.
New England Patriots at (-7) Kansas City Chiefs, 4:25 p.m.
Mike: Patriots. I know it’s so cliche, but I do think the Patriots’ running attack will slow down this game and “keep Patrick Mahomes off the field” enough to cover the number.
Ricky: Chiefs. Kansas City is the far more explosive team, with elite speed and the ability to score from anywhere on the field. Of course, there’s always an uneasiness to picking against Bill Belichick, but the coaching mismatch isn’t quite as pronounced this week with Andy Reid on the other sideline. Plus, losing center David Andrews could sting New England with Chris Jones wreaking havoc along KC’s defensive line.
Andre: Patriots. This one will come down to rush defense. Kansas City hasn’t been great at it and the Patriots have turned into a very run-centric team (third in rush attempts). The Patriots’ defense is solid enough to mitigate Mahomes’ attack, and the rush attack of New England is good enough to eat clock and keep this one close.
Philadelphia Eagles at (-7) San Francisco 49ers, 8:20 p.m.
Mike: 49ers. Carson Wentz might never bounce back. He might actually be bad.
Ricky: 49ers. San Francisco has proven it can overcome its litany of injuries. Philadelphia, eh, not so much. Per Pro Football Focus, Carson Wentz has committed 12 turnover-worthy plays, twice as many as the next-closest quarterback. Not gonna cut it against the Niners’ defense.
Andre: Eagles. Carson Wentz has to bounce back, right? He’s not really this bad, is he?
MONDAY, OCT. 5
Atlanta Falcons at (-7.5) Green Bay Packers, 8:15 p.m.
Mike: Falcons. The Packers are very good and should win this game, but the back door is wide open given Atlanta’s offensive firepower. Not only that, there is a little bit of a letdown caution here for a Green Bay team that’s being told how good it is entering a game before its bye week.
Ricky: Falcons. Maybe they can just play three quarters, for Atlanta’s sake?
Andre: Falcons. Green Bay is allowing 6.6 yards per play this season, tied for most in the league. Atlanta’s offense is no joke. If the Falcons get on top early, they might have an easier time maintaining a lead by running the ball with Todd Gurley against a horrible Packers rush defense.
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