Editor’s Note: This piece has been updated to reflect the news that Raiders quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo will not play Sunday against the Chargers because of a concussion. Rookie Aiden O’Connell will start in his place.
Upon first glance, Week 3 in the NFL looked like it could be a snoozer. Then the Miami Dolphins dropped a 70-burger. The Arizona Cardinals completed a monumental upset. The Chargers did Chargers things. The Vikings did Vikings things. And we were all entertained, as usual.
So what’s in store for Week 4? Let’s get to the picks!
Lines are from FanDuel as of Thursday morning. Stats are from TruMedia and Pro Football Focus unless otherwise noted.
Week 3 record: 8-8
Season record: 24-23-1
Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers (+1.5)
The Lions’ defensive performance last week was their best in 37 games under coordinator Aaron Glenn by success rate, expected points added (EPA) per drive, and pretty much any other metric. How about rookie defensive back Brian Branch? He was all over the place in Detroit’s win over Atlanta, finishing with 11 tackles (three for loss) and two passes defended.
The Packers made the nerds (raises hand) happy during their comeback win over the Saints. Down 14 in the fourth quarter, they scored a touchdown and went for two. The back-of-the-napkin math is relatively straightforward: Two-point tries hit roughly 50 percent of the time, and if you convert and then kick the extra point after the second touchdown, you win in regulation and avoid overtime. If you fail on the first two-point try, you can attempt another one after the second touchdown. If that hits, you go to overtime. If you fail on both two-point tries, you lose. But the chances of that are roughly 25 percent. In other words, it’s a good risk to take, and it paid off for Matt LaFleur.
As for this game, it sounds like the Packers could get some injured guys back, like wide receiver Christian Watson and running back Aaron Jones, but I see a big mismatch between Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson and Packers defensive coordinator Joe Barry. I think the Lions will be able to move the ball effectively and hit on some explosive plays. Give me Detroit.
The pick: Lions (-1.5)
Atlanta Falcons at Jacksonville Jaguars (-3)
It was actually impressive how weird the Jaguars’ loss to the Texans was last week. They had 404 yards of offense, punted only twice, and still managed to score just 17 points! One missed field goal. One blocked field goal. Two turnovers. A failed fourth-down conversion. Drops, penalties. They gave up a kickoff return touchdown to a fullback. That was a classic “everything that could go wrong did go wrong” loss for Jacksonville.
As for the Falcons, we’re not used to seeing their offense under Arthur Smith look as lifeless as it did in the loss to the Lions. Based on success rate and EPA per drive, that offensive performance was worse than any we saw from Atlanta last season. Desmond Ridder was spraying the ball all over the place, narrowly avoiding interceptions, and getting his pass catchers crushed with poor ball placement and decision-making. Is anyone still making the argument that he’s a definite upgrade over Marcus Mariota?
There’s a scenario here in which the Falcons run for 200 yards and Jacksonville continues to sabotage itself, but I believe in this Jaguars passing game and think they’re close to getting it together.
The pick: Jaguars (-3)
Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills (-3)
Game of the week! Game of the year? I was skeptical of the Dolphins coming into the season. I was worried that one injury to a key player would make the whole operation crumble. But they’ve played games without left tackle Terron Armstead and without wide receiver Jaylen Waddle so far, and guess what? They haven’t crumbled! The Dolphins piled up an easy 726 yards of offense last week against Denver and became the first team since 1966 to score 10 touchdowns in a game.
These two teams played twice in the regular season last year (and once in the playoffs when Tua Tagovailoa was out). In the first game, Tagovailoa left with what looked like a head injury, but then came back in. The Dolphins won, 21-19. In snowy conditions in Buffalo in Week 15, the Bills won, 32-29. Miami had 405 yards of offense in that game, but Buffalo’s offense was even better.
The Bills have played 40 games (playoffs included) over the last three seasons, and only two teams (the Bengals in last season’s playoffs and the Colts in 2021) have beaten them by more than a touchdown. It’s a wildly impressive streak of competitiveness. I will not be surprised at all if Buffalo is amped up for this game and hands the Dolphins their first loss. But I can’t dismiss what my eyes have seen with Miami’s offense through three weeks. Until a defense shows it can really slow the Dolphins down, I’m rolling with them—especially since I’m getting three points.
The pick: Dolphins (+3)
Pittsburgh Steelers at Houston Texans (+3)
The Steelers’ winning formula seems pretty straightforward: play great defense, don’t turn the ball over, and hit on a couple of big plays offensively. That’s what they did during Sunday night’s win over the Raiders. They just wait for the opponent to make mistakes. It’s old-school, and it’s probably not the recipe for winning big. But to stack wins against mediocre or below-average competition in the regular season? Sure.
If you’re a Texans fan, you have to be thrilled with what you’re seeing from C.J. Stroud so far. He’s decisive, processes quickly, is willing to make tough throws, and is accurate. He absolutely looks the part through three games, and that’s with an unimpressive supporting cast around him.
This is a tough one to pick, but T.J. Watt and that Steelers defensive front against a rookie quarterback and a banged-up offensive line has me leaning Pittsburgh.
The pick: Steelers (-3)
Los Angeles Rams at Indianapolis Colts (-1.5)
The Rams offense showed promise in the first two weeks of the season but was a disaster—in part because offensive line injuries left them unable to protect Matthew Stafford—in the Monday night loss to the Bengals. They went their first 11 possessions without scoring a touchdown and went 1-for-11 on third down. Stafford was sacked six times, and the Rams turned the ball over twice.
The Colts have been big-time overachievers so far. They stole a win in Baltimore without rookie starting quarterback Anthony Richardson and are 2-1 on the season. As of this writing, it sounds like Richardson should return for this game.
The Rams fell apart once they lost their left tackle Monday night, but now they have a week to come up with a better protection plan. Stafford is still throwing the ball well, and they have to feel a sense of desperation here. I think they bounce back with a victory.
The pick: Rams (+1.5)
Minnesota Vikings at Carolina Panthers (+4)
Just a disastrous ending for the Vikings last week against the Chargers. With the game on the line, Kirk Cousins couldn’t hear head coach Kevin O’Connell’s play call. Rather than spike the ball, Cousins called his own play and threw an interception. How on earth was that the best solution in that spot? I am generally against wasting plays to spike the ball, but it would have absolutely been the right move in that situation. Now the Vikings are 0-3, and sickos like me are trying to get them to trade Cousins to the Jets.
The Panthers are also winless, following last week’s loss at Seattle with Andy Dalton at quarterback. It sounds like they have a good chance of getting Bryce Young back for this one.
Two winless teams, a home dog. The smart move is probably to take the points. But I actually like the way this Vikings offense has been playing, and I’m not seeing any signs of life from Carolina.
The pick: Vikings (-4)
Washington Commanders at Philadelphia Eagles (-8.5)
The Eagles are a ridiculous 17-1 in the regular season with Jalen Hurts as their starter since the beginning of last season. Their only loss during that span came against the Commanders in Week 10 last season. The Eagles have leaned on their run game and their defensive line early in the season while they work on finding a rhythm in the passing game. But Monday night’s win over the Bucs was a step in the right direction.
The Commanders were dealt a 37-3 loss to the Bills last week. Sam Howell was sacked nine times, and Washington turned the ball over five times. Howell has been sacked on 16.1 percent of his dropbacks this season. If that were to sustain, it would be the worst sack rate for any QB since at least 2000.
This line feels high, but I can’t get over the mismatch between the Eagles defensive line and the Commanders offensive line. Rookie defensive tackle Jalen Carter has arguably been the Eagles’ best defensive player so far. I think the defense forces Howell into enough mistakes to cover.
The pick: Eagles (-8.5)
Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns (-2.5)
The three best single-game defensive performances this season, according to success rate:
- The Browns in Week 1 vs. the Bengals
- The Browns in Week 3 vs. the Titans
- The Browns in Week 2 vs. the Steelers
The Browns have given up a total of 21 first downs in three games—that’s 20 fewer than any other team.
As of this writing, it’s unclear which injured Ravens—wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., safety Kyle Hamilton, left tackle Ronnie Stanley, or center Tyler Linderbaum, among others—are going to be able to play. Cleveland QB Deshaun Watson played better last week, and it’s entirely possible that the Browns are the superior team.
But I generally like rolling with Lamar Jackson and John Harbaugh in these spots. The Ravens are 12-2 against the spread as underdogs with Jackson. I would love to get an extra half point here with the Ravens, but I’m going to go ahead and take them anyway.
The pick: Ravens (+2.5)
Denver Broncos at Chicago Bears (+3.5)
There’s a scenario where this all works out for the Bears—hear me out! The worst thing that could’ve happened this year was Justin Fields and Matt Eberflus being merely mediocre. That would’ve led to giving them another chance in 2024 and hoping for the best. What the Bears needed from 2023 was clarity. Either Fields and/or Eberflus was unquestionably good enough to stick with, or unquestionably bad enough to move on from. Well, I think we know which way this is heading.
Since Week 8 of last season, the Bears have lost 13 games in a row. Every other team in the NFL has won at least three games during that span. Chicago’s point differential during the losing streak is -190; that’s 80 points worse than any other team!
Right now, there are four winless teams in the NFL. The Bears own the first-round picks for two of them: their own and Carolina’s. There’s a scenario in which they go into next season with quarterback Caleb Williams and wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. I know, I know. There’s still a long way to go. But I’m trying to give you something, Bears fans. Maybe there are sunnier days ahead—if you have the stomach to get through the rest of 2023.
As for the Broncos, I’ve long said that any time you can take a team as a road favorite when it’s coming off of a 50-point loss, you pretty much have to do it.
The pick: Broncos (-3.5)
Las Vegas Raiders at Los Angeles Chargers (-6.5)
As I outlined in the latest episode of Extra Point Taken, I think I’ve had enough of the Josh McDaniels run in Vegas. Just a ridiculous decision he made last week to kick a field goal on fourth-and-4 from the Steelers’ 8-yard line when the Raiders were trailing by eight points with 2:22 left. McDaniels is now 18-30 as a head coach. His winning percentage with the Raiders (.350) is actually worse than his winning percentage was with the Broncos (.393).
The Chargers may have saved their season with a win in Minnesota last week. Justin Herbert was terrific in that game, and their offense has been cooking. But I don’t trust this defense, and I don’t trust this team.
Update: Jimmy Garoppolo was ruled out late in the week after suffering a concussion in Week 3. Per NFL Network, Aidan O’Connell is expected to get the start. Who knows? Maybe he gives the Raiders a little magic?
The pick: Raiders (+6.5)
Cincinnati Bengals at Tennessee Titans (+2.5)
This might be the hardest game to pick on the Week 4 slate. The Bengals are in survival mode. It’s easy to forget, but they were 4-4 through eight weeks last season. Then they went on a run and became legit Super Bowl contenders. That’s pretty much what they need their formula to look like this year. We all saw on Monday night that quarterback Joe Burrow is limited. It’s up to everyone else—receivers Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins, running back Joe Mixon, plus the defense—to pick him up. Cincinnati just needs to stay in the mix for the next month or so and hope that Burrow is inching closer to normal once we get to November. There’s no guarantee of that happening, but I’m not willing to give up on this team just yet.
The Titans did not look like a competitive team last week. They managed just 94 yards of offense—the lowest total for any team in a single game this season. Tennessee had just six total first downs against Cleveland.
Having said that, I trust Mike Vrabel to come up with a good defensive game plan if Burrow is going to remain limited. I’ve gone back and forth roughly 400 times here, and when that’s the case, I usually end up just taking the points.
The pick: Titans (+2.5)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints (-3)
Both of these teams are banged up. The Bucs had their two starting corners, defensive tackle Vita Vea, and linebacker Devin White all on the injury report Wednesday. The Saints, meanwhile, could be forced to go with Jameis Winston at quarterback if Derek Carr is sidelined by the shoulder injury he sustained last week.
The difference between these two teams right now is that I know what I’m getting from the Saints defense. New Orleans has allowed 20 points or fewer in 11 straight games. I have a hard time seeing Baker Mayfield and Co. moving the football consistently here. Give me the Saints.
The pick: Saints (-3)
New England Patriots at Dallas Cowboys (-6.5)
Embarrassing loss by the Cowboys last week. How does a defense that talented give up 400 yards to the Joshua Dobbs–led Cardinals? Four straight times in the second half, the Cowboys offense got inside Arizona’s 10-yard line, but ended up with just six total points on those possessions.
The Patriots, meanwhile, ended their game against the Jets with six straight punts and they didn’t score a touchdown in the second half, but it didn’t matter.
I believe in both defenses here and think we get a relatively low-scoring game. I can’t shake the image of Bill Belichick on one sideline and Mike McCarthy on the other. I know the Cowboys are more talented and better offensively, but give me the points.
The pick: Patriots (+6.5)
Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers (-14)
If I pick against the Cardinals every week, I have to win one eventually, right?? They are 3-0 against the spread and dragging down my record in this column. The Cardinals are +34 in the first halves of games this season—that’s the fourth-best differential in the NFL.
The 49ers, meanwhile, just seem to take care of business every week. They’ve scored 30 points in all three of their wins and are tied with the Cowboys for the best point differential in the NFC.
I go through the same exercise every week. I look at the Cardinals. I look at their opponent. I convince myself that the most likely scenario is that they get blown out. Then come Sunday, I am forced to live with the regret from my incorrect decision. But you know what? I’m not about to stop that cycle now. I’m in too deep. Give me the Niners.
The pick: 49ers (-14)
Kansas City Chiefs at New York Jets (+9.5)
Earlier this week, I implored the Jets to do something—anything—at quarterback. Then they signed Trevor Siemian to their practice squad. That’s not what I meant! I know there are hurdles that make it hard to bring in a new quarterback in the middle of the season. I acknowledge that adding someone new might not work out. But think about what well-run organizations would do in this spot. You’re telling me teams like the Eagles and 49ers would just sit on their hands and keep rolling with Zach Wilson? Of course not. They would be spending every waking minute exploring other options. Yet the Jets seem resigned to just throwing their season away.
The Chiefs took care of business against the Bears last week, and they should win big here. I can easily envision a scenario in which Kansas City is up 34-0 in the third quarter, but something is telling me to be careful. I still believe in this Jets defense. Maybe they keep it close. Or maybe I’m banging my head against my desk at 10 p.m. ET on Sunday night because I made such a stupid pick. Which one do you think is more likely?
The pick: Jets (+9.5)
Seattle Seahawks at New York Giants (-1.5)
Brian Daboll was the NFL Coach of the Year last season, but has any team looked less prepared in 2023? The Giants have been outscored by 57 points in first halves this season. That’s the worst first-half point differential through three weeks by any team since at least 2000!
I have questions about this Seahawks defense, but what they’re doing offensively has been impressive. They’ve battled through offensive line injuries and figured it out. Seattle’s offense is fourth in both EPA per drive and success rate through three weeks. I think they’ll be able to move the ball consistently against this shaky Giants defense.
The pick: Seahawks (+1.5)