I keep wondering why it's been so hard to pick games in this young season, with three games in Week 3 determined by one point against the spread.
Readers of these posts have wondered, too. (I appreciate the e-mails. They've all been so kind despite the reminders that I'm apparently out of my league.)
But these struggles are something new to me, after seemingly a cakewalk 2012 picking straight up winners. (Need I remind you I went 169-83-1?) And then it struck me in the form of a tweet from the NFL's Brian McCarthy earlier today:
Hello Week 4. 28 of 48 games (58%) have been decided by 7 points or fewer-most in @nflhistory thru wk 3. next best- 26 in '88— Brian McCarthy (@NFLprguy) September 26, 2013
I'll take solace knowing I went 8-8 last week. Of course, I'm hoping the trends for close game eventually come to a stop. But I have a better chance of getting accepted to Hogwarts. Parity sucks when the odds are stacked against you.
Here's my picks for Week 4:
49ers (+4) at Rams (-4) -- On a short week, the Rams would be the smart bet here. But something about Colin Kaepernick being embarrassed against the Seattle Seahawks and then the Indianapolis Colts has me thinking the talented Red and Gold are itching to bounce back big.
My pick: 49ers
Ravens (-3.5) at Bills (+3.5) -- We should all have more faith in Joe Flacco. At 2-1, he's delivered for Baltimore. And the Ravens may get an extra nudge with the possible return of Ray Rice Sunday.
My pick: Ravens
Bengals (-5.5) at Browns (+5.5) -- Brian Hoyer is a great story. But the Bengals, with Geno Atkins on that defensive line, are to be reckoned with.
My pick: Bengals
Bears (+3) at Lions (-3) -- The Bears (3-0) are off to a phenomenal start and, yes, a large part of their success is because of Jay Cutler (94.2 QB rating, 6 TDs, 3 INTs, 67.3 completion rate). It helps that the Bears have a tough run defense, ranked eighth-best in the league.
My pick: Bears
Giants (+4.5) at Chiefs (-4.5) -- I'm coming around to this notion of Alex Smith as a dink and dunk quarterback. Low on turnovers (0 interceptions, 1 fumble) and high on efficiency (61 completion percentage). He's the exact opposite of the Eli Manning-led Giants (13 giveaways, -9 turnover differential).
My pick: Chiefs
Steelers (-1.5) at Vikings (+1.5) -- Both are winless teams. But the Vikings have played competitively to the end against the Lions (34-24), Bears (31-30), and Browns (31-27). The Steelers, playing a common opponent in the Bears, were smoked last week 40-23.
My pick: Vikings
Cardinals (+2.5) at Buccaneers (-2.5) -- Vincent Jackson (ribs) and Mike Williams are both banged up and the Buccaneers are installing a new quarterback, Mike Glennon, to fill in for the woeful Josh Freeman. That might be too much for the home team to overcome.
My pick: Cardinals
Colts (-9) at Jaguars (+9) -- This is the easiest pick of the week, every week.
My pick: Colts
Seahawks (-3) at Texans (+3) -- After this game, I think the AFC will realize how tough an opponent the Seahawks are compared to the rest of the league.
My pick: Seahawks
Jets (+4) at Titans (-4) -- The Titans (2-1) have managed to keep Chris Johnson involved (69 carries, 256 yards) and their defense is the seventh best in the NFL. Geno Smith (65.0 quarterback rating, 53.9 completion percentage, 6 INTs) needs to be careful with the rock.
My pick: Titans
Eagles (+11) at Broncos (-11) -- Just a hunch, but the Broncos are going to go 15-1 this season. This is not the week you need to worry about them losing.
My pick: Broncos
Redskins (+3) at Raiders (-3) -- Oakland quarterback Terrelle Pryor missed practice on Wednesday with concussion symptoms. It sucks for the Silver and Black because he's also the team's top rusher (112 yards). Even if he plays, he's going up against an underperforming defense that's likely to start clicking soon.
My pick: Redskins
Cowboys (-2) at Chargers (+2) -- I will readily admit that I look at the talent on the Cowboys roster and seem to forget about things like chemistry, history, reason, etc. But when you consider they have the second best run defense in the NFL right now, and DeMarco Murray is still healthy, I wonder if you should forget those things too.
My pick: Cowboys
Patriots (+2) at Falcons (-2) -- In my preseason predictions for each game of the Patriots season, I anticipated that the Falcons deliver them their first loss. I expect Matt Ryan and the gang to deliver.
My pick: Falcons
Dolphins (+6) at Saints (-6) -- The Dolphins have won tough games against the Falcons and Colts. Ryan Tannehill has looked phenomenal (94.3 quarterback rating). Despite the prospects of a Drew Brees beatdown in the secondary, I expect this game to be close.
My pick: Dolphins
Last week: 8-8