NFL Week 4: Falcons To Soar Over Titans19 min read
Lindy’s Sports’ UK editor Simon Milham looks ahead to a few top clashes in Week 4 of an enthralling NFL season, which includes an AFC East battle of the unbeatens and an AFC North clash of the winless.
Philadelphia Eagles at Green Bay Packers
Had second-round wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside held onto a desperation pass from Carson Wentz and Zach Ertz managed to gain an extra yard on a fourth-and-eight, the Eagles would be tied at the top of the NFC East with Dallas. As it is, narrow losses to the Falcons and Lions leave them two games behind at 1-2 – and facing a tough test against a Green Bay defense that has allowed just 11.7 points per game under the leadership of co-ordinator Mike Pettine.
After consecutive home wins against the Vikings and Broncos, the Packers are 3-0 and at home for the third straight week following an opening-night win in Chicago.
They host an injured Eagles squad, who could again be without starting receiver DeShean Jackson, defensive tackles Timmy Jernigan (out for a month) and Malik Jackson (on Injured Reserve), defensive end Derek Bennet and cornerback Ronald Darby.
The Packers’ offense has not been convincing in any of the three wins, but much of that may be an inability to scheme after the first dozen or so scripted plays. QB Aaron Rodgers has cut a frustrated figure at times – he has thrown for just 647 yards, the second lowest total in his career through the first three games, and yet the onus is on offensive coordinator Matt Nagy and head coach Matt LaFleur to do a better job of greasing the wheels. Running just 57 offensive plays against the Lions last week and targeting top receiver Devante Adams just four times is partly the reason why the Packers rank 28th in total offense.
Packers have won five of the last six against the Eagles, although three of the last five meetings at Lambeau were settled by three points.
The BetVictor NFL odds see the Eagles as 15/8 underdogs, with the Packers at 4/9 on the money line. While it is not yet desperation time in Philadelphia, we are not about to anoint the Packers as NFC North winners yet, either.
Green Bay is asked to concede five points on the handicap and that looks a realistic number for an unbeaten home team on a short week. It is a tough call, but the way this Green Bay defense is playing, it a number they could well cover in what could be a relatively low-scoring affair.
Tip: Green Bay Packers -5 points at
Tennessee Titans at Atlanta Falcons
QB Marcus Mariota is in the final year of his contract and Tennessee have not shown any signs of tying him down to a new, long-term deal. He has shown flashes of brilliance behind an iffy offensive line (he was sacked nine times against Jacksonville, 17 in total over three games) whilst throwing to a sub-par receiving corps, yet he has not consistently dragged his team over the line in tight games – a prime example was his indecisive play down the stretch in a loss to Indianapolis.
He faces a pivotal couple of weeks, with Buffalo’s stout defense on the horizon after a difficult trip to the Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday.
Both teams are 1-2 and are better than their respective record indicates. The Titans should get Nate Davis on the field to replace Jamil Douglas this week, and Taylor Lewan will return in Week 5, so Mariota’s protection should improve.
Likewise, the Falcons may have come up short against Indianapolis, yet they started to find an offensive groove after the interval and once they clean up their act – they have been flagged 35 times in three games – the Dirty Birds might fly.
On Sunday, Atlanta lost Pro Bowl safety Keanu Neal for the season with a torn Achilles and that loss will be felt acutely. The Falcons’ run defense will be tested as Tennessee running back Derrick Henry is off to a great start with 210 rushing yards on 51 carries. The Falcons were gashed for 172 yards on the ground in a Week 1 loss at Minnesota, but the interior of the line played the run well against the Colts.
Atlanta’s wide receivers face a stiff task against Tennessee’s top-tier secondary, and who fares best in this intriguing battle will go a long way to deciding the outcome.
The Falcons managed to knock off the Eagles at home and while they are 1-2 against the spread, in the last three years they are 6-3 in their next game following a road loss.
The worrying thing for the Titans is if Ryan can get the hosts’ air attack going early, the Titans’ ground game may become moot. With the visitors yet to gain 250 passing yards in any of their three outings, they cannot afford to get into a shoot-out.
Falcons are asked to concede four points on the handicap and that seems a reasonable number to cover. It may take a while for the hosts to figure out the Titans’ secondary and it is 6/1 for the Titans to be leading at half-time and Atlanta to rally and win the match. That also tempts.
Tip: Atlanta Falcons -4.0 points at
New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills
The New England Patriots have started the season where they left off – in dominant form. They are the first team in the Super Bowl era not to have conceded a passing or rushing touchdown in each of their first three games of a season, and while their opponents have gone a combined 0-9, they have won each of their three games by an average of nearly 30 points, with QB Tom Brady generating 911 passing yards already.
Buffalo appear to be their only rivals to another AFC East crown, entering this clash with a similar 3-0 record, thanks mostly to a defense that has held each of its three opponents to 17 points or less.
Patriots have won 31 of the last 35 meetings including 17 of the last 19 meetings on the road. They have won the last five trips to Buffalo by an average of 15.6 points per game and not one of those five outings saw the Bills get within seven points.
While it is fair to say that the Bills may have improved defensively from last season, their offensive output remains limited and the Patriots do not appear to have regressed.
Therefore, it may appear as though the Patriots may be undervalued in being asked to concede a touchdown at odds of 10/11 on the BetVictor NFL handicap. They are also bidding for an eighth consecutive win in Buffalo (their last defeat at Orchard Park – a 31-34 reverse in September 2011 – snapped a seven-win road streak against the Bills). The Bills are 13/5 to win outright.
While all eight of the Bills’ touchdowns this season have come on drives of 70 yards or more, QB Josh Allen was running for his life too often last week in a close win over the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bills’ offensive line may be over-matched, with the Patriots having allowed only 13.6 percent conversions on third down, and 33 of 37 opponents’ drives ending in punts or turnovers.
Despite the trend that suggests the long winning streak in this series may come to an end, we don’t see Allen generating enough offense to keep this close, and with the possibility of Patriots’ receiver Julian Edelman not being fit, a relatively low-scoring affair may be in prospect.
Tip: Under 42 total points at
Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
Minnesota’s 2-1 start to the season is founded on a strong running attack and good defense, which is just the way Mike Zimmer likes his teams to play.
Dalvin Cook has rushed for at least 110 yards in each of his first three games, and the defense chipped in with four sacks and limited Oakland to 302 total yards in a resounding win last week.
The Bears’ front will provide a different kind of test at Soldier Field on Sunday night in a fascinating NFC North clash, and it may be that Minnesota QB Kirk Cousins will have to be more than a game manager in order to lead his side to success. He was efficient against Oakland and took care of the football, nothing flash, nothing more.
The Bears rolled the Washington Redskins 31-15 on Monday night, but they have hardly been convincing in compiling their own 2-1 record, losing on opening night to the Green Bay Packers and then struggling to dispose of a Denver team that is still seeking a first win.
Both Chicago and Minnesota need to see more form their respective passers. Mitch Trubisky, three games into his third season, has yet to show he is anything but an average-at-best QB, and the Bears are wholly reliant on an outstanding defense that includes Khalil Mack, Roquan Smith, Akiem Hicks and Clinton Ha-Ha Dix.
You do not need to have played the game or know the nuances of quarterback play to determine quickly that Trubisky lacks an accurate deep ball and is too slow to go through his progressions. He will anchor the team that has aspirations of going deep into the playoffs.
Chicago gave the Vikings plenty of problems in sweeping the series last year, although the Vikings have won six of the last nine meetings and the bad news for the hosts is that their entire starting defensive line appears to be injured.
Hicks, who has started all 52 games since joining the Bears in 2016, has a knee injury. Defensive end Bilal Nichols (broken hand), nose tackle Eddie Goldman (oblique), kicker Eddy Pineiro (knee), right tackle Bobby Massie (vertigo) and receiver Taylor Gabriel (concussion) are all struggling to be fit.
The Bears are 3/4 to win the clash on the BetVictor money line, with the Vikings at 11/10. The visitors are also handed a two-point start on the handicap at odds of 10/11 and that may represent a little value.
However, for the more adventurous, taking the Vikes with the points in a double with a play on the unders, could represent a little more value.
Tip: Spread and Total Points Double – Minnesota +1.5 and under 40.5 points at
Dallas Cowboys at New Orleans Saints
QB Dak Prescott calling out a play in the huddle last week and adding: “Oh, Spicy Nuggets are back (at Wendy’s). I might have to stop on the way home”, says plenty about how easy Dallas’ task was against the Miami Dolphins last Sunday.
The Cowboys played down to their hapless, tanking opponents in a 31-6 victory, and they were far from convincing. The defense was predicted to be one of the best in the NFC and at 3-0, there is seemingly little to worry about. Yet their inability to create turnovers, particularly interceptions, must be cause for concern.
The Saints’ offense remains potent, even with Teddy Bridgewater replacing QB Drew Brees. Bridgewater did not have to be dynamic to win on the road in Seattle last week, as the Vikings’ first 14 points came from turnovers, which allowed the back-up passer to play with a lead.
Dallas need to find a way of slowing down Alvin Kamara, who ripped the Seahawks for 68 yards rushing and 92 yards receiving, scoring two touchdowns to boot. Seattle’s linebacking unit was made to look foolish and their LBs are every bit as good as Dallas’s.
Playing on the road in the loud Superdome is never easy, even without Brees. And as if trying to defend Kamara and receiver Michael Thomas was not difficult enough, the Saints have a new star in kick returner Deonte Harris, who is lightning quick.
Historically, the Cowboys have not fared well in New Orleans, losing on five of their last six visits and it is hard to get a handle on how good they are, having played the Giants, Redskins and Dolphins, all of whom are more likely to be among those picking near the top of the draft in April than celebrating in Miami come February.
The Cowboys, who are 2.5-point handicap favourites at odds of 10/11, may take advantage of a poor Saints secondary, however. The Saints have a 2-1 record after knocking off the Texans and Seahawks, while losing to the Rams, but they have haemorrhaged over 27 points per game. That, rather than Brees’ long-term absence, is more of a concern going forward.
Tip: New Orleans Saints to win
Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers
Both AFC North teams seek a first win of the season in a Monday Night Football clash that will interest only die-hards or insomniacs.
The Steelers have owned the Bengals in recent times, winning 21 of the last 26 meetings, including 11 of the last 12.
It promised to be a season of change in Steeltown even before QB Ben Roethlisberger’s injury and while the defense will improve with the arrival of middle linebacker Minkah Fitzpatrick and the drafting of inside linebacker Devin Bush, the offense was not good enough to capitalise on five turnovers in a loss at San Francisco last week.
The run defense was horrible again, giving up 168 yards, and has now surrendered an average of 139 yards in three outings. Opponents’ ability to run sets up the pass, and the Steelers have been woeful defending that as a result.
The running game is struggling, managing a lowly 64 yards per tilt and that appears to be a schematic issue which needs to be addressed.
Yet for all the negatives, the Steelers probably should be 2-1, having previously lost another close game against Seattle Seahawks in Week 2.
Cincinnati also lost a close one with the Bengals and after being thumped at home by the 49ers, almost came away with a win from Buffalo last week.
Cocking a snook at Bill Parcells, neither the Bengals or Steelers are as bad as their record suggests they are, but the Bengals have a hobbled offensive line and they don’t have star receiver A.J. Green. They have also now lost 10 of 11 games dating back to last season. Six of those 10 losses were one-score games, however, and with the Steelers asked to cover a four-point handicap, this line is a difficult one to assess. It is not a MNF game to be too dogmatic about.
Tip: Cincinnati Bengals +4 points at