Last Sunday was an eye-opening day for the Minnesota Vikings. It showed how good they can be, with or without their starting quarterback.
Sam Bradford missed his second straight game, and this time it didn’t seem as unexpected. With some time to settle in as the starter, Case Keenum led an absolutely one-sided 34-17 win over a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team plenty of people liked in the preseason. Keenum threw for 369 yards and three touchdowns.
We’ve seen teams rally around backup quarterbacks for a game at a time, and we’ve even seen Keenum play well for a game here or a game there. Maybe last week was a fluke, but it didn’t seem like it. The Vikings have built a really talented team around the quarterback position. Stefon Diggs has turned into a star, Dalvin Cook looks like a great pick, Adam Thielen is an unexpected star and the defense is filled with impact players. Bradford looked great in Week 1, but maybe that’s a product of the team around him.
Clearly the Vikings would rather have Bradford in the lineup, but news around his knee injury is murky and he’s definitely out for Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions. The Lions have played pretty well this season – don’t be fooled though, even though they lost in a rough way at the end last week against the Atlanta Falcons, they were dominated in that game and were only in it because Matt Ryan threw three bad interceptions – and it would generally be hard to pick a team with a backup quarterback to beat them. But I’m sold on this Vikings team, with or without Bradford. There is no line on the game in the Yahoo Pro Football Pick’em due to Bradford, the Vikings are a 1.5- or 2-point favorite in Las Vegas and they’re a 2..5-point favorite in the Westgate SuperContest. I’m taking the Vikings at less than a field goal, and they’re a SuperContest pick for me as well. Even with Keenum, they’re the better team.
Here are the rest of the Week 4 against-the-spread picks:
Steelers (-3) over Ravens: Yes, I know, I’ve noted a few times that the Steelers are a different team at home and on the road. But I’m not buying the Ravens at all. I think what we saw last Sunday against the Jaguars is what they are, at least offensively. I think the Steelers are the far superior team and that will show on Sunday, even if it requires me trusting them on the road. (The Steelers favored by 2.5 in the Yahoo Pro Football Pick’em.)
Titans (-1.5) over Texans: For months I’ve thought the Titans were a much better team than the Texans. You have to be impressed by Deshaun Watson last week, but he’s still a rookie and he’s going to have his struggles. The Texans are a big hump for the Titans to get over if they want to win the division, considering they’ve lost five of their last six to Houston according to OddsShark. The Titans seem like the new standard in the AFC South, and I think they’ll want to show that Sunday. (The Titans are a pick ’em in the Yahoo Pro Football Pick’em.)
Giants (+3) over Buccaneers: It’s a little scary to take the Giants, knowing all their issues. But they’ll be as desperate as a team can get, and their defense still travels. The Buccaneers are banged up. I think the Giants win straight up.
Broncos (-2.5) over Raiders: I don’t really worry about Oakland because they got blasted last week. That will happen sometimes. But I do think the Broncos will play much better at home and their pass defense provides a tough matchup for the Raiders.
And here are the rest of the picks …
Packers (-7) over Bears (picked Thursday): You’d do pretty well picking the Bears at home and against them on the road. You’d be an easy 4-0 against the spread doing that so far.
Dolphins (+2.5) over Saints: This line seems like a serious overreaction to what we saw in Week 3. The Dolphins looked horrendous against the Jets, and the Saints were great against the Panthers. Still, I’m not sure if everything we saw last week will carry over. But I’d be lying if I said I could figure out either team. Both are mysteries. And playing in London doesn’t make this game easier to figure out.
Buffalo (+9.5) over Falcons: This line has dropped to eight in Las Vegas (as always, I use the Yahoo Pro Football Pick’em lines in this space) but I like the Bills at anything over a touchdown. I think the Falcons are very good but the Bills can keep it close. The defense is playing well and LeSean McCoy isn’t going to stay in this slump forever.
Bengals (-3) over Browns: I don’t trust the Bengals just because their offense looked a little better last week, but for all the early optimism about the Browns, they’ve looked horrible for two straight weeks. Maybe the Browns will be better back at home, but I want to see it first.
Rams (+7.5) over Cowboys: Not a lot of respect for the 2-1 Rams here. It’s funny to think that the Rams’ offense is less of a concern than the defense at this point. I trust that Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips will get things straightened out. I think this will be an entertaining shootout.
Patriots (-10) over Panthers: Maybe I’m guilty of not being able to let go of the idea that the Patriots will soon start playing like the Patriots. But I do know that the Panthers offense has looked pretty bad and I don’t think they can keep up with New England.
Jaguars (-3) over Jets: The Jaguars have looked great twice and both games were on the road (maybe you consider London a home game for Jacksonville, which makes sense), so I’m not too scared of taking the Jaguars on the road. There’s some concern about the London fatigue, but I think that’s built into the spread.
49ers (+7.5) over Cardinals: I assume the 49ers have some confidence after last week’s loss to the Rams, even if they couldn’t finish and win. This should be a close one. What have the Cardinals done so far to justify being favored by more than a touchdown?
Eagles (pick ’em) at Chargers: The one SuperContest pick I got wrong last week was the Chargers, and I think it’s because I didn’t factor in that they have roughly zero home field advantage. It just seems like this year (and next year? The next five years? Until they move again?) we have to treat the Chargers like they’re on a neutral field when they play in Los Angeles.
Seahawks (-14) over Colts: I’m not a fan of huge NFL favorites, but you can see this one getting away from the Colts. I also think that the Seahawks finally broke out of their offensive slump in the second half last week against the Titans. We’ve seen that happen before, and once Russell Wilson gets hot he tends to stay hot for a while.
Redskins (+7) over Chiefs: It’s hard to go against the Chiefs with how well they’re playing, but Washington seems a bit underrated to me. They lost to the Eagles (who are good themselves) in Week 1, but have played really well the last two weeks. Their offense looked great last week and the defense has played well too. I’ll pick them to keep it close, at least.
Week 4 preview and, yes, some anthem talk
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