Just when you think you’ve got a handle on this NFL season, unexpected injuries throw everything awry.
Ben Roethlisberger goes down. Chris Ivory gets scratched. Sammy Watkins is day to day. Each player a big loss to his own team, of course, but more importantly their injuries complicate matters for the hard-working people who pick winners in the Week 4 matchups.
Never one to shrink for a challenge, however, NESN.com’s expert trio soldiers on to the quarter mark of the season. They’ll look to build on last week’s success, with all three posting winning records against the spread.
Here’s how everything stands entering Week 4:
Ben Watanabe: 32-16. (Last week: 12-4) Avoided bad beats, and stole upset wins by Cincinnati and Oakland.
Mike Cole: 28-20. (Last week: 9-7) Probably wondering why he took Dallas against the Fighting Julio Joneses.
Ricky Doyle: 27-21. (Last week: 10-6) The only member of our trio who believed the Patriots would cover 14 1/2 points against the Jags.
This week’s picks:
Thursday, Oct. 1
(-2.5) Baltimore Ravens (0-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1), 8:25 p.m. ET
Ricky: Steelers. Losing Roethlisberger is huge. Huge enough to pick an 0-3 road team in a Thursday night game in which the more well-rounded home team is getting points? Nah.
Ben: Steelers. This one isn’t the no-brainer it would be if Roethlisberger was healthy, but Pittsburgh should still be able to run with some success at home against a reeling Baltimore D.
Mike: Ravens. The only thing the Ravens can do right now is stop the run. I’ll take the team with the quarterback who’s been preparing all season as opposed to the Steelers with Michael Vick, who’s been the starter for a few days.
Sunday, Oct. 4
(-1) New York Jets (2-1) at Miami Dolphins (1-2), 9:30 a.m. in London
Ricky: Jets. Only the Browns have allowed more rushing yards than the Dolphins, who were torched for 41 points last week at home against the Bills. Chris Ivory’s return to action — he didn’t play a single snap in Week 3 after missing two days of practice with a quad injury — should help the Jets do damage on the ground. Plus, it’s hard to trust Ryan Tannehill against New York’s secondary.
Ben: Jets. I mean, who the hell knows? The numbers say Miami is 1-7 against the spread in its last eight games and 7-15-1 in its last 23 against the Jets, so I’ll go with that.
Mike: Dolphins. I’m not ready to write off the Dolphins just yet, which means I should expect them to win a game like this. But then again, Joe Philbin.
Houston Texans (1-2) at (-7) Atlanta Falcons (3-0), 1 p.m.
Ricky: Falcons. The Texans are good enough to beat bad teams. And perhaps their defense soon will reach its full potential, at which point they’ll be somewhat dangerous. Until then, expect them to fall short against better competition, like the Falcons, who also have the benefit of being at home Sunday.
Ben: Falcons. This continues Atlanta’s tour of Crappy Professional Football Teams of the United States. Next up: Redskins, Saints, Titans, Bucs and 49ers, followed by the most challenging matchup of that stretch: a bye week.
Mike: Falcons. I expect to see a lot of short, quick passes in an attempt to slow the Texans’ pass rush and get guys like Julio Jones out in space, where he does a lot of damage.
New York Giants (1-2) at (-5.5) Buffalo Bills (2-1), 1 p.m.
Ricky: Giants. The Bills’ winning formula? Stop the run on defense and run the ball effectively on offense. The Giants have prevented teams from accomplishing the latter so far this season. Buffalo still has the edge, but the difference between these teams right now is closer to a field goal.
Ben: Bills. The Giants have extra time to prepare, but all the time in the world won’t change the fact Buffalo’s defense is not Washington’s.
Mike: Bills. The Bills have eaten up quarterbacks not named Tom Brady over the last two weeks. Eli Manning is not named Tom Brady.
(-3) Oakland Raiders (2-1) at Chicago Bears (0-3), 1 p.m.
Ricky: Raiders. Go ahead. Call them the “Bad News Bears.” I won’t, because that joke’s lame. But Chicago definitely sucks.
Ben: Raiders. I keep picking the Raiders, which could be misconstrued as me thinking they’re a quality team. That’s not the case. They just play a lot of bums.
Mike: Raiders. How bad are the Bears? They’re so bad that we’re taking the Raiders to not only win, but cover at least a field goal on the road. That’s bananas.
Kansas City Chiefs (1-2) at (-3.5) Cincinnati Bengals (3-0), 1 p.m.
Ricky: Chiefs. I keep waiting for the Bengals to poo themselves. Maybe it won’t happen until January or maybe it’ll happen this weekend. But either way, they’ll need new undies at some point.
Ben: Bengals. One day when I’m President of Earth, I’ll have my own personal dance squad, which I’ll name “The Ben Gals” in extremely non-politically correct fashion.
Mike: Bengals. Kind of feel bad for the Chiefs. Entering Week 4, their four opponents have a combined 10-2.
Jacksonville Jaguars (1-2) at (-9.5) Indianapolis Colts (1-2), 1 p.m.
Ricky: Colts. Chuck Pagano should cry again this Sunday if the Colts don’t cover. The Jags are the Jags, and any team that wants to be taken seriously needs to pummel them.
Ben: Colts. The Horseshoes really should cover this, but they might not because they’re an abomination. I just can’t trust the Jags to do anything, though.
Mike: Colts. The Jaguars have some nice pieces, none of which is a quarterback. Blake Bortles stinks.
(-3) Carolina Panthers (3-0) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-2), 1 p.m.
Ricky: Panthers. The Bucs have been chopped into pieces on the ground. So that should make stopping a Cam Newton-led team a fun little activity.
Ben: Panthers. Vegas seldom makes it easy, but continually giving Carolina’s opponents only a field goal or so is about as easy a call as it gets. The Panthers aren’t great, but they’re good enough to edge terrible teams by more than a score.
Mike: Panthers. The Panthers have been one of the NFL’s best at forcing turnovers (six through three games), which is usually a recipe for success against a rookie quarterback.
(-3) Philadelphia Eagles (1-2) at Washington Redskins (1-2), 1 p.m.
Ricky: Eagles. Few teams make my eyes glaze over like the Redskins.
Ben: Eagles. Terrance Knighton and the guys can stuff the run, but Chip Kelly’s boys showed last week they don’t need to gain yards to win when the other team hands them the ball all the time.
Mike: Eagles. Sometimes all it takes is one. The Eagles did something right last week, and the Redskins should give them a chance to do the same this week.
Cleveland Browns (1-2) at (-9) San Diego Chargers (1-2), 4:05 p.m.
Ricky: Browns. The Chargers are 3-11 against the spread in their last 14 games. But more importantly, their offensive line is a mess. Pray for Philip Rivers.
Ben: Browns. Here’s something weird: The Chargers, like, never cover at home. They’ve only done so once in their last six home games. It’s not like they’ve played juggernauts, either. So I’ll hold my nose and take the Browns to lose by a touchdown.
Mike: Chargers. I don’t love it, but think of it this way: Can’t you see the Chargers winning this game 21-10? Cover city.
St. Louis Rams (1-2) at (-7.5) Arizona Cardinals (3-0), 4:25 p.m.
Ricky: Cardinals. My keister has been parked on the Cardinals’ bandwagon since the beginning of the season. Give me one good reason why I should move this week. You can’t.
Ben: Rams. Be honest, oddsmakers. You just pick random numbers out of a hat when you’re making the lines for Rams games.
Mike: Cardinals. Just going to ignore the line and pretend there’s nothing to see here.
Minnesota Vikings (2-1) at (-7) Denver Broncos (3-0), 4:25 p.m.
Ricky: Broncos. The Broncos’ defense is good enough to slow Adrian Peterson, which means Teddy Bridgewater will need to make a play or two — in Denver, mind you. Good luck with that.
Ben: Broncos. This game oddly interests me: Two teams that shouldn’t really be able to pass but do (sort of) and a rejuvenated Peterson facing Denver’s diesel defense. It’s so intriguing, it’ll probably end up being the least-watchable game of the day.
Mike: Vikings. I think we’re in a new era for the Broncos. Gone are the 20-point blowouts and here are the knock-down, drag-out rock fight games. Minnesota covers, but Denver wins a relatively low-scoring game.
(-9.5) Green Bay Packers (3-0) at San Francisco 49ers (1-2), 4:25 p.m.
Ricky: Packers. Give me Aaron Rodgers’ team and get out of my hair.
Ben: Packers. Yes, it’s in San Fran and these teams have history and yada yada yada, but the Niners were dishragged by 40 last week and Colin Kaepernick has been a total mess.
Mike: Packers. Even if Kaepernick wreaks havoc on Dom Capers and the Packers’ defense yet again, it’s still hard to believe the 49ers can do anything to stop Rodgers.
*Dallas Cowboys (2-1) at New Orleans Saints (0-3), 8:30 p.m.
Ricky: Cowboys (probably). Random thought: It still blows my mind the Browns wasted a first-round pick on Brandon Weeden, who was about to turn 29 years old the October after he was drafted. Clearly, Kevin Costner wasn’t pulling the strings that year.
Ben: Cowboys. I do not care. Looking forward to going to bed early Sunday.
Mike: Cowboys. Rob Ryan still coaches the Saints defense. Rob Ryan sucks.
*no line as of 10 a.m. Wednesday
Monday, Oct. 5
Detroit Lions (0-3) at (-10) Seattle Seahawks (1-2), 8:30 p.m.
Ricky: Seahawks. The Lions have three straight home games after this week. If they wanted to just lay low rather than go through the hassle of flying to Seattle, I’d be OK with it.
Ben: Seahawks. Another week, another sizable spread for the Seahawks against a garbage opponent, another easy cover for still-suspect Seattle.
Mike: Seahawks. On the road in Seattle. In primetime. This is the Lions’ nightmare.
Thumbnail photo via Kamil Krzaczynski/USA TODAY Sports Images