Carnage. There is no other word to describe last week in the NFL — at least from a survivor pool perspective. The two most popular picks by far were New Orleans and San Francisco. The Saints showed just how deep their troubles run when they threw away a sure win against the Chiefs. The Niners, meanwhile, were inexplicably absent in Minnesota. Perhaps they were suffering a letdown after two nice wins against elite opponents to open the season.
The ugliness didn’t end there, though. Detroit lost a wild one at Tennessee. Pittsburgh crumbled late in Oakland. Indianapolis showed their inexperience in the second half. San Diego and Philadelphia took the week off. Green Bay didn’t bribe the referees as generously as the Seahawks did. The only reasonably popular pick that came through as expected was Buffalo. It was ugly.
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We can sit shell-shocked and dwell on what happened in the past, or we can pick ourselves up and look towards the future. The good news is that if you are still alive in your pool you are likely facing less competition in Week 4 of the pool than any other year. At this rate a lot of pools could be over before September ends if next week is again crazy.
The heavy favorites
Baltimore (-13) vs. Cleveland
On paper this one makes good sense. Baltimore has played well, and Joe Flacco has played with some real swagger. Brandon Weeden wasn’t too bad last week against the Bills. However, he has to go on the road in this one, and the Ravens are so deep and experienced on defense that it is likely to be a long day for the rookie. Baltimore should be a comfortable pick, and probably one that most people haven’t used yet.
There are two concerns here, though. First, the heaviest of favorites on the board have let us down the last two weeks, so you don’t want to be too confident here. You can’t be too worried about a strange trend like that, though. More significantly, Baltimore faces a brutal turnaround — Sunday night to Thursday night. That’s only a few hours shorter than Cleveland faces, though, so it shouldn’t give Cleveland a big edge.
If you haven’t picked the Ravens then they are the team to pick this week. In the next three weeks they travel to Kansas City, host Dallas, and visit Houston, so it will be November before there is a better spot to take Baltimore.
Houston (-12) vs. Tennessee
Houston has played virtually flawless football so far, so they will be a popular pick this week (they are the new Super Bowl favorite on Bovada). While they are a deserving favorite here, I would not be in nearly as much of a rush to pick them as I would Baltimore.
Jake Locker is a very talented QB, and his confidence will be sky high after playing so well last week. The Tennessee running game has been terrible, but it has too much talent to struggle forever and will break through at some point. Put those two factors together and you have a feisty opponent that makes me nervous.
Houston plays at the Jets next Monday night, and I’d feel a little better about that one than this one at this point. If you can’t pick Baltimore, though, then this will be a decent alternative.
Atlanta (-7) vs. Carolina
I really don’t like this game. I respect what Atlanta has done, and they are the clear favorite here. Cam Newton is like a wounded tiger, though. He was lousy last week, and took a lot of criticism for it both externally and from his teammates. He’s such a competitive guy that there is at least a chance he will channel that into a strong performance.
Given that, there are softer spots to go with unless you have to. It’s noteworthy that the line here has already dropped from nine to seven points in early action.
Green Bay (-7.5) vs. New Orleans
I wouldn’t touch this game no matter how desperate I was. There is no telling how Green Bay will react to their stolen victory on Monday night. It could fuel them, or cause them to pout and lose focus. New Orleans has been terrible, but we know they are much better than they have looked, and at some point they are going to prove it.
Green Bay has shown far more flaws this year than last, and would be tough to trust in any circumstance right now. In this case, though, they would be a poor pick. Green Bay visits Indianapolis next week, so a much better opportunity to pick them looms if they prove themselves this week.
If all else fails, pick...
Dallas (-3.5) vs. Chicago
The Cowboys’ upgraded their defense in the offseason, and early returns have been promising. Jay Cutler is in a serious funk, and a hostile stadium on a Monday night will do little to ease him out of it.
Dallas has been far from perfect this year, but they are coming off a strong outing and have no excuses here.
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