Last week's Browns-Vikings matchup in Minnesota is why NFL games aren't played out on paper or in computer simulations. It looked like a dog matchup, and the Browns were touchdown underdogs. They had just raised the white flag on the season in trading running back Trent Richardson. In baseball you will see teams quit when a star is traded, but the NFL is a different animal with players' careers so short -- and no guaranteed contracts -- that guys are going to go all out no matter what.
Cleveland showed major heart behind third-string quarterback Brian Hoyer and upset the Vikings 31-27 in one of the most entertaining games of Week 3. That win likely did several things: assured Brandon Weeden will never start another game in a Cleveland uniform barring injury; assured the Browns will trade receiver Josh Gordon as he boosted his value with 10 catches for 146 yards and a TD in his season debut; likely means that the Browns will not be in play for the No. 1 overall pick and a shot at Teddy Bridgewater next May; and probably means that Vikings coach Leslie Frazier is a goner after this season and that Minnesota will be in the market for a franchise QB to replace Christian Ponder in the 2014 draft.
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I mentioned in this column last week that Browns-Vikings was my trap game of the week, so hopefully you stayed away. My top choice was Seattle (Baltimore and New England in the previous two weeks) as I'm sure it was for 95 percent of your Survivor Pool competitors. Those players who outsmarted themselves to not be tied in with the majority of the group and chose Minnesota are feeling stupid now.
We enter bye-week territory in Week 4, with the Packers and Panthers off. Here are my recommendations in descending order of confidence, with the first team listed the pick. It's one of those pretty tough weeks finding a true lock with only Denver a double-digit favorite.
New Orleans vs. Miami (Monday): I almost never recommend using a Monday night game if possible. What if Drew Brees gets injured on Sunday? Then you are stuck. Obviously, that's an extreme example, but you get my drift. The Fins are a huge surprise at 3-0 and already 2-0 on the road, but they will be exposed a bit in the dome.
Denver vs. Philadelphia: Do I think this game could be closer than the line? For sure. Although the Eagles defense appears ready to allow Peyton Manning 350 yards and four touchdowns -- maybe in the first half. But it's also a short week for Denver. This is must-watch TV with what may be the top total of the season.
Indianapolis at Jacksonville: This is very close to my trap game of the week. The Colts just had a huge win at San Francisco and likely are still feeling it as the Niners are one of the most physical teams in the NFL. The Jags figure to win at least a game or two (right?) and probably at home. They also won at Indy last year. We will find out if the Colts are true AFC contenders this week if they come out focused and dominate like they should.
Tennessee vs. NY Jets: How good of a coach is former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams? Now a defensive assistant with the Titans, he has turned the NFL's worst defense a year ago into a very good one so far in 2013. Williams should be able to bewilder Jets rookie Geno Smith, who has five picks and is completing less than 50 percent of his passes in the past two games.
Pittsburgh vs. Minnesota (London): Don't bother watching this matchup of 0-3 teams -- the London games are generally slopfests as it is. Not the best way to sell the sport, although this matchup looked good when it was announced. Maybe Le'Veon Bell is the savior for the Steelers. But Pittsburgh is a baseball town now!
Detroit vs. Chicago: Hey Nate Burleson, put the pizza boxes on the passenger slide floor and then you don't have to worry about them sliding off the seat!! Hello? Common sense? The Lions won't have their leading receiver -- yep, more catches than Calvin Johnson -- but get Reggie Bush back. The Bears lost Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton last week, and Peanut Tillman is nowhere near 100 percent. A healthy Tillman can and has neutralized Megatron. However, a 50 percent Tillman is going to get torched.
Baltimore at Buffalo: The Ravens defense looked terrible in the season opener, but that was all due to Peyton Manning, who might be on pace for 5,550-yard, 55-touchdown season. That Baltimore defense has looked great the past two weeks. Good luck, E.J. Manuel. Also, the Ravens are expecting Ray Rice back.
Cincinnati at Cleveland: The Bengals might be the AFC's second-best team outside of Denver. Last week's comeback victory over Green Bay was something. Not too often you win a game when allowing the opposition 30 straight points. I don't expect Hoyer to duplicate his success this week.
Atlanta vs. New England: I think the Patriots are a total fraud. They still haven't topped 23 points against dregs like Buffalo, the Jets and Tampa Bay. Rob Gronkowski if very “iffy” to debut this week, and Danny Amendola is almost surely out again. You should have known better if you took Tom Brady in the first round of your fantasy draft. He's averaging a league-low 5.50 yards per passing attempt. The desperate Falcons will win this going away.
Seattle at Houston: The Texans clearly are in the "good but not great" category again this season. They should be 0-3 instead of 2-1 and were totally outclassed last week at Baltimore. Arian Foster doesn't look right, and Andre Johnson will be a game-time decision Sunday. That's not good against the stellar Seattle defense.
Washington at Oakland: The best running quarterback in this game right now would be Terrelle Pryor and not Robert Griffin III. That's if Pryor plays. He's dealing with a concussion suffered in Monday night's loss. Otherwise it's Matt Flynn. I'd like the Skins much better in that scenario despite the worst defense in the NFL.
Kansas City vs. New York Giants: This would be my other trap candidate. Are the Chiefs as good as their 3-0 record? Probably not. The Giants as bad as they look? Doubtful, although that offensive line is pretty darn bad. Tom Coughlin's job might be on the line this week. Another effortless blowout as in Carolina last week and Coughlin won't be back in 2014 or maybe next week.
Tampa Bay vs. Arizona: The Mike Glennon era begins in Tampa Bay, and he looks like another Dan McGwire (i.e. tall and strong-armed but feet of stone). The Bucs would take a kicking tee right now in trade for Josh Freeman. I would think some contender with a lousy No. 2 QB might throw a seventh-rounder at the Bucs just to have Freeman as insurance the rest of this season. Or maybe someone like the Vikings or Browns would want Freeman in a half-season audition to see if he can be their future. Freeman will be a free agent after this season, so the Bucs may not get any offers. I still feel that Tampa Bay defense will be enough against the Cards. Maybe Glennon is Drew Bledsoe.
San Diego vs. Dallas: You could flip a coin here in my opinion. Both Tony Romo and Philip Rivers are playing well this season. San Diego could easily be 3-0 instead of 1-2. With three TD passes, Rivers will reach 200 for his career. Take the home team in such an even matchup.
St. Louis vs. San Francisco (Thursday): The Niners will likely be missing two of their best defensive players in Aldon Smith (for sure) and Patrick Willis as well as tight end Vernon Davis. Colin Kaepernick isn't quite Steve Young yet, is he? The Rams gave the Niners fits last year. Could we see another tie?
The last word: I obviously don't prefer picking against a 3-0 team in Saints-Dolphins, and I don't usually like looking ahead, but I'm saving Denver for Week 6 against the Jaguars. So New Orleans it is. Don't get on that Chiefs bandwagon quite yet.
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