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Thursday, 1 October 2015

NFL Week 4 Picks 2015 (October 1-5)

I can't believe we have already reached the first quarter of the NFL regular season as teams begin their bye weeks and the first game of three to be played in London will kick off on Sunday. That does mean it is a longer day for the NFL fans in the United States as the London game is kicking off at 1:30pm local time, 9:30am on Eastern Time and an eye-watering time of 6:30am on Pacific Time.

The game involves two AFC East rivals so I can't imagine too many people get up particularly early on the West coast for the game, but I am going to be interested to see what kind of numbers the game gets in terms of viewers both in local areas and on the East coast.

The Miami Dolphins do have a big European following, but the game is going up big European football (soccer) games and I would be interested to see the numbers Sky television have against the Merseyside derby and the Arsenal versus Manchester United game.

Last season the early kick off in the Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons game did do big numbers in the United States and probably played a big part in the three games in London all being played at 1:30pm this time around. Next season the test will be playing games on back to back weeks, which couldn't be done because of the Rugby World Cup this season, as the NFL gauges the interest in putting a permanent franchise in London and whether fans are willing to pay for blocks of games in a short period of time.

I have put up my Week 3 Recap which includes the Top Ten and Bottom Five Power Ranking as well as thoughts about Ben Roethlisberger's injury, the improved NFC South compared with 2014, the improving Oakland Raiders and whether Joe Philbin should still be Head Coach of the Miami Dolphins. That can be read here.

Week 4 Picks
Week 3 has proved to be a very good one for the picks and that can be read on the Week 3 Recap link which was placed above.

The Week 4 schedule begins with a big AFC North game on Thursday Night Football and the picks for the entire schedule will come through over the next three days which will be added here as they are locked in.

Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers Pick: There are a couple of factors at play in this AFC North game which is huge for both the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers as they try to keep alive their post-season ambitions.

The Baltimore Ravens are in a desperate spot as they dropped to 0-3 for the first time in franchise history last weekend and another loss would likely be the end for them. The Pittsburgh Steelers have the more positive record at 2-1, but lost Ben Roethlisberger for the next month at least and are trying to stay in contention in the AFC North with back up Michael Vick at Quarter Back and knowing the Cincinnati Bengals are already 3-0.

Since Big Ben went down, Pittsburgh have gone from favourites to pretty hefty home underdogs here and the trend of how teams have performed with a back up Quarter Back in his first start can't be ignored. Last week that went 1-1 as New Orleans Saints covered, but Dallas Cowboys failed to, although the latter blew a huge lead.

It still covers around 65% of the time over the last five years and now we are getting a full Field Goal in favour of the home team. Michael Vick might not be the athlete he was in his prime with the Atlanta Falcons, but he has some big Offensive weapons around him, while the Baltimore Ravens are banged up Defensively. Vick can still throw a very strong football and Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell are big players in the supporting cast that can make things easier for the Quarter Back.

Establishing a running game won't be easy against this Defensive Line, but Bell is a very capable Receiver out of the backfield and I think the Ravens are struggling enough in the Secondary for the Steelers to still get their points in this one.

The Pittsburgh Steelers Defense has also played better than expected as they have managed to get plenty of pressure up front, while the Defensive Line has controlled teams from running the ball. Joe Flacco has got the ball out of his hands quickly, but his Receivers are banged up outside of the veteran Steve Smith and the Steelers will be forcing him to throw from third and long which builds its own pressure.

I honestly think Pittsburgh can still get enough points on the board to win this game outright and getting as many as three points looks very generous. Baltimore are desperate in their 0-3 hole, but teams do tend to rally around back up Quarter Backs making their first start.

Michael Vick has to avoid the turnovers that have blighted his game over the last few seasons, but the support from his Offensive playmakers should help him out, while Terrell Suggs' injury for Baltimore just takes away a huge pass rusher for the Baltimore Ravens.

Teams rallying around their back up Quarter Back is one thing, but Pittsburgh are also 5-1 against the spread when set as the home underdog in recent seasons. I like the home team with the points in this one, although only for a single unit because of Michael Vick's turnover issues and the fact he is facing a desperate team on a short week with little preparation time.

New York Jets @ Miami Dolphins Pick: Technically the Miami Dolphins are the home team, but this game is being played at Wembley Stadium in London where the Dolphins are only less accustomed to playing than the Jacksonville Jaguars. This is the third time Miami will have played in London since the International Series began in England in 2007 and the second season in a row they will be in London for Week 4 of the NFL season.

There are more similarities as the Dolphins come into the game at 1-2 and Joe Philbin is facing big questions as to whether he is the right Head Coach to take the team further. Last season Miami responded in the right way against the Oakland Raiders, who ironically fired Dennis Allen in the wake of that loss, but failure to win this year might mean it is Philbin being left that side of the pond on Sunday evening.

It does seem a strange decision for Miami to give up a Divisional home game for a game in London, but the NFL have made it clear that those looking to host the Super Bowl have to be prepared to give up a home game for London. Plus it doesn't hurt that Miami have lost their last three in South Florida against the New York Jets so perhaps a change in venue works for a 'home' game.

The fanbase are on the Miami backs at the moment so being away from that toxic environment, well toxic as a half empty Stadium can be, might work for the team. Miami have been very good as a small underdog going 24-13-3 as an underdog of three points or fewer in the last few years and everyone seems to be righting off a team that was expected to challenge in the AFC East.

Miami are desperate and the short passes Ryan Tannehill thrives on might work against a New York Jets Defense that is playing better than perhaps advertised. Plus they are going against Ryan Fitzpatrick who is never far away from completely falling apart and he might have a banged up Chris Ivory running the ball and only Brandon Marshall as a trusted Receiver.

Erik Decker has made the trip but is limited in practice after missing last week and while I expect Marshall to have a big game, the Dolphins have had success shutting down the Jets rushing Offense in the past. New York are just 8-14-1 against the spread as the favourite in a Divisional game in recent years while they are 3-8 against the spread when coming off a loss where they were favoured.

There aren't many points being given to the underdog in this one, but Miami have experience of playing in London, are in desperate mode and have thrived as the underdog while the Jets have struggled as the favourite.

This spread could easily move up to 2 or even 2.5 points by Sunday morning as the only game kicking off at 9:30am Eastern Time especially if the public stick with the favourite. However, I'll put it down now at the 1.5 point mark in anticipation of a Miami win this week.

New York Giants @ Buffalo Bills Pick: There is a huge Hurricane Joaquin off the east coast of the United States that might have a big effect on Buffalo in the coming days, but not until after Week 4 is in the books.

After coming off two Divisional games and also playing a pre-season hot Super Bowl tip, the Buffalo Bills 'only' have a non-Conference game this week and it might be tough for them to be ready emotionally. Players are humans and you have to think this a spot where Buffalo's players can take a breath after three tough, emotional games where they have gone 2-1.

LeSean McCoy is likely absent, although Karlos Williams has shown he has something in the tank already in his first three NFL games, while Sammy Watkins is also expected to miss this game. The New York Giants have actually been pretty stout against the run, but Tyrod Taylor will see holes in the Secondary that he has shown he can exploit as the Quarter Back has exceeded all expectations.

Some will point out that this is a non-Conference game for the Giants too who are missing Victor Cruz after he had a setback in practice, but they've had ten days to prepare for the game and the Offense has been rolling without Cruz all season. Eli Manning has played well, aside from the mental mistakes when it has come to clock management, and the Buffalo Secondary has not been up to the level expected.

I think Odell Beckham, Rueben Randle, Dwayne Harris and Larry Donnell all are targets that can win their battles for Manning, while that might also create a little more running room for Rashad Jennings.

The Giants are also 1-2 on the season so this game means more to them than Buffalo and New York are 14-10 against the spread as the road underdog in their last twenty-four games. New York are also 3-0 against the spread following a Thursday Night Football game and the injuries to Buffalo plus the spot can't be ignored at all.

One last trend that I read was brilliantly researched and favours the Giants here- teams that began the season 0-2 and won in Week 3 have gone 32-10 against the spread in their next game when they are set as the underdog.

As long as Eli Manning keeps away from the turnovers, I think the Giants keep this one close if they can't win outright.

Carolina Panthers @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers Pick: One of the big public plays of the weekend are going to be the Carolina Panthers who have moved to 3-0 despite losing a couple of big pieces of their team on both sides of the ball. Kelvin Benjamin was lost in pre-season, but Charles Johnson was injured last week and is out until Week 12 at the earliest.

Jared Allen has been traded from the Chicago Bears since then and will comfortably move into the 4-3 Defense run by Ron Rivera and Cam Newton has been playing very well.

I can understand why the Panthers are being backed so heavily because they have won 3 of their last 4 visits to Tampa Bay, while the Buccaneers are 7-18 against the spread as the home underdog in recent years.

The Buccaneers have been hit and miss under the guidance of Jameis Winston as the rookie Quarter Back has struggled for consistency. However, he wasn't helped by his Kicker missing Field Goals in the loss to the Houston Texans last weekend, but the improving health of Mike Evans is a big deal for him.

Unfortunately for Winston, he is unlikely to get too much support from the rushing game which means he is forced to throw from third and long situations against a Defense that has an effective pass rush. The Offensive Line has struggled to protect Winston who is still guilty for perhaps holding the ball a touch too long and the Panthers Defense will believe they can turn the ball over a couple of times in this one.

Tampa Bay's Defense has been strong against the run themselves, but dealing with Cam Newton is a different story and the Quarter Back has led the Panthers to 4 straight wins in this Divisional rivalry. Newton will make enough plays with his legs and to his limited Receiver corps which isn't great outside of Greg Olsen and I expect them to move the chains more effectively than Tampa Bay.

The Panthers are just 3-6 against the spread as the road favourite in recent games, but they are 4-1 agains the spread in games where they are favoured by three points or fewer. I hate the fact that line looks too short though and the fact the public are all over it, but Carolina are the better team and should win this one by at least seven points.

Houston Texans @ Atlanta Falcons Pick: From one heavily backed public favourite, I am moving towards opposing another as I like the Houston Texans with what looks like too many points against the Atlanta Falcons.

For the third straight week, the Atlanta Falcons recovered from a deficit to win a game they perhaps should not have done and this is a team that could easily be 0-3 rather than 3-0. Those wins against the NFC East has put this team in a strong position in the NFC South, but this is a non-Conference game and perhaps they are not as focused as they should be.

Plus I really think the Houston Texans are the first team that are going to get a consistent pressure on the Offensive Line of the Falcons and see if they can pressure Matt Ryan to look in a different direction than Julio Jones. The Wide Receiver has been immense for Atlanta all season and Jonathan Joseph is banged up for the Texans so he can have a big game, but pressurising Ryan can at least slow down the Falcons.

Devonta Freeman is off his best career game, but this Houston Defensive Line is unlikely to see him get loose as he did against Dallas and I think the Texans can give Ryan Mallett and the Offense every chance of keeping this close.

Mallett hasn't exactly been perfect at Quarter Back and a better performance might have seen Houston beat Carolina in Week 2, but he did lead them to a win last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He has been nervous taking his chances which isn't helped by his Offensive Line struggling in protection, but the Falcons have a Secondary that can be burned as Brandon Weeden showed last week and don't have the pass rush that some other teams Houston have faced do have.

I also can see Alfred Blue having another decent game in relief of the injured Arian Foster as Atlanta have struggled to stop the ground game, giving up 4.8 yards per carry. That should see Houston moving the chains effectively too and barring any Fourth Quarter miracles from Atlanta, this looks a close game.

One concern is the Thursday Night Football game Houston are scheduled for this week against Divisional rival Indianapolis, but they are 6-2-1 against the spread when set as an underdog of between 3.5 and 9.5 points since 2013. Atlanta are also just 3-6 against the spread as the home favourite in their last nine games in that spot which becomes 1-5 against the spread against non-Divisional rivals as the home favourite.

Almost a Touchdown worth of points looks too much here and I will back the Texans to cover even if they end up on the wrong side of the loss.

Kansas City Chiefs @ Cincinnati Bengals Pick: If the NFL decided that every Play Off game will kick off at 1pm Eastern Time, I don't know if anyone would be favoured to beat Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals. Perhaps if the season was switched so the Play Offs are played in September would also help as the Bengals seem to be at their best early in the season and their 3-0 start makes them a big favourite to win the AFC North.

They can put their foot down in the Division having seen their nearest rivals Pittsburgh lose on Thursday Night Football and now they face the Kansas City Chiefs off a short week. Andy Reid is being questioned about the wisdom of sticking with Alex Smith at Quarter Back after consecutive defeats when Smith looks uncomfortable taking a chance and that has seen a really poor third down conversion rate from Kansas City.

There are some big weapons at his disposal so Smith can't really complain too much about anything other than his own play. He might also point to the Jamaal Charles fumble which cost Kansas City a 2-0 start, although it wouldn't be wise to throw the best Offensive player under the bus. Charles will be effective despite Cincinnati's strength against the run to open the season because the Running Back can catch the ball and make plenty of yards after the catch too.

However, it will be tough for the Chiefs to move the chains consistently because the Offensive Line has been porous and now face an effective pass rush. Smith will be under pressure all day and throwing out of third and long, which looks likely for much of the day, is not where Kansas City want to be and is exactly why their conversion rate is so horrific on third down.

Andy Dalton has been the poster boy for those who like criticising Quarter Backs, but he has been very solid in 2015 to open the season. It does feel Dalton is under pressure to bring his regular season success into the Play Offs, but for now he isn't showing that he is feeling the tension and he should be able to get AJ Green going again this week.

Sean Smith has returned from suspension which is huge for the Kansas City Secondary giving up almost 290 yards per game through the air, but Dalton has been given time by his Offensive Line and should be able to make plays. Of course Tamba Hali and Justin Houston are a pass rush like very few out there and have gotten to Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers effectively, but Dalton will be confident in making the plays needed.

This Bengals teams is 9-3-1 against the spread in the last thirteen games as the home favourite and they are 6-1-1 against the spread in those games against non-Divisional teams. A Conference game should keep Cincinnati focused instead of looking forward to the Seattle Seahawks game next week and Kansas City are coming in on a short week.

It feels like changes are in the offing at Kansas City and I didn't like the body language in the loss to the Green Bay Packers when they were well out of the game by the Third Quarter. Cincinnati have been a covering machine in these 1pm Eastern Time games and I like them to cover in this one.

Green Bay Packers @ San Francisco 49ers Pick: It feels a lifetime ago that the San Francisco 49ers were one of the best teams in the NFC and rolling to four consecutive wins over the Green Bay Packers. Some of Colin Kaepernick's best moments in the NFL have come at the expense of the Packers and short week or not, Aaron Rodgers doesn't strike me as someone who will forget easily.

It is easy to suggest the Green Bay performance from the Third Quarter of the win over the Kansas City Chiefs was with this game fully on the mind of the team and I am looking for a big game from the former California Golden Bear.

Rodgers should be able to do that too against a San Francisco team that is going through a transition on both sides of the ball, but who have lost some many leaders on the Defensive side. After beating the Minnesota Vikings on the opening week of the season, it seemed like those departures had been forgotten but fans have quickly been reminded in blowout losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals.

There is simply not enough pressure up front and that means Quarter Backs like Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Palmer have been able to carve up the Secondary. Aaron Rodgers might have lost Jordy Nelson, but still has enough weapons to do that this week and I expect this is going to be his best game in terms of yardage of the season and I wouldn't be surprised if he matches the five Touchdowns he threw last week against Kansas City.

The Quarter Back strikes me as someone who doesn't forget being slighted as evidenced by his decision to talk about his Draft Day woes. San Francisco had the Number 1 Pick that year and chose Alex Smith over Rodgers and I this is a team he has been desperate to embarrass and I don't think he'll ever have a better chance to do that on the road.

San Francisco won't be steamrolled without offering some more fight than they have in their last couple of games. Carlos Hyde should have success establishing the run and Green Bay know all about Colin Kaepernick's ability to get out of the pocket and make gains with his legs. We haven't seen too much of that this season, but I expect the game plan will be to keep the ball on the ground after too many Interceptions have been thrown from the Quarter Back.

While I think San Francisco will have success while running the ball, Green Bay may simply load the box and force the 49ers to go to the air from where their pass rush has been effective. The Offensive Line hasn't protected Kaepernick well at all this season, although his throws have been questionable to say the least and the 49ers can't afford to fall into a big hole else I can't see them coming back at all.

There are a couple of questions about the spread that need to be answered- Green Bay simply aren't as good as road favourite as a home one, while San Francisco haven't been set as a home underdog since 2011 while they are 2-0-1 against the spread in that spot prior to this game.

However I look for angry Aaron Rodgers to take out his frustration of back to back Play Off defeats to San Francisco at the end of the 2012 and 2013 seasons by making a point here. San Francisco are down after back to back beatings and I look for Aaron Rodgers to rub some salt in the wounds.

St Louis Rams @ Arizona Cardinals Pick: I invited everyone onto the Arizona Cardinals bandwagon last week after another destructive win in the first three weeks of the season. Unfortunately it looks like everyone has jumped on board and they look to be the most heavily backed public team of the weekend, but I don't think it is time to jump off just yet.

The line is dead on the seven point mark and this is a second Divisional game in a row, but importantly the Arizona Cardinals are home where they have been dominant over the Bruce Arians era. Carson Palmer is healthy and Arians isn't someone who will call off the dogs when he thinks he has an opponent down and he makes that clear even in games with a big lead like last week against the San Francisco 49ers.

This isn't just a normal game for Arians and Palmer either- remember this is the game where Palmer was lost for the season last year and I imagine both Head Coach and Quarter Back have far from forgotten about that. Palmer might have made a joke in relation to that injury, but Arizona will be looking for another big Divisional win to make a statement.

Arizona have crushed St Louis the last two times they have hosted them, beating them by 20 and 17 points in those games. However, I think the Offensive Line has the biggest test of the season this week against the Rams vaunted pass rush, although Palmer doesn't hold onto the ball that long. He also has some big weapons in the passing game, while Chris Johnson has established a running game and should be able to keep the Offense in third and manageable spots as St Louis looks to focus on clamping down on the passing game.

It won't deter Bruce Arians from dialling up the deep ball either and I like the Cardinals to get very close to the thirty points they have put up against the Rams the last two times in the desert.

Todd Gurley is going to get more reps for St Louis this week, but I am not sure the First Round pick is going to get uncorked here. The Cardinals have been very effective at controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and won't allow St Louis to establish a running game but will force Nick Foles to beat them through the air.

The Cardinals have dialled up some effective pressure which saw Colin Kaepernick make big mistakes last week and I can see them bamboozling Foles too. He isn't surrounded by the weapons he had in Philadelphia and the Offensive Line hasn't protected him as Foles would have liked, while playing from behind hasn't worked out too well for teams in Arizona.

This is a ball-hawking Secondary that might take the ball from St Louis, even if Foles has been careful so far, and I think Arizona pull away as they have the last two times against the Rams at home.

Bruce Arians has guided his team to a 9-2-1 record against the spread as the home favourite and improved to 3-1 against the spread as the home favourite in Divisional games last week. One cool trend is Arizona have also improved to 7-0 against the spread when scoring 30 points or more the previous week as Arians doesn't ask his team to take a backward step following a strong performance Offensively.

St Louis are 5-9 against the spread as the road underdog over the last two seasons and while they will have some success Defensively, I think Arizona continue their run of big wins.

MY PICKS: Pittsburgh Steelers + 3 Points @ 1.91 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Miami Dolphins + 1.5 Points @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
New York Giants + 5.5 Points @ 1.85 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Carolina Panthers - 3 Points @ 1.91 Coral (2 Units)
Houston Texans + 6.5 Points @ 1.95 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Cincinnati Bengals - 3.5 Points @ 1.95 Coral (2 Units)
Green Bay Packers - 7.5 Points @ 1.91 Coral (2 Units)
Arizona Cardinals - 7 Points @ 2.05 Bet Victor (2 Units)

Week 3: 8-2, + 9.03 Units
Week 24-5, - 1.71 Units
Week 15-2-1, + 6.46 Units

Season 201517-9-1, + 13.78 Units
Season 201477-80-2, - 8.47 Units
Season 201386-70-2, + 22.27 Units
Season 2012- 4.78 Units

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