It’s not whether you win or lose its how you …
Wait a minute: it’s ALL about whether you win or lose. All we did in this section last week was dish out winners and we are looking to do more of the same in Week 4 of the NFL season. Regardless of your individual plan of attack when it comes to your survivor pool, I am here to help you advance to Week 5 with a look at six games that need to be on your radar.
3 Locks: Minimizing the risk for people just looking to advance in their survivor pool.
Atlanta Falcons @ Minnesota Vikings
Teddy Bridgewater is going to be a fine NFL quarterback, but this is a tough spot to make a debut. Without the services of a proven running back, the Vikes are going to rely more on the rookie signal caller more than they want to, and that figures to be a major issue against a Falcons offense that Matt Ryan has functioning at a very high level. Minnesota’s defense projects similar to the Buccaneers or Saints (defenses that allowed Ryan to complete 77.6 percent of his passes for 734 yards, six touchdowns, and zero interceptions) more so than the Bengals (54.5 CMP%, 231 yards, one touchdown, and three interceptions), and with a picture perfect forecast, I’m not worried about this high-flying attack on the road. I hate picking indoor quarterbacks playing outside or teams with a below average defense, and while both of those situations are in play this week, I have a hard time seeing a less talented Minnesota team finding much success against a Falcons team that had 10 days (10.5 if you think Atlanta’s coaching staff began prepping for this game at half time of last week’s blowout of the Buccaneers) to prepare. Scoring 20 points would be a disappointing output for the Dirty Birds … and that’s four more points than the Vikings have scored over their last eight quarters.
New Orleans Saints @ Dallas Cowboys
It’s no secret that the Saints are an offensive juggernaut that thrives when playing inside, making a matchup against the Cowboys maybe the most inviting there could possibly be. Furthermore, New Orleans possesses a decided edge over every team in the NFL at the tight end position and nobody has more problems guarding the big play-makers than Dallas (Vernon Davis, Delanie Walker, and Jared Cook/Lance Kendricks have already lit them up this season). The Cowboys are the only team in the league that has employed the same workhorse running back for the first three weeks while ranking in the Top 5 in both team rush attempts and yards, but the Saints have been surprisingly effective when it comes to limiting opponents’ success on the ground (allowing just 3.0 yards per carry). Tony Romo and the Cowboys’ aerial attack has been at its best when defenses have to commit an extra defender to slow down DeMarco Murray (they’ve actually called eight more run plays this season than pass plays), but if that ground game fails to move the chains early, Romo is very capable of losing this game. At the end of the day, I think the Saints cured some of their ills last week and will put too much pressure on the Dallas offense to lose this potential shootout.
Tennessee Titans @ Indianapolis Colts
I’m not worried about the statistically solid Titans pass defense (third fewest pass yards allowed and only three touchdowns allowed); that’s what happens when you face the Chiefs (without Dwayne Bowe) and get dominated in the other two games. Andrew Luck is rolling (completing 68.3 percent of his passes with at least three scores in three consecutive games, the first time he has done that in his career) and this Colts offense has tallied 95 points up to this point. Much like the Falcons, I don’t love the defense here, but if the explosive offense can stake them to an early lead and force the Titans to abandon their physical run game (5.0 yards per carry), I’ll take my chances with them making Jake Locker uncomfortable (he’s graded out as one of the least efficient passers in all of football over the last 3-plus seasons when under pressure) and forcing a few turnovers. These two teams may have the same record, but they are headed in opposite directions.
2 Value Plays: There is risk involved with these picks, but the teams selected in this section are not going to be great survivor pool picks with regularity and this is a chance to use them.
New York Giants @ Washington Redskins
Speaking of pressure, it figures to be the difference in this Thursday night tilt as well. Eli Manning has been nothing short of elite this season when he has time in the pocket, he actually compares favorably to Andrew Luck, but when the pocket begins to close, Manning struggles. In fact, it’s worse than “struggle”, it’s more of a “panic”. I don’t think that’s breaking news and with the Redskins atop the league in sacks (10), it stands to reason that they will be able to generate a pass rush against this questionable offensive line. I love what Rashad Jennings has been able to do this season, but if Washington is attacking Manning, there is going to be very little room to run. On the flip side, I expect Alfred Morris to control tempo for an offense that ranks sixth in rushing attempts this season. The running game tends to thrive in these midweek affairs and I think Washington can dominate the line of scrimmage and force their will for all four quarters. If this is the case, look for Cousins to continue his efficient play against single coverage. Washington’s offense is built perfectly for Cousins, as he has a pair of pass-catchers in Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson that complement each other perfectly and a stable ground game, while the Giants lack consistency on both sides of the ball. This game may be close for a while, but I like the ‘Skins to get in the win column after a tough loss last week.
Detroit Lions @ New York Jets
How good did the Lions front seven look in shutting down the Packers? And that was against Aaron Rodgers on a full week of rest. This just in; Geno Smith … not Aaron Rodgers. The Chris Ivory/Chris Johnson duo runs hard and has the potential to control the game, but not against this front line. The Lions would love for opponents to try to run on them and that’s really all the Jets try to do. Smith has had his moments, but if the run game struggles, do you really trust him to go four quarters without making a bonehead decision, or two, or seven? It would take a near flawless game from the second year signal caller to defeat Matthew Stafford and the loaded Lions, something that is not likely to happen. Also, the Jets biggest strength is stopping the run, but with a pair of versatile backs, Detroit does not rely on a traditional run game to balance their top notch passing attack. Even if you consider the Jets defense and the Lions offense a wash (I don’t, but I’d listen to the argument), there is little doubt in my mind that the Lions defense wins the matchup with the Jets offense, thus giving them the advantage. It’s also worth noting that the Jets played on Monday night and will thus have one less day of practice/recovery time.
1 Shocker Special: Looking to save not only the great teams but also the average teams in your survivor pool? This is the section for you, as winners mentioned in this portion have a rare chance to earn a victory.
Jacksonville Jaguars @ San Diego Chargers
The Jags have been unable to establish any sort of reputable run game this season and are now throwing a rookie quarterback to the wolves, as Blake Bortles prepares to make his first professional start after relieving Chad Henne at halftime last week. It may not sound like the ideal situation, but there are a few aspects of this matchup that I like. First and foremost, the Chargers have an average at best pass rush that hasn’t been able to get to the quarterback with consistency this season (they rank below average in sacks per pass attempt) and ranked as the eighth worst unit in 2013. They also have yet to intercept a pass this season, and that’s saying something when you consider that they have faced Carson Palmer and E.J. Manuel already. In their two victories this season, the Chargers have held the ball for 28 more minutes than their opponents, a trend that could be in danger as they enter this game without either Ryan Mathews or Danny Woodhead. The Jags are giving up just 3.79 yards per carry to starting running backs this season, and if they can limit the effectiveness of Donald Brown (31 carries for 62 yards last week against the Bills) and get off the field on third down (something they’ve actually done at a better rate than the 49ersor Seahawks this season), I think they can keep this close and give Bortles an opportunity to make a play down the stretch. I maintain my stance that this defense isn’t nearly as poor as the statistics bear out thus far (119 points allowed) and think they can hold the Chargers below 25 points, meaning they are a big play (or some semblance of a ground game) away from stealing this one.