Please, a round of applause for the returning refs.
The proper officials got a very healthy ovation in Baltimore Thursday night as Week 4 in the NFL kicked off. Finally, the powers that be have seen fit to reach an agreement that means those refs and umps from Division III college ball no longer get to grace the sidelines. Coaches, players, analysts and fans alike sit jubilant in the knowledge that they’ll be no more debacles like Monday night in Seattle. Fingers crossed.
But just because the officials are back, you shouldn’t expect the drama to die down and order restored. The upset-friendly 2012 NFL season continues with everybody wondering who’s going to get knocked off next.
New England Patriots @ Buffalo Bills
First up on our list of potential upsets is the Patriots’ visit to upstate New York.
New England (1-2, 1-1 road) lost a controversial one to Baltimore last Sunday night, with the winning Ravens field goal seemingly passing above the post. An enraged Patriots side – and in particular the ref-grabbing Bill Belichick – will be looking to break out of a two-game skid this week.
Buffalo (2-1, 1-0 home) on the other hand enters the game on the back of two wins. The Bills troubles of Week 1 are forgotten for the time being at least.
As you’d expect, the Patriots enter this one as favorites (-4½) but this game might not pan out how it’s supposed to. Remember, the Bills handed the Patriots their first loss last season, at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Patriots led that game 21-0 before losing by a field goal. Perhaps more notably was Tom Brady’s four interceptions. How often does that happen?
A repeat of last year would put a serious downer on an already down Pats side. Ultimately though, take New England to win this one on a dominant performance that beats the spread. Whilst their backs aren’t quite against the wall yet, this is a team with a message to send.
That being said, take the under on the 51 points being offered.
New Orleans Saints @ Green Bay Packers
The Packers are seething. The controversial ‘call heard around the world’ that gave Seattle a last-second win has left a very bitter taste in the mouth. In a bid to move onwards, Green Bay (1-2, 1-1 home) hosts New Orleans (0-3, 0-1 road). Of course, the Saints are in quite the predicament themselves.
This contest at Lambeau Field is a tough one to predict. It has been for the past few years, with two of the league’s top quarterbacks colliding. This year is even tougher to pick a winner because of the circumstances surrounding the game.
It makes sense to take the Packers – who are eight point favorites – on the grounds that the team is pissed and looking to hurt somebody. But…
The Saints are already at that back-against-the-wall stage. Whilst an 0-3 start doesn’t eliminate New Orleans from contention, especially behind Drew Brees’ arm, losing four straight could break the backbone. That goes double when you consider the schedule the Saints face (San Diego, Tampa Bay, Denver, Philadelphia, and Atlanta make up the next five alone).
So we’re left with two teams that really want to win and probably both need to win.
The Saints haven’t lost by more than a touchdown this season – they may be 0-3 but it’s a close 0-3, if there is such a thing – so take them to beat the spread. Also go over on the 53½ over/under. Why wouldn’t this one be a shootout? So who wins outright? Go with the Packers. Just.
Elsewhere in the League
Week 4 features what should be considered a very strong card of bouts. There’s plenty of intriguing matchups, and you wouldn’t bet against a host of teams finishing the week 2-2, returning to the bizarre scenario we had after Week 2 when 20 teams had even records. Quickly, here are some of the games to keep an eye on.
Take the Giants (2-1, 1-0 road) to defeat Philadelphia (2-1, 1-0 home) in a narrow upset. Philadelphia has had some real skin-of-the-teeth moments. The Giants will be looking to step up.
Take San Francisco (2-1, 1-1 road) to beat the Jets (2-1, 1-0 home) at MetLife, making amends for last week’s loss to Minnesota while casting a few more Rockefeller-sized doubts over the Jets. The Niners’ should beat the spread (-3) also.
Take Arizona (3-0, 2-0 home) to advance to 4-0 after a win over Miami (1-2, 0-1 road). The Cards were grossly underrated ahead of the season and Miami is still struggling behind Ryan Tannehill.
Washington (1-2, 1-1 road) could upset Tampa Bay (1-2, 1-0 home) so that’s definitely worth a look.
And believe it or not, Cincinnati (2-1, 1-1 road) needs to be on upset watch as they visit Jacksonville (1-2, 0-1 home). The Bengals have yet to stop the run this season while Maurice Jones-Drew chalked up 177 yards alone against the Colts last week. Actually, Jacksonville is really worth the bet this week.
Elsewhere, expect Atlanta, Houston, Seattle and Denver to avoid upsets. Detroit could be on thin ice against Minnesota while San Diego and Kansas City will play a typically tight AFC West game.
Week 4 Schedule
Thursday: Baltimore 23-16 Cleveland
Sunday: (1 PM ET) Carolina @ Atlanta | New England @ Buffalo | Minnesota @ Detroit | San Diego @ Kansas City | Seattle @ St. Louis | San Francisco @ NY Jets | Tennessee @ Houston; (4:05 PM ET) Cincinnati @ Jacksonville | Miami @ Arizona | Oakland @ Denver; (4:25 PM ET) New Orleans @ Green Bay | Washington @ Tampa Bay; (8:20 PM ET) NY Giants @ Philadelphia
Monday: (8:30 PM ET) Chicago @ Dallas