The NFC East may not berth a Super Bowl contender, but it may be the closest division in football. After being a shambolic wasteland in 2015, three of the division’s teams are in the playoff hunt with the fourth on the cusp.
Philadelphia is the team that everyone (myself included) was dead wrong about. I wrote that the Browns were a lock against them in Week 1 with the game in Philly. It’s unclear whether or not Carson Wentz is a star, but he’s proven himself to be a Dilfer Zone quarterback at minimum after ranking fifth in DYAR and fourth in DVOA through three weeks. Defensively, the Eagles have the best unit in the division, ranking second in DVOA. If Wentz can keep playing well as the season goes on and the Eagles’ skill position troubles don’t catch up to them, they will win the division.
However, their skill positions are a potentially major issue. Jordan Matthews has been inconsistent at best while both Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham have turned in below-average performances by PFF grading. They ran the ball last week, but if Ryan Mathews isn’t healthy coming out of the bye, it’s tough to see that continuing with Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood and Kenjon Barner splitting carries.
The Cowboys have survived well without Tony Romo, but there are clear holes in their roster right now. Left guard La’El Collins was put on IR and All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith may miss his second straight week with injury. With Dez Bryant suffering a hairline fracture in his knee that he may or may not play through, their offense suddenly looks as thin as the defense, which has utterly failed to produce a pass rush and is missing numerous players with suspension and injury. If Dallas can continue to survive these injuries, they can win the division and make noise in the playoffs once everyone is back. However, that’s far from a guarantee, even with Prescott playing well.
If Eli Manning doesn’t fall apart like he did last week and the defense continues to play well, the Giants will win this division. Both of those things are far from guarantees—Manning has been known to implode and the defense is teetering on the edge of average by DVOA. However, if both occur, New York is a borderline Super Bowl contender. With Sterling Shepard emerging as a threat for Offensive Rookie of the Year, their receiving corps is one of the best in football and Ben McAdoo’s system, they can move the ball. As long as their defense holds up, they can contend.
Washington is on the outside looking in, but if things go well for them this week, that will change. Kirk Cousins is a question mark, but the bar isn’t that high given how he performed last season. The Redskins have great pieces across the offense—particularly in the receiving corps and at left tackle with Trent Williams—but their defense will be an issue. They currently rank 25th in defensive DVOA and DAVE—if things don’t get better on that unit it will prevent the Redskins from getting back into the mix for long.
On to the picks.
Week 4 Picks
Vegas Insiders’ consensus lines are used. Home teams listed in CAPS.
BENGALS -7.5 over Dolphins: Here are the Bengals’ next five opponents: Miami, Dallas (road), New England (road), Cleveland, Washington. Outside of New England, they should win all of those games. If they do, Cincinnati will go into their bye week at 5-3 and their second-half schedule isn’t that tough either. The only thing that slightly worries me this week is the Bengals’ offensive line, which struggled badly last week against Denver. However, as good as Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake are, Miami’s front doesn’t compare to that of the reigning Super Bowl champs.
Jaguars +2.5 over Colts (N): The best thing the NFL could do to drive up interest in Europe is to stop giving them terrible games. They should make a rule that at least one team in every London game has to have made the playoffs the previous year because the most interesting thing about this matchup is seeing which coach gets fired afterward.
REDSKINS -7.5 over Browns: Terrelle Pryor did some interesting Terrelle Pryor things last week, but with Cleveland’s practice squad defense, I think we’re in for a Washington blowout, then a week of “Kirk Cousins is back” stories. Also, betting on the Browns when the spread is less than one score seems dubious at best.
PATRIOTS -4.5 over Bills: This line will move once we find out whether Jimmy Garoppolo or Jacoby Brissett is New England’s starting quarterback this week, but frankly I don’t care. After last week, there’s almost nothing that would make me pick against the Patriots for the rest of this season. Bill Belichick is the best coach of all-time and I think there is a very real chance the Patriots go 19-0. I picked them to win the Super Bowl before the season started and they have blown away my expectations.
JETS +2.5 over Seahawks: At this point, it’s clear that Russell Wilson’s injury is having a large effect on his play and I can’t see him sustaining effectiveness for 60 minutes against the Jets’ defensive front. Center Justin Britt is the only Seattle offensive lineman with a PFF grade over 51.7 right now. Putting that group up against a pass rush including Sheldon Richardson, Leonard Williams and Muhammad Wilkerson with an injured quarterback under center is close to negligence.
FALCONS +3 over Panthers: I think this game is a stay-away, but gun-to-my-head, I’m taking Atlanta. FiveThirtyEight’s Elo ratings have the Panthers at just one point favorites and given that Carolina had the league’s easiest schedule by Football Outsiders’ metrics last season, I think there’s a solid chance they’re a good-bad team. They should have beaten Minnesota last week and instead the Panthers were dominated by their defense and seemed to miss Jonathan Stewart badly. It’s worth remembering that the team started to struggle last season after Stewart got hurt with a near-miss against the Giants and a loss in Atlanta. In the Super Bowl, he had his worst game of the season, rushing for just 29 yards, so he may be more integral to their chances than one would expect.
Lions -3 over BEARS: I have no idea how Chicago’s secondary is going to stop teams with Kyle Fuller going on IR this week. The Lions have a deep receiving corps and Matthew Stafford can spread the ball around with ease against one of the worst teams in football
TEXANS -5 over Titans: I didn’t understand why the Titans were favored last week and I don’t understand why Houston isn’t favored by a touchdown this week. Anyone who thinks the Titans are a remotely decent football team needs to look over to the sideline and understand that they have one of the worst coaches in football. Sure, they’ve been able to run the ball, but, as Mike Mularkey fails to understand, running the ball is not how you win football games. The only justification for this line is that the public has overreacted to Houston’s embarrassing performance on national TV last week, in which case they become an even smarter play.
Raiders +3.5 over RAVENS: Baltimore is intriguing, but I’m not sure how much of their success is schedule-driven. The Ravens have played three bad offenses and two bad quarterbacks thus far and their defense has looked good. I’d like to see them do play well against another decent quarterback in Derek Carr and I’d like to see their offense look anything but catatonic against Oakland’s poor defense before I jump on the bandwagon.
Broncos -3 over BUCCANEERS: I was going to pick the Bucs in this game but then I remembered that Donovan Smith and Demar Dotson are their starting tackles. They will be unable to stop Denver’s pass rush and I’m not sure their defense is the one to make Trevor Siemian quake. FiveThirtyEight’s Elo spread has a five-point gap with this number in Denver’s favor as well, so the Broncos are quite clearly the safe pick.
Cowboys -2.5 over 49ERS: Dak Prescott has convinced me that he can, at minimum, be a Dilfer Zone quarterback. Despite injuries across the offensive line, I expect them to trounce San Francisco this week simply because the 49ers are terrible. There might not be another team more ill-equipped to take advantage of the Cowboys’ defense—which ranks 23rd in DVOA—than the 49ers, who have almost no talent whatsoever at skill positions beyond Torrey Smith.
Saints +4 over CHARGERS: I’ll bet against the Chargers at home every chance I get before they move to L.A. because San Diego is getting a 3-point advantage in the spread that doesn’t reflect their lack of a home-field advantage. I’m not worried about Drew Brees playing outdoors since the weather will be nice and he played in San Diego for the first five seasons of his career and New Orleans can move the ball against the Chargers’ defense, or lack thereof.
CARDINALS -8.5 over Rams: If the Cardinals lose this game, then something might be wrong, but I can’t see Carson Palmer playing so badly again, nor can I see Bruce Arians rolling out such a predictable gameplan again. I mean, it’s not like he’s Jeff Fisher or anything.
Chiefs +5 over STEELERS: This is my Lock of the Week. FiveThirtyEight’s Elo spread has the Steelers as just 1.5-point favorites and I think Kansas City wins outright. Marcus Peters’ chances against Antonio Brown are better than most and the offense Doug Pederson runs in Philadelphia is obviously similar to what Andy Reid runs in Kansas City. The Steelers are 26th in defensive DVOA and 23rd in defensive DAVE thus far while Kansas City is top-5 in both categories. Ryan Fitzpatrick was pretty bad on his own against the Chiefs last week, but the defense should be given some credit for the worst-quarterbacked game I’ve ever seen. KC has the edge on both sides of the ball and this could be a decisive victory for them.
VIKINGS -4.5 over Giants: I’ve gone back and forth on this, but Minnesota’s pass rush terrifies me as a Giants fan. The Vikings decimated Michael Oher last week and it’s not hard at all to see them doing the same to Ereck Flowers this week, even after a string of encouraging games for the second-year player. New York may do the same thing to T.J. Clemmings and Andre Smith on the other end, but, well, I’d rather be cautious than overconfident.
Last Week: 6-10-0
All stats are from pro-football-reference.com, footballoutsiders.com or profootballfocus.com unless otherwise noted
 If you’re unsure what that means, it’s a team that beats up on bad teams, and then loses against good teams.
 If you like bad offensive line play, you are going to love this game.