NFL Week 4 game picks: Panthers stay perfect; Saints rebound

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Backup quarterbacks rule the day ...

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... or, at least, start the day. How long does the Cowboys' Brandon Weeden have in New Orleans? What if Jimmy Clausen has to go again for the Bears? Ditto Luke McCown for the Saints, although I think Drew Brees will play. Do we still consider the Jets' Ryan Fitzpatrick a backup? And of course, Mike Vick will be running out there with the Steelers on Thursday night.

Early in the year, Tyrod Taylor was considered a third-stringer -- he wasn't even the primary backup in Buffalo. EJ Manuel and Matt Cassel (now behind Weeden in Dallas) were supposed to be competing for what is now Taylor's gig. On that note ...

To quote Sam Kinison in "Back to School" ... good answer ... good answer. Jeff Hostetler will not be trotting out there for the Giants, but like Eli Manning and Phil Simms, he did win a Super Bowl for Big Blue. Giants at Bills is one of the many Super Bowl rematches -- they faced off in Super Bowl XXV -- this season, but the only one this week.

As for the rest of the games, see the results below. You'll see a few teams will be staying undefeated. And as always, feel free to share your take on any or all ... @HarrisonNFL is the place.

Elliot Harrison went 12-4 on his predictions for Week 3, giving him a record of 28-20 so far this season. How will he fare in Week 4? His picks are below.

New York should simply follow the blueprint it has established for winning games: run the football, lean on a defense that is a general mismatch for any offense and don't allow miscellaneous touchdowns to provide opponents an advantage (and force the Jets' offense to play from behind). Of course, that is predicated on not turning the football over four times, as New York did in its loss last week to the Eagles.

Miami, meanwhile, would like to get that many takeaways at any point this season -- having just two through three games was surely not what the Dolphins had in mind when building this defense. Miami's offense has fared miserably, scoring only 44 offensive points, least in the AFC. In fact, if not for Jarvis Landry's punt return in Week 1's win over Washington, the Dolphins might be 0-fer. #Philbin #NYJvsMIA

Predicting a nice day at the office for the Colts' defense. To heck with the offense already. What was supposed to be the league's greatest scoring machine since the 2007 Patriots has been anything but, with the Colts tied at 23rd in points per game (18.7) ... in fact, the 2015 Patriots (39.7 points per game) are the closest thing to the 2007 Patriots. We digress. The Jags could put up impressive offensive numbers -- if we gave them three years. Gus Bradley and company simply have been unable to build a viable attack in Jacksonville. Their receivers have dropped the highest percentage of catchable balls in the league (14.9), according to Stats LLC. When Blake Bortles gets inside opponents' 30, they plod along at 2.71 yards per play. And Jacksonville has yet to score off an opponent's turnover. #JAXvsIND

Can the Giants get off the field on third down? To date, New York has allowed the highest third-down conversion rate in the league, a whopping 53.5 percent. That's horrible. At least they're making up for it by giving up the most plays of 10-plus yards, too: 52 already! No one else is even at 50; league leader Denver has allowed just 25. OK, we'll lay off, already. The Bills' offense might not be a juggernaut, but if the defense plays like it did in Miami last week, then the AFC East race is far from over. Besides, Bacarri Rambo says nothing is over!!! #NYGvsBUF

Carolina has been making teams pay with the blitz this season, and my guess is the Panthers will do the same to Jameis Winston. The rookie has fared OK in such scenarios thus far, although last week he was six of 15 when Houston sent extra rushers. Having Mike Evans drop what seemed like 15 balls didn't help matters. When Carolina has sent blitzers, the Panthers' opponents have run 10 times for 16 yards, while opposing passers have compiled a 69.8 passer rating. I anticipate Winston getting at least as many pressure looks as he saw versus the Texans. Riverboat Ron gets to 4-0. #CARvsTB

What kind performance is Kirk Cousins going to put out there Sunday? Can he torch the Eagles' secondary as he did at the Linc last season (30 of 48 for 427 yards, three touchdowns, one pick and a passer rating of 103.4), or are we going to see more of what we sat through last Thursday night (30 of 49 for 316 yards, one score, two picks and a passer rating of 69.8)?

Cousins was sharp in the preseason, and little question remains that starting him over Robert Griffin III was the right move. But in order for him to succeed, Washington must run the ball the way it did in Weeks 1 (161 yards) and 2 (182 yards). That starts with getting Alfred Morris more involved. Getting Darren Sproles more involved seems like the answer for the Eagles. Ryan Mathews will be running into some brick walls against this improved Redskins front, so finding Sproles in space should be a priority for Sam Bradford and the coaching staff. This game smells ugly. #PHIvsWAS

Derek Carr continues his nice run. Here's what's dandy for him when it comes to that task: Chicago's pass defense allows opposing quarterbacks a 123.8 passer rating. Uh, that's high. Things will be especially easy for the Raiders if Jay Cutler and Alshon Jeffery are walking around gingerly. The apparent fire sale going on in Chicago will only bolster Oakland's cause. The Raiders are 2-1, one game back of the Broncos in the AFC West. With the latter facing at least a half-decent foe in the Vikings, perhaps Oakland can pull even. In case you're wondering ... Denver visits the Bay Area in Week 5. #OAKvsCHI

Can the Texans slow down Julio Jones? Heck, can they slow down Devonta Freeman? Freeman ran like a man possessed by the football gods in Dallas last week, putting up 141 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries. If Freeman also lifts the air game as he managed to at JerryWorld (five catches for 52 yards), the Texans will be in trouble. The real issue here is that if Houston gets down 14-nothing, the Texans are not built to play catch-up. The team's passer rating is 70.5 on the season (30th), and Bill O'Brien's group is 30th in the NFL in yards per play (4.6) as well. Weeble-wobbling down the field at a Samkon Gado pace will not help if Matty Ice starts out hot. See what I did there? You're welcome. #HOUvsATL

Hopefully, after Monday night's struggle at Lambeau Field, Andy Reid has determined that taking the reins off Alex Smith might not be such a bad idea. Of course, one must have adequate pass protection for that strategy to work. Kansas City has been unable thus far to provide Smith those precious seconds in key situations, save for the Week 1 win over the Texans.

Cincinnati is playing solid football all the way around, and with Andy Dalton seeing the whole field the way he is, the Bengals are more than deserving of their top-five spot in the NFL.com Power Rankings. They merely need to tackle better than they did in Baltimore -- and get running back Jeremy Hill revved up the way he was in last year's stretch run. #KCvsCIN

Cleveland's loss to the Raiders last week was not the fault of the quarterback. Sure, Oakland's Charles Woodson created an opportunity by baiting Josh McCown into making a pickable throw, but at that stage of the game, the veteran had to force throws down the field. The Browns are flat-out getting carved up on the ground, having allowed a staggering 475 rushing yards in three games, the most in the NFL. Translated: start Danny Woodhead in fantasy. Meanwhile, will Melvin Gordon ever start rolling, or will he be Ron Dayne 2.0? Or Montee Ball 2.0? The Chargers' success starts up front with a struggling front five. I like San Diego at home. #CLEvsSD

This matchup has provided so many beauties through the years. Personal favorite: in the Divisional Round of the 1995 playoffs, when Green Bay walked into Candlestick an underdog and was up 21-0 before you could blink. Game Picks Trivia: Which Packer wideout caught 100 balls that year? Speaking of Packer receivers, Randall Cobb will probably match that total this year -- and man, does it look like James Jones is on his way to 14 touchdown receptions. Meanwhile, people are beginning to wonder if Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick is on his way to permanent mediocrity. Floating the ball high and outside the numbers (and late, to boot) is not the way to do it. He finally floated a pass as opposed to drilling it, and it came at the absolute worst time. #GBvsSF

The only thing hotter in pro football than Cardinals signal caller Carson Palmer is a certain robo QB in Green Bay. Among quarterbacks who have started all three games this season, Palmer is the very best in pro football on third down, where games are often won or lost. His rating on third down? 127.8. How about Nick Foles on that down? 94.7. But Foles has only converted three first downs in the last two games with his arm. His numbers are skewed because he was lights-out versus Seattle in Week 1 and middling since. It might be lights out for the Rams in the NFC West race if Arizona beats them this weekend. Three games back and a head-to-head loss ... #STLvsAZ

Can Teddy Bridgewater move the football against this formidable Broncos defense? Doubtful. The offense will probably run through Adrian Peterson's legs, which look decidedly slower at this stage. Not sure the mile-high air will lift any of the burden off of him. Even when Peterson isn't in top gear, he's the best running back the Broncos will see until they face the Steelers' Le'Veon Bell in Week 15. You can't help but be amazed by the Denver D, which allows the least yards per play in the NFL at 4.25. The Broncos' offense, though? It ranks last in yards per play at 4.34. Wow. #funfacts #nerdout #MINvsDEN

It's going to be a weird 28 and a weird win for the Saints. New Orleans gets a strip-sack fumble recovery, which will be weird because the Saints will actually produce a pass rush, with the fumble-recovery touchdown serving as icing on the cake. Regardless of who plays quarterback for New Orleans, the Cowboys must make him uncomfortable in the pocket, especially if it's Drew Brees, who hadn't been playing to a Brees-esque level before missing last week with a rotator-cuff injury. By blitzing more than usual, Dallas will force Brees to release more quickly. The key for the Saints will be for running back Mark Ingram to keep the Dallas front seven from forgetting about the run and freely sprinting into the pocket. Oh, and no more fumbles in the fourth quarter, either. Too soon? Saints win. #DALvsNO

What has gotten into Matthew Stafford? Seems like a touch of Dan Orlovsky mixed with Mike McMahon and a light sprinkling of Chuck Long. Goodness gracious, this Detroit football team has been difficult to watch. Fans once consumed with the idea of challenging the Packers in the NFC North are now hoping to avoid a 6-10 finish. The thinking is, if you drop that low, why not go 3-13 and get a Leonard Williams-type talent in the draft? Alternately, can Detroit upset the Seahawks in Seattle? No. But can the Lions jump back into the playoff race? Yes. Let's go back 20 years, to when the 1995 Lions started 0-3, then hit 3-6 before finishing 10-6. They did it with Scott Mitchell getting hot. If he could do it ...

So the Seahawks are the pick here, inspired by the play of the defense last week. Kam Chancellor will be more involved this go-around. And how about Thomas Rawls? From backup R&B singer (well, sounds like one anyway) to fantasy darling in days. #DETvsSEA

ALREADY COMPLETED


It's hard to imagine a John Harbaugh-led team starting the year 0-4, but if the Ravens can't get Justin Forsett motoring quickly, that will be precisely where they are headed. Joe Flacco was able to find Steve Smith, Sr. repeatedly last week, though some of those big plays could be credited more to Smith than his quarterback. Someone -- with Crockett Gillmore out, maybe Maxx Williams? -- must pick up the slack for Baltimore at Heinz.

Speaking of, Mike Vick is tasked with doing the same for the Steelers. I predict Pittsburgh runs the football 40 times, with the carries being split as follows: Le'Veon Bell, 23; DeAngelo Williams, 14; Mike Vick, 2; Limas Sweed, 1. I kid, I kid. #BALvsPIT

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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