NFL Week 4 game picks: Ravens top Browns; Patriots stifle Bills

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Gregg Rosenthal went 8-8 on his predictions for Week 3, bringing his season record to 30-17-1. How will he fare in Week 4? His picks are below.

SUNDAY, SEPT. 29

Atlanta Falcons 24, Tennessee Titans 21

1 p.m. ET (FOX) | Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Atlanta)

Matt Ryan playing under offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter feels so familiar. The throws are deeper, the plays to Julio Jones are prettier and the mistakes are more costly. Ryan's vertical aggression under Koetter -- who returned to the team where he had a solid run as coordinator from 2012 through '14 before his tenure as Bucs head coach -- is more fun to watch, even if the resulting roller coaster causes motion sickness for Falcons fans. Marcus Mariota, on the other hand, has the same issues no matter what offensive coordinator the Titans throw at him. For such a mobile quarterback, he doesn't evade pressure in the pocket well and he holds the ball forever, a particular problem in this matchup, with left tackle Taylor Lewan serving the final game of his killer four-game suspension. Atlanta's defensive line is deeper this season, and Dan Quinn's group plays better at home, so give the Falcons the slight edge in a clash of two quiet teams searching to make some early-season noise.

New York Giants 28, Washington Redskins 24

1 p.m. ET (FOX) | MetLife Stadium (East Rutherford, N.J.)

Picking against Danny Dimes in his first home start feels un-American. Still, there are signs of concern on this Giants squad beyond losing Saquon Barkley for a month-plus -- like, say, the entire defense. The offensive line's performance in Tampa was also troubling, as Jones was sacked five times and fumbled twice. All that pressure came largely from Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles blitzing to mixed results. Jones had 192 yards against pressure, according to Next Gen Stats, the most in a game since Tom Brady in Week 3 of 2017. Many of those pressures came against left tackle Nate Solder, one of the many signings by Giants general manager Dave Gettleman that Mr. Dimes will be tasked with papering over on a roster with all sorts of holes remaining. None of the above will matter one bit if the Giants are 2-2 Monday morning, with Daniel Jones riding north down the Canyon of Heroes.

Los Angeles Chargers 24, Miami Dolphins 10

1 p.m. ET (CBS) | Hard Rock Stadium (Miami Gardens, Fla.)

Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram were shockingly silent against the Texans in Week 3, with the duo combining for seven tackles and half a sack. If that happens against this Miami tackle pairing, something is seriously wrong. The lack of Dolphins pass protection, combined with Josh Rosen's YOLO long balls to Preston Williams and DeVante Parker, should be just the balm to soothe the Chargers' injury woes for a week. If Cowboys receiver Amari Cooper can manhandle Miami's best player (Xavien Howard) in Week 3, putting up six catches for 88 yards and two scores, then surely league-leading receiver Keenan Allen can do enough harm this week before coach Anthony Lynn sits on the ball in the second half. (Bonus bold prediction: The Dolphins score a second-half point for the first time this season!)

Indianapolis Colts 28, Oakland Raiders 23

1 p.m. ET (CBS) | Lucas Oil Stadium (Indianapolis)

I'll stop writing about the Colts' offensive fourth-quarter prowess when they stop coming up huge in the game's biggest moments. Led by Jacoby Brissett and running back Marlon Mack, they followed up an 80-yard game-tying march in Los Angeles in Week 1 with a game-winning touchdown drive in Tennessee in Week 2 and then two long drives to beat Atlanta in Week 3. The first of those drives against the Falcons ended in a touchdown, and the other ended with Frank Reich allowing Brissett to seal the game on a third-down throw. The Colts' defense is too mediocre, and there are too many injuries here, to trust that Indianapolis will blow out the Raiders as a heavy favorite. But Brissett, Mack, Reich and a surplus of Colts mojo should be enough to find a way again late against a tepid Raiders defense, even if receiver T.Y. Hilton, working through a quad injury, doesn't suit up.

SNEAKY GOOD GAME OF THE WEEK: Houston Texans 27, Carolina Panthers 24

1 p.m. ET (FOX) | NRG Stadium (Houston)

It's hard to overstate how well Cam Newton fill-in Kyle Allen played for the Panthers at Arizona in Week 3. The accuracy, timing and decisiveness were all impressive, but it was Allen's playmaking against pressure that set the second-year pro apart. He put up his prettiest passes with Chandler Jones or a six-man blitz in his face. He threw on the run to his left and right. He knew how to buy time, and he knew when to throw the ball away. He looked like Baker Mayfield during a particularly efficient Browns game late last season. The challenge gets tougher this Sunday against a Texans front that improves weekly, led by the disruptive trio of D.J. Reader, J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus. As surprising as Allen's performance was out West, the reformed Houston O-line's effort in pass protection against the Chargers was equally sublime. Texans fans don't dare to dream what Deshaun Watson could do if that becomes a weekly occurrence, just like Panthers fans don't dare to imagine life with two franchise quarterbacks. I can't wait to see if both Week 3 revelations are here to stay.

LOCK OF THE WEEK: Kansas City Chiefs 35, Detroit Lions 24

1 p.m. ET (FOX) | Ford Field (Detroit)

Don't view this game as a litmus test for this improved Lions defense. Justin Coleman is playing like one of football's best slot corners, while Darius "Big Play" Slay is living up to his name. Trey Flowers has started to make a bigger impact alongside A'Shawn Robinson on a rock-solid defensive line. But Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes in September make even quality defenses like those of the Jaguars and Ravens look foolish, and this week should be no different. The bigger question in this matchup is whether a sharper Matthew Stafford, who has been more willing to go down the field, can keep up in a shootout against a Chiefs pass defense that quietly ranks ninth in DVOA and ninth in PFF's pass-coverage grades. This K.C. defense may only need to be average to earn home-field advantage in the AFC again, and the early signs are trending in that direction.

Baltimore Ravens 24, Cleveland Browns 18

1 p.m. ET (CBS) | M&T Bank Stadium (Baltimore)

I have no feel for how much worse the Ravens' defense is this year, but clearly it's worse -- at least thus far. After seeing Baltimore face teams of opposite extremes like the Dolphins and Chiefs, the Browns should provide a clearer test for defensive coordinator Wink Martindale's group. That's because this Browns offense is a struggling outfit that a quality defense should handle. The Ravens' pass rush can be one dimensional (with Matthew Judon that dimension) and the group misses inside linebacker C.J. Mosley and slot cornerback Tavon Young even more than they miss Za'Darius Smith. The Browns have the talent to erupt in any week if Baker Mayfield can get out of his own way, with a little help from his coaching staff. But the feeling here is that the Ravens -- who know exactly who they are offensively, even when Lamar Jackson isn't shooting straight (like last week) -- are catching the Browns at the right time.

New England Patriots 20, Buffalo Bills 9

1 p.m. ET (CBS) | New Era Field (Orchard Park, N.Y.)

The Patriots' smothering defense has scored more points (12) than it has given up over the last four games, including Super Bowl LIII. Mention that on Twitter and expect to hear "Check da schedule, brah!" -- which is a fair point if you don't count the NFC champions or Ben Roethlisberger. Sunday's trip to Buffalo, in reality, should provide a better first test of 2019 for both Bills QB Josh Allen and the Patriots' offense. I'm not convinced Allen has looked that much different in his second pro season. He's undeniably exciting and has bettered his completion rate and yards-per-throw mark from his rookie year, but five total touchdowns to go with seven combined interceptions and fumbles (two lost) and an overall Pro Football Focus grade outside the top-30 quarterbacks against a soft schedule is a low bar for improvement.

The Patriots' offense is also quietly looking for stability. The team's makeshift offensive line has struggled in the running game, especially with veteran Shaq Mason starting the year in a slump. Receiver Phillip Dorsett (92.9 percent catch rate on 14 targets for 187 yards and three scores) has been a more reliable target than Josh Gordon (55 percent catch rate on 20 targets for 175 yards and one score). And Bills coach Sean McDermott has held the Patriots to 25 points or less in three of four meetings, which has included times when New England's offense was peaking. Add it all up, and this looks like a game of punts, field position and turnovers. Between Allen and Tom Brady, it's not hard to pick which quarterback is more likely to problem-solve as the day wears on.

Los Angeles Rams 27, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 19

4:05 p.m. ET (FOX) | Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (Los Angeles)

Missing a would-be game-winning kick as time expires hurts a little more when you have to travel across the country to face the undefeated defending NFC champions the following week. These Rams aren't the same as last year's team, but that's not all a bad thing. The defense -- ranked fourth in DVOA -- is substantially better. For all the talk about 2018 being an "all in" year for the Rams, the acquisitions of Clay Matthews and Eric Weddle in addition to the impending free-agent status for Dante Fowler, Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters and Michael Brockers gives this particular squad a now-or-never feel. Rams general manager Les Snead has earned the benefit of the doubt that he'll capably remake this roster on the fly in 2020, but coordinator Wade Phillips has a group of grown men whose time together is right now. The Rams should be thrilled they can win different styles of games, with the confidence that Sean McVay and special teams coordinator John Fassel will ultimately figure out what's slowing down their struggling units. Last Sunday night's win over the Browns should prove instructive for this matchup: A sloppy opposing offense like Cleveland's or Tampa Bay's won't move the ball enough to win against this Rams defense.

Seattle Seahawks 31, Arizona Cardinals 21

4:05 p.m. ET (FOX) | State Farm Stadium (Glendale, Ariz.)

Russell Wilson is already having one of those seasons every Hall of Fame QB experiences, in which his hard-earned knowledge and experience matches his uncanny physical skills. It's the type of year in which Wilson could win an MVP if he played in a different offense. Despite terrible pass protection, he's on pace for over 4,800 yards and 48 total touchdowns. He's the master of his domain, and that pace should only increase in Arizona on Sunday, where the 2019 Cardinals defense everyone expected finally showed up against Carolina (413 yards allowed).

Arizona rookie QB Kyler Murray has a long way to go to reach the heights of his sub-6-foot compatriot. The worst day of Murray's career last week would look a lot better if not for two dropped deep passes, but it's fair to note the Cardinals' offense ranks 29th in yards per play. Murray can look across the sideline for inspiration in terms of how to carry an organization, but it's not his time yet.

Minnesota Vikings 16, Chicago Bears 13

4:25 p.m. ET (CBS) | Soldier Field (Chicago)

The Vikings are running a 1990s offense, with 80 percent of their plays coming from under center according to SharpFootball.com, easily the highest rate in the league. The approach has helped Dalvin Cook rise to the top of the league in yards from scrimmage and allowed the Vikings to mostly hide their $84 million quarterback Kirk Cousins. After an encouraging week for both Cousins and Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, this game may come down to which signal-caller can avoid a catastrophic mistake against a playmaking defense. I know who Cousins is after 76 starts. Trubisky is tougher to pin down, especially when he's unlikely to get as many easy throws as he did in Washington or support from his running game, with Bears rookie David Montgomery still looking for his breakout game. Keep an eye on resurgent Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen in this game, with Minnesota again boasting an elite edge-rushing duo. (Having this has essentially become mandatory in the NFL's best defensive division.)

Denver Broncos 22, Jacksonville Jaguars 20

4:25 p.m. ET (CBS) | Empower Field at Mile High (Denver)

Joe Flacco doesn't look so bad on a play-to-play basis. That's how he's ranked 16th in PFF's grades and ninth in QBR. The Broncos rank second in plays per drive and sixth in yards per drive, despite ranking just 24th in points per drive -- a sign that they are adept at reaching the red zone but not so adept at scoring touchdowns. They've faced brutally talented defenses in back-to-back weeks (Chicago and Green Bay) and it doesn't get much easier at home Sunday against a Jaguars front champing at the bit to face one of the league's worst tackle duos: Garett Bolles and Elijah Wilkinson. That's the bad news for Denver. The good news is that Jags cornerback Jalen Ramsey looks unlikely to play Sunday and that Jaguars rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew's incredible efficiency on deep throws feels unsustainable. Then again, Minshewmania appears to defy all boundaries of space and time, while Flacco's feet remain planted on sinking ground. Why am I picking the Broncos again?

Dallas Cowboys 30, New Orleans Saints 24

8:20 p.m. ET (NBC) | Mercedes-Benz Superdome (New Orleans)

It always feels strangely personal when these teams meet. Sean Payton is tight with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and tighter with Cowboys coach Jason Garrett after mentoring him during their years together with the New York Giants. Payton gave Garrett his first lost as Cowboys coach way back in 2010 and has mostly rained points on Garrett's teams in the years since, often sparking wistful thoughts in Jones and Cowboys fans of what might have been if those Payton-to-Dallas rumors had ever come true. (That ship has sailed.)

The tenor of the rivalry changed last November, when the Cowboys' 13-10 defensive masterclass over New Orleans -- in prime-time, as usual -- served notice that this Leighton Vander Esch-Jaylon Smith iteration of the Dallas defense was different. And that was the game that started the Saints' 2018 downfall. Now the Cowboys return most of that defensive group while adding an offensive play-caller in Kellen Moore who can match creativity with Payton. This is a big game for both teams, but the Saints' stirring win in Seattle took some of the pressure off. The Saints don't need this game to survive. The Cowboys -- eager to show their 3-0 start is not just a scheduling fluke -- should be primed to make sure any rematch in the playoffs takes place in Arlington.

MONDAY, SEPT. 30

Pittsburgh Steelers 20, Cincinnati Bengals 17

8:15 p.m. ET (ESPN) | Heinz Field (Pittsburgh)

The Steelers might wind up missing former offensive line coach Mike Munchak as much as they miss Ben Roethlisberger. While Mason Rudolph's first NFL start was far too Tebow-like (except the result), the eroding play of the guys up front started in Week 1. The team's adjusted line yards ranks 24th, according to Football Outsiders, and James Conner isn't finding holes to run through like he did last year, despite the team returning the same starters on the line. Perhaps it was the team's poor pass protection that turned the strong-armed Rudolph into a failed short-passing specialist in San Francisco. It was the game plan of a team with little evident confidence besides its kamikaze trade for Minkah Fitzpatrick.

This is not one of those matchup of unlucky 0-3 teams. These are the two worst teams in football that aren't the Dolphins, according to DVOA, and one of them will enter Week 4 at a deeply depressing 0-4.

THURSDAY'S GAME

Philadelphia Eagles 24, Green Bay Packers 23

The Packers' and Eagles' offenses are behind schedule. Even if Carson Wentz has created more third-down magic than Aaron Rodgers so far, it's alarming to see how rarely both teams execute plays as drawn up. The Packers can't find a third receiver or tight end to throw to. Eagles rookie wideout J.J. Arcega-Whiteside has 14 yards on 132 offensive snaps, while Nelson Agholor's drops are now a national story. Both running games are mostly underwater, despite Jamaal Williams' mermaid moment last week.

If Mike McCarthy ever had a three-game stretch with Rodgers during which the Packers' offense ranked 29th in yards per drive and 25th in points per drive, clowns like me would have been calling for the coach's head. But McCarthy only had a defense this dominant during the team's 2010 championship run. In 2019, tone-setters Za'Darius Smith and Darnell Savage lead a Green Bay D rapacious for sacks and turnovers. I expect the Eagles' offense to play up-tempo and create ways to thwart Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's complex defense, leading to more points in this game than expected. There are some weaknesses in this Green Bay defense -- SEE: cornerback Kevin King, as well as difficulty stopping the run -- and I trust Philly coach Doug Pederson to adjust better during the game than rookie Matt LaFleur, whose Packers have scored just 13 second-half points all season.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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