Week 4 of the NFL season is upon us, and that means it's time for another round of bold predictions. As always, this week's edition of fearless prognostications includes a macho helping of audaciousness and abandon as we head into Sunday and Monday's contests. Warning: these predictions are not for the faint of heart.
Cleveland karate chops Washington into submission
The Redskins have plenty of team speed on offense. DeSean Jackson and Jamison Crowder will showcase it with a rash of long gains against Cleveland's leaky secondary. The Browns, though, will hang around in pesky fashion on Sunday, overcoming their own mistakes, injuries and inherent imperfections to steal a wild one. Cody Kessler will throw timed, eight-yard darts; Terrelle Pryor will play six different positions; Duke Johnson will juke and jive through the beehive; Hue Jackson will design an Xs-and-Os masterwork from another solar system; Joe Thomas will score his first NFL touchdown; Jay Gruden will be airmailed out of FedEx with a thousand-yard stare as the ignored, giggled-at Browns hammer-drop their first win of the year.
If this doesn't happen, NFL Media's Conor Orr will take a 65-week sabbatical from the gridiron to pen a poetry chapbook titled, "THE SEVENTH ORB." The 77-page think-piece will house a singular, devastating poem that begins as a meditation on home improvement and "from-scratch crockpot recipes" before descending into a dark-angled critique of underground political organizations and black-magic societies that dot our so-called peaceful America. Orr will be lionized for his work and flown from city to city to read his epic before crowded taverns and academic halls packed with intellectuals, quasi-intellectuals and glowing coeds. TIME will hail Orr on their May 28th, 2017, cover as "The Last Poet, The Only Poet," saying inside its pages: "Orr, especially in his unhinged live readings, nearly puts the crowd into a folksy trance with his homilies on home improvement and quick-pitch dinner recipes centered around crockpot antics -- but then the ride gets fierce. Instead of lyrical outpourings about gutter repair, Orr transports us to a place in the distance; a world beyond our world; a reality so imbued with possibility, high-stakes wonder and the exposure of long-hidden dark-magic sub-organizations, that it becomes impossible to again think of simple kitchen craft and home repair as essential to the human struggle. The listener finds oneself lifted beyond to a fresh plane of experience -- an uncharted landscape where all is new."
*-- Marc Sessler *
Jamie Collins destroys Bills
The first time Tyrod Taylor faced a Bill Belichick defense he got sacked eight times. The Patriots will equal that mark this week with Jamie Collins taking down the elusive quarterback four times himself. Belichick will have had 10 days to scheme away LeSean McCoy, meaning Taylor will have the game on his slim shoulders. Take away broken coverages versus the Jets and Taylor hasn't been a productive passer in 2016 -- two games with fewer than 120 yards passing. The Patriots will bottle Taylor up Sunday and Collins will be key. The athletic linebacker will thrust his name ahead of Von Miller in much-too-early Defensive Player of the Year discussions with a four-sack, 12-tackle day.
-- Kevin Patra
Marcus Mariota, smashmouth combo overwhelms Texans
Mike Mularkey and the Titans are still very much in the mix thanks to a dreary set of roommates in the AFC South. Marcus Mariota is admittedly trying to do too much within the Titans offense, but a game against the injured, division-leading Texans will help it all click into place. While the Texans are not down and out without superstar J.J. Watt and a half speed Brian Cushing, they haven't been particularly strong against the run this season. Tennessee, on the other hand, bets everything on the fact that Derrick Henry and DeMarco Murray will wear their opponents down. As a parlay, we'll also suggest that Henry gets the most carries he's received all season against Houston -- a well-deserved bundle of touches for the rookie.
-- Conor Orr
Joe Flacco tosses three TDs; two go to Mike Wallace
This was initially going to be four touchdowns, typically the passing baseline for bold predictions. Then I recalled Baltimore's last two games, checked the stats and had to adjust. The Ravens are 25th in the NFL in total offense (324.3 yards per game), 21st in passing (242 YPG) and have exceeded 20 points just once -- in a clunky win over the Browns that wasn't easy on the eyes. But there's good news for the Ravens: Oakland is dead last in passing defense, allowing 340 yards per game. It's somewhat of a skewed statistic after only three games, but it was over 400 yards after two weeks before Tennessee's offense -- a passing game handcuffed by coach Mike Mularkey's exotic smashmouth emphasis, which has Marcus Mariota noticeably floundering -- brought that total closer to earth. There can't be a better matchup for Flacco, which leads an offense that includes wideout Mike Wallace, who has shown he still has the speed to go deep for six.
Plus, Flacco just welcomed his fourth child -- and first daughter -- to Earth this week! What's better than a father with a new addition to his family taking the field with a deep threat against a defense that has shown a tendency to give up big chunks of yards through the air? Flacco caps his memorable week and brings Evelyn Renee Flacco into the football world with a big game and another win for Baltimore.
-- Nick Shook
Tyreek Hill outgains, outscores Le'Veon Bell
The heralded return of Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell from his four-no-wait-three-game suspension will earn much of the NBC pregame coverage, but all anyone will be talking about following Sunday Night Football will be a pint-sized Chiefs rookie. Just you watch: Kansas City's prime-time bout in Pittsburgh will act as young Tyreek Hill's breakout game. The five-foot-nine 22-year-old from West Alabama has emerged as Kansas City's sparkplug in the return game and a threat on screens through the Chiefs' first three games. Half Dante Hall and half Dexter McCluster, Hill will take advantage of Pittsburgh's recent inability to cover scatbacks in space; Giovani Bernard and Darren Sproles amassed a combined 15 receptions for 228 yards in consecutive weeks against the Steel Drapes. Look for Hill to strike for six on a punt return as well; the man is due on special teams. Bell will see more rushes than backup DeAngelo Williams did last week (a measly eight), but won't get the necessary production to outpace Hill against a Chiefs defense that has stifled dual-threat backs Lamar Miller and Matt Forte.
*-- Jeremy Bergman *