Today's absurd prediction:The number of undefeated teams is reduced to 4, and it's not the Packers that will lose.
This week features 8 divisional matchups out of 14 games. Several of the other games are expected to be close. We have a lot of great storylines-teams facing former teams or former rivals. In week 4, expect the unexpected.
Here are my week 4 predictions:
Baltimore at Cleveland: This one will probably be the nastiest in a week of nasty games. Cleveland fans hate the prodigal franchise that left them with a new incarnation of the Browns that has been pathetic. Jamal Lewis is going against his former team. Baltimore desperately needs a win to keep Pittsburgh from getting away. It'll be gritty, it'll go down to the wire, there will be fights, there may even be an ejection or two. Ravens 20, Browns 18. Game MVP: Bart Scott - 10 tackles, 2 FF.
Chicago at Detroit: This may be the least bitter of the NFC North rivalries, but that doesn't mean they're friends. The big mystery in this one is who will be playing. Lance Briggs, Nathan Vasher, Tommie Harris, Calvin Johnson, Jeff Backus, and Damien Woody were all hurt last week and are day-to-day. That's three key members from Chicago's powerhouse defense and three key members from Detroit's high-flying offense. Oh yeah, that Rex guy isn't playing either, and who knows what Griese will bring. I'm going to predict my first overtime game, and give the Bears the ugly win. Bears 30, Lions 24 (OT). Game MVP: Devin Hester - 149 ret yds, TD
Green Bay at Minnesota: Sticking with the NFC North, we get a chance to see Brett Favre break Marino's TD record in the stadium where he used to struggle big-time, though he's 3 of his last 4 in the Metrodome. The Vikings are going to do everything they can to keep this from happening, but their strength is run defense, and the Packers' is the short passing game. The Big Williamses at DT won't be able to affect much. The Packers vault to 4-0. Packers 20, Vikings 10. Game MVP: Brett Favre - 23 for 40 passing, 210 yds, 2 TDs, 0 INTs.
Houston at Atlanta: Matt Schaub returns to laugh in the face of the franchise that thought Vick was a better quarterback. Houston's playing great, Atlanta isn't, so it won't take a great game from their QB to win it, but they'll get it again anyway while Dunn and Norwood are shut down once again by a great Texans front 7. Texans 31, Falcons 14. Game MVP: Matt Schaub - 21 for 34 passing, 203 yds, 2 TDs, 0 INTs.
Oakland at Miami: Some say it's poetic justice that Oakland won last week on the same timeout trick that Denver played against them. I disagree - it's only poetic justice when Cleveland does it to Denver. But Cleveland doesn't play Denver, so maybe the Browns will have to do it to Houston, and Houston can do it to the Broncos. Regardless, the interesting things in this game are Trent Green and Cam Cameron going against an AFC West defense they've played many times before. The game also features two of last week's top overall performers at RB, Ronnie Brown (Mr. RB himself), and LaMont Jordan. However, this game is going to be won on a few big plays through the air. Miami gets its first win. Raiders 20, Dolphins 24. Game MVP: Chris Chambers - 7 receptions for 109 yds, 2 TDs.
St. Louis at Dallas: this is one of two locks of the week. Two of St. Louis' three most vital players, Steven Jackson and Orlando Pace, are out injured. The third, Marc Bulger, has been brutally beaten thus far and did not play like himself last week. With the pass rushes Wade Phillips built his reputation upon, the Rams are toast. Rams 6, Cowboys 38. Game MVP: Marion Barber - 21 rushes for 112 yds, 3 TDs.
NY Jets at Buffalo: It'll be hard for the Bills to get a win at home with so many defensive injuries. It appears rookie Paul Posluszny may have been Buffalo's most valuable player - the defense gave up 4 TDs after he left the game against the Patriots. This will be Trent Edwards' first career start, coming sooner than Dick Jauron probably hoped. So while all signs point to a Buffalo loss, I never rule out the underdog in a divisional game, and that's why I won't consider this a lock. It's just a pretty safe prediction. Jets 30, Bills 17. Game MVP: Thomas Jones - 27 rushes for 127 yds, 2 TDs.
Seattle at San Francisco: It's time to play "Who Can Figure Out the NFC West???" The only thing that seems certain is that this one will come down to a field goal or less, because every division matchup thus far has. Even the Rams played the Niners to within 1. Shaun Alexander has another tiny bone break: last year it was in his foot, hurting his stats and his team. This year it's his wrist. Vernon Davis is out, limiting Alex Smith's targets. This will be Darrell Jackson's first game against his former team, and I like the Seahawks' secondary's chances of stopping him, which means this one's in Gore's hands. If Gore can't finally get it going, the Niners have almost no chance of winning this one - their defense is promising, but not dominant. But Gore did quite well the last time they played here, rushing for over 200 yards. Seattle is historically weak on the road, and the Niners had Alexander's number last year. So I'll give them another division game, but don't expect the good feelings to last. Seahawks 21, 49ers 23. Game MVP: Frank Gore - 29 rushes for 136 yds, TD.
Tampa Bay at Carolina: Another matchup of two 2-1 teams vying for division supremacy. Two years ago, Tampa Bay won the division, and the Saints held the cellar. After Tampa Bay wins this one, signs will indicate that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Steve Smith has played very well against Ronde Barber over the past three years, averaging 117 yards per game against the Bucs. But the Panthers' passing game is more one-dimensional than ever, and the Bucs will certainly be able to contain DeShaun Foster better than the Falcons did. Garcia is hot, and if Joey Harrington could put up a 110 passer rating, so can Garcia. Not to mention that David Carr might be starting for Carolina. Buccaneers 24, Panthers 16. Game MVP: Jermaine Phillips - 7 tackles, 2 PDs, INT.
Kansas City at San Diego: this is the other lock. Despite the fact that both teams are 1-2 and it's a divisional match, it's virtually impossible to imagine the visiting team taking this one. San Diego hasn't lost a regular-season home game since 2005. Kansas City hasn't won in San Diego since 2003. Sure LaDainian Tomlinson and Philip Rivers are struggling, but Larry Johnson and Damon Huard are struggling more. And Rivers finally got some momentum with a decent game last week, despite the loss. Here's predicting LT finally gets it going. Chiefs 9, Chargers 27. Game MVP: LaDainian Tomlinson - 26 rushes for 118 yds, 2 TDs, 3 catches for 29 yds.
Denver at Indianapolis: The team that needed last-second field goals to beat Oakland and Buffalo now plays the defending champions on their own turf. There's little chance that the Colts will get overconfident after fighting out close wins the last two weeks. They're not flying high, so they're not likely to crash. I'm not quite calling this a lock, because Denver's defense plays tough and Jay Cutler is due for a breakout performance, but I don't think it'll happen yet. Broncos 17, Colts 31. Game MVP: Jospeh Addai - 25 rushes, 144 yards, TD
Pittsburgh at Arizona: Here's my upset of the week, and here's why: Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm care more about winning this game than any other on their schedule. Well, that depends on how you look at it - if they're on the verge of the playoffs, they'd want to beat Seattle or San Francisco more. But if they were to go 1-15, and they got to choose who the one win would be against, it'd be Pittsburgh. They will be prepared, and they will pull out all the stops. Pittsburgh, unlike Indianapolis, is flying high and primed for a crash. Hines Ward is doubtful for the game, which drastically hurts Pittsburgh's passing game. Whisenhunt is planning on using Kurt Warner in no-huddle situations, which could throw the Steelers off balance as it did to another elite defense against Baltimore last week. And this time Leinart knows it's coming, so he might cope with it better. Steelers 23, Cardinals 29. Game MVP: Kurt Warner - 14 for 18 passing, 189 yds, 2 TDs, 0 INTs.
Philadelphia at NY Giants: According to my Natural Power Rankings logic, the Giants are a better team. They beat Washington, who beat Philadelphia, therefore Philadelphia must be better than New York. But of course, things never work that logically in the NFC East. Donovan McNabb is coming off of the best performance of his career, and the Giants' secondary is weak, particularly against the kind of speed that Kevin Curtis possesses. Expect a couple of early bombs to Curtis, which will cause the defense to commit extra attention to him, leaving some nice running lanes for Westbrook. Eagles 34, Giants 20. Game MVP: Brian Westbrook - 20 rushes, 119 yds, TD, 6 catches for 54 yds, TD.
New England at Cincinnati: "Anything you can do, I can do better," Tom Brady and Randy Moss sing to Carson Palmer and Chad Johnson. T.J. Houshmandzadeh says, "ah, but you don't have T.J." Then Wes Welker taps T.J. on the shoulder and clears his throat. "Stop underestimating me, you guys. Please. I'm pretty awesome." The two fantasy dream teams meet on Monday night and it should be exciting. Of course, the Patriots can actually play defense. That'll help. Patriots 41, Bengals 28. Game MVP: Tom Brady - 28 of 38 passing, 410 yds, 4 TDs, 0 INTs. Also week 4 MVP.
After predicting defensive MVPs in most of the games last week, this time only 2 defenders will get it, and one special teamer. Such is life.
You all must think I hate the Steelers. I really don't, I swear. I just don't trust new coaches as a general rule.
Think I'm full of it? Try Josh's picks.
And go here to see Josh and Dan debate Seahawks-49ers in depth.