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Tuesday, August 21 2018

NFL predictions 2014: Week 4


Well, it is nice to see success again. It had been a while. Funny how TNF can often dictate how a week is going to be. Even though I was off on the margin of victory, I still had a sweep with Atlanta over Tampa Bay (straight up, spread, over/under). The momentum was carried through to the early games on Sunday when my only straight up miss over the week’s first 11 games was Cleveland, who I had winning 20-19, losing 23-21. My only loss against the spread during that stretch was Philadelphia allowing Washington to cover the points.

In all, thanks to primetime struggles, I finished 11-5 picking winners (26-22 overall) and 11-5 against the spread (21-27 overall) where I still have some work to do. I was on the plus side on the over/under at 9-7 (29-19 overall) so against Vegas I am +4 on the season. Again, the only winners when you gamble are the people taking the bets. They get 10%. Remember this.


NY Giants (1-2) @ Washington (1-2): Large television markets drive primetime pairings because, duh, those draw the most eyeballs also known as rating points. Even this early in the season, it looks like the battle to avoid the NFC East cellar is all these teams will be playing for in 2014. The Redskins have shown serious signs of life with Kirk Cousins at quarterback and a strong run defense. They completed stifled stud LeSean McCoy last week and piled up 511 total yards of offense. Alas, they still lost. All the rival Giants needed to do for their first win was play a Houston team without their leading running back and get a career game out of their journeyman rusher Rashad Jennings. Winning the turnover battle 3-1 was also key.

On paper, it appears turnovers are going to play a significant factor in this outcome. Divisional games are typically tight because of the familiarity. I know New York is a better team than they have shown, and it is not as if Washington is a juggernaut. I do believe the Redskins can shut down Jennings and put the onus on Eli Manning, which is likely bad news for the visitors. The Giants, on the other hand, just do not rush the passer as we have been accustomed to in recent years. Cousins is confident and playing loose. This is his moment in primetime to stake his claim to the starting job. Forget all of this nonsense about Robert Griffin III, or any other quarterback, not losing his starter status due to injury. I expect a fun game, and the outcome in doubt in the final minutes: Washington 24, NY Giants 20 (WAS -3/under 45.5)

Green Bay (1-2) @ Chicago (2-1): Looking at the standings, the NFC North looks to be up for grabs. In reality, it looks like a three-team race with a desperate Packers team needing this win to avoid digging themselves an early hole. The Bears have already gone from a head-scratching home loss to the Bills to impressive road wins in primetime over the 49ers and Jets. It tough to know what to expect from them here. I know the effort will be there in this decades-long rivalry, but I worry about the health of their players.

No team with playoff aspirations wants to be 1-3, so Green Bay is going to be razor focused on this game. They are looking at a defense on a short week coming off injuries in the secondary, and should be salivating. Their own defense is shaky, and the offense was awful in the dome last week in Detroit. Different situation here, so throw it out. The only similarity is a divisional opponent on the road, and now it's twice as important for them to get the win. Jay Cutler controls the fate of his team on his right arm. If he rolls the dice at the wrong time, a turnover swings the game. Aaron Rodgers is in his prime, and very unlikely to put consecutive dud performances on tape. I am throwing out conventional wisdom here and calling for an all-out assault from both teams. Get your popcorn ready. Field goals hold the final score down a bit: Green Bay 26, Chicago 23 (GB +1.5/under 51.5)

Tennessee (1-2) @ Indianapolis (1-2): For now, the Texans are leading the AFC South. In reality, they are just keeping the seat warm. The Colts showed, starting last week, that they are ready to roll this division. The Titans are heading in the opposite direction. Their opening week road win over the Chiefs is looking like a mirage. The Bengals had their way with them throughout, and Jake Locker is just about finished as this team's starting quarterback. Indianapolis has no such problems. Andrew Luck is on fire, and quickly entering his prime. His arc might be similar to Tom Brady, without the Spygate titles.

Here I see no reason to expect Tennessee will compete, other than the typical division rivalry shocker storyline. It is likely they are playing with heavy hearts as well, given the loss of their longtime placekicker Rob Bironas in a car accident. Even if he was not on the opening day roster, he has many friends in the locker room who will want to show well in this spot. I do believe rookie Bishop Sankey has the potential for a coming out party here running the ball, and that might keep the visitors in the game for at least a half. Of course, if it is Charlie Whitehurst at quarterback maybe not so much. Luck has a limited ground game, but Ahmad Bradshaw is trying to help him out since Trent Richardson is nothing more than a plodder at this point. It is closer than it should be: Indianapolis 31, Tennessee 17 (IND -6/over 45.5)

Miami (1-2) vs. Oakland (0-3): Technically this is a home game for the Raiders, but I am pretty sure there is no Black Hole in London. Then again, who knows? What would their fans look like across the pond? I shudder to guess. The Dolphins are definitely not a worldwide draw, of that I am sure, so the Silver and Black at least have a small home field advantage here. They have to be weary though, having already gone to the east coast twice in this young season. Their head coach is on his last legs, and the speculation seems to be that if he loses this game to drop to 0-4, Tony Sparano will take over on an interim basis with the bye week to put things together.

At the very least, Oakland seems to have made strides last week in New England. Miami was creamed at home by Kansas City, leaving me to wonder the state of their franchise. If they drop this one, their season is in pretty real trouble as well so there is some urgency on their part for sure. A win here and they can regroup with a 2-2 record and a bye week to rest. Ryan Tannehill needs to take this team on his back, and against a remade defense I think he has a good chance to do it. Rookie Derek Carr has played well, all things considered, for the Raiders. His supporting cast is not there, however, and he is up against a defense that can rush the passer. I look for a tight game with the more experienced coaching staff being the difference: Miami 24, Oakland 21 (OAK +4.5/over 40)

Detroit (2-1) @ NY Jets (1-2): The great outdoors are not kind to the Lions. They become a different team outside of a dome. The Jets come in limping a bit, on a short week after a disappointing home loss on MNF. They could have gained some momentum with a win. Instead, they are facing the dreaded 1-3 start that can send a season in a bad direction in a hurry. Conversely, I do not believe the Lions are in any trouble if they should drop this game. They are not in a good spot here. Detroit is going to have a tough time running the ball, but Calvin Johnson and his pals in the passing game should be able to do some damage against this secondary if the pass protection holds up. That's a big "if".

Quarterback Geno Smith is coming off a poor outing for New York and needs to eliminate the mistakes. His running game has the elements to be successful, but Detroit has a good defensive front as well. This game has the potential to be a defensive war with the field goal kickers playing a big part in the outcome. I am serious. WIthout the ability to run the ball, the respective pass rushes are going to be dangerous. Obviously the visitors have the talent in that department, but the home team has the crowd noise. I consider this an upset because of the venue, but I like how the Lions bounced back last week and think they are going in the right direction. Not so much for the other guys: Detroit 20, NY Jets 16 (DET +1/under 45.5)

Tampa Bay (0-3) @ Pittsburgh (2-1): Very few times in the NFL are their routs like what the Bucs endured last week. They went to Atlanta and had the tar beaten out of them for a national audience to see on TNF. It was epic. At least they pick up extra days to recover. The Steelers had an opposite result in their primetime experience, whipping the Panthers on the road. Even with a little extra fatigue, I am feeling good about their momentum at this point of the season. Tampa Bay is counting on some returning personnel, including lead back Doug Martin, and Pittsburgh is so low on linebackers they brought James Harrison out of retirement. This could be a factor in keeping it close.

I like young quarterback Mike Glennon. He did some good things, helping the team win four of five during one stretch last season during the failed regime of Greg Schiano. Now he is thrust back into the starting role due to veteran Josh McCown's injury. Pittsburgh's defense typically thrives against inexperienced quarterbacks. With the weakened linebacker corps it will not be as easy for them to torture him. For me, while I do not expect the Steelers to overlook the Bucs, I find it hard to foresee them pounding them into submission. The visitors are going to be focused because of their desperate situation. It helps them stay within striking distance most of the way. Eventually, the home team runs them over: Pittsburgh 30, Tampa Bay 17 (PIT -7/over 43.5)

Carolina (2-1) @ Baltimore (2-1): Sometimes I wonder how much of a distraction it is for the players when things are going on off the field. Do the Ravens really worry about their owner being seen as a liar in the Ray Rice situation? Are they concerned over commissioner Roger Goodell being flat out called a liar by ESPN's Bill Simmons? Maybe, maybe not. It is possible for such a thing to actually help because it is all anyone wants to talk about, instead of any issues the team might be having on the field. The Ravens escaped with a huge win at Cleveland last week and have to be feeling good. The Panthers were hammered at home on SNF against Pittsburgh and have to be feeling beaten up.

Momentum can shift weekly in the NFL and this is a hard one to figure out for me. Carolina's defense was just run over for 264 yards. However, they are looking at Lorenzo Taliafero as the opposing starting running back. Their own backfield situation is iffy thanks to injuries, but DeAngelo Williams is expected to return here. While talent is helpful at the skill positions, ultimately blocking and schemes are the key factors. Neither team has much at wide receiver, but the X-factor is Steve Smith. Think he might be motivated against his former team? Think he might have some insights for his new team? Yes, and yes. Any extra edge is vital in the NFL and with quarterback Cam Newton looking shaky I do not see the visitors getting it done here: Baltimore 22, Carolina 16 (BAL -2/under 41)

Buffalo (2-1) @ Houston (2-1): Before the season started I would have been surprised if either of these teams began the year 3-1. Barring the rare tie, one of them will. It does not mean either team is any good. The Bills are probably better than they looked last week while getting whipped by a solid San Diego team at home last week, but not as good as their opening wins. The same goes for the Texans really. At quarterback it is savvy veteran Ryan FItzpatrick against young E.J. Manuel, and that is an edge for the home team. If Arian Foster is able to answer the bell, I like Houston quite a bit here. Without him, the gap closes considerably because Alfred Blue is simply not the same type of threat.

J.J. Watt is going to make his presence known, especially in front of his fans. After such a disastrous season, here they stand with an opportunity to finish the first quarter of the season with three victories. I like their chances to fire up the defense and win the all-important turnover battle. Certainly the Bills have a good chance of competing here, and winning. Fitzpatrick gets over on his former team here. I have a soft spot for experience: Houston 27, Buffalo 21 (HOU -2/over 40.5)

Jacksonville (0-3) @ San Diego (2-1): Mismatch is the immediate reaction to this game. My only hesitation is how motivated the Chargers will be against a weak opponent, and how much focus they will have. The Jaguars are at a disadvantage coming across the country, and have been battered this season so far. After going ahead of Philadelphia 17-0 at halftime of the opener, they have been outscored 119-27 in 10 quarters of football. Professionals should not be blown out by that margin over a stretch like that. San Diego has allowed only 49 points this season - total. Then again, they have only scored 69 but have done so against a couple very good defenses (Arizona, Seattle) and had to go across the country themselves to play Buffalo after getting worn out by those sides.

On the down side, the Chargers are having an issue running the ball, even before their backfield injuries mounted. Philip Rivers has compensated for this by finding the hot receiving target. Two weeks ago it was tight end Antonio Gates. Last week it was Eddie Royal. Here it will probably be his true top threat, Keenan Allen, who has been held down as defenses focus on him more. Defensively, the Jaguars bring rookie quarterback Blake Bortles who they hope will spark their stagnant offense. It is not going to happen here. I generally like Bortles. He seems poised and has the physical tools to be successful. He does not blow me away, and certainly in a spot such as this I am not anticipating a stunning result because of anything positive he does. Maybe he keeps them from getting blown out, that is all: San Diego 31, Jacksonville 15 (SD -10.5/over 44.5)

Atlanta (2-1) @ Minnesota (1-2): It sure feels like the Falcons are surging and are ready to be a contender again after a lost season. Not so much for the Vikings, who have been outscored 50-16 in two games since franchise back Adrian Peterson was removed from the equation. Atlanat's defense has been getting progressively better as well, and having played on TNF they are getting extra rest.

If nothing else, Minnesota played New Orleans pretty tough last week. They could have folded up tent and instead were very competitive. Unfortunately, it now falls on rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to lead an offense with no running game to speak of. Jerrick McKinnon is not ready to pass block, leaving plodder Matt Asiata as the replacement to "All Day". Matt Ryan is not mentioned among the elite passers in the league, but he has a clearly elite wide receiver in Julio Jones. He also knows how to distribute the football to his playmakers. Heck, even Devin Hester has provided them with a spark. Most games are close, and it is tough to destroy anyone on the road so this is just a comfortable win: Atlanta 28, Minnesota 17 (ATL -2/under 47.5)

Philadelphia (3-0) @ San Francisco (1-2): Man, this is gonna be good. The 49ers are backed up against the wall now. No one expected them to lose in the desert against a backup quarterback. Their season is pretty much on the line here. The Eagles are much more relaxed in this spot resting atop a weak division. Of course, desperation versus comfort does not translate to an automatic win for the home team. Beyond that, Philadelphia actually should be focused on winning this game because home field in the NFC playoffs is vital. They want to finish first and avoid a trip to Seattle, New Orleans or wherever they might have to go.

Obviously, the fears of San Francisco's defensive struggles this season have been realized. Their secondary is remodeled, and their front seven is missing too much talent to be effective, especially when it comes to rushing the passer. How are they going to make life difficult for a fast-paced Philadelphia offense with multiple weapons coming at them? I do not know if they can rise up at home either. Is Levi's Stadium really an advantage for them at this point? As much as the 49ers are backed up against the wall, I think of it this way. Just because you need to win, does not mean you will simply by default. Their defense is going to get worn out, and their offense lacks the punch to compensate: Philadelphia 31, San Francisco 28 (PHI +5.5/over 49.5)

New Orleans (1-2) @ Dallas (2-1): Jerry Jones does not know when to shut up. He owns the Cowboys, so he can say whatever he wants, but spouting about his team not being one to be overlooked is misguided. The Saints, I assure you, are not looking past them in this spot. They have issues on the road, but not in this comfortable stadium environment. Their fans will show up in numbers and while suddenly elite running back DeMarco Murray has the home team on a roll, his defense is still awful. Austin Davis just threw for 327 yards on them, completing 30 of 42 passes in the process. Four St. Louis players had at least 50 yards receiving. Think New Orleans might be able to replicate that success?

We know the Saints are going to score a bunch here. Can the Cowboys answer? Last week New Orleans went up against a punchless Minnesota offense and held them to 247 yards, but in two road games to open the season they allowed a combined 63 points. This could become a shootout in the Lone Star state. Tony Romo might come out sharp and have a turnover free game to spark them to a big win. I still believe in Drew Brees and Sean Payton, and do not see them falling to 1-3 so that is the main reason for this direction on the pick: New Orleans 26, Dallas 24 (DAL +3/under 54)

New England (2-1) @ Kansas City (1-2): Are the Patriots out of gas? They looked very sluggish last week against the Raiders, notably on offense. Rushing Tom Brady has always been a way to beat them, and we have seen the Chiefs get the quarterback, especially at home in primetime. I think this is going to be a very interesting game. Here is the thing, New England wants to run the ball. Getting rid of guard Logan Mankins submarined their efforts early in the season, but they have talent in the backfield. Stevan Ridley, as long as he protects the football, can help them maintain possession on long marches down the field. Brady's issue passing the ball is that he is beyond his prime and can no longer make ordinary players look good.

On the other side, Alex Smith is still without much help on offense. Tight end Travis Kelce is emerging, and Jamaal Charles might be healthy enough to play here. Even if their dynamic running back is out, Knile Davis is a pretty good option in relief. I am ready for a struggle here. The home team is not nearly as good as they were last year, but the visitors at this moment are a step behind their normal selves as well. Ultimately, Brady buckles up and makes the one big play to his elite tight end Rob Gronkowski for the win. Sort of like last week if you think about it: New England 21, Kansas City 20 (KC +4/under 46.5)


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