This column previews four Week 4 matchups and provides The Professor’s model projection for the game outcomes. This article will cover matchups between Kansas City and Philadelphia, Seattle and San Francisco, Cleveland and Minnesota, and Las Vegas and the Los Angeles Chargers.
All spreads and totals are provided by DraftKings.
Kansas City at Philadelphia (KC -7, Total 54)
Model Projection: Kansas City 28.52 – Philadelphia 22.85 (KC -5.67, Total 51.37)
In the discussion of how the sky is falling in Kansas City, there seems to be remarkably little mention of the fact that the Chiefs drove into Chargers’ territory on their first three drives and turned the ball over on all three possessions, with two of those turnovers coming inside the twenty.
Those drive finishes are far from ideal, but it seems unlikely that Kansas City will continue to turn the ball over at that rate in the future, and an offense that moved the ball as well as this one did for stretches is going to rebound from such a poor red-zone performance. The fact that the Chiefs still had an opportunity to win this game against a strong Chargers team after those turnovers is a testament to the talent of this group. Some point to the comeback win over the Browns and say the Chiefs could be 0-3, but it’s as easy to point to the lead they coughed up against Baltimore and say they should be 2-1. The NFL is a competitive league and tight margins are part of the game; Kansas City was remarkably successful in one-score games last year, but that’s rarely sustainable year after year.
That’s bad news for an Eagles team that has come back to Earth in an unpleasant fashion since Week One. The idea that their receivers could get behind the Dallas corners made sense, but why head coach Nick Sirianni elected to go with such a pass-heavy approach with run-first quarterback Jalen Hurts is beyond comprehension. Philadelphia’s best offensive player is running back Miles Sanders, who saw two carries during Monday Night’s loss. Sirianni’s justification that he believed they needed to keep up with the Cowboys also made little sense; no rule that requires an offense to score in a particular amount of time in the NFL, so a team can get in a high-scoring game with a run-first approach.
Philadelphia’s offensive staff had a great plan in place for Hurts in the opener and Monday Night’s debacle might encourage them to go back to more of those concepts and put Hurt in a position to use his legs, particularly given the success Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson had against the Kansas City defense. That could help, but it’s unlikely to be enough against a Chiefs team that should be on top of their game given how much they need this win.
Seattle at San Francisco (SF -3, Total 51.5)
Model Projection: San Francisco 29.17 – Seattle 25.37 (SF -3.8, Total 54.54)
San Francisco is a miraculous final drive by Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers from being 3-0, while the Seahawks appear to have a similar formula to last season: put up big numbers on offense and fail to stop anyone on defense.
It was the same story for Seattle in Minnesota last week and it’s a troubling pattern in a division where all of their opponents field superior defenses. Seattle was particularly bad on third down last week, with the Vikings going 9 of 14 on their conversions, and between their lack of pass rushers and deficiencies at cornerback, it’s difficult to imagine how they make significant improvements.
Receiver D.K. Metcalf got things going this week and it will be critical that he and Tyler Lockett take San Francisco’s issues at cornerback. Slot corner K’Wuan Williams and outside corner Josh Norman both left the Green Bay game with injuries, which forced the 49ers to play their 5th and 6th options at the position. San Francisco’s defense remains formidable up the middle, so while running back Chris Carson is coming off a strong performance, this may be a game where Seattle prefers to emphasize the passing game.
The 49ers took a half to get the offense moving against Green Bay, but quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo played well after Trenton Cannon’s long kickoff return provided a spark. It was backup quarterback Trey Lance who capped that drive on a quarterback run, but Garoppolo led the comeback in the second half, with Brandon Aiyuk getting into the mix for the first time this season alongside fellow pass-catchers Deebo Samuel and George Kittle. The 49ers ultimately lost the game, but while there’s room for debate on how much time Garoppolo left on the clock, the quarterback left the field with Green Bay needing a perfect drive to get in position for a game-winning field goal. Aaron Rodgers made that happen, but Garoppolo’s efforts shouldn’t be entirely dismissed because the other team’s quarterback did something transcendent.
Seattle and San Francisco both have formidable offenses, but the 49ers have the better defense. This is a division game and should be a tight one, but the Garoppolo and the 49ers should have the edge.
Cleveland at Minnesota (CLE -2, Total 51.5)
Model Projection: Cleveland 27.98 – Minnesota 26.02 (CLE -1.96, Total 54)
Minnesota was without star running back Dalvin Cook last week, which allowed Alexander Mattison to show that Minnesota has one of the league’s better second options at the position. Mattison made a statement with a 112-yard performance, but with Cleveland’s Kareem Hunt coming off an explosive performance, it’s clear the Browns still boast the league’s best one-two punch.
As good as these respective run games are, the matchup between the Browns and Vikings may come down to the pass game. Cleveland’s preference is to use a run-heavy approach, but Minnesota’s clear hole on defense is at the left corner position, where Bashaud Breeland has been the primary starter. The Browns may elect to use receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to attack that side in this game; Breeland’s partner, Patrick Peterson, was steady last week after seeing limited targets in the first two games, but unless the Vikings change their approach and have Peterson follow Beckham, it won’t be difficult for Cleveland to get their star receiver into advantageous matchups.
Minnesota’s offensive line has been adequate in the past two games, but this unit faces a stiff test against a Browns pass rush led by Myles Garrett. Cleveland’s pass rush is coming off a sack-fest against Bears rookie Justin Fields and will look to carry that momentum over into a matchup with a Vikings line that has question marks at left tackle and both guard positions. Cleveland’s Jadeveon Clowney, who has shown improvement as a pass rusher this season, could be a significant problem for guards Ezra Cleveland and Oli Udoh.
The Browns have the better offensive line, the better running backs, and the better defense, but the Vikings have the better quarterback in Kirk Cousins, who has a more talented group of pass-catchers at his disposal than Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield. Beckham looked good in his return to action last week, but Vikings receivers Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen have been outstanding this year and have solid complements behind them in receiver K.J. Osborn and tight end Tyler Conklin. The Browns draw a slight edge from the model, but this game is close to a coin flip.
Las Vegas Raiders at Los Angeles Chargers (LAC -3.5, Total 52)
Model Projection: Los Angeles Chargers 28.1 – Las Vegas Raiders 23.69 (LAC -4.41, Total 51.79)
Last Monday Night’s matchup between the Cowboys and Eagles failed to live up to the hype, but there’s another opportunity for a spectacular division rivalry game as Derek Carr and the Raiders take on Justin Herbert and the Chargers.
The Raiders are 3-0 and the 2-1 Chargers have a win over the division-favorite Kansas City Chiefs, which they picked up in a gutty performance that showcased first-year head coach Brandon Staley’s aggressive mindset in big moments. Staley’s brilliance as a defensive schemer is consistently evident on film, but it’s impossible to project how a coordinator will handle the game management side of the head coach job until he’s in that position. Chargers fans have to be thrilled to have a coach who is willing to put it in quarterback Justin Herbert’s hands with the game on the line.
Herbert’s ability makes those decisions easier for Staley because the coach knows he’s putting the ball in the hands of one of the league’s most gifted players. Red-zone turnovers limited Herbert’s scoring numbers in the first two weeks, but after a four-touchdown performance in the win over Kansas City, Herbert has a chance to seize the national spotlight in this game, particularly if he connects on one of his signature frozen ropes to the deep areas of the field. Herbert’s rapport with Austin Ekeler, Keenan Allen, and Mike Williams is still growing in Joe Lombardi’s new offense, so the unit should only continue to get better.
The same is true of quarterback Derek Carr and the Raiders’ young receiving group. This offense has ironically hit its stride in the year with the worst offensive line of head coach Jon Gruden’s tenure. Much of that is due to Carr, who has been willing to take shots downfield, has thrown the ball with precision and timing, and appears to be in total command of Gruden’s system at this point in his career, but receivers Hunter Renfrow, Henry Ruggs, and Bryan Edwards have also done their part in providing options behind lead target Darren Waller. This is an excellent offensive scheme with a decisive signal-caller and all three receivers have an opportunity to exceed expectations this season.
Las Vegas has an outstanding pass rush tandem in Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue along with a significantly improved back end on defense, but as good a job as Raiders’ defensive coordinator Gus Bradley has done, the Chargers have a savant on their side. Brandon Staley has done an excellent job rebuilding this Chargers defense and had a terrific plan to limit quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid’s offense; it will be fascinating to see his plan for Derek Carr and Jon Gruden. The model gives the Chargers a solid edge at home.
This article previewed four NFL matchups for the coming week. For more content from The Professor, including the rest of his game previews and his fantasy content, check out The Professor on BeerLife Sports!