With a quarter of the season in the books, we’re starting to get a better grasp of the legit teams in the league, but there still hasn’t been a giant leap by an elite team in the NFC. There are plenty of good teams, but none of them have made the statement win that establishes themselves as the front-runner like the Patriots and Chiefs have in the AFC.
That could change on Sunday with critical matchup between Dallas and Green Bay.
With tease for the weekend to come, let’s get to the picks.
Point spread: Steelers +3.5
Things change in an instant in the NFL, and no one knows that better than the Pittsburgh Steelers. In the blink of an eye, they saw franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger go down for the season and were 0-3 on the year. One would think that’d be enough for a knockout blow, but after beating the Bengals on Monday Night Football with second-year quarterback Mason Rudolph, they are in position to jump right back into the AFC North race on Sunday. Both the Ravens and the Browns are just one game above the Steelers in the division. While the Steelers have been able to put themselves in an interesting spot, the Ravens are simply too talented to fall under .500 at this point in the year. I think Lamar Jackson has his way with the Steelers defense and puts Baltimore in position to be the lone team atop the AFC North by the end of Week 5.
The pick: Ravens 27-20 over Steelers
Point spread: Panthers -3.5
The story of the 2019 season so far has been the play of backup quarterbacks and two of them will square off on Sunday. Gardner Minshew and Kyle Allen have helped weather the storm of the Jaguars and Panthers losing Nick Foles and Cam Newton admirably over the first quarter of the season, but only one of them will give their team a winning record when this contest is said and done. While Minshew Mania has taken over Jacksonville, I don’t think he’ll be able to get his second road win in a row as the Panthers defense has been able to get after the quarterback and is tied for first in the NFL in total sacks through Week 4. They are also a top-10 unit in DVOA through the first month. With that in mind, Minshew and the Jags offense will be kept relatively quiet.
The pick: Panthers 28-13 over Jaguars
Point spread: Giants +5.5
Minnesota vs. New York is an intriguing matchup as it relates to both of the starting quarterbacks. For Daniel Jones, this will undoubtedly be his toughest test yet as the Vikings defense is no joke. Meanwhile, for Kirk Cousins, if he can’t get the offense rolling against the Giants secondary, all hope is lost for that unit. In the end, I’m going with the more desperate team in the Vikings here. They need this win to keep pace in the division as they are sitting in the basement behind the Lions, Bears and Packers. That said, I think Jones impresses yet again.
The pick: Vikings 24-17 over Giants
Packers (3-1) at Cowboys (3-1)
Point spread: Cowboys -3.5
We still don’t have a concrete leader in the clubhouse for the “best team in the NFC” crown. I think that could be determined here between the Packers and Cowboys. Both squads are coming off their first loss of the season in Week 4, but Green Bay’s home loss to the Eagles, in my mind, was a bit more concerning than Dallas’ road L to New Orleans. That strong Packers defense we saw in the early stages of the season allowed the Eagles to total 34 points on the night and the Cowboys offense is capable of putting up similar numbers. With the Packers possibly without star receiver Davante Adams, I think Dallas should create some separation for themselves in the NFC East with a win.
The pick: Cowboys 30-24 over Packers
Browns (2-2) at 49ers (3-0)
Point spread: 49ers -3.5
The Browns looked like they turned a corner in Week 4, taking down the Ravens 40-25 in Baltimore. Baker Mayfield had time to throw, Nick Chubb went off and the defense was able to keep Lamar Jackson relatively in check. Now, they face the undefeated 49ers, who are facing their toughest challenge of the season. During that three-game win streak to begin 2019, San Francisco took down a Bucs squad that was still trying to figure themselves out offensively, a Bengals team that is arguably one of the worst in the NFL and a Steelers offense that has Mason Rudolph under center for his first career start. Don’t get me wrong, the 49ers have looked good, but I think the Browns continue to look like the team we thought they’d be entering 2019 and get a big road win.
The pick: Browns 24-17 over 49ers
The rest of the bunch
Seahawks 27-10 over Rams
Texans 24-16 over Falcons
Eagles 30-10 over Jets
Buccaneers 24-21 over Saints
Bears 24-17 over Raiders
Titans 17-10 over Bills
Patriots 32-9 over Redskins
Cardinals 27-17 over Bengals
Chargers 28-13 over Broncos
Chiefs 30-17 over Colts
Straight up: 40-22-1
Against the spread: 29-33-1