Never before in the history of American professional sports have so many individuals been so happy about referees. Gone are the replacement refs, but one can't help but wonder just how long it will be before we're all back to complaining about the standard officials that we've been yearning for since the preseason. As for the 2012 Week 4 contests, I only went against the grain a handful of times. Such upset picks do not include Thursday night's showdown in Baltimore.
2012 Week 4 NFL picks: Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens
How beaten down are Cleveland fans after just three weeks of football? I've seen several "will the Cavs win in 2012 before the Browns do?" jokes on Twitter in the past 24 hours. All kidding aside, the Browns are again struggling to stop the run, and Ray Rice, who has torched Cleveland in the past, is 100 percent heading into Thursday night. The Browns have a way of hanging with Baltimore until late in games, so avoiding the 13-point spread may be wise. I don't think anybody, not even the most optimistic Cleveland sports fan, is expecting anything other than a Ravens win here, though.
2012 Week 4 NFL picks: Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons
It took just three weeks for teammates and the local press to criticize Cam Newton. That's far sooner than I expected. I truly believe the Panthers won't again this season play as poorly as they did against the Giants last Thursday night, but there's no justifying going with them here. The Falcons are arguably the most complete team in football at the end of September, and Matty Ice and company (almost) never lose at home. I like Atlanta to cover the spread here.
2012 Week 4 NFL picks: New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills
The Bills deserve credit for showing plenty of heart and fight in their September games. They're just running out of weapons with each week. Not a part of me believes playing Fred Jackson is a good idea if he remains under 100 percent this weekend, and that leaves Buffalo without three critical play-makers on offense. The 2012 Patriots may not be the 15-1 team some advertised them to be, but they're also not falling to 1-3.
2012 Week 4 NFL picks: Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions
Upset special number one. Matt Stafford is already banged up, the Lions are once again a team that relies on second half rallies far too much, and Christian Ponder has looked like the real deal early on in the season. The biggest concern regarding the Vikes is that they'll be flying a little too high after that surprise win over San Fran. My hope here is that the division rivalry will keep Minnesota grounded enough to go into Detroit and prove they are true playoff contenders.
2012 Week 4 NFL picks: San Diego Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs were possibly the worst team in football this time last week. It's amazing what an overtime win in New Orleans can do for perceptions. The 2012 Saints have been far more bad than good, however, and I can't see KC rushing for 200 yards against one of the best run defenses in the NFL. The Chargers were far from super at home against the Falcons last Sunday, but the KC defense isn't quite as stingy as is Atlanta's.
2012 Week 4 NFL picks: Seattle Seahawks at St. Louis Rams
Maybe I'm just one of many bitter football fans, but I'm not at all yet sold on the Seahawks. The replacement refs tried to give Seattle a win in Week 1, they did so this past Monday night, and the Cowboys couldn't be bothered to show up at CenturyLink Field two Sundays ago. Seattle's pass rush coupled with the shaky o-line of the Rams is a concern, but Sam Bradford is due for a big game against the 'Hawks. I also think the Rams are better team than the one that was dominated by Chicago last week.
2012 Week 4 NFL picks: San Francisco 49ers at New York Jets
My first thought here is that this is the type of game that the Rex Ryan Jets always manage to win. They've been left for dead by many now that Darrelle Revis is out for the season, the 49ers are looking to bounce back from a shameful effort at Minnesota, and the San Fran defense is a terrible match-up for a New York offense that, outside of a fluky first week performance, has been lousy since August. History suggests that Gang Green will beat San Fran and Houston before going on to lose to the likes of Seattle, St. Louis, Indy and Tennessee. Common sense says to go with the Niners, but that's not a pick I love.
2012 Week 4 NFL picks: Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans
You're much braver than am I if you're going with Tennessee here. I've seen Houston listed at the top of multiple NFL power rankings this week, and a Titans team that features Jake Locker as its leading rusher will be taking on a Texans defense that's in the top five in stopping both the run and the pass. Houston covering the 12-point spread and then some wouldn't shock me.
2012 Week 4 NFL picks: Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos
The Oakland defense gave up over 380 yards in the air at home last Sunday. All due respect to Mr. Roethlisberger, but I'd still take Peyton Manning over Big Ben in 2012. Minus a single horrendous quarter of football and a few other instances, Manning has looked like his old self throughout September. Things could get ugly and quick for the pass defense of the Raiders.
2012 Week 4 NFL picks: Miami Dolphins at Arizona Cardinals
Just as with Minnesota, the key for the Cardinals is avoiding the big head syndrome that plagues teams who have risen above expectations early on in a season. The simple fact regarding this game is that I can't pick Miami without knowing for sure that Reggie Bush will be healthy (knee injury) and ready to play, something nobody can say as of the typing of this sentence. Expect Kevin Kolb to have a fun day against a Miami defense that's giving up over 300 passing yards a game.
2012 Week 4 NFL picks: Cincinnati Bengals at Jacksonville Jaguars
Is Blaine Gabbert starting to "get it?" He hasn't yet thrown an interception this season, and Gabbert should also receive a boost from the fact that Maurice Jones-Drew was back in regular season form last week. The Bengals have the second worst run defense in the league, and their mistakes are bound to catch up with them eventually. I see the Jags winning an ugly affair.
2012 Week 4 NFL picks: New Orleans Saints at Green Bay Packers
There's absolutely nothing to like about this game if you're a fan of the Saints. The New Orleans defense has mostly been somewhere between terrible and "you can't be serious," and Aaron Rodgers and the Packers will be looking to take out frustrations on anybody after literally being robbed of a win. As long as they can keep their emotions in check, I like GB to win big.
2012 Week 4 NFL picks: Washington Redskins at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
An offense that's averaging a league-low 243.7 yards per game will face off against a defense that has given up over 33 points per game thus far this season. Something has to give. The Redskins have played a lot of sloppy football over the past few weeks, while Tampa Bay has, outside of the first half against the Giants, been more tough than good this September. The RG3 show gets back to .500 with a second road win.
2012 Week 4 NFL picks: New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles
This one scares me as a Giants fan, largely because it's a statement game for both teams. Philly is averaging a turnover per quarter this season, and Mike Vick could be playing for his starting job. Big Blue, meanwhile, has eight takeaways in three games, and the team's pass rush finally made an appearance at Carolina last Thursday. While there are plenty of "the Eagles could be 0-3" arguments to be made, sometimes it's better to be lucky than good. It's also worth noting that good teams find ways to win. Still, The Giants of their first six quarters of the season seem to have gone away, and the New York team we've seen since then is better than Philly.
2012 Week 4 NFL picks: Chicago Bears at Dallas Cowboys
If there's one thing we've learned since Week 1, it's that the Giants were more bad than Dallas was good in the season opener. Both offensive lines that will be on the field on Monday night are suspect, and I actually found myself fearing for the safety of Tony Romo during last week's Bucs at Cowboys game. My thoughts here are that the pass rush of the Bears will hassle Romo for four quarters, Chicago hasn't yet played at their best, and we may have already seen the best the Cowboys have to offer back when they beat the Giants two weeks ago. If the Bears are who I think they can be, they'll find a way to win.
For more: 2012 Week 4 NFL power rankings