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NFL preview: Week 4

49ers (2-1) at Eagles (1-2)

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1 p.m.

Eagles by 9½, 44

Might as well pick the Eagles to win while we can because at this rate, QB Michael Vick is not going to make it through the season. He cannot continue to expose himself to crushing hits on a weekly basis — regardless of whether the officials are failing to protect him as much as other quarterbacks, as he claims. This will not be a picnic for the Eagles. The 49ers defense, third best in the NFC, is very capable. All the 49ers have to do is get RB Frank Gore (49.3 yards per game), above, going.

Eagles 23, 49ers 14

Redskins (2-1) at Rams (0-3)

1 p.m.

Redskins by 21/2, 43½

For a team that was supposed to have so much promise, it sure is hard to find excuses to pick the Rams these days. Sam Bradford, above, last season's offensive rookie of the year, is barely completing 50 percent of his passes, ranking ahead of only Kerry Collins. Say what you want about the Redskins — and QB Rex Grossman is probably not going to lead them to a Lombardi Trophy — but they have a shot at going into next week's bye at 3-1 and tied for the NFC East lead.

Redskins 21, Rams 17

Giants (2-1) at Cardinals (1-2)

4 p.m.

Giants by 1½, 44½

Not sure what the deal is with Giants QB Eli Manning, above, this season. Perhaps he's feeling some pressure to uphold the family name given the loss of older brother Peyton. It's early, but Eli is on pace for the highest QB rating of his career (104.3). He has had a lot of help from RB Ahmad Bradshaw and WR Victor Cruz, but don't discount the impact of guys such as DE Jason Pierre-Paul. The first-round pick and former USF stud has 41/2 sacks in three games — second most in the league.

Giants 27, Cardinals 17

Falcons (1-2) at Seahawks (1-2)

4 p.m.

Falcons by 5, 39

For all the chatter about Eagles QB Michael Vick and the numerous hits he has absorbed, you could say the same thing about Falcons QB Matt Ryan, above. He was tossed around like a doll by the Bucs last week, a team that isn't supposed to have a rabid pass rush. The fact is the Falcons have issues. Lots of them. They can't protect Ryan. And their defense has work to do. They need to right the ship against Seattle, whose 30 points are third fewest in the league, because the Packers are on deck.

Falcons 27, Seahawks 16

Broncos (1-2) at Packers (3-0)

4:15 p.m.

Packers by 12½, 46

Don't expect this to be nearly as interesting as the teams' last meeting. In that one, at Mile High Stadium in 2007, Green Bay WR Greg Jennings took a Brett Favre deep ball 82 yards to the house on the first play of overtime. The Broncos defense is better these days with tough-minded John Fox, above, in his first season at the helm. But they don't have the antidote for Jennings, QB Aaron Rodgers and TE Jermichael Finley. The Green Bay offense has become a thing of beauty.

Packers 30, Broncos 20

Dolphins (0-3) at Chargers (2-1)

4:15 p.m., Ch. 10

Chargers by 7, 45

If you had an office pool betting on the first NFL coach to be fired, there might be a race to choose the Dolphins' Tony Sparano, above. Reports from South Florida last week suggested he wouldn't be fired before this game. If that's what passes for an endorsement, then we'd hate to see what happens if he actually loses the support of owner Steve Ross. Right now, Miami is winless and emotionless. The Chargers miss injured star TE Antonio Gates dearly, but they're making do without him.

Chargers 29, Dolphins 17

Patriots (2-1) at Raiders (2-1)

4:15 p.m.

Patriots by 5, 55

This isn't the bounce-back game you might believe it would be for the Patriots. That was a rough day in Buffalo last week as no less than QB Tom Brady, above, had one of the most humbling afternoons of his career with four interceptions. More disconcerting: New England's defense is, statistically, the worst in the NFL. Bill Belichick, one of the great defensive minds, must think he's in the Twilight Zone. It's a bad matchup for the Patriots, mostly because of Darren McFadden (6.4 yards per carry).

Patriots 31, Raiders 28

Lions (3-0) at Cowboys (2-1)

1 p.m., Ch. 13

Cowboys by 2½, 46

If someone asked you what nonquarterback you'd choose to start an NFL franchise, the answer should be Calvin Johnson, above. The Lions receiver is the first player with two or more touchdown receptions in his first three games. And we're not talking run-of-the-mill touchdowns, but stuff worthy of the NFL Films archives. The Cowboys' inexperience at receiver is a stark contrast. Dallas has potential, but QB Tony Romo is beat up and figures to see lots of heat from Detroit's front line.

Lions 27, Cowboys 23

Panthers (1-2) at Bears (1-2)

1 p.m.

Bears by 6½, 42½

With the Bears suddenly on a two-game skid after losses to the Saints and Packers, today becomes a key date. And with a road game against the undefeated Lions on tap, Chicago and coach Lovie Smith, above, need a win. The Bears offense is wildly unpredictable no matter the opponent. Some of that is attributed to protection issues that have doomed QB Jay Cutler. Then there's the lack of good receiving options. RB Matt Forte leads the team in receptions (22) and yards (287).

Bears 24, Panthers 20

Bills (3-0) at Bengals (1-2)

1 p.m.

Bills by 3, 43½

Watching the Bills get off to the most unexpected 3-0 start in recent memory is what makes the NFL so great. For three hours on Sunday, any team truly can win any game. But the point has to be made that Buffalo is not just any ol' team anymore. It has a legitimate quarterback in Ryan Fitzpatrick, above, and an underrated running back in Fred Jackson (third in the NFL with 303 yards). The Bills won't stay undefeated as their defense looks like it will lead to their undoing — but not today.

Bills 27, Bengals 17

Steelers (2-1) at Texans (2-1)

1 p.m., Ch. 10

Texans by 4, 45

The Texans' biggest problem has always been their defense, forcing them to rely on outscoring opponents. The latest example was last week's 40-33 loss at New Orleans. If that's the way it's going to be, why should we see them any differently? Maybe today will answer some questions, such as if DE Mario Williams, above, can take over a game or if the secondary can keep up with Pittsburgh's Mike Wallace. QB Matt Schaub will get his. So, too, will WR Andre Johnson. The D? We'll see.

Texans 28, Steelers 24

Vikings (0-3) at Chiefs (0-3)

1 p.m.

Vikings by 2½, 40

Hard to know what to make of the Vikings. Any team that can't hold leads of 17-0 and 20-0 in consecutive weeks has major flaws. But you've got to figure those issues are primarily on defense. If Minnesota can hold the one-year wonders (that would be the Chiefs) and their lowest-scoring offense in check, maybe they can buy RB Adrian Peterson and QB Donovan McNabb enough time to escape with a win. Chiefs coach Todd Haley, above, needs a win in the worst way if he intends to stay employed.

Vikings 26, Chiefs 21

Saints (2-1) at Jaguars (1-2)

1 p.m.

Saints by 7, 45

QB Blaine Gabbert, above, just might be the right choice for the Jaguars' future. He might go on to have a wonderful career and win lots of games and become a very big star. Just not today. This, instead, will be the Drew Brees Show. The Saints quarterback has directed his offense to three impressive performances, scoring a combined 104 points. However, it has become clear the New Orleans defense isn't nearly what it was during the 2009 Super Bowl run. Luckily for it, today's task isn't that tall.

Saints 35, Jaguars 17

Jets (2-1) at Ravens (2-1)

8:20 p.m., Ch. 8

Ravens by 3½, 42

This is a good matchup of two perceived powers who have a little trouble finding their way because of inconsistency. The Ravens two weeks ago couldn't put drives together in a loss at Tennessee. Meanwhile, the vaunted Jets defense couldn't get off the field last week in losing at Oakland. Maybe this game helps clarify things. Slight edge goes to the Ravens because they have better offensive balance. Oakland ran at will against the Jets. Can the Ravens' Ray Rice, above, do the same?

Ravens 26, Jets 23

Titans (2-1) at Browns (2-1)

1 p.m.

Pick 'em, 38½

Despite the buzz about the Texans possibly winning the AFC South, the Titans are quietly off to a 2-1 start that suggests Houston might not run away with it. The Titans have a great QB situation with vet Matt Hasselbeck, above, backed up by first-round pick Jake Locker. The passing game will be challenged by the loss of star WR Kenny Britt to a knee injury, but they've already overcome the struggles of Chris Johnson (2.1 yards per carry). By the way: Tennessee's defense is No. 1 in the NFL.

Titans 24, Browns 17

NFL preview: Week 4 10/01/11 [Last modified: Saturday, October 1, 2011 8:42pm]
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