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Predicting the NFL games

Chiefs (4-0) at Titans (3-1)

1 p.m. Chiefs by 2½, 38½

The only other team ever to open 4-0 after losing 14-plus games? The 1980 Lions, who had RB Billy Sims as a rookie. Largo High grad Dexter McCluster (above) had an 89-yard punt return for a TD last week, the longest in the NFL this season. With QB Jake Locker injured, Tennessee turns to Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is 4-1 for his career against the Chiefs. Name you probably don't know: Titans CB Alterraun Verner, tied for NFL lead with four interceptions, is a fourth-year pro who went back to UCLA to complete his degree in mathematics.

The pick: Titans 21, Chiefs 17

Panthers (1-2) at Cardinals (2-2)

4 p.m. Panthers by 2, 42

Carolina's season-opening 12-7 loss to Seattle looks strong now — as does its 38-0 rout of the Giants in their last game. The Panthers have won seven of eight against Arizona, which got two interceptions from CB Patrick Peterson (above) in the final four minutes to beat the Bucs last week. Carolina DE Greg Hardy had seven sacks in his first two seasons but has 12 over his past 12 games, including three against the Giants. Will Arizona give RB Andre Ellington more touches? He's averaging 6.2 yards on his 10 carries.

The pick: Panthers 24, Cardinals 20

Broncos (4-0) at Cowboys (2-2)

4:25 p.m. Ch. 10, Broncos by 7½, 57

The last team to win 15 straight regular-season games by at least seven points? The 1941-42 Bears. It's hard to find peers for Peyton Manning (above) 16 touchdowns and no interceptions. Dallas QB Tony Romo has completed 72 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and one interception. Manning's success has opened it up for Knowshon Moreno, who's gaining a career-best 5.2 yards per carry. Last week, Cowboys LB Sean Lee had a 52-yard interception return for a touchdown, his sixth touchdown since 2011.

The pick: Broncos 38, Cowboys 24

Texans (2-2) at 49ers (2-2)

8:30 p.m. Ch. 8, 49ers by 6, 42

We like 49ers WR Anquan Boldin (above) as the offseason swindle of the year, getting him from Baltimore for a sixth-round pick, which the Ravens bundled with another pick to move up six spots in the second round. San Francisco bounced back with a 24-point win against St. Louis, and Houston is reeling from letting a 20-3 lead slip away against Seattle. Houston LB Whitney Mercilus is building off a strong rookie year with 2½ sacks last week. Watch out for 49ers TE Vernon Davis, who had three touchdown in his only game against Houston.

The pick: 49ers 28, Texans 17

Chargers (2-2) at Raiders (1-3)

11:30 p.m. NFL, Chargers by 4½, 45

The late-night start is because the A's hosted the Tigers in a playoff game Saturday night and stadium workers need 24 hours to convert the field from baseball to football. Chargers QB Philip Rivers (above) is on fire with 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Meanwhile, Oakland goes back to QB Terrelle Pryor, who missed last week with concussion symptoms. His first career start was against San Diego, last season in a 24-21 loss. Oakland still is looking for its first interception, so expect a big day from Rivers.

The pick: Chargers 31, Raiders 17

Jets (2-2) at Falcons (1-3)

8:40 Monday ESPN, Falcons by 10, 43½

After a 2-1 start that included a close loss to New England, the Jets stumbled to a 38-13 loss to the Titans. Lakeland's Bilal Powell (above) has emerged as the Jets' top running back, rushing for 292 yards and a 4.4-yard average. That takes pressure off of rookie QB Geno Smith, who is going for his first road win. Atlanta's Julio Jones leads the NFL with 481 receiving yards and has topped 100 yards in his past three. Ageless TE Tony Gonzalez, 37, had 12 grabs for 149 last week and has touchdowns in his past two games against Jets.

The pick: Falcons 27, Jets 10

Saints (4-0) at Bears (3-1)

1 p.m. Ch. 13, Saints by 1, 50

To put Drew Brees' touchdown production in context: Josh Freeman has a Bucs-record 80 over 59 starts — as many as Brees (above) has over his past 28. Today, he can break his own NFL records for consecutive 300-yard games (he currently has nine) and consecutive games with 25-plus completions (10). If Chicago gave up 40 points to Detroit, how many will New Orleans score? All eyes will be on New Orleans TE Jimmy Graham, who has six touchdown catches. But Chicago TE Martellus Bennett has three himself.

The pick: Saints 37, Bears 31

Patriots (4-0) at Bengals (2-2)

1 p.m. Pick 'em, 45½

Even by Patriots standards, it's impressive Tom Brady (above) is looking for his seventh straight road victory and 14th in 15 games overall. With two more touchdown throws, he passes Fran Tarkenton (342) for fourth all time. LeGarrette Blount already has more rushing yards (155) than in all of 2012 with Tampa Bay, including a 47-yard touchdown last week. How did Bengals LB Vontaze Burfict go undrafted a year ago? He led the team in tackles last season and has a team-best 42 this season. The Bengals have lost seven of eight in this series.

The pick: Patriots 27, Bengals 17

Lions (3-1) at Packers (1-2)

1 p.m. Packers by 7, 54

Green Bay has allowed an average of 29 points in its losses, so the question is if its defense can improve enough to keep it a postseason threat. Aaron Rodgers likes facing Detroit — 18 touchdowns and four interceptions while going 14-1. Meanwhile, Detroit RB Reggie Bush (above) looks like a free agent steal: just $16 million for four years, and he has 433 yards of total offense in his three games. Reason to question an easy Packers win: Detroit's defense has four more interceptions than touchdowns allowed. Its eight interceptions are second in the league.

The pick: Packers 31, Lions 17

Seahawks (4-0) at Colts (3-1)

1 p.m. Seahawks by 2½, 43½

The Colts have won seven of eight at home, and this would be a head-turner as wins go. New RB Trent Richardson has scored in each of his two games as a Colt, but his 3.1-yard average is underwhelming. Seattle has the NFL's toughest pass efficiency defense, a major challenge for Indianapolis second-year QB Andrew Luck. Seahawks CB Richard Sherman (above) has three touchdowns over his past eight games. Seattle name you should learn: LB Bobby Wagner, a second-year starter from Utah State who has 172 tackles in his first 20 games.

The pick: Seahawks 24, Colts 14

Ravens (2-2) at Dolphins (3-1)

1 p.m. Ch. 10, Dolphins by 2½, 43½

Is Miami as good as its record? The Dolphins have as many points as their opponents, and only eight teams have thrown more interceptions. One is Baltimore, which saw Joe Flacco (above) throw five last week in a loss at Buffalo. Miami has won three in a row at home, and QB Ryan Tannehill has six touchdowns and one interceptions in that span. He only has one touchdown, but Baltimore WR Torrey Smith leads the AFC with 435 receiving yards, on pace to double his 855 from last year.

The pick: Ravens 24, Dolphins 21

Jaguars (0-4) at Rams (1-3)

1 p.m. Rams by 11½, 41½

How bad are the Jaguars? Three offensive touchdowns in four games, which is why they're scoring 7.8 points per game. There's still hope: Blaine Gabbert (above) hasn't thrown an interception in his past five road starts. Jacksonville's defense has just two interceptions this season. Then again, St. Louis has … one. The Jaguars get a boost with the return of WR Justin Blackmon, back from a four-game suspension. How exactly is WR Tavon Austin, the Rams' first-round pick, averaging 6.2 yards on his 20 catches with a long of 14?

The pick: Rams 27, Jaguars 13

Eagles (1-3) at Giants (0-4)

1 p.m. Giants by 1½, 54

This game was a 42-7 win for the Giants in last year's regular-season finale, improbably their last win. Eli Manning has a league-high nine interceptions, and this game features the league's worst scoring defenses, the Eagles at 34.5 points per game and the Giants 36.5. Philadelphia also has the league's worst total defense at 446.8 yards per game. Which defense shows up? If Michael Vick (above), who has two interceptions all season, can limit his mistakes, the Eagles can bounce back before heading to Tampa for their third straight road game.

The pick: Eagles 34, Giants 31

Predicting the NFL games 10/05/13 [Last modified: Saturday, October 5, 2013 8:19pm]

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