NFL Insiders predict: Week 4 upsets, flops, Giants' playoff hopes, more

ByESPN NFL Insiders via ESPN logo
Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Our NFL Insiders predict Week 4's biggest upsets and fantasy flops and sleepers. Plus: Which undefeated team will finish the season as a No. 1 seed? And is it time to stick a fork in the Giants?

What's your top upset pick for Week 4?

Dan Graziano, NFL writer: 49ers over Cardinals. Yeah, I know it's in Arizona, but the Cardinals just don't look right without David Johnson, and Larry Fitzgerald can't play Superman every week (I don't think). The Niners' offense was clicking pretty well the last time we saw them, and they come into this game with 10 days of rest while the Cardinals will have had only six. Give me Kyle Shanahan for his first win as a head coach in this one.

KC Joyner, NFL writer: Browns over Bengals. Even after the good game against Green Bay, the Bengals are still the only offense to average less than one point per drive (0.72). Add in the fact the game is in Cleveland and it has the makings of an upset.

Aaron Schatz, editor-in-chief of Football Outsiders: Giants over Buccaneers. Both of these defenses have regressed significantly from how well they played last year, but I think the Giants have more talent to reverse that decline, especially with the Bucs'Gerald McCoy hobbling with an injury. The Giants have the cornerbacks to cover Tampa's great receivers, which should make for a close game despite the issues with the New York offensive line.

Mike Sando, senior NFL writer: Texans over Titans. Both teams are coming off hard-fought games played in warm temperatures against playoff teams. Houston won at home against Tennessee in Week 4 last season despite Brock Osweiler tossing two picks. The Texans were coincidentally coming off a road loss to the Patriots in that game also.

Field Yates, NFL Insider: Chargers over Eagles. While some would posit that the Chargers are better than their 0-3 record indicates, as Bill Parcells said, "You are what your record says you are." So that makes them an upset pick over the Eagles this week in my book. Los Angeles still has plenty of offensive horsepower to take advantage of a banged-up Eagles secondary.

The Chiefs and Falcons are the only two undefeated teams left. Will either be the 1-seed in the AFC or NFC come January?

Graziano: The Patriots still probably end up with the top seed in the AFC after the Chiefs and the rest of the AFC West beat each other up all year. But over in the NFC, I think you have to make the Falcons your favorite. The East is going to be a crazy dogfight. The Vikings and Lions both look as if they'll at least make things tough on the Packers in the North. And the Seahawks look as if something is seriously wrong with them. At this point, Atlanta is the favorite to come out of the NFC as the top seed, though obviously anything can happen.

Joyner: Dallas might be the only NFC team capable of beating the Falcons for the No. 1 seed, but the Cowboys' offensive line changes led to their having their worst blocking performance in the past two seasons against Denver and are a bad sign for the near future. Kansas City is dominating right now, largely due to incredibly strong run blocking, but they don't have a Plan B for when the run blocking starts to falter. That will open the door for New England, Pittsburgh or Oakland to win the top seed in the AFC.

Schatz:Football Outsiders playoff odds have the Chiefs (33 percent) with stronger chances of winning the No. 1 seed than the Falcons (24 percent), and the Chiefs are the best team in our ratings so far this season. But I also think the Chiefs face better competition for that top spot. We still have Pittsburgh with a 27 percent chance to get the top seed despite their shocking (but nonconference loss), and while the Patriots' chances seem low at 8.3 percent, let's be honest, we all look at what the Patriots have done after poor starts in recent seasons and think that percentage is way too low. So I say the Falcons get it, but the Chiefs do not.

Sando: The Patriots can still snag the No. 1 seed in the AFC if they improve, which they usually do, and if Kansas City gets bogged down during AFC West divisional play, which is reasonable to expect. Atlanta is looking good in the NFC, and I lean the Falcons' way after they beat Green Bay. However, I don't think we've heard the end of Seattle just yet.

Yates: One of the major hurdles for the Chiefs is that the division they play in is so strong. Denver and Oakland figure to stay in the playoff hunt, while the Chargers hung tough in Week 3. Along those lines, the path to the No. 1 seed feels clearer still for New England, though the Patriots must improve on defense in a hurry. The Falcons feel like the best team in the NFC to me, especially when Vic Beasley Jr. returns to the lineup.

Who's your pick to be the biggest fantasy flop this weekend?

Graziano: Derek Carr, QB, Raiders. Neither Raiders fans nor fantasy players with Raiders on their rosters are going to want to hear this after Sunday night's all-around flop, but Week 4 looks even tougher. The Broncos are at home, where their defense absolutely stifled the Cowboys' offense in Week 2. This doesn't feel like a get-right game for Carr or his otherwise impressive group of receivers.

Joyner: Amari Cooper, WR, Raiders. Cooper has tallied only 101 receiving yards in three games and has scored only 8.9 fantasy points over the past two weeks. Facing the Broncos' trio of dominant cornerbacks at Denver is not a recipe to turn around that trend.

Schatz: Dez Bryant, WR, Cowboys. The Rams' defense has been much stronger against the pass than the run this year, which is a good recipe for Ezekiel Elliott to finally have a breakout game and Dak Prescott to throw less. Combine that with the Rams having a No. 1 corner (Trumaine Johnson) clearly better than their other corners, and it suggests a tough game for Bryant.

Sando: Marcus Mariota, QB, Titans. Mariota had eight fantasy points at Houston last season in his only career game against the Texans. I already went out on a limb in picking Houston to win the game. I'll stay there by saying the Texans will again keep Mariota in check.

Yates:Amari Cooper, WR, Raiders. Continuing the theme of Raiders, I'll echo what KC said about Cooper. It has been a curiously slow start for him. The talent is apparent in certain weeks, but it's inexplicable how he can have others in which he manages just a single catch. The Broncos' secondary is outstanding.

The Giants are 0-3 and still have to play the entire AFC West. Should we stick a fork in them?

Graziano: No. I think you can nudge them with the tip of that fork, just to see if there's any movement. But the NFC East doesn't look like the type of division that anyone is going to run away with. Don't get me wrong -- Sunday was a crushing loss for the Giants, and they have major problems, especially with everyone else in the division at 2-1. The odds are strongly against them winning the division and reaching the playoffs. Their hope, if they have one, is that the division becomes a messy jumble (everyone else in their division is playing the West too) and can be won with nine or even eight wins. This is not a completely far-fetched hope, which is why I say no fork just yet.

Joyner: The Giants are 0-2 in division and 0-3 in conference and are thus at a significant tiebreaking disadvantage. New York also has road contests against Tampa Bay, Washington (on a short week) and Arizona, plus home matchups against Seattle, the surprisingly powerful Rams, Dallas, Philadelphia and Washington. Big Blue will have to go 9-4 the rest of the way to make the postseason, and that isn't happening under these circumstances.

Schatz: Football Outsiders playoff odds give the Giants a 4.4 percent chance of making the playoffs. Only Cleveland and San Francisco have lower odds. Even if they upset Tampa Bay this week, as I think they might, those odds go up to only 7.7 percent. Fork away, kids.

Sando: ESPN's Football Power Index is giving the Giants a 4 percent shot at reaching the playoffs. Four percent! The Giants still have games against Tampa Bay, Seattle, Kansas City, Oakland and Dallas, so it is looking bleak. I do think the NFC East is unsettled enough to keep open the door more than 4 percent, however. I'm sticking two prongs of the fork into the Giants.

Yates: Yes. The odds are stacked decidedly against any team that starts the season 0-3. But in a division in which any other team could seemingly win said division? Yes. The Giants have dug themselves a hole that is simply too large to escape from, especially as they become a more predictable offense given their chemical imbalance between run and passing efficiency.

Pick a fringe fantasy player who should be started in Week 4.

Graziano: Mohamed Sanu, WR, Falcons. I like the matchup against Buffalo's thin secondary, especially factoring in the likelihood that the Bills will focus coverage on Julio Jones. The Falcons will be at home, where Sanu had five catches for 85 yards two weeks ago against the Packers. He's a guy teammates were praising as a potential breakout candidate this summer, and I think there's some good production still to come there. If you need an injury replacement or are rotating WR3s in a league, try out Sanu this week.

Joyner: Travis Benjamin, WR, Chargers. He has posted two double-digit point games this year and yet is owned in only 1.4 percent of ESPN leagues. A Week 4 matchup against an Eagles defense that ranks 30th in fantasy points allowed to opponents' wide receivers (122) could make it three double-digit games for Benjamin.

Schatz: Frank Gore, RB, Colts. The Seattle defense has been surprisingly poor against the run this year, 30th in run defense DVOA, and Jacoby Brissett helps open holes by presenting a threat of run on options or play-action bootlegs.

Sando: Jared Goff, QB, Rams. Goff is interesting when considering his better-than-expected start and the Cowboys' issues in the secondary. The Rams are coming off a long week after playing the Thursday night game. Dallas has a short week after winning at Arizona on Monday night. The Cowboys' rushing attack could help Dallas blow open the game, but even that could lead to more passing opportunities for Goff.

Yates: Robert Woods, WR, Rams. Woods is a name that should merit some flex consideration in deeper leagues. He has been the Rams' busiest receiver in snaps played this season, as he plays on nearly every down. Sammy Watkins is in the concussion protocol, and a missed game would likely result in even more work for Woods.

Forget about their contracts. Which 24-or-under receiver would you most want on your team and why: Brandin Cooks, Stefon Diggs, Michael Thomas or Sammy Watkins?

Graziano: Thomas, though Diggs is closing fast. Thomas has that dominator size at the wide receiver position and has shown an ability to be used in a variety of roles early in his career. Cooks feels more one-trick-ponyish, and, of course, Watkins might be the most talented of the bunch but hasn't shown an ability to stay healthy. Diggs could be breaking out into something special right now, but I'll still give the slight edge to Thomas.

Joyner: Cooks. Last year, 551 of his 1,180 yards (if penalties are included) and four of his eight touchdowns occurred at the stretch vertical level (aerials thrown 20 or more yards downfield). That was good enough for Bill Belichick to make Cooks the stretch vertical threat of his offense, and that's more than enough to win my vote.

Schatz: Thomas. Last year, playing in the same offense with the same quarterback, he had a higher DVOA rating than Cooks on both deep passes (16-plus yards through the air) and shorter passes. He's also taller and more physical. As much as I love Cooks and also Diggs, I would take Thomas. Watkins just has too many health issues to take over the other three.

Sando: I'll take Thomas for his combination of size, production and availability to this point in his career.

Yates: Watkins, but there's no wrong answer here. Watkins is a technician as a route runner and has exceptional speed. He had modest production in three years with Buffalo, in part due to a ground-heavy offense that he played in, but also because of a history of injuries. But from a traits perspective, there's so much to love about his game, as he can dominate in any one-on-one matchup.

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