Posted: Thu September 26, 2013 10:58AM; Updated: Thu September 26, 2013 11:34AM
Don Banks
Don Banks>WEEKEND PICKOFF

NFL Week 4 picks

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Can Tom Brady and the Patriots move to 4-0 this week against the Falcons?
Can Tom Brady and the Patriots move to 4-0 this week against the Falcons?
Bob Rosato/SI

Remember those hazy, lazy days of summer, in the NFL's preseason? They're so gone. It's amazing how quickly things can get tense and the pressure starts to build in the NFL's regular season. Jaws and assorted muscles are tightening all across the league's landscape, but nowhere more so than in San Francisco, where the 49ers are engulfed in their first real wave of adversity in the three-year Jim Harbaugh era; and in Tampa Bay, where a quick quarterback change signals just how much urgency permeates the late-September air.

It's getting late early in Washington, Minnesota, Pittsburgh and in the land of the Giants as well. Another week of results will either diffuse the mounting stress or ratchet it up another couple notches. With almost a month of play already in the books, the cheery optimism of the preseason has given way to the stark realities of the regular season. It happens every year about now. For all of Week 4's picks, see below:

Last week: 10-6; Season 35-13
 
Thursday, Sept. 26
 
8:25 p.m. ET (NFL Network) San Francisco 49ers (1-2) at St. Louis Rams (1-2)
What has become of the 49ers' once-impenetrable run defense? Back in 2011, Jim Harbaugh's first year on the job in San Francisco, the 49ers run defense didn't surrender its first rushing touchdown until the 15th game of the season. Last season, San Francisco was a top-five run defense. This year through three games? The 49ers have been dented for six rushing touchdowns, the most in the league, with both the Seahawks and Colts carving up San Francisco on the ground. The Rams don't even have a 100-yard rusher on the season yet (Daryl Richardson leads the team with 98 yards in three games), but they did run the ball pretty effectively last season in getting a win and tie against San Francisco. The 49ers know they have to stop the bleeding right now, and they will, gutting out the win that will keep things from spiraling out of control as September comes to a close.
 
Sunday, Sept. 29
 
1 p.m. ET (CBS) Baltimore Ravens (2-1) at Buffalo Bills (1-2)
I wanted to pick the Bills to win at home for the second time this season and scratch their way back to .500 in the season's first month. But the Ravens defense is back, and I do believe last week's confidence-building beatdown of Houston was preview of things to come this season. Baltimore is still searching for its identity on offense, but in fairness, Buffalo has been searching for a spark since the turn of the century. Advantage Ravens. I tried to work in a Sweat Pea reference, but it would have felt forced, so I totally avoided it. (Wink, wink.)
 
1 p.m. ET (CBS) Cincinnati Bengals (2-1) at Cleveland Browns (1-2)
Hoyer Fever. It's contagious. And the Browns have definitely caught it. I can't blame them. Cleveland has been boring at quarterback since when, Bernie Kosar's glory days? The Bengals should win this game if they're truly a rising power in the AFC North, but I don't think they will. Brian Hoyer, Jordan Cameron and Josh Gordon have breathed some life into the Browns offense, and the resurgence will continue for at least another week. One more good game out of Hoyer and Brandon Weeden might as well pick out which clipboard he wants to hold for the rest of the season.
 
1 p.m. ET (FOX) Chicago Bears (3-0) at Detroit Lions (2-1)
Have to admit, I didn't see a battle for first place in the NFC North being on the line in Week 4 at Ford Field. But Jay Cutler and the Bears keep winning in the fourth quarter, and the Lions last week at Washington pushed over .500 this late in the season for the first time since their playoff run in 2011. A road victory and Marc Trestman's Bears are a fat two games up on their closest division competitor, the Lions, with a 2.5-game bulge over the bye-week-taking Packers and no less than three games over Minnesota.
 
1 p.m. ET (FOX) Seattle Seahawks (3-0) at Houston Texans (2-1)
Texans fans can't like what they saw out of Matt Schaub last week in the 21-point loss at Baltimore. Schaub still makes some forehead-slapping throws, and has moments when he doesn't seem to see the field as well as he should at this late date in his career. Like that pick-six he all but gift-wrapped for Ravens inside linebacker Daryl Smith. Schaub had better be on his game against Seattle's defense at home this week, because the brash-talking Seahawks D might be as good as it gets right now.
 
1 p.m. ET (CBS) Indianapolis Colts (2-1) at Jacksonville Jaguars (0-3)
Funny, but no one seems to label the Colts a "finesse" team any more. Indy proved it can win the physical side of the game with last week's punch in the mouth to San Francisco, and this is a club that has begun to fully take on head coach Chuck Pagano's fiery personality. The Colts could be in for a letdown against the winless Jaguars, but I think they're mature enough to still win in a trap-game setting. Jacksonville has played Indy tough in the past, and beat the playoff-bound Colts last year at Lucas Oil Stadium.
 
1 p.m. ET (FOX) New York Giants (0-3) at Kansas City Chiefs (3-0)
Having seen them with my own eyes last week in Philly, Justin Houston, Dontari Poe, Eric Berry and the rest of the Chiefs defense, I can verify, is nothing to be messed with. Kansas City is glad to have Alex Smith at quarterback, but this will be a defensive-led team and that reality is already well established. Andy Reid must be loving his time back in the NFC East. He already owns wins over Dallas and Philadelphia, and now he gets to fatten up (so to speak) on the winless Giants.
 
1 p.m. ET (CBS) Pittsburgh Steelers (0-3) at Minnesota Vikings (0-3)
London, enjoy. The rematch of Super Bowl IX (notice that familiar final score?) comes about 39 years too late for the enthusiastic football fans of the UK. One of these winless teams will come home with a W. Christian Ponder's given name sounds downright British, but the team quarterbacked by Big Ben has to win in London, right?
 
1 p.m. ET (CBS) Arizona Cardinals (1-2) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-3)
Always love the So-and-So is our quarterback on Monday, at least until a Wednesday pivot that a head coach or two seems to do every season. Not blaming Greg Schiano for buying himself some time on the Josh Freeman benching. But talk about reversing field. It makes everything Schiano says for a while subject to be taken with a boulder-sized grain of salt. Mike Glennon should give the Bucs offense a boost, if only because the Freeman era had run its course and change had become inevitable.
 
4:05 p.m. ET (CBS) New York Jets (2-1) at Tennessee Titans (2-1)
The Titans, a play away from being 3-0, are quietly one of the better stories of the young season, and they'll come out of this one with at least a share of first place in the AFC South to show for it. I'm expecting the Titans to throw Gregg Williams' entire blitz package at Jets rookie Geno Smith, and that will induce another two or three key mistakes from New York's talented but still-green-and-growing quarterback. There haven't been many big games in Nashville lately, but this one qualifies.
 
4:25 p.m. ET (FOX) Philadelphia Eagles (2-1) at Denver Broncos (3-0)
Peyton Manning complains about the Broncos having a short week and the Eagles getting four extra days to prepare? Really? After Denver got the season-opener at home that by all rights should have been in Baltimore? And the Broncos had that Thursday night game in Week 1, giving them extra time to game plan for the Giants in Week 2. Short memory, Mr. Manning. And besides, is getting Oakland at home on Monday night and then staying home to face the Eagles on Sunday really that much of a hardship? And it wasn't all nose to the grindstone for Peyton this week. Saw him at good buddy and ex-Vol Todd Helton's Coors Field farewell Wednesday night, and I didn't notice a playbook in his hands or anything.
 
4:25 p.m. ET (FOX) Washington Redskins (0-3) at Oakland Raiders (1-2)
Tough game to call without knowing if Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor will recover from his concussion in time to make his fourth start of the season. Minus Pryor's improvisational play-making, Oakland looks a lot more predictable with Matt Flynn under center. Washington is getting closer to the team we watched streak to the playoffs last November and December, and this should be the week Robert Griffin III rediscovers enough mojo to get his team a desperately needed first victory.
 
4:25 p.m. ET (FOX) Dallas Cowboys (2-1) at San Diego Chargers (1-2)
The Chargers have played well enough to win -- at least for the most part -- all three weeks of the season. And now they finally get rookie linebacker Manti Te'o healthy and on the field for the first time this season. Let's see what the ex-Golden Domer can do with a lightning bolt on his helmet. But whatever he adds, it won't be enough to lift Mike McCoy's improved team past the first-place Cowboys. Dallas has already lost once on the road in the AFC West this season, at Kansas City. If the Cowboys are who I think they are, it won't happen again.
 
8:30 p.m. ET (NBC) New England Patriots (3-0) at Atlanta Falcons (1-2)
The Patriots' luck was bound to end. New England drew rookie quarterback EJ Manuel in Week 1, rookie quarterback Geno Smith in Week 2 and a soon-to-demoted Josh Freeman in Week 3. I'm fairly confident that Atlanta's Matt Ryan won't play like a rookie on Sunday night in the Georgia Dome, and he won't lose his starting gig any time soon. The Falcons are better than they've played so far, and New England isn't going to be making a deep run at the '72 Dolphins this season.
 
Monday, Sept. 30
 
8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) Miami Dolphins (3-0) at New Orleans Saints (3-0)
For the second week in a row, the Dolphins face a quarterback who could have been theirs, if only they were a little more prescient. They wound up beating Atlanta's Matt Ryan last week, who they passed on in the 2008 draft, but Miami would never have needed Matty Ice in the first place if Nick Saban had pulled the trigger on signing Drew Brees in free agency in 2006. Ah, memories. The undefeated Dolphins are 2-0 on the road this season, but Monday night in the din of the Superdome should be a lot more challenging than those previous road trips to Cleveland and Indianapolis.
 
MORE:
BURKE: Broncos, Seahawks stay atop Week 3 Power Rankings
COVER-TWO: Handing our early grades to first-year coaches
BELLER: Player-by-player fantasy projections for Week 4
MMQB: Why Cover-Two has become an endangered species
BURKE: Never too early to look ahead: Mock Draft 2.0
 
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