*Man vs. Machine is a weekly installment during the NFL season that pits a flawed human brain against the coding and algorithms of Madden 18.
The NFL week kicked off to an odd start Thursday when the Rams and 49ers put on the most exciting game of the year with a combined 80 points. Once the Jaguars hung 44 on the Ravens before West Coast fans even ate breakfast, it was obvious that things might get strange. It’s difficult to point to any one upset as the most shocking. Even the need for improbable comebacks by Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers to avoid losing records raised eyebrows. Whether it is parity or early season inconsistency, it makes for entertaining results. Here’s hoping my week four selections fall more in line with the unpredictable.
Kownack Record: 28-19
Madden Record: 25-22
Week 4 Picks
Big Game Spotlight
- Kownack: Titans 24, Texans 19 / Madden: Titans 31, Texans 17
My Take – This game might not look like much, but it’s vital to the AFC South landscape. If the Texans go to 1-3, they’ll quickly fall two games behind an emergent Titans team. Both Tenneessee and Jacksonville, who has a winnable game against the Jets, could hold a head-to-head tiebreaker over the defending AFC South winner with 3-1 records after Sunday. Marcus Mariota had his way with a stingy Seattle defense and should carry that momentum into Houston. On the other sideline, Deshaun Watson nearly toppled the New England Patriots last week. Expect experience to win out against Houston for the second consecutive week in a close matchup.
Madden’s Take – Madden sees a changing of the guard in store as well. Tennessee jumped out to an early 17-0 lead and coasted for the rest of the contest. Marcus Mariota accounted for all four of the Titans’ touchdowns, throwing three to Delanie Walker and one to newcomer Eric Decker. Although the Texans had four sacks on the day and their offensive line kept Deshaun Watson clean, Tennessee outshined them by forcing two interceptions and one fumble. Lamar Miller was the only offensive player who showed up for the losing side. He averaged 6.9 YPC for 153 yards and one touchdown.
- Kownack: Lions 16, Vikings 10 / Madden: Lions 12, Vikings 20
My Take – The Lions are a last-second, overturned touchdown away from being the only undefeated team still standing in the NFC. They’ll face off against a Minnesota team that has been a defensive force at home. Detroit won their two face-offs with the Vikings last season – one in overtime and one on a last second field goal – ending regulation with 16 points in both games. Naturally, I’m sticking to the pattern for a 16-10 victory. The win might be bigger if they face the Case Keenum from week two. If week three Keenum shows up or Sam Bradford recovers, it’s a one-score game that goes either way.
Madden’s Take – Madden loves the Vikings. Just like last week, both the Keenum and the Bradford simulation have the Vikings winning. The score provided above reflects the Keenum start due to it being the most likely scenario. Keenum didn’t throw a touchdown, but he avoided mistakes as the Vikings turned the tables on the cardiac cats with a fourth quarter comeback of their own. Sam Bradford’s Vikings won 13-6. Whatever the result on Sunday, the consensus is a low scoring affair.
- Kownack: Steelers 20, Ravens 10 / Madden: Steelers 22, Ravens 32
My Take – With the Bengals and Browns both sitting at 0-3, this game looms large in determining the pecking order atop the AFC North. The Steelers and Ravens endured embarrassing losses in week three, and both organizations desperately need a rebound. History is trending in the Ravens’ favor. They are 4-1 in the last five head-to-head matchups, and the Steelers haven’t won in Baltimore since 2012. However, the present day situation trumps the rivalry’s recent past. The Steelers have better skill players at every offensive position. Even if Baltimore’s defensive meltdown was a London fluke, Pittsburgh unquestionably has a unit that outdoes them against a regressing quarterback and an arsenal of middling weapons.
Madden’s Take – Recent history, home-field advantage, and the unpredictability of divisional games apparently matters to Madden. Joe Flaccco, who was benched last week across the pond, snapped out of his funk for 241 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. Not great numbers, but hey, Flacco is decidedly not elite. You get what you get, and the Ravens got enough to win. Terrance West and Javorius Allen unrealistically combined for 200+ rushing yards and three scores on the ground. Maclin was the team’s best receiver with 108 yards on seven catches, and the defense rebounded at home.
- Kownack: Raiders 17, Broncos 24 / Madden: Raiders 35, Broncos 22
My Take – This game also features two teams that are licking their wounds following last Sunday. Oakland amassed only 150 total yards against a Washington defense that had allowed well over twice that amount in both of their previous games. Offenses don’t often remedy their woes by traveling to Mile High Stadium. Don’t expect Derek Carr to struggle to the same degree, but he’s in for a much more difficult task than Trevor Siemian. The Raiders are 7th worst in yards allowed per game. That will be the difference that keeps the Broncos perfect at home.
Madden’s Take – No offensive troubles to see here. Although Derek Carr was predictably contained for 255 yards, one touchdown, and one interception, Marshawn Lynch had his best day since returning from retirement. Lynch went vintage beast mode on Denver’s defense for three scores and 116 yards. Karl Joseph picked off Trevor Siemian, a quarterback who looked far closer to his 2016 self than the improved version that had Broncos fans frothing at the mouth two weeks ago. Siemian passed for only 165 yards.
- Kownack: Redskins 21, Chiefs 31 / Madden: Redskins 27, Chiefs 20
My Take – I insulted the Redskins with my selection last week, and I intend to insult them again this week. If Kirk Cousins is using the most accurate (that’s not true) game picks on the Internet for bulletin board material, so be it. Kansas City has easily been the most complete team in the NFL this year, and that shouldn’t change in a home game on Monday night. Although history won’t play a factor in the Steelers-Ravens result, it’s worth mentioning that Washington is 1-8 all-time against the Chiefs and has never won a game in Kansas City. Their lone victory occurred 34 years ago.
Madden’s Take – Two straight weeks, two straight victories over AFC West teams. If this result becomes a reality, Redskins nation will have every reason to believe this team is for real. Kirk Cousins threw two touchdowns – one to Terrelle Pryor on the receiver’s only catch and one to the shifty Chris Thompson. Alex Smith failed to manage the game, throwing two interceptions instead. The recipients were Kendall Fuller and Zach Brown. Even in the loss, Kareem Hunt continued his rookie welcome tour with 98 yards and a touchdown.
Pick a Lock
* Madden’s selection based on biggest margin of victory
Both Madden and I failed to survive last week’s upheaval, and it was not particularly close for either selection. Picking a “lock” will now replace survivor advice. Each lock is worth double, meaning it will add two wins or two losses depending on the result:
Kownack: Seahawks (vs. Colts) – The week’s least watchable game is taking place on Sunday in primetime. Seattle should barrel over a weak Indianapolis team. If they fail to do so, the problems run far deeper than their annual early season floundering.
Madden: Giants (@ Bucs) – Madden predicts that the Giants will not only postpone their demise to another week, but that they’ll also have the biggest victory of the weekend. Last Sunday’s 4th quarter explosion against Philadelphia was apparently a sign of things to come. Giants 35 – Bucs 16.