NFL Week 3 Picks Against the Spread

Steve Smith, fantasy football

The same statistic gets thrown around every year around this time. It has become almost common knowledge that an 0-2 start lessens a team’s chances to make the playoffs to roughly twelve percent. What often gets overlooked in this number is that teams starting 0-2 might simply be bad.

Week 2 featured the expected combination of bounce-back games and traps. Teams that enjoyed an emotional victory in Week 1 generally struggled to carry it into Week 2, while those who played like they needed a win, usually secured one. The same is not necessarily true in Week 3, however, as the conditions and records of each team are not so cut and dry as 0-1 or 1-0.

The reality is that each franchise is still getting its footing in the early part of the season. Traps and upsets are possible not only because bad teams are able to win, but because it has yet to be determined which team is actually bad. Therefore, the goal is to look beyond the records and gauge the on-field play of each team.

Below are predictions for each game against the spread. Spreads have been taken from various websites and are subject to change. The spread in parenthesis denotes the selected team.

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*Confidence Picks – 2015 Season: 9-5 (Last Week: 5-2)

(2014 Season: 61-46-2)

All Picks Against Spread – 2015 Season: 20-11-1 (Last Week: 11-5)

(2014 Season: 149-114-4)

Washington Redskins at New York Giants (-4)

The New York Giants are either a potentially 2-0 team that held double-digit fourth quarter leads in two games or an 0-2 team that collapsed twice. The standings indicate that the latter is true, but the former has value.

New York played a tough Cowboys team on the road and a much improved Atlanta squad, outperforming both opponents for a significant period in their respective games. The end results have been crippling, both to the team’s psyche and its record. Staring at a possible 0-3 start — 0-2 in the division — the same late-game mistakes will not happen again.

Washington is frequently cast aside in all football-related conversations, as the injury to Robert Griffin III removed almost all public interest in the Redskins. Flying under the radar, Washington knocked off the Rams and were locked in a dogfight with the Dolphins — in Miami — before a game-changing special teams play in Week 1. The Redskins are not nearly as bad as many expected, and the Giants would likely prefer to not play a division rival as they try to prevent a losing streak. At least, they won’t overlook Washington.

The Giants will have their hands full with the Redskins, but will not let a victory slip away, again. New York wins by six and narrowly covers.

Oakland Raiders (+3.5) at Cleveland Browns

Whenever the Raiders and Browns play each other, television sets across the nation turn off. After each team opened the season with an expected loss, both squads bounced back with Week 2 victories as home underdogs. When they square off on Sunday, one of the two teams will prove to be the same perennial loser of years past.

Through years of constant losing seasons, Oakland has finally found a stable foundation on which to build its franchise. Quarterback Derek Carr and wide receiver Amari Cooper look like mainstays for the organization, and the win against the Ravens will no longer be considered a fluke if Oakland starts winning games on a regular basis. Especially against a team like the Browns.

While Oakland was cultivating Carr and Cooper to be starters, Cleveland intended on using quarterback Josh McCown for the early part of the 2015 season. As McCown left the team’s Week 1 loss with an injury, the Browns were forced to turn to backup Johnny Manziel. The Browns promptly lost.

Cleveland rebounded nicely from its Opening Day loss by beating the Titans at home in Week 2, but Tennessee might also be one of the league’s worst teams — if nothing else, the Titans were clearly caught in a letdown following their Opening Day win.

Between the Browns and Raiders, Oakland is the team on the rise. The Raiders win by four and beat the spread.

Indianapolis Colts (-3) at Tennessee Titans

The Indianapolis Colts have won back-to-back AFC South titles by a combined six games. Playing in arguably the weakest division in football, the Colts have the luxury of losing non-division games and still sitting in a decent position to eventually secure a playoff spot. That is, as long as they start playing — and beating — divisional opponents.

The Colts’ prolific offense has been completely negated in the first two games, but the defenses that Indianapolis faced — Buffalo Bills and New York Jets — might be two of the best in the league. When the Colts travel to Tennessee, they will face a team who just lost to the Browns after beating the Buccaneers on Opening Day.

Finally, Andrew Luck and the Colts’ offense will get a chance to shine. Indianapolis gets in the win column, beating the Titans by ten and covering the spread.

Pittsburgh Steelers at St. Louis Rams (+1)*

That’s it? It only took one game for the St. Louis Rams to fall out of the good graces of the football-watching public? It also only took one game for the Pittsburgh Steelers to look like world-beaters, once again. One game against the San Francisco 49ers, at home, following a tough Opening Night loss.

Neither the Steelers nor Rams are as good or bad as they looked in Week 2. Both teams were playing their respective roles in response to Week 1 dramatic outcomes, and a regression was in order. Balancing both squads in the middle of their performances yields an even matchup, confirmed by the tantalizingly small spread. The Rams, returning home after a complete ‘letdown loss’ will be ready to rebound.

St. Louis completes another home upset, knocking off the Steelers by six and beating the spread.

San Diego Chargers (+2.5) at Minnesota Vikings

The San Diego Chargers are such a consistently inconsistent team that their games have featured a nearly standard spread in all three weeks — the home team was roughly giving a field goal worth of points in each contest. San Diego did little to alter its image, as the Chargers have a home win and a road loss after two games.

Minnesota took massive strides in erasing the embarrassment from Week 1’s Monday Night Football debacle, beating the Lions in Week 2. Unfortunately for the Vikings, a home win against an 0-1 divisional opponent hardly calls for celebration. The Vikings are still flawed, and won’t have the same level of intensity when facing the non-conference Chargers on Sunday.

For the past five seasons, San Diego has neither won nor lost double digit games. The team is remarkably average, mainly because it is better than the dregs of the league, but cannot thrive in the upper echelon. As Minnesota has looked closer to the bottom than the top, the Vikings are the type of team that the Chargers typically beat.

San Diego wins by a field goal and beats the spread.

Jacksonville Jaguars (+13.5)* at New England Patriots

For years, the Jacksonville Jaguars and New England Patriots were the go-to examples when discussing extremes. The Jaguars were almost always penciled in as a ‘win’ on an opponent’s schedule, while New England’s name was circled and highlighted. Whenever the two would meet in the regular season, the outcome was easily predetermined — New England has won all six regular season meetings with the Jaguars.

After yet another impressive performance by the Patriots, the 2-0 start is far from a surprise. New England continues to thrive as one of the best teams in the league, and is an easy choice to win the game. Basing the assumption on New England, alone, ignores the Jaguars, but it is more a testament to the Patriots than an indictment of Jacksonville.

Considering the Jaguars in the equation, Jacksonville actually has something positive to add. After losing to the Panthers on Opening Day, the Jaguars looked like the same terrible team that has acted as a punching bag for years, but an impressive home win against the Dolphins was eye-opening, if nothing else. After only two games, it’s easy to believe that Jacksonville will crumble, like always, but it would ignore the possibility that the Jaguars have some talent — at least enough to stay in the game with New England.

The history of these two franchises suggest that the teams are miles apart, but New England has shown a weakness against the passing game, and Jacksonville has some weapons. The Jaguars ultimately lose by a touchdown, but beat the spread.

Philadelphia Eagles (+2.5)* at New York Jets

Week 2 was supposed to return the Eagles and Jets back to their respective norms. Philadelphia, favored in its matchup against the Cowboys, was expected to recover from an Opening Day loss while the Jets, facing the typical good Colts instead of the lowly Browns, were given a touchdown worth of points. They didn’t need them, as the Jets won, outright.

With two games confirming that the initial directions for each team were not completely unwarranted, the expectation in the spread is that the Jets continue winning while the Eagles struggle, yet again. At least, that’s what the numbers say now.

Prior to New York’s Monday Night Football victory in front of a national audience, the Eagles were giving points as the favorite in the game. As the Jets proved that their win against the Browns was more skill than luck, the number shifted.

To think that the Jets will play every team how they played the Colts and Browns is to assume that every team is built the same way. New York has a fantastic defensive line and a dangerous secondary. They were able to pressure both opposing quarterbacks and create an unprecedented ten turnovers. Philadelphia has shown nothing special from its offensive line, but the Eagles aren’t built to run the ball down the opponent’s throat. Instead, they wear them out.

The Eagles have yet to play a complete offensive game where they control the tempo. That changes on Sunday, as they execute quick passes that negate the defensive line and expose the over-aggressive linebackers and secondary. Philadelphia wins by ten and beats the spread.

New Orleans Saints (+3) at Carolina Panthers

If the 2014 National Football League season taught us anything, it was that quarterbacks listed as ‘gametime decisions’ have a lesser impact on the outcome of the game than we might believe. The spread has already taken into account the most likely scenario, and adjusting for the injury news — e.g. Carolina’s Cam Newton, Minnesota’s Teddy Bridgewater, among others in 2014 — often results in overcompensating. And a loss.

At the time of this writing, it is not yet confirmed if Saints quarterback Drew Brees will suit up against the Panthers. Brees gives the Saints an obvious boost over backup Luke McCown, but New Orleans, as a whole, has vastly under-performed to this point.

The Ron Rivera-led Panthers usually lead with defense, as the team ranked top-ten in yards allowed in 2013 and 2014. So far, the same looks to be true for the 2015 version, but the Panthers received a gift in scheduling by facing the Jaguars and Texans in back-to-back weeks.

While Carolina has enjoyed success from defense, its offense has lacked. If the Panthers can’t take advantage of the sieve that is the Saints’ defense, it won’t make much of a difference which quarterback lines up under center for New Orleans. The Saints win by six and beat the spread.

Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens (-2.5)

It is the same script for the Cincinnati Bengals, every year. They play well in almost any low-pressure game, win enough to stay in the division fight all season, lose critical games to rivals, but still make the playoffs. Why would anything change now? Despite double digit wins for three consecutive seasons, Cincinnati has a record of 3-3 within the division each of the last three years.

Baltimore finds itself relying on beating a divisional rival to get its first win of the year, yet again. Since 2011, the Ravens’ first win of each season came against an AFC North opponent, with both 2013 and 2014 opening with a loss. The Ravens don’t let too many critical games get away from them, especially when the franchise needs a boost. Furthermore, the Bengals have won the last three meetings between these teams, including four out of the last five.

It’s Baltimore’s time.

The Ravens win by a touchdown and cover.

Atlanta Falcons (-1) at Dallas Cowboys

As noted in the breakdown of the game between the Saints and Panthers, an injury at the quarterback position does not always manifest itself in an immediate course reversal for a team. In the case of the Saints, there is still uncertainty of the extent of quarterback Drew Brees’ injury. In Dallas, there are no questions to be asked — the Cowboys will be without quarterback Tony Romo, as well as previously injured wide receiver Dez Bryant.

The Falcons have looked like the powerhouse that resided in Atlanta from 2010 to 2012 at multiple points during their first two wins. They are much improved on defense — fourteen slots better than last year’s version in points allowed — as head coach Dan Quinn has already made his presence known.

The Cowboys will be able to reasonably tread water in Romo’s absence over the coming weeks, but removing him and Bryant from the lineup has an immediate impact on Sunday’s game. The Falcons can score, and the Cowboys may not.

Atlanta wins by a touchdown and covers.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Houston Texans (-6.5)

If a team wants to win in today’s National Football League, it either has a quarterback or stops the other team’s. This has been the de facto mantra of the Houston Texans over the past few seasons, and it will be on full display when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers come to town.

Tampa Bay completed the improbable upset win in New Orleans in Week 2, looking like a vastly different team from the one that received a merciless beating from the Titans. The victory should do little to catapult the Buccaneers into long-term relevance, but it painted a picture as to what a Tampa Bay win looks like. Like most bad teams, the blueprint included four field goals, as drives continuously finished short of the end zone.

The Houston Texans are arguably the worst team in the league, but the difference between the Texans and Buccaneers is minuscule. With little to fear on the Buccaneers’ offense — especially if Texans defensive end J.J. Watt can be his typically dominant self — points will be hard to come by for the visitors. Houston — possibly with running back Arian Foster in the mix — will do enough to outpace Tampa Bay. The Texans win by ten and cover.

San Francisco 49ers (+6.5)* at Arizona Cardinals

The Arizona Cardinals began 2015 as if 2014 never ended, just without the knee injury to quarterback Carson Palmer. Approaching every game seemingly looking to complete last season’s unfinished business, Arizona — with the league’s top scoring offense — has looked unstoppable. Against the Saints and Bears.

The visiting San Francisco 49ers are no better than the two teams Arizona already beat. They do, however, have the divisional familiarity working in their favor, as well as a potential rebound from their blowout loss in Pittsburgh.

The Cardinals are staring at a letdown, but have proven to be one of the most complete, well-coached organizations in the past calendar year. San Francisco gives Arizona a fight, and the 49ers beat the spread, but the Cardinals win by a field goal.

Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins (-2.5)

Aside from playing in the same division and sharing rivals, there are almost no other similarities between the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills. Bills head coach Rex Ryan leads a furious charge of in-your-face proclamations and a hard-nosed attack, while the Dolphins quietly assemble pieces in the offseason and try to finesse their way to wins.

At 1-1 after both losing in Week 2, neither team has figured anything out, yet. Quickly, Buffalo — with palpable excitement in the air — crashed down to earth, while the Dolphins did the unthinkable and lost a game in Jacksonville. When the two meet on Sunday, it will be with the purpose of bouncing back from a loss while securing a division win.

Miami’s preferred method of operation involves playing to the level of its competition, as it has now gone eight consecutive games without winning one by more than a touchdown. The difference between Sunday’s matchup and the last eight is that Buffalo is every bit as threatening as the next team. The Dolphins won’t be stepping ‘down’ when hosting the Bills.

The Dolphins, playing their first home game of the year, put together their best game in months and send the Bills packing. Miami wins by ten and covers.

Chicago Bears at Seattle Seahawks (-14.5)

The Seattle Seahawks have not looked good in their first two games. Losing in St. Louis on Opening Day was the first indication that wins might not come too easily to the Seahawks, and getting thoroughly outplayed by the Packers on Sunday Night Football brought the concern to another level. They played both games as if they could flip a switch and burn through the other team at a moment’s notice, but were left in the dark.

As disappointing as a consistently great Seattle team has been, so far, the Seahawks are a mere two games into the season and have yet to play at home. They lost to a Packers team that figures to be great, and on the road in the division against a bitter rival. The Seahawks may eventually have a lower point, but it looks like Seattle is currently at rock bottom.

Welcome, the Chicago Bears.

The Seahawks are virtually unbeatable at home, winning 22 of their last 24 regular season games. Facing a scuffling Bears team without starting quarterback Jay Cutler looks like the perfect medicine for an 0-2 team desperate for recovery.

Seattle will not lose on Sunday, and should knock Chicago out of the building with ease. The only cause for concern is the large spread and the extra half point in Chicago’s favor, but that is more likely bait for the Bears than anything else. The Seahawks win by three touchdowns and cover.

Denver Broncos at Detroit Lions (+3)*

The comment most uttered following Week 2’s Thursday Night Football game was that, “Peyton Manning looked like Peyton Manning.”

Did he?

Perhaps Manning settled in as the game went on, but his first five drives resulted in three punts, one turnover on downs, and an interception. His 10-play, game-tying touchdown drive in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter was obviously impressive, but his overall body of work still yields a cause for concern.

Detroit is a far-cry from its 2014 iteration, ranked third-worst in yards allowed in the first two games. This looks like the perfect opportunity for Denver to take advantage and shred the Lions. But they won’t.

The Lions still have firepower on offense between veterans Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson, and feature explosive rookie running back Ameer Abdullah. They have not yet had a home game, and the national spotlight should be enough to bring out the Lions’ best performance.

Detroit pulls off the upset, beating the spread and winning by six.

Kansas City Chiefs (+6.5)* at Green Bay Packers

Is there anything more powerful than a nationally-televised, heartbreaking loss? The Kansas City Chiefs were in prime position to knock off the Denver Broncos for the first time in years, but let the opportunity — and ball — slip through their fingers. As an added punishment, they now get to travel to Green Bay for a Monday Night Football showdown.

While playing the Broncos and Packers in back-to-back primetime games does not appear ideal, on the surface, this is the best possible setup for the underdog Chiefs. Not only did they lose on Thursday Night Football in Week 2, but they lost despite outplaying the Broncos for a large portion of the game. It’s easy to remember the two fumbles by running back Jamaal Charles, but it should not be forgotten how good Kansas City could be.

In addition the Chiefs being overlooked, the Green Bay Packers are treated like an unstoppable force, at home. History backs up this claim, as the Packers have not lost a regular season game in Lambeau Field since December of 2013, and are a ridiculous 39-5-1 since November of 2009. The law of averages tends to differ.

The Kansas City Chiefs will have extended rest — between playing on Thursday night and now Monday night — and far too long to relive the sour taste from their public collapse. The Chiefs pull off the rare win in Green Bay, topping the Packers by a field goal and beating the spread.

Featured Image Credit: By Keith Allison from Hanover, MD, USA (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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Mario Mergola
Mario Mergola is a writer, avid sports fan, former ESPN Radio producer, husband, and father who specializes in finding the hidden gems of the less-explored option. Follow @MarioMergola