It wasn’t supposed to happen that way.
The National Football League is built for parity and turnover. With the exception of a handful of teams that seemingly always remain at the top or bottom of the league, the nature of the sport allows for a constantly shifting tide. This is the foundation of the belief that any team can beat another, despite the difference in talent.
In the early part of each year, teams are still trying to figure themselves out. Surely, each organization thinks it has a chance to reach the postseason, but the on-field action will sort this out over the months and give a reality check to those unworthy. In the process, there are weeks where upsets run rampant, as teams that are commonly considered bad topple the league’s best. Then, there are weeks like Week 3.
By most accounts — as spreads tend to vary — favorites were 11-5 against the spread last week. In fact, there were only two games featuring spreads with at least one touchdown of points — Seattle and New England — and both favorites covered. Little was asked of the favorites throughout the rest of the league, and they delivered on the low expectations. Most impressively, there were eight teams that were widely considered ‘easy favorites,’ where the spreads were so low that it bordered on a ‘trap’ — Giants, Falcons, Colts, Steelers, Panthers, Cardinals, Broncos, and Packers. Of these eight teams, seven covered.
This does not happen.
Week 3 was an anomaly.
The benefit of such a skewed performance is that the league tends to correct itself over the next few weeks. Not surprisingly, there are four games with spreads greater than a touchdown worth of points in Week 4, and the opportunity is there for underdogs to come roaring back.
Perhaps this was the way it was supposed to happen.
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.
*Confidence Picks – 2015 Season: 10-10 (Last Week: 1-5)
(2014 Season: 61-46-2)
All Picks Against Spread – 2015 Season: 26-21-1 (Last Week: 6-10)
(2014 Season: 149-114-4)
Baltimore Ravens (-2.5) at Pittsburgh Steelers
The Baltimore Ravens have a history of delivering in big games, especially in the current era under head coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco. Playing in a division that typically results in one of the most difficult in the league on any given year, Baltimore tends to hover in the middle of the pack until the end of the season. When the pressure builds, the Ravens respond.
So far, it’s been quiet in 2015.
The Ravens were forgiven for an Opening Day loss in Denver, so long as they could follow up with a win in Oakland. After that failed, a divisional victory against the Bengals would help settle the team. 0-for-3.
At one point, it can no longer be stated that, “The Ravens are due.” They may simply be bad. But, in an odd twist of unfortunate fate, they travel to Pittsburgh to face their rivals in a suddenly even matchup.
Pittsburgh’s 2-1 record is deceiving. The team’s two wins have come against the 49ers — who have proven to be terrible — and the Rams — in a pillow-fight. They may have already been over-extended, but the obvious big blow to the franchise is the injury to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Michael Vick will start under center on Thursday night, and will provide the perfect antidote for a Ravens team that desperately needs a win — Vick has turned the ball over 60 times in his last 42 games. It is also worth noting that Baltimore has led in the second half in each of its first three games, and held a lead within the last five minutes against both the Raiders and Bengals. Vick cannot do what Derek Carr and Andy Dalton can.
Baltimore wins by four and narrowly covers.
New York Jets at Miami Dolphins (+2.5) – London
When the Dolphins and Jets square off in London on Sunday, it will be the first time two divisional opponents will play a regular season game overseas. The familiarity between the two squads will aid the coaching staff, but what does it mean for projecting the outcome? Really, which team is better? Who actually is the favorite?
The numbers have shifted on multiple occasions in the past week, indicating that this same issue is plaguing many. The Jets have remained the favorite, although the Dolphins are listed as the home team. While the designation of ‘visitor’ or ‘home’ team sounds irrelevant since both are traveling to England, one franchise has a significantly higher level of confort than the other.
The Miami Dolphins will play their third game in London on Sunday, losing the first to the Giants in the inaugural ‘International Series’ in 2007, then beating the Raiders, last season. Athletes tend to be creatures of habit and regiment, and heading east from the east coach is not the norm. It is, however, more normal for Miami.
The Dolphins have not started 2015 the way they would have liked, and losing to the Jets — dropping them to 1-3 overall, 0-2 in the AFC East — might bury them in a deep division. They are, quite frankly, better than they have played, and might end up being better than the Jets, in the long run. Regardless, while New York is trying to get assimilated in London, Miami will be trying to get a win.
The Dolphins win by a touchdown and beat the spread.
Houston Texans (+6.5)* at Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons have easily been one of this season’s pleasant surprises. Those who play fantasy football — basically, everyone — were already aware of the talent found within the Georgia Dome, but the winning team of years past went on a prolonged slump for the last two seasons.
The Falcons are good again. But are they great?
Atlanta has won all three of its games, so far, but the victories — although welcomed for a team that won only six games all of last season — are somewhat suspect. The Falcons trailed by a significant margin in each of its last two games, and were facing the collapse-prone Giants and a Cowboys team without quarterback Tony Romo. Their most ‘impressive win’ might have been against the Eagles, but playing at home on national television to open the season is a large contributing factor.
The important key to note is that Atlanta’s high-powered offense — top-five in both scoring and yards — has been able to carry the team to victory. Houston, while a poor team, overall, finds strength in its defense. With the Falcons falling victim to lulls against weaker opponents — at least, for parts of each game — the Texans will be able to keep the scoring low and the game close.
In the end, Atlanta wins, but only by a field goal as Houston beats the spread.
New York Giants (+6) at Buffalo Bills
Is it really happening? Not just that Bills head coach Rex Ryan has led his team to a 2-1 record, but that his team features an offense that ranks third in scoring, eleventh in yards?
Each week, the expectation is that quarterback Tyrod Taylor will realize that he has spent four years as backup for a reason. This stretch of stellar play has to come to an end, eventually, and Buffalo’s offense will slow when Taylor does. In addition, the Bills are 7-2 against the spread in their last 9 games, as Buffalo continues to outperform expectations. How the Bills respond to giving more points as a favorite than they have all year should be telling.
The Giants head to Buffalo after beating their rivals from Washington on Thursday Night Football. Besides the obvious necessity to gain as many division wins as possible, the Giants left Week 3 with another positive outcome: time.
New York will have ten days to prepare for Ryan’s Bills, and a blueprint for success that stemmed from the victory over Washington. Oddly enough, the Giants may have played their worst game in Week 3, but they will have the opportunity to reflect and adjust.
The Giants are better than their 1-2 record, while the Bills are more average than they have looked. Both teams return to the mean while New York recovers from its 0-2 start. The Giants win by six and beat the spread.
Oakland Raiders (-2.5) at Chicago Bears
Asking a team with a history of losing — twelve consecutive seasons without a winning record — to travel east in back-to-back weeks and win both games is unfair. Thankfully for the Raiders, the trade-off is that they will be playing the lowly Bears.
The irony of the matchup is that the Raiders have no right to consider another team a ‘pushover,’ as they have played the role of the punching bag, for years. That is precisely why they won’t overlook Chicago.
Oakland has a long way to go before it can be considered an AFC West contender, but it is rising out of the depths of the league on the arm of quarterback Derek Carr and the hands of wide receiver Amari Cooper. If the Raiders no longer want to be one of the worst teams in the league, they will have to beat them.
Oakland wins by ten and covers.
Kansas City Chiefs (+4) at Cincinnati Bengals
Give credit to the Cincinnati Bengals. Not only have they started the season 3-0 and look every bit like the playoff team of the last four years, but they avoided a divisional road loss against the Ravens. Cincinnati won’t be taking any games off — especially playing in the AFC North — but hosting a Chiefs team that was just embarrassed on Monday Night Football is a recipe for an upset.
Kansas City has caused its own undoing in its two losses, but the team has suffered from a difficult early schedule. Playing Denver was tough enough, but traveling to Green Bay was downright unfair. While there will still be three-quarters of the season left after Sunday’s game, the Chiefs are quickly running out of time to get back on track.
As the Bengals regress — despite Cincinnati’s success in recent years, it has won eleven games only once, as it rarely runs away and hides — the Chiefs bring forth their best effort in weeks. Kansas City wins by a touchdown and beats the spread.
Jacksonville Jaguars (+9)* at Indianapolis Colts
After three games, the Indianapolis Colts have looked nothing like the 11-win teams from the past three years. Instead, they have been over-matched by solid defenses and threatened by opposing offenses. These less-than-stellar games have left the Colts at 1-2. What’s more concerning for Indianapolis is that its only win came against the Titans in a game in which it allowed 27-unanswered points and trailed by as many as 13.
Jacksonville is traveling from the frying pan to the fire, heading from New England to Indianapolis in back-to-back weeks. While this would usually have resulted in one blowout after another, the Jaguars may not be their ‘usual’ selves. A vintage stomping in New England notwithstanding, Jacksonville is an improved version of last year’s model, and features weapons at the offensive positions that the Colts have struggled to stop.
Indianapolis set its season back on track with a division win, last week, and can erase all remnants of a slow start with another win against an AFC South opponent on Sunday. The Colts get their victory, but only by a field goal as Jacksonville keeps the game close and beats the spread.
Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+3)*
One of the points of emphasis for this column is perception. Namely, how is a team perceived versus its reality? The Carolina Panthers may be 3-0, and their record indicates that they have not yet lost a game, but are they actually playing undefeated football or simply an undefeated team?
By beating the Jaguars, Texans, and Saints — without quarterback Drew Brees — the Panthers have traveled an easy road towards three wins. Had they faced the Patriots, Packers, and Cardinals, the numbers might look a little different.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are equally guilty of being driven by perception, but more for a 1-2 record and an Opening Day blowout loss than anything else. This has made it difficult to overlook how badly the Buccaneers have played, at times. However, it also masks the potential for an outburst.
Led by rookie quarterback Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay is clearly trying to develop on-the-fly. They won’t get recognition until after they beat teams and, therefore, will remain a sneaky ‘sleeper’ against any franchise that is over-extending itself. In this case, it is the 3-0 Carolina Panthers.
The Buccaneers knock off the Panthers, winning by four and beating the spread.
Philadelphia Eagles (-3) at Washington Redskins
In what would normally be considered a perfect ‘trap game,’ the Redskins and Eagles have forces at play that are far greater than karma, regressions, or letdowns: Mother Nature. As of this writing, reports state that a hurricane — or, at least, an impactful storm — should affect this game to the point that rescheduling has been discussed.
Whether or not the game gets played as scheduled, the Philadelphia Eagles — coming off a victory where they finally executed their preferred style of play and secured a win — are simply a better team than the Washington Redskins. Washington’s biggest strength is its defense, but Philadelphia just played — and beat — a Jets team that allows the fewest points per game — even after losing to the Eagles.
Like the Jets, Washington’s defense performs best when facing conventional offenses, leaving them exposed when Philadelphia head coach Chip Kelly throws curveballs for sixty minutes. The Eagles will score, and the Redskins will not be able to tag along. If the game has any unorthodox movement of time or venue due to the weather, the better team — also, generally, the more-prepared team — gains the advantage.
Philadelphia wins by ten and covers.
Cleveland Browns (+7.5)* at San Diego Chargers
How quickly everything changes. The Cleveland Browns — perennial losers with seven consecutive losing seasons — beat the Titans in Week 2, were listed as the favorite in Week 3, lose to the Raiders, and now are giving more than a touchdown of points to the San Diego Chargers. Why?
San Diego is 1-2 with losses to the Bengals and Vikings in consecutive weeks. The singular win was on Opening Day, at home, against what is now an 0-3 Lions team that led the Chargers by 18 points before imploding. The Browns may not be good, and having an ongoing quarterback controversy is a near-guarantee for failure, but the Chargers are not much better. At least, not a touchdown better.
San Diego is having its typical season that features an imbalance between yards and points gained and allowed. The Chargers rank in the top-ten on both offense and defense for yards, but in the bottom half of the league in points. They remain as inconsistent as ever, and are as likely to put everything together at one time as they are to crumble. As it stands now, there are no signs that the Chargers are ready to beat anyone by a significant margin.
San Diego wins by a single point, but Cleveland beats the spread.
Minnesota Vikings at Denver Broncos (-6.5)
In a week where spreads are covering a wide range — from visiting teams giving more than a touchdown worth of points to home teams giving nearly ten points — the Broncos receive a reasonable spread at home. Most likely, this is due to the combination of Denver winning two of its three games by a touchdown or less and the Vikings suddenly looking like an actual football team after dismantling the Chargers.
While the Broncos have not looked as dominant as in years past, they still sit atop the AFC West with an unblemished record. As evident by eventually pulling away from the Detroit Lions on Sunday Night Football, the Broncos have quietly been looking stronger as each game has progressed. Conversely, Minnesota ricocheted from an embarrassment to an eye-opener within a three-week span. Lost in the recovery, however, is that the Vikings beat the Lions and Chargers — with one win, combined — at home.
Denver catches fire against a team riding too high, lighting up the Vikings. The Broncos win by three touchdowns and cover.
St. Louis Rams (+6.5)* at Arizona Cardinals
It is hard to argue that a team has looked better than the Arizona Cardinals in the early part of 2015. 3-0 and winning games by no fewer than 12 points, Arizona is running through the league and distancing itself from the rest of the NFC West.
The Cardinals’ impressive margins of victory send up a glaring red flag. Winning football games is not nearly as easy as Arizona has made it look, and a visiting division rival is the perfect candidate for an upset. This is especially true when said ‘division rival’ has made a living by knocking off NFC West giants.
The St. Louis Rams let Week 3’s game against the Steelers slip away, as Pittsburgh lost quarterback Ben Roethlisberger late in the third quarter. Opportunities for the Rams were plenty, but none came to fruition. With a more focused effort against a better opponent, St. Louis — usually creative in game-planning — will come out looking crisp and dangerous.
The Rams hand the Cardinals their first loss of the season, toppling another division foe. St. Louis wins by four and beats the spread.
Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers (+8.5)*
Sometimes, the numbers drive the boat. No matter how poorly a team has played, this column will always take the underdog when receiving at least a touchdown worth of points at home. In the case of the Packers and 49ers, the decision is strengthened by how well Green Bay played in a nationally televised Monday Night Football game. At home.
When the Packers leave Lambeau Field, they take a slight step backward in performance. Despite a 5-4 record in their last nine road games, only twice have the Packers scored more than 27 points — compared to Green Bay scoring at least 27 points in nine of its last ten home games.
The 49ers are not nearly good enough to beat the Packers, this year, but they have done so each of the last four times the two teams met, including the playoffs. While San Francisco is a vastly different squad in 2015, quarterback Colin Kaepernick has performed well against Green Bay in his three career games — seven total touchdowns and only one interception.
The Packers come back to earth in San Francisco, winning by only one touchdown as the 49ers beat the large spread.
Dallas Cowboys at New Orleans Saints (-4)
In a game that could conceivably feature two backup quarterbacks, the Saints and Cowboys meet on Sunday Night Football each trying to stop bleeding. For Dallas, the wound is fresh and, quite possibly, able to be contained. For New Orleans, the team is in critical condition.
As of this writing, Saints quarterback Drew Brees is expected to play, and he gives the Saints the obvious edge if he is able to perform. Dallas still brings a solid defense to the table — eighth in the league in yards allowed — but the Saints are always a threat to put up points in bunches. As evident in Dallas’ first game without quarterback Tony Romo, the team has avenues through which it could score, but the offense is still suffering in his absence.
It is likely already too late for the Saints, as an 0-3 record — including a home loss to the Buccaneers — suggests that New Orleans is lacking, but a home game in primetime against an injured Cowboys’ team might be the Saints’ last hope. Keep in mind that the Saints were 2-4 and hosting the seemingly unstoppable Packers in a Sunday Night Football contest, last season. New Orleans won by three touchdowns.
It happens again, although to a slightly lesser degree. The Saints win by ten and cover.
Detroit Lions (+9.5)* at Seattle Seahawks
At 1-2, and looking nothing like the back-to-back defending NFC Champions, the Seattle Seahawks are living on reputation, alone. Following two losses with a home win against a horrible Bears team led by a backup quarterback is hardly noteworthy. In fact, it was expected.
As noted every time CenturyLink Field in Seattle hosts a game, the Seahawks are basically unbeatable at home — eight consecutive wins and thirteen out of their last fourteen home games. The Lions, entering the matchup at 0-3, appear to be dead men walking.
Or are they?
Despite the winless record, the Lions may not be as over-matched as the large spread would suggest. Detroit led the Chargers 21-3 on Opening Day before collapsing, and were within striking distance of the Broncos for almost the entire game in Week 3. They certainly aren’t great, but neither is Seattle.
If the history of the Seahawks is removed from the equation, there is no reason why the Lions are expected to lose, let alone by such a wide margin. Under this condition, history is, indeed, to be ignored. With that, the 1-2 Seahawks are at risk against a Lions team ready to make a statement.
Detroit shocks the Seahawks in Seattle, winning by a field goal and beating the spread.
Featured Image Credit: Keith Allison/Flickr
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