The first few weeks of any season tell us a lot about what to expect over the coming months. Certainly, things can change, but we have little snippets of possible previews. The irony is that we argued against this sort of rapid reaction to the first week of the season. If we do the math, however, we can quickly start to take everything a bit more seriously.
One-eighth of each team’s season is now complete. Think about the insanity of that statement. We haven’t even seen Russell Wilson win a game yet. Or Ryan Fitzpatrick lose one. Or the Arizona Cardinals attempt an extra point. And yet, every team is more than ten percent into the new season.
This is one of the reasons why a team that starts with an 0-2 record is so statistically unlikely to make the playoffs. There just aren’t enough games to make up the ground. That, and an 0-2 squad is often a bad squad. Still, we are about to emerge from the opening drive of the game to see what each team has in its new position.
How do the 2-0 Miami Dolphins handle their sole possession of first place in the AFC East? Which of the 0-2 teams playing in Houston on Sunday will effectively see their season come to an end? And will anybody in the NFC North – a division I argued was one of the deepest in the league – try to grab control?
We will start to get some answers over the next few days, but not just because we will be three weeks into the season. This particular schedule of games heavily features matchups in which two worlds collide. Some are division battles of the utmost importance, while others affect our long-term plays of season win totals. But we also have plenty of regression competing with positive correction.
It is through these fascinating connections where we find the likelihood of each possible outcome. And how we can get a glimpse of the next few months before it arrives.
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. An asterisk denotes a confidence pick.
*Confidence Picks – 2018 Season: 7-7-1 (Last Week: 3-5)
(2017 Season: 53-48-4) (2016 Season: 53-67-3) (2015 Season: 69-45-2) (2014 Season: 61-46-2) (4-Year Total: 236-206-11)
All Picks Against Spread – 2018 Season: 16-14-2 (Last Week: 8-7-1)
(2017 Season: 137-119-11) (2016 Season: 123-136-8) (2015 Season: 143-117-7) (2014 Season: 149-114-4) (4-Year Total: 552-486-30)
San Francisco 49ers at Kansas City Chiefs
As one who constantly loves to sell the hottest hand, I find a dilemma upon us. Statistically, Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes has to regress. His ten passing touchdowns in the first two weeks of the season is a new NFL record. It also puts him on pace for 80 touchdowns for the year. Eighty. You can laugh at loud at that number.
And that’s the point. What Mahomes has done in the first two games of the year is downright laughable. It’s impossible. And it is, of course, unsustainable. Can the Chiefs continue to win and can Mahomes continue to dominate? Certainly, but there is a scale, and it has tipped.
The issue is that Mahomes’ eventual regression clashes poorly with Jimmy Garoppolo’s search for balance. I continue to argue that his overrated status from last year has carried over into 2018, and we will see how damaging this can be in the coming weeks. But, in each of the first three weeks of the season, Garoppolo has either faced or will face a force more powerful than his own.
The 49ers opened their season against one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl, this year. This team also acquired one of the better quarterbacks in the league and had anticipation bursting at every corner. Garoppolo was the second story.
San Francisco then went home to host a Lions team that was thoroughly embarrassed on Opening Night. The beating Detroit received was debilitating, and it left many questioning if, after 60 short minutes of football, we have seen enough to pronounce the Lions ‘dead.’ Again, Garoppolo was the second story.
On Sunday, the 49ers will travel to Kansas City to face a Chiefs team that is playing at home for the first time, this year. Put another way, Kansas City is finally able to get a front-row seat for the unveiling of their newest superstar-in-the-making. And Garoppolo will be the second story.
If we follow the path of both the Chiefs and Garoppolo, it’s straightforward to determine that the Chiefs will improve to 3-0. Kansas City opened the scoring in both of its first two games and has not trailed at any point, this season. San Francisco took the opposite approach, falling behind both opponents in the first quarter of each of its two games. Even with regression likely for Kansas City, both squads are set up for the Chiefs to jump out to an early lead and eventually emerge victorious. But, both teams also have the same pattern for the latter portions of games.
San Francisco has scored an impressive 30 combined points in the second half of its first two games – and this number holds a bit more weight when we consider that one of the defenses against which it played was Minnesota’s in Minnesota.
Conveniently, the Chiefs have allowed 32 second-half points to opponents through the first two weeks. And it isn’t just about the points. On three separate occasions, the Chiefs have seen double-digit leads evaporate to become no more than five points. If we can accept that Kansas City’s offense is going to keep propelling the team forward, we also need to worry about the team’s defense holding it back. At least, against the spread.
Kansas City wins again, knocking off the 49ers by four points, but San Francisco beats the spread.
Prediction: San Francisco 49ers (+7)
Green Bay Packers at Washington Redskins
Forget picks and predictions for a moment. Let’s acknowledge that we are seeing greatness in the form of Aaron Rodgers. It’s always been the case, but it continues to get highlighted based on that fact that he is essentially playing on one knee. And, I frequently ‘sell’ quarterbacks who are returning from knee injuries. Rodgers is playing through one.
Now, we can bring the picks back into the equation. Because said equation has to include the acknowledgement of both Rodgers’ unbelievable first two games under his current condition and the injury, itself. Therefore, with Rodgers coming off another jaw-dropping performance – made more incredibly by the opponent he faced – and presumably more healthy than he was and in a more favorable matchup, shouldn’t the spread for Sunday’s game in Washington be larger?
It should. If Rodgers were truly healthy and a letdown unlikely.
Regardless of the numbers, Rodgers and the Packers were not expected to beat the Vikings, last week. It was to be a forgivable loss in which we praise Rodgers for his toughness and ability to work through the pain. Instead, he over-delivered. Which means he’s about to under-perform.
Aaron Rodgers is not healthy, and the more teams see of his revamped approach, the more likely they are to exploit it.
Washington played the lowly Arizona cardinals on Opening Day, so we need to take some numbers with a grain-of-salt. Still, the Redskins enter week 3 with a top-2 defense in terms of points and yards allowed. And, after suffering a tough home loss in Week 2, the gameplan will be significantly tighter against a conference opponent playing its first road game of the season.
Alex Smith connected on 33-of-his-46 pass attempts for 292 yards in Week 2, but the nine-point showing gives the impression that the Redskins’ offense has been scuffling. It’s the opposite, as a positive correction is in the works.
Washington wins by a touchdown and beats the spread.
Confidence Pick: Washington Redskins (+3)
Click here to sign up for Sporfolio to see the rest of Mario Mergola’s NFL picks against the point spread. Mergola finished with the highest total of correct NFL picks against the spread for 2015 and 2016 – tracked by NFLPickwatch, and finished 2015 with an accuracy of 60.53% for his confidence picks. His 4-year record for all NFL games against the spread is 552-486-30!