What a start to the season it has been.
Week 1 was all about preseason expectations coming to light – it always is.
Week 2 was all about overreactions from Week 1 – it always is.
Week 3 is all about… everything.
Through the 16 games detailed below, I kept finding certain trends cited and phrases used. But, they’re scattered. Some sets of games have backup quarterbacks thrust into a starting position. Others have former-Primetime duds back in action. And we have everything from spreads moving from one side of the game to the other to spreads in the twenties.
It’s only Week 3.
I made a note to myself before the year started that I must be careful using all of my preferred setups for this upcoming season. Between the high-level draft class and the growing disparity between good teams and bad ones, the numbers will work, but they can’t be trusted blindly. Thankfully, through two weeks, we are seeing this reflected in the record.
Of course, there are still ‘traps’ to find – I’d argue that there are more in this week than the first two, combined – but we also have to recognize that players are demanding their way out of organizations and bad franchises are actually getting worse. This will be something to track as the year progresses, but it gives us some great opportunities to continue capitalizing in the early weeks of the season.
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 – 2019 Season: 8-6-1 (Last Week: 6-1)
(2018 Season: 63-48-4) (2017 Season: 53-48-4) (2016 Season: 53-67-3) (2015 Season: 69-45-2) (2014 Season: 61-46-2) (5-Year Total: 299-254-15)
All Picks Against Spread – 2019 Season: 17-14-1 (Last Week: 10-6)
(2018 Season: 137-118-12) (2017 Season: 137-119-11) (2016 Season: 123-136-8) (2015 Season: 143-117-7) (2014 Season: 149-114-4) (5-Year Total: 689-604-42)
Denver Broncos at Green Bay Packers
By the end of the weekend, over the span of four articles to which I contribute on this site, I estimate that I wrote the word “overreaction” close to twenty times. Roughly once-per-every-thousand words.
I won’t come close to that rate in Week 3, but I absolutely must point out another one of my favorite forces. That is, a drastic shift in perception.
Think back to the original thoughts of both the preseason and Week 1 regarding both the Denver Broncos and Green Bay Packers. Many were not expecting Denver to compete, even if an improvement from last year was projected. But, the same was true for Green Bay, who was a solid second, at best, in almost everyone’s predictions behind the incumbent NFC North champions from Chicago.
Two weeks later, the 2-0 Packers have caused people to pay attention. And to climb back on the bandwagon.
The Broncos’ 0-2 start is irrelevant here because the focus is squarely on Green Bay. This is the team that always had the quarterback, but now might have found both the head coach and the defense to go with him. It also might have found the perfect setup in beating both Chicago and Minnesota – two of our predictions in this column – and nothing more. At least, not right now.
If you read my preseason articles, then you know I am all-in with Green Bay in 2019. But, every surge needs a moment to breathe. In the world of picking games against-the-spread, this breath is often taken when too much has been pumped into a number.
It is obvious that head coach Matt LaFleur should be thrilled by his team’s 2-0 start – and, thus, a perfect start to his own career. But, this is where the danger lies. LaFleur has yet to be truly tested. More specifically, he faced offenses from Chicago and Minnesota that were anything-but-deadly. As a result, the Packers have allowed the second-fewest points in the league, but rank only 12th in yards allowed.
What’s most concerning is that defense isn’t LaFleur’s calling card. He’s an offensive-minded coach. And how is Green Bay’s offense doing? Pretty terribly. Fourth-fewest yards and seventh-fewest points. This, for a team that already had the quarterback.
On the other side of the game, Denver’s head coach was a two-point conversion and long field goal away from securing his first win of his career. Unlike LeFleur, Vic Fangio is learning firsthand how difficult it is to win games. Make no mistake, he will continue taking chances and playing aggressively – at least, when given the opportunity – as his team is quickly put into a rather hopeless situation.
Green Bay does deserve some credit for putting together a defense that has played so well through two games, and this is where the Packers will find success, again. It just won’t be easily, as the Broncos will limit what Green Bay can do and keep the score close at all times.
The Packers win by a field goal, but Denver beats the spread.
Confidence Pick: Denver Broncos (+8)
Oakland Raiders at Minnesota Vikings
I really don’t like being simplistic. Sometimes, that’s all it is. Simple.
Last week, I wrote about Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins being average. Average in production. Average in record. He is never terrible, but never elite. It’s why, with a 1-0 record, he was more likely to lose than win. So he lost.
Which means he can now win.
Again, simple. And I hate that. So, let’s look for holes in the theory.
For starters, Cousins is actually predictably unpredictable. His splits are almost dead-on no matter what the statistic or situation. Which means he does well against good and bad teams. And it means he does poorly against good and bad teams. He does well against AFC teams. And poorly against AFC teams.
He is, once again, average in production.
Through some more digging, it does look like Cousins has one positive ‘rebound’ trait that has stuck with him. He has not thrown multiple interceptions in back-to-back games since October of 2015. With that, we can continue to lean in the direction of Cousins having a better game than he did in Week 2.
And if Cousins is not giving the game away, it will be difficult for the Oakland Raiders to take it away.
In last year’s 4-12 campaign, the Raiders were 3-1 when causing at least two turnovers and 1-11 when securing one or fewer takeaways. This year, Oakland was able to beat Denver without causing a turnover, but it lost by 18 the Chiefs after recording only one takeaway.
The statistics about turnovers should not be a surprise for Oakland. The team isn’t good, and it needs a nearly-flawless performance to win. We saw that on Opening Night. And then we saw the Raiders score only ten points against a weak Chiefs defense.
The Raiders might have had a better setup if they played against the Vikings in a different time-and-place, but the arrows are all pointing in the wrong direction. Minnesota wins by seventeen points and covers the spread.
Prediction: Minnesota Vikings (-8.5)
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 2018 with an accuracy of 56.8% for his confidence picks. His 5-year record for all NFL games against the spread is 689-604-41!