Here we are again this year, back for more NFL picks. It is with great pleasure that I begin my third season writing this column. As someone who has won and lost their fair share of money on the NFL (and many other sports), this is bound to be a fun and unpredictable ride. Join me, won’t you?
As with the format in previous years, this article will help those of you who compete in confidence pools and in ranking selections, which may come in handy on those Las Vegas trips. Games are rated based on preference for both the point spread and other angles (such as totals or over/unders) with 1-3 “Stars”, which basically highlight the best bets for the week. Those games which have zero stars are not preferred one way or the other, but will still be covered, discussed and a winner will be predicted for those trying to get some advice for their weekly office pools.
Week 2 produced a feast of dramatic football – and it was another day for the dogs. The underdogs went 9-6 against the spread in Sunday’s action, a sign that the Vegas sharps haven’t quite found their feet yet. The standout covers were the Titans (+6.5) and Raiders (+5.5), the former responding to an embarrassing defeat with a thrilling road win; the latter turning heads by knocking off the Steelers at Heinz Field.
Note that the over/unders are taken from VegasInsider.com
(Thursday Night) CAROLINA (-7.5) at HOUSTON (Over/Under 43.5)
The Texans are down to Davis Mills at quarterback for this match-up on a short week against the red-hot Panthers. That fact alone has prompted a three-point line move; the sharps are giving Houston zero chance, in other words. That may be a little harsh considering how well David Culley’s men have performed through two weeks. The spot is not great for Mills, however, with just a handful of days to prepare for a defensive unit that has bamboozled quarterbacks through two weeks.
The Panthers are one of those "yeah, but" 2-0 teams; the experts will be reticent to give them credit, but the win against the Saints should attract the league’s attention. Injury-riddled though the Saints were, Carolina’s front seven walloped Jameis Winston all game long, turning him into their personal punching bag. Sam Darnold played one of his best, if not his best, career game to boot. And Christian McCaffrey? Well, say no more. The Texans will have no answers for him. The extra half-point gives pause, so take the home dogs to keep it close.
CINCINNATI at PITTSBURGH (-4.5) (Over/Under 44.5)
The Bengals offense was utterly listless for long periods of the game on Sunday in Chicago, with Joe Burrow looking flustered often. Credit has to go to the Bears defense for flummoxing the young quarterback, but even so, Cincinnati managed to keep it close. And that, perhaps, is where the Bengals will settle this year: the team that keeps it interesting, keeps us watching, and then ultimately disappoints. Both of their games so far have been tight affairs; we could see a repeat here.
A trip to Heinz Field used to be a daunting task, a mission completed only by the most daring and steadfast teams. Now, it seems the Steelers have lost their aura. Early reports are indicating that T.J. Watt, who left the game on Sunday due to a groin injury, could suit up on Sunday. Pittsburgh needs him to, as a win against a division rival here would suddenly silence some doubters and would leave the team at 2-1. Ben Roethlisberger has a bit to do to convince us that he is anything but a declining player with little to offer.
CHICAGO at CLEVELAND (-7.5) (Over/Under 46.5)
Bears head coach Matt Nagy is adamant on one thing: Andy Dalton ain’t going anywhere and will remain the starting quarterback. Prior to the season, many questioned his stubbornness. Now, it is perhaps more understandable given the struggles of rookie Justin Fields in relief of the Red Rifle last week. Fields was mistake-prone and looked cold coming off the bench. If the rookie is forced to start here, the reception from the revitalized Browns defense could be nasty.
Cleveland’s defense came to play in fits and starts against Houston, ultimately getting the job done. It helped that they played against Davis Mills for long periods, though. Alarm bells should be ringing for the Browns on that side of the ball, but the Bears offense is not the most intimidating. For that reason, this looks like a ‘get well’ game for the home team. Vegas has them as 7.5-point favorites, putting them just outside the comfortable range.
INDIANAPOLIS at TENNESSEE (-5.5) (Over/Under 48)
The Carson Wentz injury dropped the total in this game by almost a full touchdown, but the line has remained the same. The question is whether Wentz, who injured his ankles against the Rams, has any chance of playing. Backup Jacob Eason had an inauspicious spell when he entered the game, so Colts fans can be forgiven for gulping upon hearing the young passer’s name. Overall, despite being 0-2, the Colts should be encouraged by their performance against a superior Los Angeles Rams team.
But encouragement will only get you so far. Eventually, those moral victories have to turn into real ones or the Titans will quickly be sprinting out ahead in the division race. Tennessee produced what can only be described as a true gut-check win in Seattle, with Derrick Henry reminding us all never to doubt him again. Tennessee should fancy their chances to put up a sizeable score on the Colts here and seize control of the AFC South.
NEW ORLEANS at NEW ENGLAND (-3) (Over/Under 43)
Jameis Winston will have his head in his hands looking back at the tape of the loss to the Panthers. In truth, there were times when he had no options, with all of his receivers blanketed downfield and Alvin Kamara getting shut down completely. Meanwhile, some old Jameis tendencies started to resurface, including the patented heave the ball 20 yards downfield and hope for the best throws of the past. Carolina took full advantage and gave Bill Belichick an intriguing blueprint to start with in his preparations.
The likelihood is that The Hooded One will be seeing more of Taysom Hill this week after the Saints subbed him in to replace a wobbling Winston a few times. A ball-control approach should work here for the Patriots, who are easing Mac Jones in as the weeks go along. The rookie has been impressive so far, however, so expanding the playbook makes sense. A stifling defensive effort from the Patriots will be the expectation here, so three points seems a little light.
Pick: New England
WASHINGTON at BUFFALO (-9) (Over/Under 46)
The Washington Football Team’s wild and wacky Thursday night contest against the Giants was one of the season’s most entertaining games thus far. And there have been plenty of them, so that is no mean feat. Back at 1-1, Ron Rivera’s men face the daunting task of heading to western New York with Taylor Heinicke at the controls. Interestingly, the Football Team has covered in five of the last six games when they were underdogs – and betting on the dog has been a fruitful strategy so far this season.
Yet the Bills looked poised to go on a run after trouncing Miami on the road. Josh Allen produced some typically fantastic plays under pressure and played good complementary football with the defense to put Week 1’s debacle behind him. Now into their stride, one wonders if we will look back at the Pittsburgh loss as the exception in a highly successful season. The Chiefs’ loss on Sunday night should give the rest of the AFC heart; expect the Bills to show what they are capable of, but nine points is too steep.
BALTIMORE (-9) at DETROIT (Over/Under 50)
The Ravens have an enviable road record against the spread, going 11-4-1 on their travels since early 2019. Lamar Jackson may have gone through his fair share of ups and downs against Kansas City, but how he finished the game was nothing short of spectacular. Installed as a nine-point road favorite, few would doubt that the Ravens, with a sounder defensive backbone, could go far in the AFC. Jackson should find acres of room to roam against Detroit, who were pummelled on the ground at times by Green Bay.
Detroit does have a streak of competitiveness to them, however, making this more of a toss-up than some would like to admit. Jared Goff has developed good chemistry with Quintez Cephus and T.J. Hockenson, so expect a back-and-forth contest. After all, the Ravens have shown little sign of slowing down opponents so far. At 0-2, it is beginning to dawn on Dan Campbell the sheer size of the task ahead. But that realization won’t stop him from rallying the troops here.
LA CHARGERS at KANSAS CITY (-6.5) (Over/Under 55.5)
A game of the week candidate arrives into our football lives this Sunday, as the Chargers battle the Chiefs at Arrowhead. The Philip Rivers era produced some memorable clashes with the old rivals, but Justin Herbert has his own script to write. There is little reason to doubt the wet-behind-the-ears passer in this spot. His fearless streak is the very hallmark of his game; the screaming crowds in Kansas City will not faze him. Nor will the Chiefs defense, which was lost at sea against Baltimore.
Kansas City will have time to get its returning veterans Tyrann Mathieu and Chris Jones up to speed this week in practice – and the defense needs them to perform. There are several weak spots in this unit that the Chargers will be keen to exploit. Of course, Patrick Mahomes II has a way of popping up with magical moments to save their blushes, but the loss to Baltimore is a warning that the familiar script might not always play out. While the Chiefs have been nigh on untouchable against the spread, the +6.5 is a nice spot for L.A. here.
Pick: Los Angeles
ATLANTA at NY GIANTS (-3) (Over/Under 48)
The Giants are 4-10-1 in their last 16 against the spread at home, not an encouraging statistic if you were considering taking a punt on them in this favorable spot. On paper, at least. The loss to Washington – and specifically how it happened – will sting, but with 10 days to prepare the G-Men should be confident of taking the positives from that game and building on them. Daniel Jones looked competent and Jason Garrett allowed him to run wild, a critical part of boosting his confidence.
Atlanta’s woes continue, even with a new head coach in place. Arthur Smith can’t be expected to have all the answers this early, though. It is up to Matt Ryan and the veterans around him to rally after an 0-2 start. The loss to the Bucs showed there is still life in this team – just not that much. The best approach to this game is to avoid it like the plague. Neither team inspires trust. The Falcons have gone 8-4 to the under since early 2020, so that could be a good angle to take.
ARIZONA (-7) at JACKSONVILLE (Over/Under 52.5)
A rollercoaster ride is the only way to sum up the Cardinals-Vikings game on Sunday, with a missed kick ultimately saving Kliff Kingsbury’s team. A trip to Jacksonville appears a far less formidable task this week. With Kyler Murray in awe-inspiring form at times through two games, this is likely to be another highlight-reel game. Watch out for the defense as well; they have been growing before our eyes and should give Trevor Lawrence plenty of problems.
The jury is still out on Urban Meyer as an NFL head coach, but the early returns haven’t been promising. Jacksonville’s performance against the Broncos was better, but the 10-point loss only looked good when comparing it to the trouncing of Week 1. As always, it’s all relative. The key thing for the Jaguars faithful is to see Lawrence develop, but this may not be the best spot to do it.
NY JETS at DENVER (-10.5) (Over/Under 41)
The season has started off on a dour note for the Jets, but what’s new? The franchise has carried on their miserable run, with rookie quarterback Zach Wilson struggling to find his rhythm despite some glimpses of promise. Defensively, there are moments of inspiration and solid play, but the offense’s difficulties make them null and void. All eyes will be whether Robert Saleh can inspire his charges to an improved display here in a tough spot.
The red-hot Broncos had these opening three games circled as very winnable – one more victory makes that a reality and gets them off to a 3-0 start. The tougher AFC West opponents await, but this week should serve as a reminder to the watching football public that they are ready to compete in a major way. Expect Wilson to be thrown to the wolves. The Jets are 10-3 to the under since early 2020, so that is a decent angle to take on a game that should be points deficient.
Pick: New York
MIAMI at LAS VEGAS (-4) (Over/Under 45)
The Dolphins will be without starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (fractured ribs) for this clash with the Raiders, putting them in a difficult spot with Jacoby Brissett at the controls. Brian Flores’ men should not be completely ruled out, however. After all, they have been able to rub two sticks together and produce upsets during his tenure. Four points is a tempting number given the situation.
And yet we must ask ourselves if the Raiders have truly turned the corner. While in the past they could be counted on for slipping up spectacularly a few times a season, this iteration could be different. Derek Carr is riffing with his receivers and the defense seems to have reached the level of respectability. That might be all they need to take them to a 3-0 start.
Pick: Las Vegas
SEATTLE (-2) at MINNESOTA (Over/Under 55.5)
The Seahawks have won the past four clashes with the Vikings, but Mike Zimmer’s team finds themselves backed in a corner here at 0-2 and could be more dangerous as a result. In some media circles, this would be called a "cornered animal" game. To be fair to Minnesota, they did everything they could to pull out a victory last week, with Kirk Cousins producing one of his ho-hum multi-touchdown performances. This is a good spot for them to notch their first victory, but it won’t be straightforward.
On the Seahawks side, Week 1 gave us plenty of reason to trust them. That rug was swiftly pulled from under us as they stumbled to a loss in Week 2 to the Titans. In some ways, the script is similar here; with a more desperate team (Minnesota) this time playing the Titans role. What Vegas expects here is plenty of points, but the Vikings are better than an 0-2 team and should prove it here. This time, they just have to avoid the kicker.
TAMPA BAY (-1) at LA RAMS (Over/Under 55)
This could very well be a preview of the NFC Championship game, and who would complain if that were how it panned out? The Bucs have flexed their muscles through two weeks, but the feeling is that they are just warming up. Five touchdown passes in a victory over the Falcons proved that when they need to, they can really turn it on. Bruce Arians knows that a sturdy defense is there to back them up – and they will need that unit to show up on Sunday against a tricky L.A. offense.
Cooper Kupp leads the way for the versatile Rams receiving corps, making him the primary threat for the Bucs to lock down. Matthew Stafford has yet to build a rapport with Robert Woods, but that connection may be needed this week. What this game represents more than anything else is a yardstick for both teams, a statement of their position in the complicated NFC hierarchy. In the meantime, get the popcorn ready.
Pick: Los Angeles
(Sunday Night) GREEN BAY at SAN FRANCISCO (-3.5) (Over/Under 50)
The Packers have to be commended for taking care of the Lions in the way they did, but it took them a while to get going. Aaron Rodgers exploded in the second half and seemed to wake up from the daze he had been in, turning in a vintage performance, but there are still some frailties to exploit. The defense upped their game, at least, although they face a familiar foe and a bigger test this time around.
Kyle Shanahan’s team is off to the perfect start and may not be as in awe of the Packers as they once would have been. Even though there is no Raheem Mostert to give the Green Bay defense the jitters, there is a capable ground game and a balanced approach on offense. The 49ers defense can be nasty and should provide plenty of reason to panic for Rodgers and company. Even still, that extra half-point holds appeal in what could be a tight affair.
Pick: Green Bay
(Monday Night) PHILADELPHIA at DALLAS (-4) (Over/Under 51.5)
There is nothing quite like a classic NFC East clash to put a cap on the football week. The first thing that is striking about this contest is the four-point line in Dallas’ favor. After all, the Eagles have hardly put a foot wrong this season and simply came up against a strong opponent last week in the 49ers. Despite that, they barely lost. The Eagles should feel confident of going into Dallas and keeping it close with a varied rushing attack and a surprisingly effective corps of weapons.
Dak Prescott did not produce his finest performance against Los Angeles, but his team still came out with the narrow win. The Cowboys will take a 1-1 start, given that the loss came against the Bucs. This prime-time affair offers the chance to show off their wares to the watching millions, so expect the stars to come out. Interestingly, the home team has won and covered in the last five meetings. Let’s trust the trend here.
Once again this year this article will give out not only the Best Bets but also a rating of each one on a 1-3 Star scale. The more stars, the bigger the emphasis on that side of the game.
This week, we will focus our bets around the following lines:
- 1 DALLAS (-4) vs. PHILADELPHIA
- 2 ATLANTA (+3) at NEW YORK GIANTS
- 3 HOUSTON (+7.5) vs. CAROLINA
- 4 LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (+6.5) at KANSAS CITY
With these likes in mind, here are the Week 3 selections:
* ONE STAR GAMES *
- 2-TEAM ATS DOUBLE (2.61-1 ODDS)
- HOUSTON (+7.5)
- LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (+6.5)
** TWO STAR GAMES **
- 2-TEAM ATS DOUBLE (2.42-1 ODDS):
- ATLANTA (+3)
- DALLAS (-4)
*** THREE STAR GAMES ***
- 4-TEAM MONEY LINE (5.34-1 ODDS)
- CAROLINA - FOR THE WIN
- ATLANTA – FOR THE WIN
- LAS VEGAS – FOR THE WIN
- SAN FRANCISCO – FOR THE WIN
PICK(S) OF THE WEEK: San Francisco, Carolina, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Dallas
Last Week / Season
- LAST WEEK: 8-8
- SEASON OVERALL: 15-17 (46%)
- BEST BETS: 2-6 (25%)
- PICK OF THE WEEK: 3-7 (30%)
Good luck this weekend!
Questions, suggestions, and comments are always welcome to firstname.lastname@example.org