Week 3 Picks

Posted: 09/25/2016 by levcohen in Football

I was going to start this post by talking about the fact that the three most-favored teams this week are squads that are a combined 2-4 this year and haven’t played much inspiring football. Indeed, I think that’s an interesting fact, and it’s something that’s worth trying to exploit if you’re betting on Week 3. But I feel that it would be somewhat disingenuous for me to start this without acknowledging that the Patriots just made me look silly for the third consecutive week. I’m somewhat mad at myself for picking against the Pats in Week 1 on the road against a really good Arizona team, but I’d be willing to give myself a break on that one had I not locked up the Cardinals. But these last two weeks have been ridiculous. First, I picked a bad Miami team to triumph over New England in Foxborough, conveniently ignoring the fact that the Patriots had won seven straight over Miami at home by an average of 20 points. Then, I picked against the Pats at home AGAIN even though they were playing a shaky Houston offense that was coming off of a huge win over Kansas City and even though Bill Belichick was facing an old disciple (Bill O’Brien) with the advantage of a short week to prepare. Now, I’ve picked the Pats to go 0-3, and the Pats are 3-0. I’ll certainly pick New England to beat Buffalo next week, and if they do, they’ll get Tom Brady back with a 4-0 record. This team is going to be scary good when it’s fully healthy and un-suspended, and I hope I don’t make the mistake of picking against them again anytime soon. Anyway, with that out of the way, on to the rest of my Week 3 picks.

*- upset pick

Arizona Cardinals (1-1, 1-1 against the spread) at Buffalo Bills (0-2, 0-2):
Spread: Cardinals favored by 5
Over/under: 48
My prediction: I like the Cardinals on the road here for a number of reasons. The simplest one is that the Bills are officially a dumpster fire after firing offensive coordinator Greg Roman, the only coach on the team who could reasonably claim that this isn’t his fault. But looking at the specific matchup, this looks rather dire for the home squad. How do you beat Arizona’s talented defense? Well, like the Patriots did, with an accurate short passing game and a wide receiver like Julian Edelman who can expose whoever’s playing opposite Patrick Peterson. With Sammy Watkins very limited (if he’s playing at all), the Bills have officially zero of the ingredients needed to beat the Cards. Tyrod Taylor is an exciting player, but he’s not very accurate in the short passing game, and 157 of his 408 passing yards this season have come on two plays. Given Arizona’s corners and safeties, Taylor’s going to have a hard time finding any of his speedy receivers over the top. LeSean McCoy is going to get all of the work he can handle, but the Cards are very good against the run (3.7 yards per carry against New England and Tampa, two offenses that boast better running games than Buffalo). And Buffalo’s defense hemorrhaged plays down the field against the Jets, giving up 319 combined yards to New York’s top three receivers. Now, they face Carson Palmer’s big arm and the talented trio of Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, and John Brown. Floyd and Brown have struggled so far this year, but this could be the week that we see a breakout from one or both. This is just a terrible matchup for Buffalo. Cardinals win 31-10.
Cardinals cover
Under

Oakland Raiders (1-1, 1-1) at Tennessee Titans (1-1, 1-1):*
Spread: Raiders favored by 2
Over/under: 46.5
My prediction: I was on board the Raiders bandwagon, but now I’m not so sure. Oakland’s defense has been terrible, giving up 69 points and 808 passing yards to New Orleans and Atlanta. They rank dead-last in defensive DVOA through two weeks and are the first team since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger to give up 500 yards of offense in their first two games. This is the week that we see how much of that is their defense and how much of it is the talented offenses of Atlanta and New Orleans, because Tennessee’s offense is about as low-octane as can be imagined. The Titans have scored 16 points in each of their two games, and they needed an Andre Johnson touchdown with about a minute left to edge past the Lions last week. I’m a fan of Marcus Mariota, though, and I really don’t think the Raiders should be road favorites given the way they’ve played the last two weeks. Give me the Titans 27-23 in a minor upset.
Titans cover
Over

Cleveland Browns (0-2, 1-1) at Miami Dolphins (0-2, 1-1):
Spread: Dolphins favored by 10
Over/under: 42.5
My prediction: I can’t believe the Dolphins are favored by this much. There’s no chance I’m going to pick them to win by 10+, even against the Browns. Last week’s Browns were led by competent play from quarterback Josh McCown and a huge game from rookie receiver Corey Coleman, so as long as they can rely on those two…. Er, never mind. McCown somehow played three quarters with a broken collarbone, while Coleman broke his hand in practice, and it’s hard for wide receivers to, you know, catch with a broken hand. There’s almost nothing good I can say about the Browns, except that their run defense looks pretty good and gets a plum matchup against an Arian Foster-less Dolphins offense. I’m picking Cleveland to cover, but that’s because I have no confidence in the Ryan Tannehill-led Dolphins offense. Dolphins win 20-17. Don’t watch this game.
Browns cover
Under

Baltimore Ravens (2-0, 1-1) at Jacksonville Jaguars (0-2, 1-1):*
Spread: Ravens favored by 2.5
Over/under: 45
My prediction: I think the Jaguars are a bad football team. They’re certainly very bad on the road. But guess what? The Ravens, coming off of wins over the mighty Browns and Bills, aren’t that great either, especially on the road. They got burned twice by Corey Coleman last week, and this time around they have the challenge of facing two big play targets in Jacksonville’s Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. Whatever happens in this game, my advice is the same as it is for Miami-Cleveland: don’t watch it. Jaguars win 31-23.
Jaguars cover
Over

Detroit Lions (1-1, 1-1) at Green Bay Packers (1-1, 0-2):
Spread: Packers favored by 7
Over/under: 47.5
My prediction: The Dolphins were the first uninspiring team to be favored by at least a touchdown. The Packers are the second. This team isn’t good! Correction: the offense isn’t good. The defense is actually pretty solid, but Green Bay’s offense is once again getting too much credit. Aaron Rodgers is a fantastic quarterback, but the offense around him just isn’t cutting it. Jordy Nelson is clearly still getting back on the same page with Rodgers, but the other passing game options have no excuse for being flat. In fact, Detroit’s offense is simply better than Green Bay’s, at least through two weeks. This could be a blowout, but I think that only happens if Eddie Lacy goes off in a big way. And while Green Bay’s coaches have been talking up Lacy, the Lions have been pretty solid against the run aside from one big play by DeMarco Murray. I know Detroit lost at home to Tennessee last week, but I’m still pretty fond of this Lions team, and I’m confident that they’ll keep it close in Lambeau. Packers win 24-20.
Lions cover
Under

Denver Broncos (2-0, 2-0) at Cincinnati Bengals (1-1, 0-2):
Spread: Bengals favored by 3.5
Over/under: 42
My prediction: I really don’t trust either offense in this game. Andy Dalton’s a fine quarterback, but he’s a lot better when he has a steady run game to rely on, and the Jeremy Hill-Giovani Bernard combination has been less than inspiring on the ground so far this year. Cincinnati’s best option offensively this week is probably to spread the Broncos out with three wide receivers, a tight end, and Bernard (the better receiver) in the backfield. Again, though, I don’t trust the offense, especially since tight end Tyler Eifert, the second option in the passing game, is still out with an injury. The Broncos have been much more convincing this year, but it’s hard to take a lot out of a 34-20 win over an Indianapolis team that’s been totally decimated by injuries. I was going to take Denver because they have a better defense, but then I realized that this game is in Cincinnati, a tough place to play (the Bengals are 19-4-1 in the last three seasons at home), and that this is also Trevor Siemian’s first career road game. I’ll take the Bengals, but that extra half-point is a little too tasty for me to pass up, so I’ll end up going with the underdog against the spread for the fifth consecutive game. Bengals win 21-20.
Broncos cover
Under

Minnesota Vikings (2-0, 2-0) at Carolina Panthers (1-1, 1-1):- Lock of the week
Spread: Panthers favored by 6
Over/under: 42
My prediction: I really like the Vikings, even without Adrian Peterson. But this is a really tough spot for them against a Panthers team that just put up 46 points against a San Francisco defense that shut out the Rams in Week 1. And guess what? I don’t trust Sam Bradford. I’ve seen too many inaccurate throws, too many panicked plays, and too many missed opportunities over the past handful of years to feel confident about predicting that Bradford will have success without his star running back in a hostile environment against a good pass rush. Picking the Vikings here might just be overthinking it. Lock. Panthers win 27-17.
Panthers cover
Over

Washington Redskins (0-2, 0-2) at New York Giants (2-0, 1-1):*
Spread: Giants favored by 3.5
Over/under: 47
My prediction: This is a scary game for the Giants. New York has long been a team that’s frustrated and confused fans (and bettors) during the regular season, and they continued that trend last week when they won but failed to put up enough points to cover the spread against the terrible New Orleans defense. Now, they get a desperate Redskins team that’s coming off of consecutive home losses and basically needs a win to keep its season alive (I know it’s Week 3, but I have a hard time believing that this team could start 0-3 and 0-2 in the division and then go on the make up a three game deficit). The Giants are clearly the more talented team, but sometimes I don’t trust my gut enough. I’m trusting my gut on this one. Redskins win 24-20.
Redskins cover
Under

Los Angeles Rams (1-1, 1-1) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-1, 1-1):
Spread: Buccaneers favored by 3.5
Over/under: 40.5
My prediction: Yes, the Buccaneers just got absolutely demolished by the Cardinals, and yes, the Rams just beat the Seahawks. But LA’s win was more about Seattle’s struggles than any awakening by a team that had just gotten drilled by the Niners, while the Bucs may just have managed to throw people off of their scent with their huge loss in Arizona. This game will surely be a slog; the Rams have a tendency to make their games unwatchable, which is somewhat by design. The question, thus, is: can Jameis Winston play well — and mistake-free — enough to carry his team to victory? The game won’t be made easier by the fact that Jameis will be without talented running back Doug Martin, but I still have to trust Winston and his offense to score enough to knock off a team that’s scored nine points all season. Buccaneers win 23-13.
Buccaneers cover
Under

San Francisco 49ers (1-1, 1-1) at Seattle Seahawks (1-1, 0-2):
Spread: Seahawks favored by 10
Over/under: 41.5
My prediction: The Seahawks are the last of the three big and to this point unconvincing favorites. Their offense has been shambolic so far this year, with one total touchdown and an offensive line that can only be described as abysmal. I thought they’d have enough to slip past the Rams last week, but I was wrong. I still think they have enough to slip past San Francisco this week, especially since Russell Wilson is healthier now, but I can’t say I’m uber-confident. Seahawks win 20-14.
Niners cover
Under

Pittsburgh Steelers (2-0, 2-0) at Philadelphia Eagles (2-0, 2-0):
Spread: Steelers favored by 4
Over/under: 46.5
My prediction: The Eagles have far and away the best DVOA in football through two weeks. They’ve won their two games by 19 and 15 points, and they’ve given up 24 points all season. Why, then, are they getting 4 points at home against the Steelers? Because their first two games came against Cleveland and Chicago, and because Pittsburgh is not Cleveland or Chicago. This Steelers team is gooood. It’s not just explosive on offense; the Steelers also rank 14th in defensive DVOA despite facing two decent offenses (Washington and Cincy) to start the season. I like Philadelphia’s defense, but the Eagles don’t have enough weapons to keep up with Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown. Steelers win 26-17.
Steelers cover
Under

New York Jets (1-1, 2-0) at Kansas City Chiefs (1-1, 0-2):*
Spread: Chiefs favored by 3
Over/under: 42.5
My prediction: It’s only Week 3, but this game feels like one that could end up being vital in determining a wild card spot in the AFC. And I like the Jets here, for many of the same reasons that I like Arizona in Buffalo. How do you beat the Jets? A better question might be: how did the Bills put up 31 points against the Jets? Well, their defense isn’t very good, but it’s particularly bad at defending deep passes. A.J. Green burned Darrelle Revis in Week 1, and the Jets got beaten by two more deep touchdowns last week. But if the Chiefs are terrible at one thing, it’s throwing the deep ball. Kansas City likes runs and short passes, which is bad news given that the Jets are very stout up front (115 total rush yards given up). I don’t think KC will be able to keep up with New York’s offense, especially since the Chiefs have looked mediocre defensively without Justin Houston. Jets win 24-20.
Jets cover
Over

San Diego Chargers (1-1, 2-0) at Indianapolis Colts (0-2, 0-2):
Spread: Colts favored by 1.5
Over/under: 51
My prediction: The Raiders have had the worst defense in the league through two weeks, but the Colts aren’t far behind. To be fair, they’re playing a bunch of second and third stringers with regulars injured, and they might get a boost this week from the return of stud cornerback Vontae Davis. But Davis can’t be expected to cover up for all of the holes in his return, and Philip Rivers is excellent when given the time to find open receivers. San Diego will be able to score. Of course, so will Indianapolis, which makes this a total tossup. Give me the home team in a shootout. Colts win 31-28.
Colts cover
Over

Chicago Bears (0-2, 0-2) at Dallas Cowboys (1-1, 1-1):
Spread: Cowboys favored by 6.5
Over/under: 44.5
My prediction: Points might be hard to come by in this game, with Brian Hoyer set to start against Dak Prescott. The Bears may well be the second worst team in the NFL (or the worst, depending on whether you think Cleveland’s actually an NFL team), and now they’re without their quarterback. And unlike the Dolphins, who I don’t trust to capitalize on a great matchup, the Cowboys are just good enough to beat a bad team by a touchdown (see Week 2). Cowboys win 21-13.
Cowboys cover
Under

Atlanta Falcons (1-1, 1-1) at New Orleans Saints (0-2, 1-1):
Spread: Saints favored by 3
Over/under: 53.5
My prediction: Last week, I wrote that my thought process for picking the Raiders to beat the Falcons was simple: the Raiders were the better team, and they were also the home team. That didn’t turn out too well, but I’m going back to it this week as the Falcons have another road game against a high-octane offense. I still don’t trust Atlanta, and at least the Saints showed last week that they have some semblance of a defense. That semblance will be enough to take them past the Falcons in a shootout. Saints win 35-28.
Saints cover
Over

Upset picks:
Tennessee over Oakland
Jacksonville over Baltimore
New York Jets over Kansas City
Washington over New York Giants

Lock of the week:
Carolina over Minnesota

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