Week 3 of the NFL season begins Thursday night when the New York Giants visit the Carolina Panthers, continues Sunday with games such as Philadelphia Eagles at Arizona Cardinals and New England Patriots at Baltimore Ravens, and ends when the Green Bay Packers travel to Seattle to take on the Seahawks Monday night.
Seasons can't be made or lost in Week 3, but it is a time when the contenders start to separate themselves from the pretenders.
Below, we have our picks against the spread for each game on the Week 3 schedule.
Note: All odds are taken from Bovada.net, via ESPN.com.
New York Giants at Carolina Panthers (+1.5)
The Giants needed seven quarters to wake up in 2012, but once they shook off the Super Bowl hangover, the light came on. New York will have to be sharp for four quarters on short rest to beat Carolina on the road. Panthers cover as the home underdog, with the Giants dropping to 0-3 in 2012 against the spread.
St. Louis Rams at Chicago Bears (-7.5)
If the old cliche, "You're only as good as your last game" holds any water, the Bears won't cover this line. Chicago proved Thursday that it can't protect Jay Cutler without providing help to the tackles on most drop-backs. Plus, the Rams under Jeff Fisher are still much better than most will give them credit for, especially defensively. Beating Chicago on the road won't be easy, but covering a spread that has the Bears winning by more than a touchdown is feasible.
Buffalo Bills at Cleveland Browns (+3.0)
The Bills are a clear favorite on the road, but what are we to make of the Browns? The defense showed up against Michael Vick and the Eagles in Week 1, then disappeared last Sunday while the offense finally made an appearance in Cincinnati. Cleveland is going to be inconsistent in 2012 with all the youth and inexperience on offense. Take the Bills covering.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Dallas Cowboys (-7.0)
Not surprisingly, the Bucs have opened as the underdog in all three games in 2012. In the first two weeks, however, Tampa Bay covered each spread. Bank on 3-0? Not so fast, as the Cowboys return home after being embarrassed in Seattle. Maybe the 'Boys needed that slap in the face after running over the Giants in the NFL opener and then being showered with praise. In their 2012 home opener, expect the Cowboys to rebound.
New York Jets at Miami Dolphins (+3.0)
Some quick betting facts on this matchup: Since 2001, the Jets are 5-1-1 against the spread when playing in Miami, but just 4-4-1 when favored. That's the situation we're faced with Sunday. The deciding factor here might just be Rex Ryan vs. Ryan Tannehill, where the Jets have the heavy advantage. Life goes back to being difficult for the rookie quarterback at home.
San Francisco 49ers at Minnesota Vikings (+7.5)
This looks like a matchup that should be easy money with San Francisco, who is probably two touchdowns better than the Vikings overall. But the Arizona-New England fiasco is the reminder that any matchup can throw you a curve ball. Still, the 49ers aren't a team that looks primed for an unexpected scare. Typically, teams need to turn the ball over and play sloppy special teams for big underdogs to hang around. The 49ers are among the NFL's best in both areas.
Kansas City Chiefs at New Orleans Saints (-9.0)
Considering how bad the Saints have been on defense (NFL-worst 461 yards allowed/game and 37.5 points/game), a nine-point line looks high. Then you realize that the Chiefs have also allowed 40 and 35 points in their opening two games, respectively, and they'll be playing on the fast track in New Orleans. A point total in the 30s looks like a lock for the Saints, but can the Chiefs stay within nine with their struggling offense? Not confident in the latter.
Cincinnati Bengals at Washington Redskins (-4.0)
Robert Griffin III is making his home debut, so there should be some electricity in the air Sunday in Washington. The Bengals just don't have the look of a contender either. Against quality teams, especially on the road, Andy Dalton and Cincinnati simply hasn't gotten it done. Redskins win by a touchdown.
Detroit Lions at Tennessee Titans (+3.5)
Vegas has had a hard time figuring out these two so far in 2012, as both are 0-2 against the spread. But the Titans have been the eye-opener, as Vegas made them less-than-a-touchdown underdogs in each of the games they've been blown out in to open 2012. Now Tennessee is only giving 3.5 points to a 2011 playoff team? Not buying it. Lions continue beating up on the Titans and win by a touchdown or more.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts (-3.0)
Doesn't this game have the exact same feeling that the Colts-Vikings contest had in Week 2? Two teams rebuilding, with young quarterbacks leading in-progress offenses. There's temptation to take the offense with Maurice Jones-Drew, but the Colts are better right now with Andrew Luck at the helm. The push looms large here, but Indianapolis can win by more than a field goal if Luck is protected.
Philadelphia Eagles at Arizona Cardinals (+4.0)
Despite being 2-0 and playing at home, the Cardinals arrive in Week 3 as the underdog. It's a situation, however, that Arizona has thrived in so far in 2012, going 2-0 against the spread as the underdog. And believe it or not, the Cardinals have beaten the Eagles in four-straight matchups dating back to 2005. The Eagles are more talented by a margin bigger than just four points, but the Cardinals have been a Vegas buster so far in 2012. Roll the dice one more time?
Atlanta Falcons at San Diego Chargers (-1.5)
Vegas has figured both teams out so far in 2012 (4-0 against the spread), so you'd like to think that betting with them in this one would be smart. However, this line has already moved towards the Falcons after starting at Chargers -3.0. In arguably the most difficult game to call this weekend, go with the game's hottest quarterback (Matt Ryan) getting the Falcons to cover the spread.
Houston Texans at Denver Broncos (+2.0)
No disrespect to the Broncos, but this one looks like easy money. The Texans have arguably been the most impressive team in the AFC so far in 2012, and Peyton Manning is about as predictable at this point as weather in the Midwest. On a short week, the Broncos fail to cover an underdog line of two points.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Oakland Raiders (+4.5)
These are the kind of lines where you stop and ask yourself, "What does Vegas know that I don't?" The Steelers put a beat-down on the New York Jets in Week 2 and the Raiders gave up 35 points to the Dolphins offense. What gives? Envisioning a score line where the Steelers don't win by at least a touchdown doesn't seem real. Tell Vegas to buzz off and take Pittsburgh on the road.
New England Patriots at Baltimore Ravens (-3.0)
Three of the last five games in this series have been decided by a field goal, so it's easy to see why Vegas has the Ravens as a three-point home favorite. In a betting sense, this is one you probably should avoid. But doesn't this feel like a game that Baltimore could win by more than a field goal? Losing Aaron Hernandez is a much bigger deal for New England than most realize. Ravens by more than three points.
Green Bay Packers at Seattle Seahawks (+3.5)
No game in this series has been decided by less than six points since 2003. But with a 3.5-point line, that doesn't really matter much. The Packers haven't lost against the spread to Seattle since 2001, so history is on Green Bay's side. I think which ever team wins this game will do so by a touchdown or more, but the Seahawks might be the safer bet. Talented home dogs, especially in prime time, usually surprise.
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