NFL Week 3 Picks: Predicting Each Game Against the Spread
We enter Week 3 of the NFL season with the same uncertainty as last week thanks to a wild Week 2. We are also haunted once again by the possibility of more horribly officiated games thanks to the inept replacement referees.
The regular NFL officials may not have been perfect, but they didn't display the kind on laughable incompetence that these fill-ins have showed in just a few weeks. All referees are human. They are going to make mistakes. However, you never heard stories like the one this past week about a ref officiating the Eagles-Ravens game rooting for LeSean McCoy because Shady is on his fantasy team.
The NFL's substitute officials might as well be plucked out of the stands these days. We aren't dealing with respectable upholders of the NFL rulebook. We're dealing with football fans in pinstripes. While fans are still watching the games, the overall product is suffering. Every week, the games themselves are overshadowed by the replacement refs' miscues.
Eli Manning threw for 510 yards, but all of the focus was on the botched intentional grounding call late in the Ravens-Eagles game. The Cardinals and Seahawks pulled off huge upsets, but that note was dwarfed by a horrendous pass interference call on Ike Taylor in the Steelers-Jets clash.
No game is decided on one play, but try telling that irate fans who feel like they're getting hosed by subpar officiating.
It's time for the regular referees to return. It's a statement that every person in the game seems to share—from fans to players to talking heads on sports radio—except for the league itself. For someone as concerned with the NFL's image as commissioner Roger Goodell claims to be, it's mighty hypocritical of him to just stand back while replacement officials blacken the eyes of the sport he resides over.
Now, as for the games themselves. The tables turned a bit in Week 2. Dallas couldn't capitalize off its big win against the Giants in the opener and got throttled by Seattle. The Saints continue to struggle under new management. The Bills bounced back from being dominated by the Jets while Gang Green took it on the chin against the Steelers. The Eagles, yet again, managed to squeeze out a one-point victory over an AFC North opponent.
Week 3 opens up with an intriguing matchup between the Panthers and Giants. The Giants needed some second-half heroics to avoid a loss to Tampa Bay and an 0-2 start, while Carolina bounced back from their Tampa Bay loss in the opening week with a win over the Saints. Panthers-Giants may be the best matchup in a third week that isn't as high on dramatic storylines as the previous two weeks.
Hopefully, what this week lacks in drama is made up for in fortune for yours truly. A couple of lucky covers kept me from sinking under .500 for the week and I finished Week 2 with a 7-7-2 record. For the season, I'm just slightly above average with a 15-14-2 mark.
Let's move on to Week 3. As always, these spreads are based off USA Today's odds section by Danny Sheridan.
New York Giants (+2.5) at Carolina Panthers
The Pick: Carolina
While it is understandable for the NFL to try an maximize its drawing power by putting games on different days, the Thursday night schedule really puts teams at a disadvantage.
A good example of this is the New York Giants. The short week gives WR Hakeem Nicks and RB Ahmad Bradshaw less time to recover from injury. As a result, Big Blue will have to go without two of its biggest playmakers.
Would Bradshaw and Nicks have played if this game was on Sunday? We'll never know, but it's odd that a league so concerned with safety is so willing to throw teams back on the field after only four days rest each week for the sake of cheap ratings.
As for the game itself, I've been unimpressed by the Giants so far. They looked flat on offense against Dallas in Week 1, and they let a pedestrian offense in Tampa Bay put up points on their vaunted defense last week.
This week, they get one of the game's best dual threats in Panthers QB Cam Newton, who is riding high after pulling an "upset" over the Saints.
The Panthers are the favorite here, mainly because they are playing at home and New York is short-handed. So, it's hard to call this one an upset, per se. Still, a Panthers victory would be a bit of a surprise to some, despite what Vegas may think.
Newton's ability to run and the fact that he's so hard to bring down gives him more time to throw against a terrible Giants secondary. As we saw with Tony Romo in Week 1, you can gash the Giants through the air if you are able to move around in the pocket.
The injuries in the passing and running game for New York hurt the Giants tremendously. RB Andre Brown hasn't played much. The same applies for rookie RB David Wilson, who has been in the doghouse since his fumble in Week 1. The Giants also don't have a reliable No. 2 receiver to take pressure off Victor Cruz and make life easier for Eli Manning.
I think Carolina's balance on offense and Newton's mobility gives them the win here. Manning has worked a few miracles before in his career, but going on the road in a short week with two of your best players out is a tough task. I see the game starting off slow before Newton beats Big Blue with his arm and feet.
Score: Panthers 28, Giants 24
St. Louis Rams (+7) at Chicago Bears
The Pick: St. Louis
Last week, we saw the Jay Cutler we've become accustomed to watching. With a constant pass rush in his face, Cutler was forced into making bad throws against Green Bay. The result was four interceptions and seven sacks.
While Chicago will have almost a week and a half off before playing the Rams this Sunday, I don't see that extended time as enough to fix Chicago's problems.
The offensive line will be an issue the entire season, as will Cutler's tendency to make throws that he shouldn't. St. Louis' pass rush is much better than Green Bay's and they have playmakers in the secondary who will pounce on Cutler's errant throws.
Plus, is there a more intriguing matchup than world-class instigator Cortland Finnegan going up against well-known headcase Brandon Marshall? We saw Finnegan get in Josh Morgan's head last week, which led to Morgan committing a costly penalty that took the Redskins out of range for the tying field goal.
If those elements aren't enough to be concerned with Chicago's offense, RB Matt Forte is listed as questionable with an ankle injury. While the extra time off works to Forte's advantage, he's still iffy to play against St. Louis. If he can't go, the Bears are left with oft-injured backup Michael Bush.
The Rams have their own set of offensive issues. QB Sam Bradford isn't exactly setting the world on fire in Year 3, but he has found his favorite target in WR Danny Amendola. RB Steven Jackson reported to camp this summer in the best shape of his career, but has been a far cry from the freight train he used to be.
With all that said, I see Bradford taking advantage of Cutler's misfortunes. With Chicago's running game potentially hindered by the absence of Forte (or, at the very least, a Forte at less than 100 percent), the onus is on Cutler to make plays.
With relentless pass rushers like Chris Long in his face and Finnegan locking down Marshall, it will be tough for Chicago to move the ball.
I see a defensive struggle here with St. Louis stealing a close victory.
Score: Rams 16, Bears 10
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+7.5) at Dallas Cowboys
The Pick: Dallas
This was a tough call, mainly because I'm not sure Dallas is more than a touchdown better than Tampa Bay. I also don't see Dallas losing two straight against teams they should beat handily.
This may be one of those classic bounce-back games for the Cowboys where they take all their frustrations from last week's loss out on the next opponent.
The Bucs had the Giants on the ropes last week but couldn't close them out. They are clearly much-improved under new coach Greg Schiano, but they are also still very green.
The Bucs don't have the type of pass rush to make life difficult for Tony Romo, so I see Romo picking them apart through the air. After all, this is the same Tampa defense that gave up more than 500 passing yards to Eli Manning last week.
The Cowboys are at their best when they are able to set up the pass by going to the run early. RB DeMarco Murray is quickly becoming one of the league's best backs, but he can only be unleashed if Dallas avoids falling into the early hole they fell in last week against Seattle. I expect a more balanced Dallas offense this week, with Romo spreading the ball around to his bevy of weapons.
As for Tampa Bay, they are strong enough up front on the offensive line to allow RB Doug Martin to continue his campaign for the Rookie of the Year. While Josh Freeman and Vincent Jackson showed signs of developing chemistry last week, the Bucs won't make nearly enough plays in the air to keep up with Dallas.
I see the Bucs containing the Cowboys early, but Dallas' talent on both sides of the ball inevitably overwhelming the young Bucs.
Score: Cowboys 27, Bucs 17
San Francisco 49ers (-6.5) at Minnesota Vikings
The Pick: San Francisco
The best run defense in the game going up against a team that can only run the ball. This might be the easiest pick of the week.
The Niners continue to place themselves head and shoulders above the rest of the NFC—possibly the rest of the league—with solid defense and an improved offense.
Last week, San Francisco knocked off another NFC North opponent and 2011 playoff team with a good win against Detroit. This week won't be as tough as they draw Minnesota, who is coming off a loss to rookie QB Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts.
The comeback of Adrian Peterson has been a fun story, but it will have a brief intermission this week. The 49ers are stingy against the run, and the Vikings aren't stout enough in the passing game to keep San Francisco honest.
The Niners, meanwhile, have shown remarkable balance on offense. QB Alex Smith is spreading the ball around nicely and starting to shed that "game manager" label.
This one shouldn't be close. With the running game taken out of the equation, it's up to Vikings QB Christian Ponder to make plays against the league's best defense. We saw what San Fran has done against Aaron Rodgers and Matt Stafford in the last two weeks. It goes without saying that they should handle Ponder pretty easily.
Predicting a shutout always seems to come back to bite me, so I'll say that I see Minnesota scoring once. In the end, the Niners' defense will be too much for them and Smith will eat up a poor Vikings secondary.
Score: Niners 24, Vikings 7
Detroit Lions (-3.5) at Tennessee Titans
The Pick: Detroit
Have we ever seen a running back in his prime go from a 2,000 yard rusher to a below average runner almost immediately after scoring a big payday? I know Shaun Alexander fell off after scoring his huge deal with the Seahawks, but he was already on the decline.
What has happened to Chris Johnson? He's frustratingly ordinary now. Can you even conceivably put him in the Top 20 of starting RB's right now? I don't think so.
To hear C.J. tell it, his struggles are based on the Titans' offensive line getting dominated at the line of scrimmage. I'm not sure I buy that completely. The Titans might not have a great line up front, but we've seen less talented backs perform well behind shaky offensive lines. Tennessee's line can't be worse than Chicago's, and Matt Forte still finds a way to perform.
Meanwhile, if Detroit was ever going to bounce back from a pair of shaky games, it would be against a Titans team that can't keep up with them offensively. Right?
Whether you believe in the Madden Curse or not (and I do), the less-than-stellar play of Calvin Johnson has hindered QB Matt Stafford. Stafford's also been hurt by a lack of a running game and proven No. 2 receiver.
This is the week the Lions rebound. If Chris Johnson thought the Titans' offensive line was getting pushed around before, wait until they match up with Lions DT Ndamukong Suh and the rest of this Detroit defensive line.
The Titans inability to score will work to Detroit's advantage and I see Stafford having the best game of his early season.
The Titans' receivers are hobbled with various injuries, as is QB Jake Locker, so they won't exploit a pedestrian Lions secondary. I think Megatron's scoring drought ends here, and the Lions win this one handily.
Score: Lions 31, Titans 13
Cincinnati Bengals (+3) at Washington Redskins
The Pick: Cincinatti
We can all agree that Josh Morgan's unsportsmanlike conduct penalty late in a close game against St. Louis last week was foolish. That being said, it doesn't give "fans" the right to send the man death threats via Twitter and other outlets. The emergence of social media has allowed the classless and cowardly to suddenly become Rambo.
We saw this last season with San Francisco wide receiver Kyle Williams, whose overtime fumble in the NFC Championship led to the Giants beating the Niners and going to the Super Bowl. The unfiltered access fans now have with professional athletes opens up a Pandora's box for lunatics to channel their inner-most thoughts directly to their subjects of disdain.
Any chump can feel like a tough guy from behind a keyboard. The problem is the image it sets for fans who want to communicate with their sports idols.
For years, athletes have put up walls to shield themselves from fans. It led to a disconnect between rich and famous professionals and the legions that support them.
Social media outlets like Twitter gave fans an opportunity to bridge that gap. Now, thanks to the ignorance of a choice few, that gap is in danger of widening again.
Morgan may not be affected by baseless Twitter death threats, but it's the fact that he's getting them in the first place that sets a terrible standard for fans in the Internet age. Morgan made a mistake. Was it stupid? Yes. Does he deserve to die over it? Absolutely not.
Perhaps it's that athletes perform such abnormal feats that we seem to lose sight of the fact they are human, too. Morgan's a football player. He doesn't owe us anything. He lashed out in the heat of the moment, much like outraged Redskins fans lashed out against him. If what he did was wrong, what makes threatening him right?
As for the game itself, the biggest trouble facing Washington in this game isn't their No. 3 receiver's life getting threatened. It's injuries decimating their defense. LB Brian Orakpo and DE Adam Carriker will miss the rest of the season due to injuries suffered last week. That puts a huge crimp in what Washington will have to do against the Bengals.
I see another solid performance out of Robert Griffin III, but the Bengals' talent on both sides of the ball will be too much for the Redskins. As for the psychos on Twitter, they'll continue to flex their Internet muscles because you can't fix stupid and you can't tame crazy.
Score: Bengals 24, Redskins 17
New York Jets (-2) at Miami Dolphins
The Pick: New York
There are far too many reasons to like the Jets here.
First, it's the return of Tim Tebow to the state of Florida, where he is a legend. Second, while the Dolphins looked good against Oakland last week, they are still a team led by a rookie QB going up against a tough defense.Third, the Jets are better than the team that lost to Pittsburgh last week. Just ask Buffalo.
The Jets may not have had the offensive output last week as they did in Week 1, but that doesn't mean the Bills game was a fluke. Miami isn't as stout defensively as Pittsburgh is, and they aren't consistent enough on offense to make the Jets pay if Gang Green starts off slow.
I think we see more Tim Tebow this week than we have all season. The fans will be anxious to see him, and he adds an element to New York's offense that is tough to account for.
The Jets will hammer Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill and force him into making rookie mistakes. Jets QB Mark Sanchez will have a steady game and I think Tebow sees the end zone at least once.
Division games are tough, but I don't bet against Tim Tebow in Florida.
Score: Jets 27, Dolphins 10
Kansas City Chiefs (+8) at New Orleans Saints
The Pick: New Orleans
It's a battle between two teams that keep burning me this season. The struggles of the New Orleans Saints highlights the importance of having good coaching in the NFL. You can have a great QB like Drew Brees to orchestrate the offense, but you need a coaching presence to keep everyone in line. The Saints just don't look focused under interim coach Aaron Kromer.
The importance of good coaching is also on display in Kansas City. The honeymoon between the Chiefs and Romeo Crennel looks to be over, and Crennel is showing off the ineptitude that got him canned in Cleveland.
On paper, the Chiefs should be better than they've played. Instead, they've been handled easily in back-to-back weeks.
You'd like to think this is the week Kansas City makes its comeback. Truth be told, we don't know how bad this Saints team is, but they have at least been competitive during this two-game losing streak.
The Chiefs, on the other hand, hardly make it to halftime before the outcome is in hand.
I think Brees hears all the talk about New Orleans falling off and unleashes his frustration on Kansas City. I see TE Jimmy Graham seeing a lot of action in this one, with a smattering of WR's Lance Moore and Marques Colston. If we're lucky, we might even get a Mark Ingram sighting or two.
I'll take the Saints here by a couple scores.
Score: Saints 35, Chiefs 17
Buffalo Bills (-3) at Cleveland Browns
The Pick: Buffalo
Bills RB C.J. Spiller has become the running back Chris Johnson is supposed to be. More importantly for the Bills, Spiller has become the back they NEED him to be.
The NFL's current leading rusher has been on a tear since incumbent Fred Jackson went down with a knee injury. The result is a Bills offense that suddenly shows signs of life.
As for the Browns, they looked better last week with rookie QB Brandon Weeden showing signs of improvement. Rookie RB Trent Richardson had an excellent game after a subpar debut, and the Browns hung with the Bengals for most of last week's contest. However, the Browns are still at the bottom of the totem pole in the NFL.
With defenses much better than Cleveland's unable to stop Spiller, I see another big game from the former Clemson speedster. I think Richardson has another good game as well, but the Bills' pricey pass rush will batter Weeden and give Spiller more opportunities to make plays.
Buffalo will take care of another NFL bottom feeder and start to make the charge some thought they would make in the preseason.
Score: Bills 28, Browns 10
Jacksonville Jaguars (+3) at Indianapolis Colts
The Pick: Indianapolis
The good news for the Indianapolis Colts is that No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck played better in Week 2 and notched his first win. Luck engineered a late-game drive that led to an Adam Vinatieri field goal, giving the Colts the victory over the Vikings.
The bad news is Luck still isn't getting the best of protection from his offensive line. Luck has managed to put up solid numbers despite defenders constantly in his face, but the leaky O-line is something the Colts must monitor throughout the year.
Lucky for Indianapolis, Jacksonville doesn't have the greatest of pass rushes. They also don't have a great offense, which is why I like Indy in this one.
QB Blaine Gabbert is still struggling to become the kind of franchise QB the Jags hoped he'd be when they used a first-round pick on him last year. Even with newcomers Laurent Robinson and Justin Blackmon in the receiving core, the passing game looks stagnant.
That will make life rough for Jags RB Maurice Jones-Drew, who is starting to shake off the rust from a lengthy holdout. With MJD as the team's only offensive weapon, the Jags' best bet of winning this one will be dominating on the ground and forcing Luck into some bad throws. They aren't going to win a shootout with Luck gaining more confidence with each passing week.
I think we see more of the Luck we saw at Stanford. With his name being lost in the Rookie of the Year hunt thanks to the play of guys like RG3 and Doug Martin, expect Luck to throw his name back in the hat with a solid performance. He'll take a few big hits but he'll also take the win.
Score: Colts 21, Jaguars 13
Philadelphia Eagles (-3.5) at Arizona Cardinals
The Pick: Philadelphia
It's the return of QB Kevin Kolb to Philadelphia. That's right. Kolb will be playing against the team that traded him away a couple years ago, the Philadelphia Eagles.
I want to be careful in dismissing the Cardinals here because they pulled off a huge upset against New England last week. There's a slight chance that they are a legit 2-0 team.
That being said, I see the Eagles running away with this one. Philadelphia has far too much firepower on offense to be as average as they've looked through two games.
QB Michael Vick has taken a step back from the guy who roasted Washington on Monday Night Football a couple years ago. Still, this Eagles team knows what they are dealing with in Kolb and knows how to attack him.
As much as there's a chance the Cardinals are legit, there's an even better chance that they are just plain lucky. With CB Patrick Peterson locking down WR DeSean Jackson and WR Jeremy Maclin possibly out with a hip injury, the Eagles' offense will suffer a bit. That just means RB LeSean McCoy will have to pick up more of the slack.
I think Vick finds a way to throw a pick or two, especially to Peterson, but the equally-fortunate Eagles win this one thanks to a big day from "Shady" McCoy.
Score: Eagles 27, Cardinals 12
Atlanta Falcons (+3.5) at San Diego Chargers
The Pick: Atlanta
With the Falcons defense surprisingly forcing Peyton Manning to throw three first-quarter interceptions, there's no way the Broncos should have still been in it late in the game.
Atlanta's ability to close out games will be something to watch all season. Offensively, they are explosive. However, if they get into situations where they can't blow teams away, it will be interesting to see how they handle it.
I like Atlanta here because, unlike San Diego, they at least have a win against a quality opponent. While Monday's loss should have cooled everyone's jets on Manning, the Broncos are still a formidable opponent. The fact that the Falcons took the lead and never looked back is impressive.
The Chargers have managed to end their early-season woes, but it should also be pointed out that they've played Oakland and Tennessee. They aren't exactly blowing out the league's elite teams. This will be an interesting litmus test for them, especially with RB Ryan Mathews expected to return from a broken clavicle.
If Mathews plays like he did late last season, this game could come down to the wire. It would also benefit San Diego if TE Antonio Gates is able to suit up after missing last week with a rib injury. A tight game would give Atlanta another opportunity to show they can hold a lead and keep teams at arm's length.
After a healthy serving of WR Roddy White and TE Tony Gonzalez last week, I see QB Matt Ryan getting better acquainted with WR Julio Jones this time around. This will be an excellent shootout between two very good offenses, but I'll give the edge to a Falcons team that has been more impressive thus far.
Score: Falcons 34, Chargers 28
Houston Texans (-2.5) at Denver Broncos
The Pick: Houston
The first quarter of the Broncos-Falcons game showcased some of the concerns skeptics raised about Peyton Manning's comeback. The diminished arm strength from four neck surgeries has led to less velocity on Manning's throws. That has led to Manning floating some of his throws, which gives defenders more time to pick him off.
On the touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas, Manning showed a rare inability to put a tight spiral on the ball. The result was a wobbly pass that Thomas had to make a stellar play on to haul in the catch.
These are things that got lost in the Manning love-fest following his win against Pittsburgh in Week 1.
While it was too early to celebrate Manning's comeback after Week 1, it's also premature to bury Peyton after Week 2. The fact is, though, this is not the same Peyton Manning. He's not going to be able to do the things he did in 2010, but he'll still be a good QB. He just won't be the elite passer he once was.
This week life gets rougher for Manning as he faces an aggressive Texans defense. Houston will come at Manning from different angles, and, much like Atlanta did, they'll be able to match Manning's efforts on offense.
The two-headed monster of RBs Arian Foster and Ben Tate is tough to stop. When they get going, it opens up things for QB Matt Schaub and the passing game.
This is a good test for both teams. Houston has feasted on subpar competition so far and it will be interesting to see how Denver responds to their third-straight quality opponent.
I like what Houston brings to the table on both sides of the ball, so I'll take them in a close one.
Score: Texans 28, Broncos 24
Pittsburgh Steelers (-3.5) at Oakland Raiders
The Pick: Pittsburgh
What's not to like about the Steelers' chances here? They are riding high after a solid win over the Jets last week. They could possibly have S Troy Polamalu back in the starting lineup, and they are playing a Raiders team that has looked awful so far this season.
Even with LB James Harrison unlikely to play and Polamalu iffy, this should be an easy win for the Steelers. The Raiders haven't been able to muster up much on offense and the defense is coming off an embarrassing display against Reggie Bush and the Dolphins.
I don't see Oakland being able to put too much pressure on QB Ben Roethlisberger, which will lead to Big Ben airing it out to WRs Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace. RB Jonathan Dwyer will continue to impress as he keeps the seat warm for Rashard Mendenhall's return, but it will be Isaac Redman who sees the end zone here.
I like the Steelers, and I like them by a lot.
Score: Steelers 38, Raiders 13
New England Patriots (+2.5) at Baltimore Ravens
The Pick: New England
I honestly believe the only thing that can stop Baltimore from taking the AFC is QB Joe Flacco. When he's on—like he was in the opener—the Ravens are tough to stop. When he plays like he did down the stretch against Philadelphia last week, Baltimore looks average.
In a contract year, this needs to be Flacco's big season. All of the elements are in place for him to shine.
These Patriots-Ravens games are always close and always fun to watch. The physicality of Baltimore's defense seems to always stymie the finesse of Tom Brady and the New England offense.
However, with LB Terrell Suggs still out, the Ravens will have a tough time getting their hands on Brady. Furthermore, I don't see New England losing two straight after last week's disappointment against Arizona.
Much like when these two squared off in the AFC Championship last year, I think this comes down to a field goal. The Ravens would be wise to lean heavily on RB Ray Rice to control the clock and keep Brady off the field. In the end, it comes down to which QB will make plays late in the game.
Until I see it more often from Flacco, my money is on that QB being Brady.
Score: Patriots 27, Ravens 24
Green Bay Packers (-3.5) at Seattle Seahawks
The Pick: Green Bay
You would think that a Packers team coming off a week and a half of rest—and with a chance to take the lead in the NFC North—would be able to handle the Seahawks pretty easily. After all, a rookie QB in Russell Wilson going up against an elite signal caller like Aaron Rodgers and the vaunted Packers' offense seems predictable.
This should be a nice win for Green Bay, right?
Well, yes, but it won't be the walk in the park many may suspect. Qwest Field is an incredibly tough place to play for visitors because of the overwhelming noise level.
With this game being on national television, the stadium is going to be rocking. The Packers offense has looked sloppy at times this season, especially when it comes to penalties on the offensive line.
Green Bay needed trickery to find the end zone against Chicago last week, and Rodgers didn't have the type of stellar performance you'd expect from the league's best QB. Is it inconceivable that crowd noise disrupts the Packers' rhythm and this one is closer than expected?
Not at all. Could I see Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch having a big day against a soft Packers run defense? Absolutely. Could Wilson make a few plays here and there? Sure.
However, I'm not going for the full-fledged upset here. Packers LB Clay Matthews is playing like a man possessed and S Charles Woodson is too savvy in the defensive backfield to let Wilson beat him. The extra rest didn't help Dallas against Seattle last week and it has hurt Green Bay in the past.
Still, I think Rodgers has a better game than he has had the last two weeks and the Packers edge out a win.
Score: Packers 27, Seahawks 20
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