It's always the case when a new NFL season begins that the first few weeks feature a lot of head-scratching games as the balance of power in the league sorts itself out.
Week 2 was no different, featuring surprising wins by the Washington Redskins (24-10 over the St. Louis Rams) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (defeating the New Orleans Saints 26-19).
Teams expected to be powerhouses this season, such as the Philadelphia Eagles and Baltimore Ravens, were defeated in surprise outcomes against conference foes.
With such wide shifts between expectations and reality for so many games, how accurate can our Week 3 picks be? Teams are still forging their identities, so for now, we'll take what we've seen in the first two weeks of NFL action and include picks and odds for all Week 3 games, as well as preview some must-see matchups.
|NFL Week 3 Matchups, Odds and Picks|
|Thursday, Sept. 24||Washington Redskins||New York Giants||Giants||NYG -3|
|Sunday, Sept. 27||Atlanta Falcons||Dallas Cowboys||Falcons||Even|
|Sunday, Sept. 27||Indianapolis Colts||Tennessee Titans||Colts||IND -5|
|Sunday, Sept. 27||Oakland Raiders||Cleveland Browns||Raiders||CLE -4.5|
|Sunday, Sept. 27||Cincinnati Bengals||Baltimore Ravens||Bengals||BAL -1.5|
|Sunday, Sept. 27||Jacksonville Jaguars||New England Patriots||Patriots||NE -14|
|Sunday, Sept. 27||New Orleans Saints||Carolina Panthers||Panthers||CAR -3.5|
|Sunday, Sept. 27||Philadelphia Eagles||New York Jets||Eagles||PHI -2.5|
|Sunday, Sept. 27||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||Houston Texans||Texans||HOU -4|
|Sunday, Sept. 27||San Diego Chargers||Minnesota Vikings||Vikings||MIN -2|
|Sunday, Sept. 27||Pittsburgh Steelers||St. Louis Rams||Steelers||PIT -1.5|
|Sunday, Sept. 27||San Francisco 49ers||Arizona Cardinals||Cardinals||ARI -6|
|Sunday, Sept. 27||Buffalo Bills||Miami Dolphins||Bills||MIA -2.5|
|Sunday, Sept. 27||Chicago Bears||Seattle Seahawks||Seahawks||N/A|
|Sunday, Sept. 27||Denver Broncos||Detroit Lions||Broncos||DEN -2.5|
|Monday, Sept. 28||Kansas City Chiefs||Green Bay Packers||Packers||GB -6.5|
|Michelle Bruton's Picks; Odds via OddsShark|
Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens
This AFC North showdown will be one of the highlights of Week 3's slate of games, as the surging Cincinnati Bengals, 2-0 on the season, attempt to cement their place atop their division.
Meanwhile, if the Baltimore Ravens, a preseason Super-Bowl favorite, can't mount a win against their division rival, they'll find themselves stuck at the bottom of the AFC North.
The sample size of games already played is small, so it's too early to declare that this is the year the Bengals have gotten everything together, and similarly, that the Ravens are falling apart.
But Cincinnati is definitely clicking. Its 24-19 victory over the San Diego Chargers on Sunday was convincing, as Andy Dalton led a dangerous Bengals offense. He connected with three different pass-catchers for three touchdowns: tight end Tyler Eifert and receivers Marvin Jones and A.J. Green.
Dalton, who has five touchdowns on the season, has yet to throw an interception or take a sack. He's completing 68.3 percent of his passes through two games.
The Bengals offense was able to reach 389 yards of total offense even without Jeremy Hill. Hill, who was projected to be not only the team's starting rusher but one of the best backs in the league in 2015, was benched after fumbling twice.
No worries; Giovani Bernard carried the ball 20 times for 123 yards.
But it wasn't just Cincinnati's offense that deserves credit for the win. Hill's two fumbles could have led directly to points for San Diego, but the Bengals defense made sure that didn't happen, as Coley Harvey pointed out:
The Ravens were stunned by a 37-33 loss in the last seconds to the Oakland Raiders thanks to Oakland quarterback Derek Carr's late heroics. Baltimore's defense, clearly reeling from the loss of star defender Terrell Suggs, showed some major fissures. It allowed Oakland 448 yards of total offense, including 351 passing yards and three touchdowns to Carr.
On offense, Baltimore saw some big performances from wideout Steve Smith Sr., who had 150 receiving yards, and Crockett Gilmore, who had two touchdowns, but it wasn't enough to boost them past the Raiders.
If this Ravens defense, thought to be one of the league's best prior to the season, couldn't slow Oakland's offensive attack, how will it fare against the Bengals, hungry for their third consecutive win?
Pittsburgh Steelers at St. Louis Rams
It's rare that an inter-conference matchup early in the year makes for marquee viewing, but that's exactly the case with the Pittsburgh Steelers' upcoming clash with the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome.
Pittsburgh is currently one of the league's best offenses. After somewhat of a slow start in the season opener against the New England Patriots, Ben Roethlisberger had three touchdowns and no picks against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday and completed 77.8 percent of his passes, for a quarterback rating of 155.8.
Antonio Brown continued to prove he's the league's top wideout, with 195 yards and a score.
But one of the most interesting storylines to follow in this matchup is the return of Le'Veon Bell, who will play his first game of the season against the Rams after a two-game suspension. Not many of Pittsburgh's offensive yards on Sunday came on the ground.
However, they had no problem scoring with the ground game: DeAngelo Williams, who rushed for only 77 yards, found the end zone three times, helping the Steelers reach their lopsided 43-18 victory.
With Bell's return, the Steelers will have the ability to move down the field and can still bring Williams in on red-zone plays. It will force the St. Louis Rams defense to remain honest, having to account for the threat of Bell as well as Roethlisberger.
In Week 1, the Rams defense was looking like the best in the league, and on paper, it should be. The defensive line is rife with talent, and theoretically if any team could slow Roethlisberger, Bell and Brown, St. Louis should have a shot.
However, the Rams that triumphed over the Seattle Seahawks in Week 1 looked listless in their 24-10 loss to the Washington Redskins, a shocker considering the Rams were favored by three points heading into the game.
St. Louis allowed backup Washington running back Matt Jones to rush for two touchdowns and 123 yards, as he rotated in with starter Alfred Morris. This was the Rams run defense that limited Seahawks rusher Marshawn Lynch to 73 yards and no scores in Week 1.
"We knew that in order for us to win the game we were going to have to run it, and stop the run, and get off the field on third down, and we didn't do any one of those with any consistency," Rams head coach Jeff Fisher said after the loss, per the Associated Press and via ESPN.com.
Now, the Rams defense will have a tough matchup against a rested, raring-to-go Bell and Pittsburgh's high-octane offense. By the end of the game, we won't be able to say that Pittsburgh has an elite offense and the Rams have one of the league's best defenses; one of those units will be exposed next week.
Atlanta Falcons at Dallas Cowboys
How many punches to the gut can the Dallas Cowboys withstand? After NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported Sunday that top wideout Dez Bryant would actually miss 10-12 weeks, twice the initial estimate, because of a bone graft needed in his foot surgery, the team suffered another during the division clash with the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday.
In the third quarter, Tony Romo went down hard on his left shoulder and was taken to the locker room. Not long afterward, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reported that Romo was expected to miss eight weeks with a broken clavicle.
Even though the Cowboys won 20-10, the game overall was a great loss.
What does this team look like without all three of them?
The final quarter of Sunday's matchup against the Eagles provided a peek. Brandon Weeden was surprisingly proficient, going 7-of-7 for 73 yards and a touchdown, but will he be able to carry this team for eight or more weeks? Weeden is 5-16 as a starter.
Philadelphia was perhaps an easy target for the hobbled Cowboys. Quarterback Sam Bradford had more interceptions (two) than touchdowns, and in an unfortunate turn of events he was also the team's leading rusher, with nine yards. Former Cowboy Murray carried 13 times for just two yards.
Atlanta won't be quite so easy. The Falcons are off to a hot start this season, 2-0 and tied for the lead in the NFC South. They had 402 yards of total offense and were a perfect 3-for-3 in the red zone. Matt Ryan had 363 passing yards and a touchdown, connecting with star wideout Julio Jones 13 times for 135 yards.
Jones looked virtually unstoppable. But even he had some criticisms of his performance.
"Every opportunity that I get, when a ball is thrown at me, I feel like it's my job to catch it," Jones said after the game, per the Associated Press and via ESPN.com. "I had 15 targets and I caught 13. I think I did OK. I wish I could have caught all 15."
Dallas' secondary, which allowed Eagles receivers 224 total yards in Week 2, had better make sure Jones doesn't go 100 percent on all his targets next week. A loss could be the beginning of a slippery slope into a losing record.
NFL Odds via OddsShark and current as of Sept. 20