Week Three is where things start to get interesting. Some of the 2-0 teams will be exposed as frauds, while teams that are 0-2 now may already be playing the most important game of their seasons.
Also, in the minds of the players, coaches, and fans that follow teams, there’s a huge difference between 2-1 and 1-2. There’s a lot of season left, yet this week may tell a lot about what’s to come.
As always, I base my picks on flawed logic, personal opinion, age-old gambling trends, and matchups. If you’re looking for high-end analysis, this may not be the place to look for it.
Here now are the Week Three picks, with the home team in bold. Picks are for entertainment purposes only, of course. (Last week vs. spread: 12-4. Season record against the spread: 21-12)
Tennessee (+2.5) over NY Jets
The Jets throttled the Houston Texans in Houston in Week One. The Titans lost at home to the Texans in Week Two. So, naturally, Tennessee will beat the Jets.
It doesn’t make sense, I know, but bear with me.
Tennessee’s offense is predicated on running the ball, and they’ll do that with some success against the Jets. The Patriots, not known for running the ball, averaged a solid four yards per carry last week against the Jets.
I know the Titans’ defense is struggling against the pass, but there isn’t a star receiver on the Jets, and Mark Sanchez, as great as he’s been so far, is still a rookie with a lot to prove. Call this game a speed bump in his development.
Houston(-4) over Jacksonville
Casual football fans still don’t know what to make of the Houston Texans, and neither do I for that matter. Are they soft? Are they improved? How’s the defense looking?
This week’s game won’t provide answers any of those questions. The Jacksonville Jaguars haven’t been able to muster a pass rush in their first two games, and Texans quarterback Matt Schaub shouldn’t have much trouble finding his receivers. Meanwhile, despite what figures to be a big game from Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars’ coach Jack Del Rio might find his job in jeopardy soon.
Philadelphia(-9) over Kansas City
This pick isn’t a vote of confidence in the Eagles as much as it’s a reflection of my belief that the Chiefs have a long way to go before they see much success.
I know key members of the Eagles aren’t healthy (McNabb and Westbrook for instance), but the Chiefs haven’t shown they can run the ball or stop the run, and that combination usually spells disaster.
Baltimore (-13.5) over Cleveland
Many believe that, right now, the Ravens are the best team in the league and the Browns are the worst. Put them together on the Ravens’ home field and one would expect a blowout. That’s what I’m expecting anyway.
NY Giants (-6.5) over Tampa Bay
Eli Manning and his young wide receiving corps showed a national TV audience last week that they are beginning to click. Now, the Giants’ passing offense gets to light up the Buccaneers, who gave up 353 passing yards to Tony Romo in Week One, and 230 to Trent Edwards in Week Two.
Because the Giants’ defense will be a bit short-handed, this one might wind up being close to the spread, but the G-Men will still cover.
Washington (-6.5) over Detroit
It’s become chic to take the Lions to cover or win this game outright, but I’m not falling for that trap. The Redskins can run the ball and stop the run and, despite the conservative nature of their passing attack, quarterback Jason Campbell has completed nearly 70 percent of his passes and doesn’t make a lot of mistakes.
The Lions have shown flashes of talent, but have yet to sustain that for more than a quarter. Until they do so, no matter how chic it may be, I’m not betting with the Lions.
St. Louis (+6.5) over Green Bay
Let’s call this my Upset Special. After allowing Cedric Benson to run for over 140 yards last week, the Packers get to face Steven Jackson who is a talented running back in his own right. He’ll do well in this one. Green Bay will be able to move the ball on the Rams and score points, but their offensive line is suspect.
I believe the Rams will not only cover, they’ll break through for a win here. I know they’ve only scored one touchdown this season. However, it’s the home opener for them after two road losses, and the Rams seem committed to giving Jackson the ball more.
Minnesota(-7) over San Francisco
The 49ers have been a nice story thus far. It’s always fun to see a team that’s been down for a long time become successful again.
This week, the story gets put on hold. This is the Vikings’ home opener. They’ve won by double digits on the road twice. Granted, they beat the Browns and Lions, but it’s still an impressive feat. The 49ers are a different caliber of team of course, but they are still on the way up.
The Vikings appear to have all the pieces in place already, with Brett Favre proving to be a capable “game manager” thus far. Maybe this week the Vikings open up the passing game a bit and use their speed on the turf to their advantage.
New England(-4) over Atlanta
Another trend I’ve seen a lot this week is people picking the Falcons to cover, or win outright. The Patriots are a vulnerable bunch. The Falcons have a great young quarterback, a Hall-of-Fame caliber tight end, and a running back who has yet to really get going this year. It makes sense.
Despite these strengths, the Falcons have an average defense that can be exploited. As each week passes, Pats’ quarterback Tom Brady will grow more comfortable on the field; he hasn’t found his rhythm quite yet.
The Patriots left points on the field against the Jets last week and gained over 200 yards in the first half of last week’s game. There’s no need to panic quite yet, and I’m not betting against them in the meantime.
Chicago (-2.5) over Seattle
The Bears are coming off a nice win over the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers, while the Seahawks lost to the 49ers last week, and saw Frank Gore run for over 200 yards in the process. The Seahawks will be competitive at home, no question, but they are not dynamic on offense, especially without starting quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.
The Bears have enough weapons on offense to put this game out of reach with Seattle backup quarterback Seneca Wallace at the helm.
Buffalo (+6) over New Orleans
It’s easy to love the Saints right now, and I want to be seduced by their gaudy offensive numbers. However, I am not easily swayed. The Bills had the Patriots dead-to-rights in Week One and dominated the Buccaneers in Week Two. Their defense can compete with the Saints’ offense, I believe. Whether they can beat New Orleans remains to be seen, and no, I’m not feeling that brave, but I do see this one being decided late.
Miami (+5.5) over San Diego
I really liked how the Dolphins played against the Colts last week. While they didn’t win, they proved they had a well-designed game plan. At 0-2, they’ll be desperate to have this one. Meanwhile, the Chargers’ defense isn’t what it used to be, and they’ve become a pass-first team. Against an opportunistic defense like Miami’s that can lead to either big plays, or crushing turnovers. I’m betting on the turnovers.
Cincinnati (+4) over Pittsburgh
Let me get this straight…
The defending Super Bowl champion Steelers went to Soldier Field last week and lost.
The defending AFC North doormat Bengals went to Lambeau Field last week and won.
The Steelers have struggled to protect quarterback Ben Roethlisberger so far this season, while the league’s leader in sacks (Antwan Odom) plays for the Bengals.
The Steelers miss defensive leader Troy Polamalu, and the Bengals have a solid passing attack.
Yet, somehow, Steelers are favored on the road against the Bengals?
I’m puzzled. And I’m taking Cincy, outright.
Denver (-1.5) over Oakland
Considering the lack of respect the Broncos have generated thus far, I half-expected the Raiders to be favored in this one.
Kyle Orton’s finger is improving, as is his grasp of the offense. The Broncos’ defense, which has allowed just 13 points on the season, will be tested by Oakland’s running backs. Similarly, Denver’s running attack should cause trouble for Oakland’s defense. I believe the Broncos will make few mistakes, play disciplined football, and win.
Arizona (-2.5) over Indianapolis
This is being promoted as a potential shootout between two teams with great quarterbacks, and there’s some truth in the advertising. Neither defense is stout, and neither team’s running game has done much in the early going.
Individually, Peyton Manning is better than Kurt Warner. However, I think Kurt Warner’s supporting cast, from the offensive line, to the receivers and running backs, is better. Thus, the Cardinals are the bet.
Carolina (+8.5) over Dallas
After a Week One stinker, the Panthers were respectable in their game against the Falcons last week. They have yet to return to the running attack that made them successful last season, and the Cowboys may not be the best team to run on; they held their own against the Giants’ formidable backs last week.
However, perhaps the Panthers can do some damage in the air. Dallas hasn’t been able to consistently rush the passer with any success so far this year, and they’ve yet to face a receiver as talented as the Panthers’ Steve Smith.
I expect a lot of points in this game, and I expect Dallas to win, but not by a huge margin.