NFL Predictions Week 3: Picks and Analysis for Every Game
Week 3 is here. How'd we do in Week 2? Pretty good.
We were 8-2 in the morning games and a near perfect 4-1 in the evening. With a Monday Night Football win, that put us at 13-3 for the week. That's good enough to dance to.
For the season? Sitting pretty at 23-9.
Now that we've established an Einstein-like ability to pick NFL games, prepare for a huge letdown this week.
Either way, on to the picks.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Carolina Panthers
When Carolina Has the Ball:
The Panthers rookie quarterback Cam Newton has thrown for more than 400 yards in each of his two NFL starts. The Jaguars are ranked No. 14 against the pass. Can you guess what the game plan will be for the Panthers?
Expect Carolina to unleash Newton this week as the Jaguars try to do something the Arizona Cardinals and Green Bay Packers couldn't-stop Newton.
Jacksonville will be smart to try and duplicate the Packer defensive game plan of pressuring Newton off the edge, but the Jags lack the talent the Packers have on defense. They also don't have Charles Woodson to jump routes and pick off two passes to save the day.
When Jacksonville Has the Ball:
Jacksonville will make a decision later this week on which quarterback to start, rookie Blaine Gabbert or Luke McCown. McCown was pulled last week in a horrible start versus the New York Jets.
No matter which quarterback is in the game, the plan on offense should not change much. The Jaguars only hope is to pound the Panther defense with Maurice Jones-Drew. And that's a damn good plan.
The Panthers are weak at defensive tackle, where two rookies are starting, and even weaker at linebacker after losing Jon Beason and Thomas Davis to season-ending injuries.
Prediction: Carolina 27, Jacksonville 17
Cam Newton gets his first NFL win as the Panther passing game is too much for the Jaguars secondary to handle.
Houston Texans at New Orleans Saints
When Houston Has the Ball:
The Houston Texans offense has been unstoppable thus far. That won't change against a New Orleans Saints team that is allowing 27.5 points per game. That's good for the No. 11 worst defense in the NFL.
Houston will have a healthy Arian Foster, which will only help matters as the team combines Foster and Ben Tate to pressure defenses up the middle. Where has New Orleans been weakest? Right up the gut. The Saints are giving up 4.2 yards per carry right now.
Houston will set up the passing game by dialing up a heavy dose of Foster/Tate and hitting Andre Johnson deep as the safeties creep up to stop the run.
The Saints will want to put pressure on the edges, but to do that, they'll have to stop the run.
When New Orleans Has the Ball:
The No. 5 ranked Saints offense takes on the No. 1 Houston defense in what should be an epic showdown of speed and smarts.
The Saints can hit you from every direction, whether it's hitting you hard with Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram or going deep to Robert Meachem. Where New Orleans has struggled is in the red zone, as the run game has been bogged down on the goal line several times this season.
Houston will bring the heat; that much is guaranteed. Mario Williams has been excellent in his new role at outside linebacker. J.J. Watt, a rookie first-rounder, has been equally good at defensive end. Finding a way to stop Williams and Watt has to be the goal for the Saints.
Prediction: Houston 31, New Orleans 21
The high flying Houston offense, coupled with the league's best defense, will be too much for the Saints—even at home.
San Francisco 49ers at Cincinnati Bengals
When San Francisco Has the Ball:
The recipe for success in San Francisco this season has been mixed. The team was good enough to beat a bad Seattle team in Week 1 and almost good enough to beat a decent Dallas team in Week 2.
Frank Gore will be a huge key for the 49ers this week. Cincinnati has given up 107 yards per game on the ground. The 49er coaching staff is smart enough to see this weakness and attack it.
The Bengals will have to load up against the run this week. To do that, they will need to bring down the linebackers and safeties to help in the box, which means Alex Smith will be able to look deep.
When Cincinnati Has the Ball:
The 49ers have the No. 1 ranked rush defense in the NFL, continuing a trend of exceptional run defense over the last 18 games. The Bengals would love to build a run game to set up the timing-based passing attack, but they won't be able to against this defense.
The 49ers have been susceptible to deep passing, and that's something Dalton was doing much better last week against Denver. If that game is any indication, Dalton will have a huge day passing the ball to A.J. Green and Jerome Simpson.
The 49er game plan will be to pressure the interior offensive line of the Bengals by blitzing through the A gaps and stunting the defensive line. To win the game, the 49ers will have to fluster the young quarterback.
Prediction: San Francisco 28, Cincinnati 13
The 49er defense comes up big in their second win of the season. Andy Dalton continues to improve, but it won't be enough this week.
Miami Dolphins at Cleveland Browns
When Miami Has the Ball:
Who knows what to expect from the Miami offense. In Week 1, the team moved the ball through the air with ease against the New England Patriots. The Houston Texans then shut them down in Week 2. What will we see against a Cleveland Browns team that is closer defensively to the talent on the Patriot roster?
Miami should be able to throw the ball on this Cleveland secondary. The plan will be to unleash Chad Henne on the young cornerbacks and use Brandon Marshall and Davone Bess on the outside to create plays.
Cleveland has to come up big this weekend, especially in the secondary. The first step will be to get a pass rush going. If the Browns can get to Henne, that will make the job in coverage much easier.
When Cleveland Has the Ball:
The Miami Dolphins are allowing 30.5 points per game while letting opposing offenses run for 122 yards per. Cleveland has one of the NFL's best in power back Peyton Hillis.
The game plan is simple. Run, run and run the ball against the Miami defense.
Once the run is established the Browns should live on the run game, which will set up the play-action pass. Colt McCoy shouldn't have to do much more than hand-off the football this week.
Prediction: Cleveland 17, Miami 13
In a close game that will featured many hard hits on both sides of the ball, the Cleveland Browns control the clock and win a mistake-free game.
New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills
When New England Has the Ball:
Something has to give this week as the Buffalo Bill defense has been exceptional against the pass this season. They'll face the NFL's best passing attack, led by Tom Brady.
Brady will be without star tight end Aaron Hernandez this weekend, but that shouldn't slow down what has become the deepest passing attack in the game.
The Bills linebackers are keying on the pass, but they'll blitz the quarterback and let the safeties handle the tight ends. That will create an epic match-up in the making, as Jairus Byrd takes on Rob Gronkowski. Get your popcorn ready.
When Buffalo Has the Ball:
The Patriots have been horrible against the pass this season, but they still have a genius running the defense. Buffalo has lived on a power run game, as well as smart passing from Ryan Fitzpatrick to his relatively unknown targets at receiver and tight end.
The Patriots can stop the run, which might make Jackson less of a factor. What the Pats' defense will be tasked with is finding a way to stop the accurate passing game of Fitzpatrick.
New England is getting better each week, but this is still a defense that allows too many big plays. They don't allow many points, but they are allowing tons of yards.
Prediction: Patriots 35, Buffalo 21
I've picked the Bills to lose both games this year, and they've won each time. This week will be different, as Buffalo is improved but not good enough to stop the New England attack.
New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles
When New York Has the Ball:
The Giants looked much better offensively in their Monday night game against the St. Louis Rams, even if that might not quite mean anything.
What's impressive about New York is that their wide receivers are as good as any in the league, and their running game is as tough as any you'll find. New York is very multiple on offense, and they're able to adjust according to what the defense shows them. For all the crap we give Eli Manning, he does a good job getting the Giants in the right plays.
Manning hasn't seen a pass rush like the Eagles front four yet. The storyline of this game will be the Giant defense versus the Eagles offense, but the game will be won depending on who wins the battle between the New York offensive line and the Philadelphia pass rush.
Stopping Trent Cole, Cullen Jenkins and Jason Babin will be a task the Giant offensive line isn't ready for.
When Philadelphia Has the Ball:
The Philadelphia offensive game plan is dependent on Michael Vick's ability to suit up on Sunday. Vick left the Sunday night game with a concussion, putting his chances at playing this Sunday at 50/50.
With Vick the Eagles will do what they do best, getting the ball to their speedy targets LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin on the edges. Where Vick is so important is in his ability to make plays in and out of the pocket. This is not a good offensive line, and if Mike Kafka is in the backfield, the Eagles must rely on the run to move the ball.
Prediction: New York 27, Philadelphia 13
Assuming Vick is out, and that may change, the Giants will be too good for the Eagles. Ahmad Bradshaw will pick up 120 yards on the ground against a young linebacker crew. And that's good enough for a "W."
Denver Broncos at Tennessee Titans
When Denver Has the Ball:
The Denver Broncos offense hasn't been exceptional this season, but they were good enough to win on Sunday against a young Cincinnati defense.
Denver wants to set up the passing game, as their run game has been bad this season. They'll struggle to do that against a Tennessee secondary that's mean in press coverage. Denver will also struggle to block an aggressive Titan pass rush.
The ideal scenario for Denver would be to attack the young linebacker Akeem Ayers with the run and pass game on Sunday. He'll be the weak link Denver tries to exploit.
When Tennessee Has the Ball:
The Denver defense can be beaten, Andy Dalton showed that on Sunday. Titans' quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has been on fire this season, and he'll hook up with Kenny Britt to torch the Denver secondary.
The Titans would love to get Chris Johnson touches early in this game to make Denver respect the run, but Johnson has looked oddly human this season. If the run game doesn't get going, Tennessee is confident Hasselbeck can put the team on his shoulders and win.
The Denver defense's strength is their pass rush, but they'll struggle against a veteran Titan offensive line. The battle at offensive tackle and defensive end will be worth the price of admission.
Prediction: Tennessee 34, Denver 13
Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings
When Detroit Has the Ball:
The Detroit Lions have had their way with NFL defenses so far this season. That won't change on Sunday.
This match up features the No. 8 offense versus the No. 20 defense. That's good news for the Lions.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford should be able to choose his spots on Sunday. The Viking secondary has been abused this year by Philip Rivers and Josh Freeman, and that's laid a solid plan for what Detroit can expect to see on Sunday.
The Vikings would love to get pressure on Stafford, but the pressure from the line has been mediocre so far in 2011.
When Minnesota Has the Ball:
The Minnesota Vikings want to run the football—that's a given. Many might think the Detroit defense, with its notable defensive line, would be great at stopping the run. They aren't. Detroit is allowing over 100-yards-rushing per game.
Minnesota has the NFL's best running back in Adrian Peterson, and he's dangerous no matter the game plan to stop him. The Lions have to respect Donovan McNabb at quarterback after he showed improvement in Week 2, but they will load up to stop Peterson and dare McNabb to challenge them deep.
Prediction: Detroit 37, Minnesota 15
The Lions have been unstoppable this season, and there's nothing to suggest the Vikings will be more than a road bump for the team this weekend.
New York Jets at Oakland Raiders
When New York Has the Ball:
The Jets have won football games this season, but not with the dynamic run game that many expected in the preseason. The Jets have been winning on the arm of Mark Sanchez.
Sanchez to Santonio Holmes has been a deadly combination in New York, and it's one the Raiders will try to stop.
I kid you not; this may be the game of the week.
Oakland's strength lies in their defensive line—the Jets weakness is their offensive line (particularly the right side), with center Nick Mangold out. Oakland will be able to pressure Sanchez, something he hasn't seen much this season.
The Jets would love to have a big week from Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson after watching Fred Jackson tear through the Raider defense.
When Oakland Has the Ball:
The New York Jets defense isn't as good as you might think. The secondary is dangerous, but that plays well for the Oakland team that struggles to throw the ball.
The Raiders will feature a heavy set of runs from Darren McFadden, Marcel Reece and Michael Bush. If I'm calling the plays in Oakland, I would want to limit the team to less than 20 pass attempts. If Oakland can do that, it means they're winning the game.
New York's run defense has been breakable this year; they're allowing just 88 yards per game, but they also played in one blowout that had Jacksonville chucking the ball downfield as much as possible. Oakland will be able to move the football on the ground. Guaranteed.
Prediction: Oakland 21, New York 17
The first upset of the week, the New York Jets struggle offensively on the road in Oakland and lose a ball control, old-school football game to the Raiders.
Kansas City Chiefs at San Diego Chargers
When Kansas City Has the Ball:
I'm out of answers for the Kansas City Chiefs. Without Jamaal Charles and Tony Moeaki, the Kansas City game plan has to be getting the ball to Dwayne Bowe and Steve Breaston. It would be nice to have Jonathan Baldwin healthy right now.
The San Diego defense is very beatable; the Patriots proved that. The only hope for Kansas City is by getting the ball to Breaston and Bowe in space and then working in Dexter McCluster as a runner and slot receiver.
For Kansas City to win this game, they'll need more than one big play on special teams and a lot of luck.
The Chargers should enter the game knowing full well that Kansas City will line up to exploit their pass defense. The Patriots made high-paid safety Eric Weddle look incompetent on Sunday. Kansas City should target Weddle with Bowe, the team's biggest wide receiver.
When San Diego Has the Ball:
The Chargers can basically do whatever they want, as Kansas City has made no attempts to stop anyone this year.The Chiefs are allowing 44.5 points per game, worst in the NFL. San Diego has a high-flying passing game that's able to eat up yards in a hurry. My point? This one could get ugly.
San Diego is more talented in every aspect of the game. If they don't win in a blowout, this will be an upset. Philip Rivers, Malcom Floyd, Antonio Gates and Vincent Jackson should all have huge days.
Prediction: San Diego 38, Kansas City 13
Baltimore Ravens at St. Louis Rams
When Baltimore Has the Ball:
The St. Louis Ram defense has failed to stop the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Giants this season. The Ravens are next in that line.
St. Louis' secondary is banged up, and they sorely miss cornerback Ron Bartell as their No. 1 cover man. As the Rams try to figure out the pieces to the puzzle, Baltimore comes to town with a passing attack talented enough to beat even good secondaries.
The Ravens will be pissed off after a let-down loss to the Titans on Sunday. The Rams are in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Baltimore will win this game with power running and well-executed passes to Anquan Boldin.
When St. Louis Has the Ball:
You would think the Rams might match up well here, as they have the passing game to throw the Ravens secondary off balance. The Rams passing game, though, is overrated. Sam Bradford is enjoying a disappointing sophomore season, and the talent at wide receiver is sorely lacking. The offensive line may be great, but if Bradford's receivers are trash, it really doesn't matter how long they can protect.
A banged up Steven Jackson doesn't help matters.
Baltimore's defense will physically dominate the out-matched Rams from the get-go.
Prediction: Baltimore 45, St. Louis 17
Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
When Atlanta Has the Ball:
There might not be a better balanced offensive team than the Atlanta Falcons right now.
Atlanta is able to get it done through the air or on the ground, with All-Pro level players at quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end. Pick your poison when lining up against the Falcons.
Matt Ryan had his ups and downs against the Eagles, but in the end, he played clutch football in bringing his team back for the win. The game plan against Tampa Bay will be nearly identical. Pressure the linebackers and wait for mistakes.
Tampa's linebackers are the weakness of the team right now. The secondary can be beatable, but you don't want to start challenging Aqib Talib. Look for Atlanta to focus getting the ball to Julio Jones, who should be matched up with Ronde Barber.
When Tampa Bay Has the Ball:
The Buccaneers have to find a way to establish a running game early on. Tampa has struggled to find a rhythm running the ball early in games, which is why they lost in Week 1 and had to come back to win in Week 2. Getting LeGarrette Blount going early is the key to a win for Tampa.
The Falcons pass rush will be on fire Sunday, as the Buccaneers overrated offensive line struggles to keep up with the fast, aggressive Falcon front four.
There aren't many weaknesses on the Falcon defense right now. They're playing excellent football.
Prediction: Atlanta 28, Tampa Bay 24
Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears
When Green Bay Has the Ball:
How do you stop the Green Bay offense? If I had that answer, I would be sitting in team meetings for the Chicago Bears right now.
It's an answer that no one has in the NFL right now. Green Bay's offense is on fire, and you more so hope to keep up with them than slow them down.
The Chicago defensive line is good enough to pressure Aaron Rodgers, and that's the key to trying to shutdown this offense. You have to throw off Rodgers timing by pressuring him and pressing the wide receivers at the line to throw off their timing. To do this, you need excellent cornerbacks. The Bears do not have excellent cornerbacks.
When Chicago Has the Ball:
The match up for this game favors the Packers on both sides of the ball. Green Bay has allowed over 400 yards passing in each of their two games this year, but Chicago lacks the talent at wide receiver to do that type of damage.
Chicago loves to get the ball to Matt Forte, both as a runner and receiver. That plays right into the strength of the Packer defense.
For Chicago to have a chance on Sunday, they'll need huge games from a receiver group that has been below average all season.
Prediction: Green Bay 41, Chicago 24
Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks
When Arizona Has the Ball:
The Cardinal coaching staff should be excited about the possibilities this weekend. Arizona faces off against a Seattle defense that hasn't been able to stop anyone this year, allowing 28.5 points per game.
Arizona's strength is in the passing game, which is great news for Cardinal fans this weekend. Seattle has struggled against the pass in limited reps. With their first two opponents jumping out to early leads, the Seahawks haven't seen much of a passing game this year.
Arizona's offensive line does not match up well against Seattle's defensive line, which might be the tipping point in this game. If Seattle can get to Kevin Kolb, they can make a game of this.
When Seattle Has the Ball:
Arizona has one of the worst cornerback groups in the NFL right now, largely due to inexperience. Whatever the reasons, they're beatable. Unfortunately, Seattle has Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback.
Seattle has the fifth worst passing offense in the NFL after two weeks—which says a lot considering they trailed big in both games and had to rely on the passing game to attempt a comeback.
Seattle is in trouble this week if Jackson cannot show improvement. It might be time for Charlie Whitehurst to give it a try.
Prediction: Arizona 24, Seattle 13
Pittsburgh Steelers at Indianapolis Colts
When Pittsburgh Has the Ball:
The Indianapolis Colts haven't been able to stop anyone on defense this year. The weakness of the Colts roster is clearly in their strength against the run. Bad news, Colts fans, the Steelers power running game will take over this game.
Pittsburgh has to know they can line up and smash the ball down the Indianapolis defense's throat this week. It wouldn't be fair to take the Colts lightly, but Pittsburgh should feel pretty damn good about their ability to control the clock and run the football this week.
The Steelers game plan will be heavy doses of Rashard Mendenhall—unless they want to make a statement, then they'll start airing it out.
When Indianapolis Has the Ball:
I don't say this to be funny, but the Colts should just pray in the huddle.
Facing a rabid defense that's known for late (if not cheap) hits and nasty blitzes, Kerry Collins should get in an extra prayer session or two before Sunday night. The Colt offensive line has been atrocious. Anyone who thinks they can slow down the Steelers' pass rush should check out my farm land in Antarctica.
Frankly, Indianapolis has no chance this week.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 35, Indianapolis 0
Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys
When Washington Has the Ball:
The Week 3 leaders in the NFC East, the Redskins have an offense firing on all cylinders right now. Rex Grossman is leading an efficient passing game that's complemented by hard running from Tim Hightower and Roy Helu, Jr. How do you stop the Redskins?
The Cowboys will need a big game from DeMarcus Ware, who matches up well against left tackle Trent Williams. That's the match up to watch all day. If Ware gets to Williams early, this game could get out of control.
Dallas' defense is capable of making big plays, but it all starts up front. If Washington can run the ball on Dallas, they'll win. Throughout two games, Dallas is second best in the NFL against the run.
When Dallas Has the Ball:
The key for this week is the health of Tony Romo, Miles Austin, Felix Jones and Dez Bryant. Without those four in the game, Dallas has no chance to win.
We'll assume right now that Romo and Austin are out for Sunday, as it's unlikely either will be ready to go after suffering a punctured lung (Romo) and popped hamstring (Austin). That means Washington will face Jon Kitna behind an inconsistent Dallas offensive line.
The Washington defense's strength right now is the pass rush. They'll work Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan all day against the Cowboy tackles. Doug Free is playing great football at left tackle, but the Redskins can exploit rookie Tyron Smith on the right side.
Prediction: Washington 27, Dallas 17