NFL Picks Against the Spread: No Place Like the Road for the Dolphins?

Kevin HansonAnalyst IIISeptember 24, 2011

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 18:  Luke McCown #12 of the Jacksonville Jaguars on the ground after being sacked against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium Stadium on September 18, 2011 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

Picking NFL games against the spread (ATS) requires a combination of skill and luck.

Regardless of your thoughts, I have begun the season with a 5-0-1 ATS record (yes, I know, probably more luck than skill).

Each week, we (the other two "handicappers" at The Weekly Blitz and I) pick three games against the spread. My only blemish, if you can call it that, is a Week 1 push when I took the Titans and the points over the Jaguars.

While McCown got off to a solid start in Week 1, he completed nearly as many passes to Jets' defenders (four interceptions) as he did to his own receivers (six completions) last week and the team begins the Blaine Gabbert era in Week 3.

Will the Jaguars rally around the rookie in his first start the way they did in McCown's first start of the year?

Here are my three NFL picks for Week 3:

Baltimore Ravens (-4) over St. Louis Rams

If you watched only one of the two Ravens games this season, your perception of the team would differ greatly depending on which game you watched. Which perception is accurate? It's probably somewhere in between.

The Ravens have one of the league's most versatile running backs in Ray Rice and the Rams have allowed a league-high 177.5 yards per game. While they faced Michael Vick, who nearly rushed for 100 yards, and Joe Flacco is no Vick, they have still allowed 270 rushing yards to running backs (second-most in the NFL).

On the other hand, the Rams are still dealing with several injuries to key players, including their top two running backs, Steven Jackson and Cadillac Williams, who are both questionable for Sunday. While the Ravens have some injuries in their secondary, they also have one of the league's best front sevens, especially with the way Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs are playing.

I'm not a huge fan of taking road favorites, but I expect the Ravens to bounce back big this week.

Carolina Panthers (-3.5) over Jacksonville Jaguars

This season, there are two quarterbacks that have thrown for 400 yards in back-to-back games: New England's Tom Brady and Carolina's Cam Newton, the top overall pick in this year's draft. More surprising than the actual numbers is that Newton, as a rookie, has looked composed and under control and these weren't two gaudy performances in garbage time.

On the other hand, the Jaguars have a secondary susceptible to giving up the big play. Only the Texans (18) allowed more 40-yard pass plays than the Jaguars (13) last year.

As surprising as Newton's fast start has been, the team's running backs inability to run the ball effectively has been as much of a surprise. Newton leads the team in rushing as DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart have only 43 and 31 rushing yards, respectively.

While The Daily Show went over 100 receiving yards last week, they are averaging only 2.47 yards per carry (on their 30 rushing attempts). Perhaps it's more of a hunch since the Jags have been effective stopping the run so far this year, but I expect the Panthers to get their ground game going this week.

Miami Dolphins (+2) over Cleveland Browns

For whatever reason, the Miami Dolphins have struggled in games played at home. In their past 12 home games dating back to Week 16 of the 2009 season, the Dolphins have won only one game. Lucky for them, they will take their talents to Cleveland this week.

The experiment of using Reggie Bush as a featured back is over. Rookie Daniel Thomas rushed more than 100 yards in his first-ever NFL game last week and I expect the Dolphins to maintain better offensive balance with Thomas (and some Bush) on the ground. That's no disrespect to Bush, who can help an offense in plenty of other ways aside from running it between the tackles.

While the 'Fins allowed Brady to throw for over 500 yards against them, the stats don't paint a true picture of their defense. Currently, the Dolphins rank 32nd in the league in total defense (483.5 yards allowed per game), but they have faced two elite offenses (New England and Houston).

Look for Miami to regain some of the form that propelled them into the top 10 of defensive rankings in 2010 as safety Jeremiah Bell says it correctly, this game is "kind of like a must win."

Against the spread, the Dolphins are in their last 16 games as underdogs. And they are even better (6-0-2 ATS) as road underdogs in games with three-point spreads or less.

To see the rest of our Week 3 picks, here are the other six picks at The Weekly Blitz.

If you're looking for Week 3 fantasy football content, check out our rankings at The Tip Drill, our fantasy section, and/or enter our free Week 3 fantasy football contest.