Bleacher Report's Expert Consensus Week 3 NFL Picks

NFL StaffContributor ISeptember 20, 2018

Bleacher Report's Expert Consensus Week 3 NFL Picks

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    Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

    We're so sorry. So very sorry. 

    One week after Bleacher Report's NFL Analysts lost just six of their 16 consensus picks against the spread, the crew experienced a shared nightmare in what was a wacky, unpredictable Week 2. 

    To their credit, they didn't even beg for this URL to be permanently erased from the internet. That'll make it easier to publicly shame Gary Davenport, Brad Gagnon and Brent Sobleski for how they fared and where they stand (season records in parentheses)...

    1. Brent Sobleski: 7-8-1 (18-12-2)

    2. Gary Davenport: 3-12-1 (12-18-2)

    3. Brad Gagnon: 5-10-1 (10-20-2)

    Consensus picks: 3-12-1 (12-18-2)

    The poor encore could have been a fluke, or it could be an indication Week 1 was the true fluke. That makes Week 3 particularly crucial, starting with a highly intriguing prime-time affair Thursday night in Cleveland. 

    Here are our redemption-seekers' predictions for that one, Monday night's potential classic in Tampa and everything in between.

                              

    Lines based on consensuses at Odds Shark as of Wednesday, September 19. 

New York Jets (1-1) at Cleveland Browns (0-1-1)

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    The Cleveland Browns have not won a game since December 24, 2016. But after two spirited close calls against the Pittsburgh Steelers and New Orleans Saints to start the 2018 season, Cleveland is actually a home favorite in Vegas for the first time since 2015. 

    Fresh off a Week 1 tie and a last-second road loss in Week 2, the Browns are actually favored by a field goal against a New York Jets team traveling on short rest after a relatively ugly performance against the Miami Dolphins. 

    That has all three of our panelists in agreement that the Browns will both win and cover for the first time in 635 days. 

    "Cleveland should be 2-0 right now," said Sobleski, "but they're not because the team couldn't convert a single field goal when it mattered. The record is immaterial at this point. Although, the team's overall competitiveness should be taken into account. The Browns took two of the league's better teams to the limit. The Jets aren't as good as either of them."

    While a push is certainly a possibility in what should be a low-scoring game, the Browns look like a somewhat safe bet with only a field goal on Gang Green's side. 

    Predictions
    Davenport: Cleveland (-3)
    Gagnon: Cleveland (-3)
    Sobleski: Cleveland (-3)
    Consensus: Cleveland (-3)

    Score Prediction: Cleveland 20, New York 14

Buffalo Bills (0-2) at Minnesota Vikings (1-0-1)

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    Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

    Only two games all of last season contained point spreads of 17 or higher, which is why it's fair to be leery of the 17 points the Minnesota Vikings are laying Sunday against the Buffalo Bills. 

    That line is certainly susceptible to a backdoor, garbage-time cover from the underdog, but it's worth noting that the NFL's last five 17-point faves have all covered, dating back to 2011. 

    Gagnon and Davenport believe a Bills team that has been outscored 78-23 this season is in for a blowout loss, and that this is one of those cases in which Vegas just couldn't post a high enough number. 

    "This is a massive spread, the sort of spread I'm usually reluctant to lay," Davenport said. "Counting on 17-point victories in the NFL just isn't wise. Unless, that is, you have an angry Minnesota team seething after blowing a potential win at Lambeau coming home to feast on a Bills team so bad its players are retiring at
    halftime."

    Indeed, the Bills will be without freshly retired cornerback Vontae Davis, and they'll be putting all of their stock into raw rookie quarterback Josh Allen against 2017's highest-rated defense. 

    Still, our top picker isn't willing to lay that many points. 

    "The Bills are the NFL's worst team," Sobleski said. "The Vikings are one of the league's best. Minnesota is hosting this contest. Everything says a 17-spread isn't big enough. Eventually, Buffalo is going to beat the spread. It's highly unlikely they'll win, of course, but it's hard to bet against a team—even one as bad as Buffalowhen they're getting so many points."

    Fair enough, but the vote still favors Minnesota. 

    Predictions
    Davenport: Minnesota (-17)
    Gagnon: Minnesota (-17)
    Sobleski: Buffalo (+17)
    Consensus: Minnesota (-17)

    Score Prediction: Minnesota 34, Buffalo 14

New York Giants (0-2) at Houston Texans (0-2)

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    This isn't as novel as Cleveland as a three-point favorite or Minnesota as a whopping 17-point favorite, but it's pretty unusual to see a winless team favored by a touchdown. 

    That's the case with the Houston Texans laying six points against the also-winless New York Giants on Sunday. And while the majority of our experts originally leaned in Houston's direction with an opening line of -3.5, Davenport decided that six points was too many and joined Gagnon on the underdog's side. 

    "I think this'll be a close game," Gagnon said, "but I was always taking the Giants as long as they were getting three or more points. The Giants might not have a pass rush, but the Texans don't know how to pass protect anyway. New York's offense should continue to improve as all of those new pieces get used to each other, and I'm having a hard time trusting the Texans right now."

    Indeed, neither team has looked right this season, so it's easy to understand why it might be tough to spot the Texans an entire touchdown against a still-very-talented opponent. 

    Predictions
    Davenport: New York (+6)
    Gagnon: New York (+6)
    Sobleski: Houston (-6)
    Consensus: New York (+6)

    Score Prediction: Houston 23, New York 20

San Francisco 49ers (1-1) at Kansas City Chiefs (2-0)

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    Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

    Like the Texans, the Kansas City Chiefs opened as relatively small favorites (-4.5 in most spots) before that number grew as high as -7 with some books. Unlike the Texans, all of our analysts are still behind the home fave as it prepares to take on the San Francisco 49ers.

    "I'll confess that as this spread has swelled, so have my misgivings about this pick," Davenport said. "It's been lost in all the buzz about the, well, buzz saw that is the Chiefs offense. But as good as Patrick Mahomes, Kareem Hunt, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce have been, Kansas City's defense has been equally bad. It can't stop anyone. But if the Chiefs can survive a road shootout in Pittsburgh, they can cover here against a 49ers squad that doesn't have the same kind of offensive firepower."

    San Francisco did put up 30 points last week, but that came at home against a Detroit Lions squad that may still be unaware the regular season is underway. The 49ers weren't close to as effective on the road against Minnesota in Week 1, and now they're traveling back across the country for a 10 a.m. PT kickoff at noisy Arrowhead in Kansas City's home opener. 

    That's arguably a recipe for disaster, which is why our experts agree this is a no-brainer so long as you're only laying a touchdown or less. 

    Predictions
    Davenport: Kansas City (-6.5)
    Gagnon: Kansas City (-6.5)
    Sobleski: Kansas City (-6.5)
    Consensus: Kansas City (-6.5)

    Score Prediction: Kansas City 31, San Francisco 23

New Orleans Saints (1-1) at Atlanta Falcons (1-1)

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    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    The New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons certainly hoped for better starts. But with the 2-0 Tampa Bay Buccaneers facing a tough challenge Monday night against the hungry Pittsburgh Steelers, the winner of this NFC South matchup could find itself in a tie for first place entering Week 4. 

    So it's safe to say this is an important early-season game for both teams, both in terms of morale and potential playoff implications. 

    Who do you trust more under those circumstances? Our experts unanimously point to the healthier and arguably more talented Saints, even on the road. 

    "The Falcons simply aren't as good as some tend to believe," Sobleski said, "and they're dealing with multiple key injuries (including two of the season-ending variety) to running back Devonta Freeman, left guard Andy Levitre, linebacker Deion Jones and safety Keanu Neal. The Saints have a better overall roster to exploit Atlanta's problem areas."

    Gagnon and Davenport also have the Saints winning outright, so there's little concern about that three-point spread in favor of Atlanta. 

    And if it helps, we'll also note that the Falcons haven't beaten the Saints by more than one score at home since 2012. 

    Predictions
    Davenport: New Orleans (+3)
    Gagnon: New Orleans (+3)
    Sobleski: New Orleans (+3)
    Consensus: New Orleans (+3)

    Score Prediction: New Orleans 28, Atlanta 23

Green Bay Packers (1-0-1) at Washington Redskins (1-1)

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    Now that our experts have confirmation that Aaron Rodgers didn't have his left leg amputated and is still able to effectively play football, they're willing to get behind the still-unbeaten Packers. And Davenport and Gagnon are doing exactly that this week, while Sobleski isn't down to give up three points with Green Bay on the road. 

    "I totally understand why our only decent prognosticator so far this season is taking three points with the home team," Gagnon said of the dissenter, "and that's why I wouldn't blow my life savings on Green Bay -3. But if I have to go one way or another (and my job says I do), I'm not picking against Rodgers in this situation.

    "The Redskins just lost to the Indianapolis Colts by a double-digit margin at home. Considering that Indy was coming off a double-digit home loss of its own, that's pretty pathetic. Washington is only getting respect because it blew out the Arizona Cardinals in Week 1, but I'm pretty sure Gary, Brent and I could blow out the Cardinals right now."

    It's true; the Cardinals are a mess. And against a slightly better opponent at home in Week 2, the Redskins put together an embarrassing effort. But that doesn't mean they'll be terrible again this week, and Rodgers isn't 100 percent, which is why we don't have a unanimous consensus.

    Still, the Packers should be fired up coming off a tough-break tie against Minnesota, so they look like a decent bet if you're only giving up a field goal or less. 

    Predictions
    Davenport: Green Bay (-3)
    Gagnon: Green Bay (-3)
    Sobleski: Washington (+3)
    Consensus: Green Bay (-3)

    Score Prediction: Green Bay 24, Washington 20

Indianapolis Colts (1-1) at Philadelphia Eagles (1-1)

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    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    It's too early to know what to make of the Indianapolis Colts, who looked awful in a double-digit Week 1 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals at home but looked crisp in a double-digit Week 2 victory over the Redskins on the road. The Colts are also still getting readjusted to life with quarterback Andrew Luck

    And it's also too early to know what to make of the Philadelphia Eagles, who looked sluggish on offense in their home opener and looked sluggish on defense in their road opener. They're also defending Super Bowl champions on the verge of getting their franchise signal-caller back. 

    That makes this Week 3 matchup a risky play, because there's no telling how the rust factor will or won't affect Carson Wentz. Davenport admits that's something to be wary of, but he and his cohorts are still siding with the champs. 

    "Shock and amazement," he said, "after a second straight slow start by the Philadelphia offense, Wentz has been healed and will play Sunday against the Colts. It's a medical miracle! The Eagles have to be steaming after the defense was smoked by the immortal Ryan Fitzmagic, and while the Colts may be better than we thought, that doesn't make them good."

    The Colts sure do look better, but are they good enough to even hang around with Jim Schwartz's defense in a potential statement game in Philadelphia? We know how mentally strong and well coached this Eagles team is, and it's hard to imagine them not rallying for Wentz on Sunday. 

    Predictions
    Davenport: Philadelphia (-6.5)
    Gagnon: Philadelphia (-6.5)
    Sobleski: Philadelphia (-6.5)
    Consensus: Philadelphia (-6.5)

    Score Prediction: Philadelphia 34, Indianapolis 20

Oakland Raiders (0-2) at Miami Dolphins (2-0)

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    The Raiders are not off to a pretty start on either side of the ball, and it continues to look as though they made a multitude of critical mistakes in the offseason. Now they're probably deflated after losing a winnable road game in which their quarterback was nearly perfect. 

    And it could get worse, because now they're forced to travel 3,000 miles to South Florida for a meeting with a Miami Dolphins team that is off to a surprising 2-0 start. 

    Miami is a three-point favorite, but Gagnon and Sobleski don't think that's enough. 

    "When will everyone buy into the Dolphins?" Sobleski asked. "This may be the week. Miami actually benefits from a very weak schedule to open its season. To the team's credit, the Dolphins are talented enough to capitalize on the situation. Plus, the Raiders are making the dreaded West Coast-to-East Coast trip, which tends not to work in the West Coast team's favor."

    Oakland actually had a knack for coming through in cross-country road games in 2016, but that was a special season, and this is a very different team. Back in October 2017, which is the last time the Raiders played a game with a 10 a.m. PT start time in the Eastern time zone, they were clobbered 34-14 by the Buffalo Bills.

    Davenport has his reservations about a Miami team that has probably overachieved, but our panel is still siding with the Dolphins at home under these circumstances.

    Predictions
    Davenport: Oakland (+3)
    Gagnon: Miami (-3)
    Sobleski: Miami (-3)
    Consensus: Miami (-3)

    Score Prediction: Miami 24, Oakland 20

Denver Broncos (2-0) at Baltimore Ravens (1-1)

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    Can the Denver Broncos continue to pull fourth-quarter rabbits out of their hat? 

    Denver trailed late against both the Seattle Seahawks in Week 1 and the Raiders in Week 2 before performing well in the clutch on both occasions, and that's why the Broncos are 2-0 instead of 0-2. But that's not typically sustainable, which is why they're a 5.5-point underdog on the road against a rested Baltimore Ravens team. 

    That's too high of a spread for Davenport and Sobleski, who at least have Denver covering, but Gagnon thinks this is the wrong opponent at the wrong time for a team that still has issues. 

    "I'm a little surprised the Ravens aren't laying a full touchdown," Gagnon said. "The Ravens are probably more like the team that crushed the Bills in Week 1 than the team that came out flat against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 2, just because it's not atypical to struggle on the road on Thursday Night Football.

    "Denver is 2-0 despite the fact new quarterback Case Keenum has a sub-60 completion percentage and more interceptions (four) than touchdown passes (three). He also has the fifth-lowest quarterback rating in the league among qualified passers. But these aren't the shell-of-their-former-selves Seahawks or Khalil Mack-less Raiders. These are the Ravens, who have won five of their last six home games and are usually pretty stellar at M&T Bank Stadium."

    Gagnon is the dissenter, but Davenport and Sobleski believe the clutch Broncos can keep this close against a still-vulnerable Ravens squad.  

    Predictions
    Davenport: Denver (+5.5)
    Gagnon: Baltimore (-5.5)
    Sobleski: Denver (+5.5)
    Consensus: Denver (+5.5)

    Score Prediction: Baltimore 21, Denver 20

Cincinnati Bengals (2-0) at Carolina Panthers (1-1)

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    The Cincinnati Bengals are one of several surprise 2-0 teams, but they might be facing their toughest challenge yet with a road game against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.

    Are they destined to come back to earth after winning back-to-back games by double-digit margins? Davenport and Gagnon believe that with injuries piling up, Cincinnati will finally lose while also failing to cover as three-point underdogs in Carolina. 

    "The Panthers are better than what we saw last week in Atlanta," Gagnon said, "while the Bengals aren't as good as what we saw last week against the Ravens. With Carolina at home, look for both teams to prove it."

    Carolina is missing some key players on offense, but that might be countered by the fact Cincinnati will be without running back Joe Mixon on offense and defensive end Michael Johnson the other side of the ball. Neither team is too healthy, making the home squad a seemingly safe play so long as they're giving up a field goal or less. 

    Although it's worth noting that the one dissenter is the only analyst with a winning record against the spread this season. 

    Predictions
    Davenport: Carolina (-3)
    Gagnon: Carolina (-3)
    Sobleski: Cincinnati (+3)
    Consensus: Carolina (-3)

    Score Prediction: Carolina 24, Cincinnati 20

Tennessee Titans (1-1) at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-0)

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    OddsShark is relying on only a single book for this 6.5-point spread in Sunday's AFC South battle between the Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars, so this line could move significantly depending on the status of several key Titans, including quarterback Marcus Mariota. 

    That said, our analysts appear to be pretty confident in Jacksonville, regardless of who starts under center for Tennessee. 

    "Even if Mariota plays," Gagnon said, "how healthy and effective will he be? I'm starting to become worried about the 2015 No. 2 overall pick because he's fragile, he regressed in many ways last season, and he didn't look good even before hurting his elbow in the opener."

    Sure, the Titans beat the Jags twice in 2017, but those outings came before the Jags made statements with playoff wins over Buffalo and Pittsburgh and a 2018 Week 2 victory over their Goliath, the New England Patriots. That team continues to look stronger and stronger, while the Titans have lost four of their last six regular-season affairs. 

    Throw in that Tennessee might still be missing its top three offensive tackles, and the Jags are a unanimous selection at -6.5. 

    Predictions
    Davenport: Jacksonville (-6.5)
    Gagnon: Jacksonville (-6.5)
    Sobleski: Jacksonville (-6.5)
    Consensus: Jacksonville (-6.5)

    Score Prediction: Jacksonville 30, Tennessee 13

Los Angeles Chargers (1-1) at Los Angeles Rams (2-0)

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    Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

    It's easy to buy into a Los Angeles Rams team that has outscored its opponents 57-0 in the last six quarters, and it's just as easy to lack confidence in a Los Angeles Chargers team that frequently finds ways to lose and continues to be without top pass-rusher Joey Bosa. 

    That might explain why Davenport is taking the Rams against the spread as seven-point favorites for Sunday's crosstown battle at the Memorial Coliseum, but Gagnon and Sobleski aren't willing to give up that many points. 

    "The Battle of Los Angeles could be one for the ages since both the Rams and Chargers are counted among the league's most talented teams," Sobleski said. "Yes, the Rams have been dominant through two weeks, but a seven-point spread against the Chargers downplays how explosive Philip Rivers and Co. really are. In fact, the Chargers, not the Rams, own a top-three offense entering this contest."

    Remember, the Bolts might be snake-bitten, but it's tough to get blown out when you've got that many weapons on offense. The Chargers seem to be allergic to the Chiefs, whom they've lost to by double digits three times since the start of 2017, but their other five losses during that span have come by an average of just 3.6 points.

    The Chargers might indeed find a way to lose this game, but there's a good chance that loss won't be by more than a touchdown. 

    Predictions
    Davenport: Rams (-7)
    Gagnon: Chargers (+7)
    Sobleski: Chargers (+7)
    Consensus: Chargers (+7)

    Score Prediction: Rams 24, Chargers 21

Dallas Cowboys (1-1) at Seattle Seahawks (0-2)

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    Why are the Seattle Seahawks favored despite their 0-2 record? It might have to do with the fact they've yet to play a home game this year, and the 12th Man usually gives that team an extra jolt. 

    That's not enough to convince any of our experts that the Seahawks can beat the Dallas Cowboys, so they're all riding with Dallas as a 1.5-point underdog. 

    "That legendary home-field advantage the Seahawks possess? Not sure it's much of a factor now that the Legion of Boom is dead and the Seahawks have become a mediocre team," Gagnon said. "When they were gutted during the second half of the 2017 season, they actually lost four of their last five games at CenturyLink Field, and they were lucky to sneak past the Texans in a 41-38 victory just prior to that stretch."

    All three analysts are taking the Cowboys to win outright, which says a lot about how far Seattle has fallen. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Dallas has also performed very well on defense thus far and should be in a position to contain the one-man show that is the Seattle offense. 

    Predictions
    Davenport: Dallas (+1.5)
    Gagnon: Dallas (+1.5)
    Sobleski: Dallas (+1.5)
    Consensus: Dallas (+1.5)

    Score Prediction: Dallas 23, Seattle 20

Chicago Bears (1-1) at Arizona Cardinals (0-2)

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    The energy surrounding the new-look Chicago Bears is vastly different than the energy surrounding the struggling Arizona Cardinals. The former looks to be progressing steadily with new head coach Matt Nagy calling the shots on offense and Khalil Mack kicking derriere on defense. The latter has yet to score more than six points two games into the Steve Wilks era. 

    That momentum (and lack thereof) has Sobleski and Davenport backing the Bears even as six-point road favorites for Sunday's meeting between two teams going in opposite directions. 

    "There are 19 teams in the NFL averaging more yards per game than the Cardinals have totaled in two," Davenport said. "This spread could double and there's still no chance in you-know-where that I'd take the Redbirds to cover."

    You can see that we're keeping this breakdown PG-13, even though Arizona's season thus far has been rated R. But you'll notice we don't have a consensus, because Gagnon has the Cards sticking around.

    "We're still talking about a young Bears team on the road," he said, "and I don't know if that offense has the off-script firepower to pull away from a desperate opponent. The Cardinals aren't good, but this league has too much parity for a team to continually get hammered. They'll hang in there."

    He's still in the minority. 

    Predictions
    Davenport: Chicago (-6)
    Gagnon: Arizona (+6)
    Sobleski: Chicago (-6)
    Consensus: Chicago (-6)

    Score Prediction: Chicago 21, Arizona 13

New England Patriots (1-1) at Detroit Lions (0-2)

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    What does Matt Patricia know?

    That's the big question surrounding Sunday night's matchup between Patricia's new team, the Detroit Lions, and his former team, the New England Patriots. But there's a double-edged sword here, because we also must consider what Pats head coach/NFL legend Bill Belichick knows about Patricia. 

    In a battle between mentor and protege, two of our three experts are siding with Belichick's Patriots to a large enough extent that they believe they'll cover a 6.5-point spread as road favorites. 

    Gagnon doesn't buy it, simply because New England barely covered a similar spread at home against a struggling Texans team before getting badly outplayed by the Jaguars. 

    "Josh Gordon or not, this team is more vulnerable than ever,"  he said. "Against a desperate opponent on the road, the Patriots won't pull away." 

    But again, Gagnon's the lone dissenting voice. Davenport and Sobleski saw what the Jets did to the Lions at Ford Field in Week 1 and aren't willing to give them the benefit of the doubt after another loss to the 49ers in Week 2. And that's fair, because neither the Jets nor the 49ers looked good in their other games, and the Pats are nothing if not resilient. 

    They've lost back-to-back games just twice since 2013.

    Predictions
    Davenport: New England (-6.5)
    Gagnon: Detroit (+6.5)
    Sobleski: New England (-6.5)
    Consensus: New England (-6.5)

    Score Prediction: New England 30, Detroit 20

Pittsburgh Steelers (0-1-1) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-0)

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the talk of the NFC and the true surprise juggernaut of September. But after two impressive Sunday afternoon performances against heavyweights New Orleans and Philadelphia, the Ryan Fitzpatrick-led Bucs will be under a lot more pressure in the national spotlight Monday night. 

    It doesn't help that their opponent is not only talented but is also feeling the pressure of entering Week 3 without a single win. 

    "The Steelers have some big-time issues on the defensive side of the ball," Davenport said, "but it's not like the Bucs don't too. The Steelers are both a better team and a desperate one—more so if the Bengals can squeak by the Panthers in Charlotte. The Cinderella streak ends Monday night."

    Gagnon agrees the Bucs will turn back into a pumpkin when the clock strikes midnight, partly because the Steelers will be motivated and partly because it's not reasonable to expect Fitzpatrick to maintain his current pace. 

    The 35-year-old has thrown 4,100 passes in 135 games over the course of a 14-year career. We know who he is, and this isn't it. 

    It's worth noting, though, that Sobleski is the lone wolf sticking with the Bucs at home. 

    Predictions
    Davenport: Pittsburgh (-1)
    Gagnon: Pittsburgh (-1)
    Sobleski: Tampa Bay (+1)
    Consensus: Pittsburgh (-1)

    Score Prediction: Pittsburgh 30, Tampa Bay 28