Bleacher Report's Expert Week 3 NFL Picks
Road underdogs. If you've been backing them thus far in the 2021 NFL season, you're likely richer than you were two and a half weeks ago.
Teams getting points away from home are 13-6 against the spread early on, despite being just 8-11 straight-up. That last record isn't bad considering the circumstances, but the difference is an indication that oddsmakers are putting too much stock into home-field advantage this September. Home squads are just 16-16 straight-up, but they're rarely hitting the number.
As you'll see, Bleacher Report national NFL writers Gary Davenport, Brad Gagnon and Brent Sobleski, B/R Gridiron editors Ian Kenyon and Wes O'Donnell, and B/R Betting host Connor Rogers aren't necessarily convinced that trend will continue in Week 3.
Here are their ATS picks for every game on the slate.
Carolina Panthers (2-0) at Houston Texans (1-1)
Editor's Note: The Carolina Panthers defeated the Houston Texans 24-9 on Thursday night.
DraftKings Line: Carolina -8
For only the second time in their history, the Carolina Panthers are favored by eight or more points on the road. That just goes to show how down folks are on the Houston Texans, who will be starting rookie third-round pick Davis Mills at quarterback on short rest against 2-0 Carolina.
Even with the unreliable Sam Darnold quarterbacking the Panthers, five of our six panelists are backing the road squad as a heavy fave.
"Laying this many points on the road is often a recipe for disaster," Davenport admitted. "But it's hard to imagine a scenario where the Panthers don't win this one by double digits. Carolina leads the league in total defense and scoring defense, while the Texans are rolling out a third-round rookie under center. Christian McCaffrey should feast here, Darnold hasn't been making mistakes with the rock, and the Houston offense is gonna be…um…yeah. Look for the Panthers to roll and win by at least two touchdowns."
Darnold has held up. The 2018 No. 3 overall pick is by no means guaranteed to become a franchise quarterback based on his two games with the Panthers, but the 24-year-old has completed just shy of 70 percent of his passes in both outings, he's got a triple-digit passer rating, and he's thrown just one pick so far.
That could blow up at any point, but the odds are against it happening versus the gutted Texans.
Score Prediction: Panthers 28, Texans 17
Chicago Bears (1-1) at Cleveland Browns (1-1)
DraftKings Line: Cleveland -7
Nobody knows exactly what to expect from Chicago Bears rookie quarterback Justin Fields in his first career start, but the vast majority of the panel believes the No. 11 overall pick can keep his team within reaching distance of a Cleveland Browns squad dealing with some significant injuries.
Five of the six are taking seven points from Cleveland at home.
"The Browns' third-down defense has been atrocious to start this season," Sobleski said. "Opponents have converted 64 percent of their third downs so far. The group that now features the likes of Jadeveon Clowney, John Johnson III, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Troy Hill to accompany Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward has yet to come together. Enter the possibility of Fields surprising them in his first start. The rookie quarterback is a dynamic athlete behind center. The Browns should still win this game, but a large spread favors the Bears."
Cleveland might get wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. back from a knee injury, but he could be rusty after so much time off. Meanwhile, center JC Tretter (knee) and offensive tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. (ankle) did not practice Wednesday. With Jarvis Landry on injured reserve with his own knee injury and quarterback Baker Mayfield dealing with a shoulder injury for the Browns, the veteran Bears indeed have a good shot at putting up a fight here.
Score Prediction: Browns 24, Bears 21
Baltimore Ravens (1-1) at Detroit Lions (0-2)
DraftKings Line: Baltimore -9
Our first of four splits this week comes in a matchup between the Baltimore Ravens and Detroit Lions that contains a tricky spread (Baltimore is laying nine) and two teams with unpredictable intangible factors worth considering.
That's why the stalemate is appropriate. The Ravens just beat the Kansas City Chiefs in one of the most memorable games in franchise history, but they're still pretty roughed up, and now they're on the road. Will they overlook a Lions squad that has shown plenty of fight under new head coach Dan Campbell and could be particularly desperate at 0-2?
Gagnon believes so.
"The Lions are not a good team, but they nearly came back to beat the talented San Francisco 49ers in their first home game," he said. "The Ravens are riding a high, but left tackle Ronnie Stanley and key defenders Derek Wolfe, Brandon Williams, DeShon Elliott, Tavon Young and Justin Houston were all out of practice to start the week. They'll still likely win here, but the Lions won't lie down, and the backdoor cover is very much on the table in Detroit."
Meanwhile, Rogers, on behalf of Ravens backers: "Baltimore is flying high after a thrilling win over the Chiefs. While the Lions are playing hard under Campbell, the talent just isn't there yet. The Ravens are going to blitz Jared Goff all day and should come away with a few turnovers in this one. Nine points might seem like a lot on paper, but Lamar Jackson will be too much to contain for Detroit's defense."
Choose your journey, or avoid this one entirely.
Score Prediction: Ravens 30, Lions 21
Arizona Cardinals (2-0) at Jacksonville Jaguars (0-2)
DraftKings Line: Arizona -7
The vast majority of the crew is perplexed that the high-flying Arizona Cardinals are laying just seven points this week against a Jacksonville Jaguars squad that has been outscored by double-digit margins in each of its first two games. They're taking the favorite, almost unanimously.
"Kyler Murray is off to an MVP-level start through two weeks, and it won't slow down this week facing the lowly Jaguars, who have had about as disastrous of a start as could have been imagined under first-year head coach Urban Meyer," Kenyon said. "This is a game between a team that is finding its footing as a playoff contender in 2021 (Arizona) and a team that looks as dysfunctional as any team in the NFL right now (Jacksonville). The Jags gave up 449 yards to Tyrod Taylor and the Texans and then followed it up by allowing 398 yards to Teddy Bridgewater and the Denver Broncos. Now, they're faced with stopping one of the league's most explosive offenses. Expect the Cardinals to win big."
You never know when Jaguars top pick Trevor Lawrence might break out with his first strong performance under center in this league, and Arizona did cut it close at home against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 2, but Meyer clearly hasn't figured the NFL out, and it's hard to see that defense slowing Murray down.
Throw in what NFL sack leader Chandler Jones and his talented compadres could do to a vulnerable offensive line and a rookie signal-caller, and seven points doesn't seem too daunting.
Score Prediction: Cardinals 34, Jaguars 17
Los Angeles Chargers (1-1) at Kansas City Chiefs (1-1)
DraftKings Line: Kansas City -6.5
We know it's hard to bet against Patrick Mahomes, especially when he and his Super Bowl-caliber team will likely be fired up coming off a tough loss. K.C. won't mess around while looking 1-2 in the eye, and the Chiefs are laying less than a touchdown at home against the Los Angeles Chargers.
However, it's worth noting that even the mighty Chiefs are just 2-11 against the spread in their last 13 games dating back to last November, and they've failed to cover in four of their last five matchups with the increasingly strong Chargers.
In a close vote, our gang is siding with Justin Herbert and Co. with 6.5 points in their back pocket.
"Herbert has led the Chargers to only 20 points per game to start the season," O'Donnell noted. "That won't be enough in Kansas City against a team that is third in the league in points scored. But the Chargers match up well and something tells me that Herbert is ready to rise to the occasion opposite Mahomes. The two quarterbacks only met once last season—Herbert's first career start—which ended in a 23-20 Week 2 overtime loss. These matchups should be circled on Herbert's calendar every year. Los Angeles might not win, but they'll bring the fight and keep it close enough to cover the spread in what should be a fun game."
That said, nobody would be shocked if the Chiefs ran away with this, especially considering the Chargers are dealing with injuries to critical defenders Joey Bosa (foot/ankle), Derwin James (toe) and Chris Harris Jr. (shoulder).
Davenport: Kansas City
Gagnon: Kansas City
Kenyon: Los Angeles
O'Donnell: Los Angeles
Rogers: Los Angeles
Sobleski: Los Angeles
Score Prediction: Chiefs 30, Chargers 27
New Orleans Saints (1-1) at New England Patriots (1-1)
DraftKings Line: New England -3
Unanimous selections have been rare this season, but the entire gang is willing to lay a field goal with the New England Patriots hosting the New Orleans Saints following a tough Saints loss in Carolina last week.
"Jameis Winston and the Saints offense looked lost against the Panthers," Rogers said. "That won't get any easier against a New England defense that had a field day against rookie Zach Wilson. While Mac Jones is taking the definition of 'game manager' to a new level, he doesn't need to do much more. The Patriots ground attack and short-area passing will be enough in this to win by a field goal-plus."
Maybe the Patriots will look past the Drew Brees-less Saints with their Week 4 matchup with Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in mind, but that's not a mistake Bill Belichick-coached teams often make. You get the feeling that Week 1 loss to the Miami Dolphins was a wake-up call, and that New England will make sure it doesn't come close to starting 0-2 at home with a decisive win Sunday.
If you've been on the Pats all week, you've likely lost value. For some time, most books had them favored by 2.5 points. But you're not facing a hook and now the only risk is a push if it's a field-goal game.
Davenport: New England
Gagnon: New England
Kenyon: New England
O'Donnell: New England
Rogers: New England
Sobleski: New England
Score Prediction: Patriots 27, Saints 17
Indianapolis Colts (0-2) at Tennessee Titans (1-1)
DraftKings Line: Tennessee -5
The Indianapolis Colts are 3-0 straight up and against the spread in their last three trips to Nashville to play the division-rival Tennessee Titans, but a slim majority of our panelists believe the Titans are due as a five-point favorite at home Sunday.
"Last week's comeback win over the Seattle Seahawks could prove to be a tone-setter for Tennessee's entire season," Davenport said. "Ryan Tannehill didn't post big numbers against the Colts in 2020, and Tennessee's pass defense continues to be worrisome. But with Carson Wentz nursing eight sprained ankles, it looks like Jacob Eason will start for Indy, so the Colts won't be able to take advantage of that deficiency. Tennessee will pound away with Derrick Henry, hit on a long score to A.J. Brown or Julio Jones and win by at least a touchdown to send the reeling Colts to 0-3. If Eason turns it over, this one could turn into a rout."
Eason has thrown five passes in his NFL career, all of them coming last week. He completed two and was intercepted on another. And while Wentz still hasn't been ruled out, you have to wonder if he'd do more harm than good if he were to play after struggling at home against the Los Angeles Rams last week.
That said, the Colts have had Tennessee's number in Nashville, and they're trying to save their season. They have the defensive personnel to limit Henry, and they're as familiar with him as anyone. We wouldn't fault you for passing on that number.
Score Prediction: Titans 28, Colts 21
Washington Football Team (1-1) at Buffalo Bills (1-1)
DraftKings Line: Buffalo -7.5
The second hung jury of Week 3 comes with the Buffalo Bills laying a touchdown plus a hook in a home matchup with the Washington Football Team, as two reigning division champions fight to avoid 1-2 starts.
O'Donnell on Buffalo minus 7.5 points: "The Bills rebounded in Week 2 in a way folks would expect from a legitimate Super Bowl contender. The defense is second in the league in sacks, second in yards allowed, and this week they take on Taylor Heinicke in only his third career start for Washington. Returning to Western New York, and coming off a big division win, the defense should be counted on to continue playing well while the offense catches up. Josh Allen hasn't looked his best to start the year, but he's too talented to mire in mediocrity for long. Washington's vaunted defense hasn't lived up to its billing so far either and is coming off a game that saw Daniel Jones present some real problems. Allen can do all the things Jones can do but at a higher level. Combine the strong defense with an improving (and hopefully hungry) Allen, and I'm willing to lay the 7.5 points at home."
Gagnon on why he's taking the points: "I do think Allen will eventually break out of this early-season slump, but he is playing poorly and I'm not sure a meeting with Washington's stacked defensive front is what the doctor ordered. According to Pro Football Reference, only Trevor Lawrence has been on target with his passes less often this season than Allen, who now has to deal with Chase Young, Montez Sweat, Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen. I still don't trust Buffalo's running game enough to believe that unit can save Allen here, and I believe Washington's D is just as due for a great performance as Allen is. There's little reason to figure this won't be a close game."
Score Prediction: Bills 27, Washington 20
Atlanta Falcons (0-2) at New York Giants (0-2)
DraftKings Line: New York -3
It's hard to work up the nerve to lay a field goal with a New York Giants team that hasn't won in even semi-convincing fashion since 2019, but in a tremendous indictment of the state of the lowly Atlanta Falcons, four of our six correspondents are doing exactly that with Big Blue hosting Matt Ryan and Co. Sunday at MetLife.
"A battle of two bad teams," Kenyon said. "Oddsmakers view these teams fairly similarly if adopting the standard three-point edge toward the home team, meaning that the line would likely be a pick 'em if played on a neutral field. The Giants are off to an 0-2 start for the fifth straight season but showed some promise in a one-point loss to Washington last weekend, posting 163 rushing yards against one of the league's top defenses. The Falcons, who are also off to an 0-2 start, look like one of the NFL's worst teams coming off back-to-back blowout losses in which they gave up 80 points on defense. There is no reason to believe the Falcons will turn it around on the road this week."
There's arguably little reason to believe the Falcons will turn it around at all. They look flat and uninspired on both sides of the ball, and they rank last in terms of DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) at Football Outsiders.
That said, neither squad has done much to earn anyone's trust, this year or in recent seasons. And the Falcons do have a way of screwing with bettors as frequently as possible. You might want to remain on the sideline for this one, but the risk is reduced at -3 with a strong possibility of a push in play.
Davenport: New York
Gagnon: New York
Kenyon: New York
O'Donnell: New York
Score Prediction: Giants 26, Falcons 21
Cincinnati Bengals (1-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1)
DraftKings Line: Pittsburgh -3.5
Nothing close to unanimity here either, but the majority of the panel is willing to lay a field goal and a hook with the Pittsburgh Steelers as they host the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday at Heinz Field.
"This AFC North clash boils down to one matchup: Pittsburgh's aggressive and talent-laden defensive front seven versus Cincinnati's suspect offensive line," Sobleski said. "Through two games, Joe Burrow has been sacked nine times. Only rookie Zach Wilson has been brought down more often. Right now, Cam Heyward's performances should start his NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidacy, while T.J. Watt continues to terrorize opposing quarterbacks. Tyson Alualu's season-ending injury hurts the Steelers slightly, but they're still much better than the Bengals on that side of the ball."
Beyond Alualu, the Steelers have some reason to be concerned about quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (pectoral) and wide receiver Diontae Johnson (knee). But that defense is still terrifying, receiver Tee Higgins is hurting for the Bengals, and Burrow and Co. were hammered at this very site last year.
Pittsburgh has arguably gotten worse, and the Bengals have improved since then, and it's easy to see these teams moving in opposite directions. But are we really willing to come all the way down inside 3.5 points this quickly?
Score Prediction: Steelers 24, Bengals 20
New York Jets (0-2) at Denver Broncos (2-0)
DraftKings Line: Denver -10
Betting on Teddy Bridgewater and the Denver Broncos to win by a double-digit margin doesn't feel good, but neither does betting on Zach Wilson and the New York Jets to avoid a blowout on the road. It's fitting that the gang is split with Denver laying 10 points at home Sunday.
Gagnon on the Broncos: "The Jets were demolished at home by the Patriots last week, and now they have to travel to face a Broncos defense that is just as strong as New England on paper. Vic Fangio is no Bill Belichick, and Denver will miss Bradley Chubb, but the Broncos are at home in this case, and they merely need to beat a horrible team by double digits in order to at least push. Keep in mind that Teddy Bridgewater is playing the best football of his career and has fewer limitations than Mac Jones right now. If the Pats can beat the Jets by 19 points in New York, there's no reason to believe Denver can't win by a similar margin at Mile High."
Rogers on the Jets: "This might seem crazy, but we're talking a touchdown and a field goal here. Zach Wilson had a nightmare day against the Patriots, but that's what Belichick does to rookie quarterbacks. My faith in this cover comes down to two things: the Jets offense dialing up a safe, run-heavy game plan and Robert Saleh's defense limiting Teddy Bridgewater. No one expects the Jets to win, but can they avoid another embarrassment? I believe they will."
Bettor beware here.
Kenyon: New York
O'Donnell: New York
Rogers: New York
Score Prediction: Broncos 26, Jets 17
Miami Dolphins (1-1) at Las Vegas Raiders (2-0)
DraftKings Line: Las Vegas -4
Do you believe in the Las Vegas Raiders? Nearly all of our experts do, at least enough to lay more than a field goal with Las Vegas hosting the defensively stout, oft-resilient Miami Dolphins Sunday.
"This spread doesn't make a lot of sense to me," Davenport said. "Tua Tagovailoa has already been ruled out for Week 3, which means that Jacoby 'Wormburner' Brissett will start under center for a Dolphins team that just got shelled 35-0 by the Bills. Meanwhile, the Raiders are at home, Derek Carr is playing as well as he ever has and the Vegas defense has performed well against a pair of teams in the Ravens and Steelers that both made the playoffs last season.
"Not even Jon Gruden can screw this up—the Raiders will head to L.A. for a prime-time tilt with the rival Chargers as an undefeated first-place team."
The Raiders have outperformed the Dolphins on paper this season, and it's the Dolphins who are traveling three time zones without their starting quarterback following an embarrassing Week 2 blowout loss. But Gagnon still doesn't trust the Raiders, and he's a big believer in Dolphins head coach Brian Flores. Enough so that he'll take the points as the lone wolf.
Still, it sure looks like Jon Gruden's team has turned a corner, and it is fair to wonder why oddsmakers essentially view this as an even matchup based on the spread and location.
Davenport: Las Vegas
Kenyon: Las Vegas
O'Donnell: Las Vegas
Rogers: Las Vegas
Sobleski: Las Vegas
Score Prediction: Raiders 27, Dolphins 17
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-0) at Los Angeles Rams (2-0)
DraftKings Line: Tampa Bay -1.5
Including last year's playoffs, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are riding a 10-game winning streak with an average margin of victory of 15.3 points in those outings. Yes, they stumbled but survived in Week 1 against the Dallas Cowboys, but after rebounding with a blowout win Week 2 against Atlanta, the majority of the gang is backing them in what is nearly a pick'em situation on the road against the Los Angeles Rams Sunday.
"The Buccaneers will lose to the Rams...but not until the postseason," O'Donnell said in troll-like fashion.
"These two NFC powerhouses give us an early look at a potential conference title game here in Week 3, but I'm not ready to jump off the Tom Brady bandwagon just yet.
"The Bucs aren't firing on all cylinders, but they do look damn good with Brady and Rob Gronkowski rolling back the clock early this season. The Rams, Matthew Stafford and his new set of weapons are off to a similarly strong start. In what should be a shootout with a ton of passes (neither team is running the ball well right now) and touchdowns, I'm leaning on Brady's form to upend the Rams in a game that will serve as a learning experience and extra motivation for L.A. later in the year."
Surprisingly, the Rams were favored early this week. That has since changed as about two-thirds of the public money comes in on the defending champions. But Rogers jumped to L.A. as a result, and Kenyon has joined him in fading the public. They could be on to something. The Bucs eventually have to lose, the Rams look quite mighty and Tampa Bay could be a little more short-handed with Jason Pierre-Paul (hand/shoulder) out of practice and Antonio Brown on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
Davenport: Tampa Bay
Gagnon: Tampa Bay
Kenyon: Los Angeles
O'Donnell: Tampa Bay
Rogers: Los Angeles
Sobleski: Tampa Bay
Score Prediction: Buccaneers 30, Rams 27
Seattle Seahawks (1-1) at Minnesota Vikings (0-2)
DraftKings Line: Seattle -1.5
Russell Wilson is a perfect 7-0 in his career against the Minnesota Vikings, with his Seattle Seahawks covering the spread in all but two of those affairs. Wilson is the league's highest-rated passer entering Week 3, and there's little reason to believe he won't again take care of business with Seattle laying just 1.5 points in Minnesota Sunday.
"The Vikings are coming off back-to-back losses by three-or-fewer points on the road and finally get their home opener in Week 3," Kenyon said. "But they face a tough opponent in the Seahawks. Seattle is coming off a disappointing loss to the Titans in which it got beaten to a pulp in the second half by Derrick Henry. The Vikings could adopt a similar strategy with Dalvin Cook but likely would not see the same type of second-half success with their difference in running styles.
"Seattle's pass-heavy offense through two weeks should be able to score plenty of points on the Vikings' weak secondary, which ranks 31st in opposing yard per attempt (10.5) and dead-last in opposing completion percentage (77.8). If Seattle can score early and often, it should be able to win this game by more than a field goal."
Wilson has lost back-to-back games just twice in a 41-start span, and after his last home loss (Week 13 last season) he and the Seahawks torched the Jets 40-3. So while a pair of our correspondents believe the Vikes are due in a critical home game, it's hard to get behind Minnesota with only 1.5 points in your back pocket.
Score Prediction: Seahawks 31, Vikings 26
Green Bay Packers (1-1) at San Francisco 49ers (2-0)
DraftKings Line: San Francisco -3.5
Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers bounced back magnificently in Week 2 from a Week 1 dud against the Saints. Yet they're still getting more than a field goal from the San Francisco 49ers, likely in part because Rodgers and the Packers have lost five of their last six games in the Pacific time zone—a stretch that includes two blowout losses in San Francisco.
But a correction could be in order there, and Rodgers seems fired up. With the 49ers again dealing with a slew of injuries, nobody on the panel is willing to lay more than a field goal against Rodgers and Co. in this spot.
"After watching the San Francisco offense pitch-and-lurch its way to a win over the Philadelphia Eagles, there is no way I'm laying over a field goal against the Packers," Davenport said. "This isn't to say that Green Bay's win over the Lions fixed all that ails them—the defense (and especially the pass rush) have issues. But Rodgers and Aaron Jones both got untracked on Monday night, and the Niners will have their hands full and then some with Davante Adams. Green Bay wins this game outright."
Multiple backs are dealing with injuries for the 49ers, who already lost starters Raheem Mostert and Jason Verrett long term. They nearly blew a huge lead to the Lions in Week 1 and were not overly impressive in Philly in Week 2. Maybe they'll put it together in their home opener, but that number remains too high for this crew.
Davenport: Green Bay
Gagnon: Green Bay
Kenyon: Green Bay
O'Donnell: Green Bay
Rogers: Green Bay
Sobleski: Green Bay
Score Prediction: Packers 27, 49ers 24
Philadelphia Eagles (1-1) at Dallas Cowboys (1-1)
DraftKings Line: Dallas -3.5
We wrap up the week with a deadlocked panel on what feels like another unpredictable and potentially wacky prime-time NFC East matchup between the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys in Texas.
Gagnon on Philly: "I want nothing to do with that hook. The Eagles have played stout defense, Jalen Hurts has performed like a top-10 quarterback and Philadelphia actually has a much stronger DVOA (ranking eighth) than Dallas (14th). Both teams have several problematic injuries in the trenches, but I don't see either getting an edge as a result. This is a field goal game one way or another."
Sobleski on the Cowboys: "Hurts has been impressive in his first year as a full-time NFL starter. However, the Eagles don't have enough firepower to match the Cowboys' explosive offense. Dallas currently features the league's fourth-ranked offense. Dak Prescott may not be 100 percent his old self, but that hasn't stopped him from throwing for 640 yards in his first two games. The Cowboys have a new weapon in Tony Pollard to go along with Ezekiel Elliott and their exciting trio of wide receivers. It's difficult to see Philadelphia keeping pace."
You might want to wait to see if one of those receivers, Amari Cooper, can play despite a rib injury. Or you might want to watch this one for the inevitable NFC East fireworks without sweating a bet with so many questions surrounding both teams.
Score Prediction: Cowboys 27, Eagles 24
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