This felt like the trickiest slate of the young season. That's not necessarily a predictive thing, but I'm throwing it out there anyway.
Time to release the hounds. The spreads below are taken from the Yahoo! Pro Football Pick'Em game.
Patriots +3 at Ravens: One of the buried takeaways to the Patriots season is that the defense is significantly improved. Chandler Jones is making an impact immediately, and Brandon Spikes is a dynamic run stuffer. Obviously the schedule plays into this narrative (thanks, Locker and Kolb), but I've watched every snap twice and I've come away impressed.
Getting the full three is important here, though I never strongly considered taking the Ravens. Bill Belichick's record in bounce-back games is astounding (43-16 SU, 37-22 ATS since he joined the Pats) — and while it's driven largely by Tom Brady, the Pats also won all of their bounce-back games during the Matt Cassel year.
Rams +7.5 at Bears: I like the edge and attitude Jeff Fisher has brought to this Rams team; it's a chippy club that doesn't back down from anyone. Cortland Finnegan is a perfect player for this group; a Ken Linseman type, someone to start scraps and antagonize the opposition. St. Louis could easily be 2-0 right now, as that opening-day loss at Detroit could have gone either way. Maybe the Bears regroup nicely after the ugly public undressing at Green Bay (the extra prep time helps), but I need to see it first. This number is too high.
Buccaneers +7.5 at Cowboys: Most of what I said above on the Rams will apply to the Bucs as well. Dallas isn't protecting Tony Romo week-to-week; sometimes he makes dreamy plays with uncanny pocket awareness, and sometimes he throws the ball to the other guys.
Broncos +2 vs. Texans: I know, I know, three wobbling Peyton Manning interceptions in Atlanta. But let's not miss that Manning played very well the remainder of the game, and the Broncos are also getting strong contributions from Willis McGahee and their defense. Mile High remains one of the better home-field advantages.
A lot has been made about Manning's arm strength this week; to me, it's much ado about nothing. Even at his best, Manning never had a rocket, nor did he throw the tightest spiral. His biggest assets are his mind and his work ethic. While I no longer consider Manning a Tier 1 quarterback, he's still one of the 5-8 best ones in the game, easy.
Raiders +4 vs. Steelers: Sometimes it's all about going ugly with the picks, taking a side that few want to consider. Obviously the Oakland secondary is a mess and the Steelers have the pieces to exploit that. Sure, Carson Palmer looks like dirt right now. I hear you, Darren McFadden is running in quicksand, struggling to adjust to the zone scheme. But if every road favorite were an obvious winner, we wouldn't see those plush carpets in Las Vegas. This is a hunch-driven pick more than anything, but I'm following my instincts.
Survivor: I gave out New England last week (caveats and all), so I'm in the elimination pile. It feels false to give out this advice after my stake is gone. I wish you well with your plays.