Predicting the path of an NFL team involves more than just its record.
Yards and per-play averages and advanced stats don't put a team in the playoffs, but it can give clues to whether a team's record is legitimate or a bit of good (or bad) luck. That's why there's some reason to be skeptical about the Miami Dolphins' 3-0 start.
The Dolphins have been outgained in every game, which is an obvious warning sign. They are 26th in total offense and 11th in total defense, which doesn't look like the profile of a dominant 3-0 team. But they are a respectable eighth in Football Outsiders' enlightening DVOA rankings. And, well, they have found a way to win all three games. Still, the Dolphins haven't played quite as well as their record indicates.
There's a reason the Saints, also 3-0, are a healthy 6.5-point favorite in Monday night's game. New Orleans has looked like a top team, with the offense clicking and the defense playing well (for now). The Dolphins are probably going to regress a bit, and Monday night against Drew Brees at the Superdome might be a pretty good time for that. The Saints should win comfortably.
Here are the rest of this week's picks:
St. Louis (+3) over San Francisco (picked Thursday): How can a team with Jake Long, Chris Long, Alec Ogletree, James Laurinaitis, Cortland Finnegan, Michael Brockers, Tavon Austin, Chris Givens, Jared Cook, Janoris Jenkins, Robert Quinn and a quarterback who was once drafted first overall be this bad?
Cincinnati (-4) over Cleveland: The Brian Hoyer-Josh Gordon fireworks last week made me pause a bit, but if the Bengals are the team I think they are, this is a game they win (and cover).
Detroit (-3) over Chicago: The Lions could win by 30 or lose by 30; neither result would surprise me. The Lions have played three of the worst teams in the NFL so far (Arizona, Minnesota and Washington) which adds to their mystery.
New York Giants (+4) over Kansas City: Tom Coughlin's Giants are the bad guy in the horror movies. No matter how many times you think you can breathe easy because they're gone, they always come back wielding the machete.
Pittsburgh (-3) over Minnesota: After we subject London to these two teams, they'll send a note back saying, "We're fine sticking with soccer from now on."
Tampa Bay (-2.5) over Arizona: Why the Buccaneers, with rookie quarterback Mike Glennon starting? How many times have you seen a team make a move like this, and everyone around the new quarterback raises their play? For at least one week.
Jacksonville (+8) over Indianapolis: Can't feel good about picking the Jaguars, but it's a lot of travel for the Colts, a possible letdown, and Jacksonville has to cover the spread at some point ... right?
Tennessee (-3.5) over N.Y. Jets: I don't think the Titans played all that great last week, but I think they're far better than the Jets.
Denver (-10.5) over Philadelphia: The over/under of 58 seems pretty crazy for an NFL game ... and it still seems too low. How many plays in this one, 160? 170?
Washington (-3) over Oakland: Don't care how bad Washington's defense is, if Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor doesn't play (and indications are he might not) this won't be close.
San Diego (+2) over Dallas: Of all the games this week, I think this is the one where we learn the most about the two teams involved. I'm not sold on either one, but I'm willing to listen.
Atlanta (-2) over New England: The Falcons have been tremendous at home in the Matt Ryan era. This pick isn't because I think the sky is falling on the Patriots; it's just a tough spot for New England.
Last week: 8-7-1
This season: 18-28-2
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