Either the New Orleans Saints or Atlanta Falcons will be 1-2 after Sunday, with some serious questions going forward.
Saints-Falcons is one of the NFL’s best rivalries and Sunday’s game seems like a big one, at least for this early in the season. Both teams came into this season with Super Bowl hopes, and both stumbled out of the gate. Both teams are looking up at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC South. It’s early, but you don’t want to dig too big of a hole.
Of the two rivals, the Saints have the bigger concerns. If the Cleveland Browns could have made a kick in Week 2, the Saints would be 0-2. Their defense looked awful in Week 1 and their offense struggled for most of Week 2 against the Browns. They have as much talent as any team in football, but it hasn’t looked that way yet. The good news is it’s still early, and the Saints at least salvaged one win from their first two games.
The Falcons looked bad on offense in Week 1, but rebounded in Week 2. They’re dealing with injuries, however. Linebacker Deion Jones and safety Keanu Neal are on injured reserve. Running back Devonta Freeman looks like he’ll miss another game, and Julio Jones has missed practice this week with a calf injury. It’s tough to deal with that many injuries so early in the season.
This game will shape the NFC South race for the first half of the season. One of these teams might be fighting out of a bad spot for a while. I’ll take the Falcons at minus-3, because they’re at home and the Saints’ first two games were troubling. The Saints have the talent to turn it on instantly, but I need to see it first.
Here are the picks for Week 3 of the NFL season:
49ers (+6.5) over Chiefs: The 49ers don’t seem to be everyone’s darlings anymore. But in Week 1, they played pretty well against the Vikings but a couple of key turnovers — a fumble at the goal line and a pick-six on a receiver miscommunication — cost them a chance to upset the Vikings. In Week 2 they were cruising 30-13 over the Lions before letting up and allowing Detroit a backdoor cover. I think the 49ers have played fairly well, and nobody is paying attention to them anymore after an offseason of hype. There’s nothing under the radar about the Chiefs start, and that’s reflected in the line. It’s also worth noting the Chiefs have allowed 860 passing yards, 107 more than any other team. (The line is 49ers +7 on the Yahoo Pro Football Pick’em.)
Packers (-2.5) over Redskins: It looks too easy, but it’s almost to the point that you can’t give Washington any credit for home-field advantage. Apathy has set in. Also, Washington looked good in Week 1, but now we can probably say that’s more a reflection of Arizona being dreadful. And in Week 2, the Redskins got worked over by the Colts. This pick seems too easy and square, but I couldn’t come up with a tangible reason to not take it.
Bengals (+3) over Panthers: I’m buying into the Bengals. Joe Mixon’s injury doesn’t help, but Giovani Bernard has always played well when given more snaps. The few extra days of rest helps too. And I don’t love what I’ve seen from the Panthers so far. I think we might see an upset here. (The line is Bengals +2.5 on the Yahoo Pro Football Pick’em.)
Lions (+7) over Patriots: A contrarian play. Going against New England is always tough but I like the idea of the Lions getting a touchdown at home in prime time. They have the offense to score, and that opens up the possibility of a backdoor cover at the end. The Patriots have their issues too. They signed Josh Gordon because they are clearly worried about what they have around Tom Brady. Also, here’s an interesting stat from OddsShark: Over the past three seasons, 0-2 teams are 15-7 against the spread in Week 3. Back that up over the last 10 seasons, and 0-2 teams are 44-32 against the spread. It makes sense. I could really hate this pick by halftime Sunday night, but I think if the Lions have one good performance in them, this might be it.
And here are the rest of the Week 3 picks …
Browns (-3) over Jets (picked Thursday, SuperContest pick): Think about it this way, had Cleveland done the right thing from the beginning and started Baker Mayfield, they might be 3-0. And if Tyrod Taylor hadn’t suffered a concussion Thursday night, forcing Hue Jackson to play Mayfield, they’d probably be 0-3.
Dolphins (-3) over Raiders: It’s really hard to back the Raiders, especially going all the way to Miami for a 10 a.m. Pacific kickoff. You have to give the Dolphins some credit for their start too, though the Raiders haven’t played quite as bad as 0-2 would indicate.
Bills (+17) over Vikings: Great stat from R.J. White at CBS Sports: White said there have been 27 instances since 2007 of a team being favored by at least 16 points. The Patriots account for 12 of those instances, and they went 6-6 against the spread. The other 15 times, the favorites were 4-10-1. Bad teams find a way to cover often in the NFL. This isn’t college football; there’s not an enormous gap between the best and worst teams.
Colts (+7) over Eagles: I don’t think Carson Wentz will struggle in his return, but I do worry about the injury issues around him. Meanwhile, I might have just underestimated the Colts all summer. Their roster has clear holes but they have played well so far.
Jaguars (off) over Titans: I use the Yahoo Pro Football Pick’em lines for this post each week, and this one is off the board due to Marcus Mariota. I’d take the Titans at the +9.5 line from the SuperContest, but not feel great about it because I can’t figure out yet if the Titans are any good. Anyway, if you’re in a Yahoo group, you’re taking the Jaguars. Moving on.
Ravens (-5) over Broncos: This is one of the more interesting games of the week, and one of the hardest games to pick. We’ve learned by now not to make too much of Thursday night games. The Ravens looked sleepy in last week’s first half at Cincinnati, but it’s not like their Week 1 win over a terrible Bills team is some litmus test. Meanwhile, the Broncos have narrow home wins over the Seahawks and Raiders (they should have probably lost the latter game), and that doesn’t inspire much confidence. I’m not sure what to make of either team yet and wasn’t really sure who to pick.
Texans (-7) over Giants: The Giants offense is really not good. The offensive line looks awful and if we’re being honest, so does Eli Manning. I can’t say I love taking the Texans and having to lay a touchdown, but I can’t pick the Giants until I see some signs of life.
Chargers (+7.5) over Rams: With all respect to the Rams, who have looked tremendous so far, the Chargers are really talented too. If the Rams win and cover, it will be very clear they’re the best team in the NFL.
Cardinals (+7) over Bears: The Cardinals have looked terrible, and I’m not sure how they move the ball against Chicago’s defense, but this line is a bit crazy. You hear often from handicappers that you should bet numbers, not teams. This is one of those examples.
Seahawks (pick ’em) over Cowboys: Seahawks only a pick ’em? Wow. The Cowboys have shown practically nothing on offense through two games, other than one long pass to Tavon Austin last week, and they’re still a coin flip against the Seahawks in Seattle. I wrote Monday night about how bad Seattle looked, I’ve written all offseason about their poor decisions, but I can’t pick an unimpressive Cowboys team to win there. And if the Seahawks don’t win this one, we’re probably looking at them being one of the worst teams in football.
Buccaneers (pick ’em) over Steelers: A couple weeks ago we couldn’t have anticipated: 1) This would be a great matchup for ESPN, 2) the line would be a pick ’em, 3) the Buccaneers look like the better side.
Last week: 5-10-1
Year to date: 14-17-2
SuperContest: 2-3 last week, 5-5-1 season
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