Big bounceback last week. Can we get hot and keep it going? It’s the question America needs answered as we head into Week 3.
We’ve got another full slate of games on the schedule. Lines are courtesy of FanDuel. Stats are courtesy of TruMedia/Pro Football Focus unless otherwise noted.
Week 2 record: 12-4
Season record: 18-14
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns (-4.5)
The problem for the Browns so far this season has not been Jacoby Brissett; it’s been the defense. Cleveland’s offense ranks fourth in expected points added (EPA) per drive, but the defense ranks 27th.
The Steelers, meanwhile, have one of the NFL’s most inept offenses. After seeing how their offseason played out, I thought, “Well, the offense can’t be worse than it was last year.” Through two games, it has been.
There’s no way to feel good about this game. Either you’re taking Mitchell Trubisky and a bad offense on the road or you’re taking a defense that just melted down against Joe Flacco and the Jets. When in doubt, just take the points.
The pick: Steelers (+4.5)
Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots (+2.5)
Games in which Lamar Jackson has had 300-plus yards passing and 100-plus yards rushing: two.
Games that every other quarterback in NFL history has had 300-plus yards passing and 100-plus yards rushing: three.
The Ravens defense fell apart last week against the Dolphins, but Jackson was terrific, completing 21 of 29 passes for 318 yards and three touchdowns, while also rushing nine times for 119 yards and a score. The blitz gave the Ravens all kinds of issues last year, but when the Dolphins rushed five or more, Jackson was 12-for-14 for 206 yards and two touchdowns. That’s a really, really encouraging sign.
As for the Patriots, Nelson Agholor delivered a nice 44-yard TD grab last week in their win against the Steelers. But their offense just doesn’t have a lot of juice. I hate going against Bill Belichick as a home underdog, and Jackson is playing through an elbow injury, but I think the Patriots are going to have a tough time here.
The pick: Ravens (-2.5)
Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins (+6.5)
Two encouraging signs from Mike McDaniel in that comeback Dolphins win last week:
- He might be a QB elevator. The goal this season was to see what Tua Tagovailoa looked like with the right pieces around him. The question with quarterbacks isn’t always Is he the guy? Sometimes, it’s more simple: Can you win with him? In terms of EPA per drive, that was the Dolphins’ best offensive performance since 2008, and this was only McDaniel’s second game.
- I loved the way McDaniel managed that game. He didn’t panic and call timeout too early on the Dolphins’ last drive. He knew that the Dolphins wanted to score a touchdown, but also that they didn’t want to give Jackson too much time to put together a drive. With 44 seconds left, McDaniel called an inside run to Chase Edmonds, which caught the Ravens by surprise and gained 28 yards. Miami scored two plays later. Jackson got the ball back with just 14 seconds left. Perfectly executed by Miami.
As for the Bills, what’s left to say? It doesn’t feel like there’s a defense in the NFL that can stop Josh Allen right now. Their defense might be a little banged up; three contributors—safety Micah Hyde, defensive tackle Jordan Phillips, and cornerback back Dane Jackson—did not practice Wednesday, but they’re so well-coached. I think they’ll be able to pressure Tagovailoa into a couple of turnovers in this game.
The pick: Bills (-6.5)
Kansas City Chiefs at Indianapolis Colts (+5.5)
This line is terrifying. The Chiefs are 2-0. They have the better coach. They have the better quarterback. They are coming off of a mini bye, having played last Thursday night. The Colts are 0-1-1. They have looked lifeless. They have fallen into deep holes in each of their first two games, and have been outscored 44-3 in quarters 1-3 of those games. They have a bad left tackle situation and a bad wide receiver situation, and their defense is vanilla. How could they be only 5.5-point underdogs?
I don’t have a great answer. Maybe they get running back Jonathan Taylor going and string together long drives. Maybe they play with a sense of desperation. Maybe Waze malfunctions, the Chiefs’ bus gets lost going to the stadium, and they have to forfeit.
All I know is when I see a “too good to be true” line, I take the other side.
The pick: Colts (+5.5)
Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings (-5.5)
Monday night was a big disappointment for the Vikings. Defensively, they stayed in the same static, split-safety coverages and got picked apart. Offensively, Kirk Cousins looked like he had never seen a blitz before. He was 4-for-12 for 22 yards when the Eagles sent five or more rushers. He was 3-for-12 for 38 yards against man coverage.
Guess what the Lions like to do on defense? Blitz and play man coverage.
I was skeptical of Detroit’s offense coming into the season, but through two weeks, the Lions rank sixth in EPA per drive. Running back D’Andre Swift and wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown look like stars. They’ve been able to withstand offensive line injuries. And Jared Goff looks comfortable. I might be leaning too much on a small sample, but I like what I’ve seen from the Lions so far.
The pick: Lions (+5.5)
Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Commanders (+6.5)
Three times in NFL history has a quarterback thrown for 300-plus yards and rushed for 50-plus yards while completing over 80 percent of his attempts:
- Lamar Jackson in Week 5 of last season
- Josh Allen in the wild-card round of last year’s playoffs
- Jalen Hurts on Monday night against the Vikings
That was the best game of Hurts’s career. He was accurate, made plays from inside the pocket and outside the pocket, and was in full command.
The Commanders fell behind 22-0 against the Lions before making it close in the second half. When Carson Wentz has had time, he’s connected on some nice throws downfield. When he’s been pressured, it’s gotten ugly. But the biggest issue for Washington is on the other side of the ball. The Commanders defense has had too many miscues. I think Hurts takes advantage.
The pick: Eagles (-6.5)
Cincinnati Bengals at New York Jets (+4.5)
Pro Football Focus has a metric called pressure-to-sack percentage. It looks at how often a quarterback takes a sack when he’s pressured. Through two games, Joe Burrow leads all quarterbacks at 38.2 percent. It’s obviously not all on Burrow. ESPN’s pass block win rate metric measures how often a team gives up pressure within 2.5 seconds of the snap; by that metric, the Bengals rank 25th. Bottom line: This wasn’t supposed to be as bad a problem in 2022. But it has been.
The Jets are coming off a thrilling win against the Browns, and they beat the Bengals in Week 8 last season. But I’m not giving up on the Bengals yet. Burrow is too good, he’s got weapons, and he’s had to deal with less-than-stellar protection in the past. I think Cincinnati rebounds in a big way here.
The pick: Bengals (-4.5)
Jacksonville Jaguars at Los Angeles Chargers (-7)
How happy are Jaguars players to have Doug Pederson as their head coach after last season with Urban Meyer? This happy:
Protect Dougie P at all costs #DUUUVAL pic.twitter.com/Ef5b9sfS8A— Jacksonville Jaguars (@Jaguars) September 18, 2022
Trevor Lawrence was in full command last week against the Colts, and Pederson called a great game. Defensively, the Jaguars’ front looks formidable.
As for the Chargers, what happened to head coach Brandon Staley? Last year, the nerds loved him because he was the NFL’s most aggressive coach on fourth down. But against the Chiefs in Week 2, Staley decided to punt twice in Kansas City territory and kick a field goal on fourth-and-2. Did the jocks get to him? Say it ain’t so!
As of this writing, we don’t know what Justin Herbert’s status for this game will be after he suffered a rib injury in Week 2. Regardless, the Jags are a frisky team and a tough matchup.
The pick: Jaguars (+7)
Green Bay Packers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-1.5)
The Bucs won’t have wide receiver Mike Evans in this game after he was suspended for his involvement in last week’s fracas against the Saints. It’s unclear whether Tampa Bay will get wide receivers Chris Godwin or Julio Jones back. And the Bucs could be down to their third-string left tackle.
The Packers bounced back with a win on Sunday night against the Bears, but Aaron Rodgers and Co. face a stiff test against a Bucs defense that’s playing well. This might be another frustrating game for Tom Brady, but Tampa Bay has shown it can win in different ways. I like the Bucs to remain undefeated.
The pick: Bucs (-1.5)
Los Angeles Rams at Arizona Cardinals (+3.5)
Kliff Kingsbury should be writing Nathaniel Hackett a thank-you card this week. If not for Hackett’s in-game performance (more on that later), Kingsbury would be taking all kinds of heat. The Cardinals wasted a timeout in the first quarter against the Raiders because the play clock was winding down. The same thing happened in the third quarter. And again in the fourth! They set up for the game-tying two-point try with no time left in regulation, but the Raiders called a timeout. Following the timeout, the Cardinals couldn’t get a play off and had to take a delay of game because they didn’t have any timeouts left. They converted, but it was from the seven-yard line! The comeback was great, but they were so disorganized.
The Rams nearly blew a big lead to the Falcons and haven’t been at their best through two games. But the Cardinals were not competitive in the playoff game between these two teams last season, and I think this one could follow a similar script.
The pick: Rams (-3.5)
Atlanta Falcons at Seattle Seahawks (+1)
Week 1 was the Seahawks’ Super Bowl, when they got an emotional win over Russell Wilson and the Broncos. In a Week 2 loss to the 49ers, the Seahawks ran just 47 plays and had 216 yards of offense. The advanced metrics suggest that the Seahawks are a bad team. It’s only two games, but they’re 26th in EPA per drive offensively and 31st defensively.
The Falcons blew their game in Week 1 against the Saints and staged a furious comeback in Week 2 before falling to the Rams. Tight end Kyle Pitts has just four catches for 38 yards on 10 targets through two games. I suspect that head coach Arthur Smith will get him the ball early and often in this game. The Falcons move the ball efficiently and get their first win.
The pick: Falcons (-1)
New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers (+3)
Jameis Winston is on the injury report with back and ankle injuries, and he’s coming off a game in which he was sacked six times and threw three interceptions.
Jaw-dropping stat from The Athletic’s Joseph Person: The Panthers are 1-25 under Matt Rhule when allowing 17 points or more. That’s some impressive offensive ineptitude. They have not won a game since Nov. 14, 2021. You know what that means: They’re due!
This is an impossible game to pick. I wish I could bet against myself getting this one right.
The pick: Panthers (+3)
Las Vegas Raiders at Tennessee Titans (+1.5)
Going into the season, I was most interested to see how Josh McDaniels would handle the non-X’s-and-O’s aspects of coaching. It feels like we’re about to find out. The Raiders are 0-2 and coming off a meltdown loss to the Cardinals. Davante Adams had two catches in that game and left the locker room before reporters entered. Maybe Adams will go off in this game, and the Raiders will notch their first win. But will McDaniels be able to keep everyone pulling in the same direction if they start their season 0-3?
The Titans are also looking for their first win. They got blown out by the Bills on Monday night, and key players like left tackle Taylor Lewan and edge rusher Bud Dupree suffered injuries.
The Raiders are the more talented team, and it’s possible that this is going to quickly turn into a transition year for the Titans. But the infrastructure in Tennessee is strong with Mike Vrabel, and the Titans have their backs against the wall. It’s a toss-up game, but I’ll ride with the Titans.
The pick: Titans (+1.5)
Houston Texans at Chicago Bears (-2.5)
The Bears have attempted 28 passes through two games. That’s 24 fewer than any other team and 76 fewer than the Jets, who lead the league with 104. In Week 1, the Bears played in bad weather, but on Sunday night in Green Bay, Justin Fields attempted just 11 passes. Keeping that in mind, it feels safe to say that even if the Bears get a lead in this one, they’re not going to go for the jugular.
The Texans are 0-1-1 and have been competitive in both games. Their offense isn’t going to do a lot, but their defense has been respectable. Unless we get defensive touchdowns or a special-teams score, I’m not seeing a lot of points here. Houston keeps it close.
The pick: Texans (+2.5)
San Francisco 49ers at Denver Broncos (+1.5)
As I mentioned on The Ringer NFL Show, the RedZone channel should be required to cut to Broncos games every time head coach Nathaniel Hackett is faced with a fourth-down decision for the rest of the year.
My favorite sequence from last week came on third-and-1 in the third quarter. The Broncos ran a fullback option with Andrew Beck. Beck has been in the league since 2019. He had one career carry going into that game. Shockingly, he got stopped for a loss. On fourth-and-2, Hackett first decided to go for it. Then he changed his mind (for like the third time that game). Kicker Brandon McManus got onto the field late. He drilled a 54-yarder. Only one problem: The play clock expired! The Broncos went from going for it on fourth-and-2 to trying a field goal to having to punt because of a delay of game penalty. It was a masterpiece in mismanagement. Shout-out to the Broncos fans who started loudly counting down the play clock in the fourth quarter to help the home team.
Trey Lance’s injury is a huge bummer for the 49ers, but it doesn’t really change expectations for the 49ers this year. Jimmy Garoppolo can get them to the Super Bowl. He’s done it before. And their defense might be special.
Everyone’s piling on Hackett right now, so zagging and taking the Broncos might be smart. But I just can’t get there.
The pick: 49ers (-1.5)
Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants (-1)
This feels like an ugly, low-scoring game. Success rate measures how often a team produces a positive play. It’s a good metric to look at with a small sample because it strips out the outliers; each play is either considered successful or not successful based on EPA. So a seven-yard completion on third-and-6 is treated the same as a 50-yard completion—they’re both successful. The Giants offense, through two games, ranks 32nd in success rate. They’ve hit on some big plays, but the numbers suggest that nothing they’re doing is sustainable. Now they have to face Micah Parsons and a Cowboys defense that is playing well.
But the Cowboys offense figures to have a tough time, too. New starting quarterback Cooper Rush was efficient last week in a win over the Bengals, but facing Wink Martindale’s aggressive, blitzing defense will be a challenge.
I can’t believe I’m picking the Giants to go to 3-0. I hate myself already.
The pick: Giants (-1)