There’s a world in which a less principled game picker might start this column with complaints. About how the Rams beat the spread in Week 2 only because Sean McVay inexplicably decided to kick a field goal down 10 points with time running out. Or how the Panthers scored a nonsense touchdown and got the two-point conversion late in what hadn’t been a close game for a miracle push. Or how the Packers-Falcons line shifted significantly later in the week, resulting in an unfair L for this writer.
BUT I’M NOT GOING TO DO ANY OF THAT. Instead, I am just going to move on to the Week 3 picks. You’re welcome.
Lines are from FanDuel as of Thursday morning. Stats are from TruMedia and Pro Football Focus unless otherwise noted.
Week 2 record: 6-9-1
Season record: 16-15-1
New York Giants at San Francisco 49ers (-10.5)
Niners quarterback Brock Purdy left a handful of big plays on the field last week against the Rams, and it didn’t really matter. The 49ers offense is just so hard to defend. They still had 365 total yards and scored 30 in the 30-23 road victory. In seven regular-season starts with Purdy going back to last year, the 49ers have scored 30 or more six times.
The Giants, meanwhile, are coming off a big comeback win in Arizona, and there’s some mystery about what sparked their second-half turnaround in that game. Did head coach Brian Daboll take over play-calling duties from Mike Kafka? Daboll says no, but NFL coaches lie constantly. I’m going to need one camera on Daboll at all times during this game, and internet sleuths, be prepared to fire off some unhinged takes. This is the type of story I can’t get enough of (seriously)!
As for this game, my crystal ball says the 49ers dominate, but the Giants get a late score for a backdoor cover. The number is too big for me to take San Francisco.
The pick: Giants (+10.5)
Tennessee Titans at Cleveland Browns (-3.5)
From the start of the 2022 season through Week 2 of 2023, 34 quarterbacks have had at least 250 dropbacks. Among that sample, Deshaun Watson ranks 34th in expected points added (EPA) per pass play. And he’s 29th in success rate. Still not a huge sample, but it’s not insignificant. Watson looked uncomfortable in Cleveland’s Monday night loss to the Steelers. And now he’ll have to operate the rest of the season without running back Nick Chubb. I’m a believer in this Browns defense, but I’m firmly in “believe it when I see it” mode when it comes to Watson performing at a high level.
I don't think the Browns have the necessary offensive firepower to win games without Nick Chubb, which is interesting, because the Browns have the most expensive quarterback in the league.— Benjamin Solak (@BenjaminSolak) September 19, 2023
Full episode w/ @SheilKapadia: https://t.co/imKHjNh5T7 pic.twitter.com/VyYAzTnLF2
The Titans did Titans things last week, coming back from an 11-0 deficit to beat the Chargers. There’s a scenario in which Ryan Tannehill takes a pounding here from the Browns defensive line and the Titans get smoked. But taking Mike Vrabel as an underdog has worked out well for me the first two weeks, and I’m not about to mess with a good thing.
The pick: Titans (+3.5)
Los Angeles Chargers at Minnesota Vikings (+1.5)
Brandon Staley is 37 games into his tenure as the Chargers head coach. Shouldn’t we know where he gives them an edge by now? Staley’s defensive philosophy is centered on limiting explosive plays. Yet, as The Athletic’s Daniel Popper noted, they’ve given up more completions of 30-plus yards than any other team since Staley arrived. Through the first two weeks of this season, the Chargers rank 26th in defensive success rate. The nerds loved Staley during his first season, when he looked like the NFL’s most aggressive coach. But that guy is gone. Staley punted on fourth-and-1 from the Titans’ 44-yard line in the Chargers’ loss last week. Bottom line: Barring an unexpected turnaround, it feels like we’re being set up for just another disappointing Chargers season.
The Vikings are also 0-2. They showed some fight at Philadelphia last Thursday night but are just short on talent along the offensive line and in the secondary.
There’s really no way to feel good about either side here, but at least the Chargers have moved the ball pretty consistently on offense through two weeks. Let’s see if they can find a way to save their season.
The pick: Chargers (-1.5)
New England Patriots at New York Jets (+2.5)
Here’s the best-case scenario if you’re a Jets fan: The Vikings lose to the Chargers, the Jets lose to the Patriots, Zach Wilson looks terrible, but the rest of the team looks good. Then maybe we can legitimately talk about whether a Kirk Cousins trade to New York is actually feasible? If the Vikings are 0-3, they’ve got to at least consider it, right? There has to be a price that gets them to say yes, especially since Cousins will be a free agent after the season. As for the Jets, I said it last week: They have to do something at quarterback. They cannot just throw this season away by sticking with Wilson.
Looking at this matchup, Wilson is 0-4 in his career against the Patriots, and he’s completed 50.9 percent of his passes in those starts. The Patriots are not a good team, but they look much more competent this year than last. Their biggest issue is that the offense has no explosive element. The Patriots’ two plays of 20-plus yards are the fewest in the NFL.
As long as this number stays under 3, I like the Patriots quite a bit.
The pick: Patriots (-2.5)
Buffalo Bills at Washington Commanders (+6.5)
New Commanders offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy did an outstanding job in last week’s win over the Broncos. Based on EPA per drive, that offensive performance was better than any of Washington’s offensive performances in 2022. The Commanders’ screen game was cooking, and so far this season just 7.1 percent of Sam Howell’s pass attempts have been tight-window throws. That speaks to a coordinator who is scheming things up.
The Bills bounced back from their Week 1 meltdown with a convincing win against the Raiders, but this is a tough spot—specifically because the Commanders pass rush could give the Bills offensive line problems. I think Buffalo wins, but I’ll take the points.
The pick: Commanders (+6.5)
Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars (-8.5)
So many missed opportunities for the Jaguars in their loss to the Chiefs last week. The defense held up surprisingly well, but the offense was a disaster. Based on EPA per drive, it was Jacksonville’s worst offensive performance under Doug Pederson.
The Texans have been decimated by injuries on the offensive line, but rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud was slinging it last week against the Colts, and wide receiver Nico Collins looked great.
I need to see more from the Jaguars before trusting them to cover a number this high.
The pick: Texans (+8.5)
Indianapolis Colts at Baltimore Ravens (-7.5)
The rhythm that Lamar Jackson played with last week against the Bengals just felt different than what we’ve seen in the past from him. Jackson’s success rate in Week 2 was better than it was in all but one game in 2022. That’s a really encouraging sign if you’re a Ravens fan. I thought their offense would go through some growing pains in the first half of the season before hitting its stride late. But if last week was any indication, the learning curve under new offensive coordinator Todd Monken might not be that steep.
The Colts had a nice win last week, but rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson is in the NFL’s concussion protocol as of this writing. If he can’t go, it’ll be backup Gardner Minshew.
We’re only two weeks in, but I have to admit I’m buying the Ravens as a Super Bowl sleeper in the AFC. They theoretically should be able to win in a bunch of different ways. I think they take care of business here.
The pick: Ravens (-7.5)
Atlanta Falcons at Detroit Lions (-3.5)
I have watched this clip roughly 327 times.
Shifty— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) September 20, 2023
: FOX | NFL+ pic.twitter.com/YrUIqZJPyr
Bijan Robinson already looks like a top-five running back. He was flat-out electric in the Falcons’ win over the Packers last week.
The Lions, meanwhile, have had some bad injury luck. They placed safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson on injured reserve this week. Running back David Montgomery is expected to miss this game. Wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown didn’t practice on Wednesday. And neither did starting offensive linemen Taylor Decker and Halapoulivaati Vaitai.
Detroit QB Jared Goff had a pick-six last week against Seattle, but he was shredding the Seahawks defense for most of the afternoon. I worry about the Lions’ ability to stop the Falcons run game, but I trust coordinator Ben Johnson to scheme up enough offense to get them back in the win column.
The pick: Lions (-3.5)
New Orleans Saints at Green Bay Packers (-2)
I’ve heard several people make the point that the Saints are going to be this year’s version of the 2022 Vikings: a team that produces an impressive regular-season résumé, but nobody ever seriously believes in them. Through two weeks, that feels exactly right to me. Their defense should continue to beat up on inferior opponents, and if quarterback Derek Carr can hit on just a few plays downfield, they’ll be in a lot of games. But New Orleans’ ceiling feels capped.
The Packers had a number of unforced errors last week in their loss to the Falcons. They blew a 12-point lead in the fourth quarter and surrendered 446 yards of offense. It’s unclear whether Green Bay will get left tackle David Bakhtiari back, and if they don’t, they’re down two offensive linemen. Running back Aaron Jones and wide receiver Christian Watson could both be out again, too.
Given all the injuries, this feels like a coin-flip game. I’ll take the points.
The pick: Saints (+2)
Denver Broncos at Miami Dolphins (-6.5)
The Broncos defense was a bigger problem than their offense during last week’s loss to the Commanders. In the heart of the game, Denver allowed Washington to score on five of six possessions. Four of those scores were touchdowns, and the only drive in which the Commanders didn’t score was one in which they missed a field goal.
The Broncos now have to face the hottest offense in the NFL. So far this season, Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is getting rid of the ball (on average) in 2.35 seconds—the shortest time to throw in the league. Yet his average throw is traveling 10.4 yards downfield, which is tied for highest among starting quarterbacks. It should not be possible to do both those things simultaneously! He’s getting rid of the ball quickly and negating the opponent’s pass rush, and he’s still pushing the ball downfield. Those numbers reflect the speed the Dolphins have, Tagovailoa’s quick decision-making, and Mike McDaniel’s scheme.
On the one hand, there’s no great reason to take Denver here. On the other, if I take the Broncos every week, they eventually have to reward me, right? RIGHT???
The pick: Broncos (+6.5)
Carolina Panthers at Seattle Seahawks (-6)
Bryce Young is dealing with an ankle injury, and it’s unclear whether he’ll play in this game. If Young can’t go, it’ll be Andy Dalton at QB. But the truth is, it’s hard to envision any quarterback having success in the Panthers offense as it’s currently constructed. The wide receivers are slow and can’t separate, and the offensive line is banged up and can’t block. Other than that, it’s a great situation!
I thought Geno Smith was terrific for the Seahawks last week. Seattle was playing with a pair of backup offensive tackles, but Smith was accurate, decisive, and creative. The Seahawks had 393 yards of offense, and Smith was sacked just once in their win over the Lions.
Here’s the thing about Week 3: It’s a big contrarian week for me. The public is too high on the 2-0 teams and too low on the 0-2 teams. I can’t offer a rational argument for why the Panthers should keep this one close, but I’m going to cross my fingers, hope for the best, and presume that they’re not quite as bad as we’ve seen so far. What could go wrong?
The pick: Panthers (+6)
Chicago Bears at Kansas City Chiefs (-12.5)
What a week for the Bears. Their defensive coordinator, Alan Williams, resigned. Quarterback Justin Fields said he’s been playing too robotically and that coaching was at least partially to blame. He later held a second media session to clarify his comments and put the blame on himself. Oh, and by the way, the Bears are 0-2 and have been outscored by 28 total points in those losses.
As for the Chiefs, their defense played well against Jacksonville, but the offense is definitely experiencing some hiccups. The Chiefs have played 96 games with Patrick Mahomes as their starter. They’ve never posted a lower offensive success rate than they did against the Jaguars. Kansas City’s Week 1 offensive performance against the Lions ranked 92nd among that sample of Mahomes starts. Bottom line: It hasn’t been pretty, and they’ve got some stuff to work through.
This very well could be a “get right” game for the offense and the Chiefs win 62-0. That would not surprise me. But again, Week 3 is a “go against the grain” week for me. I cannot imagine any rational human being actually putting money on the Bears in this game. Whenever I feel like that, I usually force myself to take that side. This feels like a new low, but here we go.
The pick: Bears (+12.5)
Dallas Cowboys at Arizona Cardinals (-12.5)
Since 2000, only the 2019 Patriots have had a greater scoring margin than the 2023 Cowboys (plus-60) through the first two weeks of the season. Dak Prescott started hot against a very good Jets defense last week, and a Zach Wilson–led New York offense didn’t stand a chance against the Cowboys defense.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, blew a 20-0 halftime lead to the Giants. Arizona’s defense allowed four touchdowns and a field goal on five possessions to close out the game.
Arizona has covered the spread in each of its first two games, and this is a big number for a road favorite, but I just can’t bring myself to take the Cardinals.
The pick: Cowboys (-12.5)
Pittsburgh Steelers at Las Vegas Raiders (-2.5)
Weekly update on my favorite Steelers stat: They have now gone 37 straight games under offensive coordinator Matt Canada without gaining at least 400 yards. The league’s other 31 teams during that span have gained at least 400 yards 277 times! The Steelers defense played well Monday night, and they found a way to beat the Browns, but the offensive issues continue to be a huge concern.
The Raiders came back down to earth in Week 2 and got blown out by the Bills on the road. This one just comes down to the coaching matchup for me. I’ll take Mike Tomlin as an underdog against Josh McDaniels.
The pick: Steelers (+2.5)
Philadelphia Eagles at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+4.5)
It’s been a shaky start for the Eagles’ passing game so far. Out of 630 qualifying quarterback performances since the start of the 2022 season, Jalen Hurts’s showing last week against the Vikings ranked 614th in success rate. It was the worst start of Hurts’s career by that metric. Of course, it’s not all on Hurts. Defenses are throwing different looks at the Eagles, and the passing concepts from new OC Brian Johnson haven’t always given Hurts good answers. Against the Vikings, the Eagles’ solution was to run the ball, and that worked well. But they definitely need to be more consistent throwing the ball.
As for the 2-0 Bucs, they have to be considered one of the NFL’s biggest surprises. Baker Mayfield is completing 69.1 percent of his passes and has been sacked only once. Mike Evans looks great, and Tampa Bay still has a lot of talent on defense.
Having said that, the Eagles should have an advantage with their defensive line against Tampa Bay’s offensive line in this one. And Hurts has shown in the past that he can problem-solve. I think he will get back on track, and the Eagles will take care of business here.
The pick: Eagles (-4.5)
Los Angeles Rams at Cincinnati Bengals (-2.5)
As of this writing, it’s unclear whether the Bengals will have Joe Burrow, who aggravated his calf injury late in last week’s loss to Baltimore, for this game. I actually thought Burrow and the offense started to find some answers in the second half of their loss against the Ravens. The Bengals had 19 first downs on their final five possessions. Burrow threw an interception in the red zone. Otherwise, Cincinnati might have stolen that game.
The Rams were competitive, and quarterback Matthew Stafford looked good once again in last week’s loss to the 49ers. Los Angeles had 28 first downs and 386 yards of offense against a very good defense. The two turnovers sunk the Rams, but they were right in that game.
I feel like this line suggests that we might see a limited Burrow take the field. If that’s the case, give me Cincinnati. If Burrow is ruled out, and we get a completely different betting line, check back here for an updated pick.
The pick: Bengals (-2.5)