NFL WEEK 3: While it may have been a forgettable start to Week 3, as Jacksonville thumped Tennessee 20-7 in a Thursday night slogfest that was only compelling if you’re a Jaguars supporter or a Gardner Minshew fanboy (guilty and guilty, fwiw), the drama was ratcheted up considerably on Friday afternoon when the New England Patriots unexpectedly released Antonio Brown. That all but guarantees that this season’s biggest off-field soap opera will continue to be the saga of Brown, an All-Pro who quit on the Steelers at the end of last season, was released by Oakland a few weeks ago after an almost comical series of events, and was then claimed by the NFL’s Evil Empire, where he seemed destined to be named Super Bowl MVP in a symbolic middle finger to all the haters.
But, alas, Brown couldn’t outrun his demons– or, better put, he didn’t have the surrounding support system and “fixers” who could make his problems go away, problems that are not all that uncommon for NFL players and other millionaire athletes (he’ll have to pay up eventually, anyway, and there seems to be very little difference between “accused” and “guilty” in the court of public opinion). Brown will resurface somewhere, at some point, and the Patriots will likely roll on to another division title. But the “video game” offense that everyone had envisioned– Tom Brady terrorizing defenses with Brown, Josh Gordon, and Julian Edelman– turned out to be a mirage.
Not that the situation will have much of an immediate effect on the Pats– they’re still favored by 22 this week (!!) over division rival New York, and by next week it’ll be easier to find snow in the Sahara than to get Bill Belichick to utter Brown’s name in a press conference. The Patriot Way is “moving on,” essentially.
As bettors we must take a similar approach– regardless of what happens, it’s on to the next game, or the next week. Last week was a successful one for us, as we struck paydirt with 3 of our 4 bets, but all will be forgotten (and all the money spent) if we can’t churn out a few more winners this week. With that in mind, here’s what I’m thinking:
Baltimore Ravens @ Kansas City Chiefs (KC -5, 52)
Recommendation: Baltimore +5 at 1.93
It’s awfully tough to bet against Kansas City these days. Andy Reid’s offense has been positively lethal with Patrick Mahomes at the helm, as the Chiefs have now scored 26 points or more in 20 consecutive games, an NFL record. But it’s getting harder– star wideout Tyreek Hill and starting left tackle Eric Fisher are injured and out, as is starting running back Damien Williams. So the skill position talent surrounding Mahomes these days is looking awfully thin, and while the offense was still able to put up 28 points in Oakland last week, you get the feeling that this unit isn’t quite as dangerous as it has been. The defense, meanwhile, is vulnerable– they ranked 31st (out of 32 teams) in yards allowed last season and began 2019 by giving up 346 passing yards to a Jacksonville team that lost its starting QB in the first quarter.
Baltimore gave these Chiefs a run in Week 14 of last season, losing 27-24 in overtime. Lamar Jackson, then a rookie, was effective with both his arm and his legs, and the defense was able to rough up Mahomes and force a couple of turnovers. Jackson is off to a terrific start this season, throwing for 596 yards on 71% completions through two games, and adding another 126 on the ground. Behind Jackson and the power running of tailbacks Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards, this Ravens offense has been a bully, not only churning out yards but also controlling the game, as Baltimore currently leads the NFL in time of possession. That stat could be crucial again the explosive Kansas City offense, obviously, and I don’t have much confidence in the ability of the Kansas City defense to get the Ravens off the field. I think Baltimore has a good shot to pull off the upset here, and 5 points feels like too many.
Cincinnati Bengals @ Buffalo Bills (Buf -6, 43.5)
Recommendation: Buffalo -6 at 1.98
Have you been paying attention to what’s been happening in Buffalo? The Bills are 2-0, led by a young playmaking quarterback who can burn a defense with both his arm and his legs. Their “no-name” collection of skill-position talent has provided some explosive plays through the first two weeks, with John Brown in particular developing a clear rapport with Josh Allen and giving the offense a legit downfield threat. The defense, meanwhile, has been downright nasty through two games, ranking third in the AFC in yards allowed while containing two of the NFL’s top running backs, Le’Veon Bell and Saquon Barkley. Sean McDermott has his system fully entrenched now, and I expect the Buffalo defense to be among the league’s best this season.
The Cincinnati defense, meanwhile, has major problems. In 2018 the Bengals finished last in the NFL in yards allowed, surrendering over 413 per game (to go along with 28.4 points per game), and after a surprising performance in Week 1, when they held the conservative Seattle offense in check, they returned to form last week, giving up a staggering 571 yards (!!) to a 49ers offense that had trouble getting a first down in a Week 1 win over Tampa Bay. The Cincinnati offense, meanwhile, has been utterly one-dimensional, as their 59 total rushing yards through two games is the second-fewest rushing yards an NFL team has produced in the first two games of a season since 1950. They’ve had trouble sustaining drives, too, with 14 of their 23 possessions this season lasting 6 plays or less. I expect the Buffalo defense to control this game and deliver an easy win for the home team.
Oakland Raiders @ Minnesota Vikings (Min -8.5, 43.5)
Recommendation: Minnesota -8.5 at 1.96
After an impressive Week 1 win over Atlanta, the Vikings suffered a disappointing loss in Green Bay last week, as quarterback Kirk Cousins completed only 14 of his 32 pass attempts and threw a couple of bad interceptions. There were some silver linings, however– the defense shut out the Packers in the second half and is looking a lot like the unit that ranked 4th in the NFL in yards allowed last season, and the running game, a point of emphasis in the offseason, continued to show great improvement, as Dalvin Cook piled up 154 yards on 20 carries. The Vikings currently rank second in the league in rushing, behind only Indianapolis, after ranking 30th in that category in 2018.
In Oakland, things seem to be moving in the wrong direction. Yes, the Raiders pulled out a Week 1 win over division rival Denver, but you have to be concerned about the offense– Tyrell Williams is now their best receiver and he’s questionable this week with a hip injury. Aside from him, you have Ryan Grant, who has essentially no-showed thus far, an injured J.J. Nelson, overwhelmed rookie Hunter Renfrew, and young tight end Darren Waller. The running game doesn’t exactly fill you with confidence, either, though rookie Josh Jacobs has flashed some potential. Frankly, it’s difficult to envision the Oakland offense having any real success against the Minnesota D, particularly at U.S. Bank Stadium, where the Vikings typically play so well. Look for Kirk Cousins to build some confidence against the vulnerable Raiders secondary, and for the home team to cruise to an easy victory here.
Chicago Bears @ Washington Redskins (Chi -4, 41)
Recommendation: Washington +4 at 1.93
The Bears should be riding a wave of good feelings after their improbable win in Denver last week, when new kicker Eddy Pineiro made a 53-yard field goal as time expired to stun the Broncos. But underneath the surface, there’s plenty to be concerned about in Chicago, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky has been downright awful so far this season, and he hasn’t been getting much help from the running game, as the Bears running backs have combined for just 118 yards on 36 carries through two games. It makes you wonder how Chicago is going to move the ball, not only this week, but going forward– I mean, can they really rely on the arm of Mitch Trubisky to win games? I have my doubts.
Fortunately for Trubisky, he’ll be facing a Redskins defense that played poorly in Dallas last week, surrendering 474 yards and 31 points in a 10-point loss. The Skins are now 0-2 after a season-opening loss to Philadelphia, but a closer examination reveals a team that may be better than most realize, particularly on offense. Quarterback Case Keenum looks extremely comfortable in Jay Gruden’s system, throwing for over 600 yards, 5 touchdowns, and zero interceptions through two games. Rookie receiver Terry McLaurin has flashed big-play ability, and the offensive line has played much better than expected without left tackle Trent Williams. It will be tough sledding against the excellent Chicago defense, that’s for sure, but the Bears do surrender an occasional big play in the passing game, and Keenum is a veteran who seems to be brimming with confidence. But this is really about the other side of the ball: Do you really trust Trubisky and that putrid Bears offense laying points on the road? That’s an easy answer for me.