NFL WEEK 3: It’s been a fun start to the NFL season, with points galore, young players making a mark, and some old faces getting adjusted to new teams. A rash of high profile injuries has been a bit of a buzzkill, but it seems like we say that every year, and in the “next man up” world of the NFL, life goes on.
Week 3 might have started with a whimper, as the Dolphins thumped the Jags on Thursday night in a clash of two AFC doormats, but it should end with bang– Green Bay visits New Orleans in Sunday’s late game, and then Monday night brings us the AFC Championship Game we were cheated out of last year: Chiefs vs. Ravens. The opportunity to back Kansas City as an underdog is incredibly tempting, but after watching Lamar Jackson shred an overmatched Houston defense last week, delivering us our only loss after sweeping the three early games, I’ve decided that there are better things to do with my money than bet against Baltimore. Might as well just ride ’em or get out of the way…
Here are a few I like this week:
San Francisco 49ers @ New York Giants (SF -3.5, 42.5)
Recommendation: New York +3.5 at 1.9
You could make an argument that this game is difficult to predict simply because of all the new faces on the San Francisco side: this is truly a different 49ers team than the one that took the field in Week 1. Not only will the Niners be without their starting quarterback, their top receiver, their top two running backs, and possibly All Pro tight end George Kittle; their defense will also be without several starters, including last season’s DROY Nick Bosa. Injuries and departures have totally defanged the once-mighty 49ers defense– they registered 377 total QB pressures in 2019, and they’ll be without an astounding 269 of those on Sunday. The Giants have injury issues of their own with Saquon Barkley out for the year, but the offense has really become more centered around the passing of Daniel Jones, who has made clear strides and looks like the long-term answer at the position if he can clean up the turnovers. New York showed some fight last week in coming back from a 17-point halftime deficit and nearly beating the Bears in Chicago, and I have a feeling a victory might be in the cards against the depleted 49ers.
Washington Football Team @ Cleveland Browns (CLE -7, 44.5)
Recommendation: Cleveland -7 at 1.91
The Browns have had a disappointing start to the season on the defensive side of the ball, giving up 68 combined points in their first two games. They’ve been pretty decent against the run, however, and they’ve already faced Baltimore, the best rushing team in the league a season ago. The secondary is where all the problems have been, but those guys have a golden opportunity to turn it around this week against a Washington team with one of the most anemic passing attacks in football. Dwayne Haskins has been skittish in the pocket and tentative when throwing it downfield, which isn’t unusual for a young QB who’s learning a new offense, and he doesn’t really have any difference-makers on the perimeter with the exception of Terry McLaurin. His counterpart on Sunday, Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield, is coming off potentially his best game as a pro in the Browns 35-30 win over Cincinnati last week and is surrounded by playmakers galore. If his line can keep his upright on Sunday in the face of a Washington pass rush that has tallied a league-leading 11 sacks thus far, he’ll be able to pick apart the shaky WFT secondary. A double-digit Cleveland win is the most likely outcome here.
Chicago Bears @ Atlanta Falcons (ATL -3.5, 46.5)
Recommendation: Atlanta -3.5 at 1.97
You’re not going to find a more gut-wrenching loss than the one Atlanta endured last week, as the Falcons snatched defeat from the jaws of certain victory thanks to a combination of bad luck, poor coaching, and general bone-headedness (the players just watching the onside kick slowly wobble to the 10-yard mark, instead of jumping on it, will be the enduring image of the Dan Quinn era if/when he’s fired). That being said, it’s important we don’t miss the forest for the trees– despite another tough loss, we should recognize that the Atlanta offense is one of the most explosive units in the league, with Matt Ryan currently averaging over 350 yards per game (!) through the air. Even with Julio Jones limping around on a bad hamstring, Ryan has some potent perimeter weapons at his disposal in Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage, and new acquisition Hayden Hurst has already made his mark as a between-the-numbers threat. The Bears are strong defensively, but facing Ryan and these Falcons in the Dome is a much different challenge than slowing down the Lions or Giants, Chicago’s first two opponents. And if you want to buy in to the “new” Mitch Trubisky, be my guest. I don’t trust him, and I don’t trust the Chicago offense with him at the helm, making this a “get well” spot for the Atlanta defense. Look for the Falcons to break through with their first win of the season.
Green Bay Packers @ New Orleans Saints (NO -3, 52.5)
Recommendation: New Orleans -3 at 1.9
The headliners in this game are the quarterbacks, future Hall of Famers Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees, but given that both will be without their top perimeter weapons, I’m not sure we’ll see the old-fashioned shootout that many are expecting. The Green Bay defense has struggled against the run thus far, surrendering 5.2 yards per carry (30th out of 32 teams), so I expect they’ll get a large dose of Alvin Kamara with a healthy side portion of Taysom Hill, a combo that’s proven awfully difficult for even good NFL defenses to stop over the past couple of years. The Packers have a potent rushing attack of their own led by Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams, but the Saints are strong in the defensive front seven and have surrendered just 3.3 yards per rush through two games. You see where I’m going here: the Saints should be able to run all over the Pack, while Green Bay is likely to find the sledding a little tougher against the New Orleans D. Rodgers will surely find some holes in the exploitable New Orleans secondary, but Brees will be doing his thing as well, and the Saints are awfully tough to beat in the Superdome. Gimme the home team.