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NFL WEEK 3: The first two weeks of the NFL season have reminded us that while some things change, others remain the same: the Jags, Jets and Lions still can’t get out of their own way; the road to the Super Bowl still goes through Tom Brady; Christian McCaffrey is injured once again; Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs still can’t be stopped; and the NFL’s replay review system is still awful, only now with a new twist– it seems there’s been an epidemic of getting calls wrong even AFTER seeing the replay. When your wife starts asking you if you think that certain officials are betting on games, you know it’s bad.

Week 3 began with a yawner on Thursday night, as Carolina won the battle by outlasting the hapless Texans but lost the war by losing both CMC and promising rookie cornerback Jaycee Horn to injuries. Matt Rhule has the Panthers at 3-0 and sitting atop the NFC South standings, but things are about to get bumpy as they embark on a stretch that includes teams like Dallas, New England, and Arizona without their best player.

This week’s slate is highlighted by Tampa’s trip out West to face the L.A. Rams, a team that has a new spark with QB Matt Stafford and will now get a true test against the Super Bowl champs. Other interesting matchups include the Sunday nighter in San Francisco, with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers coming to town to face the Niners, and a battle for supremacy in the AFC South between the Colts and Titans (I know it’s early, but that division already looks like a two-team race… it’s difficult to imagine the Texans or Jags putting up a serious challenge). Here are some thoughts on that one and three others:

Indianapolis Colts @ Tennessee Titans (TEN -5.5, 48.5)

Recommendation: Tennessee -5.5 at 1.92

At halftime of last week’s game, the Titans were staring down trouble: after a disappointing opening-week loss to Arizona they were now facing a 24-9 deficit in Seattle, with Russell Wilson having led the Seahawks to three 2nd-quarter touchdowns. And then, Derrick Henry happened: three 2nd-half TDs and 182 total rushing yards were enough to carry Tennessee to victory and get the season moving in the right direction. The Titans now return home to face division rival Indianapolis, a team that has lost its first two games but played the Rams tough last week in a 27-24 defeat. Unfortunately for the Colts, their oft-injured QB Carson Wentz sprained BOTH of his ankles in last week’s game and was replaced by the untested Jacob Eason for the team’s final two drives, which were unsuccessful. Wentz is officially questionable for this one, but given how bad the Indianapolis o-line has been so far, there’s certainly no guarantee that Wentz will finish the game even if he starts it. These teams know each other well and the road team has won the last five meetings, but this feels like an awfully tough spot for Indy, particularly with Wentz limping around. I expect Ryan Tannehill and the Tennessee passing attack to get it going this week in a relatively comfortable Titans win.

Cincinnati Bengals @ Pittsburgh Steelers (PIT -3, 43.5)

Recommendation: Cincinnati +3 at 2.02

While I surely won’t bet on Cincinnati every week, they are definitely a team that I’ve been watching closely thus far, and after upsetting Minnesota in Week 1 they nearly overcame three Joe Burrow interceptions last week to beat the Bears. Bottom line: these Bengals are better than people thought they would be, and they will continue to be a good value until the market catches up. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, may have some serious problems– the o-line has been terrible, which is a big reason why the Steelers rank last in the NFL in rushing despite investing a first-round pick in running back Najee Harris, and the Bengals have been excellent against the run thus far, surrendering just 3.4 yards per carry. That means the offensive burden will fall on Ben Roethlisberger, the 39-year old QB who doesn’t have the pop in his arm that he once did. Roethlisberger’s counterpart on Sunday, Joe Burrow, will be facing a Steelers secondary that was shredded by Derek Carr last week to the tune of 382 yards and 2 TDs, so I’m sure Burrow and his dangerous receiving corps are licking their chops for this one. Recent history in this rivalry is ugly if you’re a Bengals fan– Pittsburgh has won 14 of the past 16 meetings– but things are changing in Cincy, and if the Steelers don’t know that yet, they will soon.

New York Jets @ Denver Broncos (DEN -10.5, 41.5)

Recommendation: Denver -10.5 at 1.93

In what is a critical year for Denver coach Vic Fangio, I’m sure he smiled wide when he saw that his team would open the season with the Giants, Jaguars, and Jets. The Broncos have taken care of business so far, winning their first two games by double-digits, and now, for their first home game of 2021, they get the squad that just might be the worst of the bunch: the sad-sack Jets, a team coming off a 25-6 pasting at the hands of New England. This matchup spells trouble for New York– Denver may not have the most explosive offense in the world, but the defense is elite, ranking in the top-5 in every major statistical category through two weeks (I know it’s early, but the Denver D was excellent last year as well, so this not an aberration). The Jets, meanwhile, have scored the second-fewest points in the league and have nothing resembling an offensive identity– they can’t run the ball (and they’ll be without RB Tevin Coleman this week, which won’t help), and rookie QB Zach Wilson has been a deer in the headlights thus far, completing just 55% of his passes and throwing 5 interceptions to just 2 touchdowns. There’s a legitimate chance that the Denver defense outscores the New York offense in this game– that’s how ugly I expect it to be when the Jets have the ball. Laying a double-digit number is never fun, but the Broncos are the right side here.

Miami Dolphins @ Las Vegas Raiders (LV -4, 44)

Recommendation: Miami +4 at 1.91

Las Vegas has been one of the NFL’s surprise teams thus far, pulling off upset wins over the Ravens and Steelers. The Dolphins, on the other hand, are coming off a 35-0 shellacking at the hands of Buffalo, a game in which they lost their starting quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa, to a rib injury. And now Miami travels across the country with a backup QB to face an undefeated team… buddy, believe me when I tell you that this number stinks to high heaven. Joe Public and his grandmother are tripping over themselves to get down on the Raiders here, and if you’re like me, that will give you some serious pause. But I want you to remember a couple of things: first, the Dolphins have a good defense. The score of last week’s game is a bit deceiving, as Buffalo QB Josh Allen threw for a mere 179 yards and the Bills also struggled to run the ball with the exception of a long Devin Singletary TD scamper. This will not be an easy game for Derek Carr and the Vegas offense. And then there’s the Miami QB situation: the worst kept secret in the NFL is that Tua, the 5th overall pick in 2020 who just about everybody (including me) said was a can’t-miss, hasn’t actually been very good in the NFL thus far. There’s a good chance that his backup, seasoned vet Jacoby Brissett, will be just as effective (possibly more effective?) in leading the Miami offense. The Raiders are soft in the secondary, so Brissett will have every opportunity to make plays down the field in this one, and with guys like DeVante Parker and Jaylen Waddle at his disposal, the potential for fireworks is certainly there. Don’t be surprised if Miami raises some eyebrows here by pulling off the upset.