NFL WEEK 3: It’s amazing how much things can change from one week to the next in the NFL, isn’t it? That’s particularly true in the first two weeks 0f the season, when the moods of certain fanbases will swing wildly from one game to the next based on performance, injuries, the emergence of new players, and other factors (like, say, their account balance).
Take, for instance, Dallas: after a Week 1 that saw the Cowboys lose both a game and, more importantly, star QB Dak Prescott to a hand injury that will require surgery, the vibe given off by both the fans and owner Jerry Jones, perched up in his luxury suite, was somewhere between devastation and panic. Fast-forward one week and all is rosy again after an upset of Cincinnati that saw new QB Cooper Rush outplay Bengals signal-caller Joe Burrow. Jones went so far as to say this week that he would “welcome” a quarterback controversy because it would mean the team was winning under Rush. All is well again in Jerryworld… until next week.
Or how about the folks in my hometown of Jacksonville, where the usual gloom and doom has been replaced by wall-to-wall talk of playoffs and division titles on local talk radio after a single win, the franchise’s fifth in its last 34 games. I’m sure it’s the same in places like Detroit and Arizona, while a harsh dose of Week 2 reality darkened the mood in Seattle, Minnesota, Baltimore, and elsewhere.
Followers of this column should’ve been pleased with the results last week, as Arizona’s improbable comeback win over Vegas was all that spoiled an otherwise perfect Sunday. Let’s keep it going with these four:
New Orleans Saints @ Carolina Panthers (NO -2, 41)
Recommendation: Carolina moneyline (to win) at 2.15
I’m telling you right now: the Saints are a fraud. The defense, the supposed strength of the team, has been pushed around up front in its two games this season, surrendering 273 combined rushing yards despite not facing the caliber of rushing attack that they’ll see on Sunday when they visit Carolina and have to chase down Christian McCaffrey. On the other side of the ball, Alvin Kamara has cracked ribs, Jameis Winston has been mistake-prone, throwing 3 interceptions and taking 10 sacks in two games, and the new-look offensive line has struggled badly. Carolina is 0-2 but the two losses have come by a combined 5 points, and Winston will have to contend with a Panthers secondary that leads the NFL in yards allowed per pass attempt (4.8) and has surrendered fewer total passing yards in this young season than every team but Buffalo and San Francisco. New Orleans has no business being favored in this spot.
Houston Texans @ Chicago Bears (CHI -2.5, 39.5)
Recommendation: Houston +2.5 at 1.99; Houston moneyline (to win) at 2.26
The Bears pulled out a win in their home opener before taking their usual whipping at the hands of Green Bay last week, and I’m sure this game– a home game against the Texans– was checked off as a likely ‘W’ prior to the season. After all, Houston was expected to be among the worst teams in the league– no star power, no proven commodity at quarterback, young players getting heavy minutes, a retread coach… but based on what we’ve seen so far, the players missed the memo.
The Texans are 2-0 against the number after battling the Colts to a tie in Week 1 and then losing a tight, one-score game in Denver last week, and they enter this game a slight underdog despite facing a team that is struggling badly on both sides of the ball. You read that right– everyone knows the offense is terrible in Chicago, but what most don’t realize is that the Bears are last in the NFL in run defense through two weeks, surrendering nearly 190 yards per game and 5.1 yards per carry. The Texans have a balanced offense and QB Davis Mills has been much more productive than his counterpart on Sunday, Chicago’s Justin Fields, so I expect the Houston offense to move the ball consistently in this game. This is another “wrong team favored” situation– the Texans win this one outright.
Detroit Lions @ Minnesota Vikings (MIN -6, 52.5)
Recommendation: Minnesota -6 at 1.91
Minnesota is coming off a short week after getting spanked in Philadelphia on Monday night, and the Lions, despite their struggles, have played the Vikings tight in recent years, with each of the last three games between these teams having been decided by exactly 2 points. That said, I think this is a great matchup for the Minnesota offense– the Lions are a fun team to watch but they’re still undermanned on defense, particularly up front, and they’ve really struggled against the run so far, surrendering 152 rush yards per game and 5.1 yards per carry. Vikings running back Dalvin Cook has tortured the Lions throughout his career, averaging 106 ypg and scoring 6 touchdowns in six games, and he should have no problem finding running lanes once again, especially since Detroit will have to focus much of the defensive attention on Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson, perhaps the premier wideout in the league. The Lions should be able to put up some points themselves, but they’ll be outgunned in this one.
Atlanta Falcons @ Seattle Seahawks (SEA -1, 42)
Recommendation: Atlanta moneyline (to win) at 1.99
Much like the Houston Texans, the Falcons were labeled as one of the worst teams in the league before the games even started, with some even going so far as to suggest that owner Arthur Blank was “tanking” the season to improve the team’s draft position. But coach Arthur Smith’s decision to bring in quarterback Marcus Mariota, who Smith had worked with in Tennessee, is paying dividends, and the Falcons offense has been quite productive through two games, scoring 53 combined points and ranking 6th in the league in rushing behind Cordarrelle Patterson and the mobile Mariota. I’m not sure a Seahawks defense that is allowing over 400 ypg is going to have many answers for the Mariota-led Atlanta attack, and it’s difficult to trust the Seattle offense with Geno Smith at the helm, especially after watching them put up just 216 total yards in a 20-point loss to San Francisco last week. Atlanta is the play here.