Spread picks for NFL Week 3
Week 2 presented another exciting week of NFL football, one in which we were able to go 8-6 against the spread. This followed an 8-5-1 performance from Week 1. Below I give my spread predictions for Week 3. In both Week 1 and 2, we were 4-2 in games where our spread was 2 or more points different from Vegas’ spread. There happen to be nine such games on this slate, a collection of games in which two weeks’ worth of 2016 PFF data are integrated into our prediction model. For picks of the Thursday Night Football contests, follow me on Twitter (@EricEager82).
Cardinals (-4) at Bills
Prediction: Cardinals win by 1
After firing their offensive coordinator last week, the Bills face a Cardinals defense with six starters owning overall grades above 80.0, and another three above 70.0. This could spell trouble for Buffalo QB Tyrod Taylor, who has regressed a bit after a good season a year ago, with just the 19th-highest PFF QB Rating in the NFL (85.83), a year after finishing eighth in the same category. Buffalo comes home after an extended break, however, and their defense still features Ronald Darby and Stephon Gilmore, who, like Taylor, are looking to return to their 2015 form, where they both surrendered passer ratings of less than 85.0 into their coverage.
Raiders at Titans (-1.5)
Prediction: Raiders win by 1
As the prediction would indicate, this is probably the trickiest pick of the week. After much fanfare this offseason, the new-look Raiders defense has really struggled so far, with free-agent newcomers Sean Smith (40.0) and Reggie Nelson (42.4) failing to meet expectations, while up-and-comer Mario Edwards is already out for the season with an injury. With David Amerson in concussion protocol this week, and Malcolm Smith (37.2), Ben Heeney (60.3) and Keith McGill (47.7) providing little resistance in the middle of the field, there will be opportunities for Marcus Mariota, Delanie Walker, and the Tennessee offense on Sunday. However, Derek Carr and the Raiders’ offense, which has the NFL’s top cumulative grade by quite a large margin, should be able to outscore even Tennessee’s best offensive performance this week on the road.
Washington at Giants (-4.5)
Prediction: Giants win by 3
Returns have been good thus far on the new Giants’ defense, holding both opponents so far to under 20 points and boasting a total pass-coverage grade ranking sixth out of the entire NFL. They’ll look to continue the slow start of Kirk Cousins, whose stats suggest at least something of a rebound soon; he has a respectable 14th-best adjusted completion percentage (74.1) this season, and has been pretty accurate under pressure (71.4 adjusted completion percentage under pressure, good for sixth in the NFL). I have a feeling that whomever gets the best of the Josh Norman-Odell Beckham Jr. matchup should come out ahead in this one.
Browns at Dolphins (-9.5)
Prediction: Dolphins win by 5
The Dolphins come home for the first time to a Browns team that starts their fifth quarterback in as many games. Both Cleveland and Miami were competitive last week against undefeated teams, but the Dolphins, with strong play this season in the middle of the defense from Ndamukong Suh (84.4), Kiko Alonso (81.2), Reshad Jones (80.4), and Isa Adbul-Quddus (81.3), should be able to stymie rookie Cody Kessler, who was just the 75th-highest-graded quarterback this preseason, and is without rookie wideout Corey Coleman (broken hand) and Josh Gordon (suspension). A spread of 9.5 points towards a winless team is a large figure, however.
Ravens (-1) at Jaguars
Prediction: Jaguars win by 2
The Ravens are 2-0, and have the fourth-highest total PFF grade among the 32 NFL teams so far. The Jaguars are 0-2 and sit at 29th in the same list. That said, the Jaguars are at home, and they still have Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns running routes for Blake Bortles. Jacksonville faces a Baltimore secondary where Shareece Wright and Ladarius Webb both struggled last week in Cleveland, after having a strong Week 1 against the Bills. Bortles, with an improved offensive line of starters who all own grades above 70.0, should have enough time to get the ball downfield to Robinson and Hurns, who are unlikely to yield a three-peat of negatively-graded games.
Lions (-7.5) at Packers
Prediction: Packers win by 7
After ending their 24-game road losing streak to the Packers, the Lions return to Green Bay as something of an enigma, having beaten the Colts on the road in a shootout before being held to 14 points at home last week to the Titans. The Packers have some similar strengths defensively as Jurrell Casey and Tennessee—namely interior defender Mike Daniels, who has a run-stop percentage of 10.5 (11th among 3-4 DEs) and a pass-rushing productivity of 11.3 (second). If Daniels and Green Bay’s defensive line take advantage of the Lions’ offensive line, specifically Laken Tomlinson (44.0), the Packers should be able to win this one at home.
Broncos at Bengals (-3)
Prediction: Bengals win by 1
This is one of the more compelling games of the weekend, with wide receiver A.J. Green (just 38 yards and a drop on seven targets last week) and the Bengals looking to rebound at home against the undefeated Broncos. It’s going to be a difficult week to get back on track, since Denver boasts one of the best cornerback duos in the league in Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. Both Harris and Talib surrendered less than 50 yards last week and 50 percent or less completion percentages in coverage against Andrew Luck and the Colts. With Green lacking a substantial running mate at the receiver position, look for Denver to cover this one on the road.
Vikings at Panthers (-7)
Prediction: Panthers win by 4
After the injury-riddled Vikings largely shut down Aaron Rodgers and the Packers last week, their reward is a road date against Cam Newton and the Panthers. Newton has been great so far this season, accumulating the fifth-best grade (86.6) among quarterbacks through two games. With RB Jonathan Stewart out, more of an emphasis will be placed on Carolina’s passing game, meaning Minnesota’ defensive front, led statistically thus far by a couple of backups in Danielle Hunter (10.6 pass-rushing productivity; 10th among 4-3 DEs) and Tom Johnson (10.2 pass rushing productivity; fourth among 4-3 defensive tackles), will need to be able to put enough pressure on Newton throughout the game. Look for said Vikings’ defense to make enough plays to keep this one close.
Rams at Buccaneers (-5.5)
Prediction: Buccaneers win by 3
The Rams have more wins than touchdowns this season, with an offensive line boasting just one player with an overall grade above 50.0 thus far this season. This has impacted star running back Todd Gurley, who actually averages more yards per carry after contact (2.8) than yards per carry overall (2.7). The Bucs’ Gerald McCoy, who has rebounded nicely from a down season a year ago, and Robert Ayers are more than capable of helping the Rams continue this trend. Both Ayers and McCoy have graded well against the run, combining for eight stops thus far through two games. Be that as it may, 5.5 points is a lot to give a young and inconsistent team, even one playing at home.
49ers at Seahawks (-9.5)
Prediction: Seahawks win by 8
The Seahawks return home after scoring just three points on the road against the Rams a week after generating just 12 at home against the Dolphins. The offensive-line issues in Seattle are real, with only one player (Justin Britt) earning an overall above 50.0 thus far this season. They face a 49ers’ front that includes youngsters Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner, both of whom have pass-rushing productivity marks in the top seven among 3-4 defensive ends (Armstead is first among that group). The Seahawks should get healthy a bit at home this week, but the absence of Thomas Rawls—and the nagging ankle injury to Russell Wilson—make it difficult to imagine them covering a spread as big as 9.5 points.
Jets at Chiefs (-3)
Prediction: Chiefs win by 5
After ending their 11-game regular-season winning streak last week in Houston, the Chiefs come home to face a Jets’ team fresh off a fantastic performance offensively against the Bills—specifically against Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby through the air. While the Chiefs have Marcus Peters, coming off a solid performance in Week 2 against DeAndre Hopkins, he cannot cover Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, and Quincy Enunwa by himself. The Chiefs’ edge defenders, Tamba Hali and Dee Ford, will need to take advantage of the Jets’ platoon of Ben Ijalana (63.4) and Brent Qvale (46.5) at right tackle, and the struggling Ryan Clady (46.5) at left tackle in order to compensate for a secondary that is still adjusting to losing three key players from last season. A regression to the mean for Ryan Fitzpatrick, fresh off arguably his best game as a pro last week, should help the Chiefs cover the spread at home.
Chargers at Colts (-3)
Prediction: Colts win by 4
The Chargers were fantastic last week, generating 38 points and holding a potentially high-powered Jacksonville offense to just two touchdowns. The Colts hung tough with Denver on the road, but were ultimately unable to overcome poor offensive-line play against the Broncos’ elite-level defense. The big question in this one is who deals with injuries more robustly, as key contributors, Vontae Davis, Darius Butler, and Donte Moncrief will be missing in action for the Colts, while Keenan Allen and Danny Woodhead are out for the Chargers.
Steelers (3.5) at Eagles
Prediction: Steelers win by 2
Can Carson Wentz continue to play at the level that has made him the highest-graded quarterback in the league for two weeks? Even if he does, will it be enough to keep up with a Steelers’ offense that has yet to miss a beat, despite playing the first two games without star running back Le’Veon Bell? The Steelers’ secondary, which was very good last week in holding A.J. Green to 38 yards on seven targets, should be able to contain a mediocre Eagles receiving corps enough for the Steelers to win a close one on the road against the rookie QB and new head coach.
Bears at Cowboys (-7)
Prediction: Cowboys win by (-4)
This battle of backup quarterbacks may come down to how well the re-tooled Bears defense—missing Danny Trevathan, Pernell McPhee, Lamarr Houston, Eddie Goldman and Kyle Fuller—can hold up against rookie runner Ezekiel Elliott and the offensive line of the Cowboys. The Cowboys’ front five and Elliott have disappointed thus far, averaging just 3.3 yards per carry and grading out as just the 47th-best running back through two weeks. If the Bears’ defense can hold up, there should be enough mismatches between Alshon Jeffery and the historically-deficient outside corners of Dallas for Brian Hoyer to have enough success for the Bears to cover the spread.
Falcons at Saints (-3)
Prediction: Saints win by 3
At one time, this matchup dictated the NFC South crown on a yearly basis. Now, the Saints march home looking to avoid an 0-3 start and a two-game hole in the division race. Julio Jones, averaging 2.49 yards per route run despite being hobbled with injuries, faces a New Orleans secondary even more starved for health, with last week’s starter P.J. Williams heading to IR after being injured last week, and Delvin Breaux unlikely to play this week as well. The Saints’ offensive line has played well so far, generating the second-best pass blocking efficiency in the entire league (89.0). This should give Drew Brees enough time to connect with Brandin Cooks (14th-best grade among wide receivers) and Willie Snead (eighth) and avoid a winless trio of weeks to start the season.