As always, you can check out The Nickel Package podcast, which includes my top five plays in order of confidence for the week. Each week, Joe Fortenbaugh from the National Football Post joins me to analyze those picks and provide additional insight to the games I’ve selected. You can listen or download the MP3 file here.
The Nickel Package Record: 5-3-2 ATS (60%)Unfortunately, I added a couple of losing plays in the blog to finish .500 in Week 2.Recommended Wagers Record: 7-5-2 ATS (57%)
But that’s all in the past. It’s time for this week.
San Diego Chargers @ Tennessee Titans
Friday Line: Titans -3, total of 43.5
Public Consensus: 71% on the Chargers, 92% on the over
The Pick: San Diego looked very good offensively against Philadelphia last weekend, but it’s hard not to look good offensively against the Eagles’ defense. After mustering only 263 total yards of offense against Houston in Week 1, the Chargers picked up 539 against Philadelphia; including a rare 400-yard performance from Philip Rivers. I’d say the Titans’ defense is closer to Houston’s than Philadelphia’s, so I wouldn’t expect a duplicate performance from Rivers this week. Prior to last week’s contest against the Eagles, Rivers had thrown for over 300 yards in only three of his last 24 starts. The difference for the Chargers this season is that they’ve been able to keep their quarterback upright, surrendering just three sacks in their first two contests. The Titans will pose a big threat though, as they’ve managed seven sacks on defense this season. Tennessee’s biggest weakness is in run defense, where they finished in the bottom half of the league last season, but I’m still not confident in San Diego’s running game. Ryan Mathews has averaged a meager 3.7 yards per carry to start the season, and Danny Woodhead and Ronnie Brown are more effective as pass catching backs than they are on ground. I just don’t see the Chargers moving the ball consistently here.
While the Chargers’ offense has carried the team to start the season, it’s been the opposite for the Titans. Tennessee’s offense has totaled an embarrassing 477 yards through the first two games of the season—less yardage than San Diego racked up in one game against Philadelphia. If there was ever a game to get things going, this would be it. The Chargers are last in the league in pass defense through the first two weeks of the season. Jake Locker struggled mightily in his first career start against San Diego last season, completing only 50% of his passes for 174 yards, but that game was on the road, where Locker’s career quarterback rating is a full ten points lower than at home. Locker will need to rely heavily on his running game in order to be able to work out of manageable situations. Chris Johnson has produced 166 yards on the ground but it’s taken him 50 carries to do so. I’ll give Johnson a pass for the poor average because he’s gone up against the Steelers and Texans, two of the league’s top seven rush defenses from a year ago. Unfortunately, things don’t get easier this week as San Diego was also in the league’s upper echelon in run defense a year ago, surrendering a stingy 96.4 yards per game on the ground.
Call me crazy but I’m just not sold on the Chargers yet. Every time there seems to be optimism in San Diego, they turn in a stinker. Tennessee will be ready to go in their home opener and I give them a slight edge here.
Titans 17, Chargers 13
The Wager: It’s tough to make any play on this game. I think Tennessee is the better team and they have home field advantage, but I don’t know what their mentality will be like after a heartbreaking loss to the rival Texans last weekend. I also strongly considered a play on the under but both quarterbacks are turnover machines, so it’s entirely possible that there are some defensive scores and/or plenty of short fields on offense all game. Pass
The Trend: The Chargers are 0-5 ATS in their last 5 games following a straight up win.
Cleveland Browns @ Minnesota Vikings
Friday Line: Vikings -6.5, total of 41
Public Consensus: 96% on the Vikings, 96% on the under
The Pick: First things first, let it be known that I absolutely despise Michael Lombardi for making me have to re-do this write-up. It’s already tough enough to do a Browns-Vikings write-up, but to re-write it? That’s just one of the most painful things you can ask a human being to do. The Cleveland Browns were considered by many to be an AFC dark horse this season, but that thought has vanished from everyone’s mind after their atrocious start to the season. The Browns are 0-2 and have managed to score a measly 16 points through their first two games. To make matters worse (or possibly better, I don’t really know), Brandon Weeden has been ruled out for this contest, and Cleveland turns to a man half his age, Brian Hoyer. Hoyer has started only one career NFL game and didn’t really look good, completing just 56% of his passes and averaging 6.6 yards per attempt in the process. The good news for Hoyer is that there are a handful of defenses that you wouldn’t mind being thrust into the fire against, and the Vikings are one of them. Minnesota boasts an extremely young secondary that has already been victimized for 639 passing yards on the season, despite trailing for the majority of their games. Minnesota also hasn’t been very good against opposing ground games, though their struggles against the Lions in Week 1 can be attributed to the absence of defensive tackle Kevin Williams. That shouldn’t matter much though as the Browns just shipped Trent Richardson out of town and are now left with Chris Ogbonnaya and Bobby Rainey as their ball carriers—yikes.
On the other side of things, I’m not actually sure that the Vikings have the better quarterback in this contest. This shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone —Christian Ponder blows. Ponder has already turned the ball over five times in two games this season, which now gives him a whopping 37 career turnovers in 29 career games. He’s only accounted for 35 touchdowns in that span which is just pathetic. The chances of Ponder actually making plays downfield in this contest are extremely slim because unlike the Vikings, the Browns actually have a pretty solid pass defense. Cleveland has limited Miami and Baltimore to just 37 points so far this season and that’s pretty incredible when you consider the fact that Brandon Weeden has been turning the ball over left and right. Joe Haden will completely shut down Greg Jennings, which means that Ponder will have to look to his less reliable secondary targets all afternoon. As is usually the case with Minnesota, Adrian Peterson will have to have a monstrous game for the Vikings to score any points. Peterson is as capable as any back in the league but Cleveland will surely place an emphasis on shutting him down, especially without the threat of getting beat downfield. The Browns have given up a stingy 119 yards on the ground in their first two games this season and Peterson has been kept in check by both the Lions and Bears.
I was ready to pick the Browns in an upset until Michael Lombardi had to go ahead and mess everything up. Cleveland competed for three quarters with Miami and Baltimore despite their offense literally producing nothing. Unfortunately, the Richardson trade essentially let everyone in the Cleveland locker room know that management has given up on their season.
Vikings 20, Browns 13
The Wager: This is now the most unbettable (is that even a word?) game of the week in my eyes. I’m not exactly in a hurry to jump on board with 96% of the public and back the Vikings. Pass
The Trend: The Vikings are 2-9-1 ATS in their last 12 games as a favorite.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ New England Patriots
Friday Line: Patriots -7, total of 44
Public Consensus: 64% on the Patriots, 78% on the under
The Pick: The Buccaneers have managed to lose their first two games in the most heartbreaking ways possible. Ordinarily, I’d question Tampa Bay’s mindset heading into this game, but the Bucs can’t afford to be flat in this contest as their season is pretty much on the line. I wasn’t very high on Tampa Bay heading into this season, but I kind of like this matchup for their offense. New England’s defensive front seven has been getting torched on the ground, giving up a total of 265 yards on the ground to the Bills and Jets. Doug Martin went off for 144 yards on the ground against the Saints last week and that was without stud left guard Carl Nicks in the lineup. Martin should conceivably be able to duplicate that performance again this week and take some pressure off of the shoulders of Josh Freeman. Freeman is one of the worst quarterbacks in the league and has almost no chance of carving up an improved Patriots’ secondary, but he can definitely be serviceable in this matchup. In many ways, Freeman is comparable to Geno Smith, who managed to keep the Jets within striking distance of the Patriots for last week’s entire contest. Tampa Bay’s offensive line has held up admirably thus far, and New England has only managed four sacks on defense this season, so Freeman should have time to scan the field and make some throws.
Ultimately though, the Buccaneers’ defense is going to need to have another strong game to keep this game close. I’m not buying into the public belief that the Patriots’ offense is going to get better this week because they’ve had extra time to prepare. New England is seriously lacking quality personnel on the offensive side of the ball. Whether it’s frequent drops or running incorrect routes, the Patriots can’t cure the fact their receiving core is extremely young and inexperienced. Tampa Bay also catches a break here with safety Dashon Goldson’s suspension being overturned by the league. The Bucs also have two other elite defensive playmakers in Darrelle Revis and Mark Barron, and are fresh off of a quality performance against Drew Brees and his plethora of weapons. New England isn’t likely to take any pressure off of Tom Brady through the running game either. Tampa Bay was by far the best run defense in the league last season, giving up a paltry 82.5 yards per game on the ground; a full eight yards less than the next best run defense. Stevan Ridley couldn’t get anything going against the Jets’ front seven last week, so there’s no reason to believe he’ll be able to provide anything on the ground this week.
People are expecting the Patriots to eventually return to the dynamic offense that we’ve seen in years past, but Tom Brady can only do so much. The Bucs match up well with the Patriots and played a close contest with the Jets in Week 1—the same Jets that took the Patriots down to the wire last Thursday. Both teams have played back-to-back nail biters and I don’t see this game being much different.
Patriots 20, Buccaneers 16
The Wager: It’s always nerve racking betting against the Patriots, especially when you’re backing a second-rate squad, but I don’t see New England as a team that should be laying a touchdown against very many teams right now. The Patriots still have a long ways to go in terms of chemistry on the offensive side of the ball, so I’ll gladly take the points here. Buccaneers +7
The Trend: The Buccaneers are 7-2 ATS in their last 9 road games.
Houston Texans @ Baltimore Ravens
Friday Line: Texans -1.5, total of 45
Public Consensus: 65% on the Texans, 60% on the over
The Pick: The Houston Texans have been far from impressive to start the season. The Texans may be 2-0 but comeback wins over the Chargers and Titans don’t exactly instill confidence in bettors. The Ravens will be a huge step up in competition this weekend. Houston has excelled at running the ball in the past few years, but Baltimore has done very well against the run to start the season, limiting the Browns and Broncos to an average of 65 yards on the ground. The Texans may also be without their dependable left tackle Duane Brown this week due to a bad case of turf toe, which will undoubtedly hurt their ability to block Terrell Suggs on the outside. Arian Foster and Ben Tate will get their yardage but it won’t come as easy as it did against the Chargers or Titans. Meanwhile, the Texans’ aerial attack also has some serious question marks. Matt Schaub has tossed three picks in his first two starts and is one of only five starting quarterbacks yet to complete a pass of 35 yards or more. Andre Johnson will play after suffering a concussion last week but he shouldn’t find too much success down the field against Lardarius Webb. DeAndre Hopkins and Owen Daniels provide great secondary targets for the Texans but they’ll struggle to move the ball consistently against one of the leagues’ better defenses.
The Ravens’ 14-point output against the Browns last weekend would indicate that they’ve also struggled to move the ball, but that number is very deceiving. Baltimore moved the ball with great success in the second half against Cleveland, but a Ray Rice fumble and a dumb penalty only allowed for a pair of touchdowns to be scored. Baltimore has a good chance to get things going in this contest. Houston’s defense has surrendered 52 points to two of the leagues’ weaker offenses and should have their hands full again this week. Ray Rice’s hip flexor is a big concern for Baltimore, but Bernard Pierce has proven that he can be a very capable replacement. Pierce received the majority of Ravens’ carries down the stretch last season and picked up 212 yards on the ground against the Giants and Bengals in the final two weeks of the year. The Ravens should also be able to move the ball pretty consistently through the air. While I’ve been critical of Joe Flacco in the past, he’s been very dominant in his career at home. Last season, Flacco had a 99.0 QB rating at M&T Bank Stadium, throwing for nearly 300 yards per game and accounting for a solid 18 touchdowns. The Texans have small cornerbacks that will have a tough time matching up with Torrey Smith and the 6-foot-5 free agent find, Marlon Brown.
People often forget how dominant the Ravens can be at home. Baltimore is 24-3 in their last 27 home games, losing to the Steelers twice, and to the Broncos last season. Based on what I’ve seen from the Texans this season, they don’t have the ability to overcome that dominance.
Ravens 26, Texans 20
The Wager: I almost always take a good look at every home underdog in the NFL and I think there’s a strong case for the dog in this matchup. This point spread implies that the Texans would be 8.5-point favorites over Baltimore if this game was played in Houston, and that’s simply asinine. The wrong team is favored here. Ravens +1.5
The Trend: The Ravens are 13-6 ATS in their last 19 games after scoring less than 15 points in their previous game.
St. Louis Rams @ Dallas Cowboys
Friday Line: Cowboys -3.5, total of 47.5
Public Consensus: 61% on the Rams, 89% on the over
The Pick: Dallas continues to be one of the more disappointing teams in the NFL. After forcing six turnovers and squeaking out a win against the Giants in Week 1, the Cowboys committed a pair of costly fumbles that led to a one-point loss in Kansas City in Week 2. Dallas will continue to struggle offensively until they can figure out some way to run the ball effectively, and that’s not likely to happen in this contest. Aside from the Rams’ possessing one of the best run defenses in the league, the Cowboys are a complete disaster in the interior of their offensive line. DeMarco Murray has averaged a paltry 3.47 yards per carry to start the season and that number is likely to decline against a Rams’ defense that surrenders less than three yards per carry. Dallas will have to move the ball through the air to keep the chains moving in this contest, but that’s easier said than done. St. Louis has one of the best pass rushing tandems in the league in Chris Long and Robert Quinn. The Rams have already registered six sacks this season and should have no problem teeing off on Tony Romo as he faces multiple third-and-long situations. The Cowboys’ wide receivers have a huge edge against the Rams’ questionable secondary but Romo won’t have enough time in the pocket to keep the chains moving consistently.
The Rams’ offense was non-existent in the first half of last week’s contest against the Falcons but they improved as the game went on. While St. Louis’ personnel on offense is much different than Dallas’, the Rams are going to have very similar problems. St. Louis completely lacks a running game with Daryl Richardson at tailback and that’s not likely to change against a Dallas front seven that shut down Jamaal Charles on the ground last week. The Rams are going to have to rely on Sam Bradford to move the chains here. Right tackle Roger Saffold will miss this contest with a sprained MCL leaving the Rams’ offensive line with a major problem on the outside, but it’s important to note that the Rams are the only team in the league yet to incur a quarterback sack this season. The Cowboys’ pass rush will be a bigger test than what they’ve faced against the Falcons and Cardinals, but Bradford has done a good job of mitigating the pass rush with his quick passes. The former first overall pick has shown an immediate chemistry with Tavon Austin and Jared Cook, and should be able to continue that connection against a Dallas defense that has yet to fully grasp their new defensive scheme.
These teams are pretty evenly matched, and while I’d normally side with the home team in this instance, Dallas’ home field has proven to be a disadvantage since moving to AT&T Stadium. This has all the makings of a game that’s close from start to finish but it’s less likely that the Rams incur any major self-inflicted wounds.
Rams 19, Cowboys 16
The Wager: As much as I hate betting against my home team, I think there’s too much value to pass up with the Rams here. Dallas’ home field isn’t worth three points and these teams are pretty evenly matched so I’ll grab the points with St. Louis. In my dream world, Dallas wins and St. Louis covers. Rams +3.5 (I’d search for a +4 at BoDog or BetUS though)
The Trend: The underdog is 36-14 ATS in the last 50 regular season games involving the Cowboys.
Arizona Cardinals @ New Orleans Saints
Friday Line: Saints -7, total of 48.5
Public Consensus: 58% on the Cardinals, 73% on the over
The Pick: I was expecting the Saints to be an NFC powerhouse with the return of Sean Payton to the sidelines, but I haven’t been too impressed with New Orleans to start the season. Ironically, the Saints’ offense has been the unit that hasn’t been up to par to begin the year. Drew Brees was very poor in Tampa Bay last weekend, tossing two interceptions, one of which was a horrible pick six that gave the Bucs a temporary lead. In spite of back-to-back 300-yard performances by the former Super Bowl MVP, the Saints have only managed to put up 39 points in two contests. The Cardinals’ defense is very similar to the Buccaneers’ defense, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Brees struggle again in this contest. Arizona sports the third best run defense in the league in the early going and will keep the Saints’ limited running game in check. Last week, Marques Colston had the unfortunate circumstance of having to battle Darrelle Revis, and things won’t get much easier against Patrick Peterson on the outside this week. The Saints’ offensive line has already surrendered six sacks in two games, so Brees will be under heavy duress without the services of Colston down the field. New Orleans still has a huge matchup nightmare in Jimmy Graham at tight end, but until they figure out a way to get everyone else involved, the Saints will continue to struggle to generate points.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals’ offense seems to be rejuvenated with Carson Palmer at quarterback. Arizona is now in the top half of the league in passing offense and Palmer should have no problems carving up a decimated Saints’ secondary. Patrick Robinson was placed on IR earlier this week and Keenan Lewis is still a question mark, meaning that the Saints may be starting their dime cornerback Corey White alongside Jabari Greer this week. Arizona’s offense is no longer a one-man-show with Larry Fitzgerald on the outside. Michael Floyd and Andre Roberts provide great alternative options for Palmer down the field, and unlike last season, the Cardinals’ offensive line has actually held up in pass protection this year. Saints’ defensive coordinator Rob Ryan loves to dial up pressure on opposing quarterbacks and while that didn’t come back to hurt him against Josh Freeman last weekend, Palmer shouldn’t have any issues exploiting one-on-one matchups down the field. New Orleans is also susceptible to ground attacks, so Rashard Mendenhall and Alfonso Smith should keep Palmer in manageable situations all afternoon.
As you can probably tell, I’ve soured a bit on the Saints since last weekend. New Orleans has eked out a couple of wins to start the season and I think that’s the most likely scenario again this week.
Saints 24, Cardinals 23
The Wager: The Saints have historically been a very good home favorite under Sean Payton but I think that the Cardinals can hang around here. Arizona’s defense poses many of the same problems that Tampa Bay’s defense posed for New Orleans last weekend. New Orleans used to be a team that you’d blindly bet at home but there’s just something off about this year’s version of the Saints. Cardinals +7
The Trend: The Cardinals are 4-1 ATS in their last 5 road games.
Detroit Lions @ Washington Redskins
Friday Line: Lions -1, total of 48
Public Consensus: 59% on the Lions, 90% on the over
The Pick: Washington is a complete disaster right now. If it wasn’t obvious in the first game of the season, it became obvious in Week 2 that Robert Griffin III just isn’t right. Griffin is inaccurate with his throws and can’t move the chains with his feet anymore, which essentially puts him in the bottom tier of quarterbacks in the NFL. The Redskins no longer run the read-option that made them so effective offensively last season, so there’s no reason to believe that this offense is going to get back on track this week. Alfred Morris enjoyed great success on the ground last week against the Packers, but aside from allowing a 78-yard run to Adrian Peterson in the first carry of Week 1, the Lions have been relatively strong against the run. Remove that Peterson rush from the equation and Detroit has given up a stingy 114 yards on the ground in two weeks. As long as Griffin remains at less than a hundred percent, the Redskins will struggle to move the chains.
The Lions continue to remain one of the league’s most infuriating teams to watch. Detroit has committed a whopping 19 penalties through the first two weeks of the season and that’s not likely to get corrected under Jim Schwartz, who just may be the worst head coach in the league. Luckily for the Lions, their personnel on offense should have a field day against the Redskins. Washington has given up an average of 511.5 yards per game in the first two weeks of the season and no, that’s not a typo. The Redskins’ secondary is a complete abomination and it could be a hell of a lot worse if Washington didn’t have a half decent pass rush. There is literally no chance of the Redskins containing Calvin Johnson this week, especially since he was able to dominate a top cover corner in Patrick Peterson last weekend. Reggie Bush’s status is obviously a little bit of a concern, but Joique Bell has already proven that he can carry the workload if Bush misses any time.
I’m always looking for situations where I can “buy low” on a team, but this definitely isn’t one of them. Washington is horrible on both sides of the ball right now, and despite Detroit’s tendency to shoot themselves in the foot in road games, I still give them the edge in this matchup.
Lions 31, Redskins 23
The Wager: I’m done with betting on Jim Schwartz. The Lions should have a big edge in this contest but history has proven that they always manage to lose games on the road that they easily could have won (see last week in Arizona). I may kick myself for not backing Detroit here, but I’ve just been burned too many times by this team in the past. Pass
The Trend: The Redskins are 6-13 ATS in their last 19 September home games.
Green Bay Packers @ Cincinnati Bengals
Friday Line: Packers -2.5, total of 49
Public Consensus: 85% on the Packers, 89% on the over
The Pick: Honestly, I have to say I’m pretty surprised that no one is giving the Bengals a chance in this game. Andy Dalton can be frustrating to watch at times (see Monday night against the Steelers), but he’s still more than capable of carving up this Packers’ defense. Green Bay has given up 718 yards through the air in their first two games of the season, and will continue to get torn apart with Casey Hayward and Morgan Burnett on the shelf. The Packers’ run defense isn’t much better either. Green Bay just allowed Alfred Morris to run for 107 yards on just 13 carries which doesn’t bode well for them against a Cincinnati offense that loves to run the ball. BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard have already racked up 48 combined carries through two games this season, and the Bengals will likely employ a run-heavy game plan to try to keep Aaron Rodgers on the sidelines for as long as possible. The Packers won’t be able to stack the box to stop the run with the threat of A.J. Green down the field, so it’s likely that Dalton will be working out of manageable situations all afternoon. The Bengals have converted 50% of their third downs this season, mainly due to the fact that Dalton isn’t working out of constant third-and-longs. I really like this matchup for Cincinnati’s offense.
The big question here is whether or not the Bengals can stop Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers has looked unstoppable in the early portion of the season, throwing for seven touchdowns and compiling an outstanding 127.2 QB rating. Cincinnati has a pretty average secondary — Terence Newman is starting for Pete’s sake — so it’s pretty unlikely that the Bengals are going to be able to contain the Packers’ overabundance of receivers. The Bengals should have a huge edge at the line of scrimmage though. Cincinnati finished third in the league in sacks last season with 51, and the Packers’ offensive line has already surrendered six sacks in the early going. The Bengals are capable of generating a lot of pressure with their strong defensive line, which will allow them to drop their linebackers and safeties into coverage. James Starks had a coming out party last week but the Redskins can’t stop anything so I wouldn’t take much out of that performance. Starks averaged a measly 3.6 yards per carry last season and the Packers showed how much confidence they had in his ability when they drafted two running backs in the offseason. The Bengals have a stout run defense and won’t have to worry about devoting too many bodies to stopping the run.
This is one of the toughest games for me to call this weekend. I kind of like the way that Cincinnati matches up with Green Bay but it’s tough to pick against Aaron Rodgers right now. In spite of the short week for the Bengals, I give them the slightest of edges here.
Bengals 26, Packers 24
The Wager: There is a ridiculous amount of money; public and sharp, coming in on Green Bay in this matchup. The Packers were once a one-point underdog in this matchup and are now a three-point favorite in some spots. I think there’s some outstanding value on the Bengals but I’m in no hurry to bet against Rodgers. Pass
The Trend: The Bengals are 8-2-1 ATS in their last 11 games overall.
New York Giants @ Carolina Panthers
Friday Line: Giants -1.5, total of 47.5
Public Consensus: 93% on the Giants, 71% on the over
The Pick: I would have never thought that this would be a matchup of 0-2 teams. I thought Carolina could be a breakthrough team this season but that hasn’t proven to be the case in the early going. Cam Newton is really struggling to find any sort of rhythm under new offensive coordinator Mike Shula. Newton has been uncharacteristically hesitant in the pocket, choosing to force throws into coverage or throw balls away rather than using his legs to scramble for first downs. The Panthers have had a lack of weapons on offense for years now and Newton has always been able to overcome that deficiency, so it’s weird to see him struggling this badly. If there was ever a game where Newton could get going, this would be it. New York’s secondary has been a disgrace through the first two games of the season, and while the Panthers don’t exactly sport the best group of receivers in their league, there will definitely be some opportunities for Newton to make some throws downfield. The Giants’ pass rush has also been lacking early on in the season but it’s only a matter of time before Jason Pierre-Paul gets healthy and back on track.
On the other side of things, this looks like it could be a good matchup for New York. Carolina has a very good defensive front seven but their secondary is an atrocity, which works right into the hands of the pass heavy Giants. Eli Manning has thrown seven interceptions so far this season but those picks have come against formidable secondaries. Carolina’s secondary is depleted, with Josh Thomas, Josh Norman, D.J. Moore, Quintin Mikell, and Charles Godfrey all expected to miss this game with injuries. That means that the Panthers will potentially be without one of their starting cornerbacks, both starting safeties, and their nickel and dime cornerbacks. Not good. Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, and Rueben Randle will have no problem finding holes in coverage downfield, and I’m confident that Manning can cut down on his turnovers against this depleted secondary. Carolina has only managed three sacks in the first two games of the season and the Giants’ offensive line has done a good job of keeping their quarterback upright, so it’s not like Manning will be under heavy duress all afternoon either. New York will try to get David Wilson going on the ground after a couple of lacklustre outings but yards will be tough to come by against a Panthers’ run defense that gives up only 3.7 yards per carry. Regardless, the Giants scored on eight of their 10 possessions in a 36-7 drumming of the Panthers last season, and shouldn’t have any problems duplicating that effort.
In the end, I simply have more faith in the Giants to rebound at this point. This is the third straight season in which Carolina has started slowly, and if the past is any indication, it’ll take this team another couple of weeks to get things together. Tom Coughlin’s younger brother passed away earlier this week and I think New York will put together an inspired effort to get the win for their head coach.
Giants 30, Panthers 17
The Wager: I’d love to back the Giants here but over 90% of all wagers in this game are coming in on New York. I’m still confident that they’re the right side and I’ll strongly consider adding them as a play on Sunday morning, but for now, I’ll lay off. Pass
The Trend: Carolina is 2-5 ATS when favored under Ron Rivera.
Atlanta Falcons @ Miami Dolphins
Friday Line: Dolphins -2.5, total of 45
Public Consensus: 82% on the Falcons, 89% on the over
The Pick: I’m sure it comes as a surprise to many people that the Dolphins are favored in this game, but there’s good reason for it. Atlanta is the most banged up team in football. The Falcons will be without the services of their defensive captain Sean Weatherspoon after he sustained a foot injury last week, and defensive end Kroy Biermann is also on the shelf with a torn Achilles. To make matters worse, their top cornerback Asante Samuel aggravated a thigh injury last week and is questionable to suit up as well. Atlanta’s defense was already a hot mess before the injuries, but there’s no hope for them without their top playmakers. The Falcons have registered only two sacks on the season and mustered only 29 sacks in the entirety of last season, and that was with Weatherspoon and Biermann in the lineup. Their pass rush is bound to get much worse, if that’s even possible. Ryan Tannehill posted some solid numbers against Indianapolis last week when he was given time in the pocket, and it’s likely that he’ll do the same again here, especially if Samuel misses any action. The Dolphins should also be able to move the ball on the ground against a Falcons’ defense that gave up 4.8 yards per carry last season. Again, that was with Weatherspoon and Biermann in the lineup. Miami has some legitimate weapons on offense this season and I just don’t see the Falcons slowing them down with the inferior personnel that they’ll have out on the field.
Atlanta’s defense isn’t the only unit that’s banged up. Running back Steven Jackson will miss this contest with a hamstring injury, and Roddy White continues to be hobbled by a bum ankle. It’s rare that I’d say that a defense has the edge over the Falcons’ offense but I think that that’ll be the case this week. The drop off from Jackson to backups Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling is immense. Rodgers has only managed 3.6 yards per carry in his brief career and has picked up just 16 yards on 13 carries this season. As for Snelling, he’s nothing but a plodding utility back at this point. Miami has limited opponents to 90 yards per game on the ground so far this season and I’d be shocked if Atlanta came anywhere close to approaching that number. Matt Ryan will need to win this game with his arm, and that may not be the best strategy against the Dolphins. Miami has registered a whopping nine sacks in their first two games and Cameron Wake should have no problem getting into the backfield against the Falcons’ weak offensive tackles. Ryan won’t have much time in the pocket to scan the field, and while he’s still capable of making some plays, this isn’t a recipe for success on the road in the NFL.
Atlanta is a good football team; probably better than I give them credit for, but this is a tough matchup for them. Miami is much improved and should take advantage of a depleted Falcons’ squad in their home opener.
Dolphins 27, Falcons 20
The Wager: You won’t find very many trends to support the Dolphins as a favorite, but that doesn’t really bother me. This Miami team is better than in years past and I think laying anything less than a field goal with the home team is a bargain. Dolphins -2.5
The Trend: The Dolphins are 4-0 ATS in their last 4 home games.
Indianapolis Colts @ San Francisco 49ers
Friday Line: 49ers -10, total of 46.5
Public Consensus: 65% on the Colts, 93% on the over
The Pick: As I mentioned last week, I’m of the firm belief that the Colts aren’t a very good football team. This week Indianapolis went out and stole Trent Richardson from the Browns, which will definitely improve their offense going forwards (maybe not so much this week), but their defense still remains a glaring issue. How in the world are the Colts going to slow down the 49ers? Indianapolis made Terrell Pryor look like Steve Young in Week 1 and then followed that up by getting completed shredded by Ryan Tannehill. They literally have no hope of shutting down Colin Kaepernick this week, especially with the 49ers coming off of a lacklustre offensive outing against the Seahawks. Indianapolis’ secondary is a work in progress and they definitely won’t be able to shut down Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis like Seattle did last weekend. The 49ers will also have the luxury of being able to run the ball in this contest. Frank Gore has struggled to get anything going on the ground in the first two weeks of the season but San Francisco’s offensive line is a huge mismatch for the Colts’ defensive line. The 49ers will control the line of scrimmage on offense and get back to the running game that was so successful for them last season.
The Colts’ only chance of staying in this game is if they can match points with San Francisco. The addition of Richardson was a great move but I doubt he’ll be able to have an impact on this game after only being able to practice with his team for a couple of days. As is usually the case, Andrew Luck will have to do things on his own. The problem is that San Francisco’s front seven is going to dominate the Colts’ weak offensive line. Indianapolis has already given up seven sacks this season and that number is bound to skyrocket in this contest. Meanwhile, Luck just isn’t the same quarterback on the road that he is at the confines of Lucas Oil Stadium. In eight career starts on the road, Luck has accounted for 13 touchdowns and 17 turnovers. That’s not a recipe for success against the 49ers. Luck’s QB rating on the road is a meagre 70.1; which is a full point less than Mark Sanchez’s overall QB rating in his career (ouch). And if that’s not bad enough for the Colts, it doesn’t help that 49ers’ head coach Jim Harbaugh was Luck’s college coach at Stanford. Harbaugh knows Luck’s tendencies and should be able to put together a solid game plan to shut down his former quarterback.
I almost always gravitate towards double-digit underdogs in the NFL, but the 49ers are going to be ready to redeem themselves after being embarrassed on national television on Sunday night. San Francisco has a big edge on both sides of the ball and should win this game comfortably.
49ers 28, Colts 16
The Wager: As much as I like the 49ers here, I’m just not comfortable laying the points. If the past has taught me one thing, it’s that you’ll go broke laying double digits in the NFL. The Colts have a good offense which means that they also have backdoor cover potential. Pass
The Trend: San Francisco is 16-6-1 ATS in their last 23 home games.
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Seattle Seahawks
Friday Line: Seahawks -18, total of 41
Public Consensus: 51% on the Jaguars, 80% on the under
The Pick: It’s only the third week of the NFL season and I’m already sick of doing write-ups for Jaguars’ games. Jacksonville sucks. Maurice Jones-Drew is hobbled with an ankle injury, Chad Henne is a pile of trash, and the Jaguars went 35 minutes without picking up a first down against the Raiders. That’s about all you need to know. Even if Seattle suffers a huge letdown after beating the 49ers last week, I still don’t see Jacksonville being able to score ten points in this contest.
On the other side of things, the Jaguars’ defense also sucks. Jacksonville gives up 5.81 yards per carry so their chances of limiting Marshawn Lynch are extremely slim. They could always sell out to stop the run and get torched down the field by Russell Wilson though. Why am I still writing?
This game will probably be over by half time. Jacksonville is that bad and Seattle is that good. No need to provide additional details here.
Seahawks 28, Jaguars 6
The Wager: Again, I can’t see the Jaguars hanging around here but I just don’t do double-digit favorites; it’s not my thing. It’s also possible that the Seahawks take their foot off the gas in this one as the Jaguars’ head coach, Casey Bradley, was the defensive coordinator in Seattle from 2009-2012. Pass
The Trend: The Seahawks are 24-9-1 ATS in their last 34 games overall.
Buffalo Bills @ New York Jets
Friday Line: Jets -2.5, total of 39
Public Consensus: 60% on the Bills, 87% on the under
The Pick: There’s reason to be excited about the Bills after their come from behind victory over the Panthers last week. Despite committing two turnovers, E.J. Manuel was able to engineer a game-winning drive to give Buffalo their first win of the season. Things won’t be so easy this week though. For starters, New York’s secondary is a lot stronger than the depleted Panthers’ secondary that the Bills faced last weekend. The Jets’ pass defense has allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete just 48.6 percent of their passes, and they’re fresh off of a great performance against Tom Brady and the Patriots’ offense. Manuel has looked promising in his first two starts, but this will be his first start on the road and that has notoriously been a difficult spot for rookie quarterbacks. The Bills will try to establish the run to alleviate some pressure from Manuel, but New York has also been very stingy in run defense this year. The Jets have allowed a paltry 2.4 yards per carry to Doug Martin and Stevan Ridley this season, so there’s a good chance that they’ll be able to keep Buffalo’s running game in check as well. New York is in the top five in the league in run and pass defense right now, and I think that they have the edge over the young Bills’ offense.
Anyone who’s watched a Jets’ game in the past few years knows that it’s the offense that’s the main concern for this squad. Geno Smith has proven to be a slight upgrade over Mark Sanchez but New York has still struggled to move the ball consistently in their first two games of the season. The good news is that this Bills’ defense will be the weakest defense they’ve faced yet. Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell combined for 100 yards rushing on Thursday night and should be able to pick up yards in bunches against a Bills’ run defense that’s surrendered 283 yards rushing in their first two matchups. Smith is more than capable of picking up first downs in third-and-short situations so it will be integral for the Jets to establish their running game early on. New York may also be able to take some shots down the field against a decimated Bills’ secondary. Stephon Gilmore and Jairus Byrd are still on the shelf for Buffalo, which may open things up down the field for Stephen Hill and Santonio Holmes. Whether or not Smith can make an accurate throw down the field is a different story, but the opportunities will definitely be there.
These two teams are pretty evenly matched but I give a slight edge to the Jets because of their defense. E.J. Manuel has been effective in his two home starts this season but playing on the road in the NFL is a tough task for a rookie quarterback. With a few extra days to prepare, I think the Jets pull this one out.
Jets 20, Bills 17
The Wager: I’d be all over the Jets if they were an underdog in this spot, but they’ve been installed as a small favorite. I’m hesitant to even lay a couple of points with a team that has struggled mightily to score this season. Pass
The Trend: The Bills have lost 13 of their last 15 away games, going 4-10-1 ATS in that span.
Chicago Bears @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Friday Line: Bears -2, total of 40.5
Public Consensus: 87% on the Bears, 75% on the over
The Pick: The Steelers’ offense is in complete disarray right now. Their offensive line is horrendous, their running game is non-existent, and their receivers can’t get open down the field. That’s not a recipe for success in the NFL, but the good news for the Steelers is that their deficiencies won’t hurt them that much against the Bears. Ben Roethlisberger has been under constant pressure through the first two weeks of the season, but Chicago has only been able to generate two quarterback sacks in that span. Aside from Julius Peppers, the Bears don’t really boast another strong pass rusher, so there’s a chance that Big Ben may actually have some time in the pocket this week to look for receivers downfield. Chicago boasts a decent secondary but they give up chunks of yardage through the air and are predicated on forcing turnovers. Roethlisberger has only thrown eight interceptions in his last 15 home games and if he continues to protect the ball this week, Pittsburgh may actually be able to produce some points on offense. Unfortunately for the Steelers, they can’t rely on a strong running game as they’ve done in years past. Isaac Redman is nothing more than a short yardage back, Felix Jones is on the downside of his career, and Jonathan Dwyer is lucky to still be on an NFL roster at this point. Pittsburgh will still try to run the ball but they won’t find much on the ground against a Bears’ defense that gives up just 3.4 yards per carry.
Pittsburgh’s defense has actually held up admirably against the Titans and Bengals this season and they should be able to force some stops against the new look Bears’ offense. The Steelers are in the bottom half of the league in run defense, giving up 119.5 yards per game on that ground, but that number is very misleading as Pittsburgh is giving up only 3.1 yards per carry. Matt Forte has been far more effective in the passing game than running game this season, and there’s a good chance the Steelers can keep him in check. Jay Cutler can be very mistake prone at times, and the Steelers will have an opportunity to force some turnovers if they can keep Cutler in third-and-long situations all night. The Bears also have a big injury concern on offense as Brandon Marshall left Thursday’s practice with a back injury. Even if Marshall suits up on Sunday night, he’ll be banged up, which will force Cutler to look to his less reliable receivers in certain situations. With that being said, the Steelers will still have to figure out a way to get some pressure on the quarterback. Chicago’s offensive line can be a disaster at times but Pittsburgh hasn’t generated much pressure this season, as they’re tied for last in the NFL with just one sack.
This is a really tough one to call. Jay Cutler hasn’t crapped the bed yet this season and my gut feeling tells me that he’s due to do so in primetime. Pittsburgh’s season is basically on the line here and I think they’ll give an inspired effort en route to their first win.
Steelers 23, Bears 19
The Wager: I want absolutely no piece of this game. I don’t think Pittsburgh is nearly as bad as they’ve looked and I don’t think that Chicago is nearly as good as they’ve looked, but it’s hard to get behind a team that’s seemingly done nothing right this season. Pass
The Trend: The Steelers are 4-1 ATS in their last 5 home games against a team with a winning road record.