Just as it happens in college football, the very best NFL teams make their schedules look weak. Atlanta was no serious threat to knock-off Tampa Bay in Week 2, but it took the Philadelphia Eagles a series of complicated episodes to build a 3-touchdown lead on the Dirty Birds on the previous Sunday. Tampa simply went into another gear on offense late in the Atlanta contest, scoring 20 points in the final frame as Tom Brady finished with 2 touchdown passes to old friend Rob Gronkowski and 5 TD tosses overall.
Brady’s age may become a factor during the 2021-22 season, especially with a trip to visit the Los Angeles Rams on the docket. But the Buccaneers have spent the opening 2 weeks proving that their Hall-of-Fame quarterback and a fantastic group of run-after-catch receiving threats led by Gronk can keep airing the ball out as long as they want to.
Kansas City Chiefs pundits can stop daydreaming about 17-0. Now that Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens dished KC its maiden loss of the year, we can go back to the real world and try to see if Patrick Mahomes is due to win another championship. The defense will get criticized after “blowing” a lead to Baltimore, but the Ravens are still an underrated team when playing from behind. Few other QBs in the NFL, if any, could carve up the Chiefs with option-runs and downfield passes like Jackson did. That’s no consolation for a franchise that wants to beat the best teams, but it’s only Week 3.
Widely expected to be an NFC West powerhouse, the Los Angeles Rams debuted with a 20-point win over the Chicago Bears. Week 1 blow-outs can look a lot less impressive once teams produce a 4 or 5-game sample-size. Arguably, though, QB Matt Stafford and the Mountain Goats fared even better last Sunday, beating the Indianapolis Colts 27-24 at Lucas Oil Stadium. The former Detroit quarterback is developing a monster on-field relationship with talented pass-catcher Cooper Cupp, who was a Fantasy GM’s dream with 163 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns in the win over Indy.
Baltimore fell victim to a vanishing NFL preseason in Week 1. Leading the Las Vegas Raiders by a substantial margin in the 4th quarter, the Raven defense began to grow tired, and was too exhausted to tackle in an ill-fated overtime period.
The narrative couldn’t have been any different on Sunday. Baltimore seemed to have fallen behind the “turns” against a Mahomes-led offense that could do little wrong in the 1st half. But the Ravens kept mounting TD drives until Mahomes ran out of available weapons, finally pulling ahead as Jackson proved option-football doubters wrong yet again with several explosive 3rd-down conversion carries to go with his 3 combined TDs.
Detroit will need to produce turnovers to beat the Ravens this week, or to get Jared Goff’s offense more than 25:00 of possession-time for that matter. But before we get to Sunday’s battles, here’s a glance at TNF in Week 4 for WagerBop’s treasured early-clicking contingent of readers.
Thursday Night Football: Carolina Panthers at Houston Texans
Carolina has more than a rejuvenated Christian McCaffery to be pleased about. The “Cats” are stalking a TNF win as a (-7.5) point spread favorite over the Houston Texans, having outscored 2 fallen opponents 33-0 in opening halves of play. Carolina’s defense exposed QB Jameis Winston as a 2nd-tier NFL starter in Week 2’s victory over New Orleans, while McCaffery’s steady churn of yardage gives transplanted QB Sam Darnold a life buoy.
Despite the absence of former QB Deshawn Watson, whose sexual assault scandal rocked Space City pigskin fans in the 2021 offseason, the Houston Texans are getting along just fine on offense with Tyrod Taylor taking snaps. Taylor provides much the same skill set as Watson without any of the controversy. But the Texan defense is porous, and allowed QB Baker Mayfield a free hand through the air in Houston’s loss to Cleveland, while tailback Nick Chubb of the Browns galloped for almost 9 yards-per-carry.
Houston’s subpar defense calls a conservative (43.5) point Over/Under line into question. If the Texans fall behind in Thursday’s game, they should be able to rally and score a few points with a wide-open style in the 2nd half. Meanwhile, the Carolina Panthers might hit 30 points and keep going, given what the offense has done to vulnerable foes so far. Thursday night fatigue won’t be a gigantic factor so early in the season.
Note: Breaking news indicates Tyrod Taylor is out due to injury in Week 3. That makes Carolina an extremely solid ATS pick at (-7.5). However, if the point spread pick moves closer to minus-10 points due to the mid-week injury report, look to pick the high-side on a falling Over/Under instead, as the O/U could shrink to (40) points due to the QB change.
Pick: Panthers (-7.5)
Baltimore Ravens at Detroit Lions (Sunday 1 PM)
Baltimore’s goal-line stand in OT against the Las Vegas Raiders might have gone down as a prime-time NFL classic. Instead, the Ravens coughed up the ball and lost in Week 1, inspiring few pundits to predict an upset win over Kansas City last weekend.
Nevertheless, Lamar Jackson’s team pulled it off, paying off for bettors who took our recommended pick with a live bet on the trailing team in the 2nd quarter. Kansas City scored an early defensive TD as “Honey Badger” lived large in the secondary, but Jackson’s offense methodically put drive after drive together on KC’s fleet-footed defense, shutting out the Chiefs in the 4th quarter to pull ahead and earn a 36-35 win.
Meanwhile, the Detroit Lions sagged in the 2nd half against Green Bay on Monday Night Football, a week after flopping in the 1st half against San Francisco. The notion that the Lions might play 2 lousy halves in Week 3 is helping the Baltimore Ravens to a (-7.5) favorites’ point spread for Sunday’s contest at Ford Field.
Giving a TD on the road makes a dubious pick at the NFL betting board, while a high O/U line of (49.5) offers a percentage pick. Jackson’s option offense will grind clock and shorten the game despite perfect indoor passing conditions, and Detroit will secretly work to curtail Jared Goff’s pass attempts following his terrible showing in the 2nd half at Lambeau.
Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs (Sunday 1 PM)
Sportsbooks have erred in setting a thin (-6.5) point spread on Kansas City in Week 3, swayed by the AFC champs’ close-shave loss to Baltimore. Los Angeles is getting a ton of hype thanks to Justin Herbert’s potential at QB. In fact, it appears that ESPN’s constant praise of the Oregon Ducks – Herbert’s former team – has spilled over into NFL media.
Herbert has helped the Charger offense begin to grow. However, the club’s loss to the visiting Dallas Cowboys in Week 2 revealed that the passer still needs seasoning. Backed against the wall in the 2nd half, the Cowboy defense sacked Herbert for a 20-yard loss on a goal-to-go QB scramble that resembled Alan Alda’s nightmare from “Paper Lion.”
Kansas City can play an indifferent game and still beat the Chargers by a TD or more, especially in a game for which a mile-high O/U line (55) signals the likelihood of a high final score.
Pick: Chiefs (-6.5)
Seattle Seahawks at Minnesota Vikings (Sunday 4:25 PM)
It’s strange to see a Midwestern game scheduled for late afternoon, and even stranger to see a helium-infused O/U total of (55.5) on a Seattle Seahawks game against anyone but the Tom Brady-era Patriots or the Manning-era Colts. After all, the Seahawks have won NFL games by scores like 15-9 at times during Pete Carroll’s tenure. Like his NFC West rival Kyler Murray, Seattle QB Russell Wilson is at his best in a tight game.
Carroll’s defense did falter badly against Tennessee in Week 2, giving up 3 TDs and nearly 200 yards to RB Derrick Henry in a 33-30 OT loss. The Minnesota Vikings aren’t shutting anyone down either. But the Sin City point total still invites a solid pick on the low side, since Minnesota’s passing game is likely to calm down at some point. Dalvin Cook is the best thing the Vikings have going, and the rusher hopes to rumble 20x per game.
Sunday Night Football: Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers
Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers are known for rebounding from tough starts, and the Pack didn’t disappoint in Week 2, coming back from a blow-out debut loss to defeat the rival Detroit Lions 35-17 in prime time. Rodgers flashed all the tricks in his old pro’s playbook, catching the Lions in 12-man scenarios and taking advantage of inexperienced defenders in coverage throughout Green Bay’s 3rd quarter rally.
San Francisco, meanwhile, struggled to beat the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 2, but survived with a 17-11 victory to move to 2-0 on the season. Green Bay is a solid pick at (+3.5) due to its edge at the QB position and the fact that the Packers are just beginning to wake up while the 49ers find tougher sledding than expected vs a weak opening slate.
Pick: Packers (+3.5)
Monday Night Football: Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys
Silver Star fans are advised to take a cold shower on Big D’s playoff chances as usual. Dak Prescott’s offense was slowed considerably once the Cowboys took a lead on the L.A. Chargers, and it’s arguable that Dallas should have capitalized much more on a 200+ yard rushing day. Still, a healthy ground game bodes well for the ‘Boys headed into a winnable division slate, beginning with what should be a W over Philadelphia (+3.5) on MNF.
Pick: Cowboys (-3.5)
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.