2018 NFL Picks Week 3: Underdogs and Elites (and Houston)
Last Week: 5-7
Between the Niners allowing a brutal backdoor cover to the Lions, and Washington managing just 9 points in their home opener against Indianapolis, last week was full of unpleasant surprises. At least we can all bask in the glory of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s DeSean McGregor/Conor Jackson impersonation. It’s hard to assign a point value to the kind of chemistry demonstrated by borrowing wardrobes for postgame press conferences and making 50+-yard touchdown throws a staple of your first quarter offense, but something FitzMagical is happening. We’re taking nine underdogs in thirteen picks this week, because only a select few teams can be trusted to really beat another team down. Let’s dive in!
New York Jets +3.5 at Cleveland Browns
The Cleveland Browns last won a football game on December 24th, 2016. Robert Griffin III was their quarterback, and they won by 3 points when San Diego Chargers kicker Josh Lambo missed a 45-yard field goal as time expired. They last won a game by more than 3 points when they beat the San Francisco 49ers 24-10 on December 13th, 2015, with Johnny Manziel playing quarterback. Yes, this Cleveland defense is better than the unit they fielded in the 2017 or 2016 seasons. The coaching hasn’t improved because it somehow hasn’t changed, and the offense has “improved” only in relative terms. They can absolutely beat rookie QB Sam Darnold at home, but I feel pretty good getting more than a field goal against a team who hasn’t won in nearly two years.
Minnesota Vikings -17 vs. Buffalo Bills
Bills still have Josh Allen and Nathan Peterman available to play quarterback, right? I’d feel confident giving them 24 points, and that’s assuming Vontae Davis will be the only Bills player to retire at halftime of a game this season. Minnesota could have won their game against the Packers more comfortably with more competent kicking, and they recently signed the second-most accurate kicker in NFL history to address that issue. The only way I see this pick going south is if the talent-laden Vikings roster somehow cancels out the talent-free Bills roster and the game collapses into itself. I don’t think it works that way.
San Francisco 49ers +7 at Kansas City Chiefs
Watching Patrick Mahomes has been an absolute joy, but the Kansas City defense is incredibly flimsy. Arrowhead Stadium will be raucous in the Chiefs’ home opener, but Kyle Shanahan could orchestrate points out of a paperclip and some dental floss against this team. I could see it playing out much like last week’s Kansas City-Pittsburgh game did, and even if the Niners fall behind, they should be able to put up enough points in garbage time to finish within a touchdown. If you have fantasy players involved or if you’re a fan of Big 12 football, you should tune in.
Cincinnati Bengals +3 at Carolina Panthers
The Bengals now have double-digit wins over the 1-1 Indianapolis Colts and the 1-1 Baltimore Ravens. Their defense looks legit, and the Panthers haven’t inspired in games against the Cowboys and Falcons. Cam Newton’s offensive line is atrocious, and Carolina’s defense is missing something with Thomas Davis still serving his suspension. Andy Dalton on the road makes me nervous, but not nervous enough to pass up the points for a deeper roster going against shaky blocking and non-existent wide receivers. The Bengals should keep this one close and may even pull out the win.
Indianapolis Colts +7 at Philadelphia Eagles
A lot about this pick hinges on the health of Carson Wentz; if he’s back to 100% less than a year after knee surgery, the Eagles’ offense could regain its 2017 form and blow the Colts out of the water. If he’s still on the bench or struggling to reach regular season form, it might resemble their hit-or-miss 2018 results. I’m not confident he’s ready to come back, and with the Colts coming off a surprisingly strong road performance, I’m counting on Luck to keep things close against a Philadelphia defense still rounding into shape.
New Orleans Saints +3 at Atlanta Falcons
Matt Ryan attempted to solve Atlanta’s red zone woes by running the ball himself last week, and for the most part it worked. I don’t think the approach is sustainable, and offensive struggles could spell Atlanta’s doom against a Saints team plenty comfortable playing in a dome. Of course, if they keep leaving Ken Crawley on an island, this game could be over before it gets started. I just have more confidence in Drew Brees and the Saints than the banged-up Falcons at this point.
Houston Texans -6.5 vs. New York Giants
The return of Deshaun Watson hasn’t sparked the Texans’ offense like many of us had hoped, but Houston needs to win this game if they want to salvage their season. The Giants haven’t been any more inspiring on offense, managing just 28 points over two games (and 46 over their past four) despite the return of Odell Beckham Jr. A combination of shoddy offensive line play and natural decline from Eli Manning has rendered the Giants’ offense impotent, and their defense looks mediocre at best. I expect Houston to come out strong in their home opener and strangle the New York offense while Watson returns to his highlight-reel self.
Washington Redskins +3 vs. Green Bay Packers
I still don’t think Aaron Rodgers looks healthy, and the effects of his injury spread through every facet of their offense. I still don’t know how to explain the 9 points Washington put up last week, but Green Bay’s defense isn’t intimidating. If Alex Smith can mix some (any?) deep targets into the Washington passing game, they should be able to put pressure on the Packers’ offense to keep pace and let their pass rush get after Rodgers. It isn’t a comfortable position to be in, but in a home game with Rodgers on one leg, it might be enough to get the win.
Los Angeles Rams -7 vs. Los Angeles Chargers
In the battle for L.A., the Chargers look like a really talented but self-destructive team while the Rams look like a really talented and well-managed team. Wade Phillips’s defense will get after Philip Rivers all game and cause at least two turnovers, and Sean McVay will take advantage of Joey Bosa’s absence to drive the Rams past 30 points for the third time in three games. Mix in some missed field goals and untimely injuries, and the Rams should be able to cover more than a touchdown at home.
Arizona Cardinals +6.5 vs. Chicago Bears
Mitch Trubisky just isn’t good. The Bears have a point differential of +6 on the season, including two defensive touchdowns. I know the Cardinals’ offense is equally inept (six points over two games), but if they can avoid turning the ball over and manufacture points at home, they can turn this affair into an old-fashioned rock fight. Chicago has leaned hard on its run game to make up for the Truth Biscuit’s shortcomings, but Arizona hasn’t finished worse than 7th against the run since 2012. They may not have enough to win, but maybe they can lose 13-7.
Dallas Cowboys +1.5 at Seattle Seahawks
Seattle is suffering from a terrible combination of invisible offensive linemen, injured skill-position players, and ugly play-calling. Unless Russell Wilson can check out of Brian Schottenheimer’s unimaginative calls and improvise his way into touchdowns, Seattle is going to struggle to put up points all year. Throw in a declining defense (13th against the pass, 15th against the run), and Dallas should be in a good spot to lean on their still-strong run game to steal a road win.
New England Patriots -6.5 at Detroit Lions
Bill Belichick gets to go against his former disciple Matt Patricia in Detroit, looking to bounce back from a sound defeat in Jacksonville last week. The Patriots don’t lose big often, but when they do they bounce back in a big way - in the games following their last four two-score losses, New England is 4-0 with an average margin of victory of 21.25 points. The Lions are discontented, and lackluster performances against the Jets and Niners make their defense look like the perfect remedy for an offense coming off a battle with the Jaguars. Unless Matt Stafford can pull some FitzMagic of his own, they’ll be lucky to finish within one touchdown.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers +1 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Give in to the FitzMagic. It’s more fun this way. Also, the Steelers defense is in shambles and no one in their locker room appears capable of civil conversation. Throw in their dismal road performance over the past few years (21 points per game since the start of 2016, compared to 28.8 at home) and I’m not sure why we should expect them to win in Tampa Bay. If Fitzpatrick suddenly regresses to the mean, it’s my fault.
That's all for this week! Kick back, grab a drink, and feel free to blame me if you put money on these picks and come out behind. I won't compensate you, but maybe your significant others will send their wrath in my direction instead of yours.