If Week 1 is all about the "unknown" and Week 2 focuses on the "overreaction," the best word to sum up Week 3 is "desperation."
Seven teams are 0-2, and only seven others are 2-0, meaning a whopping 18 teams are 1-1, including the entire AFC North. Interestingly, there’s only one 2-0 vs. 2-0 matchup and one 0-2 vs. 0-2, so a lot of teams will be either 1-2 or 2-1.
Underdogs went 8-7-1 against the spread (ATS) last week after going 11-5 in Week 1.
My most confident picks ATS are Arizona, Baltimore, Denver and two underdogs that could win outright: Indianapolis and the L.A. Chargers. Stay away from New Orleans-New England.
ATLANTA (0-2) AT GIANTS (0-2)
TV: Fox, 1 p.m.
Giants by 3; O/U: 47.5
This is the only 0-2 vs. 0-2 matchup, so it doesn’t get more desperate than this. The Giants are 0-2 for the fifth straight season (they’re 2-2 in their last four Week 3 games). Atlanta has looked even worse, with losses by 26 and 23. So why do I really like the Giants? Well, lost in last week’s 30-29 heartbreaker on TNF was Daniel Jones playing one of his best games. Also, the defense can’t play any worse than it has, right? Having 10 days to stew over that loss also helps, and as someone who is always looking for signs when picking NFL games: Speaking of the No. 10, the Giants are retiring Eli Manning’s number at halftime.
The pick: Giants
JETS (0-2) AT DENVER (2-0)
TV: CBS, 4:05 p.m.
Denver by 11; O/U: 41.5
Things can't get much worse for Zach Wilson and the Jets. Or can they? After a four-INT, home-debut booing, now it's off to one of the loudest stadiums in Denver's home debut. If you thought Jets fans were loud, just wait, kid. Giants? Jaguars? Jets? Does Denver have the easiest three-game start in NFL history? It's hard to see these young, overmatched Jets exceeding the Giants and Jags (13 points each), so another 27-13 Broncos win like they had at MetLife Stadium in Week 1 will earn the cover.
The pick: Denver
GAME OF THE WEEK
TAMPA BAY (2-0) AT L.A. RAMS (2-0)
TV: Fox, 4:25 p.m.
Tampa Bay by 2; O/U: 55.5
The only 2-0 vs. 2-0 matchup is also my pick for the NFC Championship Game. This is as tough as Week 3 picks go. Tampa Bay has won 10 in a row, including the playoffs, and scored 30 or more points in nine straight. Tom Brady, the NFL’s Benjamin Button, hasn’t missed a beat and backing the Bucs is the safe play here. But I’m going with my Super Bowl pick Rams, who beat the Bucs, 27-24, in Tampa on MNF last season. They picked off Brady twice in that game and held him in check. From Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp to Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, the Rams are so well-balanced. Here’s hoping the Rams have the lead at halftime: Under coach Sean McVay, they are a remarkable 39-0 in those games.
The pick: L.A. Rams
1 p.m. Games
L.A. CHARGERS (1-1) AT KANSAS CITY (1-1)
Kansas City by 7; O/U: 54.5
It would be surprising to see Patrick Mahomes lose back-to-back games in September after starting his career 11-0 in the month, but this is all about the point spread. Kansas City is 0-2 ATS this season and over their last 13 games, including the playoffs, a hard-to-believe 1-11-1. Justin Herbert has a bunch of playmakers himself and the Chargers can even win this game outright (if they don’t keep being their own worst enemy). This should be a fun, back-and-forth contest decided by 3-6 points.
The pick: L.A. Chargers
NEW ORLEANS (1-1) AT NEW ENGLAND (1-1)
New England by 3; O/U: 42
The Saints aren't as good as their 38-3 win over the Packers, nor are they as bad as their 26-7 loss at Carolina. This should be close and low-scoring, so let's go with the obvious tiebreaker: Bill Belichick vs. Jameis Winston.
The pick: New England
WASHINGTON (1-1) AT BUFFALO (1-1)
Buffalo by 8; O/U: 45.5
Buffalo is off a 35-0 win at Miami but this line is perplexing (remember the inflated line in Week 1 vs. Pittsburgh?). Taylor Heinicke has played well, Washington has had extra time to prepare and is a live 'dog.
The pick: Washington
INDIANAPOLIS (0-2) AT TENNESSEE (1-1)
Tennessee by 5; O/U: 48
Last week, I backed the Titans as road underdogs in a desperate spot and they made me look good with a gutsy overtime win at Seattle. I’m going to use that same rationale in picking the Colts, who are 0-2 for the first time under coach Frank Reich. Indianapolis is 3-0 at Tennessee since Reich took over, and I expect an all-out kind of effort. Even if Carson Wentz can’t go, Reich knows a thing or two about winning with a backup quarterback.
The pick: Indianapolis
CINCINNATI (1-1) AT PITTSBURGH (1-1)
Pittsburgh by 3; O/U: 43.5
Ben Roethlisberger is banged up, the offense is off to a dismal start and you shouldn't pick the Steelers just because they've owned the Bengals over the years. Pick games based on the present, not the past. The future looks bright for the Bengals, and Joe Burrow & Co. will be in this one.
The pick: Cincinnati
CHICAGO (1-1) AT CLEVELAND (1-1)
Cleveland by 7; O/U: 45.5
This is a tough spot for Justin Fields to make his first NFL start. Still, the double-digit underdog Texans hung with the Browns before Tyrod Taylor got hurt. Chicago's defense looked good last week and Da Bears could cover Da Spread.
The pick: Chicago
BALTIMORE (1-1) AT DETROIT (0-2)
Baltimore by 9; O/U: 50
My plan of picking against the Lions every week is off to a roaring 2-0 start. The backdoor cover could be an issue, but Lamar Jackson should drive up and down Ford Field for a double-digit win.
The pick: Baltimore
LOCK OF THE WEEK
ARIZONA (2-0) AT JACKSONVILLE (0-2)
Arizona by 8; O/U: 52
Expect Arizona to look more like the team that won by 25 at Tennessee in Week 1 than the one that needed a last-second missed field goal to escape Minnesota at home. This is a big mismatch.
The pick: Arizona
4 p.m. Games
SEATTLE (1-1) AT MINNESOTA (0-2)
Seattle by 2; O/U: 55.5
Both teams lost on last-second field goals last week, only Minnesota's was by its own kicker. Part of me wants to take the desperate home team, but Russell Wilson (6-0 all-time vs. the Vikings) has shown he's the way to go in these low-spread, bound-to-be wacky games.
The pick: Seattle
MIAMI (1-1) AT LAS VEGAS (2-0)
Las Vegas by 4; O/U: 44
Knock on wood if Las Vegas has the most impressive 2-0 start. Miami will be motivated after losing 35-0 at home, but Tua Tagovailoa won’t play and this is a tough spot as Derek Carr steers another win.
The pick: Las Vegas
GREEN BAY (1-1) AT SAN FRANCISCO (2-0)
TV: NBC, 8:20 p.m.
San Francisco by 4; O/U: 50
This is a bad matchup for Green Bay, as Kyle Shanahan’s run schemes will create play-action pass opportunities against an overmatched Packers defense (see: 37-8 and 37-20 wins from the 49ers’ Super Bowl run two seasons ago). Aaron Rodgers as an underdog is always tempting, but this is more about the Packers’ Swiss cheese ‘D.’
The pick: San Francisco
PHILADELPHIA (1-1) AT DALLAS (1-1)
TV: ESPN, 8:15 p.m.
Dallas by 4; O/U: 52
Dallas' first two games were a 31-29 loss and a 20-17 win. Anything over three points in these NFC East battles feels like an automatic underdog side.
The pick: Philadelphia
STAFF STANDINGS AND PICKS
(best bets in bold)
21-10-1, 0-2 best bets
Last week: 9-6-1
Carolina Giants Denver L.A. Chargers
New England Washington Indianapolis Cincinnati
Chicago Baltimore Arizona L.A. Rams
Seattle Las Vegas San Francisco Philadelphia
Last week: 7-8-1
Houston Giants Jets L.A. Chargers
New Orleans Buffalo Tennessee Pittsburgh
Chicago Detroit Arizona L.A. Rams
Minnesota Las Vegas Green Bay Dallas
Last week: 10-5-1
Carolina Giants Denver Kansas City
New Orleans Buffalo Tennessee Pittsburgh
Cleveland Baltimore Arizona L.A. Rams
Seattle Las Vegas Green Bay Dallas
Last week: 5-10-1
Carolina Giants Jets Kansas City
New Orleans Buffalo Indianapolis Pittsburgh
Cleveland Baltimore Arizona Tampa Bay
Minnesota Las Vegas Green Bay Dallas