The NFL is rolling, and there are some compelling matchups on the horizon in Week 3. The Chargers and Chiefs meet in a divisional showdown between Justin Herbert and Patrick Mahomes. The Washington Football Team faces the Bills in an intriguing cross-conference matchup between two playoff teams from a year ago. The Dolphins take on the Raiders in a rematch of what was a very entertaining game last season. The Packers and 49ers, two of the NFL’s most storied franchises, meet on Sunday Night Football. And the Creme de la Creme – the Buccaneers and Rams face off in what could be a preview of the NFC Championship; I’ll be in attendance and couldn’t be more excited. Let’s break down some of these exciting matchups.
My Week 2 record: 11-5 SU, 9-7 ATS, 9-7 O/U
My record overall: 17-15 SU, 16-16 ATS, 17-15 O/U
Week 3 Lines & Odds
Thursday, September 23
Carolina Panthers @ Houston Texans
The Texans have impressed me so far as the NFL world continues to sleep on their ability to be a decent team this season. Tyrod Taylor has been excellent so far this season as he has now completed 31 of 44 passes (70.7%) for 416 yards and three touchdowns. However, Taylor suffered a hamstring injury on Sunday and will miss this game. Davis Mills, the Texans’ rookie third-round pick out of Stanford, took over in relief of Taylor and didn’t fare as well as he only completed 8 of 18 passes and threw an interception. The Carolina defense is full of young talent and looks to have taken a major step forward. In Week 2, the Panthers held Jameis Winston to just a 50% completion rate and two interceptions a week after he threw for five touchdown passes on 20 attempts against the Packers. Brandin Cooks has been excellent to start the season with 14 catches for 210 yards and a touchdown so far through two games, but the Panthers’ pass defense has been great so far as the cornerback duo of Donte Jackson and rookie Jaycee Horn has played exceptionally well.
On the other side of the field, Christian McCaffrey has 324 yards from scrimmage this season and should take advantage of a Houston defense that allowed the Browns to run for 4.6 YPC as a team last week. D.J. Moore has been excellent on the outside; in Week 2, he finished with eight receptions for 79 yards and a touchdown. Houston’s pass defense has been pretty viable so far, surprisingly so, and Sam Darnold isn’t a world-beater at quarterback. Justin Reid had an interception and a forced fumble, and the duo of Terrance Mitchell and Desmond King has been decent. However, the Panthers have so many weapons between McCaffrey, Moore, Robby Anderson, and Terrace Marshall Jr., among others, that can challenge a weaker Texans’ defense.
This Houston team isn’t as bad as we thought it would be before the season, and I picked them to cover the spread in Week 2, which they did narrowly. Public money will likely flow towards Carolina following an impressive win over the Saints last week, but New Orleans was dealing with many significant injuries. If Taylor were healthy, I’d be tempted to pick the Texans to cover, but I don’t see Davis Mills getting the job done in his first career start on the road.
Matchup To Watch: Brandin Cooks (HOU WR) vs. Jaycee Horn and Donte Jackson (CAR CBs)
My Pick: Panthers win 24-10, Panthers cover, under 43.5 points
Sunday, September 26
Indianapolis Colts @ Tennessee Titans
There are many games to be excited for in Week 2, but this one may be the most important in terms of NFL standings and playoff prospects. The Colts fixed many things that went wrong in Week 1 as they kept it close against a stout Rams team in Week 2. Their defense performed admirably against an elite quarterback in Matthew Stafford. However, the Indianapolis defense still presents an excellent bounce-back opportunity for Ryan Tannehill, who has only thrown for one touchdown through two games. Russell Wilson tore apart the Colts in Week 1, and if Xavier Rhodes, the team’s best cornerback, misses again, the defense will be susceptible to a big passing performance from Tennessee. The Colts’ run defense has been very good through two games, but Derrick Henry ran for 178 yards and three touchdowns the last time he faced Indianapolis. The Titans’ offensive line played much better in Week 2, and that allowed Henry to play a crucial role in their comeback win – he finished with 35 carries for 182 yards and three touchdowns.
This game could turn into a shootout as Tennessee’s defense hasn’t held up as well as their offense. The Titans have allowed six passing touchdowns to just one interception through their first two games. Sure, those matchups were against two of the best quarterbacks in the NFL in Kyler Murray and Russell Wilson. However, I was pretty impressed with how Carson Wentz held up against the Rams’ defense that smothered Andy Dalton and the Bears in Week 1. The matchup between Quenton Nelson and Aaron Donald garnered all of the headlines in Week 2, but the player who caught my eye was Michael Pittman, who broke through with eight catches for 123 yards in as tough a matchup as it gets against Jalen Ramsey and the Rams. Jonathan Taylor finished with under 3.5 YPC for the second straight week, and he’ll look to get back on track against a Tennessee defense that allowed the Seahawks to run for 4.3 YPC in Week 2.
Two weeks into the season, the AFC South seems very much up for grabs as we have two 1-1 teams (Texans and Titans) and two 0-2 teams (Colts and Jaguars). I believe the division comes down to these two teams, though, and this is a crucial matchup for each of them to assert dominance. The last three matchups between these squads have been decided by 14 points or more, with Tennessee taking two of them. I have more confidence in Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry than the Colts’ offensive players, particularly at home, so I’m going with the Titans here despite their obvious defensive issues.
Matchup To Watch: Taylor Lewan (TEN OT) vs. Kwity Paye (IND DE)
My Pick: Titans win 27-20, Titans cover, under 52.5 points
Atlanta Falcons @ New York Giants
We don’t know everything after just two weeks in this NFL season, but we do know one thing for sure – the Falcons’ defense is terrible. I mean, we already knew that after last season, but this defense might be worse than last year’s. Atlanta has allowed eight touchdowns and forced just one turnover through its first two games. This is a rare instance where I’d be willing to entertain the possibility of playing Daniel Jones in fantasy football as this defense isn’t capable of stopping anyone. Jones is coming off a great game on Thursday night with 249 passing yards and a touchdown and 95 yards, and a touchdown on the ground. Sterling Shepard has played some excellent football this season, and Saquon Barkley flashed some of his old ability on Thursday on a 41-yard run – that’s all the Giants need against a horrid Falcons defense.
This could be a get-right game for Matt Ryan on the other side of the ball as he has faced a beatable Giants defense that allowed Taylor Heinecke to throw for two touchdowns and lead Washington to 30 points last week. New York’s defense led by Patrick Graham should be solid on paper, but Teddy Bridgewater and Heinecke have now had great games against them. Calvin Ridley, Kyle Pitts, Cordarelle Patterson, and Russell Gage give the Falcons decent offensive talent. Still, Ryan did throw three interceptions against the Buccaneers as he was under pressure all game long. The Atlanta offensive line has struggled so far this season, and that’s likely to continue against New York’s Leonard Williams, Dexter Lawrence, and Lorenzo Carter.
I was excited about the Falcons’ potential this season with Arthur Smith as the new head coach. Matt Ryan hasn’t looked good to start this season, though, and I’m weirdly at a point where I’m more confident in Daniel Jones, particularly with the more favorable matchup. Saquon Barkley could get back on track as one of the best running backs in the league in this game, and the New York offensive line should continue to hold up and outperform expectations.
Matchup To Watch: Calvin Ridley (ATL WR) vs. James Bradberry (NYG CB)
My Pick: Giants win 24-20, Giants cover, under 48.5 points
Los Angeles Chargers @ Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City had a surprising loss to Baltimore on Sunday night on the road as Lamar Jackson feasted on the ground with 16 carries for 107 yards and two touchdowns. The Chiefs’ run defense continues to be a significant weakness that they will need to rectify to return to the Super Bowl this season. Patrick Mahomes still had a great game with 77% passing for 343 yards and three touchdowns with an interception, but the Ravens found a successful formula for Tyreek Hill and held him to three catches for 14 yards. The Chargers may look to take a page out of their playbook and force other players on the Chiefs to beat them with consistent double-teams on the All-Pro wideout. Los Angeles’s new head coach Brandon Staley engineered the best pass defense in the NFL with the Rams last season and has plenty of defensive talent at his disposal with Derwin James, Chris Harris Jr., Michael Davis, and rookie Asante Samuel headlining the Chargers’ secondary. Joey Bosa will also wreak havoc against a young Chiefs’ offensive line that showed it’s not battle-tested in Week 2.
The Chiefs’ defense isn’t consistent enough to hold down a high-powered Chargers’ offense for the entirety of this game. Austin Ekeler should be heavily featured in the rushing game, and the Chargers will also get the ball to Keenan Allen as often as possible. Mike Williams has also been heavily involved in this offense so far, and he had seven catches for 91 yards and a touchdown last week as he saw another ten targets. Kansas City’s pass coverage isn’t as weak as its run defense as Marquise Brown had six catches for 113 yards and a touchdown in Week 2 and Baker Mayfield threw for over 300 yards in Week 1. Justin Herbert should be capable of moving the ball against this team, although Tyrann Mathieu had two interceptions in Week 1, and he’s still one of the best safeties in the NFL. The more significant concern for Herbert this week is that he’s going on the road to face the Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium, which should be roaring for a divisional matchup. He could struggle with that type of hostile environment as a younger quarterback.
The Chiefs haven’t lost back-to-back games since October 2019, and I’m not predicting that to change this week, particularly as they return to the confines of Arrowhead Stadium. However, the Chiefs have shown some warts in the first two weeks of the season and have some issues they need to resolve moving forward. Kansas City was just 8-11 against the spread last season, and the Chargers have enough talent on both sides of the ball to keep this game close.
Matchup To Watch: Orlando Brown (KC OT) vs. Joey Bosa (LAC DE)
My Pick: Chiefs win 27-24, Chargers cover, under 54.5 points
Cincinnati Bengals @ Pittsburgh Steelers
In an efficient Week 1 performance, Joe Burrow looked great and then, in Week 2, proceeded to throw three interceptions, one that was returned for a touchdown by the Bears. The Steelers’ defense could cause similar issues for Burrow as he was sacked four times and constantly under duress behind a poor Cincinnati offensive line. T.J. Watt suffered a groin injury against the Raiders but should be good to go for Week 3 while Cameron Heyward, Melvin Ingram, and Alex Highsmith will make Burrow’s life miserable. However, I expected Derek Carr to struggle under pressure in Week 2, and he completed 75% of his passes for 382 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. The last time Burrow faced the Steelers, he completed just 52.5% of his passes and took four sacks as Cincy only scored 10 points. Ja’Marr Chase helps provide explosiveness in the receiving game, but the Bengals haven’t resolved their protection issues.
On the other side of the ball, Najee Harris has still struggled as he ran for only 38 yards against what looked to be a poor Raiders’ run defense. The Steelers’ offensive line has performed poorly, and it’s made life tough on Ben Roethlisberger. The Bengals have a decent pass rush with Trey Hendrickson, D.J. Reader, and Sam Hubbard. The Bengals also held David Montgomery to just 3.1 YPC in the last game after he ran at a 6.8 YPC clip against the Rams. It’s tough to get a read on the Steelers’ offense with new offensive coordinator Matt Canada. It was eye-popping to see Pittsburgh struggle to keep pace with Las Vegas in terms of scoring despite the Raiders traveling East on a short week following a draining overtime Monday Night Football game.
The Bengals are 1-11 straight up in their last 12 games against the Steelers, and while things are looking up for that franchise, I don’t want to overreact to their Week 1 win in which the Vikings racked up over 100 yards of penalties. Joe Burrow will be under constant duress against the Steelers’ front seven and Najee Harris should be able to get on track against the Bengals’ defense, but Cincy likely keeps this closer than some may expect.
Matchup To Watch: Riley Reiff (CIN OT) vs. T.J. Watt (PIT OLB)
My Pick: Steelers win 28-22, Steelers cover, over 45.5 points
Chicago Bears @ Cleveland Browns
I picked the Texans to cover ATS in Week 2, but that had more to do with the high points spread and my belief that Houston is halfway decent than it did in any concerns I have about the Browns moving forward. Cleveland went into halftime in a tie with the Texans but did what the great teams do – regroup, change tactics, and go on a 17-7 second-half run. Baker Mayfield did throw another interception, his second of the season, but overall he was very efficient as he completed 19 of 21 passes. Nick Chubb racked up 95 rushing yards and a touchdown on just 13 carries, and Cleveland didn’t have to do much offensively to come away with the win. This matchup will be more challenging. The Bears don’t have the same vaunted defense they used to, but Chicago proved in Week 2 that their defense is nothing to scoff at. Roquan Smith ran an interception back for a touchdown while Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, Bilal Nichols, and Robert Quinn ran rampant over the Bengals’ offensive line. I ranked Cleveland’s offensive line as the best in the NFL, however, so this is a matchup of strength versus strength.
On the other side of the ball, it seems like it’s finally Justin Fields’s time as the rookie quarterback replaced Andy Dalton, following the veteran leaving the game with a knee injury. Fields wasn’t special in relief – he completed just 6 of 13 passes for 60 yards and threw an interception that breathed life into the Bengals late in the game. As much as I love his upside, he’s still a rookie acclimating to the pace of the pro game and could struggle against a strong Cleveland defense. Wide receiver Allen Robinson will likely see a lot of Denzel Ward in this game, a tough matchup for him, while Myles Garrett is going to overwhelm the Bears’ mediocre offensive line. If you’re Chicago, you’d like to see Fields make his debut against a weaker defense than this, perhaps the Lions in Week 4. However, if Dalton is unable to go then, Fields will surely get the start.
If the Bears do roll with Justin Fields in this game, excitement will be in the air throughout Chicago. The Browns are 2-13 ATS in their last 15 games against teams allowing less than 3.75 YPC and the Bears rank fifth in that category, allowing 3.3 YPC so far this season. With Jarvis Landry out, the Browns have a limited complement of pass-catchers, and Fields is capable of keeping this game close.
Matchup To Watch: Jack Conklin (CLE OT) vs. Khalil Mack (CHI OLB)
My Pick: Browns win 24-21, Bears cover, under 46.5 points
Baltimore Ravens @ Detroit Lions
The Ravens allowed the Raiders to earn arguably the win of Week 1, but they came back and registered the most impressive win of the season as Lamar Jackson said it felt good to “get that monkey off our back” with his first career win over the Chiefs. Jackson’s final stats weren’t particularly impressive and it wasn’t the best game of his career, but he came back admirably from two early Tyrann Mathieu interceptions, one for a pick-six, and willed his team to the big win. Jackson overcame the absence of Ronnie Stanley, the team’s lockdown left tackle, which I expected to be more of an issue for him. Marquise Brown registered his second excellent game of the season and now has 12 catches for 182 yards and 2 touchdowns this season. He’ll look to keep the good times rolling against a Detroit secondary now without would-be second-year cornerback Jeff Okudah. Aaron Rodgers decimated Detroit with 255 yards and 4 touchdowns on 81% passing in Week 2, and the Lions’ defense appears to once again be one of the worst in the league.
Jared Goff has impressed me so far this season as he’s performed admirably on his new team, but the Ravens are going to prove to be an insurmountable defense for him. Marcus Peters is out for the year and Jimmy Smith missed the game on Sunday Night, but young cornerbacks Anthony Averett and Brandon Stephens stepped up with some big plays in the win over the Chiefs. Rookie Odafe Oweh came up with arguably the play of the game with a forced fumble and recovery on the Chiefs’ final drive. Kansas City’s young offensive line held up surprisingly well against a deep Baltimore pass rush – Mahomes was only pressured twice in the game – but the Ravens still have some of the best front seven talent in the NFL that will make life difficult for Goff. D’Andre Swift and T.J. Hockenson will remain the top targets in the passing game, and getting the ball out of Goff’s hands quickly will be paramount to sustaining longer drives and keeping the ball away from the Ravens’ potent pass rush.
Goff has played decent football this season, but the Lions had two crucial turnovers on Monday night and their defense had no answers for a red-hot Aaron Rodgers. While they do have the benefit of returning home to Detroit this week, I have a hard time seeing how the Lions can slow down one of the best rushing offenses in the league. Combine that with a couple of turnovers against a potent Baltimore defense, and you have the recipe for what could turn into a blowout.
Matchup To Watch: Penei Sewell (DET OT) vs. Odafe Oweh (BAL OLB)
My Pick: Ravens win 34-20, Ravens cover, over 50 points
New Orleans Saints @ New England Patriots
The Saints were decimated with injuries and a small COVID-19 outbreak among assistant coaches before their Week 2 game. They were without Marshon Lattimore, C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Marcus Davenport, and Kwon Alexander, leaving their defense vulnerable to Sam Darnold, Christian McCaffrey, and the Carolina offense. If that many starters are absent again in Week 3, it will be tough not to have confidence in Mac Jones to succeed. However, we will have to keep an eye on practice reports to have more of an understanding of who will be active. Jones spread the ball around in Week 2 with only James White having more than four catches as seven different players caught passes. Damien Harris led the way on the ground with a strong effort that included a 26-yard touchdown run in which he broke several tackles and carried a few Jets into the end zone with him. The Saints have a better run defense than the Jets, but Harris could have another decent game if they’re missing a few front seven players.
For New Orleans, the bigger story in Week 2 was only putting up seven points on the Panthers one week after scoring 38 against the Packers. Bad Jameis Winston returned as he completed just 11 of 22 passes for 111 yards and two interceptions, while the team’s only touchdown came on the ground from Winston. Alvin Kamara had just 5 yards on eight carries, while no receiver had more than Lil’Jordan Humphrey’s 27 yards. This poor production came one week after James Winston threw for five touchdowns on 20 attempts. The truth likely lies somewhere in the middle of these two extremes, but Winston will likely trend more towards a subpar performance this week. New England’s defense is loaded with talent, particularly in the secondary with J.C Jackson and Jonathan Jones. New Orleans doesn’t have enough receiving pieces to combat it until Michael Thomas can get healthy.
Both of these teams have top-notch offensive lines and great defenses but have received inconsistent quarterback play. After an awful performance against Carolina, I don’t see New England as the defense to give Winston a get-right opportunity, particularly at Gillette Stadium. This game will be an ugly, defensive-led game, and I’ll take Bill Belichick to get his guys the win at home.
Matchup To Watch: Trent Brown (NE OT) vs. Cameron Jordan (NO DE)
My Pick: Patriots win 20-17, Patriots cover, under 43 points
Arizona Cardinals @ Jacksonville Jaguars
Kyler Murray is a clear MVP candidate two weeks into the season as he has thrown for seven touchdowns and run for another two this year. His ability to extend plays with his legs and make perfect throws downfield is matched perhaps only by Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilson, and he’s becoming a polished quarterback very quickly. The Cardinals have done an excellent job of surrounding Murray with offensive weapons such as DeAndre Hopkins, Christian Kirk, A.J. Green, and rookie Rondale Moore who busted loose for a 77-yard touchdown last week. Arizona’s offense has benefitted from an improved offensive line. It should demolish a Jaguars’ defense that allowed Tyrod Taylor and Teddy Bridgewater to throw two touchdowns with no interceptions. Courtland Sutton caught nine passes for 159 yards against the Jaguars, and that should make you very excited for what Hopkins is capable of against this Jacksonville defense.
Trevor Lawrence struggled again in Week 2 as he has now thrown for more interceptions (5) than touchdowns (4) while completing only half of his passes this season. The Jaguars’ offensive line hasn’t done him any favors and he was under pressure in Week 2 again. This week could be epic as Chandler Jones and J.J. Watt lead one of the best defensive fronts in the league into battle against one of the worst offensive lines. Marvin Jones has emerged as the top receiver in the offense – he had 6 catches for 55 yards and a touchdown last week – but I don’t trust Lawrence to deliver the ball consistently and accurately downfield as he will be under heavy pressure all game long. Not that Urban Meyer has even shown a strong desire to run the ball, but the Jaguars’ run game could struggle against stout linebackers like Isaiah Simmons and rookie Zaven Collins, as well.
This one seems easy to me – I don’t care that the Cardinals are on the road; they should be getting 10 points against what is perhaps the worst team in the NFL. Lawrence is going to struggle against a potent pass rush while Murray tears apart a weak defense.
Matchup To Watch: DeAndre Hopkins (ARI WR) vs. C.J. Henderson (JAX CB)
My Pick: Cardinals win 31-20, Cardinals cover, under 52 points
Washington Football Team @ Buffalo Bills
Now, that’s more like it. I was heavily concerned about the Bills following their Week 1 loss at home to the Steelers, but they went ahead and put all of those concerns to rest for the time being with a 35-0 shellacking of the Dolphins in Miami. Tua Tagovailoa only attempted four passes before leaving with an injury, and the sight of the team’s franchise quarterback being carted off the field was indeed deflating for Dolphins players. Let’s not take anything away from Buffalo, though, who looked like the contender I expected to see right off the bat this season. In a surprise turn of events, the Bills leaned heavily on their run game last week. Devin Singletary scored on a 46-yard touchdown run, Zack Moss scored two touchdowns after being a healthy scratch in Week 1, and the Bills averaged 4.8 YPC. In this matchup, we could see Buffalo lean on many option rushes with Allen and the RBs as Washington struggled to contain Daniel Jones on the run last week. While Buffalo has a solid offensive line, a decent ground game could be crucial to keeping the ferocious Washington front seven off balance.
I’ve been very impressed with Taylor Heinecke so far, as he’s played exceptionally well in the NFL despite not facing the easiest matchups. The Bills’ secondary presents challenges, particularly as Tre’Davious White should shadow Terry McLaurin for much of this game. More than in other games, Washington will likely rely on ancillary receivers like Logan Thomas, Adam Humphries, and Dyami Brown. However, the rest of Buffalo’s secondary is pretty solid as well. Antonio Gibson had just 73 yards from scrimmage on 15 touches last week against the Giants, and Washington will be hoping to get him more involved this week. Buffalo’s run defense has been stellar so far this season, though.
The Bills got back on track last week and are very much the contender we expected them to be this season. However, Washington shouldn’t be overlooked even with Taylor Heinecke at quarterback – they have lots of talent on both sides of the ball and are uniquely equipped to make Josh Allen’s life difficult in this matchup. Buffalo still pulls out the win at home, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Washington keep this close and make it a lower-scoring game.
Matchup To Watch: Terry McLaurin (WAS WR) vs. Tre’Davious White (WAS CB)
My Pick: Bills win 26-20, Washington covers, under 47.5 points
New York Jets @ Denver Broncos
I expected Zach Wilson to struggle against Bill Belichick’s Patriots defense, which always smothers opposing rookie quarterbacks, but that was a shockingly bad performance. Wilson threw four interceptions and finished with a comically lousy QBR of 8.8. I have high hopes for Wilson long-term, but man was that awful performance. Wilson became the third rookie in the past 40 years to have four interceptions in his first ten attempts, joining the Bears’ Kyle Orton (2005) and the Bills’ Nathan Peterman (2017). Wilson now faces a Denver defense that held Trevor Lawrence to just 42% passing and picked him off twice last week. It’s hard to imagine Wilson will have a good game in this matchup, particularly if Jamison Crowder continues to miss time. Following a two-touchdown effort in Week 1, Corey Davis had just two catches for 8 yards against the Patriots. He’s likely going to struggle against Denver’s elite cornerbacks.
On the other side of the ball, Teddy Bridgewater has been playing excellent football this season. Per Andrew Mason, a Broncos reporter, Bridgewater is the first Broncos QB to complete at least 75% in two consecutive games (minimum 20 attempts) since Peyton Manning in Weeks 4 and 5 of the 2013 season. Bridgewater is also on pace for 44 passing touchdowns and no interceptions. It’s far from a stretch to say he’s the best quarterback in Denver since Manning by a massive amount. Courtland Sutton seemed to enjoy the QB upgrade on Sunday as he caught nine passes for 159 yards. The loss of Jerry Jeudy is significant long-term for this team, but Sutton, Noah Fant, Tim Patrick, and KJ Hamler give Bridgewater plenty of high-level receiving talent to make good use of. Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams should also continue to lead the way on the ground against a vulnerable Jets defense.
Denver has had the requisite talent to be a playoff team for the past several years but has consistently been held back by quarterbacks who turn the ball over unnecessarily and force the defense into bad spots. Teddy Bridgewater isn’t just safe with the ball – he’s capable of making dynamic downfield throws and leading a solid offense. The Jets are at a significant disadvantage in this game, and Broncos fans will be excited to welcome their team back to Denver following their impressive 2-0 start.
Matchup To Watch: Morgan Moses (NYJ OT) vs. Von Miller (DEN OLB)
My Pick: Broncos win 27-13, Broncos cover, under 41.5 points
Miami Dolphins @ Las Vegas Raiders
Tua Tagovailoa was carted off the field with an apparent rib injury on Sunday, and you could immediately tell the crowd, players, and coaches were all deflated in Miami. Buffalo rolled over them 35-0 as Jacoby Brissett struggled in completing just 60% of his passes for 169 yards and an ugly interception. He also took four sacks and was under pressure against a surprisingly good Raiders pass rush led by Maxx Crosby, Carl Nassib, Yannick Ngakoue, and Solomon Thomas. Las Vegas had a combined ten quarterback hits in Week 2 as they constantly had Ben Roethlisberger under heavy fire. So far, Gus Bradley has proven to be a massive upgrade at defensive coordinator and has transformed the Raiders from one of the worst defenses in the league to a surprising force. Even if Tagovailoa were healthy, I’d have concerns about the Miami offense against this team with one of the worst offensive lines in the league. Jaylen Waddle has looked good in his rookie season, but Will Fuller’s continued absence has hurt the Miami receiving corps.
Speaking of the worst offensive lines in the league, the Raiders have fared much better in protecting Derek Carr than I ever would have expected. If you told me before the game last week that of the Steelers or Raiders, one would have twice as many QB hits as the other team, I would have never picked Vegas. However, Carr wasn’t under the type of pressure I expected against T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward, and the Steelers’ front seven. Carr has been playing MVP-caliber football so far this season. He has completed 66.7% of his passes for 817 yards and four touchdowns, and an interception against two defenses, which I expected to be among the league’s best this year season. Darren Waller has, of course, been at the center of the passing game, but Henry Ruggs has emerged in his second pro season and had five catches for 113 yards and a touchdown last week. Hunter Renfrow and Bryan Edwards have been reliable pass-catchers as well.
The Raiders have impressed me so far this season. I warily picked Vegas to cover the spread last week despite traveling East on a short week following an emotionally draining Monday night opener. They didn’t even allow Pittsburgh to keep the game close. Derek Carr keeps things rolling here against either a hobbled Tagovailoa or a called-up Brissett.
Matchup To Watch: Jesse Davis (MIA OT) vs. Maxx Crosby (LV DE)
My Pick: Raiders win 24-17, Raiders cover, under 45.5 points
Seattle Seahawks @ Minnesota Vikings
These two teams played in two of the highest-scoring games of Week 2, so naturally, this should be a high-scoring battle between two elite offenses. When these two teams played early last season, Minnesota held a 13-0 halftime lead before Seattle mounted a wild second-half comeback to win 27-26. Kirk Cousins has been excellent through two games this season with five touchdowns to no interceptions and a passer rating of 112.9, the eight-best in the NFL. Following a poor Week 1, Seattle allowed Ryan Tannehill to bounce back with 347 passing yards last week and should have a tough time defending against Cousins with his elite wide receivers. Against the Cardinals, all three of Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, and K.J. Osborn scored a touchdown as Osborn continues to impress in an elevated starting role. Dalvin Cook also bounced back with 22 carries for 131 yards, and the Seahawks allowed Derrick Henry to run for 182 yards and three touchdowns last week, so this should be a good spot for Cook.
Russell Wilson, also known as Mr. September, is playing great ball so far this season with a 74.1% completion rate and six touchdowns to no interceptions. He also leads the NFL with a near-perfect 146.9 passer rating. Minnesota’s defense did pick off Kyler Murray twice last week, but they also allowed some huge plays on busted coverage that Wilson will surely take advantage of. Bashaud Breeland has been terrible in coverage for the Vikings and has already allowed three touchdowns. Patrick Peterson has been solid, but Mackensie Alexander has also allowed some huge plays. It’s not difficult to imagine this defense getting torched by Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf this week. I also have a lot of faith in Chris Carson having a good game against a defense that allowed Joe Mixon to run for 127 yards and a touchdown in Week 1.
With loads of offensive talent and favorable matchups on both sides of the field, it’s not surprising that this is one of the games this week expected to surpass the 55-point mark. I have enough confidence in Russell Wilson to win on the road with what is likely a better team overall, but I can’t say I’d be shocked if Minnesota found a way to avoid dropping to 0-3.
Matchup To Watch: D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett (SEA WRs) vs. Bashaud Breeland and Mackenzie Alexander (MIN CBs)
My Pick: Seahawks win 28-24, Seahawks cover, under 55.5 points
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Los Angeles Rams
I’ll be attending this game in person at the new SoFi Stadium, and I am so beyond thrilled about getting to see Tom Brady and the Buccaneers take on Matthew Stafford and the Rams in what could be a potential NFC Championship preview. Stafford has been excellent through two games in a Rams jersey as he’s completed 69.6% of his passes for 599 yards and five touchdowns with just one interception. He also ranks third in the NFL with a 127.0 passer rating. Cooper Kupp has been ridiculously good with his new quarterback as he has caught 16 passes for 271 yards and three touchdowns through two games – that’s a 17-game pace of 136 catches for 2,300 yards and 25.5 touchdowns. It’s not a hot take to say he’s not going to hit those numbers, but he’s been excellent so far this season. Robert Woods has trailed behind in receiving numbers, but he’s still a very good pass-catcher as well. Those two should be able to succeed against what has been an underwhelming Tampa secondary so far. The real test will be whether or not the Rams’ offensive line can hold up against the fierce Bucs pass rush featuring Shaquill Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul, Ndamukong Suh, Vita Vea, and Devin White. So far, the offensive line has played admirably, and Stafford has only been sacked twice through two games.
Tom Brady looks like an MVP candidate through two games of the season as he already has nine passing touchdowns – that would be good for a 17-game pace of 76.5 touchdowns. Mike Evans was the Tampa receiver to lead the way this past Sunday as after a disappointing Week 1; he caught five balls for 75 yards and two touchdowns against the Falcons. Rob Gronkowski scored another two touchdowns and now has four on the season – he’s been the team’s top red-zone threat, which we should have seen coming from a mile away after he scored two touchdowns in the Super Bowl. Chris Godwin scored another touchdown on Sunday, his second of the season, while safety Mike Edwards had not one but two pick-sixes in the same game. Along with Antonio Brown, Evans, Gronk, and Godwin from one of the best receiving corps in the NFL, but they will be put to the test this week against Jalen Ramsey’s defense. Darious Williams, David Long, and Robert Rochell have been solid depth pieces at cornerbacks so far, but the Rams have missed John Johnson and Troy Hill, who were crucial parts of the pass defense last season. Additionally, if there’s an offensive line in the NFL that can handle Aaron Donald and Leonard Floyd, it’s the Buccaneers who have ranked #1 in pass blocking on PFF so far this season.
This is one of those games that I don’t want to predict. It’s going to be an epic game between two Super Bowl contenders with elite quarterbacks, top-notch defenses, and class head coaches. The Buccaneers have more proven continuity than Stafford does with the Rams, and their receiving corps will be formidable for LA to contend with. That’s enough for me to give Tom Brady the edge here, but I could see this going either way, and something tells me this will not be the only time these teams play this season.
Matchup To Watch: Mike Evans (TB WR) vs. Jalen Ramsey (LAR CB)
My Pick: Buccaneers win 30-27, Buccaneers cover, over 54.5 points
Green Bay Packers @ San Francisco 49ers
Welcome back to normalcy, Aaron Rodgers. Tuesday on the Pat McAfee Show, Rodgers sounded off on the media members who had been critical of a poor Week 1 and who had questioned his work ethic, desire to win, or preparation level. Point take, Aaron. I bet on the Lions to cover the spread in Week 1 and immediately regretted it as Rodgers played like he had something to prove, and he certainly did. The 49ers will provide more of a challenge for Rodgers than the Lions did, but Rodgers threw for 305 yards and four touchdowns against San Francisco last year and will be eagerly awaiting a matchup on Sunday Night with a fellow NFC contender. Aaron Jones stole the show for Green Bay on Monday as he had 115 yards from scrimmage and four total touchdowns (three receiving) against Detroit. Davante Adams had 8 catches for 121 yards but failed to score a touchdown for the second straight game. Still, the Packers’ offensive pieces got back on track the way they needed to early on in the season. I’m intrigued to see if a transitioning Packers’ offensive line can hold up against a potent Niners pass rush featuring Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead. However, the 49ers are dealing with a lot of injuries in the secondary, and Rodgers should take advantage.
For the 49ers, Week 2 brought more of the war of attrition at the running back position after Raheem Mostert was lost for the year in Week 1; Elijah Mitchell and Trey Sermon are questionable for Week 3 while JaMychal Hasty is already confirmed out with an ankle injury. Kyle Shanahan has proven capable of making the run game work with a number of different running backs, but that the Niners already claimed Jacques Patrick, a former XFL running back, off the Bengals’ practice squad is not a great sign. Jimmy Garoppolo has played pretty efficient football so far this year, but the Packers’ Jaire Alexander will be capable of neutralizing top target Deebo Samuel in this game. Will Brandon Aiyuk be ready to step up after a slow start to the season? Will this finally be the big George Kittle game we’ve been waiting for? I’m not sure, but it definitely feels like there are more unanswered questions on the Niners’ side of the equation than for the Packers.
Aaron Rodgers got back on track in a big way in Week 2 and should be able to take advantage of a struggling 49ers’ secondary. Jason Verrett, the backbone of the defense, is out for the year, and starting cornerbacks Emmanuel Mosley and Josh Norman have now also hit the injury report. The Packers aren’t necessarily the more talented team, but I just trust Rodgers to get the job done on the road against a defense struggling with injuries. If the Niners can’t run the ball, they could have some issues moving the ball and keeping pace in scoring.
Matchup To Watch: Deebo Samuel (SF WR) vs. Jaire Alexander (GB CB)
My Pick: Packers win 27-24, Packers cover, over 49.5 points
Monday, September 27
Philadelphia Eagles @ Dallas Cowboys
I might have been a bit ahead of myself on the Eagles. Following their Week 1 shellacking of the Falcons, I put the 49ers on upset alert in Week 2. Philadelphia did keep the game close throughout, but their offense did not produce as I expected it to. Jalen Hurts completed just over 50% of his passes, and Nick Sirriani didn’t call enough downfield passes to take advantage of the 49ers’ weakened cornerback room without Jason Verrett. Whether that was poor play-calling by a first-year head coach or a lack of confidence in his quarterback, it was a concerning development. The Eagles did quite well on the ground – they averaged 5.2 YPC against a tough San Francisco front seven – but their lack of passing production played a major part in them being held to 11 points for the game. Dallas’s defense isn’t nearly on the same level as San Francisco’s and this matchup should provide a nice bounce-back opportunity for Hurts and the Eagles’ passing offense as the Cowboys have allowed 358.5 passing yards per game so far, the most in the NFL, and will be without their top pass-rusher in DeMarcus Lawrence who suffered a broken foot last week.
I figured the Eagles would put up more of a fight defensively against the 49ers, but Jimmy Garoppolo seemingly found it pretty easy to move the ball up and down the field as he completed 73% of his passes and threw a touchdown. In fairness to the Eagles, they did hold one of the best rushing offenses in the NFL to just 3.1 YPC – that doesn’t bode well for Ezekiel Elliott despite his bounce-back last week. Dak Prescott should be able to take advantage of a mediocre Philadelphia secondary through the air, though, particularly with Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb, one of the most talented receiver duos in the NFL. Brandon Graham likely suffered a torn Achilles on Sunday and will miss the rest of the season, which is a massive blow for the Eagles’ defense as he was their best pass-rusher. Fletcher Cox and Derek Barnett will need to step up in his absence.
When the Eagles and Cowboys played at the end of last season, Dallas earned a 37-17 victory despite Dak Prescott and most of the offensive line not playing. The Cowboys are much healthier now, although Philly also saw its veteran offensive linemen return from injuries this year, and Dallas is without DeMarcus Lawrence now. I have enough confidence in Dak Prescott to cover the spread at home, and the Cowboys should be the team to beat in the NFC East, but Jalen Hurts is capable of making things exciting on Monday night.
Matchup To Watch: Amari Cooper (DAL WR) vs. Darius Slay (PHI CB)
My Pick: Cowboys win 28-24, Cowboys cover, over 51.5 points