N.F.L. Week 3 Predictions: Our Picks Against the Spread

Week 2 was a wild one. Underdogs went 10-4 against the spread, and seven won their games straight up, with some improbable second-half (and even final-minute-and-a-half) comebacks. Volatility reared its ugly head, and eight teams covered by double digits, with only one game within a point of the spread (This column was on the wrong side of that half point, naturally.).

This week, however, there are no double-digit favorites, and no team is favored by more than a touchdown. As the market learns more about these teams, the lines will get sharper and picks will get increasingly difficult.

We finished 9-7 for the second week in a row, but would have covered in one of the Monday night games had the referees not ruled incorrectly against a Chicago touchdown. But no one likes to hear bad beat stories.

Last week: 9-7

Overall: 18-14

All times Eastern.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Thursday’s Game
  • Sunday’s Best Games
  • Sunday’s Other Games
  • Monday’s Game
  • How Betting Lines Work

Thursday’s Game

Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1) at Cleveland Browns (1-1), 8:15 p.m., Amazon Prime

Line: Browns -4.5 | Total: 38

The Browns lost a heartbreaker to the Jets, who made an improbable comeback Sunday. But Cleveland had looked capable for three and a half quarters, especially in the running game, which was led by Nick Chubb’s three touchdowns (though he probably wishes he had that last one back).

Pittsburgh struggled against the Patriots’ rushing attack Sunday, and the Steelers’ offense has put up only two offensive touchdowns so far, leading fans to chant for the backup quarterback Kenny Pickett to replace Mitch Trubisky. Weather in Cleveland could be cold and wet Thursday night. There’s a reason this is the lowest total this week. In a low-scoring game, half-points are all the more valuable.Pick: Steelers +4.5

Sunday’s Best Games

Tua Tagovailoa had one of the best games of his career in Week 2: 469 passing yards and six touchdowns, two of which were passes to Tyreek Hill (10).Credit…Tommy Gilligan/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

Buffalo Bills (2-0) at Miami Dolphins (2-0), 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Bills -6 | Total: 53

Through the first two weeks of the season, the Dolphins were a popular pick among professionals. This week, they get their biggest challenge against a Bills team that looks more and more impressive, and that is coming off a thumping of the Titans Monday night. The line moved from 3.5 to 6 as the Bills have taken on all the money.

Miami should be confident after a dramatic comeback against the Ravens in which Tua Tagovailoa threw for an eye-popping 469 yards and six (yes, six) touchdowns. Two of those were passes to receiver Tyreek Hill, who appears to have arrived. This game will be a statement game for either undefeated A.F.C. East team. Pick: Dolphins +6

Detroit Lions (1-1) at Minnesota Vikings (1-1), 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Vikings -5.5 | Total: 52.5

The Lions ranked 25th in the league in points scored last season but are its second-highest scoring team so far, with at least 35 points in each game. Detroit’s offense is good, as evidenced last week when Jared Goff averaged 7.5 yards per pass and threw four touchdowns to beat Washington, 36-27.

The defense? Not as good. Quarterback Kirk Cousins and receiver Justin Jefferson should be able to bounce back in this game, after struggling against the Eagles Monday night. The market is showing a lot of love for Detroit, but it also moved the number from 8 to 5.5. Pick: Vikings -5.5

Philadelphia Eagles (2-0) at Washington Commanders (1-1), 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Eagles -7 | Total: 47.5

Philadelphia has taken lots of sharp money every week, and this line has moved from 1.5 on the look-ahead to 3 last Sunday to 7 as of Wednesday. That might be too far. The Eagles played Monday night and have to travel to Washington on a short week. The quarterback the team shipped out after five seasons, Carson Wentz, has put up back-to-back games of 300 or more yards and three or more touchdowns in his first season in Washington and may be looking to prove something. Pick: Commanders +7

From left, Travon Walker, Josh Allen and Arden Key have helped lift the Jaguars’ defense to a top-five unit.Credit…Courtney Culbreath/Getty Images

Jacksonville Jaguars (1-1) at Los Angeles Chargers (1-1), 4:05 p.m., CBS

Line: Chargers -7 | Total: 47

The look-ahead line for this game was 10, so the market clearly thinks the Jaguars are doing something right. Jacksonville has attracted a whopping 93 percent of the money in a matchup where the total number of bets is split fairly evenly. Perhaps that has something to do with the rib cartilage fracture Justin Herbert sustained in last week’s narrow loss at Kansas City.

Herbert is expected to start for the Chargers on Sunday, however. So the big question is whether all that early support for the Jaguars came in at the larger numbers and dried up as the line moved. So far it’s holding. This one, like everything, really, is a coin flip. Pick: Jaguars +7

Los Angeles Rams (1-1) at Arizona Cardinals (1-1), 4:25 p.m., Fox

Line: Rams -3.5 | Total: 49

The Rams needed to take an intentional safety to lock up a scary-close win over the Falcons last week despite being 10.5-point favorites. The Cardinals won a thriller against the Raiders in overtime after Kyler Murray took over the game. Arizona is trending up and attracting heavy money. Pick: Cardinals +3.5

Green Bay Packers (1-1) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-0), 4:25 p.m., Fox

Line: Buccaneers -1 Total: 42

The Buccaneers were already dealing with injuries to their receivers, with Julio Jones (knee) and Chris Godwin (hamstring) both out in Week 2. Both are questionable for this game, in which another receiver, Mike Evans, will be out serving a suspension for fighting in last week’s win over the Saints.

Aaron Rodgers has also been auditioning receivers, with eight different Packers having recorded catches in Week 2. The line has been all over the place, painted anywhere from 1 to 2.5. Pick: Buccaneers -1

Sunday’s Other Games

New Orleans Saints (1-1) at Carolina Panthers (0-2), 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Saints -3 | Total: 40.5

Quarterback Jameis Winston has four fractured vertebrae, but the Saints plan to play him anyway, saying they aren’t as concerned with further injury as managing his pain. But Winston looked to suffer plenty, throwing interceptions on three straight possessions in the fourth quarter last week against the Buccaneers, including a pick-6 on the final one. The backup Andy Dalton and the do-everything Taysom Hill may see reps if things go awry again. Saints running back Alvin Kamara is also questionable to play because of a rib injury, which means this is as good a shot as any for the home-underdog Panthers to get their first win. Pick: Panthers +3

Running back David Montgomery, left, and quarterback Justin Fields will try to balance the Bears’ offense against the Texans.Credit…Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Houston Texans (0-1-1) at Chicago Bears (1-1), 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Bears -2.5 | Total: 39.5

Both of these teams rank fairly low on most experts’ power rankings. Despite low expectations, the Bears ran the ball well against the Packers last week, getting 8.4 yards per carry from the running back duo of David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert. Chicago may lean on the run too much to overpower a Lovie Smith-coached defense: Bears quarterback Justin Fields has thrown for 121 and 70 yards in his two starts this season. Houston’s offense has also underperformed — the unit has scored only two touchdowns this season — so they’ll trust the defense to keep this one close. Pick: Bears -2.5

San Francisco 49ers (1-1) at Denver Broncos (1-1) 8:20 p.m., NBC

Line: 49ers -1 | Total: 45

This game opened at Denver -2.5 and has moved all the way to San Francisco -2.5. As of Wednesday, it was at 1. That movement might be a sign that the market thinks the veteran quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is an upgrade for the 49ers over Trey Lance, who broke his right ankle last week and is out for the season. Or it might be a reaction to Denver’s coaching issues. Broncos fans have taken to not only booing the first-year head coach Nathaniel Hackett’s play calls, but also have been counting down the play clock in an effort to help the team avoid delay of game penalties. Russell Wilson has played against San Francisco many times in his career, having shared the N.F.C. West during his Seattle tenure, and the 49ers may take some time to adjust to having Jimmy G. back under center. Pick: 49ers -1

Jonathan Taylor, last season’s top N.F.L. running back, had just nine carries last week in the Colts’ loss to the Jaguars.Credit…Peter Joneleit/Associated Press

Kansas City (2-0) at Indianapolis Colts (0-1-1), 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Kansas City -6 | Total: 50

Kansas City gutted out a win against the Chargers last week, but failed to cover by a half point. The Colts have struggled to find an effective unit to build around, having tied the Texans and gotten shut out by the lowly Jaguars despite being favored in both games.

To change course, Indianapolis will have to get Jonathan Taylor more involved. Last season’s league-leader in rushing yards (1,811), attempts (332) and touchdowns (18) had just nine carries in last week’s loss while Colts quarterback Matt Ryan threw three interceptions. Most bets are on Kansas City but the actual money is split on the Colts’ home opener. Pick: Kansas City -6

Baltimore Ravens (1-1) at New England Patriots (1-1), 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Ravens -3 | Total: 44

Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson was getting M.V.P. chants last week after a showstopping first-half performance against Miami. In the second half, however, the battered Ravens secondary gave up 319 passing yards and five touchdowns, dropping Baltimore to the worst-ranked passing defense in the N.F.L. for a second year. The Patriots, coming off a win, are throwing the ball better behind Mac Jones, who may get Coach Bill Belichick’s blessing to air it out against the Ravens. Pick: Patriots +3

Cincinnati Bengals (0-2) at Jets (1-1), 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Bengals -4.5 | Total: 45

The Bengals are struggling against Cover 2 defenses and as a result the offensive line has given up a league-high 13 sacks for 73 lost yards (also a league high). Joe Burrow has been holding the ball to try to make those long completions that got Cincinnati to last season’s Super Bowl, and is now at the bottom of the league in passing yards. The Jets are coming off a thrilling upset win over Cleveland, but they’re still the Jets. Pick: Bengals -4.5

Las Vegas Raiders (0-2) at Tennessee Titans (0-2), 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Raiders -2.5 | Total: 45.5

The market has been active on both sides of this game. The Titans opened as slight favorites, but after a Monday night drubbing from the Bills, the money came in on the Raiders, moving them from underdogs to 2.5-point favorites on the road. Since then, there has been buyback on the Titans, with a slight edge in money bet on their side. The line is still at 2.5, but it may not stay there. Pick: Titans +2.5

Atlanta Falcons (0-2) at Seattle Seahawks (1-1), 4:25 p.m., Fox

Line: Seahawks -1 | Total: 42

This year’s Falcons are looking like last year’s Lions, 0-2 straight up and 2-0 against the spread. This week they won’t get a double-digit spread, however, against the Seahawks, who had a disappointing 27-7 loss to the 49ers last week. The market thinks these two teams should be fairly evenly matched. Pick: Seahawks -1

Monday’s Game

Micah Parsons, left, leads the Cowboys’ pass rush against a Giants team that has struggled to figure out its passing game.Credit…Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

Dallas Cowboys (1-1) at Giants (2-0), 8:15 p.m., ESPN/ABC

Line: Giants -1 | Total: 39.5

Cooper Rush proved that he could be a capable fill-in at quarterback for the Cowboys last week and Dallas’s defense has looked especially impressive in the pass rush, recording eight sacks so far this season (third in the N.F.L.). Saquon Barkley should get plenty of carries this week, as the Giants can’t yet rely on their passing attack and the Cowboys are a bit more vulnerable to the run. Pick: Giants -1

How Betting Lines Work

A quick primer for those who are not familiar with betting lines: Favorites are listed next to a negative number that represents how many points they must win by to cover the spread. Raiders -5.5, for example, means that Las Vegas must beat Chicago by at least 6 points for its backers to win their bet. Gamblers can also bet on the total score, or whether the teams’ combined score in the game is over or under a preselected number of points.

Betting-market data is taken from Action Network’s Public Betting data, and lines are taken from Unabated’s real-time-odds tracker.

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