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2021 NFL Game Picks: Week 3

Last week: 11-5

Season: 21-11


CAR (2-0) @ HOU (1-1) | THU 8:20 PM ET | NFL Network

Fueled by young talent on both sides of the ball, Carolina is one of just seven remaining undefeated teams, and I believe they will be squarely in the NFC playoff picture—and perhaps even on the heels of Tampa Bay—a couple of months from now. The schedule sets up very favorably before the final four weeks (@ BUF, v TB, @ NO, @ TB), so getting a chance to stay hot against a veteran Houston team on a short week is an opportunity they need to take advantage of. Sam Darnold hasn’t had luck in primetime throughout his career with a 1-4 record and 4:8 touchdown-interception ratio, but he’s been a different quarterback with the Panthers, and I expect he’ll have another strong showing tonight. Although crazy things happen on Thursday night, it would be a surprise if third-round pick Davis Mills was able to pull off an upset, and Tyrod Taylor’s play style and skillset keeping his team in games might be underappreciated.

Winner: Carolina Panthers


IND (0-2) @ TEN (1-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS

Just before starting this write-up, it was reported that practice-squad quarterback Brett Hundley has been taking first-team reps for the Colts with the status of Carson Wentz (ankles) up in the air, and that shows how big Sunday’s game is regarding Indy’s standing in the AFC South; Hundley’s mobility is simply something Jacob Eason doesn’t have, and Frank Reich probably wants more of a playmaker to try to move the ball. No matter who is under center, the Colts need to feed Jonathan Taylor, and playing about half of the team’s offensive snaps through two weeks isn’t close to enough for a superstar-level talent. There are no such issues about a lack of running in Tennessee, and it’s only a matter of time before both A.J. Brown and Julio Jones go off at the same time as Derrick Henry. Another win to start 2-1 would already have everyone forgetting about what happened in the opener.

Winner: Tennessee Titans


ATL (0-2) @ NYG (0-2) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX

The Falcons and Giants are two teams that have disappointed compared to my expectations so far, but Atlanta has at least had a difficult schedule, while New York is more of a worry with big-ticket additions at wide receiver (Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney) already showing discontent. That said, a healthy Saquon Barkley—who should be fully unleashed after playing 84% of the team’s offensive snaps on a short week—can solve a lot of issues, and the Giants may also get Evan Engram (calf) back for his season debut on Sunday. Plus, Daniel Jones is playing great football to begin 2021, so the offense could be primed for takeoff if/when his connection with Golladay strengthens. Defensively, New York has to do a better job stopping Calvin Ridley than they did Terry McLaurin, but I’m still optimistic about them as a player in the NFC East. I’ll go with the home team for what should be a quality game despite featuring a couple of 0-2 squads.

Winner: New York Giants


LAC (1-1) @ KC (1-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS

Compared to Patrick Mahomes’ usual production, the Chargers have contained the former NFL MVP pretty much as well as any team in the league (231.4 passing yards per game and a 10:2 touchdown-interception ratio in five meetings), and overall, I think we’ll see Los Angeles make it another close game on Sunday. Justin Herbert gives the Chargers a smart, mobile, rocket-armed passer of their own, and the new offense prioritizing Mike Williams—who ranks third in the NFL with 22 targets through two weeks—is the best indication that head coach Brandon Staley knows what he’s doing in his first year on the job. However, Chris Harris Jr. (shoulder) might be out again on defense, and it will be a tall task to ask rookie cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. to contain Tyreek Hill in his third career game. We could get a very pass-heavy approach from Kansas City as they hope to avoid a 1-2 start, and another early loss would hurt them more than it would have in previous years with how loaded the AFC West appears to be.

Winner: Kansas City Chiefs


CIN (1-1) @ PIT (1-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS

Pass protection for Cincinnati remains a concern, but it was very encouraging to see Quinton Spain and the offensive line stick up for Joe Burrow last week when he took a late hit against the Bears, and the group will at least battle versus Pittsburgh—who could be without T.J. Watt (groin). Even if the potential absence of Watt leads to more time for Burrow, though, this hasn’t been a good matchup for Cincinnati (ten-game losing streak before Ryan Finley snapped it in a shocker last December), and Mike Tomlin is going to have his guys ready to play coming off a loss to Las Vegas. Last year, Burrow was sacked four times and completed just 21-of-40 passes in a 36-10 loss at Heinz Field, so the Bengals continuing to feed Joe Mixon is the best way to keep him upright and open up the passing lanes.

Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers


CHI (1-1) @ CLE (1-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX

Justin Fields will make his first career start this week with Andy Dalton (knee) out, and Chicago is hoping he shows well enough to believe in as not only the starter for the rest of the season, but also the definitive long-term quarterback the franchise has been seeking for their entire existence. The main difference that Fields will bring compared to Dalton is rushing ability—which makes it’s a somewhat curious move that Matt Nagy announced the starter so early in the week rather than dragging it out until the weekend; now, Cleveland will be preparing just for the rookie, and I’m sure the defense will throw a lot at him in terms of disguised coverages and blitzes (giving us a better idea of how far along Fields is in his development). Personally, I’m even more excited to watch former Georgia teammates Nick Chubb and Roquan Smith battle for the first time, and including Fields’ contributions, the winner could be the team that has the edge in the trenches and on the ground.

Winner: Cleveland Browns


BAL (1-1) @ DET (0-2) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS

It will take time because of a lack of weapons in Detroit, but Peyton Manning’s comments about Jared Goff last week should immediately put an end to all the hate he gets from fans and media members alike:


“Jared Goff has what it takes to be a championship quarterback. There’s no doubt about it.”


Unless you think you know more about football and quarterback play than the legendary Peyton Manning, it’s time to direct the negativity elsewhere.

Winner: Baltimore Ravens


NO (1-1) @ NE (1-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX

Mac Jones has effectively managed the offense with a completion percentage of 73.7% and zero turnovers to begin his career, and it’s important to remember that he didn’t start at all in the preseason, so his play should only become more aggressive (in an opportunistic way) as the weeks pass and he has a firmer grasp of the system. Jameis Winston is basically the opposite as a passer with roller-coaster play still looking like a patented trait of his, and it’s notable that Sean Payton admitted interest in New England’s rookie quarterback earlier this year; I know the Saints are lacking weaponry right now, but if Jameis doesn’t take care of the ball—and he needs to be wary of J.C. Jackson this week—his time as the starter might not last. I have New England winning a close one.

Winner: New England Patriots


ARI (2-0) @ JAX (0-2) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX

Rondale Moore was perhaps my favorite prospect to evaluate in the 2021 NFL Draft, and one line from his scouting report read: “Absolutely destroyed loaded Ohio State defense as a true freshman in 2018 victory.” This week, Urban Meyer will get another shot at stopping the explosive wideout, but the NFL is a different animal than college (as the head coach has come to realize), so Jacksonville will also need to defend DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green, Christian Kirk, Chase Edmonds, James, Conner, and a bunch of other NFL athletes. Being at home gives Trevor Lawrence and company a shot, but I don’t see how Arizona can’t be the pick with the Jags showing nothing to suggest they’ll know how to slow down Kyler Murray.

Winner: Arizona Cardinals


WAS (1-1) @ BUF (1-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX

As expected would be the case with any minor speed bump that occurred, a slow start for Josh Allen has led to the doubters re-emerging, but their joy shouldn’t last very long. Even if Washington’s surprisingly stagnant pass rush comes alive, it could play right into Buffalo’s hands by forcing Allen to react rather than think (something Mike Tomlin and the Steelers successfully reversed by not blitzing in the opener), and the downfield passes—to Emmanuel Sanders in particular—will eventually begin to connect, so it’s only a matter of time before the offense explodes. Furthermore, the Bills might decide to dial up more designed runs for Allen based on what Daniel Jones did to Washington last week. I’m not at all counting out Taylor Heinicke, but Sunday could be a big win for Buffalo in front of Bills Mafia after Pittsburgh ruined the fun in Week 1.

Winner: Buffalo Bills


NYJ (0-2) @ DEN (2-0) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | CBS

Anyone who studied Zach Wilson coming out of BYU should have known that there might be some growing pains as he learns what he can and cannot get away with against NFL defenses, but I would argue that New York’s entire setup hasn’t exactly helped him. First of all, you should put your players in the best position to succeed, and not playing Denzel Mims because he doesn’t have all three wide receivers spots mastered (an apparent necessity because he’s a backup) is a mistake; I’m obviously not in the building to know exactly how Mims prepares/practices, but I do know he’s the perfect target for Wilson’s skillset as a back-shoulder specialist to work the perimeter, and the sooner the team realizes Corey Davis, Elijah Moore, and Mims should be the starters, the better. Also, New York not having an experienced quarterback for Wilson to learn from only makes his NFL transition even more difficult. I’ll be very interested in what the narrative will be around the Jets by December if they have only one or two wins—which appears to be a possibility… if not a likelihood.

Winner: Denver Broncos


MIA (1-1) @ LV (2-0) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | CBS

The Raiders struggled down the stretch after a strong start versus a tough early-season schedule in 2020, but this year—following wins over Baltimore and Pittsburgh—has a different feel, and Jon Gruden finally has a fast, aggressive defense to pair with a perennially underrated offense. Team success despite some of the missed draft picks in recent years just shows how good of a coach Gruden is, and Derek Carr deserves a lot of credit for re-establishing himself as one of the game’s best signal-callers. This week, Las Vegas will be taking on Jacoby Brissett with Tagovailoa (ribs) out, and I doubt Gruden or defensive coordinator Gus Bradley allows the game to be viewed as any less of a challenge. The secondary needs to hold up versus the speed of Jaylen Waddle and Will Fuller, but the Raiders are rolling, and the front four can cause problems for Miami all afternoon.

Winner: Las Vegas Raiders


SEA (1-1) @ MIN (0-2) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX

Minnesota’s problem defending the deep ball is bad news with Russell Wilson coming to town this weekend, but something to feel good about if you’re Mike Zimmer is Patrick Peterson’s history taking on D.K. Metcalf—as the third-year wideout has been limited to a combined six receptions for 75 yards and a touchdown in four career matchups against the former All-Pro cornerback. As for Tyler Lockett, I’m not counting on his quiet showings versus Minnesota continuing, and Chris Carson will make the Vikings pay if the boxes are too light, so it’s an enviable position to be in with an 0-3 start staring a veteran, playoff-hopeful team in the face.

Winner: Seattle Seahawks


TB (2-0) @ LAR (2-0) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX

Adding to his collection of championship rings is priority No. 1 for Tom Brady, but you better believe 20-0 is on his mind, too, and Sunday’s game is likely the biggest challenge the Buccaneers will face all season (the matchup against the Bills will come at home). While the availability of Antonio Brown (COVID-19 list) is a huge factor,  Tampa Bay has tremendous depth on offense, and a turned-back-the-clock Rob Gronkowski will either be avoiding Jalen Ramsey or drawing him away from Chris Godwin and Mike Evans; then you have to consider that the Bucs also have the ability to keep the ball on the ground if that’s what Los Angeles gives them (similar to the Chiefs in Super Bowl LV), and the offensive line certainly won’t back down to Aaron Donald. On the other side of the ball, Cooper Kupp has thrashed Tampa Bay for 20 receptions, 266 yards, and one touchdown in two career outings against them, and the banged-up cornerback group for Todd Bowles’ defense might leave the backend susceptible to a deep shot from DeSean Jackson after two quiet weeks for the veteran speedster. Still, this is one of the biggest games of Matthew Stafford’s career, and he needs to prove himself against top competition before I’d consider picking him and the Rams to beat TB12.

Winner: Tampa Bay Buccaneers


GB (1-1) @ SF (2-0) | SUN 8:20 PM ET | NBC

Green Bay was able to get the better of San Francisco in 2020, but the 49ers were decimated by injuries with Nick Mullens at quarterback in that game, so now both sides are on fairly even footing for a primetime rematch. Before last year, Kyle Shanahan’s offense had dominated on the ground in this battle of Super Bowl hopefuls, and I’m expecting more success whether it’s Elijah Mitchell (shoulder), Trey Sermon (concussion), Jacques Patrick (just signed), or Kerryon Johnson (currently on the practice squad) leading the way. Mitchell provides the best big-play potential similar to Raheem Mostert, but Sermon can bring punishment with a head of steam, and San Francisco has to feel great about being 2-0 without yet getting George Kittle—or Brandon Aiyuk, partly due to lack of snaps—going.  For the Packers, Aaron Jones totaling four touchdowns on Monday night should take the pressure off Davante Adams and the wideouts, but the matchup I’m most worried about is the Niners’ defensive line getting to Aaron Rodgers without David Bakhtiari on the blindside. In what should be a close game, that is the difference.

Winner: San Francisco 49ers


PHI (1-1) @ DAL (1-1) | MON 8:15 PM ET | ESPN/ESPN2

A few missed deep balls led to Philadelphia’s offense struggling last week, but Jalen Hurts again showed he’s a “gamer” by moving the ball when needed (including with his legs), and I bet another shot at a score would have led to some late-game magic for the second-year quarterback. It wasn’t to be, though, and now Hurts is hoping to reverse the fortunes from last season’s 37-17 loss in a start against Dallas; the bolstered supporting cast—despite the loss of right guard Brandon Brooks (pectoral)— should make Monday night a much closer game, and it will be fun to watch Cowboys rookie linebacker Micah Parsons try to chase Hurts down off the edge. With standout defensive end Demarcus Lawrence (foot) out, the Cowboys still have emerging stars in Parsons and Trevon Diggs as new blood for both Philly and Dallas possibly re-invigorates the rivalry. This is another coin flip, but the Eagles need to keep Ezekiel Elliott from controlling the game with 1,111 total yards against them in eight career matchups.

Winner: Dallas Cowboys


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