NYJ (1-1) @ CLE (0-1-1) | THU 8:20 PM ET | NFL Network
Is this the week Cleveland picks up their first win since Christmas Eve of 2016? While the Browns have seemingly grown accustomed to losing (or, as we saw in the opener, not winning) under Hue Jackson, perhaps their first primetime game in two years will lead to a newfound focus. The Dawg Pound is going to be out in full force to make things tough on 21-year-old Sam Darnold tonight, but we unfortunately won’t get a rookie showdown between he and No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield, as Jackson is sticking with Tyrod Taylor, who has thrown for a respectable 269 yards per game with a 7:2 touchdown-interception ratio over the past two seasons against Todd Bowles and the Jets. Even without Mayfield opposing him, Darnold will still want to prove Cleveland made a mistake at the top of the draft, but they could struggle to consistently move the ball on the road with Myles Garrett leading an underrated defense. Despite little confidence in the coaching staff, I’m going with the more talented team. If Darnold lights them up and turns into a star, though, it’s going to be a long year—or 20 years—for the Browns.
Winner: Cleveland Browns
NO (1-1) @ ATL (1-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
The Saints and Falcons had two heated matchups in a three-week span last December, and the bad blood should carry over to 2018 for what I think will be the best game of Week 3. Atlanta won’t have key defenders Deion Jones (foot) and Keanu Neal (knee, season) again, so it’s going to take a complete team effort to contain Alvin Kamara as a deadly weapon out of the backfield after Christian McCaffrey caught 14 passes last week in the first game with Jones and Neal down. Offensively, I think things were figured out for Matt Ryan and company against Carolina, and they were very close to completely exploding if not for a couple pocket-collapsing misses to Julio Jones on downfield shots. Plus, Devonta Freeman (knee) being out isn’t a huge concern because Tevin Coleman is arguably the biggest home-run threat in the league at running back and more than capable of handling a featured role (in a 45-32 victory two years ago, he turned 15 touches into 89 yards and three scores against the Saints). New Orleans needs to generate a pass rush to give Drew Brees a chance of keeping up away from the Superdome.
Winner: Atlanta Falcons
GB (1-0-1) @ WAS (1-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Things have obviously changed, but Washington dominated Green Bay a couple years ago behind Rob Kelley, who had the performance of his life with 137 yards and three touchdowns. At the same time, the Packers had no semblance of a running game, as Aaron Rodgers was their leading rusher with 33 yards. Now, Adrian Peterson is leading the backfield for the new-look Redskins, but the game plan will likely be the same against a team that’s thin at inside linebacker and has surrendered 4.8 yards per carry through two weeks. Not only will establishing the run keep Rodgers off the field, but it will also open up play-action passes for Alex Smith, who needs his receivers to step up if Jay Gruden’s offense will reach its potential. If rookie corner Josh Jackson is able to take away Jordan Reed, Chris Thompson will basically be the only reliable receiver for Smith on Sunday. Still, Green Bay hasn’t shown much of a running game to start the year, and I think Washington has the formula to pull off a home upset with their ball-control offense.
Winner: Washington Redskins
IND (1-1) @ PHI (1-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Carson Wentz is sure to get a rousing ovation from the Philly fans this weekend—and deservedly so—, but let’s not suddenly overlook what Nick Foles did to bring home the city’s first Lombardi Trophy last season. It angers me to see a bunch of talking heads and Twitter trolls talk about the Super Bowl LII MVP like he’s some scrub that got lucky, but the Eagles have easily the best backup in the league as insurance for their franchise quarterback. Hopefully we immediately see the playmaking version of Wentz on the field because while he’s still improving as a passer, he probably wouldn’t be a stud if he didn’t play with an edge or make plays with his legs. That said, the 25-year-old needs to protect himself for the long haul, so hopefully he hasn’t been watching too much of Andrew Luck, who thinks he is a running back in the open field despite his own durability concerns. This week, Luck will try to move the ball through the air against a cornerback group that remains a weak spot for Philadelphia, but there’s no way I’m not picking the Birds in Wentz’s return.
Winner: Philadelphia Eagles
BUF (0-2) @ MIN (1-0-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Josh Allen has been given no favors with a half against the Ravens followed by starts against the Chargers and Vikings to start his career, but overall, he’s shown well for a team that literally has guys retiring at halftime. In Week 2, Allen threw for 245 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions in a 31-20 loss, but the Bills showed enough fight to outscore Los Angeles 14-3 in the second half, which bodes well for the culture Sean McDermott wants to establish in a season that looks like it will be a “planned” step back. That’s not to say Buffalo is tanking (NFL teams don’t do that), but they know there will be growing pains with Allen at quarterback. However, I think the Vikings need to be prepared for a proud football team coming in to shock them as three-score underdogs with a dual-threat signal-caller that might not yet even recognize how good Mike Zimmer’s defense is to be intimidated by them; but even if Minnesota sleepwalks because of the importance of their Thursday night matchup with the Rams in Week 4, they have enough talent to win at home.
Winner: Minnesota Vikings
OAK (0-2) @ MIA (2-0) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
You know it’s a tough loss when your quarterback completes 90.6% of his passes and looked like he would eclipse the single-game record for completion percentage at one point, but 288 yards and a touchdown from Derek Carr wasn’t enough to prevent Denver from kicking a last-second game-winning field goal in Week 2. On the bright side, Jon Gruden—despite having the game pass him by according to jealous fantasy “experts”—clearly knows what he’s doing as a play-caller, and he’s already gotten big games out of Jared Cook (9/180 in Week 1) and Amari Cooper (10/116 in Week 2). On Sunday, I have a feeling Jordy Nelson and Marshawn Lynch could be the ones to have standout performances with Xavien Howard expected to shadow Cooper and Miami’s run defense a potential weak spot despite holding up to start the year. As long as Kenyan Drake (15 touches for 104 yards in last season’s meeting, a 27-24 Oakland win) doesn’t go completely wild, I like Gruden and the Raiders to get a close win.
Winner: Oakland Raiders
DEN (2-0) @ BAL (1-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Coming off a mini bye week, Baltimore’s defense should be a lot better at home than they were last Thursday night in Cincinnati. Even in that 34-23 loss, the Ravens stiffened up over the final 30 minutes with just six points allowed in a comeback effort, and their opportunistic unit is probably ready to face Case Keenum (four interceptions through two games) this weekend. Everyone is jumping on the Broncos bandwagon, but remember, Vance Joseph’s squad started 2-0 last year before falling off; and just like in 2017, Denver was fortunate to get two home games to start the season, and they could easily be 0-2 right now with a 27-24 win over the slow-starting Seahawks and a 20-19 win over the Raiders so far. I like defense to win the day for the Ravens with Joe Flacco—who understandably doesn’t appear to be thrilled when he has to line up at wide receiver with Lamar Jackson on the field—doing enough to move to 2-1 in the wide-open AFC North.
Winner: Baltimore Ravens
CIN (2-0) @ CAR (1-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Andy Dalton is playing perhaps the best football of his career right now with 508 yards, six touchdowns, and one interception through two games, and he appears to have complete command of Bill Lazor’s system after a whole offseason to master it. This week, Carolina doesn’t have a secondary to be fearful of, but their pass rush could be a problem against an offensive line that still has questions marks with first-round center Billy Price (foot) out. An even bigger loss for the Bengals is running back Joe Mixon (knee), as he was on his way to proving himself as a top-tier running back but could now miss anywhere from two weeks to a month-and-a-half. Fortunately, they have a proven backup in Giovani Bernard, but the offense seemed to stall whenever Mixon was out of the game in Week 2, and they can’t have that happen on the road against the Panthers. They came up short in Atlanta, but Carolina will be a force if the early-season success by Cam Newton through the air is for real. Also, I think Cincy needs to tighten up their underneath coverage after Alex Collins seemed to have quite a bit of space to work with as a receiver, which mean a big day for Christian McCaffrey—who is coming off a 14-catch effort—as an outlet for Cam Newton.
Winner: Carolina Panthers
NYG (0-2) @ HOU (0-2) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
He ended up completing 68.8% of his passes for 310 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in last week’s loss to Tennessee, but I have not liked what I’ve seen from Deshaun Watson to start the year, including a couple ill-advised throws into coverage. It could just be him knocking the rust off, but it’s possible that Watson doesn’t feel comfortable scanning the entire field knowing that his offensive line is arguably the worst in football. Mercifully, Houston gets the best opponent imaginable to break out of their slow start, as the Giants are the only team in the league without multiple sacks so far this year, and they also have just one takeaway through two games. I expect Watson to have the time to work through his progressions on Sunday, and he certainly has the intelligence, composure, and arm talent to pick apart any defense if given the opportunity. For the Giants, Eli Manning has been in the league long enough that he needs to hit the open man when there’s a play to be made, and overall, they are probably too big-play centric right now. I’m taking the Texans, but getting Sterling Shepard involved would perhaps take the pressure off the superstar combination of Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham Jr.
Winner: Houston Texans
TEN (1-1) @ JAX (2-0) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Before the season, I thought the Jaguars would be pushed in the AFC South and were in danger of facing a hangover from the AFC Championship Game loss, but if the first two weeks of the season are any indication, that won’t be happening. Jacksonville dominated all four quarters against New England in a playoff rematch, and they’ll already have a two-game lead over everyone in the division—and a real shot at a 4-0 start with home games against Blaine Gabbert and Sam Darnold over the next couple weeks—if all the results hold from these game picks. And while they won’t be able to get revenge on Marcus Mariota (assuming he doesn’t play because of his right elbow injury) for basically owning them in 2017, the Jags will still want to prove they can beat their AFC South rival. Unless the Tennessee offensive line (at less than full strength) is able to set the tone and establish the running game with Derrick Henry, I don’t see the Titans moving to 2-0 with Blaine Gabbert under center.
Winner: Jacksonville Jaguars
SF (1-1) @ KC (2-0) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
I’ll just repeat what I said last week for Chiefs-Steelers: “This game is a must watch for anyone that loves offense.” Kansas City hasn’t even played at home yet, but Patrick Mahomes is on pace for 80 touchdowns and zero interceptions this season. Now, we need to keep in mind that a couple scores came on gimmicky jet sweeps and there isn’t really any tape out on him that defensive coordinators have had to analyze, but “Showtime” is passing the eye test with flying colors. Also, Andy Reid seems to have taken his creative play-calling to another level, and I think that’s in large part due to the acquisition of Sammy Watkins, who was a challenging cover for San Francisco last September when he caught six passes for 106 yards and two touchdowns. It seems to be “cool” to criticize the former No. 4 overall pick for whatever reason, but the Chiefs are a lot smarter than social-media analysts, and Watkins is a stud that got paid top-five receiver money for a reason. Jimmy Garoppolo will do his best to keep up by finding Pierre Garcon, George Kittle, and others against a weak secondary, but winning a shootout at Arrowhead is easier said than done.
Winner: Kansas City Chiefs
LAC (1-1) @ LAR (2-0) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | CBS
The first Battle for Los Angeles will take place this weekend, and it should be just that between two legitimate Super Bowl contenders. The Rams are firing on all cylinders with 33.5 points per game and a league-best point differential of +54, as the headline offseason acquisitions have met/exceeded expectations. The Chargers, on the other hand, were outdueled by Patrick Mahomes in Week 1, but along with Jared Goff and Todd Gurley, Philip Rivers and Melvin Gordon is as good a QB-RB duo as there is in the league. I think we could see a shootout with the LA team from the NFC lacking the play at linebacker and safety (in my opinion) to be as formidable as Minnesota, Jacksonville, or even Chicago defensively, so Rivers will have a chance to do damage underneath and over the middle on Sunday. However, the Chargers might not have the punch to seal the deal in the fourth quarter with Joey Bosa (foot) out, so I’m taking the Rams.
Winner: Los Angeles Rams
DAL (1-1) @ SEA (0-2) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX
A win for Dallas on Sunday Night Football took a lot of pressure off them, but are we really sold on their offense being fixed after a deep touchdown on the first drive of the game and then just 13 points for the rest of the night against a Giants defense that lacks firepower? Maybe the confidence that comes with a victory will give them momentum, but the Cowboys simply don’t have any playmakers to worry about other than Ezekiel Elliott, who was held to 4.0 yards per carry and zero touchdowns against Seattle in Week 16 of the 2017 season. The Seahawks were already looking much improved at linebacker after signing Mychal Kendricks ahead of Week 2, and now they’ll get All-Pro Bobby Wagner back in the middle of their defense. As long as Russell Wilson—who has shown a surprising lack of awareness on broken plays this year—can avoid strip sacks and interceptions, I think the more desperate team can pickup a win this weekend, as I just don’t see the Seahawks dropping to 0-3.
Winner: Seattle Seahawks
CHI (1-1) @ ARI (0-2) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX
Whether or not right tackle Andre Smith (elbow) suits up after missing Week 2, I just hope that Sam Bradford can come out of this matchup healthy with Khalil Mack and the game-wrecking defense of the Bears coming to town. Arizona simply has all the pieces for a disaster—poor protection, questionable play-calling, incorrect usage of their best player, overconfidence after a great preseason, questions about scheme on both sides of the ball—and it’s going to take some creative to fix things barring sweeping changes. For his part, offensive coordinator Mike McCoy will apparently scale-back the playbook so the younger receivers can play faster and not have to think as much, and head coach Steve Wilks is trying to motivate his guys by playing the boos of the crowd on a speaker in front of the whole team. Will it work? Who knows; but it’s impossible to feel optimistic about the Cardinals until they show something. That said, I’m picking them anyway because their run defense looked strong last week besides the bunny scores allowed to Todd Gurley, and Wilks’ defense might be able to confuse Mitchell Trubisky after he made some bad decisions against Seattle’s zone coverage on Monday night.
Winner: Arizona Cardinals
NE (1-1) @ DET (0-2) | SUN 8:20 PM ET | NBC
Matthew Stafford almost had another signature fourth-quarter comeback last week in San Francisco, but the Lions came up short to drop to 0-2, and 0-3 is staring them right in the face with the Patriots visiting for a primetime matchup. Bill Belichick is actually “only” 11-4 in games against his former Patriot assistants (.730 winning percentage compared to .741 overall with New England), so maybe Matt Patricia learned a few tricks that he will be able to put to use on Sunday night. If there’s a clear on-field advantage for Detroit, it’s their trio of Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, and Kenny Golladay at wideout against the cornerback group led by Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe [UPDATE: Rowe has been ruled out with a groin injury] because a) Stafford will be able to attack the No. 3 corner (usually Jonathan Jones), and b) Gilmore and Rowe can be beat, especially on downfield passes. Of course, I’m not picking against Tom Brady in a shootout, especially considering it will be “Angry Tom” coming off a loss with a new toy (Josh Gordon) to potentially sprinkle into the game plan.
Winner: New England Patriots
PIT (0-1-1) @ TB (2-0) | MON 8:15 PM ET | ESPN
You know the Steelers are in trouble when they have a 21-year-old acting as the voice of reason for a fractured locker room, but JuJu Smith-Schuster is no ordinary 21-year-old. The USC product has now played in 16 career games and has posted a 76/1,157/8 line, including lines of 6/114, 6/75/1, 9/143/1, 5/119, and 13/121/1 over his past five regular season games. So while Le’Veon Bell holds out and Antonio Brown pouts about not being the one to score (and then spins it as wanting to win), the Steelers still have a couple second-year stars in JuJu and running back James Conner, both of whom seem like tremendous teammates, too. The biggest issue for Pittsburgh right now, though, is on the defensive side of the ball, and they need to slow down Ryan Fitzpatrick and all his weapons. Maybe “Fitz Magic” is basically in NBA Jam-mode where he can do no wrong, but for what it’s worth, he torched two predominantly man-to-man defenses (NO, PHI) to start the year, and the Steelers will run a lot of zone coverage. I expect a high-scoring game anyway, but Pittsburgh is too talented to not have a win heading into the final week of September.
Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers
Last week: 5-11 /// Overall: 12-20
Recommended picks last week: 3-2 /// Overall: 6-4
Jets @ Browns (-3)
Saints @ Falcons (-3)
Packers @ Redskins (+3)
Colts @ Eagles (-6.5)
Bills (+16.5) @ Vikings
Raiders (+3) @ Dolphins
Broncos @ Ravens (-5.5)
Bengals @ Panthers (-3)
Giants @ Texans (-6)
Titans @ Jaguars (-6.5)
49ers (+6.5) @ Chiefs
Chargers (+7) @ Rams
Cowboys @ Seahawks (-1.5)
Bears @ Cardinals (+5.5)
Patriots (-6.5) @ Lions
Steelers (-1.5) @ Buccaneers
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