Buckle up it’s NFL Week 3, friends. This week presents an interesting slate of match-ups and a somewhat perilous survivor pool menu if you’ve already taken New England. Also our first London game is on tap (read here about what NFL sports betting is like in London and in the city in general), meaning fellow East Coasters can watch about 14 near-consecutive hours of NFL football games — extracting ourselves from the couch and/or stepping outside as needed.
Week 3 Survivor Pools Options Are Slimmer and Scarier (With One Major Exception) and Score Projections for Every Game on the Slate
The scoring bonanza and the San Francisco 49ers’ comeback bid last night made for an uncommonly exciting Thursday night game. It also resulted in a lot of unexpected things: a 49ers cover (most books closed at +3 or +2.5), which seemed unlikely when the Rams led 41-26 late in the fourth quarter; a total of 80 points that nearly doubled the closing number (40.5), and a very good Jared Goff fantasy performance (and job overall) with 22-28 passing for three scores and zero interceptions. (Todd Gurley delighted fantasy owners as well with 149 yards rushing and receiving and three scores.)
Let’s get to the Sunday slate, first with a look at survivor pools and then projections for all games.
Best and Most Popular NFL Week 3 Survivor Pool Picks
Green Bay Packers vs. Cincinnati Bengals: We’re starting in Green Bay because the Packers are the most popular selection this week among both ESPN (25%) and Yahoo! (28%) of poolsters. It’s not a bad pick but New England is definitely the better option this week (more on that in a bit) from a survival standpoint; if you’re looking to go somewhat contrarian in a very large pool, I can understand the selection.
Here’s the hesitations with Green Bay: both starting offensive tackles were out last week (LT David Bakhtiari and RT Brian Bulaga) at Atlanta and Bakhtiari (hamstring) has not yet practiced this week, while Bulaga (ankle) was a limited participant on Thursday. Even if one or both plays, they’re be at less than 100%. Aaron Rodgers had to scramble much more than usual last week without the starters. Meanwhile, the Pack secondary remains somewhat leaky. Jordy Nelson is likewise not 100% (quad) but on track to play, while stud DT Mike Daniels (hip) has not practiced and would a big loss.
Yes, I am aware that the last time we saw we saw the Bengals it was on national television on Thursday night where Andy Dalton looked skittish behind a shaky O-Line, and the offense was generally incompetent in a 13-9 loss. The team pink-slipped offensive coordinator Ken Zampese and promoted QB coach Bill Lazor, who previously coordinated the Dolphins; perhaps Lazor provides a spark or at least feeds A.J. Green the ball and lets him make plays, or catches the Packers flat-footed with some previously unseen play calling. This game is just not the sure thing as many perceive.
New England Patriots vs. Houston Texans: Barring locker-room wide food poisoning or perhaps more likely a nuclear war between North Korea and the United States that causes the game’s cancellation, the Patriots are going to beat the Texans on Sunday. (Stay tuned for our boxing coverage of “Rocket Man” Kim Jong-Un versus Donald “Dotard” Trump in the heavyweight division for the right to claim the Intercontinental World Leader Title Belt currently held by Vladimir “Vodka Sauce” Putin.) Those scenarios might imply a 48.5 point spread favoring New England (it’s 14), but the Patriots at home to an anemic Texans offense led by rookie QB Deshaun Watson, making his second road start leaves them squarely in the moral victory-seeking range, if you believe in such a thing.
The Patriots will have the Texans outcoached and will take advantage of a depleted Texans secondary. It should be a good fantasy week for Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Mike Gillislee and/or GRONK, or at least two of the four. If you want to advance, this is your pick. One more time, though, the conclusion of the Texans’ 13-9 win at Cincy last week:
This helps dull the pain a lil bit.. ? (via @Deadspin)
JJ Watt vs Bodine, as called by wrestling legend @JRsBBQ: pic.twitter.com/LFWpJAWD6p
— Cincinnati Problems (@CincyProblems) September 15, 2017
Miami Dolphins at New York Jets: 19% of Yahoo! survivor players and 14% of ESPN-ers are tabbing the Fins. I don’t hate the pick but don’t love it. Yes, the Jets are mega-bad and their run defense is likely to get scorched by Jay Ajayi, and good luck covering DeVante Parker and Jarvis Landry, but… (searches for Jets praise)… the Jets offense is not altogether incompetent and things happen. Dolphins QB Jay Cutler looked good and protected the ball at the Chargers last week, but he’s got a career-long track record of boneheaded turnovers. I can see the Jets winning a very close game in which they notch a defensive score, as well as a Dolphins 21-point victory. Although “Jets Opponent” is at least a good option every week, this feels to me like an unnecessary risk at this time.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Chicago Bears: There’s 11% of Yahoo! players on board with Pittsburgh this week and 13% of ESPN-ers. Last week I erroneously thought Chicago (+7) would cover at Tampa Bay before the offense got thumped 29-7 and needed QB Mike Glennon to carry them back after a comedy of errors in their first four possessions: INT, muffed punt (technically not a possession), lost fumble, pick-6. Right. It can’t get worse for Chicago on their return back home, although they are facing a potent offense that’s yet to fully launch and a very good defense. Obligatory note about Ben Roethlisberger’s unfavorable home/road splits. The offense may run through Le’Veon Bell on the ground (somewhat likely) against a beatable Bears run defense without ILB Jerrell Freeman (torn pectoral muscle). But this is still a well-coached Bears defense (Vic Fangio) with some talent and pride.
The Bears’ offense remains a work-in-progress at best with Glennon at the helm and a D-level cast of wide receivers. Also running back Jordan Howard is working through a banged up shoulder. I think for the Bears to win they’re going to need a defensive score and/or a pair of Tarik Cohen long, breakaway touchdown runs. Pittsburgh probably wins but again, far less risk with the Patriots.
Denver Broncos at Buffalo Bills: About 5% of both platforms are on the Broncos who head cross-country (first road game of season) to the home of the Bills Mafia as well as the football team. This is not a good pick. In fact it is a very bad one. We’ve got the Broncos coming off a dominating home win in a major letdown spot against a Bills team that did hold the Panthers to just three field goals last week (and tallied 6 sacks) despite having to defend for nearly 40 minutes. That doesn’t say much about the Bills offense, of course. I usually don’t advocate for “saving” a team for later but why the heck would you shirk one of the other options here to take this risk? Sharp money is on the Bills and you should trust that if nothing else.
Let’s cut the parking lot for a brief intermission before we look at the rest of the games:
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The Rest of the Week 3 Games: Frisky Home Dogs!
The pups are coming this week, baby!! Believe it.
Baltimore -3.5 “at” Jacksonville (in London): The majority of spread bets are on Baltimore, not surprising, because Bortles and because the Ravens D has been awesome so far (10 turnovers in two games). Of course, they’ve played a pair of relegation-worthy offenses in the Bengals and Browns. Also, fearsome Ravens DT Brandon Williams won’t play this week due to a foot injury. The Ravens also lost All-Pro right guard Marshal Yanda (ankle) for the season, meaning fifth-round rookie Jermaine Eluemunor will make his first career start. That’s going to hamper their inside running game and put more of an onus on Joe Flacco who faces a respectable Jaguars defense. Overall it looks like a punt fiesta to me in which Justin Tucker kicks four field goals, which the London crowd should thoroughly enjoy. So technically Jacksonville counts as our first frisky home dog. Score projection: Ravens 19, Jaguars 17.
Cleveland Browns at Indianapolis Colts (+1.5): The Browns are a road favorite! No kidding. First time since 2015. I really don’t have any sense of which way this game may go. This game will assure one of the roughly 7.5 wins (over/under) these teams will combine for this season. The Browns will probably give Isaiah Crowell a very heavy workload and pepper Duke Johnson with targets. The Colts’ D doesn’t offer much resistance but neither does the Browns pass rush. Score projection: Colts 23, Browns 21
New Orleans Saints (+5.5) at Carolina Panthers: The line is in no-man’s land as of Friday morning with the higher percentage of bets on the visitor. The Panthers defense has played lights out so far and has allowed just one field goal apiece to its first two opponents (49ers, Bills). Yikes. However, the offense has been a bit sluggish and star tight end Greg Olsen — Cam Newton’s favorite target — will be out for at least 8 games (broken foot). This is an absolute must-win game for New Orleans and they will desperately need defensive ends Cameron Jordan and Alex Okafor to bring heavy pressure, ideally causing a Newton fumble, to offer cover for a bad secondary that may have not have its solid rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore on Sunday (concussion, did not practice on Thursday). Score projection: Panthers 23, Saints 20.
Seattle Seahawks (+3) at Tennessee Titans: This is a game I will enjoy watching and definitely will not wager on. The game should tell us a lot about which direction both teams are going. Are the Hawks just grinding through their annual slow start or is something really troubling brewing? Is the Titans offense regressing or simply not as good as we thought? The absence of WR Corey Davis (hamstring) doesn’t help the matter. Score projection: Seahawks 21, Titans 20
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+1) at Minnesota Vikings: Obviously this is a much different handicap if Sam Bradford is playing (bruised knee), and it appears he’s on track to play. If the revamped Minnesota O-Line can fend off DTs Gerald McCoy and Chris Baker, Bradford should be able to connect with Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen to get driving. Still the Bucs defense has really been improving under coordinator Mike Smith. It’s only at safety where they’re really vulnerable. The Vikings D can force some Jameis Winston errors, too. But I’m not touching this spread and will consider teasing the under (41) with a good side. Score projection: Vikings 23, Bucs 20.
New York Giants +6 at Philadelphia Eagles: As a Giants fan I can’t even think about this game, let alone write much about it. Can the Eagles defensive line even sleep as they salivate for this matchup against a putrid Giants O-Line (outside of Justin Pugh and center Weston Richburg)? Will Vinny Curry go Full Winston Justice as payback for Osi Umenyiora’s six-sack performance against Philly in 2007 (12 sacks total)? Maybe. Score projection: Eagles 27, Giants 17
Atlanta Falcons (-3) at Detroit Lions: After whooping the Packers in their stadium opener they head north to Ford Field and remain on the turf but without a couple key players: top pass rusher Vic Beasley (hamstring tear) and possibly RT Ryan Schrader (concussion, DNP on Thursday). The Giants made the Lions defense look much better than it is and the Falcons offense is capable of blowing up for 35+ points in any week. But Falcons backup RT Austin Pasztor could be a real liability and the loss of Beasley is troublesome too. Score projection: Falcons 27, Lions 26
Oakland Raiders (-3) at Washington Redskins: Here’s our highest total on the board at 54.5. Neither pass defense is very good so it’s a deservedly high number what should be a big game for our DFS-loving friends. Given time to throw, Kirk Cousins is going to hurt that secondary and likewise for the Raiders. The difference could be Oakland’s inability (or not) to stop the run; Samaje Perine and Fat Rob Kelley (rib injury but likely to play) helped the Redskins control the clock for over 36 minutes last week thanks to 33 rushes for 145 yards. That could be a winning formula again. Score projection: Redskins 28, Raiders 27
Kansas City Chiefs (-3) at Los Angeles Chargers: This is do-or-die for the Chargers. Continued late-game woes have plagued the team and first-year head coach Anthony Lynn appears to be on the wrong side of the learning curve right now. The Chargers certainly have offensive weapons and a respectable defense that will be challenged to manage the Chiefs’ Alex Smith, Kareem Hunt, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill. The Chargers don’t have any home field advantage, but… sharp money is on ‘em in a total desperation game. Woof. Score projection: Chiefs 24, Chargers 23
Dallas Cowboys (-3) at Arizona Cardinals (+3): Theoretically this is a nice bounce back spot for Dallas after the drubbing they took in Denver, but it’s not an ideal matchup because Arizona brings a strength (run defense) against Big D’s strength (running the football). Also Dallas is thin and pretty banged up in the secondary right now with starting cornerbacks Nolan Carroll (concussion) and Orlando Scandrick (hand, probably will play) both on the injury report and free safety Byron Jones (groin) only one week removed from the list. It could be a good day for Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald and the speedy J.J. Nelson. Score projection: Cardinals 24, Cowboys 23
Projections for games covered in the Survivor section:
New England Patriots (-14) vs. Houston Texans: Patriots 31, Texans 13
Miami Dolphins (-6) at New York Jets: Dolphins 24, Jets 16
Pittsburgh Steelers (-7) at Chicago Bears: Steelers 26, Bears 17
Denver Broncos (-3) at Buffalo Bills: Bills 20, Broncos 17
Green Bay Packers (-9) vs. Cincinnati Bengals: Packers 28, Bengals 21
THE FINAL FRISKY HOME PUP COUNT IS… 6.5: Cardinals, Redskins, Bills, Colts, Chargers, Lions and the Jaguars, sort of.
Happy Week 3, everybody! You can hit me me up on Twitter with any thoughts, comments, questions or well-crafted insults.