Week 3: NFL weekly with TJ Calkins
Welcome back for week 3. Week 2 turned the NFL season on its head with multiple starting quarterbacks beginning to miss significant time. Entering week 2 we knew Jets quarterback Sam Darnold would be facing a multi-week absence after being diagnosed with mononucleosis. During the games, we saw both Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and Saints quarterback Drew Brees forced from their respective games with injuries. Brees will miss at least six weeks and Roethlisberger is now done for the season. On Monday night we saw Jets backup quarterback Trevor Siemian go down for an extended time and they will now be starting non NFL talent Luke Falk. Falk is a four-letter F word. We even had quarterback fallout after the games were played, as we learned Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is highly questionable for this week after re-aggravating a foot injury.
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While the Jets and Panthers weren’t thought of as playoff favorites, both were thought to be in the mix and far from doormat level teams. The Steelers and Saints, on the other hand, are very much playoff contenders taking the largest possible injury blow. Those teams will now hand the keys to Mason Rudolph and Teddy Bridgewater respectively. While the overall level of effectiveness is in question with a wide range of outcomes on both counts, the known outcome will be both offenses having a decreased ceiling from that which they entered last week with.
Last week we discussed the extremely real possibility of the Miami Dolphins being the worst team in the history of the NFL and they did not disappoint. Or they did, depending on whether you’re a Dolphin fan or not. They continued with their uncanny ineptitude in all facets of the game and are even bigger underdogs this week than last. Not to be outdone, the Falk lead Jets are even larger underdogs yet.
Let’s look at each game and where to attack this week.
Detroit Lions at Philadelphia Eagles
- Opening Line: Philadelphia Eagles -7 and 49.5
- Current Line: Philadelphia Eagles -7 and 46.5
The Lions have been quite average through two games and are meeting expectations from the preseason. They don’t play with a lot of pace on offense but they have a sound enough running attack, and most importantly in this matchup, a pair of wide receivers who can win vertically. This is where the Philadelphia defense is best exploited and the Lions best path to keeping pace in this game.
The Eagles remain the favorite to win their division and a high-end Super Bowl contender as long as quarterback Carson Wentz is healthy. They had the extreme misfortune of losing both of their starting wide receivers (Alshon Jeffery and more important Desean Jackson) and additionally high-end role-playing tight end Dallas Goedert to early minor injuries last week. Their offense took some time to adjust and scored just six points through the first two-thirds of the game. The hope is the week brings health to these pass catchers as the Wentz and Jackson deep connection is a cheat code of sorts and Jeffery is quite a helpful possession option that is also capable of winning at all levels. With the downward movement of the total, I think this is a great spot to fade the early public lean. Assuming either Jeffery or Jackson play, I lean Philly to hold on for a cover, but a money line play is more prudent unless both wide receivers play.
**Update** Both Jackson and Jeffery are expected to sit out Sunday and Philadelphia will not be a play.
- Over 46.5
Denver Broncos at Green Bay Packers
- Opening Line: Green Bay Packers -6.5 and 42.5
- Current Line: Green Bay Packers -8 and 42.5
The Broncos were thought to be a below average collection of talent on offense leading up to the season with Joe Flacco under center. Through two games they’ve shown to be exactly and quite a below average collection of talent on offense with a quarterback who is not capable of elevating them. Last week Flacco completed his sixth career game of falling short of 300 passing yards on 50 or more attempts. This is a staggering feat of inefficiency and the Broncos have scored just 30 points through two games. I would expect this scoring average to continue in Green Bay.
The Packers have also had their share of difficulties on offense. While they have played a couple of stout defensive teams, they’ve only mustered 31 points themselves in two games. What is most perplexing is only three of those points have come after the 13-minute mark of the second quarter. I’ll continue to beat the drum of quarterback Aaron Rodgers being well past his prime and longer on name recognition than ability and the defense has likely taken over as the strength of this team. I was hoping for a higher total in this game to play the under but with it opening lower than hoped, there aren’t any strong plays. If you must play the game, it’s Denver and the under, but one beat to sit out.
Baltimore Ravens at Kansas City Chiefs
- Opening Line: Kansas City Chiefs -6 and 51.5
- Current Line: Kansas City Chiefs -6.5 and 54.5
The Ravens opened the season with a pair of exploitable matchups and did both what they were expected to and what they were supposed to do. After smashing their gimme matchup in week 1 with the Dolphins, they did enough to win but not cover against the Cardinals awful defense last week. Now the real test comes as they travel to Kansas City. Play calling and execution has been a cinch so far as they’ve played with leads the whole way, but this matchup is a night and day difference for expectation of game script. It will be a whole new challenge entirely for quarterback Lamar Jackson to be able to pass effectively when the opposition is keyed on the pass. That isn’t to say he can’t do it, it’s to say it’s less likely than not.
The Chiefs offense has not missed a beat after its record setting 2018 campaign, despite losing top wide receiver Tyreek Hill early in week 1. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes remains otherworldly, particularly on deep throws, and he’s teetering on the precipice of “matchup simply does not matter” status. He’s already shredded the elite Jaguar defense in week 1 and is averaging 410 passing yards with 3.5 passing scores per game, and the offense as a whole is averaging 34 points per game. Additionally he’s on pace to break his own Touchdown record, albeit in the small sample size we have so far. A Chiefs cover is simply going to hinge on the defense pulling its weight.
- Kansas City -6.5
- Over 54.5
Cincinnati Bengals at Buffalo Bills
- Opening Line: Buffalo Bills -4 and 40.5
- Current Line: Buffalo Bills -6 and 44
The Bengals offense thus far has been a one dimensional show. We knew the offensive line was going to be a significant problem heading into the season, but the running game is competently laughable. Through two games they’ve seen running backs carry the ball 30 times for a total gain of 54 yards. You read that correctly, fewer than two yards per carry. That won’t be changing any time soon despite the presence of high end back Joe Mixon. They have done their damage through the air to this point and have seen a large step forward from wide receiver John Ross. This matchup will create an issue as Ross will likely be shadowed and taken away by elite Buffalo cornerback Tre White. This means the Cincinnati offense will run through slot receiver Tyler Boyd, and it’s likely a massive game from him will be needed to keep the game competitive while that massive game could come and still see a cinch Buffalo win.
The Buffalo Bills are just a solid team with no real holes on either side of the ball. They are in a home spot where the defense will just have to adjust to a funnel of targets to one player and where the offense will see little resistance on moving the ball in a steady fashion. There is more space between these two teams than the betting line suggests, particularly in a home game for the Bills. They should score enough for the over to hit and cover comfortably.
- Buffalo -6
- Over 44
Atlanta Falcons at Indianapolis Colts
- Opening Line: Indianapolis Colts -2 and 48
- Current Line: Indianapolis Colts -2 and 47
The Falcons are simply an inconsistent team with periods of extremely high ceiling play on offense and additionally periods of disappearing acts for the offense as a whole. Their defense as a whole is subpar and are generally easily beaten by running back play. In a road spot in Indy, flip a coin on what you might get out of the offense.
The Colts eked out a road win last week and have seen each of their first two games come down to the final possession. I expect to see a lot of that this season as they are built to be a sound running team with the absence of Andrew Luck. This will see them have a hard time establishing large leads and the defense is sound enough as a whole that few teams will blow them out. This is a spot to shy away from for betting. We have much better games to target this week.
Oakland Raiders at Minnesota Vikings
- Opening Line: Minnesota Vikings -7 and 43
- Current Line: Minnesota Vikings -8 and 43.5
The Raiders performed admirably at home in week 1, but Mahomes and company were just too much for a repeat performance in week 2. They will remain an average team this season as the overall talent level is middle of the pack, but it would be fair to consider them an ascending team. It’s unlikely many teams are able to consistently move the ball on the Vikings defense as it is sound, but I do envision quite a competitive game with the balanced attack of the Oakland offense. A betting line of over a touchdown here is far too much as it’s unlikely to see either team reach the mid 20s from a scoring perspective.
The Vikings should have won in Green Bay last week, but a flat first quarter that saw them fall behind 21-0 was too much to overcome as they lost 21-16. The offense will continue to run through running back Dalvin Cook and the their games will continue to not have the highest pace. They have seen an average of just 38.5 points in their games so far and expect more of the same. Close, low scoring and competitive.
- Oakland +8
- Under 43.4
New York Jets at New England Patriots
- Opening Line: New England Patriots -22.5 and 43.5
- Current Line: New England Patriots -22.5 and 43.5
As mentioned in the intro, the Jets are down to sub NFL talent Luke Falk under center as they face a dismantling at the hands of the Patriots. Divisional games can get tricky with massive lines like this but there isn’t an element of the game where the Jets can survive, outside of running back Leveon Bell carrying the offense on his back. With Bell, a shutout is unlikely and they will contribute to the over hitting, but the defense will just have no answer for the balanced New England offense.
Imagine things going right for the Patriots. They never seem to catch any breaks. Obviously kidding! After a gimme win against the Dolphins they walk into another gimme spot against an awful third string quarterback the ensuing week. It didn’t feel great, but we won on the Pats laying 19.5 last week and we are in another spot to lay the points again. The Patriots simply don’t leave things to chance and continue to score and we will be right back on them with the over.
- New England -22.5
- Over 43.5
Miami Dolphins at Dallas Cowboys
- Opening Line: Dallas Cowboys -16 and 47
- Current Line: Dallas Cowboys -21 and 47
If you read last week or watched the recap video, you would have found me positing whether Miami might be the worst NFL team of all team. With another week in the books the answer to that is really looking to be a yes. The massive line movement from opening shows just how much this is true, and truth be told, it didn’t move enough. We will continue picking on the Dolphins every week, as we did the first two, until they show they can keep any game competitive.
The Cowboys lost wide receiver Michael Gallup for about a month but still have more than enough to score at will in this cushy home spot. We could see running back Ezekiel Elliott have his first statistical smash game of the season and get to take the 4th quarter off in a blowout. Dallas big at home.
- Dallas -21
- Over 47
New York Giants at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Opening Line: Tampa Bay Buccaneers -4 and 49
- Current Line: Tampa Bay Buccaneers -6.5 and 48
It only took two weeks for the Giants to give up on the perennial ineptitude of quarterback Eli Manning. Rookie quarterback Daniel Jones will make his first career start in an attempt to kickstart the otherwise sputtering Giant offense. I think there’s four words to best describe the likelihood of that happening. Don’t count on it. Insanely enough, on 30 of Eli Manning’s 45 pass attempts last week, neither Saquon Barkley or Evan Engram were at the targeted end. Given the state of the receiving corps, this is just another indictment on Pat Shurmer as a head coach, and his ineptitude. Does Jones have the toolbox to succeed in the NFL? Perhaps. We don’t know. What we do know is he’s starting his career behind the 8 ball under the tutelage of Shurmer and the Giants will be a gambling target until they prove otherwise.
The Bucs got their season on track in week 2, with a close win on the road. We got to see the anticipated breakout game of wide receiver Chris Godwin, and the offense as a whole find a bit of a rhythm. They have an even softer matchup this week to keep things rolling and it should be a fun day for the passing offense. Bucs to win and cover here.
- Tampa Bay -6.5
Carolina Panthers at Arizona Cardinals
4:05 PM EST
- Opening Line: Carolina Panthers -3 and 43.5
- Current Line: Carolina Panthers -2.5 and 46.5
The breaking news is that quarterback Cam Newton re-aggravated his foot injury in week 2 and the likelihood is Kyle Allen starts at quarterback. Believe it or not, this is the best thing that could have happened to the Panthers. Newton has not been running in 2019 and the truth is, he’s a liability if he’s unwilling or unable to run. He’s always been an inaccurate passer and he’s a waste for the young high end skill position talent that is present. We don’t need to discuss all world running back Christian McCaffrey as he’s a household name at this point, but the wide receivers are slept on. DJ Moore has ascended to true alpha receiver status and is already an exceptional route runner and yardage after catch player. He’s often open. Also present is speedster Curtis Samuel who is a fantastic complimentary option and the know-how of veteran tight end Greg Olsen. The Panthers need a trigger man that is able to just get the ball into these playmakers hands and not throw inaccurate incompletions throughout the game. This is precisely why Kyle Allen is an upgrade. The matchup this week is a fantastic one, and Greg Olsen is likely in for quite a day. The Cardinals simply do not believe in covering the tight end under Kliff Klingsbury and in just two games have surrendered 17 catches for 273 yards and three touchdowns on 22 targets to tight ends. They’ve also surrendered 50 points already and the defense as a whole is not sound. This is a sneaky smash spot for the Panthers.
Rookie quarterback Kyler Murray has performed pretty well through two games, and the team has been competitive. The offense has put up 44 points which is sound enough and will continue to improve. The Panthers aren’t an easy matchup but they are easier than the previous week in Baltimore and I expect them to post more than enough to see the over get home, despite losing the game.
- Carolina -2.5
- Over 46.5
New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks
4:25 PM EST
- Opening Line: Pick em and 50
- Current Line: Seattle Seahawks -4 and 44.5
You can see the value the oddsmakers and bettors put on the presence, or lack thereof, of Saints quarterback, Drew Brees. We don’t know yet whether Teddy Bridgewater or Taysom Hill will be taking snaps for the Saints, but we do know the offense simply won’t be the same, as we saw this past Sunday in Los Angeles after Brees departed. They were completely anemic and we will operate as if that will remain the case until the prove otherwise. Note there is a much stronger chance of explosive plays of Hill starts over Bridgewater, and it would weaken the strength of play on the Seahawks.
Pete Carroll and Brian Schottenheimer will continue to be the most overrated coaching brain trust in the NFL. They like to handcuff their elite quarterback Russell Wilson until they need to call on him to bail them out later in games. Even if/when that remains the case this week, the Saints pass defense remains fully exploitable and Russ will get the job done, even if/when there’s a slow start. The Seahawks defense is stout against the run and weaker against the pass, so a backup QB plays right into their hands. Seattle for the win and cover here.
- Seattle -4
Houston Texans at Los Angeles Chargers
- Opening Line: Los Angeles Chargers -4 and 49
- Current Line: Los Angeles Chargers -3 and 49.5
The Texans can be quite a Jekyll and Hyde (pun) offense as they are littered with playmakers but have a way of being unable to string complete games together, and often see games come down to the final possession. This road spot is one better for entertainment than gambling purposes to be sure.
The Chargers are somewhat similar to the Texans as they possess one of the better offenses in the league but very rarely run away from teams and play to their level of competition. As mentioned above, this will be a fun one to watch but certainly not a game to attack on the gambling side.
Pittsburgh Steelers at San Francisco 49ers
4:25 PM EST
- Opening Line: Pick em And 46.5
- Current Line: San Francisco 49ers -6.5 and 43.5
Much like the Saints sans Brees, there’s an immediate impression of what oddsmakers and bettors think of the Steeler offense sans tenured starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Mason Rudolph is slated to make his first career start, and Steeler fans should have a reasonable degree of worry. He’s never flashed much ability in preseason action and being on the road in his first start is far from ideal. He will have to be carried by the running game and high end pass catchers if they are to be competitive. The problem is the defensive secondary has been problematic through two games for Pittsburgh and they are likely playing from behind in this one. They will be able to muster some points but unlikely to keep it in covering range.
The 49er offense and defense are humming and they’re a surprise 2-0 team, both road wins, albeit not against the greatest competition. Even still, their average margin of victory was 19 points in the first two weeks and now they get a home game against a first time starting quarterback. Both the 49ers and the over are high end plays in this game.
- 49ers -6.5
- Over 43.5
Los Angeles Rams at Cleveland Browns
8:20 PM EST
- Opening Line: Los Angeles Rams -2.5 and 51
- Current Line: Los Angeles Rams -3 and 49
The Rams travel to Cleveland for the Browns first Sunday night game in years. As a native Clevelander, I can tell you the stadium will be rocking in an insane fashion. Rams quarterback Jared Goff is not the greatest on the road at this juncture of his career and he will be under duress from the elite pass rushing front of the Browns, all night long. While the Rams have opened the season 2-0, they certainly do not look like the same world beaters from the onset of the 2018 season. While they will be able to score some and while the defense is sound enough, this road spot is one where they will lose.
The Browns got their first win of the year in a game they were expected to dominate, and they did. The passing offense is a work in progress but the defense as a whole plugged the holes from Week 1 and running back Nick Chubb is right back to truly elite tackle breaking form. There also isn’t an individual matchup wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr can’t soundly beat and I fully expect the Browns best and most complete showing of the year thus far.
- Cleveland +3
Chicago Bears at Washington Redskins
8:15 PM EST – Monday Night
- Opening Line: Chicago Bears -5 and 42.5
- Current Line: Chicago Bears -4 and 41.5
A couple of weeks ago, when looking forward to this game, there aren’t many of us at all who would have guessed the Redskins would be the more exciting team of the two, but here we are. Rookie wide receiver Terry McLaurin has been quite the pleasant surprise for the team, but this will be what is now typical of a Bears game: boring. As the total suggests, we should expect a low scoring and close game, but I think quarterback Case Keenum will make enough plays not only to cover this game, but to win.
The Bears are still saddled with quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, who has already peaked and is a liability. Their passing offense will continue to struggle with him this season and is a real candidate to be replaced next offseason. The bright spot is rookie running back David Montgomery who was the focal point of the offense in a low scoring ground out win at Denver last week. If Montgomery dominates this game early, I’m open to being wrong about the Redskins win, but they are still very much worth a play.