This is the first time I’m publicizing my weekly NFL picks. I have a 24-8 record on the season. Here are my picks for Week 3:
Three of the four teams in the AFC East have perfect records. That will change this weekend. The Bills have been the surprise team of the NFL this season, destroying the Chiefs 41-7 in Week 1 before a dramatic come from behind 38-35 win in their home opener against the Raiders last week. Buffalo leads the NFL in rushing, averaging 193 yards per game. They will need to be able to control the clock against New England’s lethal offense. The Patriots have the NFL’s top offense, accumulating 1,126 yards (563 yards per game), or 174 more than second-place Carolina. Tom Brady has been nearly unstoppable, throwing for over 400 yards in both games so far this year. He has 940 yards in total to go along with seven touchdowns and one interception for a 128 quarterback rating. The Bills will have to find a way to pressure Brady to pull off the upset.
The Pick: New England
San Francisco 49ers (1-1) at Cincinnati Bengals (1-1)
Both of these teams lost heartbreaking games last week to fall to 1-1. The 49ers have the NFL’s top rushing defense, surrendering only 54.5 yards per game on the ground. That matchup will be key because the Bengals will try to run the football with Cedric Benson (41 carries for 180 yards and a touchdown) to keep pressure off rookie quarterback Andy Dalton (37-for-53 for 413 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a 105.7 rating). The Bengals defense has looked good so far this season against two relatively weak offenses, the Browns and Broncos. The 49ers have the NFL’s 31st-best offense statistically, averaging just 207.5 yards per game, so Cincinnati’s defense could be in for another good day. A Week 4 matchup against Buffalo will be the Bengals’ defense first true test of the season.
The Pick: Cincinnati
Miami Dolphins (0-2) at Cleveland Browns (1-1)
Miami’s offense ranks in the top 10 in the NFL in total yardage (397 yards per game), but the Dolphins are tied for 25th in points scored, averaging 18.5 per game. Miami has been able to move the ball well in between the 20s, but their inability to score touchdowns has cost them so far. Cleveland owns the second-best pass defense in the NFL, giving up just 165.5 yards per game through the air, and sixth-best total defense (289.5 yards per game) but it’s unclear yet if that’s because of the Browns’ talent or the weak offenses of their first two opponents, the Bengals and Colts. Offensively though, Cleveland quarterback Colt McCoy (41-for-72 for 424 yards, three TDs, one INT and a 82.2 rating) may be able to go to the air early and often. The Dolphins talked all about how great their defense was in the offseason, but they have yet to back it up on the field. Miami has the NFL’s worst defense through the first two weeks of the season, allowing a staggering 483.5 yards per game.
The Pick: Miami
Denver Broncos (1-1) at Tennessee Titans (1-1)
The Titans looked awfully impressive against the Baltimore Ravens last week, winning 26-13 over a team that dominated the Steelers 35-7 in Week 1. Tennessee’s third-ranked defense has been absolutely nasty this year, surrendering just 276 yards per game, which is not good news for a struggling and injury-plagued Broncos offense that ranks 23rd in the league (314 yards per game). The return of running back Knowshon Moreno and wide receiver Brandon Lloyd should help the Denver offense. Tennessee may only be a good running game away from being a surprise team. Chris Johnson is averaging just 2.3 yards per carry (33 rushes for 77 yards). He has yet to score a touchdown and his longest run of the season is only nine yards. Last year, he rushed for 4.3 yards per carry and had a long run of 76 yards.
The Pick: Tennessee
The Lions have certainly lived up to the hype as the NFL’s up-and-coming team through the first two weeks of the season. Detroit’s eighth-ranked offense is racking up 421 yards per game while its seventh-ranked defense is allowing just 291 yards and 11.5 points per game. The Lions are a young and exciting team that no one wants to play right now because its scary how good this team can become. Second-year defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh may already be the best defensive lineman in the NFL and quarterback Matthew Stafford (47-for-72 for 599 yards, seven TDs, two INTs and a 112 rating) to receiver Calvin Johnson (nine catches for 117 yards and four touchdowns) is rapidly becoming one of the top QB-WR duos in the NFL. The Vikings will have to attack Detroit’s secondary down the field to keep up with Detroit’s potent attack. Donovan McNabb has passed for just 267 through the first two games of the year, but if he can get the ball to receiver Percy Harvin (nine catches for 83 yards) in space, it will open things up for running back Adrian Peterson (41 rushes for 218 yards and two TDs). The Vikings may be 0-2, but they have lost both of their games by a total of 11 points.
The Pick: Detroit
There may not be a more exciting game to watch this week. This one features two of the best offensive attacks in the league so there should be no shortage of points. It is Houston’s first true test of the season for their top-ranked defense (271 yards per game) after easy wins against Indianapolis and Miami. It’s also where we find out just good the Texans really are. They are the perceived team to beat in the AFC South. If they pull off the upset in a very tough place to play on the road, people will start taking Houston seriously as contenders. Putting pressure on New Orleans’ fifth-ranked offense (421.5 yards per game) led by Drew Brees (58-for-86 for 689 yards, six TDs, no INTs and a 114.9 rating) is the key for Houston’s new 3-4 defense. If the Texans give Brees time to throw, he will spread it around to each of the weapons at his disposal. Nine different Saints have receptions this year.
The Pick: New Orleans
New York Giants (1-1) at Philadelphia Eagles (1-1)
Michael Vick is expected to play Sunday after leaving Philadelphia’s Week 2 loss early to the Falcons last week with a concussion. That’s not good news for the Giants, who allowed Vick to accumulate 664 total yards of offense by himself in two meetings last year. New York is surrendering 283 yards per game through the air, which ranks 24th in the NFL, which also doesn’t bode well for them, considering the Giants haven’t exactly faced any juggernaut passing attack in the Redskins and Rams the first two weeks of the season. The Giants simply need more from Eli Manning (37-for-62 for 491 yards, two TDs, two INTs, 82.1 rating), but chances of that are slim against an Eagles secondary that features Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel and Domonique Rodgers-Cromartie.
The Pick: Philadelphia
Jacksonville Jaguars (1-1) at Carolina Panthers (0-2)
It will be a battle between two first-round quarterbacks in Carolina’s Cam Newton and Jacksonville’s Blaine Gabbert. Newton has far and away exceeded all expectations, throwing for 854 yards in his first two career NFL games, the most-ever for a rookie. However, Newton has thrown four picks compared to three touchdowns and that’s why the Panthers have a zero in the win column, despite losing both of their games by seven points. The rookie Gabbert saw his first career NFL action last week against the Jets, but was impressive against one of the top defenses in the NFL, finishing 5-for-6 for 52 yards. Carolina has allowed 295 yards per game through the air, 26th in the league, which should give Gabbert many more passing lanes to throw to than he saw against New York.
The Pick: Carolina
New York Jets (2-0) at Oakland Raiders (1-1)
This game begins a grueling three-week road trip for the Jets, who after playing in the Black Hole, have to travel to play Baltimore next week before heading up to New England for their annual rivalry with the Patriots. The Jets may find comfort in the fact that despite Oakland being one of the toughest places to play in the NFL, the Raiders defense has been awful so far, which could be the perfect cure for New York’s inconsistent offensive attack. Oakland’s 25th-ranked defense has allowed 395 yards per game through the first two weeks, and could be the perfect opportunity for the Jets to finally be able to get Shonn Greene (26 rushes for 75 yards and a TD) going. The Raiders will look to their fourth-ranked rushing attack featuring Darren McFadden (42 carries for 222 yards and a TD) to shorten the game, but the Jets defense, which looked phenomenal last week, will look to be aggressive in stopping that. With the best cornerback tandem in the NFL in Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, New York can certainly afford to send in extra blitzes to slow down McFadden.
The Pick: New York
The Ravens are not as good their 35-7 victory Week 1 victory over the Steelers, but they are certainly not as bad as what they showed in a 26-13 loss last week to Tennessee. Simply chalk that loss up to being a little bit overconfident coming off a dominating victory over their arch-enemy. Baltimore is going to come out hungry to prove that they are more of the Super Bowl contender they showed in Week 1. The Ravens defense has been great against the run, fourth in the NFL, but horrendous against the pass, 28th in the league. Baltimore really needs to pressure the quarterback because its secondary has really struggled to this point without rookie corner Jimmy Smith. Look for the Ravens to be aggressive in sending blitzers at Sam Bradford (39-for-76 for 519 yards, one TD, no INTs and a 77.7 rating). Baltimore’s offensive gameplan should feature Ray Rice (32 carries for 150 yards and a TD), Ray Rice and more of Ray Rice. He has looked very dynamic through the first two weeks of the season, and facing the NFL’s worst-ranked run defense, could be in for a field day today.
The Pick: Baltimore
Kansas City Chiefs (0-2) at San Diego Chargers (1-1)
Things have gotten real bad in Kansas City. They’ve lost three of their best players, Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry and Tony Moeaki, to season-ending knee injuries. Adding insult to injury, the Chiefs have been outscored 89-10 through the first two games of the season. Things don’t look like they’ll get any better on the road today. The Chargers trot in their third-ranked offense, racking up 438.5 yards per game. Philip Rivers (62-for-88 for 713 yards, four TDs and four INTs for a 90.8 rating) is finally getting some help from the running game. Ryan Mathews is finally starting to live up to his first-round billing last year, having rushed for 109 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries in 2011.
The Pick: San Diego
Many people forget that it was the Bears who actually won the NFC North division last year. The NFL’s oldest rivalry resumes today at Soldier Field as both teams look to get their defenses performing back at an elite level. Green Bay has been absolutely awful defending the pass the first two weeks of the season, surrendering an NFL-worst 400 yards per game. Luckily for them, they have Aaron Rodgers (46-for-65 for 620 yards, five TDs and no INTs for a 126.4 rating), which is why the Packers are simply outscoring their opponents, racking up 36 points per game, to be 2-0. Meanwhile, the once-proud Chicago defense has surrendered 30 points to both the Saints and Falcons in each of the first two games of the season. It won’t get any easier today. The Bears need to run the ball more, as they are just 27th in the NFL in rushing despite Matt Forte averaging 4.5 yards per carry. It’s what they do best on offense and should help shorten the game and keep Jay Cutler (41-for-77 for 556 yards, three TDs, one INT and a 84.1 rating) upright.
The Pick: Green Bay
Arizona Cardinals (1-1) at Seattle Seahawks (0-2)
It’s one of the worst defenses in the game against the NFL’s worst offense through the first couple weeks of the season. The Cardinals could be 2-0 right now if not for their defense collapsing in a one-point loss to the Redskins last week. They are allowing 466 yards per game, which is good enough for 29th in the NFL. They may be able to solve some of their problems though against a Seahawks team that has gotten absolutely nothing going offensively. Seattle’s pathetic attack is averaging just 191.5 yards per game, 16 behind the 31st-ranked 49ers. The Seahawks have put up only 47.5 rushing yards per game, or seven less than the 31st-ranked Cowboys rushing offense is averaging. On the other side, maybe the Seahawks can find a rhythm offensively against the porous Arizona defense.
The Pick: Seattle
After being outscored 44-20 in the first six quarters of the season, the Bucs got back to the ground-and-pound attack that won them 10 games last year. LeGarrette Blount (18 carries for 86 yards and two touchdowns on the season) suddenly became the featured weapon and Tampa Bay came back to beat the Vikings 24-20. The Bucs should stick to what they do best today but the Falcons should also try a more run-oriented attack in this one. Tampa Bay is giving up 156 yards per game on the ground, second-worst in the NFL, while Falcons running back Michael Turner has plowed for 214 yards, 6.9 yards per carry, and a touchdown through the first two weeks. A win for the young Bucs will prove they are ready to build on their surprising 10-win 2010 campaign. However, a defense still learning may be what prevents Tampa Bay from knocking off one of the top offenses in the NFL.
The Pick: Atlanta
Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1) at Indianapolis Colts (0-2)
This game looked like a gem when it was scheduled. But that was before we learned Peyton Manning would be out for a large chunk, if not all of the 2011 season. In his absence the Colts have played pretty uninspiring football. Indianapolis has been outscored 61-26 through the first two games of the season. Meanwhile, the Steelers were able to bounce-back from a 35-7 Week 1 loss to the Ravens with a dominant 24-0 victory over the Seahawks last week, getting back to a more balanced approach offensively. The Steelers threw 31 passes against Seattle compared to 35 runs. Against Baltimore, Pittsburgh tossed 41 passes compared to just 16 rushes. Look for the physical Steelers to duplicate their Seattle gameplan by powering through the NFL’s 29th-ranked Colts rush defense.
The Pick: Pittsburgh
Washington Redskins (2-0) at Dallas Cowboys (1-1)
Monday Night Football this week features possibly the best historical rivalry in the NFL. After the Eagles’ loss last week, it is the Redskins who find themselves on top of the NFC East division. Washington has thrived behind Rex Grossman, of all quarterbacks. Grossman has passed for 596 yards, four touchdowns and two picks for a 90.6 rating. The Redskins will need to throw the ball to win, as Dallas has allowed only 59.5 rushing yards per game, second-best in the league. Offensively for the Cowboys, Tony Romo should play while running back Felix Jones and receiver Dez Bryant are question marks. Romo (43-for-69 for 687 yards, four TDs, one INT and a 108.8 rating) shook off a horrible Week 1 choke to the Jets and a punctured lung against the 49ers in Week 2 to lead Dallas to a come from behind 27-24 overtime victory. An interesting note coming into this game is that the Cowboys have both the NFL’s fourth-ranked offense and defense, while Washington ranks 11th in both offense and defense.
The Pick: Dallas