I often joke in this space about “hold your nose” bets in the NFL. The idea of putting your hard-earned, after-tax dollars on the line to back underdogs with fleas can be a nauseating experience. The red zone turnovers, the poor special teams play, not going for it on 4th and short in plus territory – you know, hallmarks of bad football teams.
But that’s what we have in Week 3, where a glaring trend jumps right off the page (with all odds via FOX Bet).
In fact, it's pretty simple – teams that start the season 0-2 against the spread have historically rebounded. In the last four seasons, such teams are 22-7 ATS (75.9%) in Week 3, and if you go back 10 seasons, they’re 47-28 ATS (62.7%).
The logic: Bookmakers know that the betting public will avoid those teams, so to try and attract balanced money, lines get inflated. Here are the 0-2 ATS teams this season*:
New York Jets (+12 at Indianapolis)
Cleveland Browns (-7 vs. Washington)
Houston Texans (+4 at Pittsburgh)
Dallas Cowboys (+5 at Seattle)
Philadelphia Eagles (-4 vs. Cincinnati)
Detroit Lions (+6 at Arizona)
Carolina Panthers (+6.5 at Los Angeles Chargers)
*Two 0-2 ATS teams also meet (Tennessee -3 at Minnesota).
But of course, there's a wide variety of value in those matchups. So with that information in hand, here’s how I'm handicapping Week 3. (And for more, check out Thursday's edition of "Talk The Line"!)
Two trend games I'm certain on:
Philadelphia Eagles (-4) vs Cincinnati. This is how fast opinions can change in the NFL – every summer, some sports books release lines for every game of every week of the season. The line this summer for this game was Bengals +10.
Now, the Eagles lose two games, and we’ve adjusted down nearly six points? That feels excessive. The Eagles have issues – like scoring three points in the second half so far – but they still have talent.
Philadelphia’s defense was off balance last week against the Rams; now they face Zac Taylor, who is a disciple of Sean McVay. They should be ready. Carson Wentz, for as poor as he’s played in the last six quarters, gets right against a porous Bengals defense, the same way Baker Mayfield did on TNF. Eagles -4.
Carolina Panthers (+6.5) at Los Angeles Chargers. Riddle me this – how is a rookie QB making his second career start favored by 6.5? This feels like last week, when I was stunned Mitchell Trubisky was favored by more than a field goal against the Giants; the Bears didn’t cover.
Yes, Justin Herbert looked good for the Chargers last week and nearly beat the second-best team in the NFL, the Chiefs. But KC had no tape on him. That won't be the case this week against Carolina.
Now, you could make an argument that Christian McCaffrey has more value than any non-QB to the point spread; nobody will be looking to back a Panthers offense without him. But I’m holding my nose and riding with Teddy Bridgewater here on the road, despite arguably the worst defense in the league that only has a staggering three QB pressures in two games. Love Panthers +7, still like it at 6.5.
One trend game I want to fire on, but just don’t have the stomach for it:
Detroit Lions (+6) at Arizona Cardinals. I’ve been gushing about Arizona in this space all summer, and they’re 2-0 ATS and on their way to a playoff spot. With Desmond Trufant listed as doubtful, it appears rookie Jeff Okudah could draw the assignment of a top three receiver in the league, DeAndre Hopkins. Yikes.
I also raved about the Detroit Lions, and they have not looked good. Yes, Kenny Golladay is back. But, well, Matt Patricia is still on the sidelines. He’s now blown double digit leads in four straight games, an NFL record. You just can’t trust the guy.
Then again, the Lions have played the Cardinals tough in back-to-back years with a win in 2018 (not against Kyler Murray), and a tie in 2019 (against Kyler Murray after holding a 24-6 4th quarter lead). The volatility makes me squeamish. Pass.
One trend game I'm outright avoiding:
Tennessee Titans (-3) at Minnesota Vikings. The Titans are 2-0. Even without AJ Brown, the offense is explosive – and it should be against a Minnesota defense that has been an abject disaster, heading into this game missing its two starting cornerbacks.
So why isn’t this spread larger? Who is running to back the Vikings and keeping this at 3? If a backup tight end like Mo Alie-Cox can catch 5 passes for 111 yards against the bad Vikings linebacker group, what will an emerging tight end talent like Jonnu Smith do? This isn’t even a buy low on the Vikings, because what are you buying? This feels like Titans or, for me, screams pass.
Two non-trend games I feel very good about:
New England Patriots (-6) vs. Las Vegas Raiders. One of my strongest plays of the week. Wouldn’t be surprised if this hit 7 before kickoff.
Las Vegas could be down two starting offensive linemen, with Ritchie Incognito headed to IR and Trent Brown missing practice this week after not playing on Monday. Bill Belichick will try to take away star tight end Darren Waller (12 catches Monday on 16 targets); the Patriots have permitted tight ends to catch four passes in two weeks. Beyond Waller, you’re left with a vastly inferior passing attack to what the Patriots saw last week from Seattle. .
The Raiders just beat the mighty Saints on an island game, and Las Vegas is 2-0, so you know where the public is going to come in. Toss in Belichick showing up to a press conference this week looking disheveled wearing a sweatshirt with holes all over it as if nothing mattered but football, and you can try to get into the mindset of a guy who is a staggering 51-26 ATS off a loss. Perfect sell high spot for the Raiders. Bet the Patriots anything below -7.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-6) at Denver Broncos. Sure, I got lucky last week with Tampa needing a long, late, TD run from Leonard Fournette to cover against vastly inferior Carolina.
A closer look reveals it should have never been that close. The Bucs led 21-0 and the Panthers were in hurry-up offense throughout the second half. Tampa Bay dropped seven passes, and this week, Chris Godwin returns from a concussion.
Most importantly, Tampa Bay is fourth in defensive efficiency through two games. It’s a tall order for Jeff Driskel to go up against that defense without your best WR and No. 2 running back.
Driskel was sacked six times in three quarters; the Broncos offensive line remains putrid. Yes, Driskel got the cover in Week 2, but that was more about Pittsburgh sputtering than anything the Broncos did. And there’s a reason Fournette was able to break that game-covering TD run – since 2017, he leads the NFL with fourth-quarter carries of 25+ yards. Tampa Bay -6.