I told you all last week that Week 3 was full of trap games and to adjust your expectations accordingly. I don't think any of us expected that our bar be lowered as far as it was. Sure, we had a tough go of it over the weekend, but there's absolutely no shame in inaccurately picking teams that were favored to win by 4, 7, and 8,5, respectively.
That said, we must move forward with heads unbowed. Don't waver in your confidence, as these Winners picks are still a game ahead of the oddsmakers in Vegas and in front of roughly 94% of the country.
I'm not really sure what prompted the league to choose this game as the midweek feature. I mean, sure it's a divisional rivalry, and maybe you can play up the Art Modell thing, but Cleveland sucks and there's a good chance that half the country will have tuned out midway through the 3rd quarter. Baltimore has a real, legitimate offense to complement their usual defensive badassery and not even Trent Richardson's talent will be enough to keep this one close.
THE PICK: RAVENS
Right now, Vegas is going bonkers over the Atlanta Falcons, who opened as 25/1 to hoist Lombardi's trophy. After three weeks of dominating football, the Dirty Birds sit at 7/1. My take on the team is that they are indeed for real, as their defense as played wonderfully and their passing game has been every bit as drool-worthy as we hoped when we eagerly drafted Roddy White and Julio Jones in our fantasy football leagues. Add to that the impeccable decision-making by Matt Ryan and you've got yourself a veritable contender out of the NFC.
Talent-wise, I think the Panthers are more than capable of winning this game and, if it were being played in their yard, I might even lean their way. unfortunately for them, their truckload of individual talents have refused to coalesce, leading to a team that features no blocking, no run game, no pass rush, no run-stopping ability, no pass-defense, a coaching staff with apparently zero ability to make in-game adjustments, and shaky special teams.
In short, Cam Newton and Steve Smith aren't enough.
THE PICK: FALCONS
This is one of the rare occasions when you'll see a road team with an inferior record enter a game as the favorite, and as a rather heavy one at that. Sure, four points may not seem like much on the surface, but any spread wider than three indicates a fairly heavy preference by the sharks. Historically speaking, Tom Brady has ravaged the Bills like a Conquistador in a rural jungle village. With the addition of Brandon Lloyd and the re-emergence of Wes Welker, combined with the fact that CJ Spiller is doubtful and Fred Jackson is unlikely to be at full strength, you've got a recipe for a blowout. I don't know that New England will destroy Buffalo, but I expect them to win comfortably with a knee on the ground as time expires.
THE PICK: PATRIOTS
Games like these are one reason I hate having to make picks so early in the week. As of this writing, Matthew Stafford is officially questionable after being removed from last Sunday's pinball game against the Titans. And while Shaun Hill undoubtedly made history by throwing two touchdown passes in under 20 seconds to force overtime in that one, I doubt his ability to lead the Lions over a Minnesota team that just beat San Francisco and who is playing some pretty errorless football so far.
Christian Ponder is interceptionless through three games, which is pretty remarkable on the surface. Some of the luster is removed when you go back and watch what a staggeringly high number of his passes fail to travel 15 yards past the line of scrimmage. At some point, teams are going to start jumping the underneath routes and forcing Ponder to beat them deep. I don't know that Detroit is the team to exploit that, and I think Adrain Peterson will do mighty things against their defense. If Stafford plays, I expect Detroit to win. If he doesn't, I don't. I'm banking on him being ready, I guess. No shame in getting this one wrong (take Minnesota to cover the 5-point spread though).
THE PICK: LIONS
If you had told me before the season started that the Chargers would be coming into this game off a home loss to the Falcons and that the Chiefs would be returning home after a road win over the Saints, I'd say the Chiefs are an easy pick here. In reality, it's a bit more complicated than that, as the Chargers are 2-1 with the Atlanta loss being one of no shame and the Chiefs are 1-2, with their win against new Orleans looking a lot less impressive now than it would've a month ago.
Divisional games are always tough to pick, since teams know each other's personnel and tendencies better than they would in interdivisional contests. However, considering that the Chiefs needed 288 total yards from Jamaal Charles to overcome an 18-point deficit against a bad Saints team, I'm still comfortable saying their not very good themselves. I think Philip Rivers and Co. have enough here to leave the game at 3-1.
THE PICK: CHARGERS
I know we're all anticipating a sixty-minute flogging administered by the 'Hawks in this one, but before you bet your life-savings* on Seattle winning big, keep in mind a few things. First of all, the Seahawks offense has been pretty bad so far this year. Dress it up however you like, but in two of three games, they've had trouble moving the chains in the vast majority of their drives. St. Louis defense is better than it was last year, and I'm not sure Seattle has the weaponry to break this game open. Secondly, St. Louis offense is predicated on the short passing game, most notably with Danny Amendola running underneath routes, often off of thinly-veiled pick plays. It's the type of attack that has the potential to neutralize Seattle's big corners and can draw guys like Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor in closer to the line of scrimmage than they're accustomed to being on pass plays.
*Who has life-savings anymore? That phrase should have read "so don't go increasing your massive personal debt by assuming the Seahawks will win big".
The 'Hawks are helped out by an injured Steven Jackson, but Sam Bradford is a good quarterback when he's got time, so the onus is going to be on Seattle's front four to continue getting pressure like they did last week. Too much time for Bradford means a lot of first downs, which could put unwanted pressure on Russell Wilson and the O to produce late.
All of that being said, I think the MVP of this game will be Marshawn Lynch and, if I'm right, it should open up the play-action passing game that Seattle seems most comfortable with.
THE PICK: SEAHAWKS
What we have here is a case of two very different 2-1 teams. I think San Fran is WAY more talented than the Jets and with the loss of Darrelle Revis to a knee-injury, I expect the Niners to win comfortably.
THE PICK: 49ERS
"Tennessee" is a fun word to type. Beyond that, all advantages go to Houston, the most perfect team in the NFL.
THE PICK: TEXANS
Carson Palmer has been predictably better than he was last year -- a full training camp and not having a team trade the top half of their draft to yank you off your couch will do that. Even so, his best weapon, Darrius Heyward-Bey is recovering from partial decapitation and Denver's defense doesn't give QBs a whole lot of time to go through their reads.
Peyton Manning has been much better at home than he was in Atlanta, and I expect that trend to continue.
THE PICK: BRONCOS
Before the season, I would've expected these two teams to enter this game with one combined win, not four. Shoot, Miami came within an ice-the-kicker* move by their head coach (which overturned a blocked game-winning field goal) of being 2-1 entering this game.
*Can we please just stop with this already. I swear I could write an entire 2,000-word piece on how stupid this move is. All you do by "icing" the kicker is give him a free practice kick and the chance to make any necessary adjustments. Does anyone really think that these highly-paid specialists are going to miss a kick that they would've otherwise made just because you called a timeout? I don't know what's lamer, coaches icing kickers or bros icing bros. If Pete Carroll ever tries to ice a kicker, I might explode. Good grief.
For a number of reasons, I want to discount the Cardinals' 3-0 record, not the least of which are its implications for Seattle's run at a playoff berth. I can point to the fact that they very narrowly missed losing to the Seahawks and very very narrowly missed losing to the Patriots, but I also have to point to the fact that they absolutely housed the Eagles last week and nothing about than win was fluky. Kevin Kolb is surprising everyone with his level of play since replacing John Skelton in the season opener and Arizona's defense is playing at a legit top-five level.
Miami has been benefitting from the electric play of Reggie Bush, who has grown into a bona fide NFL feature back. Unfortunately for the 'Phins, Bush is likely to miss all, or at least some, of this game and I think they lack the talent to overcome his absence.
THE PICK: CARDINALS
I sure hope CBS puts their A-Team in the broadcast booth for this one!
THE PICK: BENGALS
This is the photo-negative of the Dolphins-Cardinals game in that before the season, I would've expected these teams to have at least four combined wins, instead of the one they actually possess. I don't think either team is as bad as their record suggests, but I think New Orleans is a lot closer to being a true-talent 0-3 team than Green Bay is to being a 1-2 squad at this point.
Drew Brees has been good, so his team's o-fer isn't as much on him as it is on that putrid defense he has to try and make up for. Aaron Rodgers and the rest of that underachieving offensive armory have run a gauntlet of good defenses, having opened up against the 49ers, Bears, and Seahawks. Their reward for muddling through is what may very well be the worst D in the NFL. And they get them at home. Expect Green Bay to roll.
THE PICK: PACKERS
There is still a team in our country called the Redskins. They play in our nation's capitol.
THE PICK: REDSKINS
Man, it's not hard to imagine a total of 70+ points being scored in this game. Vegas has the over/under at 46.5, but despite the talent that Philly's defense can boast, Eli Manning has morphed into Drew Brees and it just doesn't seem to matter who's playing around him. Hakeem Nicks? Victor Cruz? Andre Brown? Ramses freaking Barton? None of it matters. With Eli calling the shots, they're a dadgum juggernaut.
And wanna hear something crazy? The Eagles are tied for the lowest scoring output (15.7 points/game) in the entire NFL. I mean, seriously? Well, a peek behind the curtain shows that this Eagles offense is actually much better than that. A bizarre rash of untimely turnovers has masked the fact that Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin and the rest are 5th in total yards (5th in pass, 8th in run) and they have actually moved the ball extremely well when they're not handing it to their opponents. On top of that, Philadelphia's defense is 5th in yards allowed.
As the turnovers naturally even out, the Eagles superior talent will begin to assert itself on most of the league. Iexpect that to happen with this week's Sunday Night game.
THE PICK: EAGLES
This game may set a MNF record for sideline shots of exasperated quarterbacks. There is a lot of top-tier talent on both of these teams, but there's seems to be very little depth for either, especially on the offensive line. I expect a low scoring game that would be deemed largely uninteresting by most of the country if these two teams didn't carry their franchises' considerable cachet.
THE PICK: COWBOYS