Arizona Cardinals at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2021 Week 3 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (2-0) at Jacksonville Jaguars (0-2)

Coming into the season, the Cardinals were one of my top underrated teams, as they looked like one of the most well-rounded teams in the league on paper, thanks to some key off-season additions and Kyler Murray being in his third year in the league. They have gotten off to a great start, but they might not be underrated anymore as a result. Even though the Cardinals played a very close game at home against the Vikings last week, this line still jumped from Arizona -6.5 on the early line last week to -7.5 this week, crossing a key number of seven (about 1 in 10 games are decided by exactly a touchdown).

My calculated line is still Arizona -9.5, but we’re not getting any sort of significant line value, especially since the Cardinals could be in a trap game spot against an 0-2 Jaguars team with a huge game against the Rams on deck. With that in mind, I considered the Jaguars, but I am sticking with the Cardinals for one of my lowest confidence picks of the week at least for now. With the Cardinals having three key players, DeAndre Hopkins, Devon Kennard, and Byron Murphy, seemingly legitimately questionable, it’s possible this pick will change depending on injury reports, but I don’t see myself being confident in either side either way.

Update: The Cardinals got good injury news, so I like them a little more now, even in a bad spot. This line has moved up to 8, but that doesn’t really matter. I have the healthier Cardinals as 10 point favorites.

Arizona Cardinals 34 Jacksonville Jaguars 24

Pick against the spread: Arizona -8

Confidence: Low

Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2021 Week 3 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (1-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1)

I thought the Steelers were a little overrated coming into the season and, though they did win week one in Buffalo in upset fashion week one, that might have just made them more overrated, as they could not continue that into week two, following up that win over the Bills with an upset loss at home to the Raiders. The Steelers’ offense has continued to struggle mightily, not moving the ball consistently in either game, which is a problem because offensive performance is more predictive than defensive performance and because their once dominant defense is not as talented as it once was due to off-season departures and injuries. 

The Steelers will get Joe Haden and Devin Bush back this week, but remain without Stephon Tuitt and will add Alex Highsmith and Tyson Alualu to their list of injured defensive players, while TJ Watt could be less than his dominant self playing through a significant groin injury. Meanwhile, their offense could struggle even more than normal with Ben Roethlisberger playing through a chest injury that could easily limit him as a passer and wide receiver Diontae Johnson out.

This line has shifted from Pittsburgh -7 on the early line last week to Pittsburgh -3 this week and normally I like to go against significant week-to-week overreactions, but this line was always too high at 7 and sharps are still betting the Bengals heavily at three. I would agree with the sharps this week, not just because the Steelers are overrated, but because the Bengals are a little underrated. I’m not sure if they will be a playoff qualifier, but Joe Burrow has looked good in his return from injury and he’s supported by a much improved receiving corps, offensive line, and defensive unit.

The Bengals beat Minnesota week one and the Vikings, despite losing two close games on the road to open their season, are better than people think because of their improved defense, while the Bengals loss in Chicago last week was mostly the result of their -3 turnover margin, as they averaged 1.22 yards per play more than the Bears in an eventual 3-point loss. Yards per play differential is much more predictive than turnover margin, which bodes well for the Bengals going forward. I actually have the Bengals a few points better than the banged up Steelers, so we’re getting significant line value with the Bengals as underdogs of a field goal on the road. I like their chances of pulling the outright upset and even if they don’t, we have a field goal to work with. This is worth a big play even if we’re not getting as much line value as we were getting a week ago.

Cincinnati Bengals 17 Pittsburgh Steelers 16 Upset Pick +150

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +3

Confidence: High

Atlanta Falcons at New York Giants: 2021 Week 3 NFL Pick

Atlanta Falcons (0-2) at New York Giants (0-2)

This line favors the Giants by a field goal at home, suggesting these two teams are about even, but I think this line is off and the Giants are the better team. Their biggest weakness is their offensive line, which might be the worst in the league, but the Falcons are among the least equipped teams to take advantage of that, with one of the worst pass rushes in the league, as part of a terrible overall defense. If the Giants can control the line of scrimmage at least somewhat, they should be able to move the ball with ease in this game, with Daniel Jones supported by an improved skill position group from a year ago. 

Jones is an underrated quarterback because he played a brutal schedule last season (nine matchups against top-10 defenses in his first ten games), before suffering a hamstring injury that limited him severely and would have kept many quarterbacks out for several weeks. Jones then started this season with back-to-back tough defenses in the Broncos and Washington, but now he gets to face one of the worst defenses in the league and should be able to have a strong game, coming off one of the best games of his career in a near loss against Washington’s defense.

The Giants also have a solid defense and are overall a much more well rounded team than the Falcons, who don’t do anything particularly well, with even their once solid passing game taking a hit this year with Julio Jones gone and Matt Ryan seemingly on the decline at least a little bit. Add in that the Giants have extra rest off of Thursday Night Football and there is enough here to bet on them confidently as long as this line doesn’t exceed a field goal.

New York Giants 27 Atlanta Falcons 20

Pick against the spread: NY Giants -3

Confidence: Medium

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Los Angeles Rams: 2021 Week 3 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-0) at Los Angeles Rams (2-0)

Both of these teams are 2-0 and this is being billed as a potential NFC Championship matchup, but I think the Buccaneers have a much better chance of making that game and are the much better team. While the Buccaneers are a dominant team with the league’s top roster and a 10-game winning streak (with a margin of victory of 11.2 points per game, even including four playoff games), the Rams are a little overrated. 

The Rams obviously improved their offense this off-season by adding Matt Stafford, but I don’t expect the Rams’ defense to have quite as good of a season as a year ago, which usually gets left out of the discussion with the Rams, in favor of focusing on how much better their offense is. I thought they were overrated coming into the season and I haven’t seen anything to change my mind yet. The Rams did win easily against the Bears week one, but the Bears are one of the worst teams in the league and that game could have been a lot closer if not for key mistakes by the Bears, including not touching a receiver down, a blown coverage, and a goal line interception and then the Rams followed that win up by barely beating a banged up Colts team. 

The Buccaneers are favored by 1.5 points in this matchup in Los Angeles, but they should be favored by at least a field goal, given that there is still a significant gap between these two teams. The fact that this line is lower than a field goal is relevant for a couple reasons, given how automatic of a bet Tom Brady’s teams have been throughout his career in games where he isn’t a significant favorite, as Brady is 57-26 ATS as an underdog or a favorite of less than 2.5. 

That’s a consistent trend that has held up for decades as Brady has consistently brought his best for big games and his teams have usually followed suit (including a 5-1 ATS record with the Buccaneers last season). It’s possible the Buccaneers are a little distracted by their big matchup with the Patriots next week, but this game is more important in the long run because of playoff seeding implications, so I would expect the Buccaneers to be fully focused this week, even with the Patriots on deck. In a game they basically just need to win to cover, they should be a good bet this week.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27 Los Angeles Rams 20

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay -1.5

Confidence: High

New Orleans Saints at New England Patriots: 2021 Week 3 NFL Pick

New Orleans Saints (1-1) at New England Patriots (1-1)

The Patriots have split their first two games, but they would likely be 2-0 if they could have held onto one of two fumbles in their 1-point loss to the Dolphins. Fumbles are one of the least predictive metrics week-to-week and, in more predictive metrics, the Patriots held the clear edge over the Dolphins, despite the final score, as they had the higher first down rate (33.33% vs. 30.77%) and yards per play (5.61 vs. 4.98). 

Their significant win over the Jets last week was to be expected, but it was good to see the Patriots take care of business in a game in which the Jets never really had a shot. I had the Patriots as one of my underrated teams going into the season because of how much talent they added this off-season and, despite their .500 record, I haven’t seen anything to change my mind on them thus far. If anything, their week one loss may make them even more underrated, as they likely would be getting a lot more hype at 2-0.

The Saints, meanwhile, have been the least predictable team in the league thus far, winning 38-3 as 3.5-point home underdogs against the Packers and losing 26-7 as 3.5-point road favorites against the Panthers. It’s likely that the Saints brought their best game at the same time the Packers were flat and then followed that up by being flat off of a big upset win the following week in Carolina, but it’s hard to pin down how good this team is. 

They’re clearly not as good as last season after several key off-season departures and they are missing key players due to injury and suspension, including top wide receiver Michael Thomas, talented kicker Will Lutz, top interior defender David Onyemata, talented center Erik McCoy, starting linebacker Kwon Alexander, and starting defensive end Marcus Davenport. Their defense has continued playing at a high level, but their offense actually hasn’t looked good in either game and ranks only behind the Dolphins in terms of first down rate. 

My roster rankings still have the Saints right about average, but I have the Patriots as several points above average, so this line, which favors the Patriots by a field goal at home and suggests these two teams are about even, is off by a few points. In a normal week, this would be a candidate for Pick of the Week, given how much line value we’re getting with New England, but the possibility that the Patriots are caught looking forward to their matchup with Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers next week limits this to a smaller bet for me. Even still, there is enough line value for the Patriots to be worth betting as 3-point favorites.

New England Patriots 26 New Orleans Saints 20

Pick against the spread: New England -3

Confidence: Medium

Chicago Bears at Cleveland Browns: 2021 Week 3 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (1-1) at Cleveland Browns (1-1)

The Browns are just 1-1, but I’ve been very impressed with them thus far this season. Their loss came in Kansas City against the Chiefs and they easily could have won, suggesting they probably would have beaten just about anyone else, anywhere else week one. In that loss, the Browns outperformed the Chiefs in more predictive metrics like first down rate (42.11% vs. 34.43%) and yards per play (8.16 vs. 6.51), primarily losing the game because they lost the turnover margin, which is much less predictive. 

The Browns followed up that narrow loss to the Chiefs with a 10-point win over the Texans, which doesn’t sound that impressive, but the Browns once again performed better in more predictive metrics than margin of victory, winning the first down rate battle by 11.26% and the yards per play battle by 1.02. The Browns’ offense came into the season with as much upside as any team in the league and they have lived up to it, leading the league in first down rate through two weeks, despite dealing with some injuries, while their revamped defensive unit has been a solid complementary unit. 

The Browns should be considered a legitimate contender, but are a bit underrated because their record doesn’t tell the whole story and the general public doesn’t realize this is a significantly improved team from a year ago. The Bears, meanwhile, were thoroughly outplayed in Los Angeles week 1 against a good, but probably overrated Rams team and then followed that up with a 3-point loss against the Bengals in a game in which they won the turnover battle by 3, but were outgained by 1.22 yards per play, a much more predictive metric. 

Their offense could get a spark this week with rookie quarterback Justin Fields being forced into action with veteran Andy Dalton injured, but that’s far from a guarantee in his first career start and this offense has significant problems beyond the quarterback position, while their once dominant defense is middling at best thanks to several off-seasons of key departures and injuries to key players like Danny Trevathan and Eddie Goldman, who will once again be out this week. 

I thought the Bears were a significantly below average team coming into the season and nothing has happened to change my mind on that, so a talented team like the Browns shouldn’t have any problem against them. This line is mispriced with the Browns only favored by 7 (my calculated line is Cleveland -12), so let’s take advantage with a big wager. This line is creeping up to 7.5 in some places, which would still be worth a bet, but not as big of a bet, given how important a number 7 is for betting purposes.

Cleveland Browns 27 Chicago Bears 14

Pick against the spread: Cleveland -7

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Carolina Panthers at Houston Texans: 2021 Week 3 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (2-0) at Houston Texans (1-1)

Both of these teams are unappealing to bet this week. The Panthers are 2-0, but they beat a terrible Jets team by 5 and then got a Saints team that was predictably flat after an emotional week one victory and that was also missing a significant amount of their coaching staff. Their defense could continue being an above average unit, but I still don’t trust their quarterback or offensive line and they’re not the kind of team that should be favorites of more than a touchdown on the road against anyone.

On the other hand, the Texans have one of the worst rosters in the league and now, one of their few bright spots, quarterback Tyrod Taylor, is injured and will be replaced by raw rookie Davis Mills, who looked lost in relief of Taylor last week against the Browns, entering a tied game and losing by 10 in a game in which the Texans lost the first down rate battle by 11.26%. The Texans beat the Jaguars week one, but the Jaguars are probably one of the worst five teams in the league and that was with Taylor. 

Given the rest of this roster and how raw Mills is, this team reminds me of the winless 2017 Browns, who failed to cover in all but four games while being quarterbacked by Deshone Kizer and Kevin Hogan. For future betting purposes, I hope the Panthers are able to cover and win big against a terrible Texans team, so they remain overrated for future bets, but my numbers actually have the Texans as the right side at +9, even if barely. If this line was at -7.5 where it was earlier this week, I would take the Panthers. That’s how close this is for me and how little I have confidence in either side.

Carolina Panthers 20 Houston Texans 12

Pick against the spread: Houston +9

Confidence: None