NFL picks, predictions against spread Week 3: Bucs burn Rams, Packers edge 49ers, Cowboys clip Eagles

Week 2 was weak sauce for the picks against the spread. It was the classic wild, unpredictable slate of games with mid-game injuries and improbable finishes wreaking havoc on the results. Turnovers, penalties and inconsistent home-field advantages even with fans back also have served to make things more challenging.

There’s only one way to rebound from one bad week: Get up on that horse and pick our favorite ponies again. Week 3 offers more 16 chances to get games right, so it’s time to focus on the positives and not think about the alternatives.

Without further ado and overthinking, here are this week’s Sporting News predictions for how every upcoming matchup will play out, from this Thursday night to next Monday night:

(Game odds courtesy of FanDuel)

NFL POWER RANKINGS:
49ers, Cowboys, Broncos climb; Steelers, Seahawks, Saints slide into Week 3

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NFL picks against the spread for Week 3

Game of the Week: Buccaneers (-1.5, 55.5 o/u) at Rams

Sunday 4:25 p.m. ET, Fox

Could this game be a NFC championship game preview? Should the Rams win the NFC West, then the answer is very much yes. Last November, Tom Brady struggled against the Rams defense at home in a 27-24 loss. He’s a lot more locked into his loaded weapons less than a year later, with conference title and Super Bowl 55 ring in hand since.

Matthew Stafford had a great first game and a pretty good second one to ensure his new team would start 2-0. But this is a different kind of measuring stick against an active defense that will shut down the run and come after him. He also must out-duel Brady without the same kind of depth at receiver and tight end. Brady will remember how the Rams got the best of him last year and won’t let it happen again. Stafford’s long-time profile means he doesn’t help his team win games like this.

Pick: Buccaneers win 30-27 and cover the spread.

Game of Midweek: Panthers (-7, 43.5 o/u) at Texans

Thursday 8:20 p.m. ET, NFL Network

The Panthers have gotten plenty from their aggressive young defense, fueled by a boosted pass rush. That’s the big reason why they’re 2-0, on top of Christian McCaffrey facilitating Sam Darnold as a runner and receiver to open up the rest of the offense. They look well-coached and put-together in Year 2 of Matt Rhule and Joe Brady.

Darnold and the D are overachieving, but that will continue in Houston with a good chance of facing another team with QB chance and a second rookie (Davis Mills) in three games. McCaffrey has a big night to open Week and the Texans are limited with their rockets to pull the upset against a red-hot NFC foe.

Pick: Panthers win 26-16 and cover the spread.

Result: Panthers win 24-9

Rivalry of the Week: Eagles at Cowboys (-3.5, 51.5 o/u)

Monday 8:15 p.m. ET,  ESPN/ESPN2

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The Eagles looked dominant against the Falcons and then couldn’t score on the 49ers. Jalen Hurts has played well, but their offense has been otherwise inconsistent with defense being the early strength. The Cowboys have shown plenty of diverse offense with Dak Prescott in two games and their defense is making up for big issues with well-timed takeaways and stops. Prescott and Hurts will duel well, with Dallas getting the key last possession at home. The Cowboys will be position to run well again and their experience edge at receiver over the Eagles pays off in a familiar NFC East marquee shootout.

Pick: Cowboys win 31-28 but fail to cover the spread.

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Lock of the Week: Broncos (-10.5, 41.5 o/u) over Jets

Sunday 4:05 p.m. ET,  CBS

The Broncos’ defense has thrown down the way Vic Fangio wants against the lowly Giants and Jaguars. Here back at home for the first time this season, Denver will take down another overmatched offense in a loud home environment. Denver is not far from Utah, where Zach Wilson hails and played his college ball at BYU. That won’t help much with Von Miller in the vicinity against a weakened offensive line.

The Jets also will face a Broncos’ secondary that played much better in Week 2 leading to more mistakes from Wilson. Teddy Bridgewater will keep playing well to exploit a weak pass defense with tons of help from running backs Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams. The Jags have proved to be messy to trust to be competitive under Urban Meyer in the short term.

Pick: Broncos win 30-14 and cover the spread.

Upset of the Week: Packers over 49ers (-3, 50.5 o/u)

Sunday 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC

The 49ers have owned the Packers in recent meetings, whether it’s been Colin Kaepernick running all over the defense or the 2019 version dispatching Aaron Rodgers twice. But last November, the injury-riddled 49ers allowed the Packers to turn the tables in prime time in San Francisco. The 49ers are struggling to keep running backs healthy and their passing game has more limitations than expected around Jimmy Garoppolo. Their defensive back seven also can be picked apart by Rodgers with decent protection.

The 49ers will try to get enough big pass plays so they can run to win, but the Packers should be inspired to compensate for the Week 1 road debacle against the Saints. Rodgers has another happy return to the Bay Area, while Garoppolo struggles to fnish the comeback against a tough pass defense.

Pick: Packers win 27-24.

Colts at Titans (-4.5, 47.5 o/u)

Sunday 1 p.m. ET, CBS

The Colts may be without Carson Wentz and need to turn to Jacob Eason at quarterback. At this point, it doesn’t feel like much of a downgrade or curveball to a run-heavy game plan. The Colts’ defense also has been wilting more than expected, giving big pass plays and not being as sturdy against the run. The Titans should like that combination as they can set up play-action for Ryan Tannehill well to play off a sizzling Derrick Henry. But Indianapolis will be desperate to avoid 0-3 and put up a tight fight by digging deeper in their passing game.

Pick: Titans win 24-20 but fail to cover the spread. 

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Falcons at Giants (-3, 47.5 o/u)

Sunday 1 p.m. ET, Fox

The Giants are looking for their first win and will get it while denying the Falcons a chance at theirs. This is a get-well game for the entire Giants’ offense to come out and take pressure off Daniel Jones to carry the team as a passer and runner. The Falcons’ pass protection is in shambles and Matt Ryan is being forced into bad mistakes. This also feels like an opportunity for the real Saquon Barkley to show up in the rushing attack, coming off long-week rest.

Pick: Giants win 30-24 and cover the spread. 

Chargers at Chiefs (-6.5, 54.5 o/u)

Sunday 1 p.m. ET, CBS

The Chargers held off Washington but couldn’t finish off Dallas. Here comes Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City so they need Justin Herbert to shake off some turnovers woes and be ready to duel. The Chargers’ receiving versatility at wideout, tight end and the backfield because of Austin Ekeler will drive the Chiefs’ defensive backs and linebackers batty. L.A. has been played good bend-but-don’t-break defense for Brandon Staley and will stay in the game there vs. Patrick Mahomes. But in the hand, stopping both Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce in key moments will be tough.

Pick: Chiefs win 28-24 but fail to cover the spread.

Bengals at Steelers (-3, 43.5 o/u)

Sunday 1 p.m. ET, CBS

These 1-1 NFC North rivals each had surprise wins in Week 1 over Minnesota and Buffalo, respectively. Week 2 came with a lot of regrets as the Bengals made too many offensive mistakes with Joe Burrow in Chicago and the Steelers couldn’t generate consistent passing with Ben Roehtlisberger vs. Las Vegas. It’s uncertain how many key bodes will be missing for the Steelers’ defense, but there’s no doubt the offensive line is the biggest concern. Burrow will have some Derek Carr-like success on the Steelers, but Roehtlisberger should be able to lean more on rookie running back Najee Harris here. This is a close game decided by a Heinz Field goal by Chris Boswell.

Pick: Steelers win 23-20 but fail to cover the spread.

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Bears at Browns (-7.5, 45 o/u)

Sunday 1 p.m. ET, Fox

The Bears’ defense showed its top form forcing turnovers against the Bengals at home. That scenario will be hard to repeat on the road as the Browns should push them around in the running game to open up more comfortable, efficient passing from Baker Mayfield. He is likely to duel with Justin Fields, the Ohio State product who will give this game a little extra local flair. Fields will face a tough pass rush while trailing in the second half and can only do much running to get the Bears in the game.

Pick: Browns win 27-14 and cover the spread.

Ravens (-7.5, 50.5 o/u) at Lions

Sunday 1 p.m. ET, CBS

Lamar Jackson has looked smooth with his running and passing when the blocking is there. The complementary traditional running game is rolling and the defense is still stopping the run despite its depletion and duct-taping vs. the pass. Jackson, his backs, wide receiver Marquise Brown and tight end Mark Andrews can all do whatever they want in this matchup to stay well ahead of Jared Goff. Look for a return to bringing pressure and befuddling Goff.

Pick: Ravens win 38-23 and cover the spread.

Saints at Patriots (-3, 42.5 o/u)

Sunday 1 p.m. ET, Fox

The Patriots are proving they are a force running the ball behind a stout line and their two most reliable backs, Damien Harris and James White. Mac Jones has been set up to be comfortable with low-risk, high-efficiency passing with the focus on ball protection. The Saints are trying to treat Jameis Winston the same way and win around him with the running of Alvin Kamara leading the way. New England’s game plan will be to zone in on Kamara and take their chances with the Saints’ otherwise limited skill players.

Pick: Patriots win 17-13 and cover the spread.

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Cardinals (-7.5, 51.5 o/u) at Jaguars

Sunday 1 p.m. ET, Fox

Kyler Murray, No. 1 overall pick from 2019, takes on Trevor Lawrence, this year’s No. 1 overall pick. Murray hasn’t been disappointing in Year 3 with last season’s shoulder issue behind him. He ran and passed to big things all over the field against the Titans on the road and Vikings at home. He just has to be careful about making big mistakes that offset big plays. There’s no good sense that the Jaguars will stop Murray or any of the speedy playmakers around him. They also should be worried about the offensive line crumbling big-time again. Until once can figure out what Urban Meyer is doing, stay away from trusting his team.

Pick: Cardinals win 34-17 and cover the spread.

Washington Football Team at Bills (-7, 45.5 o/u)

Sunday 1 p.m. ET, Fox

WFT will prepare Taylor Heinicke better for his second start of the season, but this is a tough place to play on the road against a Bills’ defense that looks more complete and dangerous. Josh Allen will need to worry about Chase Young and Washington’s defense playing a lot better than Week 2 TNF. Josh Allen needs a get-well game; this just may not be it as the Bills are better suited to keep up the run-heavy approach vs. WFT.  The Bills put it all together and remind everyone they are still strong AFC title contenders.

Pick: Bills win 27-17 and cover the spread.

Dolphins at Raiders (-3.5, 43.5 o/u)

Sunday 4:05 p.m. ET, CBS

The Raiders have red-hot Derek Carr driving all over everyone, making good use of top-flight inside-outside field-stretching weapons Darren Waller and Henry Ruggs III. But their running game and defense need to be better complementary units for any shot at holding on to a wild-card spot. This was a nice Saturday night duel in the desert with Carr battling Tua Tagovailoa and Ryan Fitzpatrick late last season. Carr has the big edge over Tagovailoa or Jacoby Brissett here. Also look for extra juice in the Raiders rushing attack, with former Dolphin Kenyan Drake getting after it as the key short-to-intermediate receiver in a “revenge” game.

Pick: Raiders win 23-13 and cover the spread.

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Seahawks (-2.5, 55.5 o/u) at Vikings

Sunday 4:25 p.m. ET, Fox

The Seahawks and Vikings were on other sides of field-goal drama in Week 2, but a make and a miss make them each looking for a rebound victory in Week 3. Russell Wilson should have no problems roasting Minnesota’s secondary with his wideouts and Kirk Cousins should be game to keep up in his team’s home opener. Dalvin Cook being a question mark hurts, because any less pop could make the difference. it’s simply easier to trust a red-hot Wilson anywhere vs. Cousins at home. This feels like another wild one-possession contest for both teams, maybe coming down to a second overtime game for each.

Pick: Seahawks win 34-31 and cover the spread

Vinnie Iyer’s 2021 picks:

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