There may not have been a lot of underdog wins in Week 2, but still, there were plenty of intriguing storylines to grasp.
Now, we will shift our attention to Week 3. We’re still mostly going off of prior information, since we don’t know how “good” a team is until about six weeks into the season, per Pro Football Focus; it’s not a good idea to overreact to a one-game sample size.
All projections are computed based on a similar model that I used for my win total projections. In essence, it goes through the following steps:
- Computes the talent gap between the two teams
- Converts that to a win probability
- Converts that into a spread, factoring in home-field advantage (less this year)
- It also gives a score projection, though I’ll be allowing for a +/- 2 point change for those since certain scores are more likely than others.
In this article, we’ll be comparing the actual spreads to my model’s recommended spreads. Thus, we’ll order games by putting them into the following tiers. After accounting for the small margin of error when converting win probabilities to point spreads (0.40 points), qualifications for three tiers have differed slightly:
Tier 1 (“Green Light”)- 3.4+ point difference. These games present immense value.
Tier 2 (“Yellow Light)- 1.9+ point difference. These games provide some value, though you should proceed with caution.
Tier 3 (“Red Light)- <1.9 point difference. There isn’t any value to be found with these point spreads, so stay away from them at all costs.
Also, due to the margin for error, I will be using context at times to give slightly differing spread/game picks than what the model suggests. There are certain spreads where it wouldn’t make sense to support. For example, if a team is favored to win by 2, and my model thinks they should be favored by less, but will win, it wouldn’t make sense to pigeon-hole the underdog into only being able to cover by a very small range of possible outcomes. Additionally, since my model is computing recommended spread picks, rather than assigning an exact outcome for the game, it’s critical to not follow it 100% blindly- analysis of the information matters as much as the information itself! (0.9 points is a key number for there not to be statistically significant data)
As you’ll see, most of these games involve an underdog that my model is supporting. That speaks to there not being a sizable gap between the top teams and the bottom-feeders yet. Once we get to about Week 6, it’ll be more logical to back favorites, but, for now, rolling with the underdogs is the optimal approach.
With that taken care of, let’s get to the games! We’ll start with two upset win predictions in tier 1, and will finish with the surprising backing of favorites in tier 3.
*NOTE: Power Rankings Take Into Account Every Key Injury, Even If It’s Just For This Week
#1: Lions (0-2, 16th) at Cardinals (2-0, 20th)
Lions Win Probability: 50.56196695%
The Lions may be 0-2, but don’t let that sway you from believing they’re a competitive team. They were leading 23-6 in the fourth quarter of their opener against the Bears, and even against the Packers, held a lead into the second quarter. In Matthew Stafford, they have the better quarterback in this matchup, and should benefit greatly from the returns of star receiver Kenny Golladay and cornerback Desmond Trufant.
Cardinals Win Probability: 49.43803304%
Although they haven’t been particularly impressive, the Cardinals are 2-0, as they’ve leveraged quarterback Kyler Murray in the running game; head coach Kliff Kingsbury has continued to fine-tune one of the best offensive schemes in his second year in the NFL. Plus, for all of the offseason hype regarding Detroit, they’ve mostly been a letdown in head coach Matt Patricia’s tenure as head coach, and man-heavy schemes don’t generally work well against a mobile quarterback.
Spread Pick: DET (+6)
Recommended Spread: DET (-0.18)
Score Projection: Lions 24 Cardinals 23
This is a classic example of the public overreacting to a very small sample size. The Cardinals haven’t particularly played well over their first two games, while the Lions have dealt with some key injuries. I’ll gladly take the better quarterback and team with the points; I’m higher on Detroit than most and lower on Arizona. Thus, it’s the perfect combination! This is the top bet of the season so far.
#2: Titans (2-0, 18th) at Vikings (0-2, 14th)
Titans Win Probability: 43.34593739%
While this may feel low, as does the Titans’ ranking, take into account the effect that not having receiver AJ Brown will have on their offense. Anyways, Tennessee is still 2-0 and Ryan Tannehill has once again been very productive as a passer in their play-action-heavy scheme. Minnesota’s defense has been atrocious through two weeks, and, honestly, their offense hasn’t been much better.
Vikings Win Probability: 56.65406261%
Although the Vikings have been awful for the first two games of the season, they were projected by many to win the NFC North. Though it’s by a slight margin, they have the better quarterback in this matchup, and with their reliance on rookies, they should improve over time. Think of this as a classic “regression to the mean” scenario- their high-end players aren’t going to continue to play as poorly as they currently are.
Spread Pick: MIN (+2.5)
Recommended Spread: MIN (-2.2)
Score Projection: Vikings 23 Titans 21
If AJ Brown was 100% healthy, this would be a tougher pick, and after watching Minnesota play these first two weeks, it’s hard for me to fully get behind this pick. Still, those not supporting the Vikings are going off a very small sample size, and it’s not as though the Titans have impressed- they have a +5 point differential against the Broncos and Jaguars. These two teams are very similar in their philosophies and overall roster talent, and I don’t see there being legitimate justification for the spread being anything greater in Tennessee’s favor than a pick-em.
#3: Dolphins (0-2, 30th) at Jaguars (1-1, 31st)
Dolphins Win Probability: 49.53685858%
Despite having to go up against two top-15 teams in the Patriots and Bills, the Dolphins have been extremely competitive. That speaks to the productivity of their passing offense, as Devante Parker, Preston Williams, and tight end Mike Gesicki have developed into a nice array of weapons for Ryan Fitzpatrick. They should do some serious damage against a very weak Jaguars defense.
Jaguars Win Probability: 50.4631412%
So far, Gardner Minshew has been one of the more impressive quarterbacks in the NFL, and the Jaguars have a positive point differential. Without cornerback Byron Jones, Miami’s defense, which ranks last in yards/play allowed, could be vulnerable to Jacksonville’s suddenly intriguing passing attack- maybe the Jaguars aren’t as bad as we thought they’d be?
Spread Pick: MIA (+3)
Recommended Spread: JAX (-0.15)
Score Projection: Dolphins 22 Jaguars 21
These two teams are essentially even, so I’ll gladly take the Dolphins with three points. This is a toss-up in terms of who wins, and considering that this started as a pick-em, it appears that there may be a bit too much faith in the Jaguars, who still lack talent at several key areas.
#4: Chiefs (2-0, 1st) at Ravens (2-0, 2nd)
Chiefs Win Probability: 47.80600203%
Expected to dominate the inferior Texans and Chargers, the Chiefs haven’t yet been the juggernaut they were expected to be- they had to go into overtime and needed multiple 58-yard field goals to beat Los Angeles. Still, it’s impressive that they’re 2-0 despite not playing well, and, at some point, you’d expect Patrick Mahomes and co. to recapture their previous form. If this is what they look like playing at their “C” level, it’s a scary thought to imagine how the defending champions will fare once that happens.
Ravens Win Probability: 52.19399797%
While Kansas City hasn’t gotten off to a hot start, the Ravens have dominated their competition, as they’ve won both of their games by at least three scores. Right now, their dynamic offense isn’t even rushing the ball that well. Rather, it’s been Lamar Jackson picking apart defenses, which speaks well to their ability to handle any sort of unfavorable game script. While their defense may be able to somewhat hold their own, the same cannot be said about the Chiefs, who could get absolutely gashed by Baltimore both through the air and on the ground.
Spread Pick: KC (+3.5)
Recommended Spread: BAL (-0.73)
Score Projection: Chiefs 27 Ravens 26
As you’d expect for a showdown between the two top teams in the league, this is a very difficult pick. However, getting Patrick Mahomes with 3.5 points is tremendous value, and it appears the public is overreacting the how these teams have played over the first two games. Meanwhile, although Baltimore has dominated in home primetime games, the lack of fans probably mitigates that, while Mahomes has been exceptional versus the blitz- the Ravens pride themselves on blitzing as much as any team in the NFL. This is a coin-flip that may be decided by the health of some of Kansas City’s perimeter players (cornerback Charvarius Ward, receiver Sammy Watkins), but since I’m taking them with the points regardless, I’ll pick them to win as well.
#5: Bengals (0-2, 23rd) at Eagles (0-2, 19th)
Bengals Win Probability: 39.5097509%
The Bengals may not have a win this season, but they’ve been competitive and fun to watch. Joe Burrow, considering the circumstances, has adjusted well to the NFL. So far this season, Carson Wentz has statistically been the worst and least-accurate quarterback in the NFL, and with ten days of rest, the Bengals’ healthier defense may be able to plug up some holes.
Eagles Win Probability: 60.4902491%
Philadelphia has been nearly unwatchable over the first two weeks, but they were projected by some to be a playoff team this season. Their pass rush and secondary are strong enough for them to be at least an average defense, and Wentz can’t continue to play this bad, right? Cincinnati’s defense presents a great chance for him to get back on track.
Spread Pick: CIN (+6)
Recommended Spread: PHI (-3.46)
Score Projection: Eagles 24 Bengals 20
The Eagles will probably win this game, but it certainly isn’t a slam dunk. You could make a serious argument that Cincinnati is the better team here; they undoubtedly, in my opinion, have the better quarterback. Sure, Philadelphia’s pass rush may pressure Burrow, but he still was able to hang in and post 30 points against Cleveland, who pose a similarly lethal pass rush; Philadelphia just doesn’t have a lot of exciting pieces on either side of the ball. Considering that I think the Bengals may win this game outright, I’ll gladly take the points.
#6: Cowboys (1-1, 8th) at Seahawks (2-0, 5th)
Cowboys Win Probability: 42.62046486%
Although they had no business winning last week, the Cowboys have met expectations in terms of their offense- it has been extremely explosive. Facing a mediocre Seattle pass defense, they should continue to flourish, especially as head coach Mike McCarthy gets more acclimated to his personnel. McCarthy’s aggressiveness on fourth downs could also be a notable advantage against the conservative Pete Carroll.
Seahawks Win Probability: 57.37953514%
Sure, the Cowboys will produce big plays against Seattle, but the Seahawks are in even better shape. Not only are they letting Russell Wilson flourish with early-down passes to the explosive receiver duo of Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf, but Dallas’ secondary has also been ambushed by the Rams and Falcons in consecutive weeks. There is a legitimate chance that the best team in the NFC plays in Seattle, and they’re at home for a second straight game, for what that’s worth.
Spread Pick: DAL (+5)
Recommended Spread: SEA (-2.69)
Score Projection: Seahawks 27 Cowboys 24
This is going to be a fun battle between two explosive offenses, which is why I believe the spread is favoring Seattle too much. The Seahawks barely covered as a four-point favorite against the Patriots last week, and since Dallas is a better team, why is this a five-point line? I’m not going to be rushing to bet this game, but if I had to pick, I’ll take the aggressive Cowboys.
#7: Panthers (0-2, 28th) at Chargers (1-1, 22nd)
Panthers Win Probability: 37.23969634%
Obviously, it’d be nice for the Panthers to have running back Christian McCaffrey, who’ll miss multiple weeks with an ankle injury, but that doesn’t mean they cannot survive in his absence. DJ Moore, Robby Anderson, and Curtis Samuel are all receivers capable of making plays after the catch, and facing a defensive scheme that prides themselves on limiting big plays, the opportunities will be there for Teddy Bridgewater to thrive in the short passing game. Plus, for all the excitement about rookie Justin Herbert’s debut, he missed plenty of throws, so regardless of who the Chargers start at quarterback, Carolina’s defense will have the luxury of facing a far worse offense than they’ve faced over the first two weeks (Raiders and Bucs).
Chargers Win Probability: 62.766030366
At the same time, Los Angeles has held the Bengals and Chiefs to a combined 36 points, including overtime, and both of those offenses have far more explosiveness than the Panthers. Even if Taylor is the better quarterback, Herbert provides them with the big-play ability that complements their receiving duo of Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, and, right now, Carolina is a complete liability defensively; they cannot stop the run and pass, which usually isn’t an ideal strategy.
Spread Pick: CAR (+6.5)
Recommended Spread: LAC (-4.21)
Score Projection: Chargers 23 Panthers 19
It feels like every pick so far involves me taking the better quarterback with points, and that’s true once again with Bridgewater and the Panthers. Carolina has been so putrid defensively that I could see Herbert having a very productive game, but he also didn’t necessarily play as well as many believed he did (missed throws, PFF grade below 60), so this is a nice chance to fade him. Still, this isn’t a value unless it grows to around an eight-point spread.
#8: Rams (2-0, 12th) at Bills (2-0, 15th)
Rams Win Probability: 49.35847213%
While it’s imperative that we don’t take too much away from the first two weeks of the season, it is equally significant that we analyze teams’ strategies- they can be very revealing. So far, the Rams have impressed offensively, utilizing the quick passing game and play-action rollouts to protect their subpar offensive line, which in turn has allowed quarterback Jared Goff to play at a very high level. Los Angeles has the more reliable offense in this game, and with cornerback Jalen Ramsey likely to travel with Stefon Diggs, their defense even matches up well with Buffalo’s offense.
Bills Win Probability: 50.644152787%
Speaking of proper offensive strategies, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll has been very impressive for the Bills; he’s leveraged Josh Allen as a runner, has utilized a lot of play-action passes, and has also passed on early downs at a high rates. Allen has showed some serious improvement in his accuracy down the field, and if that is valid, then this could be a very scary team. I’m skeptical that’s actually legitimate, but even if it isn’t, head coach Sean McDermott leads a defense that is much more talented than what the Rams have faced so far.
Spread Pick: LAR (+2.5)
Recommended Spread: BUF (-0.21)
Score Projection: Rams 23 Bills 22
This is another fantastic game, so it makes sense that my model sees it as a pick-em. Thus, getting the Rams, who are likely the better team, with the points is fine value, though without them crossing three points, a huge key number, there isn’t substantial benefit in backing either side. That’s what happens when you have a matchup between the definition of evenly-matched teams.
#9: Texans (0-2, 25th) at Steelers (2-0, 11th)
Texans Win Probability: 32.55518043%
It’s been a rough start for the season for the Texans, who have been outscored by a combined 31 points in their first two games. Yet, those two games were against the Chiefs and Ravens, and in Deshaun Watson, they still have one of the league’s most talented quarterbacks- he has been playing well. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, has benefitted from being matched up with the Giants and Broncos.
Steelers Win Probability: 67.44481957%
There aren’t many aspects of football that opposing quarterbacks likely fear more right now than the Steelers’ pass rush, as they’ve been extremely aggressive when it comes to overloading offensive lines. Watson holds onto the ball way too long, which will increase opportunities for them to pressure him, and their secondary is far too talented to continue to struggle. On the other side of the ball, the Texans may have one of the worst defenses I’ve ever seen, as their cornerbacks are a complete liability. That plays right into Pittsburgh’s favor, as Ben Roethlisberger has found a quick connection with his deep receiving group.
Spread Pick: PIT (-4)
Recommended Spread: PIT (-5.76)
Score Projection: Steelers 23 Texans 17
At some point, the Texans should play better offensively. However, this is not an ideal matchup for them whatsoever, as Pittsburgh should ambush Watson. Meanwhile, Roethlisberger should play well against the league’s worst defense, and although the they’ve faced an easy schedule, I’m not sure Houston is much better. The opening of line of -6 was a much better one.
#10: Bears (2-0, 24th) at Falcons (0-2, 13th)
Bears Win Probability: 35.779218%
The Bears weren’t projected to be an impact contender, but, to their credit, they’ve started the season 2-0. Mitch Trubisky was played surprisingly well to start the season, and he should continue to do so against a putrid Falcons defense. Going up against Atlanta’s offense will be a major test, yet few cornerback duos have thrived the way Kyle Fuller and Jaylon Johnson have.
Falcons Win Probability: 64.220782%
Don’t let the records fool you; the Falcons have been competitive with the Seahawks and Cowboys (led by 20 versus Dallas), while the Bears have played an injured Lions team and the Giants. Regardless of the defense he’s facing, Matt Ryan should continue to produce at an elite level with the playmakers he has on the perimeter, and it’s unlikely Trubisky will keep up with him. For what it’s worth, rookie cornerback AJ Terrell is coming off of a very encouraging game, and you’d expect slot corner Darqueze Dennard to play better than he currently has.
Spread Pick: ATL (-3)
Recommended Spread: ATL (-4.69)
Score Projection: Falcons 24 Bears 19
Come on, folks. I get that it’s hard to get behind a team that just had one of the worst losses I’ve seen, but Atlanta is far more explosive and talented than the Bears. As just a three-point favorite, I’m ecstatic to be backing a team with a top-ten quarterback and two elite receivers over a fringe starting quarterback for a team that scored only 17 points against the Giants, of all teams.
#11: Raiders (1-1, 21st) at Patriots (1-1, 10th)
Raiders Win Probability: 35.36692888%
How about those Raiders? Las Vegas is coming off a key primetime victory against the Saints, and, now, they’ll try to start the season 3-0. Head coach Jon Gruden has done a nice job maximizing his group of playmakers, whether it be tight end Darren Waller or receiver Henry Ruggs III, and he now runs a very underrated offense. Plus, although their defense is miserable, the Patriots don’t exactly have a deep group of receivers.
Patriots Win Probability: 64.63307112%
I don’t want to overreact to the first few weeks of the season, but it looks like Cam Newton is back to his peak form, which can be attributed to not only being healthy, but also a tremendous scheme that has been scripted by offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. After dropping 30 points on the Seahawks, they may be able to do so the same against Las Vegas, while Bill Belichick will do what he can to take away Waller- if he does, I’m not sure how the Raiders respond.
Spread Pick: LV (+6)
Recommended Spread: NE (-5.17)
Score Projection: Patriots 24 Raiders 19
I don’t know why, yet I don’t see a way that Jon Gruden and Derek Carr are able to overcome what Bill Belichick throws their way. I believe he’ll be able to limit Waller, and when that’s the case, Carr will need to throw the ball past the sticks much more. Yet, this is a pesky team with a solid offense, so there isn’t much value on either side; six points is a pretty fair line.
#12: Packers (2-0, 6th) at Saints (1-1, 3rd)
Packers Win Probability: 43.21161549%
Right now, I’m comfortable saying that the Packers have been the most impressive offense in the NFL. Aaron Rodgers has been exceptional playing in rhythm this season, and assuming Davante Adams plays, they’ll be able to continue to move the ball efficiently against a Saints defense that has been undisciplined, to say the least. Meanwhile, Drew Brees clearly can’t throw the ball down the field, and that voids well for a defense that is aggressive and is generally vulnerable to explosive plays.
Saints Win Probability: 56.78838451%
I’m always looking for a chance to benefit from a market overreaction, which is why I’m keeping a close eye on the Saints. Their loss to the Raiders was extrapolated by poor third-down execution and penalties, but those are unstable ways of losing, while tight end Jared Cook and running back Alvin Kamara should be productive facing a defense that struggles to cover the middle of the field. It’s hard to know what the current identity of this team is (is Brees washed?), which works two ways: they could either be a letdown or they could be completely fine.
Spread Pick: NO (-3)
Recommended Spread: NO (-2.24)
Score Projection: Saints 26 Packers 24
As I mentioned, there’s a decent chance that the Saints are still one of the league’s best teams, so my model still has them as a 2-3 point favorite in this game; it’s indicating that three points is about right, which is when you take the favorite. There’s way too much uncertainty with this game, before factoring in the health of Saints receiver Michael Thomas and Packers nose tackle Kenny Clark, for there to be any value to be had, but this will be a very interesting game to watch.
#13: Buccaneers (1-1, 4th) at Broncos (0-2, 29th)
Bucs Win Probability: 70.22703971%
Even though it’s not showing up in the box score, Tom Brady, unlike Drew Brees, is not showing any signs of slowing down. Most of his best throws have been dropped, yet he’s been one of the highest graded quarterbacks by Pro Football Focus, and that’s while his receivers have dealt with injuries. Now, Chris Godwin and Mike Evans are ready to dominate against a very thin Broncos secondary, while their exciting young defense could perhaps even pitch a shutout against a Jeff Driskel-led offense.
Broncos Win Probability: 29.77296029%
For what it’s worth, Driskel played fine against a very talented Steelers defense, and this was a team that was always going to have to win in spite of their quarterback. Still, the losses of edge rusher Von Miller and receiver Courtland Sutton have dampened those plans, so it’ll take a lot of turnovers and tremendous coaching to upset the Bucs.
Spread Pick: TB (-6)
Recommended Spread: TB (-6.67)
Score Projection: Bucs 26 Broncos 19
Honestly, I don’t think this game is going to be close at all. My model is always going to be reluctant to heavily back a road favorite, but the Bucs are just way better than the Broncos, and I can’t see there being a lot of confidence within the Denver locker room. Perhaps this is when Tom Brady and Tampa Bay finally have their coming out party?
#14: Washington Football Team (1-1, 26th) at Browns (1-1, 7th)
Washington Win Probability: 27.17800221%
Washington disappointed last week in Arizona, but they’re a somewhat feisty team. Their defense has exceeded my expectations, as their pass rush has been great and their coverage has been better than anticipated, and their front seven should be able to limit Cleveland’s rushing attack. At some point, too, you’d expect Dwayne Haskins to play better after showing promise at the end of last season.
Browns Win Probability: 72.82188779%
After a nightmarish start to the season in Baltimore, the Browns looked much better at home against the Bengals; the offense was much more in sync. Baker Mayfield was far more comfortable, and I attribute a lot of that to a lot more play-action rollouts from outside zone called by head coach Kevin Stefanski. That, along with a strong offensive line, will mitigate Washington’s pass rush, and I still don’t think the Football Team will be able to cover up their issues in the secondary. Washington’s offensive line and passing attack also aren’t in good shape, so this appears to be a lopsided matchup.
Spread Pick: CLE (-7)
Recommended Spread: CLE (-0.53)
Score Projection: Browns 26 Washington 18
Similarly to the Bucs, when a conservative model thinks the line isn’t big enough, it’s usually a pretty strong indication that you should support the favorite. I’m much more inclined to believe that last week’s version of the Browns is the one we’ll continue to see moving forward, while Washington’s offense is tough to watch. Cleveland should win this by at least a touchdown.
#15: 49ers (1-1, 17th) at Giants (0-2, 27th)
49ers Win Probability: 60.95804839%
The 49ers this week will be without quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, receiver Deebo Samuel, cornerback Richard Sherman, edge rushers Nick Bosa and Dee Ford, and also likely won’t have tight end George Kittle. Yet, it may not matter for this week. Head coach Kyle Shanahan is a wizard, and he showed that by dropping 31 points on the Jets despite Garoppolo going down mid-game. The Giants defense doesn’t pose much of a challenge, even for backup quarterback Nick Mullens. Really, do you think a team coached by Shanahan and defensive coordinator Robert Saleh is going to lose to the combination of Joe Judge and Jason Garrett?
Giants Win Probability: 39.04195161%
On paper, the 49ers still are a much better team. Yet, there is something to be said about having to compensate for so many injuries in such a small window, and they’re fielding a competent offense.
Spread Pick: SF (-4)
Recommended Spread: SF (-3.62)
Score Projection: 49ers 26 Giants 22
Even through all the injuries, the 49ers are well-coached, and that stability gives them a high floor. The Giants, meanwhile, aren’t a stable organization and have as conservative of a mindset as you can have, so I don’t think they’ll take advantage of San Francisco’s poor health. Even with Mullens, the 49ers should be able to survive.
#16: Jets (0-2, 32nd) at Colts (1-1, 9th)
Jets Win Probability: 19.28302224%
Right now, there isn’t a worse team in the NFL than the Jets. Their current receiving corps is Josh Malone, Braxton Berrios, and Chris Hogan, while their offensive line is also dealing with injuries. Meanwhile, their defense has underwhelmed, particularly in pass coverage. Oh, this is supposed to be a blurb about how they can win? Well, their run defense is solid, I suppose.
Colts Win Probability: 80.71697776%
Head coach Frank Reich is still balancing the ideal strategy for his offense with Phillip Rivers under center, but between him and their offensive line, the floor is very high with this offense- Rivers should connect more with TY Hilton and rookie Michael Pittman Jr. over time. Additionally, their defense is coming off a very impressive performance, particularly in pass coverage, and they aren’t exactly being tested by the Jets.
Spread Pick: IND (-10.5)
Recommended Spread: IND (-10.14)
Score Projection: Colts 26 Jets 15
You know the Jets are bad when a conservative model is comfortable laying 10+ points on a good-not-great team in the Colts. Right now, New York’s offense is based around running the ball 20+ times with Frank Gore, and there really isn’t much hope with them whatsoever. The difference in functionality and stability of these two organizations is incredible.