If you’re in a survivor pool, at least you have a couple of easy picks this week.
We’re seeing some history in the NFL this week, as it pertains to the point spreads. The Dallas Cowboys are a 21.5-point favorite over the Miami Dolphins and the New England Patriots are a 22.5-point favorite over the New York Jets, via the odds on the Yahoo Pro Football Pick’em. In Las Vegas, the Patriots’ line has crept up to 22 or 22.5.
Spreads that large are really, really rare in the NFL. And we’ve never seen two this large in the same week.
Pro Football Reference’s database on spreads goes back to 1978, the same year the schedule expanded to 16 games. Over the past 41 seasons and two weeks, there have been only six games with a spread of more than 21 points. Having two underdogs catching more than 21 points in the same week is unheard of. This is the first time there has been a spread of more than 21 points in the first month of the season.
1987: Cowboys (-21.5) vs. Eagles
2007: Patriots (22.5) vs. Dolphins
1987: 49ers (-23) at Falcons
1993: 49ers (-24) vs. Bengals
2007: Patriots (-24.5) vs. Eagles
2013: Broncos (-26.5) vs. Jaguars
What do all of those underdogs have in common? All six covered the spread. None of them won straight up, though the 2007 Eagles lost by only three points. So, according to PFR’s data, no NFL favorite dating back to 1978 has ever covered a spread of more than 21 points.
It isn’t good for the game that two of the 16 games look like a bad SEC non-conference matchup. If the Dolphins don’t show more signs of life, we’re likely to see them again on the plus-21 list later this season. Maybe multiple times. The NFL can’t love that one of its teams is blatantly tanking.
The Dolphins and Jets seem to have little chance to win straight up, but the point spread evens things out. Neither inspires much confidence.
If you have to pick one, maybe Miami is the answer. At least they’ll get somewhat competent quarterback play from new starter Josh Rosen. Jets quarterback Luke Falk, the team’s third option until Sam Darnold and Trevor Siemian went down, was on the Jets’ practice squad as of Monday afternoon. He took his first NFL snaps on Monday night. The Patriots have a very good defense and it’s hard to see the Jets scoring more than about 10 points.
I pick every game in this weekly post, or I’d lay off both of these unusual mismatches. But I’ll take the Dolphins to cover their large spread and the Patriots to win by more than 22.5. And hopefully we won’t see many more three-touchdown spreads in the NFL this season.
Here are the rest of the picks for Week 3 of the NFL season:
Broncos (+7.5) over Packers: The Packers are 2-0 but the offense still is not right. After starting fast last week against the Vikings, Green Bay gained 154 yards and had no points on its last 11 drives. It sounds strange to say about an Aaron Rodgers-led team, but I don’t think the Packers can score enough to cover this spread.
Colts (-1.5) over Falcons: I’ve been pretty impressed with the Colts. They’re well coached. They play hard. I’d feel even better about them if I knew running back Marlon Mack (calf) and linebacker Darius Leonard (concussion) were playing. (The spread is Colts minus-2 in the Yahoo Pro Football Pick’em.)
Chiefs (-6.5) over Ravens: It’s hard to know what to make of the Ravens. Lamar Jackson looks great, but they have played the Dolphins and Cardinals. And the Ravens struggled to put away the Cardinals at home. If the Ravens can go into Kansas City and put a scare into the Chiefs I’ll be sold on them, but I want to see it first.
Steelers (+6.5) over 49ers: The 49ers offense clicked last week, but I’m not giving up on Pittsburgh yet. Mason Rudolph looked OK in a tough spot last week and has played well in the preseason. They’ll rally around him.
Rams (-3) over Browns: It’s slippery to apply the transitive property in the NFL. But, the Browns were blown out at home by the Titans in Week 1. The Titans have looked bad in the two games since. Maybe Cleveland just isn’t very good? The Browns weren’t exactly impressive against a decimated Jets team in Week 2. It’s hard to trust them yet, even as home underdogs on prime time.
And here are the rest of the picks ...
Titans (-1.5) over Jaguars (picked Thursday): My handicapping was off because I expected Marcus Mariota to outplay rookie Gardner Minshew. Mariota just isn’t the guy Tennessee hoped he’d be.
Bengals (+6) over Bills: This is a look-ahead spot for the Bills, who get the Patriots next week. Cincinnati wasn’t impressive last week, but hopefully the team we saw in Week 1 shows up.
Raiders (+8) over Vikings: Minnesota generally plays well against bad teams and the Raiders are probably in that category, but the Vikings aren’t going to be a high-scoring team and this seems like too many points.
Eagles (-6.5) over Lions: I’d have liked the Eagles a lot more if it wasn’t for their injury report. The Lions are a hard team to figure out; they should be 2-0 but blew a game against the Cardinals. They also could be 0-1-1 but the Chargers gave them last week’s game.
Panthers (-2.5) over Cardinals: Yes, I know Cam Newton likely isn’t playing. I have a feeling the Panthers play well with Kyle Allen. There’s also this: Joe Osborne of OddsShark said teams that start 0-2 against the spread are 16-5 (76 percent) against the spread the past three seasons, and 65.7 percent over the last five seasons. The Panthers are in that spot (the other 0-2 ATS teams, according to OddsShark, are the Dolphins, Jets, Steelers, Eagles, Giants, Bears and Saints).
Giants (+6.5) over Buccaneers: I don’t feel great about it, considering the Buccaneers should be able to score on the Giants defense and I’m not entirely convinced Daniel Jones’ great preseason means he is an immediate success in the regular season. But if the Giants have a good effort in them, it’s probably this week.
Texans (+3) over Chargers: The Chargers are hard to trust. The injuries are an issue. And they just find ways to lose. It doesn’t seem that will ever change.
Seahawks (-4) over Saints: I generally like taking teams when the line overreacts to a quarterback change, but I’m not sure this is a huge overreaction. There’s a lot of faith in Teddy Bridgewater (or will it be Taysom Hill?) and I’m not sure it’s justified. Bridgewater is easy to root for but his NFL resume isn’t great upon close inspection. We’ll see what he does with a full week to prepare as the starter, assuming he does start.
Bears (-4) over Redskins: For all the angst over the Bears’ offense, the defense has been excellent. I’m not sure how Washington will score on Chicago.
Last week: 9-7
Season to date: 18-15
SuperContest: 3-2 last week, 5-5 season to date
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