NFL Week 3 Picks
By Zach Zaffos (Twitter: @zachzaffos)
Season To Date Against the Spread (ATS):
Best Bets: 2-0 (100%)
Units: 5-2 (71%)
All Bets: 3-2 (60%)
Week 2 Recap:
2 units (Best Bet): Miami (+3) OVER NEW YORK JETS
All aboard the Dolphins train! After winning our best bet with the ‘Fins in Week 1, we successfully went back to the Miami well for Week 2 versus an overvalued Jets team. Our handicap was right on, as the Jets’ turnover luck, uneven QB play, and long touchdowns did not carry over to Week 2.
1 unit: NEW ORLEANS (-9) OVER Cleveland
Unfortunately, we got this one wrong, as New Orleans came out flat for the second consecutive week. However, unlike Week 1, the struggles can be mostly blamed on the offense, which had three total points midway through the fourth quarter. It’s hard to know what to make of the Saints at the moment.
Note: While this one goes down as an “L” in the record books, we luckily did recommend the Saints in a teaser down to -2.5, which did (barely) cover.
1 unit: CINCINATTI (+1) OVER Baltimore
The Thursday Night special! Our projections were right on in this one, as Joe Flacco and the Ravens did not show up in the first half. Cincinnati, conversely, is looking like a nice 2018 playoff sleeper.
All things considered, we will happily take a 2-1 week and a best bet win.
Now, it’s time to get to our Week 3 bets, but before I do, I’d like to introduce my theme of Week 3 handicapping. If Week 1 is about identifying which teams are overvalued or undervalued coming into the season, and Week 2 is about finding market overreactions to surprising Week 1 performances, then what is Week 3 about? Well, the answer is pretty similar to last week. While we do have an extra week’s worth of data to consider (and we can thus begin to more effectively formulate opinions for each team based on current-year performance), we still don’t know enough to complete disregard our preseason opinions. Remember: The Saints started last season 0-2, and finished 11-5. We don’t yet know all there is to know.
Relatedly, there is a general sports gambling theory that should be applied to all weeks, but one I’m using heavily in my analysis for this one: Fade teams coming off a win, and back teams coming off a loss. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but casual bettors like to back teams they feel comfortable with, and recency bias often comes into play when bettors are deciding which team(s) they feel most comfortable betting with or against for the week (especially in the beginning of a season, when one or two games shapes these opinions). However, if you can trust me on one thing, it’s this: Vegas bookies absolutely recognize this phenomenon, and they will take advantage of your biases by moving the line against the team the public trusts, and providing extra, precious points to the team coming off an uneasy performance. The public may not recognize that these slight line moves matter, but it is no coincidence that teams were 52% against the spread in games following a loss last year, and are 50.7% against the spread off a loss since 2003. These small edges are how we’ll win our bets in the long term.
With that, let’s get to the picks you may cringe at initially, but that you’ll later thank me for. (HOME teams in all caps).
WASHINGTON (+3) OVER Green Bay – 2 units
As we constantly preach in these parts, “Beware of the home underdog”. Yes – the line looks short, and the Packers have Aaron Rodgers, but there are certainly some concerns on the Green Bay side here, as well as some reasons to feel optimistic about a bounce-back performance for the ‘Skins:
- Aaron Rodgers: Are we 100% sure he’s healthy enough to play at a high level? The line here certainly seems to think he is, but his throwing motion is off, he’s hobbling around the field, and it is possible his Willis-Reed-like run of brilliance may run out at any point. On the 25-30% chance Rodgers is seriously injured, I like having the Washington side here.
- Green Bay’s Gameplan: The Packers and ultra-conservative head coach Mike McCarthy are not going to want to place Rodgers in any danger this weekend. I’d expect a low-scoring, grind-it-out type gameplan from Green Bay in order to keep its star QB upright. Even if Green Bay plays its A-game, I could certainly see the team trying to wind down the clock instead of aggressively trying to pour on points at the end (i.e., what they did last week vs. Minnesota).
- Alex Smith Off a Loss: Washington’s QB is as consistent as they come – rarely making mistakes, and always giving his team a chance to win. After a subpar performance last week, I’d bet he sets the tone in practice all week and comes out ready to avenge last week’s 9-point outing against Indianapolis. Remember: Smith led Kansas City to the second-rated offense in the league last year. The marketplace is clearly underrating him, especially coming off a loss last week.
- Washington’s Defense: It has only been two weeks, but this unit has been a pleasant surprise, ranking first in the league in total yards allowed. I doubt that will keep up to this extent, but for a unit expected to be bottom-10 in the league, it certainly is a promising start.
- Packers Fatigue: Two weeks ago, the Packers made a heroic comeback on a Sunday night in Chicago, and last week, they played an extra 10-minute overtime against the Vikings. After two hard-fought division games, an emotional letdown would only be natural. Furthermore, teams are 0-13 straight up in road games played a week after a tie in the last 13 instances.
- Green Bay Home/Road Splits: The Packers are known for protecting Lambeau Field, which they do quite well. However, the reality of this team’s dominance at home sometimes carries over to the perception of its quality on the road. In fact, the Packers, on average, have lost by 4.2 points against the spread as an away favorite since 2015 (all games with Rodgers as the QB).
Based on the above, coupled with the Packers’ unrepeatable luck last week (missed Vikings chip-shot FGs; punt-block return for TD), give me the home ‘dog Washington plus the three points.
OTHER BETS I’LL DABBLE WITH
ARIZONA (+5.5) OVER Chicago – 1.5 units
I can already feel the texts coming my way. “How can you take Arizona?? They barely got across the 50-yard line last week!” While I would be remiss if I didn’t admit my worry for this team, this game screams value. Going back to the look-ahead line concept we discussed last week, if you were to have bet on Chicago over Arizona last Saturday before the Bears beat the Seahawks and prior to the Cardinals-Rams game, you could have gotten the Bears -2.5 points. I get that Arizona looked dreadful and Chicago looked promising (on defense), but a 3-point adjustment in one week is the definition of an overreaction.
Let’s start with Arizona – a team that has hit rock bottom in terms of value. The Sam Bradford experiment has not worked out thus far, but we shouldn’t allow recency bias to take a stranglehold on our opinions here. Unlike Josh Allen in Buffalo, we have actually seen Bradford play quality football in recent seasons. In fact, the guy actually set a record for completion percentage in a season just two years ago. Obviously, the past two weeks have lowered everyone’s opinion of him (including my own), but to assume he will be as bad as he was in the past two weeks is faulty logic, and that is essentially what this +5.5 line is saying here. I’d expect him to perform somewhere between his output two years ago and his output the past two weeks, especially given that Arizona plans to simplify its playbook this week in order to help Bradford.
In addition to our “regression to the mean” argument, Arizona is actually in a tremendous spot this week. Given the new coach and the 0-2 start, the Cardinals will likely throw the kitchen sink (their best trick plays, effort, etc.) at the Bears in an attempt to get in the win column and salvage their season. Conversely, Chicago is coming off a Sunday night collapse two weeks ago against Green Bay, and then an impressive victory over the Seahawks this past Monday night. Like the Packers, this is a team who will likely be fatigued going into its first road game of the season.
Furthermore, the Bears are probably a bit overvalued after last Monday’s game. The team has only scored three offensive touchdowns this season, and two of them came on the first drive of each game. I don’t believe this to be a coincidence, as offensive guru Matt Nagy has had the first 10-15 plays of each game scripted for QB Mitch Trubisky. In fact, if not for Rodgers’ brilliant comeback in Week 1 or Chicago’s defensive performance in Week 2, people would likely be talking an awful lot more about Trubisky’s struggles.
5.5 points at home is a ton in the NFL, especially versus an unproven quarterback in a prime letdown spot. The only thing keeping me from making this one a best bet is my concern that the Cards may not have an NFL-level coach, but based on all of the other factors above, give me our second home ‘dog of the week – Arizona.
SEATTLE (-1.5) OVER Dallas – 1 unit
Similar to our take on Chicago this week and the New York Jets last week, we won’t overreact to what a team does on the bright lights of Monday Night Football. Yes – I will concede that the Seahawks have not looked great, but that’s why the look-ahead line was dropped from Seattle -3 to Seattle -1.5. The ‘Hawks still have a top-5 QB, and will now have extra motivation facing a potential 0-3 start. Furthermore, the Seahawks, a team that started its season with two games on the road, have historically been a strong home team even when the team isn’t great overall. In fact, Seattle is 6-0 in its last six against the spread in home games following back-to-back losses, and is 31-21-1 (60%) against the spread at home since Russell Wilson entered the NFL. On the other side of the coin, we have the Dallas Cowboys, a team who has struggled mightily to put up points this season without its perennially top-notch offensive line. Though the ‘Boys were victorious last week against the New York Giants, I wouldn’t read too much into a slug-it-out win against a bottom feeder. Additionally, the fact that Dallas played on Sunday night should somewhat mitigate the fact that Seattle has one less day of rest before this game.
I get that these aren’t the Seahawks of old, but they also aren’t being priced as such. Let’s swallow the 1.5 points and take the ‘Hawks to cover this week at the friendly confines of CenturyLink Field.
And that’s a wrap for Week 3. Before I signoff, though, I’d like to leave you all with one lasting note: When in doubt, side with the team who will make Vegas the most money. Good luck to us all, and may the picks be with us.