After two straight weeks of mediocrity, we return with renewed faith that picking NFL games is less confusing because we've passed that awkward, unknown realm of the season's beginning.
There is no denying that we've learned a lot about the tops and bottoms of the league, with the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks occupying the upper echelon and the Jacksonville Jaguars residing somewhere below the basement. It's the middlings that are much tougher to decipher.
However, these first two weeks should help guide us in the interim. And, hopefully, the lessons learned will help balance my current record, 12-20, sooner rather than later.
As a reminder, all picks are against the spread. And last week, I mistakenly omitted one game from my Week 1 record, which was 6-10.
Here are my Week 3 picks:
Chiefs (+3) at Eagles (-3) -- The Chiefs have taken wins against the Jaguars and Cowboys while the Eagles have gone 1-1 against the Redskins and Chargers. While nobody expected the Eagles to be perfect through two games, no one expected them to lose to the Chargers and beat the Redskins, making them hard to predict. But with two (and a half) weeks to prepare for this moment, I think the Eagles will finally have worked out any kinks in their high-powered offense.
My pick: Eagles
Chargers (+3) at Titans (-3) -- Despite a tough loss to open the season against the Texans, the Chargers have impressed behind the solid play of Phillip Rivers. He sliced up the Eagles in Week 2 for 419 yards and three touchdowns and sports a 115.8 quarterback rating. The Titans, who lost to the Texans in Week 2, have the 30th-ranked offense.
My pick: Chargers
Browns (+5.5) at Vikings (-5.5) -- Despite a change at quarterback, old friend Brian Hoyer won't be able to help the desolate Browns offense, which ranks 28th and is getting 3.4 yards per carry out of star running back Trent Richardson. (Editor's note: After this post was published, Richardson was traded to the Indianapolis Colts. However, that move doesn't change Zuri's pick.) The Vikings, while they have their own quarterback issues, have a solid running game behind Adrian Peterson (193 yards), per usual.
My pick: Vikings
Buccaneers (+7.5) at Patriots (-7.5) -- The Patriots are better because they have Tom Brady. The Buccaneers are worse because they have Josh Freeman. With 10 days to correct issues, you have to expect the Patriots to be better.
My pick: Patriots
Texans (-2.5) at Ravens (+2.5) -- The Ravens had a lackluster performance against the Cleveland Browns and were embarrassed in Week 1 against the Broncos. While still showing a stout run defense (65.0 yards per game), they've allowed an alarming 319.5 passing yards per game and have yet to pick up their own running game. The Texans have benefited greatly from rookie receiver DeAndre Hopkins (12 receptions, 183 yards, 1 TD).
My pick: Texans
Rams (+4) at Cowboys (-4) -- Can I really go wrong expecting the Cowboys to be better in Week 3 than they were in the prior two weeks? Maybe I have a soft spot for them with all that talent on offense and expectations for greatness. Not this week, though. Not after the Rams played the Falcons tough, losing, 31-24, while giving up 374 yards passing. I expect this to be close.
My pick: Rams
Cardinals (+7.5) at Saints (-7.5) -- Sean Payton has had the Saints looking crisp in their first two games. Drew Brees has looked sharp and the team's pass defense (196.0 yards allowed per game) has been solid. Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald (10 receptions, 113 yards, 2 TDs) looks good despite a hamstring injury. But his quarterback, Carson Palmer, has been turnover-prone (two interceptions, two fumbles).
My pick: Saints
Lions (+2) at Redskins (-2) -- Robert Griffin III is having some troubling performances of late, still shaking the rust off after an offseason rehabbing his torn ACL. But what's worse, the Redskins are giving up a league-high 201 rushing yards per game and allowing 310.5 passing yards per game. The Lions are led by a three-headed monster in Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, and Reggie Bush.
My pick: Lions
Packers (-2.5) at Bengals (+2.5) -- The Packers may have stumbled against the 49ers, but they picked right back up in Week 2 against the Redskins, winning, 38-20, with Aaron Rodgers throwing for 480 yards and four touchdowns. They'll need a performance like that again when playing the Bengals, who have put together a respectable defense that hasn't yet reached its potential. The worry is that the team will rely heavily on Rodgers without running back Eddie Lacy, who has knocked out of last week's game with a concussion. Somehow, I feel like that won't matter.
My pick: Packers
Giants (+1) at Panthers (-1) -- Remember those middling teams we talked about? Well here's two of them that even Las Vegas can't get a grasp on, with certain books giving this game a pick 'em line and others calling for a point or a point and a half in favor of the Panthers. The Giants have their issues, but this is a playoff-caliber team that just starts slowly every year. They've got to start somewhere.
My pick: Giants
Falcons (+2) at Dolphins (-2) -- The Dolphins' first two wins are inflated given how they bested the Colts (1-1) and the Browns (0-2). So while coming into the game as favorites against the Falcons, an NFC power, they should be thinking they're the underdogs. Atlanta's Matt Ryan leads the sixth-best passing offense, and the Falcons defense has held opponents to 73.5 rushing yards per game but gives up a dismal 346.5 passing yards per game. The Dolphins have to be on point to come out on top.
My pick: Falcons
Colts (+10.5) at 49ers (-10.5) -- The 49ers are having a tough time running the ball, with quarterback Colin Kaepernick leading the team through two games with 109 yards. They'll have an opportunity to get Frank Gore going against the Colts, who have the 29th-ranked rush defense. And San Francisco, boasting the 10th-best pass defense, can try and mitigate Andrew Luck, who has been solid in his first two games.
My pick: 49ers
Jaguars (+19.5) at Seahawks (-19.5) -- In two games, the Jaguars have managed all of 11 points against the Raiders and Chiefs.
My pick: Seahawks
Bills (+2) at Jets (-2) -- If one can determine outcomes by common opponents, all you have to do is look back to when the Patriots played both teams to get an idea of which team will have a better showing, both on offense and defense. The Jets should be favored after taking the Patriots down to the wire. And the Bills, despite a win in Week 2, still have a ways to go.
My pick: Jets
Bears (-2.5) at Steelers (+2.5) -- The Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall (15 catches for 217 yards, 2 TDs) combination has shown real fire in the first two weeks as the Bears have gone 2-0 in impressive fashion. Meanwhile, the Steelers have gotten their tails handed to them by the Titans,16-9, and Bengals, 20-10.
My pick: Bears
Raiders (+15) at Broncos (-15) -- The Raiders aren't as incompetent as the spread would lead you to believe. They've shown some good competitive spirit against the Colts, a 21-17 loss, and against the Jaguars, a 19-9 win. Terrelle Pryror continues to get better and Darren McFadden is always one open hole away from a touchdown. Will the Raiders win? Not by a mile. But will they cover? I think so.
My pick: Raiders
Last week: 6-10