Only three weeks into the National Football League season, there are some trends that are beginning to develop. While some of them were to be expected, there have been some of these trends that are a bit of a shock to start off the 2013 season. If the same trends continue in Week 4, they move from a trend into what the team will be after a quarter of the season is complete (home teams are in CAPS, lines from the Mirage in Las Vegas and the choice for the game in BOLD).
San Francisco 49ers (-3) vs. ST. LOUIS RAMS
One of the early trends of the NFL season has been the difficulties of the 49ers. After an impressive victory over the Green Bay Packers to start the season, the ‘Niners have suffered back-to-back embarrassments at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks and the Indianapolis Colts over the past two weeks. The trend with the team has been the utter lack of ability for their once potent offense, led by QB Colin Kaepernick, to do absolutely anything with the ball.
Fortunately for the boys from San Fran, the Rams aren’t the Seahawks or even the Colts. The 49ers should have a chance at redemption this week, taking the victory on the road against the improved but still woeful St. Louis squad.
Baltimore Ravens vs. BUFFALO BILLS (+3.5)
The defending Super Bowl champions have been perplexing to this point in the season. After getting whumped by Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos on the road in Week 1, they barely squeaked out a win over the Cleveland Brown at home in Week 2. This last weekend, with RB Ray Rice on the sidelines due to injury, the Ravens proceeded to thrash the Houston Texans, leaving one to wonder which team will show up in Buffalo on Sunday.
The Bills have been entertaining through the first three weeks of the season, although they only have a 1-2 record to show for it. Bills QB E. J. Manuel has been a surprise so far for the Buffs through the first three weeks and both the offense, with RB C. J. Spiller and WR Stevie Jackson, and the defense have overachieved. They may lose this game as well, but I expect them to be able to cover the spread.
Cincinnati Bengals (-4) vs. CLEVELAND BROWNS
Just when you’re about to throw dirt on the grave of the Cleveland Browns, they shock the NFL community by earning a road victory against the Minnesota Vikings days after trading their 2012 #1 draft pick and starting their third-string quarterback in Brian Hoyer. The Bengals were involved in a thriller against the Green Bay Packers and, at 2-1, have quietly been making the appearance that they might be a force to reckon with in the NFC North.
The Battle for Ohio is always a tough one, but I don’t believe that the Browns can pull off the same magic two weeks in a row. Look for the Bengals to take this one down going away.
Chicago Bears (+3) vs. DETROIT LIONS
The Bears are 3-0 under new head coach Marc Trestman, who seems to have found something in the 2013 version of the team that was lacking in the past. The offense, under QB Jay Cutler and RB Matt Forte, has been potent and the defense continues the tradition of the past Bear squads. The Lions, although they are 2-1, haven’t had a test like the Bears to this point in the season.
Expect this game to be a close one as the two defenses will neutralize each team’s offense. The stronger defense is the Bears, so take the points even though they are on the road.
New York Giants vs. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (-4.5)
Anyone betting on the Giants, even only three games into the season, would be better off taking their money to the grill and setting it on fire. The Chiefs, on the other hand, have been reborn under the guidance of new head coach Andy Reid; three solid wins to open the season, including two on the road and two against the NFC East. Expect the Chiefs to go to 4-0 this week (and 3-0 against the NFC East) as the Giants won’t mount much of an attack against them.
Arizona Cardinals (+2.5) vs. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
This is not going to be a pretty contest in the Sunshine State. The Cardinals, although they have been competitive, have yet to put a full game together and are 1-2. The Bucs are going through their own turmoil; at 0-3, they have sent longtime starting QB Josh Freeman to the bench in favor of rookie QB Mike Glennon. That factor alone should put the Cardinals as a favorite in the game. The oddsmakers seem to be giving the betting populace a gift in putting the ‘Birds as the underdog, so take the points in this game.
Indianapolis Colts (-8.5) vs. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
The Jags showed signs of life against the Oakland Raiders two weeks ago, but that life was snuffed out in a beat down by the Seattle Seahawks last weekend. Although they scored more points against the ‘Hawks than they had all season (17 points versus 11 in their first two games), they don’t have the horses to keep up with the Colts, coming off a stunning beating of the 49ers in San Francisco. Expect Indy QB Andrew Luck and the newest two-headed monster of RB’s Ahmad Bradshaw and Trent Richardson to pound on the hapless Jags in this game.
Seattle Seahawks vs. HOUSTON TEXANS (+3)
This is one of the toughest games of the NFL weekend, both in its actual play on the field and in handicapping it pre-game. The Seahawks have been rolling to this point in the season (except for a first game burp against the Carolina Panthers), but two of their wins have come on their feared home turf. The Texans, on the other hand, have been involved in shootouts in their two wins while getting smoked last week in their visit to Baltimore.
The defenses for both teams will be the decisive factor in this game. If the Texans can keep QB Russell Wilson and RB Marshawn Lynch in check – the Texan D is second in the league against the pass, ninth against the run – they have the edge in this game. The Seahawks, on the road, shouldn’t be favored in this game, although their pass defense (ranked first in the NFL) and rushing D (twelfth overall) is also outstanding.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. MINNESOTA VIKINGS (+2.5) (played at Wembley Stadium, London)
How the Steelers are given the edge in this game is another head-scratcher for this NFL weekend. Pittsburgh has shown no semblance of a running game, QB Ben Roethlisberger is running for his life when he drops back and the vaunted “Steel Curtain” defense is in tatters. Add to this the decision by head coach Mike Tomlin not to head to England early to get his team acclimated to the time change and it is a tough week for the Steel City boys.
They are facing the Vikings, however, who are a dismal 0-3 after their loss to the lowly Cleveland Browns last week. While Vikes fans can say, “In those three games, we’ve only lost by fifteen points,” they are 24th-ranked in passing offense and 28th and 21st in defensive passing and rushing, respectively (when you have RB Adrian Peterson, your run game is OK). Maybe QB Christian Ponder isn’t the right choice after all…but they will cover the spread this game.
New York Jets (+3.5) vs. TENNESSEE TITANS
The Jets are a surprising 2-1 (with that lone loss a tough 13-10 slugfest against the Patriots) and have the sixth ranked rushing game in the league. The defense is the story for the Jets, however, where they are seventh against the pass and sixth against the run. The Titans, though, have an equally stout running game and a solid (10th/13th) defense also.
If this game comes down to quarterback play, I am actually going to lean with rookie Jets QB Geno Smith over Titans’ QB Jake Locker. Locker’s 30th ranked passing game (even with WR Nate Washington) isn’t going to get it done in this game.
Washington Redskins vs. OAKLAND RAIDERS (+3)
The guys at the Mirage must be seeing a different game than the rest of the U. S. has seen out of the Redskins. The Washingtonites haven’t mounted anything over the first three weeks of the season (last week’s touchdown loss to the Lions was the FIRST TIME EVER the Lions won against the ‘Skins in Washington). The Raiders, although they aren’t the team they used to be either, have a decent offense and enough defense to get by the Redskins. If QB Terrelle Pryor is out for the game (concussion last week), there’s an adequate backup in Matt Flynn.
Philadelphia Eagles vs. DENVER BRONCOS (-10.5)
Normally I would lean towards the points on a game such as this, but the Broncos have been destroying every team they face. While the Eagles have been able to put up some points with their fast break offense, running it at altitude in the Mile High City is a whole new situation (Eagles head coach Chip Kelly will learn that it is different to run such an offense with 30 year olds versus running it with 20 year olds). Broncos QB Peyton Manning will once again have an outstanding game in dismantling an Eagles defense that hasn’t exactly stopped anyone this year.
Dallas Cowboys vs. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (+2.5)
Although the Cowboys are coming off a big win over St. Louis last week, that game was at Jerry Jones’ palace in Texas. They haven’t shown the same potency on the road, losing to Kansas City in Week 2. San Diego may not win this game outright, but they will have enough to keep it close and cover the spread.
New England Patriots vs. ATLANTA FALCONS (-2)
The Patriots have gotten off to their 3-0 start with less than impressive wins over the Jets and Bills, but they did look a bit better against Tampa Bay at home last week. The Falcons, however, have been stunned twice by their division rival New Orleans Saints and the upstart Miami Dolphins. If this game was in Massachusetts, the Patriots would be the choice. Unfortunately for them, this game is in Atlanta, where the Falcons and QB Matt Ryan have been close to unbeatable in his career. If the Patriots are to win this game, they have to shut down Ryan while Pats’ QB Tom Brady works his “smoke and mirrors” magic with a less than adequate offense.
Miami Dolphins vs. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (-6.5)
Miami has been one of the surprises of the NFL in the early going, sitting at 3-0 heading to this matchup in the Big Easy. That early season win streak will end on Monday night, however, as the Saints seem to be “marching in” once again with QB Drew Brees and coach Sean Payton. By the end of the night, expect another dominant performance from the Saints as they move to 4-0 to start the season.
Last Week: A middling affair, literally; going 8-8 for your picks isn’t going to win you much. You have to normally get somewhere around 67% to make anything on the NFL and that’s a goal that isn’t out of reach yet.
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