I’m 4-1 on the season, but all of my picks came in Week 3. Now that the most random month in football is over, I’ll post my picks weekly.
Patriots at Bucs (+5), 7:25 p.m. CT, Thursday
I’ll beat people to the punch: Yes, I’ve seen the Patriots play defense this season. They’ve been atrocious. They’ve allowed 300-yard passing games to every quarterback they’ve faced this season, including Texans rookie Deshaun Watson. Bill Belichick must be beside himself. He’s also a genius when it comes to in-season adjustments and he’ll get New England’s issues ironed out. Most of the Pats’ problems stem from communication breakdowns in the secondary, which is correctable. The pass-rush is a bigger concern, but Trey Flowers continues to develop and fourth-round rookie Deatrich Wise is quickly coming into his own as well.
Here’s the bottom line for this game: Since 2003, the Patriots are 36-13 against the spread coming off a loss, including 1-0 in 2017. They’re the best team in the league following defeat. With so much attention paid to New England’s defense, Tom Brady is also quietly off to one of the best starts of his career. I like the Pats tonight.
The Pick: New England Patriots -5
Vikings at Bears (+3), 7:30 p.m. CT, Monday
Mitchell Trubisky will make his pro debut on Monday Night Football against Mike Zimmer’s outstanding defense. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, but I actually like the underdog in this spot. The Bears haven’t been dreadful on offense this season – only Mike Glennon has. John Fox, who does not like relying on young players, had no choice but to go with the rookie after watching Glennon soil the bed last Thursday in Green Bay. Trubisky won’t torch Minnesota’s defense but he’s mobile (so he already has a leg up on the statuesque Glennon) and also has one of the better young backfield tandems in the league in Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen to rely on.
The Vikings, meanwhile, lost Dalvin Cook for the season and Sam Bradford is still day-to-day with his knee problems. Chicago is a tough place to win (against the Steelers and Falcons, the latter of which barely escaped a Week 1 upset) and I’m willing to bet Trubisky gives the Bears’ offense a jolt.
The Pick: Chicago Bears +3
Packers at Cowboys (-2), 3:25 p.m. CT, Sunday
If I were to choose an MVP at the quarter mark of the season, I’d choose Kansas City running back Kareem Hunt. If Hunt wasn’t in the conversation, however, I’d choose Aaron Rodgers. He’s third in passing yards, tied for first in touchdowns with Brady, and tied for seventh in passer rating. He’s also accomplished those feats playing behind an offensive line that has been without both starting offensive tackles and three of their backups. Are you kidding me? What other quarterback in the league would survive under those circumstances, let alone thrive? As an underdog between 1 and 4 points, Rodgers is 11-8 (57.9%) against the spread. That’s not an eye-popping figure but I like Rodgers playing the role of underdog nonetheless.
Meanwhile, I said many times on “The Turn” leading up to the regular-season that the Cowboys would regress. They’re 2-2, so it’s not as if they’ve been horrible, but their offensive line has not lived up to the hype thus far and it has affected Ezekiel Elliott and the running game. Assuming the Packers can neutralize Demarcus Lawrence and David Irving, Rodgers should have no problems moving the football on Dallas’ defense.
The Pick: Green Bay Packers +2
Ravens at Raiders (-2.5), 3:05 p.m. CT, Sunday
I’m not wild about backing a punch-less Baltimore offense on the road but this pick is more against Oakland than it is for the Ravens. The Raiders will start E.J. Manuel in place of the injured Derek Carr. Manuel could step in for a game or two and hold his own, provided Oakland’s offense was firing on all cylinders. It’s not. Michael Crabtree is banged-up and Amari Cooper has had issues with drops since Week 1.
Over the past two weeks, the Raiders were held to a combined 2-for-23 on third down conversions by the Broncos and Redskins. Baltimore has had a rough two weeks, but its defense is still stout. I’ll take the dog in what should be a low-scoring game throughout.
The Pick: Baltimore Ravens +2.5
Jaguars at Steelers (-8), 12:00 p.m. CT, Sunday
The Steelers’ problems on offense have been overstated. I think they’re ready to erupt. After missing all of training camp and preseason, Le’Veon Bell now has four games under his belt and showed last week that he’s finally on the same page as his offensive line. Ben Roethlisberger has struggled at times, but that’s mostly on the road (he has a history of lighting up opponents at Heinz Field).
Meanwhile, the Jaguars beat the Ravens in London two weeks ago, didn’t have a bye last Sunday and lost in overtime to the Jets. That team has to be fried. I don’t love laying this many points on any team, but I’ll make the exception here. I think Pittsburgh wins by 10-plus.
The Pick: Pittsburgh Steelers -8