While recent years have often seen the NFL season get off to slow starts, that's been far from the case this in 2018—the first two weeks gave us plenty of scoring and down-to-the-wire finishes that had gamblers on the edge of their seats. Here's who our experts like against the spread as Week 3 comes around.
Denver Broncos at Baltimore Ravens (-5.5)
Sun. 9/23, 1:00 p.m. ET
Pick: Baltimore -5.5
Although the Broncos have started the 2018 season with back-to-back victories, the team hasn’t been particularly impressive during its 2-0 start. Denver’s first win was a three-point home victory over a Seattle squad that has historically played poorly on the road during the first month of the season under head coach Pete Carroll and appeared to have a lot of weaknesses heading into this season. The Broncos then escaped this past Sunday with a one-point home win over an Oakland team that had been coming off a short week following a 20-point home loss to the Rams in the late Week 1 Monday night game.
Baltimore gets additional rest heading into this one after having lost in Cincinnati last Thursday. The Ravens have won six of their past seven home games against non-divisional AFC opponents since the start of the 2016 season, and they’ve averaged more than 30 points per game over those seven contests while allowing an average of fewer than 11 points per game. And while it’s difficult to compare this year’s Broncos with recent Denver teams because of the abysmal quarterback play that hampered the team in both 2016 and ’17, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the Broncos come into this one with a 3-11 mark (both straight up and against the spread) over their past 14 road games. The one and only instance in those 11 losses that Denver surpassed 20 points was in the team’s 51-23 loss at Philadelphia last November, a game in which the Broncos trailed 44-9 with less than 10 minutes remaining. While it wouldn’t be reasonable to expect a similar beatdown, it would not be surprising to see the final margin of this one be more than twice the amount of the point spread. –Scott Gramling
Los Angeles Chargers at Los Angeles Rams (-7)
Sun. 9/23, 4:05 p.m. ET
Pick: L.A. Rams -7
Through two weeks, the Chargers haven't done much to show that they were deserving of their status as preseason AFC West favorites in Vegas. They opened the season favored at home against the Chiefs, but were destroyed by big plays and needed 16 fourth-quarter points to keep things semi-respectable in a 38-28 loss. They took care of business in Buffalo last weekend with a 31-20 win that wasn't as close as its final score, but not much can be gleaned from a win over the NFL's worst team.
Meanwhile, across town, the Rams have been utterly dominant in victories over Oakland and Arizona. They've outscored those two teams by a total score of 67-13, giving them a league-best scoring differential of +54, 21 points better than the second-place Ravens. An already excellent Rams team loaded up in free agency over the offseason, and big-name signings like Brandin Cooks, Marcus Peters and Ndamukong Suh are already paying dividends. A star-studded defense that has completely shut down opponents to this point will pose a serious challenge for Philip Rivers and company, but the Chargers' biggest concern should be stopping Sean McVay's offense. They're without game-changing pass rusher Joey Bosa, leaving them vulnerable to explosive attacks like the Chiefs' and, now, the Rams'. –Sam Chase
New England Patriots (-6.5) at Detroit Lions
Sun. 9/23, 8:20 p.m. ET
Pick: New England -6.5
Slow starts from the Patriots are nothing new; this is a team that, even in some of its best seasons, has found the best way to optimize its roster as the season moves along. You can be sure that Bill Belichick would love another crack at Jacksonville in the postseason after last week’s performance.
But New England’s loss is a bettor's gain—in the last two seasons, the Patriots are 5-0 against the spread after a loss, and they are 3-1 ATS when facing Detroit in the Tom Brady era. It wasn’t as if Brady wasn’t finding his receivers against the Jaguars, but Jacksonville’s defense consistently put pressure on the New England's tailbacks and receivers to make outstanding plays. Chris Hogan’s involvement in the offense (two touchdowns) was a strong sign in Week 2, and Sony Michel’s NFL debut was encouraging. Look for both to be productive against a Lions defense that was undisciplined against San Francisco and was undressed by the Jets on Monday Night Football in Week 1. Matthew Stafford still isn’t accurate enough to make up for his team’s mistakes—and don’t underestimate Belichick’s coaching battle against former understudy Matt Patricia. The Patriots will treat this primetime game with urgency and win by double digits. –Ed McGrogan
Pittsburgh Steelers (-2.5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Mon. 9/24, 8:15 p.m. ET
Pick: Pittsburgh -2.5
It’s hard to ignore what the Buccaneers have done to open up the 2018-19 NFL season. Led by journeyman QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has already thrown for 819 yards with eight touchdowns and only one pick, Tampa Bay went into New Orleans and beat the Saints 48-40 in Week 1. The Buccaneers then followed that win up with a 27-21 victory over the defending champion Eagles. This Tampa Bay offense is loaded with playmakers at wide receiver, and Fitzpatrick has done a great job of allowing them to do what they do. The problem is that Fitzpatrick is no youngster. We know what he is as a quarterback, and it’s clear that this two-week spurt isn’t something that will last the rest of the season. And this week, the Buccaneers happen to be hosting a Steelers team that is absolutely desperate for a victory.
Pittsburgh tied a lowly Cleveland team in Week 1, and the Steelers then lost 42-37 to the Chiefs in their home opener at Heinz Field. This Steelers team is still one that has championship aspirations, but they know they need to get things going immediately—which means they can’t afford to lose this game in Tampa Bay. Fortunately, this is a great matchup for Pittsburgh. With both teams having porous defenses, a ton of points will be scored in this one. But the loss of CB Vernon Hargreaves, who suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in Week 1, gives QB Ben Roethlisberger a Bucs weakness that Eagles backup Nick Foles wasn’t capable of exploiting in Week 2. That type of small detail should make a huge difference in this game. Also, despite the fact that Tampa has played some talented teams this season, T.J. Watt might be the best pure pass rusher they’ll see early on. He has the ability to make Fitzpatrick very uncomfortable. And for good measure, the Bucs are a lousy 1-6 ATS when coming off of one or more overs in the past two seasons. –Zachary Cohen